Thursday, July 12, 2007

Rebuttal to the Times

Over the past four years, the Seattle Times has published a steady stream of negative editorials disparaging the current Seattle School Board. This is the same Seattle Times that provided unstinting support for the previous Board. The Times has dismissed the Board members as "a barrier to progress", "ineffective", "misguided", "myopic", "incompetent", and "divisive". The Times called for five of the seven to resign. But what is the Board’s actual record?

The District’s finances are much better today than they were four years ago. This Board has turned the $35 million deficit left by the previous Board (the one the Times supported) into a $25 million surplus. For the first time, the District’s operating budget reflects the District’s academic priorities. This Board is moving the District away from the Weighted Student Formula, which was overly complicated and ineffective in its stated purpose, to a Weighted Staffing Formula that assures each school has the necessary resources. This Board is redirecting money into classrooms by moving high school students from yellow bus service to METRO. This Board redirected money into classrooms through the painful exercise of closing schools.

Under this Board, Seattle voters have passed every District levy and bond issue before them. The state legislature has increased funding for public schools and has put the simple majority vote on the ballot.

The District’s academics are notably improved over four years ago. Test scores are up and they are above the state averages – quite a boast for an urban district with language, diversity, and special education challenges unlike those at any other district in the State. This Board increased funding for high schools to six periods per day. Under this Board the District staff will intervene at failing schools earlier and more aggressively than ever before.

This Board has successfully conducted a national search and has hired a qualified Superintendent, something the previous Board proved unable to do. The District senior staff is more qualified and professional than any in recent memory. The District has enjoyed and benefited from excellent labor relations under this Board.

The Board is revising the Student Assignment Plan in a way that will strike a better balance between the call for reliable assignment to a nearby school with equitable access to desirable programs. The work they have done so far on this effort is outstanding and may bring a lot of families back to our public schools. The Board is revising and updating obsolete policies and writing new policies where they are needed.

More than anything else, this Board is leading the District through a change in culture to one which is more open, honest, transparent, engaged, and accountable. Communication with the public has never been better. Culture change is hard and slow, but this one is absolutely necessary.

The Board has a duty to guide and oversee the District. They have fulfilled that role much better than the rubber-stamp Board the Times supported four years ago. The Seattle Times can complain about the personal style of some of the Board members, but there can be no disputing their record of achievement. Seattle Public Schools is significantly better off today than it was four years ago. All of that improvement has come with this Board.


Melissa Westbrook said...

Amen and don't forget getting their feet held to the fire and doing the right thing for water quality in our schools (that is primarily the work of Sally Soriano). And, with a nod to Brita, a nutrition policy that is more in step today than when it was created 3 years ago.

Anonymous said...

The BOARD had very little to do with any of these improvements. Credit goes to Raj Manhas, who the Board never wanted to hire in the first place.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Water quality, school closure, nutrition policy, reworking Weighted Student formula? That would be the Board. No one said Raj did nothing but Charlie point that the Times makes the Board out to be a do-nothing, get-nothing done Board is wrong.

Charlie Mas said...

I don't say who did anything.

I said all of these things were done while this Board was in office.

Those who want to determine who gets credit for this or that are free to present their attributions, but they should have facts to support those attributions.

How can we attribute credit for the passage of levies in 2004 - to the default appointment of the acting Superintendent by a lame-duck Board or to the optimism that welcomed the new reform Board? Let's remember how the Moss-Adams report described Mr. Manhas' total abdication of his oversight role as COO over the work done in the Budget and Finance department.

How can we attribute credit for the culture change - to the Board who have pushed for it or to the Superintendent who stonewalled it?

It is easy to say that the Board is too distant from the classrooms to take credit for improved achievement, but then isn't the same true for the Superintendent?

Mr. Manhas may get credit for hiring Carla Santorno as Chief Academic Officer, but shouldn't he also get blame for hiring Steve Wilson as interim CAO for a two-year period? This interim hire created a two-year delay in academic progress from the District level as Mr. Wilson would not initiate any programs or projects that would extend beyond his brief tenure.

Mr. Manhas first effort at school closures, the ill-fated 2005 Preliminary Proposal for Restructuring Seattle Public Schools, was so bad and demonstrated so much bad faith that it caused a one year delay in closures, damaged good will and lines of communication with the community, and cost the District upwards of $10 million in lost savings. That document was so bad it poisoned the conversation over closures in the next year.

Mr. Manhas showed less resolved and took more schools off the closure list than the Board did. Mr. Manhas delivered the ill-fated and badly conconceived Phase II of closures. His recommendations were inconsistent with the guidelines from the Board, done without public input, and were just plain bad. Remember the Cooper-Pathfinder merger idea?

Who did the national search for a new superintendent - the Board or the Superintendent? What was Mr. Manhas' role in the new Assignment Plan? Did he even have one? Who is updating policies? Not Mr. Manhas. Who has improved communication with the public? Not Mr. Manhas. The Board members came out to the community and had conversations - not Mr. Manhas.

Read the first part of the CACIEE report again. Mr. Manhas did not do his job. Let's not be so quick to give him credit for everything good that has happened in Seattle Public Schools for the past four years while leaving the blame for every failure to the Board.