Sunday, July 02, 2017

Seattle School Board Meeting This Week - Waitlists

An oddity in the SPS calendar; two board meetings in two weeks.  There will be a couple of special board meetings in July - both about the budget - and then not another one until, well, I don't know because neither the district calendar nor the Board calendar reflect when the next one is.  I would guess late August or early September.

Here is the agenda.   

I will be writing a separate post on the comments on ethnics studies curriculum. 

According to the agenda, the Budget and Waitlist "updates" will come at 4:30 pm and the next part of the meeting at 4:55 pm.  

I suspect that, on the budget, sadly for staff, that there is not really a lot of good news coming from the final day of the last legislative session in Olympia.  That leaves them to probably have to be very conservative on the amount of money SPS will receive.

As for waitlists, will staff present an Option 3?  We can keep looking at the agenda between now and Wednesday to see if there is a presentation that has that.  Right now, there is nothing.  

Of major interest -whether you have a student on a waitlist or not - is the final outcome for waitlists.  This is important because of several key issues that point directly to whether this Board is going to accept staff's wavering stance on waitlists.

1) The "practices" that staff say they use for waitlists is neither in the policy or the procedure about waitlists nor the current interim enrollment plan.

2) As parent Eric Blumhagen pointed out at last week's board meeting, the staff said one thing about capacity in January - "space available"  and now they are saying something else - "space available or staffing."

As to the discussion from the Board, there was first Q&A with staff but directors also made a few comments during the Board Comment section.

Q&A with Staff
Vice-President Harris asked about an Option 3 (as there are only two right now).  JoLynn Berge, Budget, was visibly unhappy with this question as was Superintendent Nyland.  She also stated that the analysis that Harris asked for might not be able to be done in a week.

Oddly, Berge said that there only budget implications for these elementary waitlists as Flip said no matter where a student was for elementary, they are automatically assigned to their region's middle school unless there was a Choice option made.  It seems to me that if a student is in a non-neighborhood assignment and wanted to follow the path of THAT school, you might then see implications of more kids trying to get into different middle schools.  Maybe staff thinks that won't happen.

Both Berge and Dr. Clover Codd of HR pointed out that some schools were just waiting for this issue to be resolve so they could hire and it's becoming problematic.  Somehow Codd was equating the 209 open staffing positions districtwide with just this issue and that can't be.  Staff had previously said that the number of kids/schools on these waitlists were not that many so how is it a major systemic problem?

Codd said she was worried about the first day of school and the waiting on hiring. Harris dryly stated that she didn't think many school hiring committees would be working during a week with a major summer holiday. 

(One slightly amusing aside came as Harris wanted to make a motion.  Blanford tried to cut her off saying, "You're the Chair."  She said, "I know and I know I can make a motion."  Her motion was to move this vote to next week and wait for more information.)

Burke said he would be supporting this motion because, although there had been a lot of work done, "I don't see what is the financial implication about schools and staff dollars."  He ended by saying he didn't "believe SPS should be in business to split families" and that they should keep siblings together and "it should be part of our standard practice."

Director Geary said yes to the motion but added that she would not be at the next board meeting for the vote (she'll be out of town).  She said she didn't like pitting schools against each other.

Director Blanford had an interesting thought about giving sibling preference to those who enroll out of area.  He said it might "open the floodgates" for "all those with siblings and what are the implications" especially around stability.

I would say in this case, sibling preference should be granted because those parents enrolled their first child when their school WAS their assignment school and then the boundaries got changed.  His point may be valid for anyone attempting to get more than one child into a different school on a choice application.

Director Comments (partial just about waitlists)

Director Blanford stated that the Board wanted the analysis done "so that we are making decisions with full knowledge rather than incomplete knowledge."

He said he had a "rambunctious" community meeting, largely about the waitlists.  He said he tried to say he had to consider all the schools in his region and in the district.

Then he said something that was truly silly - he said, " We don't want to close schools so we have to provide the resources to help them thru lean times."  

Wait, what?  The issues around the waitlists are not because of fiscal hard times - they are because several schools  are underenrolled.  The lack of students is what is impacting their fiscal bottom line.  All schools need more funding and certainly those with more students with challenges really do.  But the lack of enrollment is an issue that no one seems to want to say out loud or address.  That's not going to help enrollment and it's certainly not going to force any parent into enrolling in a school.

Director Burke said he had received many emails about the waitlist situation, noting that the Board and the staff operate at the 30,000 foot level but with the understanding of impacts at the school level.  He said the Board relies on families, educators, and students for input for common problems.

18 comments:

kellie said...

Thanks for posting this. This is important because this "practice" of non-transparent arbitrary enrollment caps violates the entire student assignment plan. Additionally the disregard for the promise to do everything possible to keep siblings together during boundary changes is a critical part of trust between the district and families.

Simply put, the Student Assignment Plan is how members of the public, gain access to the publics service of public education, paid with tax dollars. If you can't trust the Student Assignment Plan, there is no reason to trust anything. Tracy Libros was fastidious about the rules and now I understand why. There were many times I did not agree with Tracy, but I always trusted her.

