Sunday, July 24, 2016

Yes, the Mayor DOES Want to Control Seattle Schools

I KNEW it.

Dora Taylor (who is the main writer/moderator for Seattle Education blog) and I both write public education blogs. We write about different things (and that's a good thing for people in this region/state who care about public education.)  We sometimes disagree.

But one thing we have agreed on is that Mayor Murray has plans to get the City a heck of a lot more involved with the direction of public education in this city.  And, he's not going to do so much via official lines of contact but thru many other methods.

To wit, Dora's latest thread, Leaked email shows how Seattle Mayor Ed Murray plans to take over the school board
In a letter sent to Mayor Murray from Regina Jones, who is now working for the Mayor’s office as an “executive on loan”, spells out how to take over the school board by “cultivating candidates to serve on the board” based on the success of two mayors in San Francisco and with the work of Hydra Mendoza because “As in Seattle, SFUSD was concerned about a takeover of the district by the mayor”.
The letter is dated November 1, 2015 and it is to the Mayor from Regina Jones and cc'd to Hyeok Kim (Seattle's deputy mayor), Robert Feldstein (Director, Office of Policy and Innovation, Seattle Mayor's Office), Mike Fong (Mayor Murray's Chief of Staff ) and Tina Walha (Director, Innovation Team at Seattle Mayor's Office.)

(To note; Ms. Walha describes her job this way at LinkedIn:
I lead Seattle's i-team, which functions as in-house innovation consultants, moving from one mayoral priority to the next. Residing within the Mayor's Office, the i-team helps the mayor, agency leaders and city staff through a data-driven process to assess problems, generate responsive new interventions, develop partnerships and deliver measurable results. 
Here's one of the opening paragraphs:
For many years, San Francisco has struggled in its relationship with SFUSD. Over the past decade, interaactions between SF and SFUSD have evolved into an excellent, collaborative working relationship centered on a shared vision.  
Sounds good, right?
A turning point in the transformation came through the Mayor influencing the composition of the school board by cultivating candidates to serve on the board.  
Oh, well, I'm sure it's quite "collaborative" when you handpick the candidates and they, in turn, pick other candidates.  So long as everyone is on the same "vision" page.
"Having a board 'insider' allows the SF city department leadership to connect more effectively with the needs of SFUSD and promote a collective impact approach. 
Jones tells the Mayor:
  • It is recommended in the letter to spend tax dollars to continue “to engage with the Mayor of San Francisco’s key staff and with SFUSD to forge a strong, working relationship on education policy. This should include Seattle staff attendance to observe SFUSD board meetings and key education-related discussions/negotiations between the Mayor’s office and SFUSD….Although it will take an investment of time to bring SPS to the table.
Wait, spend Seattle taxpayer dollars for staff in the Mayor's office to fly to San Francisco to sit in on their school board meetings and SFUD/mayor's staff meetings so that Mayor Murray will better understand how to influence our school district?  That's not just an "investment of time" but money.
  • Consideration should be given to identifying and pursuing long-term strategies for strengthening district governance, including…having an active role in the selection of the next superintendent…
  • Later in the letter it is suggested to take SFUSD up on its offer to facilitate a discussion with SPS (Seattle Public Schools) on SFUSD’s collective impact process to bring everyone “to the table” in selecting a new superintendent.
No.  Plain and simple no.  That is a legal governance job of the elected Seattle School Board.  To the best of my knowledge, the last three (?) rounds of superintendent searches did include whoever was the mayor meeting the candidates.  That's fine.   As well, the discussion is NOT with SPS; it's with the elected Board.

They have a member of their Board who works for the Mayor of San Francisco.  Handy, no?  Here name is Hydra Mendoza. 

Here's a key to what our mayor is probably thinking because it echoes what he has said several times publicly:
Building Vision 2025 was focused on data.  What does it show? How are kids doing?  Everyone agreed that a world-class city cannot leave behind a segment of its students.  The mayor and the superintendent looked for one thing they both cared about - and started there to figure out what they could do collectively.
This is great but is it really that hard for a mayor and a superintendent to find something they agree on?  I don't think so but I think it's hard to figure out JUST one thing AND what the solution is.

 Jones describes what is happening in San Francisco and it sounds good:
The district now serves as an integral part of city planning, focused on a holistic view of services each student is receving across the district and by each city department.  
However, I would note that the Mayor's HALA committee thinks of schools as "amentities" which doesn't seem to rise to the same level as what is happening in San Francisco.

Jones then talks about Seattle:
This administration continues to struggle in defining the City's role in SPS governance.  
Again, the City has NO role in SPS governance.  What they have is the duty to ask where they can help, make suggestions based on their data and research, etc and collaborate.

