Disqus

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

The Racial Tiebreaker Lawsuit (Let's Have This Be the Last Word)

Okay, I can tell by the Open Thread that there is a lot of simmering unhappiness over the racial tiebreaker lawsuit. What's done is done (but we also need to keep some institutional memory about this and not gloss over it in the future).

On the one hand, I admire those parents who brought the lawsuit. As a person who has personally stuck up for what she believes in, I get their passion. I think a lot of people who are education activists started out working for their children, got involved and it becomes a larger issue. I had a disagreement with how TAF handled their Rainier Beach outreach and the TAF founder, Trish Dziko, and I sat down and talked. Guess what? We had more in common and had more common ground than either of us thought. People of good faith do find ways to do that.

I do admire the parents for their passion and willingness to stick it out. However, I will point out a couple of things that still remain despite the outcome of the Supreme Court decision.

1. The District immediately stopped using the tiebreaker. They could have, legally, used it until a court told them they couldn't use. They didn't and maybe that was for legal reasons (likely) and/or they didn't want to make the situation escalate (also likely). So now, for years, the enrollment plan has operated without the tiebreaker.

2. Do you do feel race should be used in the assignment plan? Well, it just might be used in the future. Justice Kennedy's separate opinion, coupled with the dissenters, show that a carefully crafted enrollment plan could use race as one facet of it. The case outcome only said that the majority of the justices did not like the Seattle/Louisville plans. Is the District bright enough and/or brave enough to craft such a plan? My thought is no. I think the wind is out of their sails, they will have to pay a big price financially and I think people are sick of talking about it. This doesn't mean diversity isn't important but from the high school assignment thread I think a good solid school near home trumps it.

3. You might be upset over the money it is going to cost the district (and leave our classrooms). It's not the plaintiffs' fault that their lawyers have chosen to act like lawyers (meaning, they say one thing and do another; hey, I know lawyers, love talking law but I wasn't surprised at all when DWT decided to go for the money). It's a bitter pill but that's it.

4. QA/Magnolia STILL isn't happy. They got Center School (and I'm still searching for the op-eds in any newspaper or any news story in which QA/Magnolia parents told the District that Center School was not what they wanted). They got the use of the tiebreaker stopped almost immediately. They won their court case. My point is not that they are whiners; they clearly have a case. Again, the stupidest, dumbest mistake ever made in this district was creating that lease that led to the sale of QA High School. When you have a geographically challenged city like ours, you have to expect that certain areas (like Magnolia and West Seattle) will have to have a high school there because of the difficulties of transporting kids all over.

The bottom line on their unhappiness is they need someplace large and stable enough for their children to go. But, it needs to be understood that a brand-new high school is on the order of $100M before land costs. Charlie's right; it would make more sense to get this problem pointed towards a solution before remodeling Hale as frankly, it seems more important. It also would make creating a new assignment program easier if each area had a high school. Hale has a new football field, a new almost-$2M roof, computer upgrades and a new performing arts hall.

Charlie has offered some ideas. I laugh over the Lincoln idea (although it may come to pass) because I was unequivocally told by Facilities staff that "no can do" because it's "their" interim site. And, since they also told me they were committed to redoing every single high school site (but not Nova or Summit; somehow they don't count), Hale and Ingraham will be remodeled and where would they go? (Wilson-Pacific?)

QA/Magnolia cannot believe, however, that they are the only ones with problems. Eastlake residents, too, have virtually no reference elementary school. That's even worse at some level because those are younger students.

I said at the beginning of this post that I had started out advocating for what I wanted for my kids. That was a stronger Highly Capable program (better Spectrum with more consistency in its format and delivery system as well as accessibility). When I started attending Board meetings in the early '90s, I realized that there were people with a lot more problems than me. So my activism took a district-wide view (and I was just spinning my wheels for a better gifted program - again, no real champion for it within the district). My point is that it is easy to get caught up in your school, your neighborhood, your region. And it's okay if you don't have the time or the energy to think about the rest of the district.

BUT, it is the job of staff and the Board to think district-wide. There is a ripple effect in this district when decisions are made. Very little happens in a vacuum. If those two groups, when this lawsuit started, had thought about it carefully, they might have made better choices. They might not have poured millions into creating a 300-seat high school that is not made up largely with kids from one region. They might not have sought to rush to "do something" and stepped back, worked with those communities and found a better solution. So now, years later, what has either side really gotten done on this problem?

Nothing. And so we go back to the drawing board. Let's find solutions.

19 comments:

Charlie Mas said...

