Sunday, November 26, 2006

The PI Perspective

As a welcome contrast to the Seattle Times articles mentioned by Melissa Westbrook in More from the Times, the Seattle PI today has an editorial presenting the opposite perspective.

Read Seattle Schools: Is there a 'crisis'? and then compare the ideas and opinions presented there with the ones in the Times' editorials.

I support the idea of Norm Rice as an interm superintendent, since I believe it will improve the chances of the levy and bond votes passing February, and will increase the chances of having a successful search for an excellent permanent superintendent. However, the writing in the Seattle Times has been so slanted and one-sided that I'm happy to see the editorial in the PI today presenting the opposing view.


Anonymous said...

After reading Rice's interview in the PI are you still as positive on his motives and impact?

Anonymous said...

Rice may be the feel-good candidate who would stop the heckling and harrassment from the city (which might actually be enough to make me support the idea) and inspire the public to vote for levies (which I'm not sure is in doubt - we all voted for the operating levy even after the 30-several million $ debacle), but I thought this on Rice was illuminating - from Puget Sound Business Journal 9/29/2000:

"When a headhunter approached the former Emerald City mayor about becoming president of the Federal Home Loan Bank of Seattle when his political term ended, Rice replied, "What is it?"

Cut to January 2005, when Rice retires from the FHLB by "mutual agreement". In the PSBJ 2/1/2005 "Rice Leaving FHLB of Seattle":

"Rice's departure -- effective March 15 -- comes at a difficult juncture for the bank that he led for six years.

In December, the Federal Housing Finance Board disclosed it had found deficiencies in the bank's "risk management, capital structure, governance and business plan."

Rice, who twice represented the nation's 12 FHLBs at Congressional hearings, pledged cooperation with regulators, who nonetheless said they would closely supervise the wholesale mortgage lender's finances."

While Mr Rice will not likely have to ask "What is it?" about SPS, you'd be hard-pressed to call him the educator or experienced superintendent many have said they want - and the above is not a great track record in the financial arena.

Ditto anonymous's concerns about Rice's PI interview - "shelve school closures"?

Charlie Mas said...

I am so freaking delighted to find a media report that there is no crisis I'm practically shaking.

There is no crisis. All of the governance problems were rooted in the fact that the District has a Superintendent who does not share the Board's values and goals and opposed them instead of implementing them. News Flash: the Superintendent works for the Board, not the other way around.

Melissa Westbrook said...

I think the levy/bond measures are in more danger this time precisely because the Mayor and the Times are beating this bandwagon of crisis and incompetence. (I had a recent interchange of e-mails with someone on the editorial board at the Times and as it turns out, they don't blame Olchefske for anything. So, by their thinking, the $30M+ debacle was a misstep and not incompetence. The wording used in the e-mail was "he spent it on the kids".)

Even though I am against the capital bond measure, I don't want to see the operating levy fail. As I have said before, you have a public who is being forcefed a diet of bad news (by one side)and who already feels mistrustful. Then you have parents who are angry over school closures. And then you have people like me who have specific reasons for being against them. That's a lotta people who might be willing to vote against one or both measures.

I wrote to James Vesely at the Times yesterday and suggested that while the Mayor wouldn't want the levy/bond measures to fail, I'm sure there are those who would to prove their point about how bad off we are with this Board by having the measures fail.

Charlie Mas said...

I continue to be amazed that folks like the Mayor, the Times, the "capital E establishment, and Don Nielson, can attribute all of the good done in Seattle Public Schools over the past three years to the Superintendent while holding him blameless for all of the bad. At the same time they blame the Board for all of the bad while giving them no credit whatsoever for all of the good accomplished.

It sometimes devolves into the absurd in which they credit the Superintendent for fixing the District's financial woes and simultaneously blaming the Board for the District's financial crisis. Unreal.

When they say that the Board and the Superintendent don't work well together, they put all of the blame for that on the Board, neglecting that the Board is the boss in this relationship. Hey. When there is a Vision disagreement between the boss and the employee, the boss is right and the employee is wrong. The Board sets the Vision, the Superintendent's job is to realize it.

This Superintendent never shared the Board's goals or values and he constantly obstructed them. He refuses to implement the reforms he promised when he took the job. For all of the talk about his integrity, I have yet to see it.

There is no emergency. There is no crisis. The Superintendent, in anticipation of a poor performance evaluation, tendered his resignation. He will fulfill his contract and work through August. That gives the Board enough time to find an appropriate replacement.

The District does not need to replace him immediately, and we certainly don't need to replace him immediately with an interim superintendent who does not recognize the Board's authority and does not share the Board's values and goals. How will that improve the "governance"?

The Times, the Mayor, and the capital E Establishment oppose the current, populist Board and want them out. These forces are perfectly happy to subvert the upcoming levies with fabricated stories of incompetence and crisis to help them make their case.

It's like P J O'Rouke says: "The Democrats are the party that says government will make you smarter, taller, richer, and remove the crabgrass on your lawn. The Republicans are the party that says government doesn't work and then they get elected and prove it."

I fear that the Mayor, as the co-chair of the school levy campaign, will lead it to failure and then use the failure as further evidence of the Board's incompetence (rather than his own as co-chair of the campaign).