If the City of Seattle and the Seattle School district, via its elected school board, cannot agree on a vision for schools, want to know who has the final word?  The School Board.
Dr. Carranza ( SF's superintendent) volunteered to support engagement of Seattle with SPS at regional/national education meetings - engagement that would take place on SPS' education "turf" (i.e. meetings of Council for Great City Schools of which SPS is a member."  
 So Dr. Carranza will seek out Seattle board members/staff at these conventions/meetings in an effort to say how great things are in San Francisco.  Good to know.
Although it will take an investment of time to bring SPS to the table, a discussion with the facilitator who guided SF's joint/integrated strategic planning would provide additional insight going forward.
Cultivating and supporting candidates to run for the board of SPS.  These candidates would, ideally, have children in SPS, roots int he city, strong leadership capabilities, and a shared vision with the Mayor on racial equity, closing the opportunity gap and building a world-class educational system in Seattle.  Inquiry should be made of the City Attorney regarding limitations on a City employee serving in this capacity.
Breathtaking.  First of all, she supposes that we do NOT currently have a Board that has these qualities (they do) or that they agreed on the need for equity and a great school system (they do).  Second, yes, having one person who somehow sits in both camps in either an elected/hired capacity could be a problem.
As part of the suggested SF approach of working from "inside out," have ongoing engagement of key SPS principals, particularly principals in levy-supported schools, to further focus levy funding on effective strategies, including full-year, experiential learning supported by business and philanthropic partners.  Find out what these principals think the City can do for them.  It is clear from our dinner conversation on Oct. 27, that SPS principals in high poverty schools are anxious to partner with the City and are excited to embrace your leadership.
Ah yes, the "let's have people on the inside."  I think this is already happening and I believe that Director Blanford is probably in the Mayor's camp.

That part of about "experiential learning" is an interesting thought and would surely undercut charter schools seeking to do the same thing.

Taylor ends her thread with this thought and I agree.
If Mayor Murray wants to address the “achievement/opportunity gap” in a way that is more appropriate to his office, he needs to focus on a living wage for all in Seattle and affordable housing. That will go a long way in helping children succeed in school and in life. Leave education to the educators not politicians, attorneys and business interests.

22 comments:

Anonymous said...

Wow, this blog has become the local national enquirer. You're right about having things in common with D.R, you both use leaked information.

lowering standards

Melissa Westbrook said...

We're citizen reporters and that's part of how we get our information. It's a pretty time-honored practice among journalists so I think we're on solid ground.

Don't shoot the messenger.

Anonymous said...

I don't really care if the Mayor wants to "cultivate" school board candidates. We still vote them in. It's still democracy.

Not concerned

Cleo said...

It should be noted that Seattle's city Councilman Tim Burgess's aide has just been hired to be the board liaison. This individual is responsible for communications and relationship between the board and the district. Clearly, Burgess's former aide will be privy to information between the board and district. This individual will serve as a great "insider" for Tim Burgess and Ed Murray.

As well, Seattle Public Schools has hired another city employee has been hired to head-up Community Partnerships.

The "insider" game is well on it's way.

More taxpayer dollars are being wasted to provide Regina Jones with a salary. I'm sure she is a highly paid type.

Cleo said...

"Jones tells the Mayor:
It is recommended in the letter to spend tax dollars to continue “to engage with the Mayor of San Francisco’s key staff and with SFUSD to forge a strong, working relationship on education policy. This should include Seattle staff attendance to observe SFUSD board meetings and key education-related "

I agree with Melissa. This is a terrible waste of taxpayer dollars. Imagine sending staffers to San Francisco to watch board meeting???

LEV tries to recruit school board candidates, too. Voters reject their candidates.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Cleo, what's Burgess' aide's name? I'd like to introduce myself.

Anonymous said...

I wish the mayor and city council would devote some of their time to investigating the possibility of instituting impact fees on new construction in the city, to be used to defray capital costs of providing adequate school buildings for the additional students expected as a result of the growth of the city. That would seem to fall more within the legitimate scope of their portfolio.

Irene

Jan said...

Bravo Dora and Melissa: when you can only see the front side of the quilt(which is what happens in a secretive City political environment run with closed task groups and hidden agendas, you can "sort of" tell what is going on on the back side of the quilt -- but not really. Thanks to those who daylighted this information for confirming what we suspected -- massive City political meddling in the Seattle School District.

It is doubly frustrating in that there are so MANY ways that the City and the Schools could publicly and openly collaborate -- but the City seems to have been taken over by neoliberal school reformists -- and is uninterested in them (many listed above -- such as impact fees, finding additional space for over-full schools (even if it is just availabilty of park space so the school can fill up its playground with portables, after school activities, summer internships and educational enrichment.