I hate to keep on with the same idea, but I see Lincoln as a quick and effective solution. A lot of problems could be solved by an 800-student comprehensive high school in one half of Lincoln with Summit K-12 in the other half.

This is provided the needed - yes, it is needed - high school capacity for the north end and those communities north of downtown. This will provide Summit with a more central location. This will provide Summit's high school students with access to a broad variety of classes.

All of the obstacles that people have raised to this solution can be hurdled.

1. The Lincoln building isn't suitable for use as a K-12. I'm not buying that. Lincoln has been used for all grade levels. It was the interim site for a K-8 (Madrona) for 9-12 schools (Ballard, Roosevelt, Garfield), and is scheduled for use as the interim site for a 6-8 (Hamilton). If it could house those schools it can house Summit. Consider that some money could be spent to make it a better fit since this will be a long-term home for Summit.

2. Summit doesn't want to move to Lincoln. This will not be a site-based decision. Summit wants to be an all-city draw, so it needs to be centrally located with good transportation access: that's Lincoln. It is what is best for the District and, in the long-run, what will be best for Summit.

3. The Lincoln building is in poor condition. Then fix it. The District needs to maintain its properties. The fact that properties are in disrepair is not a legitimate excuse to leave properties in disrepair.

4. The District needs Lincoln as an interim site. No it doesn't. The District can use Wilson-Pacific or Jane Addams as an interim site. If those buildings are not in habitable condition then the District needs to fix them up. The District needs to maintain its properties, otherwise, what's the point of having them?

5. The communities on Queen Anne and Magnolia don't want Lincoln. That's not what I've heard. I've heard them say that they want a reliable assignment to a nearby school with an appropriate range of academic opportunities. Lincoln could be that school. It's not like Ballard is in their neighborhood. Lincoln is nearly as accessible as Ballard. It's not all about Queen Anne and Magnolia. There are other neighborhoods that aren't well served, such as Laurelhurst and north Capitol Hill. Anyway, so long as 800 students DO want Lincoln, that will create space for other students at the schools they want.

6. The expense of opening a new high school is too great. It is a necessary expense.

Anonymous said...

What about John Marshall instead? It will be open for other uses as early as next year, and is closer to Roosevelt where there is the greatest demand.

Anonymous said...

"They got the use of the tiebreaker stopped almost immediately. They won their court case. My point is not that they are whiners; they clearly have a case"

Here is the rub, either the suit was about the use of race or it was an attempt by a group of geographically located, upper middle class and wealthy parents to get a new school (or two). If it is the latter, it had no business going to the S. Ct. If it is the former, than PICS got what they wanted: no tie breaker. That is all that they should get.

Anonymous said...

"You might be upset over the money it is going to cost the district (and leave our classrooms). It's not the plaintiffs' fault that their lawyers have chosen to act like lawyers (meaning, they say one thing and do another; hey, I know lawyers, love talking law but I wasn't surprised at all when DWT decided to go for the money). It's a bitter pill but that's it."

Actually, it is PICS, as the CLIENT who has the right to seek the recovery of thier reasonable attornies fees.

DWT has NO independent authority to seek fees.

If Ms. Brose and the rest of the PICS leadership decide that they don't want to seek fees for thier lawyers, DWT can't on thier own ask for fees. I challenge her (and the rest of the PICS members) to stand up and do the right thing.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Thank you last Anonymous post; I just learned something new about the law.

Anonymous said...

Melissa -

"It's not the plaintiffs' fault that their lawyers have chosen to act like lawyers (meaning, they say one thing and do another;"

This comment is beneath you and is truly a slam on most folks doing good things - the rest of the Pro Bono program at DWT looked pretty darned impressive, I thought. (Davis Wright's 2005 Pro Bono Report - truly impressive - http://www.dwt.com/pro_bono/2005_ProBonoReport.pdf) Because of DWT's and apparently PICs change of heart you're bashing a whole segment of our society?

Ms. Brose, would still very much appreciate the answers to the questions previously posted on the other thread:

Truly appreciate your willingness to participate in this blog. I can't imagine that these years have been easy given the lawsuit.

Can you please address the Davis Wright Tremaine "Pro Bono" fees? I and many others are having serious problems with the concept that it was "pro bono" until the decision is considered a victory. What sort of fee agreement did the group sign with DWT? Was it contingent, hourly, blended, costs only, etc.? How is it that one of Seattle's oldest and finest law firms can find itself sucked into this PR morass that casts all of its fine personnel in such a greedy light? I have no problem with someone making a fee - I have a problem with the seeming extraordinary misrepresentation of "pro bono" a concept that used to be considered quite honorable.

