Parallels Between Mayor/City Council and Super/Board

I'm looking through the PI this morning and in the Metro section the lead article was entitled, "Mayor Hogs Power, Council Claims". I've heard this before but I read the article anyway. I was struck by the number of parallels between the Mayor/City Council and what some perceive as problems between a superintendent and the School Board (and I mean generically, not anyone in specific). For example,

"Council members complain the council lacks resources to develop ambitious proposals from scratch, especially given Nickels' tight reins on city departments."

Well, this is true for Board members. They have minimal staff and speaking as someone who does research, it is time-consuming. You can Google one thing and write it up as gospel but that's not the way to make public policy. As to whether district staff are helpful; they can be but sometimes that's a matter of how much information they choose to give and if they are so inclined to give it.


"If we have an executive that does not follow the ordinances that the council passes, we have a breakdown in local government," Licata said last month, referring to Nickels' recent refusal to say whether he will implement night-life regulations that the mayor disliked. "We cannot have city a governed with a mayor that's not willing to cooperate."

Licata is mulling over ways to "attach penalties" whenever Nickels fails to implement council directives. Righting the balance also might require voter-approved changes to the city's governing charter, he said."

Charlie has complained, in detail, how past superintendents have ignored Board policy. They have one huge stick to use with the superintendent but really, how often can you threaten him or her with being fired before it rings hollow? And would you want to in the spirit of cooperation? "Attach penalities", well that's a thought but I don't know how the Board would do it. Maybe not approve the budget the staff sets forth.

And this from the Mayor:

"Disagreements between his executive branch and the legislative branch reflect a healthy, democratic tension, Nickels said.

"There is a separation of powers, and I have a great deal respect for it, particularly having served 14 years as a (King) County Council member," Nickels said. "But there is a balance.

"What I will resist is the council micromanaging. And I think there's been a tendency to do that," said Nickels, who declined to provide examples."

But, Mr. Mayor, is there are balance or is that only on paper? And ah, micromanaging, the favorite word of any who oppose the Board. But, if your policies were being ignored (or those of previous members), you might go that route as well.

So what else to think about:

"The council has a "secondary role" in legislation -- the job of refining it as appropriate, Councilwoman Jean Godden said in an interview last fall.

It's an unusual political perspective, as basic democratic principles usually assign the legislative branch the duty to write laws and the executive branch the responsibility to administer them."

And the above paragraph says it in a nutshell. It may be the carrying out that's hard to bring to reality.

And what is the reality?

"The council can appropriate money for something -- they can't force the executive to spend it," Nickels said. Similarly, "the council can express its opinion ... until they express that with an ordinance, that's their advice."And even then, when the council dictates something as law, Nickels may direct his department not to enforce it. "

Has that happened here in SPS? You couldn't necessarily know for sure but given how many Board policies there are and how many are not carried out/ignored or unenforced, it may be true.


Charlie Mas said…
The Mayor, at least, can claim that he was elected by the voters and owes no allegience to the City Council. The Superinendent can make no such claims.

The Superintendent was hired by the Board, works for the Board, gets an annual performance evaluation from the Board, and can be fired by the Board. When there is a conflict between the Superintendent and the Board, the Board should win.
Anonymous said…
According to Dr. Stump, her boss, calls Dr. GJ, "Dr. Goodluck" for the reason that she was not picked at all, but was the last person standing. So Seattle schools has the good fortune to have a superintendent that has a staff that does not feel confident that she met the criteria of being chosen superintendent. Apparently, if she is being called, Dr. GoodLuck" by her third in command and the joke about the name has spread throughout the JSCEE, then how can anyone feel confident about any of our leadership? So the difference between these organizations is even greater than you think. Leadership is chosen by political back-room deals and not by merit. Take a look around our central office. Not one principal believes in the leadership we now have. As a principal, I tell the staff to ignore the central office politics and keep true to our charge, the students.
Anonymous said…
Who is the third person who has power? How many layers of people are we paying for as tax payers?
Anonymous said…
The "3rd Person" is Michelle Corker-Curry. The second entry is wrong to name Dr. Stump in the blog. Everyone has heard Michelle call Dr. Goodloe, Dr. "GoodLuck", even Carla Santorno. Both Carla and Michelle thought it funny, except the administrative staff who have spent a good deal of time talking about it and feeling upset. Also, the rest of the staff did not think it was funny because it demeaned a leader who was coming into the district as an unknown. It has placed a shadow on this leadership that cannot be fixed. The leadership issues are growing and hopefully the supt. will eventually do something about it or she will have a staff of zero in the schools because people in the schools are very angry right now.
Charlie Mas said…
People in the schools are angry at the central administration?

