Dear City Council Members,
To be blunt, it appears that the City – via DEEL – is trying a number of Trojan horses methods to exert control/take control of Seattle Schools. As someone who knows Seattle Schools well, I know what I am seeing.
Example 1: Families and Education Levy.
First, the F&E levy makes grants to Seattle Schools that are greatly appreciated. The City wants to make sure that voters get an explanation, with evidence, on how well the investment taxpayers have made is going. All this is fine.
What was not fine was the episode this year of DEEL deciding to insert itself into principal placement at schools. That is NOT the domain – at any time or place – of DEEL or the City. That is the domain of the Superintendent and the School Board.
And yet, DEEL tried to pull entire grants, from both Emerson and Sandpoint Elementaries, simply because their principals were leaving. To understand,
- people move and change jobs
- people fall ill or even die
- the Superintendent, for the good of a school, has to make a principal change.
The district cannot (and should not) EVER consider any grant as part of that decision-making. And, no granter, especially one who claims to be a partner with the district, should ever put that kind of pressure on the district.
Of course, DEEL can say that they find that principal continuity is one factor in best outcomes for any given grant and ask for that due consideration. But to pull money after the planning for it has been done and all arrangements are in place with a new principal who agrees to this planning? No.
(Also, on the subject of the F&E levy, no one in the City – not the City Attorney nor DEEL, will answer a simple question for voters – will Families and Education levy dollars be given to charter schools?)
Example 2: City Preschool Program
There are two issues that have arisen.
One is the discovery that there are NOT going to be 2,000 NEW seats – most of the City’s Preschool seats will come from DEEL flipping current seats in SPS schools from independent providers to providers coming under the City’s Preschool umbrella.
(In fact, I’ll bet that if there are 500 NEW seats at the end of four years, it’ll be a lot.)
The Seattle School Board was NEVER – in any presentation – told this was the likely case and the plan going forward. Very bad form on the part of DEEL.
Two is the pressure on the School Board to approve creating two new classrooms (there is currently one at Bailey Gatzert Elementary) in SPS schools. The Mayor saying – in the Seattle Times – for the district to “play ball” on this issue. The district has done nothing BUT play ball. Sometimes it’s hard to know who Superintendent Nyland works for on this issue – the Mayor or the Board. (Hint: legally, he works for the Board.)
Surely, you all know there are financial issues in the district. Special Ed and ELL issues. Title IX issues. Capacity issues. Backlog maintenance issues. Just to name a few and yet a couple of preschool classrooms seem to be some kind of major issue.
It’s both troubling and unseemly.
Example 3: the HALA report
The HALA report says several odd things.
One is on page 20 where, at the top, there is a paragraph about the City working with regional partners including SPS. But then, it says,
When land is not suitable for housing development, the unrestricted proceeds from sale should be dedicated to affordable housing development. The City should also create a mandate for the co- development of affordable housing in conjunction with new public buildings and investments such as community centers, libraries, charter schools, etc
My jaw dropped when I read that. Why, if the City and SPS are such great partners, would the first available space for schools go to charter schools? It’s puzzling as well because one committee member, David Wertheimer, said that the district wasn’t opening new schools so the “new” schools could be charters.
That is categorically not true. The district is building, from the ground up, two new schools on the old Wilson-Pacific site, off Aurora at 90th. As well, the district has reopened several old schools in the last five years with more to come (the Legislature even allotted them capital dollars to reopen one in West Seattle and one in Magnolia).
Any new school space should go to the entity that is responsible for public education in Seattle – Seattle Public Schools.
That notation should be changed from “charter schools” to “public schools” with right of first refusal to the district, not a charter entity.
A second odd thing is that the HALA report mentions schools about 20 times but almost as a throwaway – lumping them in with “amenities and services.” While that may be true about what they are, there is really no such thing as “pop-up” school. You need land and a facility. The district currently has very little spare land and they need dollars for a facility. There needs to be a partnership with the district for these schools to happen and again, true public schools should be your starting place, not charter schools.
(And that part about land – what about playfields? The district has a joint use agreement with SPS and those playfields are being used to death. As well, a heads up to you that the district will be coming to the City about lower Woodland Park playfields because they will need to use them when they open Lincoln High permanently in a couple of years. Are charters going to share?)
Third, HALA says,
There is a strong connection between this land use action, and other actions described in this report to encourage the use of surplus public property because many publicly owned properties that become available are not already zoned to support housing.That’s a funny statement when it comes to SPS because there are no surplus properties for SPS to give over to housing. In fact, they own Oak Tree and a professional building off Lake City at 125th that they may have to take them back for schools. There is, as well, Memorial Stadium, which they may have to develop with a high school sited there (possibly with the stadium on top as they have done in a couple of NE states). I’m sure you recall that the district has owned that property since before Seattle Center was Seattle Center.
What is troubling about the HALA report is how blithely they speak of putting in more schools near upzones without understanding the stresses and costs to the district. (And, if you hear screams coming from Laurelhurst when the enrollment changes; that’s just residents there realizing that there is so much growth at/around the Roosevelt Light Rail state that Roosevelt High’s boundaries have changed.)
In closing, I urge you to talk to the Mayor about being a real partner with SPS and especially with the Seattle School Board which, like you, is the body that is duly elected by voters to oversee the schools.
As well, I can only tell what a complete folly I think it is for anyone, including the Mayor, to believe that splitting our district and/or taking over some of the School Board seats for the Mayor to appoint is a good (or right) thing to do. This is a road the Mayor takes at his own risk. I would expect any further moves in that direction would have repercussions that neither he nor the Council would like.
If you have any questions or you or a member of your staff would like to sit down and talk, I would be happen to come and do so.
Seattle Schools Community Forum Blog