Director Blanford's comment is very accurate. While the majority of the district has been struggling with over-enrollment, there are a few places that are struggling with extra space. The change at Madrona from a K8 to a K5 has created six additional class rooms. The move of HCC out of Lowell created a lot of additional capacity. The boundary for Stevens was drawn extra small in order to try to direct enrollment towards Lowell and Madrona and now Stevens has a lot of extra space.

In theory, you might possibly be able to close one of the north capital schools and then re-shuffle all of the students, but that is not the issue. There are plenty of kids in that part of town, they are just not enrolling in public schools.


Lynn said...

Staff began using this "practice" a few years ago to force students into Rainier Beach. There have been students and parents from Cleveland and Franklin complaining at board meetings about artificial caps on enrollment since then. I may be mistaken but I understood that Director Patu has supported it.

This practice makes Southeast Seattle the perfect location for charter schools as they will provide an alternative to families locked out of Cleveland and Franklin.

Making Cleveland an attendance area school again would provide an opportunity to move more students into Rainier Beach. A better solution would be to poll families with students in public and private schools to find out why they're avoiding RBHS. The current theory is that it's the building condition. I think neighborhood safety has been a factor too.

The district won't be able to fill Madrona by forcing families into the building - too many families in that neighborhood can afford private school tuition for that to be effective. Parents of current students are adamant that it's no different from any other school - but also indignant at the suggestion that the school might make any changes to attract more neighborhood students. You can't design a program to meet the needs of one group of students then be surprised if another group isn't thrilled to join them. More emphasis on advanced learning opportunities (implementing and publicizing walk to math as an example) and getting rid of the uniforms would be a start. Updating the student handbook with a greatly reduced emphasis on discipline would help too. My understanding is that reducing the poverty level in a school is more helpful to low income students than anything else. Filling those six classrooms with students who would have otherwise attended private schools should be the goal at Madrona - not locking the doors at Stevens.

kellie said...

I concur with Lynn.

This current "practice" can be defined as artificially capping a schools enrollment, significantly below the building's capacity in a non-transparent manner, regardless of whether or not this is in alignment with the values set forth in the Student Assignment Plan.

While staff has argued that this practice is consistent with historical practices, that is simply not accurate.

Elements of this practice have always been around. However, this particular combination of elements started with the artificial enrollment caps on Cleveland and Franklin and has now spread to other schools.

It is true that during the choice era, there were many schools that where enrollment was capped significantly below the building capacity. However, that cap was both transparent and publicly advertised. It is this combination of artificial caps without any community engagement that is so toxic.

Worst of all, there is no evidence that the desired result is being produced. If you look at the projections from 5 years ago, it is clear that enrollment has exceeded expectations in most parts of town. Then there are a few areas, where enrollment is significantly lower than expected. It should not be a surprise to anyone, that there is lower total enrollment in the areas of this very special "practice."

As Lynn said, "locking the doors" at one school, does not fix the problem.


Anonymous said...

The ethnic studies initiative is still a bit fuzzy - is the task force going to suggest grade by grade resources that schools will use as supplemental material in LA/SS classes (similar to the Black Live Matter material) or will materials go through the formal Board adoption process, with the accompanying public review? The district policy on supplemental materials states "The principal is ultimately responsible for approving all supplementary instructional materials used in his/her school." Would principals then need to deal with any questions about the materials on a school by school basis (will parents be less inclined to voice concerns in light of the parent-to-principal emails released through a public records request?)? Who has the final say, what type of public review will be included, and how, exactly, are they defining "ethnic studies?"

-fuzzy

Anonymous said...

Slightly off topic, but Ancestry.com is offering free access to records from the original 13 colonies, ending today. They have a 4th of July promotional video with direct descendants of the original signers of The Declaration of Independence.

just fyi

Anonymous said...

@ fuzzy,

Evidence suggests that having an ethnic studies class can help struggling minority students, particularly in high school. A recent study found, for example, that when students with low GPAs (2.0 and below) were required to take an ethnic stiludies class with a set curriculum, they had multiple positive outcomes. Most students who took the class were minorities, and the class was optional for higher performing students.

So SPS, of course, probably won't have a specific ethnic studies course, won't make it optional for some, won't have a clear or defined curriculum, and won't focus on specific grade levels (thus heightening the risk of inappropriate and/or misinterpreted messages). This resolution seems to be an attempt to make it look like they're doing something without actuallly committing to doing something meaningful or well-thought-out.

Window Dressing

Anonymous said...

The Board should honor its own policy and move the waitlists at schools that have space available.

At Stevens, for the second year in a row, SPS is unnecessarily excluding siblings, and choosing to kick kids out of their school that they love (because they changed addresses). This result violates Board policy, which says that siblings and kids who change addresses can apply through the choice process to stay at the same school after moving IF THE SCHOOL HAS SPACE AVAILABLE. Stevens has lots of space available.

The Board-approved policy is clear:

1) The Student Assignment Plan says choice assignments are made on a "space available" basis.