Have you and your group as the client been kept apprised of the fees - what exactly is the number? The media reports vary quite widely.

Does anyone know the briefing schedule? Who the attys are that will be defending this expected fee petition? Any chance of amicus as taxpayers to object to the mischaracterization?

Thank you.

5:35 AM

Anonymous said...

I checked with the Federal District Court (they have a website called PACER that lets attorneys/paralegals/secretaries look up cases and filings online), DWT has not officially made the fee claim yet.

It looks like Mike Madden and the District's general counsel are still the attorneys for the district at this point.

Presuming that Ms, Brose and PICS as the client directs DWT not to seek fess (which she/they have the power to do), this ultimately becomes a business and integrity decision for DWT. I wrote their managing partner as well as partner Gary Locke to ask them to make a better choice, and am encouraging anyone who feels the same to do so as well. A friend who works at DWT tells that I am not the only person writing in.

Ms. Brose typically answers questions posed to her on this blog, her avoidance on this topic is pretty obvious.

As people I respect (Brita) believe that she is a person of principle, I can only hope that she disagrees with the greed at public expense her attorneys are displaying, and has taken the issue up with them in private. Again, she and PICS hold the power to tell DWT that taking millions of dollars from school children is not the right thing to do, particularly as DWT has reported this as pro bono work for years, and would never have sent PICS a bill if they had lost.

If not, she certainly has no business asking the district to spend tens of millions of dollars to grant her "wish" for a new high school, or tritely writing that the district should now be spending “all of its time and resources on improving the struggling schools” while at the same time allowing her attorneys divert funds that could be used for these tasks for their own profit.

The "it will be used for more pro bono" is a hollow line. If Ms. Brose and PICS allow DWT to seek fees, anything that is recovered will be reported as Harry's Korrel's contribution to the firm. Once it comes in the door, it will be put in the firm’s receivables account, and ultimately shared among the partners as income. It will certainly boost Mr. Korrel’s bottom line, as the more a partner brings in means the more the partner takes home at the end of the year.

And, keep in mind that DWT apparently has a twisted view (that is NOT shared by many firms in town) that suits against government entities are profit making ventures, not real “pro bono publico” (for the public good) opportunities.

Charlie Mas said...

The question about John Marshall is a good one. I considered Marshall, but prefer Lincoln for it's location (closer to QA/Magnolia), capacity (1697 vs 750) and suitability (has the right rooms).

Lincoln is huge. Lincoln presented the opportunity to also hold Summit - or a combination of programs such as the Secondary BOC and the programs now at Marshall, or, if we wanted to get really innovative, Hamilton International Middle School. The building is big enough that two programs could co-locate there without any unintentional mixing at all.

So based on capacity alone, Marshall could house some programs, such as the Secondary BOC (300), but Summit (600, but could grow), a new middle school, or a new high school would feel cramped in there.

There is also a suitability problem. I'm not sure if Marshall has a gym. The auditorium, if it is the room I saw, wouldn't hold more than a couple hundred. We'd be looking at a total rebuild with not only the expense, but the delay associated with that. Lincoln is move in ready.

Finally, there is the politics. Let's just face it. If one set of students are moved out and another set of students are moved in to a building, the students moving in had better be lower performing, poorer, and less white than the students moving out or there will be hell to pay. We could move the Secondary BOC into Marshall. We could move the AAA into Marshall (if we fixed it up as nicely as their current building). But there aren't a lot of other programs that could go there without causing a firestorm of protest.

Jet City mom said...

Well I like Charlies idea

point one-I agree that Lincoln could be used as a K-12- additionally, it is much more centrally located than Lake City, and accessible to resources that a school that utilizes field trips to a great extent can benefit from

It doesn't have a playground-but there are several playgrounds in the vicinity.

Point two-Summit certainly does need to be more centrally located. It is an all city draw and should be more accessible to students who want to attend, which IMO would actually increase the numbers who choose Summit, rather than who are encouraged to do so by the district to fill slots.

Point three- its news to me that Lincoln is in poor condition. While I would agree that the fix-up so that it could be used as an interim school wasn't done with "quality" in mind, it’s certainly in much better condition than what Garfield was allowed to deteriorate to.

