In a frank discussion at the Work Session on Tuesday, much was heard and learned about what the next MOU with the Alliance might look like.
I am left to wonder - if the Board and the Alliance have a hard time figuring out where to meet and how to talk - will there be an MOU? Because with the Alliance's increasing strong stands on what needs to get done in the district and the Board wanting to set the goals (and the Alliance can follow or not as they want to), maybe the Alliance will not sign an MOU they don't like.
Then, they might then just be another moneyed ed advocacy group.
I'm sure most of you have never attended a Board Work Session (just at the wrong time of day for most folks). But, as I have expressed in the past, work sessions and committee meetings are where the REAL work happens and you get some real insights into the Board and staff.
Such was the case today at the work session about the MOU with the Alliance for Education. I expected a couple of things that did not happen. One, Alliance staff in attendance. (There were none.) Two, a sedate affair. No, it was rather energetic.
This was actually a REAL work session like where the Board gets to make some decisions, give input that counts, etc. Staff presented nothing, the Alliance was not there to tell them anything and a facilitator gamely tried to corral the Board members. Nothing doing.
It was not out-of-hand or wild, to be sure. (Although Director Blanford continues to flex his stare-down muscle. More on this in a minute.) But nearly all the Board members had real opinions and, surprisingly, they had a lot of the SAME opinions.
All the Board members were there, save Betty Patu. Staff included Ken Gotsch (finance), Ron English (legal), Charles Wright (deputy superintendent who used to be on the Alliance Board, something he didn't note and I think should have), and Larry Nyland (superintendent who stayed just a brief time but long enough to interject something important).
The faciliator was Martha Bryan of Bryan&Bryan Associates. Not sure who is paying for her services. There were two handouts - the staff's version of the MOU and the Alliance's. It was very confusing to try to reconcile the two but she was trying very hard to get to that point.
She also frequently referenced her previous conversations with all the Board members and with staff at the Alliance.
One thing I had forgotten: Director Blanford worked for the Alliance for about four years. As well, Charles Wright had served on the Alliance Board (oddly, after only living in Seattle for less than a year).
It got a little tough because, apparently and unbeknownst to me, the majority of the Board do not seem happy with the relationship with the Alliance. All of them present recognize that there are real issues between the district and the Alliance.
Some of the issues:
- why is the Alliance focusing on Board training? That's the role of the state board of directors organization, WSSDA. I agree. (It's also odd that a lot of what the Alliance focuses on is adult leadership - the Board, principals, senior staff - instead of the classroom and kids.
- the feeling that the Alliance should be supporting the district's goals and not their own. And, that the "critical friend" mantle that the Alliance decided on their own to assume is very helpful to the Board.
- why are there no voting members from SPS on the Alliance Board? To note, the Superintendent and the Board President are on the Alliance Board but have no vote. I had no idea this bothered the Board but apparently so. Director Martin-Morris pointed this one out and Director Carr backed him up.
- is the amount that the district pays for the Alliance to manage some grants reasonable (at about 15% of the grant)?
- Then there was the issue of the Alliance managing some schools' group funds. According to Ron English, there are three issues.
- One, is it legal for the district to be involved in this issue at all, given that PTAs and booster groups are their own entities?
- Two, for the ASBs, should the cost of managing the funding for them by the Alliance be reviewed? Right now it's 7.5%. Should this go out for bid (it never has).
- As well, news to me - I thought that 7.5% was coming out of the funds of each group. It isn't - the DISTRICT is paying it.
There was push and pull on this issue because of the perceived past aggression of the Alliance into Board/district issues. Director Carr said the Alliance was absolutely within its rights to have its own goals. Director Peters made a good point that the Board's work is the district's work and the Board's responsibility (and indeed accountability) is to that work.
Then they got to the CBA issue and it got interesting.
To refresh your memory, before the signing of the last teachers contract, several groups (and including me) had gotten together. This was at the behest of LEV (when I still saw them as reasonable people). It included the Alliance, CPPS, League of Women Voters, PTA, and a couple of others. We joined together to create a document to give input to the district on the thoughts of parents and community about the teachers contract. We worked for months.