2) The Director of Enrollment herself THIS YEAR described the process as follows: "with Open Enrollment you know it's a choice seat based on space available." (Jan 11, 2017, at 1:23:34 in the video): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KlOwKUsJ6z4&list=PL4qDca8XEC4NIaRJ27inlNvSeUaS33Aso&index=32)

3) There are good reasons outlined in the Student Assignment Plan for allowing families choice assignments, e.g., to allow continuity for kids who change addresses and to keep siblings together. (Another good reason for choice assignments, recently cited in comments on this blog, is to allow families to decide to stay in SPS by choosing a school that's a good fit for their child.)

4) Directors often must balance competing interests and decide how to allocate the District's resources. In making decisions, the Directors should look to comply with established and stated policy in the interest of transparency, accountability, and maintaining public trust. Board policy is publicly vetted, voted upon, and exists as a guidepost in making difficult decisions. Therefore it should be followed.

Stevens has space available. I hope the Board will act in compliance with its own policy and direct the District to move the full Stevens waitlist.

--Stevens parent

Anonymous said...

I realize I am a broken record on this topic, but it is straight forward wrong to split families when boundaries change.

The current example of Stevens is especially egregious as their boundaries were crafted to allow room for siblings in exchange for not providing a guarantee for siblings.

Policy is being openly ignored, and families even further insulted by changing the definition of "space available."

The years of our childrens childhood and their education is too important to waste time with broken promises and false declarations of "trust us."

Broken trust equals lower enrollment.

-StepJ

Anonymous said...

And then there us the case of Whitman where promises were posted on the SPS website promising grandfathering for students at Whitman. Then telling Board Directors there was no need for an amendment to the Transition Plan to guarantee grandfathering as all would be worked out during open enrollment.

Broken promises, broken trust, equals lower enrollment.

-StepJ

Anonymous said...

The Whitman example is particularly frustrating. Let's not forget the "community outreach" sessions where the District told families there was no need to worry about grandfathering. Just fill out your choice form and you'll be able to stay at Whitman. There is plenty of room. Then they try to gaslight the 70+ families languishing on the waitlist.

Why does the District even waste time with community outreach if they're not going to stand by their word?

--Frustrated

Melissa Westbrook said...

I will send these comments onto the Board before the meeting tonight. I again note that Director Geary will not be there (I believe she's gone on a trip) so it will be six directors. In my head I was trying to parse how I think the vote might go.

Staff was pushing back over providing some additional analysis and so I expect a pro forma type document from them. Will that be enough for the Board to say, "Well, they did what we asked?" Or, will the sheer volume of proof of what they have said in the past versus what they are saying now allow the Board to say, "You can do this next year after a carefully, clearly stated procedure is done. Right now, we don't have that, we told parents one thing and now another, and we'll have to live with that."

The main thing is the district has to take responsibility for its own inaction on trying to make underenrolled schools more attractive AND its whiplash practices on waitlists.

Anonymous said...

The waitlist/budget documents from staff for consideration are now live on the agenda site: https://www.seattleschools.org/cms/One.aspx?portalId=627&pageId=23435734

There are now 3 options, basically: (1) do nothing, (2) move all waitlists where there is space available to do so, and (3) move siblings only. Option 2 appears to be the only one that complies with stated policy.

If the district chooses to go down the path of Option 3 and apply their "space available" policy selectively, I *REALLY* hope that they will include "currently enrolled kids who have changed addresses" along with siblings to receive choice assignments. There can't be too many such kids in the district, and it is *SO* stressful for kids to be kicked out of the school they know and love because their family changed addresses.

--Concerned

kellie said...

StepJ has nailed it with this statement. "Broken promises, broken trust, equals lower enrollment."

I am very curious as to whether or not, the enrollment artificial cap at Franklin is before or after the promise of at least 10% of seats set aside for choice. While it is crystal clear that it is not possible to have 10% choice seats at Garfield, Ballard or Roosevelt due to severe over-crowding. There is most than enough space for that 10% to be honored at Franklin, Sealth, WSHS, Ingraham and Hale.

Lynn said...

Looking at the presentation on budget and enrollment for tonight's meeting, I don't understand why staff is reporting that Option 2 would cost almost $7M when it would reduce certificated staff by $8.5 FTE. That seems disingenuous.

Anonymous said...

In the agenda for tonight's meeting, there is a briefing document, where staff asserts the following:

"Staff recommends continuation of the consistent past practice over the past ten years (designated here as “Option 1”), which is to move waitlists at attendance area schools only when there is opportunity to do so without negatively affecting sending schools or adding staff to receiving schools. No action from the Board is needed to continue this practice."

How can that be a true statement, when they also said there was no reason to amend the SAP for grandfathering at Whitman?

- whitman parent

kellie said...

@ Lynn,

The associated costs are because they would not remove any staff from schools that lost students are the result of wait list moves.

This whole mess is out of control. Staff is asserting that is is how it is done and families and community members are just confused and that is simply not the case.

Anonymous said...

Wait? So staff is saying that if the Board forces them to follow policy that in return staff is going to make up yet another new "practice." This is getting beyond bizarre.

-StepJ

Lynn said...

@ kellie,

Thanks. I agree with both you and StepJ. This is crazy. They will have to move staff to the extent the $2M set aside for equity mitigations won't cover the cost of keeping them.