( I also suggest that part of one of the parking lots be used for a playground for the elementary kids- yes it would cut parking space- but I also think that all the parking spaces should be used for people who carpool- the district needs to be advocating for alternative transportation-)

Agree with point four

Re: point five- Ballard takes about 6 minutes- (in reg traffic) from south Queen Anne- haven't timed the access to Lincoln but I know that either one is much easier to get to than Garfield from Queen Anne-
Magnolia may be more difficult, but then it is more difficult to get to/from Magnolia anyway- that's why I don't live there.
( that and I didn't want have to cut my grass with manicure scissors)

It’s also my impression that the communities want a school that is easily accessible, not just one that is guaranteed. Those kids on QA/ outer Mongolia ( joke)are busy what with jobs, soccer teams, and volunteering at the Aquarium.
A bus ride necessitating transfers, cuts into their homework & EC time.

Re: point six. Considering some of the things that the district spends money on, without community feedback first- a high school to serve neighborhoods without- seems a win/win situation & good PR- which they kinda need.

Roy Smith said...

It's interesting to me on a thread devoted to the question of the racial tiebreaker, none of the comments really relate to it. Many of the comments do, however, relate to the lack of a neighborhood high school in Queen Anne and Magnolia.

So here are some random thoughts of my own, in no particular order:

1) The real issue that SPS faces is not the racial tiebreaker. We haven't been using it for several years, and I think that by any reasonable criteria, we can mostly agree that Seattle schools are diverse and will remain so. They may not all be "equally diverse"; but then again, "equally diverse" strikes me as a bit oxymoronic anyway.

2) People are angry about the lawsuit, but mostly they are angry about (on one side) perceptions that the lawsuit is really about helping a privileged group, and (on the other side) the fact that Queen Anne and Magnolia were being discriminated against in access to a desirable high school (that and the fact they have no neighborhood high school).

3) It was brought up in another thread that at one point Queen Anne and Magnolia were "guaranteed" access to Franklin in perpetuity when Queen Anne High School was closed. I remember a time not too long ago when Franklin was considered desirable, was overenrolled, and the racial tiebreaker worked in favor of white students who wanted to go there. I wonder where PICS was when neighborhood minority students in Rainier Valley were being displaced by white kids from elsewhere?

4) It might be obvious by now that I don't think the PICS lawsuit was really about ending discrimination. I think it was a convenient mechanism by which PICS could try to increase access to the high schools they wanted. So they are/were being hypocritical. That being said, I can't fault them for wanting predictable access to a conveniently located high school, and I also can't really fault them for using the lever that they had available to them (the lawsuit, which I think had a solid legal foundation) to force change.

5) The battles over this issue have brought forth two substantive issues that still have not been effectively addressed, and won't be effectively addressed by tinkering with the assignment system. First is the fact that some south end high schools are failing by most measures. Hopefully the Southeast Initiative is the first of a series of significant steps to fix this problem for good.

6) The second substantive issue is the fact that Queen Anne and Magnolia do not have a local high school. For the long term, I think the right way to fix this is to build a comprehensive high school in or near Interbay. This is not going to happen quickly, but I think it is the right long-term goal. We also have to deal with the fact that the resources are not available to fix every problem at once, and realistically, though lack of a high school in this neighborhood is a problem, SPS probably has other problems that deserve a higher priority. As far as Lincoln goes, I'm not sure if starting a new high school there would be a good bridge to the long-term goal of a high school in Interbay or a big distraction and opportunity to get sidetracked.

7) I don't really see any point in trying to replace the racial tiebreaker with some other method to increase diversity. I would rather SPS invest its time, resources, and political capital into fixing the poor performing, underenrolled schools and fixing real problems. If that happens, maybe assignment and access issues will no longer be framed in terms of "haves" and "have-nots".

Anonymous said...

Roy Smith:

A gold star for you!

Anonymous said...

Ms. Brose, I would still very much appreciate the answers to the questions previously posted on the other thread and above:.

Can you please address the Davis Wright Tremaine "Pro Bono" fees? I and many others are having serious problems with the concept that it was "pro bono" until the decision is considered a victory. What sort of fee agreement did the group sign with DWT? Was it contingent, hourly, blended, costs only, etc.? How is it that one of Seattle's oldest and finest law firms can find itself sucked into this PR morass that casts all of its fine personnel in such a greedy light? I have no problem with someone making a fee - I have a problem with the seeming extraordinary misrepresentation of "pro bono" a concept that used to be considered quite honorable.

Have you and your group as the client been kept apprised of the fees - what exactly is the number?

Are you and your group, as the client, going to exercise your power to tell your attorneys not to flipflop on this issue?

If not, can you please stop asking the district to spend tens of millions of dollars to grant your "wishes" or tritely writing that the district should now be spending “all of its time and resources on improving the struggling schools”

Anonymous said...