Is it for the usual, constant and consistent tragicomic parade of cock-ups or it something specific?

Could it have anything to do with the shift in authority?

I know that the new guard (represented by Dr. Goodloe-Johnson and Ms Santorno) are very interested in wresting decisions away from school buildings and making them centrally - could that be the source of the resentment?

If so, you ain't seen nothin' yet. The math curriculum was just the start. It was followed by the crucifiction of Joe Drake (deservedly or not, he was an influential principal and he was taken down very publicly), the edict of the six-period day on West Seattle High School (again, right or wrong it was a naked display of authority), and next on the hit parade in November I predict there will be a variety of Program Placement decisions dropping onto schools from out of the adminosphere.

If I were at Madison or Meany I would prepare for a Spectrum program in my future. If not for 2008-2009 then for 2009-2010. You'll get two choices: you can like it or you can lump it.

The Southeast Initiative will represent another centrally directed initiative in schools. The principals and staff will be offered a very short menu of choices for how to apply that money. It will not be for anything they are doing now.

There will soon be a list of courses that every high school must offer. Hale will be forced to act like a comprehensive high school and offer AP classes. Cleveland, too. The academies may be over before they've moved into their new custom-built homes.

There are sure to be more decisions that will be made centrally that are now made inside the school buildings. The pendulum is swinging back and it is swinging hard. People who get in the way are going to get knocked down.

The District has stumbled along for the past several years with Superintendents who were focused on operations instead of academics. The learning and teaching folks, both centrally and in the buildings, have been running around essentially unsupervised. The controls got slacker and slacker as people saw that there were no boundaries or consequences. Now comes a superintendent strong on academics (preceeded by her emissary, the new CAO) and we're going to see some serious tightening of control and some aggressive intervention when things don't happen on schedule. You don't have to be Nostradamsus to figure that some leashes are gonna get yanked.
Anonymous said…
Charlie, usuallyyou are the voice of reason and understanding. Here many of us disagree. John Stanford came in knowing he had to make changes and instead of creating anger and contention, he created a vision and motivated people to see themselves in that vision. Thus, the folks in schools could paint themselves into that vision and they were more than excited to make personal and leadership changes to align themselves to his mission and goals.

What we have now is anger because people who are competent have left the district and we are left with folks who cannot make decisions because for the most part they are clueless. Dr. GJ has surrounded herself with folks who are not supporting her vision and helping her to create a vision in a way that unifies the district. The approach is one of demoralization. Good leadership builds a team approach and poor leadership demonstrates false power from fear.

Also, it is a shame that her support team does not have sense enough to act and speak like leaders. I honestly think schools want strong central guidance, but they want the leaders to be ethical and unified. Also, school principals and instructional coaches had not been unsupervised until Carla Santorno came and dismissed Ms. Goetz who had a strong vision for academics. Once she was removed, T & L has had not had supervision and is only getting supervision now from Dr. GJ and not from Carla. Carla let T & L fall apart last year so the question is: is she the right CAO? Maybe this needs to be the next decision Dr. GJ needs to make so she has a chance to succeed. I think we would all love to see Dr. GJ succeed.
Charlie Mas said…

I appreciate and respect your inside perspective, and I'm in no position to dispute any of it. In fact, I'm perfectly ready to accept it. Just the same, I'm truly astonished by how different it is from the way things appear to us on the outside.

The perception out here is that Steve Wilson was detatched nearly to the point of absence and so inactive as to be inert. I met with him a few times and he impressed me as being genuinely and completely clueless. I will say, to his credit, that as a CAO he was really tall.

