Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Live Blogging from School Board Meeting

Superintendent to skip his Comments and noted that the construction contract for Magnolia Elementary did not proceed and so they are rebidding in the fall and the school will open in 2019-2020.

President Peters is out of the country; Vice-President Harris is presiding.  All other directors are present.

JoLynn Berge of Budget is reviewing the budget portion of the Work Session, noting that the thrid session of the legislature is still in progress and they expect some news tomorrow.

Superintendent Nyland pointed out that the district, like all other WA state districts, has been dealt a bad hand by the Legislature but there is nothing they can do.

Blanford didn't even know that Peters was out of the country and was asking about her thoughts.  He himself was late and somehow decided he needed several clarifications because of it.

Looks like they are going to put off any budget decisions until they understand what comes out of the Legislature.  Vice-President Harris thanked the Budget folks for their transparency on budgeting issues for this year and noted how hard they had worked and been responsive to Board requests.

Waitlist Discussion

Flip Herndon, Facilities head, wants Board to pick one of the two Options available (not saying the Board could reject both).

Herndon went over the background of the issue.  The crux of the issue is that the word "capacity" can lead to disconnects, "we understand that the clarity of that word is not there."

(I note that staff is calling the previous enrollment plan as "choice/free market."  I have never heard that term used before.)

They have moved about half the students on the waitlist, from 6,332 to 3,288 with most being requests at attendance schools.

Herndon claimed that Option 1 is "what we have used thru the years" with no evidence.

Option 2 hurts sending schools, but not all of them.  They feel they cannot move all waitlists.

RBHS would be impacted (but again, the district has not fully supported IB so whose fault is it that it is not fully enrolled)?  Also, the condition of the building is a problem to attracting parents.

Blanford went first to say that there is too much churn on waitlists.  He said parents and teachers want to know in a timely manner (somehow forgetting there is a date when the waitlists dissolve).  He said that at his community meeting that the "orange"(shirted) people in tonight's crowd feel they are not being treated fairly.  However, he said the loudest group "yelling" should not necessarily prevail and it might not meet equity goals.  (Editor's note: my account has Blanford saying "orange people" meaning people wearing matching t-shirt in support of Stevens - whom he didn't reference by name.  When the video is available, I will review if that was his exact wording.)

Geary is speaking about how we have built schools but now have to pay for staffing them.  That goes into the idea into capacity and anticipating, come fall, we won't have enough students to fill buildings and schools will lose teachers.

(The room is now full, I believe from the group rallying for ethnics studies.)

She is not "comfortable" in this situation, is it just money, bad plan or conflicting policies?  She doesn't know.  Also, they need to hear from Sped families and Option families and the potential ramificaitons of any discussion.

Burke is speaking about "perfect storm" and this being a "reactive environment".  He said he spoke to former director, Kay Smith-Blum and she said that Madrona would not have this problem is it had been an international school.  He spoke of disconnect between "institutionally knowledgeable community members" versus staff.

For whatever reason, I'm not able to easily continue live blogging but I will have a report tomorrow.


Megan said...

Your play by play is great. Very straightforward. Look forward to reading the rest tomorrow.

mirmac1 said...

Geary says they need to hear from SpEd families. Just being cynical here, but is this common excuse used because they KNOW that families of children in special education are not some cohesive group, well-organized, plenty of free time and will to attend meetings/rallies etc?

If it hasn't happened over the last 20 years, why does anyone think it will change now? But, of course, on this issue I know families HAVE emailed the board and HAVE filed well-documented OCR complaints. I guess their concerns and entreaties are considered anomalies

The board heard from SpEd parent advocates who are the most well-informed and have lived with the assignment inequities the longest (uh, "institutionally-knowledgeable" I guess), and who suggested modest reforms; their concerns were quite literally laughed off. Some on the board questioned this characterization when I first pointed it out last year, but it is on video and readily confirmed.

So methinks the Lady doth protest too much.

Eric B said...

The business about moving 3300 of 6300 waitlist spots is absolute BS. Approximately 6300 students requested choice assignments, and about 3300 of them have gotten a first or second choice. However, virtually all of that happened when assignments were announced after Open Enrollment. Waitlists since that time have barely moved.

Anonymous said...


Please, will you run for the board?




kellie said...

Thanks Mel for you great coverage of this meeting.