It astounds me that the man who opposed the last effort to raise money locally for schools by saying "We all care about education, but it is the state’s job to fund it, according to the State Constitution. Voting for this initiative will send a message to the state that we don’t need more money and will hurt our chances of getting more." has been given the job of running the levy campaign. How is that possible when he clearly opposes raising local money for schools?

Charlie Mas said...

Mel says that she is opposed to the capital bond measure but supports the levy.

If you go to the SchoolsFirst! web site http://www.schools-first.com you will see a list of folks who have endorsed the levy and the bond measure. The Mayor's name is not among them. Nor does his name appear anywhere on the web site. Hmmm. Nor does any reference to the upcoming levies appear anywhere on his web site. Hmmm.

Melissa Westbrook said...

I just double-checked Charlie's assertion about the Mayor (not because I didn't believe him; I can't believe it wouldn't be somewhere) and ...it's not there. Not on Schools First and not on the Mayor's recent press releases and not in his "issues" area which has gay marriage and South Lake Union. So yeah, what's up with that?

Anonymous said...

Charlie, could you please be more specific about how the superintendent has thwarted board's values? I'm not arguing, I just don't know as much as you do. All I can think of is Raj's first suggestions of school closings, which seem to have been done for "business" reasons, such as building conditions, instead of test scores. Is that the sort of thing you are refering to?

Charlie Mas said...

Dorothy, thank you for the question. The Board has said, in word, deed, and policy, that they want to make the District more open, honest, transparent, engaged, and accountable. Mr. Manhas, from the first day that he was made Superintendent, has paid lip service to those values. He has not, however, supported those values in his decisions or in his actions.

Some examples:
Open - The Superintendent has not done his business in the open. Consider the closures. The Board-appointed CAC met in public (except for their last meeting). Last year, the Superintendent developed his closure plan - his Preliminary Proposal for Reshaping Seattle Public Schools - entirely in closed meetings. When he developed his Phase II closures, he did that in closed meetings as well. Program Placement decisions are made in closed meetings. The Board does all of their work - except for a few executive sessions related to personnel or litigation - in the open. The Superintendent does all of his work in private. He certainly didn't tell anyone that Steve Wilson only took the CAO job for two years. That was less than open. He didn't tell anyone about the discussions with TAF over a new school at Rainier Beach. He hasn't been open about the District's agreement with The New School Foundation.

Honest - The Superintendent has not kept his promises. Within the first month of becoming Superintendent he made five specific promises in writing to hundreds of Spectrum families. He didn't keep those promises. He didn't keep promises to share details about the MOU with The New School Foundation. He didn't keep his promise not to show high school WASL results without adjusting for the reclassified students. He didn't keep his promises regarding water quality and he didn't tell the truth about water quality issues. I'm sure that other people can come forward with broken promises and deceptions.

Transparent - Transparency has to do with openness, it also calls for everyone to play by the same rules. He reclassified about 900 students from the 10th grade to the 9th grade last year so they wouldn't have to take the WASL. These non-promotions, due to a lack of credits, were completely in violation of the District Policy on the promotion or non-promotion of high school students. He didn't reclassify any 11th graders back to the 10th grade or 12th graders back to the the 11th grade based on a lack or credits. The communities at some schools got to participate in the selection of their principal. The communities at other schools did not.

Engaged - First, read the report from The School-Family Partnership Parent Advisory Committee. Read their plan. Then, read the Superintendent's response to their report and read his plan. The Superintendent is not engaged. He does not consider community input as a factor in his decision-making. The best example of this is his Preliminary Proposal for Reshaping Seattle Public Schools. There were a number of well-attended community meetings prior to the creation of this plan. The community gave lots of good input. The final document included exhaustive explanations for every decision. Public input was not a factor in any of them. Other examples ABOUND.

Accountable - Have you read the Superintendent's accountability plan? It is the funniest document I have EVER read. It begins with long list of all of the actions that it would take to establish accountability. This is followed by a MUCH shorter list of the actions the District will take. The joke? None of those actions were taken. Whom will we hold accountable for failing to fulfill the accountability plan? District Policy is broken all the time and no one is ever held accountable. He couldn't even hold the Chief Sealth Girls Basketball team accountable. The last person he will ever hold accountable is himself. I confronted him once with his promises to Spectrum families and he responded by telling me, "Well, you know, I didn't actually write that letter myself." Then he told me that fulfilling those promises wasn't his job. then he told me that it wasn't his job to supervise the people who were responsible for fulfilling the promises in the letter.

Read the CACIEE report. The whole first section is a litany of the Superintendent's failures.

All of these chickens were coming home to roost. I believe the Board was preparing a very poor perfomance evaluation when he resigned.

The final straw, of course, was Phase II. The Board laid out very clear criteria for closures. He ignored them when selecting schools for closure in Phase II. His Phase II document also sharply - and rather petulantly - criticizes the Board for excluding T T Minor from Phase II consideration.

The man simply disagreed with the Board, the things they want to do, the direction they want to go, and the way they want to work. As the employee, it was incumbent on him to join up with their Vision rather than to obstruct it.