So when Carla Santorno arrived with a lot of energy, with clearly articulated goals, concrete plans, and well grounded rationales, I was impressed as hell. So were a lot of other folks. Here was someone, we thought, who knows how to get things done. She spoke plainly, which means a lot out here.

Her public debut was at the Community Conversations in September of 2006. Her presentation, with the academic milestones, was a freakin' tour de force compared to anything else that had come out of SPS for at least five years (do you still have your daruma?). She appeared tremendously informed, organized, and decisive.

Knowledgable and decisive appeared to be her strongest attibutes. It's world-tilting for you to write that she is neither.

I know that the person who makes a presentation isn't necessarily the person who wrote the presentation, but I figured that Ms Santorno was working with essentially the same people Steve Wilson had, so I gave her credit for the difference.

You wrote "school principals and instructional coaches had not been unsupervised until Carla Santorno came and dismissed Ms. Goetz who had a strong vision for academics", and that may have been what was happening behind the scenes, but that wasn't getting projected. We here on the outside saw schools limping along with low test scores and no response from the JSCEE. We saw schools in a death spiral of low enrollment and low achievement with no visible intervention from the JSCEE. I'm not disputing your statements; I'm explaining how they are difficult to reconcile with our observations.

It appears to outside observers that, after Ms Santorno had a chance to learn the lay of the land and get her feet under her, our new CAO tore right into the job. We saw a reorganization of L & T and people shifted from job to job and some of them out of jobs before she even settled in. There has been a LOT of sabre-rattling talk from her about accountability and intervention when we never heard any before. I've got the distinct impression that last year was the baseline year or the warning year and this year is the perform-or-else year. It's only October, but I have been led to expect some real fireworks between now and May.

Joe Drake was brought down HARD - viciously even - but we get the vibe that he was only the first.

Now that I stop and consider, however, there has been blustery TALK about accountability, but I haven't seen much real change from business as usual on that count (unless you're Joe Drake).

For example, I haven't heard of any repurcussions around the crime-reporting thing.

There has been a lot of TALK about data-based decisions, but the data used to support the Math Adoption, the switch to the six-period day at WSHS, and the middle school APP split were scant at best. I will add that the decision-makers seem very thin-skinned about these matters. If they have a good case, they haven't made it. They appear insulted that anyone is asking them to. The staff, including Ms Santorno, bristled defensively at gentle questions from the Student Learning Committee during the review of the middle school APP split. They clearly resented any questioning of their absolute authority.

I'm surprised to read that Dr. Goodloe-Johnson is ready to step in and supervise much of anything yet. Isn't she still getting briefed on things? That's the way it appears to the public. She didn't seem totally plugged in yet when she was interviewed on KUOW last week. (Totally off point: she didn't do herself any favors with her snippy responses.) She still has another three months to go on her listening tour and she still hasn't heard from a lot of communities.

You write:"Dr. GJ has surrounded herself with folks who are not supporting her vision and helping her to create a vision in a way that unifies the district." Again, I can hardly imagine that our new Superintendent has had time to unpack, let alone express a Vision. We out here haven't heard any Vision; we haven't even heard tell of one under construction. Her "Focus For the Future" presentation (9/5/07) doesn't suggest any Vision, it describes (at best) a process. Visions are written in the Anglo-Saxon language of metaphor and grab you in the belly or the heart. This, and just about everything else I have seen from Dr. Goodloe-Johnson, is written in Greek and Latin and swirls around my head. This is the difference between a Vision and "elements [brought] into a coherent and integrated relationship".

Leadership - the kind I'm familiar with - requires juice, and I haven't seen much juice yet from Dr. Goodloe-Johnson. She presents - so far - as a technocrat, which can't be right.

So I'm not in any position to refute your statements, and I'm not trying to. I'm trying to reconcile them into the pattern that I have seen over the past five months for Dr. Goodloe-Johnson and over the past 18 months for Ms Santorno. I can't quite make it fit, and I would appreciate some help along those lines. What am I missing? What signs should I be checking for?
Dan Dempsey said…

I find very little to be optimistic about. Decisions are made without data.