Then, the Alliance, who had oddly never quite signed on as a group, announced at a meeting that THEY were creating their own group. They had sat and listened and then walked away. That's how the so-called Our Schools coalition got created. On the backs of other people's work. (If all the groups are honest, they will admit that even though most of them then defected to OS.)
Well, I knew that Our Schools had enlarged and gotten fairly pushy but I didn't realize how much until this Work Session.
Director Peters said Our Schools was pressuring the Board to allow them in the negotiations. (Keep in mind, that's illegal and the SEA would NEVER have gone along with it.) Hilariously, Director Blanford, ever out of loop of district knowledge, asked who were the signatories on the contract are.
Carr, somewhat surprised, said "We are." She continues that there was a retaliatory action via the Seattle Times after the CBA was signed because "they" didn't like the outcome. (There were numerous letters to the editor.) But she said "to be clear - this was not the Alliance, it was the Our Schools action. (But honestly, the Alliance is the lead on Our Schools.)
Ms Bryan got things back on track, mentioning that in discussions with the Alliance, they spoke of the 3-legged stool that the Alliance taught (Board, principals, teachers).
Sherry replied, "You are spot on but it goes back further than recent history. There were three groups initially - the City (Norm Rice), the district (John Stanford) and the Alliance." But she said there had been some "drift in terms of alignment."
Peters said yes, the Alliance had been more of a partner in terms of fundraising and "now has become more political and there's mission creep and that's where the friction is."
Blanford mentioned the Alliance having raised money for the district initially and not being a "critical friend." He said he is "now in place to see the other side."
He then went on for some time when Ms. Bryan started to say something. He once again said something that I have now heard him say other times - in the same harsh tone of voice - "let me finish." She looked taken aback and let him continue. And he did until Director Peters tried to break in. He fixed on her the same glare that he gave Ms. Bryan and said "let me finish." Peters tried to point out that he had been speaking for a long time but Ms. Bryan quietly said, "give him another minute."
It was not pleasant. I'm not sure if his real goal is to finish his thought or intimidate people. All I can say is that it certainly does make for an uncomfortable moment for everyone in the room and comes off very hostile. He also got up and left the room briefly after he got done. So everyone should listen when he speaks but he won't necessarily listen to the entire discussion himself.
He went on to say that Peters had a problem with the Alliance "because of your race." (He meant her campaign for school board.) Peters said, no, she was speaking about the CBA. Blanford went on, "Do we throw the baby out with the bathwater?" That would seem an overly dramatic statement because NO one was speaking - at any point - about ending the MOU with the Alliance.
He said, "We can't "hamstring them." He said don't other non-profits think "we (the Board) are the problem, right?" Carr said yes. (I would add but who drove the narrative that makes non-profits believe that? The Alliance and the Times.)
During the discussion, Ms. Bryan and School Board staffer, Theresa Hale, made notes on the white board in the room (we all took photos of it). It was interesting to see how Board member issues overlapped/were similar.
Charles Wright was delegated (lucky him) to take these suggestions and reword the staff document.
They continued on with sussing the documents out. Carr said that any Alliance grant had to be treated like any other one, "they can't just come in and start doing work."
She went on to say that the district has "to have alignment; with itself, the Alliance, the Mayor and the community." She said that's what John Stanford did in the beginning and that's not where we are today. (All this talk of John Stanford; I'd be interested to see what he thought of the current-day Alliance and their work.)
They formed the working group to meet with the Alliance. The group consists of Peaslee, Carr and Blanford.
Peters made an important comment that anything in the MOU that they sign off on means they agree with. The roles and the words are important.
Carr somewhat agreed but said she didn't want to narrow it down so much that they stifle any new ideas or innovation.
The meeting ended with another odd note. Ms. Bryan said she would get the revisions and that the Alliance wanted to meet "at a neutral place." Carr did something of a double-take and stood up (the meeting was ending) and said, "If we have to find a 'neutral' place for a meeting, we may be meeting with the wrong people." She said that JSCEE is a public building and "what difference does it make?"
I don't get that ask from the Alliance, either. Is the Board and the Alliance the Sharks and the Jets?