I also attended and I stayed through public testimony and board comments. I am so impressed with the thoughtful comments from the current board.

I think one of the big challenges in the room last night was that there was not sufficient distinction between two problems - September Show Rate and Wait List Movement.

Every year, SPS has a rather huge problem in that the number of students who are enrolled on October 1 is not the same as what was staffed for October 1. Every year the district spend millions to mitigate this.

Wait lists are not what they were years ago. There were only 6,000 choice applications. That is a fraction of what was processed under the old choice system. Moreover, at least half of choice applications were for option schools, that require a choice application.

All things relative, there is a very small number of families who apply for a different attendance area school. These families are most assuredly shopping for a different experience. The very limited choice system creates an opportunity for these families to remain in the system, rather than leaving the system.

This idea that you can create greater stability in September by throttling the waitlist process now, may be well intentioned but it is only effective to the extent that greater stability is achieved by causing fewer total families to enroll. If you go back 5 years and look at the enrollment projections, it can't be a coincidence that the areas of town with the greatest wait list controversy are also the same areas where total enrollment is much lower than projected.

The sad part is that there are real things that can be done that would actually improve the start of schools with significantly greater predictability regarding enrollment. It the old 100% choice days, there was so much wait list movement in September and October, that it made little or no sense to complete teacher and schedule assignments before school started. As such, middle and high school students tend to receive their schedules the day before school starts. If this process were moved to the Spring, you would more easily be able to tell who was planning to attend in the Fall.

There are dozens of little and big changes that can be made to create greater transparency into the Oct 1 enrollment. However, throttling waitlists and breaking promises to families does not accomplish this goal.

kellie said...

There is another issue that lacked sufficient clarity last night. This is the issue of boundary changes. When a boundary changes, who are the families in that change zone?

In 2012, the Stevens boundary was changed. Now there are significant portions of the "historic Stevens" boundary that are currently Lowell and Madrona.

The families that started at Stevens think of themselves as Stevens families who happen to no longer live in the Stevens zone. There are transition areas, where the area was formerly one thing and is now another. Typically boundary changes at any public school are fought intensely. It has been relatively mild in Seattle, because of the promise to keep siblings together during the transition.

As an aside, the transition to the NSAP is largely complete and there are very few if any split siblings as a result of the 2010 boundary changes. However, the 2012 Growth Boundaries created a whole new series of transitions and a whole new batch of split siblings. It is interesting to note that in 2010, there were only 14 total siblings not keep together - 1 at Stevens and 13 at Lafayette. So at the high of greatest change, SPS managed to keep families together. But last year, there were 100 split siblings, most at schools impacted by growth boundaries.

Director Blanford asked a good question, that staff was unable to answer. Director Blanford was concerned that a promise to keep siblings together could be leveraged to open the door to more instability, similar to the old 100% choice system. This would be the case where one student got a choice seat and then the rest of the family expected a guarantee to move.

We have six years of split sibling reports. It is really clear that there is very limited risk on this and that the bulk of split sibling challenges are related to boundary changes, not family based choice.

Director Burke made a very astute comment that SPS can't be in the business of splitting families. IMHO, his comment summarized the challenge perfectly.

Anonymous said...

" He said that at his community meeting that the "orange" people in tonight's crowd feel they are not being treated fairly. However, he said the loudest group "yelling" should not necessarily prevail and it might not meet equity goals."

Regarding Blanford's comment above ??? Did he really insult the parents who want to keep siblings together with this comment? He should be removed from the board immediately.

Anonymous said...

I have a friend whose son is going to be an 8th grader at JAMS. The family assumed their daughter would go there next year as it was their neighborhood school. In these past 2 years, the boundaries changed and she got a letter in the mail notifying her that her daughter was assigned to Eckstein. If she had known the boundary changed, she would have likely gotten her in through sibling preference. Now she is way too low on the waitlist to have a chance. I'm just curious - how are families notified when their neighborhood schools change due to changes in boundaries. Do they get a letter or e-mail that the parents just missed or do families have to be in the know all the time?

NE Mom of 3

Eric B said...

In public testimony, I pointed out how staff said one thing regarding capacity in January when the latest student assignment plan was being approved and completely another now. I was referring to the January 11, 2017 board meeting ( Here are some relevant time stamps and quotes from the captions. My notes are in square brackets giving context for the discussion.

