Southeast Initiative a Largely Unfunded Plan?

This article about the SE Initiative was in this morning's Times. Will this district ever, ever learn not to make promises they don't know how to keep? (You'll note, I didn't say promises they don't intend to keep; they do that as well but this one went off half-baked as Charlie has noted several times.)

Basically, the district has gone beyond what I knew about the SE Initiative. I knew there were to be additional resources driven to those schools; more AP for the high schools, more yellow-bus service, beefing up the curriculum. But it turns out that there were other promises like bonuses to teachers who teach at those schools.

From the article:
"Some members of the board are rethinking the Southeast Initiative, the district's much-lauded effort to improve three underperforming South End schools: Aki Kurose Middle School and Rainier Beach and Cleveland high schools.

The School Board launched the initiative last year with $250,000 and a three-year plan to draw back neighborhood students to the schools. But as the district staff has continued to propose arts programs, more rigorous classes, additional class periods, teacher bonuses and other extras for Southeast Initiative schools, several board members have wondered aloud whether it's getting too expensive. And some have expressed frustration that the superintendent has not yet identified specific goals for the schools.

There's no budget yet, but district officials have estimated the Southeast Initiative could cost $3 million to $4 million each year.

At a board meeting earlier this month, member Michael DeBell called the situation "problematic."

Board member Peter Maier questioned whether the effort would be sustainable.

In an interview Friday, board member Harium Martin-Morris said he is open to backing off the Southeast Initiative if necessary — even reneging on commitments already publicized in the district's enrollment guide.

School Board President Cheryl Chow urged board members to be more patient. At a March 7 meeting, she said the district owes South End students extra resources after years of neglect."

(Please note these director comments are not published here in their totality; see the article for complete quotes. Nothing has been taken out of context, however.)

The new budget is to be unveiled in May and voted on in June. But there are rumblings of discord.

"Even without the Southeast Initiative, the most recent estimate shows about a $22 million gap in funding for next year. Board members balked this month at a proposal to spend as much as $20 million of the district's $29 million reserve. That means the superintendent and the new board will have to decide what to pay for.

"I think there was discomfort among the board members at an approach that was that aggressive in its use of reserves," Sundquist said.

District leaders are counting on some private investment. The philanthropic community — including a newly refocused Alliance for Education — appears poised to help fund new district initiatives when the strategic plan is finished."

That's interesting that the Superintendent thinks the reserve could be used to back up the budget. I wouldn't have a problem with using some of the reserve for the SE Initiative if there are no other monies around but taking $20M from the reserve to fill holes in the budget is wrong. We have to have a strong rainy day fund and $9M isn't it.


Anonymous said…
From an e-mail from Dr. G-J that went to district staff to recruit teachers for SE Initiative:

"The following is a brief summary of the requirements, supports, and incentives that are expected of staff teaching at Aki Kurose, Cleveland, or Rainier Beach beginning in the 2008-2009 school year.

* Aki Kurose will offer an extended day program. Students will attend school from 7:45 a.m. to 3:10 p.m. Core teachers will work and be compensated for the additional hour. Individuals interested in language arts positions should have experience in Readers’ and Writers’ Workshop. For more information, contact Principal Ana Ortega at 252-7700.

* Cleveland will develop Science/Technology and Global academies. Individuals interested in language arts positions should have experience in Readers’ and Writers’ Workshop. Applicants interested in mathematics positions must be willing to attend Advanced Placement training. For more information, contact Principal Princess Shareef at 252-2500

* Rainier Beach will partner with Broadway Bound in creating a performing arts program. Individuals interested in the mathematics and science positions must be willing to attend Advanced Placement training. For more information, contact Principal Dr. Robert Gary Jr. at 252-6350.

National Board certificated staff at all three schools are eligible for the National Board Certification Stipend of $5000 and the additional high needs school stipend of $5000. Both stipends are paid by the State of Washington and are subject to the rules and continued payment by the state.

A Southeast Education Fellow Stipend of $5000 has also been designated for staff in recognition of the special skills, effort, extra time demands, and exceptional diligence needed to support this initiative. Expectations of staff will include summer professional development days, home visits, implementation of signature programs, and Professional Learning Community work throughout the school year. Staff teaching language arts and mathematics will have double preparation periods to allow time to collaborate with each other and university and community partners."
Anonymous said…
I have learned to never ever ever trust this district to keep their promises. Never.

I really feel for the families who signed their kids up for these schools with the promise that the district was committed to improving them and adding programs. Adding higher level classes, and even if empty sustaining them for 5 or so years. These families basically got sucker punched.

I understand that the district does not have the funds.......but then why make the promises??? They even went so far as printing in the enrollment guides exactly what the school would offer with these funds...AP classes, drama,etc.

It all seems like a big joke. And has taught me to not believe a word that this district says.
Anonymous said…
It's my understanding that the JSC has not yet resulted in the cost savings anticpated several years back. Can others confirm this? Just a stray line I read several months ago.

The reason I ask is that many aspects of the SE Initiative seem very honorable and a way to correct past district neglect as well as recognize that lower SES students tend to need a little support (check out the McKinsey report showing a 66% correlation between SES and achievement even in Seattle).