West Seattle High School which has wonderful building leadership at long last, gets a torpedo hit with the 6-period day mandate. Great Morale went totally flat.

Bullying instead of leadership.
Insults rather than explanations.

So how is this district going to make significanct progess when greater centalization of decision making is likely; but those decision makers are marginally competent at best?

A CAO who has been here 18 months and still has not defined grade level necessary skills by subject as required by School Board policy hardly inspires me. Especially when making a Math adoption without even determining needed skills. When this district has a k-12 math program manager who was a middle school science teacher and an achievement gaps that has continually grown over 10 years, any talk about taking responsibility seems very hollow.

Anonymous said…
Dear Seattle School Board,

I write as an experienced instructor (22 years) who has worked for Seattle Public Schools for the last 8 years.

I want you to know I consider the educational environment at West Seattle to be the best learning environment I have worked at yet in my entire teaching career. I know this is a direct result of the combination of a teaching schedule which supports project based learning and an excellent, dedicated, loyal staff (over 30% have more than 12 years in the building! This is rare in SPS!). I am so impressed with the caliber of the education presently being offered at West Seattle High School, the depth of the relationships that students have with their teachers and each other, and the "connectedness" which students have with their school I have not experienced anything of this quality in my entire teaching career. No wonder WSHS has the LOWEST ACHIEVEMENT GAP, the LOWEST DROPOUT AND TRUANCY RATES in the district. The students at WSHS seem generally happy to be there, and I rarely here the words "I hate this school" which were daily comments I've heard at all other public schools I've worked at in the past. Parents seem generally very happy with this school as well, as their children ALL SEEM TO DO WELL at this school, whether low-achievers or high-achievers. WEST SEATTLE HIGH SCHOOL IS WORKING REALLY WELL AND IT DESERVES TO BE CELEBRATED! All of the things that the current CAO and Superintendent say are their overarching goals are CURRENTLY PRESENT AT WEST SEATTLE HIGH, and this needs to be noted and protected.

I write to you to urge you to most carefully examine the decisions that Carla Santorno has made, with the support of Maria Goodloe-Johnson, in regards to changing our school back to a standard 6 period day, with all plans finalized by December 1, 2007 (an impossible task for a staff working full-time: it usually takes 2-3 years of planning to change a school's structure, not 9-10 weeks as we've been given!). As an experienced educator, who has experienced many attempts at educational reform in the many schools I've worked in, I am VERY CONCERNED ABOUT WHAT IS GOING TO HAPPEN TO ACADEMIC ACHIEVEMENT AT OUR SCHOOL. Santorno's 2006 REA Study heralded WSHS as "one of the top three schools in the district" based on our WASL improvement scores: what does she think is going to happen as a result of her current mandate?

The other issues involved with this sudden order to completely restructure our entire school within weeks is the impact this decision will have on the graduating classes of 2009, 2010, and 2011. The students who are currently enrolled in our building will all have COMPLETELY DIFFERENT GRADUATION REQUIREMENTS, and our current juniors and their families are very anxious and concerned about the impact this will have on their ability to apply and be accepted to top schools, in which there is a foreign language requirement.

There are many issues involved with this hasty change which Santorno has thrown at us without warning. There are many students, parents and staff who are very concerned and upset about this situation.

PLEASE INVESTIGATE THIS SITUATION. Please do not blindly support the CAO's and Superintendent's decision to do this, as Santorno herself has told us, "this has nothing to do with school quality, this is a downtown issue" which has to do with school alignment.

Our excellent school, which is doing a fabulous job with ALL STUDENTS, and is one of the only SPS schools actually meeting the federal mandate of "leaving no child behind" is getting crushed under the wheels of the new administration, and I just have to speak out and ask you to PLEASE LOOK INTO THIS AND DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT. It's just not right, it has nothing to do with what kids need and what is best for them… and it has everything to do with blind standardization. As a teacher who sees the good going on at this school, I just simply can't stand by and watch it happen without asking for your help.


Popular posts from this blog

Tuesday Open Thread

Seattle Public Schools and Their Principals

COVID Issues Heating up for Seattle Public Schools