1:23:34 [This was in the middle of a discussion about grandfathering middle school assignments for students who would be geosplit into Robert Eagle Staff and Meany] "Again with Open Enrollment you know it's a choice seat based on space available. So if a student, any student across the district has the ability to fill out a choice application but if they fill out an application to a school that is overcrowded and there's not a seat available their guaranteed assignment is to their neighborhood school. So there actually is more predictability with remaining with a geosplit because we can look to see where there is space and then where there's instances where we need to ensure that again a school starting up has a healthy enrollment to be able to offer the courses that it needs."

1:35:15 [In the middle of a discussion about Whitman being emptied out by the geosplit] "So Whitman we do see the enrollment increasing over time so that the combination of being able to allow families choice in the short term when we do see that decline in enrollment also gives us the ability to ensure that there is space when we do see growth in that Ballard area in the long term."

0:57:52 [This was the only time when the schools students on waitlists would come from was discussed, and it's a pretty apocalyptic example of everyone leaving a school so that it couldn't offer a full range of programs] "Our open enrollment process is also based on capacity and factors such as ensuring that we are again utilizing the space across the district efficiently to support the different programs that we have.Just because every single student at a particular school may fill out a choice application for another school we wouldn't deplete one school such that every student could have a seat at another school. There is a balance again being able to offer choice but then being able to make sure that to the extent possible we don't have schools at over capacity and we do have schools that have a healthy enrollment to be able to support diverse programming and curriculum."

Anonymous said...

"Orange people"? What does that mean? Were there a lot of spray tanners in the crowd, or is it his disparaging way to refer to white people?

Public Apology?

Melissa Westbrook said...

Eric B, you blew the thunder off me wanting to note what you had said. Boom!
More on this to come but again, when parents do their homework on what staff say and when, this is what happens. A ripple went thru the room and I was watching the Board, not staff but I'm sure staff wasn't happy.

It is not for nothing that even when the Board queries about staff statements, they sometimes get gaslighted. I know of one case where a board member said something staff had stated at a Work Session that, in the next go-round, they denied saying, leaving the board member baffled. That director went back to the meeting notes and found the statement. Oh.

Public Apology, my apologies - they were wearing matching orange shirts. While I didn't like Blanford's remarks, he was not disparaging anyone's race.

Anonymous said...

Eric B's point is well taken.

When boundaries were first being decided. Staff did building walk-throughs to determine capacity. They came through our school 3 times that year. Looking at every space, could the copy room become resource room to empty a classroom, or the stage be used as a classroom? Lunchroom? They never looked at budgets, they only looked at physical space. They issued reports about capacity. those reports only referred to physical space. Staff is being dishonest saying that the definition of capacity has always included building budget.

-HS Parent

Anonymous said...

Re: #SplitSiblings

Here is the essential question:

Do Families serve the Schools?


Do Schools serve the Families???

I think the answer is obvious.

If you do too, then, you all know how this issue of split siblings ought to be handled. Unite the siblings. Really.

The tax payers should not have their families carved up. Plain and simple. It really is that simple. There is no excuse for the district to do this to families who are, after all, (1) their bosses (2) their funders and (3) their 'customers'/consumers.

Schools serve families. Not the other way around.

Board directors, are you listening?!?

NO #SplitSiblings

Anonymous said...

From the description of the ethnic studies proposal, it seems possible that the resulting curriculum/materials could bypass formal Board approval by being classified as resources or supplements. The resolution is vague on the details. Is the intent to have the materials and resources go through the normal process of Board approval prior to use in the classroom?

details matter

kellie said...

I think I have finally worked out the cognitive dissonance on this "staffing capacity" vs "capacity" challenge.

SPS has always had a bit of the tale of two cities experience. While many folks equate that with a north vs south notion, it has always been more complicated than that. One way to view this divide is a schools with historic or current waitlists and a school that may have never had a waitlist.

About 15 years ago, this divide was almost 50/50, where half of the schools had a waitlist and the other half did not. Moreover, enrollment was declining every year and therefore every year, there was a reduction in total teaching staff.

In 2004, K enrollment starting growing every year and the K cohort was larger that the preceding year. It wasn't until 2009 that this growth in elementary school was large enough to reverse the trend of smaller cohorts in the upper grades. As such, most current SPS families can't even imagine a time, where there was not only extra space, but lots of extra space in the district.