But no -- Murray wants back room control of the school board. Starting with HALA, and moving on through the "secret" education task force -- I am liking this mayor less and less. I wish Harrell (who went to SPS, as did/do his kids) had been elected instead!

Charlie Mas said...

The mayor wouldn't be the first to try to cultivate candidates to serve on the School Board. As has been noted, LEV has tried that. So has the Chamber of Commerce/Alliance for Education.

Kate said...

The Burgess aide just hired by the district is Nate Van Duzer. To my mind, this should be of real concern, particularly in the context of this post.

Anonymous said...

Totally agree that there are "legitimate" ways the City could help SPS, including the aforementioned impact fees. Seattle is one of the few major metro areas that does not use this method to insure adequate police/fire/school/road coverage. How about something really simple - like sidewalks in the areas that still have none so kids can safely get to school? How about additional subsidized bus transportation so that less of the SPS budget has to go to this bucket?

Every day now, I'm more and more happy that my spouse & I moved out of Seattle. There is so little understanding on the part of the Mayor & his cronies on what's really needed - not the power grab plays, but true and meaningful assistance to it's citizens. The game playing is just...well..despicable frankly.

aiyiyiyi

reader47

Charlie Mas said...

The new head of community partnerships came directly from the Office of Neighborhoods.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Kate, I just asked last week about Nate Van Duzer and I was told he does not work at the district. So unless he is a consultant, I don't know.

Charlie, I did report that so I was surprised to hear about Van Duzer.

Cleo said...

Melissa,

I am enormously concerned that Burgess's aide took Erin Bennett's position. Erin Bennett dealt with policy issues. Policies are created from laws. It should also be noted that Erin Bennett was an attorney and Burgess's aide is not. In my mind, the best person suited for Bennett's old position is an attorney.




Cleo said...

Who is responsible for Van Duzer's hire, and what does he know about education policy and law?

I've heard Van Duzer is loyal to Burgess.

The city is infiltrating the John Stanford Center. I was glad to see Charles Wright leave because he was from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Voters will choose school board members, but the leaked document shows the manner in which the city is thinking. Get a city insider into office and go from there...

Cleo said...

Confirming Van Duzer's position at SPS:

"4. Seattle city council member Tim Burgess’s longtime lead staffer Nate Van Duzer—he’s been with Burgess since 2009— is leaving city hall to take a job at the Seattle school district as the director of policy and board relations."

http://www.seattlemet.com/articles/2016/7/13/plastic-bag-ban-non-compliant-community-councils-not-working

Interesting that Burgess's lead staffer ended-up in a position between the board and district. Van Duzer has a birds-eye view of everything that happens between the board and district.

Melissa Westbrook said...

And the evidence piles up.

To note, I asked - very directly if Van Duzer "works" for SPS - this was very recent and was told no. I can only assume that he wasn't "working" at SPS when I asked the question. I should have asked if he has been hired.

Po3 said...

"Consideration should be given to identifying and pursuing long-term strategies for strengthening district governance, including…having an active role in the selection of the next superintendent…“"

Are we getting ready to look for a new super? Sure seems like it.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Well, the end of this month will be the Superintendent's second year completed and he has two more. Unless he steps down or gets bought out,I don't think he's going anywhere. But he's mostly a figurehead (at least to all outward appearances) so that's useful to City Hall.

Anonymous said...

Thank you Melissa for reporting on this information. I agree with what many have mentioned.If we want to create a world class city, how about doing some work now on the items Jan mentioned. The mayor already has authority to make a difference. Get to work! But instead those issues are being ignored.


"It is doubly frustrating in that there are so MANY ways that the City and the Schools could publicly and openly collaborate -- but the City seems to have been taken over by neoliberal school reformists -- and is uninterested in them (many listed above -- such as impact fees, finding additional space for over-full schools (even if it is just availabilty of park space so the school can fill up its playground with portables, after school activities, summer internships and educational enrichment."
- tired

Melissa Westbrook said...

To note, I did write to the Board. And the City Council. And media friends (if only to put it on their radar.)

And, of course, I put in public disclosure requests, far and wide.

Lynn said...

A comment from the minutes of the June 29th meeting of the mayor's education summit advisory council: A group member suggested that the School Board should not be able to overturn a decision of a principal about school operations. The group member asked how we can administratively empower teachers..

I wonder if the SEA would support interference by the mayor.

Minutes available here: http://www.seattle.gov/Documents/Departments/EducationSummit/6%2029_AGmtgNotes_final.pdf