Dear Anonymous:

Why don't you use your real name? Are you that uncomfortable asking these questions?

Our attorneys worked for free for 7 years. In fact, their firm had to put out over a hundred thousand dollars of their own just for the printing of the paperwork that was required by the U.S. Supreme Court.

The Seattle School District and their in-house counsel and outside counsel knew that our attorneys would want to collect fees and costs if PICS should ultimately win the case. No PICS board members will financially gain from the lawsuit. We will not be reimbursed for our hours as well as the many expenses we incurred over the last 7 years.

You might want to ask the SSD why they didn't choose to settle once they knew we were going to petition the U.S. Supreme Court. They took a calculated risk that they could lose the case.

We didn't want to sue the District. We knew it was going to be expensive in $$ and time. We even told the District before the assignments were made in 2000 that the use of the racial tiebreaker would impact our neighborhoods severely in a negative way. We asked them to be pro-active on this issue at a school board meeting. They ignored us. The SSD would not settle. We tried mediation in the very beginning with a different school board 7 years ago. The current school board could have settled before the case went to the U.S. Supreme Court. You might ask the current school board if they even discussed the case with their attorneys. The SSD got themselves in this pickle and you you should direct your frustration and disappointment toward them. They violated the civil rights of our children! They are accountable for their actions or inactions.

Our attorneys are not being greedy.
They worked very hard and they deserve to be fairly compensated.
They worked for free for 7 years.

I know that I'm not telling you what you want to hear.

Regarding a new high school for Queen Anne and Magnolia, I am not requesting it for myself. My children are grown. These tax paying communities' children deserve fair access to a good high school reasonably close to their home. They are not asking for a brand new facility either. Either make room for the kids at Ballard, Garfield or Roosevelt or reconfigure some of the existing buildings.

These communities have also urged the SSD to make sure that every community has access to a good high school. We want the schools in the southend to be successful too! We want the entire district to have great schools in every neighborhood so parents can be more easily involved in their children's education.

Anonymous said...

Ms. Brose,

Thanks for your input.

Can you please respond to specific questions posed before?

1. What sort of fee agreement did the group sign with DWT? Was it contingent, hourly, blended, costs only, etc.?

2. Have you and your group as the client been kept apprised of the fees [and costs] - what exactly is the number?

3. New questions - is PICS a 501(c)(3) organization - who is on your board and what authority to they have regarding these fees and costs and whether or not they are petitioned for - see above posting regarding "it's the client's choice - not DWT's". Is that true?

Your correct, it's not what I and many others wanted to hear - but as much as we ask the School Board for transparency, we'd appreciate some on your end as well.

Thank you.

Anonymous said...

Dear Anonymous:

Speaking of transparency, why won't you post with your real name?

Please feel free to contact our attorneys for more specific answers to your questions.

For me, the lawsuit is over and I'm not going to discuss it anymore on this blog.

Anonymous said...

I am not the one trying to take money from the District while asking it to grant my wishes.

Anonymous said...

"In fact, their firm had to put out over a hundred thousand dollars of their own just for the printing of the paperwork that was required by the U.S. Supreme Court."

If so, that is because they printed vanity copies to hand out.

Anonymous said...

Ms. Brose-

If, as you say, the lawsuit is over for you, dare I hope that you and the PICS leadership have elected to not return to federal court to seek a fee award? After all, you alone hold the power to take action, your attorneys only act at your direction.

I also presume from your questioning of the SSD motives for not settling the case after the won at the 9th Circuit, you and your attorneys approached them with a settlement offer that was rejected?

It is after all typically the party that loses on appeal who seaks a settlement, not the winner. If so, when was your settlement offer made so that other can seek a public records request to see what terms you offered and what response the SSD provided?

Anonymous said...

Ms. Brose,

I don't understand your defensiveness. These are simple questions to answer. Regarding contacting your attorneys, they have been contacted by dozens of interested people and I understand they are not answering any questions or even confirming receipt of the questions. Maybe PICS as the client could request that they do so, or answer them yourselves as they were directed to you as the client.

Also understand that there are many folks within DWT who are displeased about this whole topic.

I absolutely defend your right to bring any lawsuit you wish, but in doing so you do open yourself up to questions especially when you make specific choices as to which questions who want to answer and remain silent about others - if the press were interviewing you as they did when the decision was handed down - would you tell them the same thing?

Suspect that these questions will be answered in the fee petition portion of the lawsuit, since it is all extremely relevant information, to the press and to us taxpayers and at the end of the day, to the court.