So when staff is saying that they "always" used "staffing capacity" this is a factually correct, if deeply distracting statement. This is because for schools without a waitlist or any extra space, the capacity of that building was set at a staffing level. However, for all the other buildings, staffing capacity and building capacity were synonomous.

I say this is a distracting statement, because as Eric points out, during the Student Assignment Plan vote this year, the board was told clearly and crisply that they did not need to add any amendments to the SAP, because there was so much extra capacity in the system that students that wanted a choice assignment would be able to receive that assignment.

So this distinction while factually correct, is completely irrelevant to the current problem, that is based quite simply on broken promises and multiple schools being artificially capped well below their actual capacity for non-transparent reasons.

Anonymous said...


As I recall, In the days when the district had extra space, We had weighted student funding model of school budgets. A certain amount of funding was attached to each student & followed that student to a building. Schools competed to attract students & increase their funding.

The district encouraged that. If a school was not attracting enough students, their budgets shrank. District did not protect them from that by refusing to allow students to choose another school based on budget. At a district meeting on how to register for kindergarten in 2001 we were told to that choosing a less popular, smaller school could put families in a position of having that school close during their child's elementary years as more students chose the more popular school. So they recommended that we avoid choosing the smallest schools in the area. It is not true that staff was limiting choice to protect schools from decreasing budgets. Staff used choice to justify allowing schools to be closed. Remember Summit? African American Academy? Viewlands? They were not protected. Students from Rainier Beach area were allowed to choose, & bussed, to Ingraham. Rainier Beach budget was not protected by limiting choice.

Weighted Staffing Standards became the new funding model about the time that student numbers started to increase.

I would be surprised if there is any district staff still around to remember that they were encouraging incoming kindergarten parents to avoid choosing smaller schools. If they were there, then they are not being truthful. If they weren't there then they are making it up.

-HS Parent

Anonymous said...

I wonder if staff is going to defend the use of maintaining a static building budget as a definition of capacity when they split out students from Roosevelt, Ballard, & Garfield to Lincoln? Will they work so hard to protect those building budgets when they want to move students or is it just when families want to choose? At that time there will be much bigger loss of staffing than with moving all the wait lists now.

Maybe if the boundary committee is meeting they can tell us what definition they were told to use?

-HS Parent

Melissa Westbrook said...

"I would be surprised if there is any district staff still around to remember that they were encouraging incoming kindergarten parents to avoid choosing smaller schools."

Absolutely true; I remember this as well.

kellie said...

I remember that well. Anyone else remember the year when you were not picking school, only a Kindergarten and you would be reassigned later?

I concur completely with HS Parent. This "staffing capacity" is more of a distraction than anything else. It was true that at one time, a school could both have a waitlist and an empty classroom. It was pretty rare but it did happen.

By the time the change from Weighted Student Formula to Weighted Staffing Standard happened in 2007, that scenario was incredibly rare.

Anonymous said...

One thing that use to happen to allow a waitlist while a building still had capacity was that schools each decided their own capacity. One elementary school in our neighborhood filled classrooms to 32 students and used the excess money from WSF to buy extra librarian hours, art teacher, IA's. The neighboring school held their class size to 23/24 and put every dollar into classrooms. Those decisions were made by principals & BLT's, not by the district.

These schools also could choose to have dedicated art room or music room even if they had a waitlist. That was not true a few years later when the district started deciding building capacity under the New student assignment plan.

-HS Parent

kellie said...

I think HS Parent has really hit the heart of this issue - transparency.

Staff is asserting that this "staffing capacity" is the way, it has always been done. There are some elements of truth to this historical staffing capacity notion, as schools had great influence in terms of setting their own capacity, during the choice era.

But the whole mess was completely transparent. During open enrollment, schools knew their max capacity and they were clear and open about this. This year, the capacity at many schools was set as part of the Feb budget allocations. The Feb allocation has typically been a floor that was adjusted upwards after open enrollment. But this year, that floor became the ceiling for many schools.

The families at Whitman were 100% clear that the 500 student allocation did not represent the reality of Whitman's enrollment. They were told not to worry because this would be adjusted post open enrollment. But ... that never happened.

I could get behind this idea of "staffing capacity." If they were going to add the same level of clarity that schools like Franklin, Cleveland, Stevens, Whitman, Meany and Center and many other schools have their enrollment artificially capped much lower than their building capacity.