My thought is that maybe it's time to go back and figure out where all the reduction in staff from increased efficiency have come from... and if not it's now time to hold the JSC staff accountable for cuts in centralized staff to fund initiatives like the SE initiative. Not that $20M can be cut from JSC staff but if there's accountability.....
Anonymous said…
Sorry, I meant in the immediately prior post to be clear that the creation of the JSC was to create increased efficiencies resulting in the need for fewer staff (and cost savings from supporting fewer buildings). Has the creation of the JSC resulted in savings from economies of scale? Or has it just aided the centralization of empire building?
The debt service on that building is huge; the district has not realize much cost savings in buying it. I would assume that having everyone in the same building does help but the overall cost of the building and fixing it up probably dwarfs that savings. I have never seen any real figures except for how large the debt service is on it.
Charlie Mas said…
I had heard whispers that the Southeast Initiative wouldn't happen, but I didn't see how the District could walk away from such a high profile effort.

It's easy. All they have to do is stop talking about it. Then, when asked, they will identify some various programs that they were going to do anyway, say that was it, declare victory, and move on.
Charlie Mas said…
Is there a comprehensive list of the elements of the Southeast Initiative? Can anyone put one together?

It would include the items originally listed as well as those promised later in the enrollment guide, in discussions, and at various presentations to the Board (Board meetings, committee meetings, and retreats).
Anonymous said…
" had heard whispers that the Southeast Initiative wouldn't happen,"

Is this the same news Melissa had warned us about recently?
Michael Rice said…

When we first had a meeting about the SE Initiative with the district staff, there was an incredible amount of distrust, cynicism, and skepticism toward the district in the room. The long time staff members (of which I am NOT one) voiced there concerns and questions. We were given assurances that this time was different, that the Superintendent was 100% behind this and this was going to be a great project and we should all be very excited.

From my perspective, this is so typical of the district to have this article come out during spring break when teachers would not be likely to be paying attention.

I e-mailed Pat Sander (who is the head of the SE Initiative) and Steve Pulkkinen (head of the SEA) about this. They both got back to me with answers that said that the budgets are being formulated and they will be given to the Board to consider. I would feel much better about all of this if I had gotten something a little more concrete than the Board will "consider" the budgets.

The staff at RB has committed to work many extra hours and do much more PD above and beyond the scope of the contract between SEA and SPS. In exchange for this, we are all getting $5,000/year extra for the duration of the SE Initiative. I can see that if the Board is going to start chopping money, that $5,000 will be the first place they will cut. If that happens, I can assure all that are reading this, that there will be something akin to a revolution at RB. It will be the final nail in the coffin in the distrust that the staff and community at RB feels toward the district.
dan dempsey said…
Wow Mike,

Thanks for the update I had no idea there was anyone left in Seattle that had any trust in the District. Thanks for the surprising bit of news.

Charlie Mas said…
In every area of endeavor, not just education, "this time" is always promoted as different, but it never is.

The same is true in business, in sports, in art, in politics, in everything. This shows the value of learning history - so you don't have to live it.

The next time anyone tells you that "this time" is different, tell them that you beieve them, but could they offer a guarantee? What penalty will they pay if "this time" it isn't different?

So the next time the District comes to you - in two or three years - promoting their next plan, all you have to do is ask "And what if it doesn't work? What if you don't follow-though? What guarantee will you offer?" Demand something good. Their personal resignation is a good place to start. Cash is always nice. Get it in WRITING. Define all terms. Define "follow through" in objective, measurable terms. Define "success" in objective, measurable terms.

If they won't offer you a guarantee like this - and I daresay they won't - then ask them why you should have confidence in the proposal when they don't.
Anonymous said…

I just want to let you know that I have followed the work you have been doing in Rainier Beach and have been impressed with and grateful for what you and your collegues have achieved. I've also always appreciated your thoughtul comments on this blog.

I know that is probably of little solace when you are receiving no support from the district. However, it's the best I can offer.
Anonymous said…
It is shocking to hear that the district could pull such a huge bait and switch on the public. Shocking. I was looking at the SPS website, enrollment page, and found the following PDF outlining what every school will be offering as a result of the SE initiative. It is in THIS years enrollment guide. Can the district really do this?? Can they really make these promises and then simply change their mind? The board did vote to approve the SE initiative, can they just vote to reverse it? Is there any legal obligation to provide what they have promised and put into print?

If they pull out of this one, I'm afraid they will be in dire straights in the eyes of the public.
Anonymous said…
Wasn't CPPS lobbying to be a proactive, unified, positive voice on issues like this--where parents could have a say and influence the district? Any thoughts from CPPS members?
dan dempsey said…
Dear Anon at 10:21,

You are now finding out precisely why I ran for school board.

I got a shocking dose of reality when I visited with the Attorney General's office in Olympia. I received a precise answer to the exact question you asked.

You said:

.... Can the district really do this?? Can they really make these promises and then simply change their mind? The board did vote to approve the SE initiative, can they just vote to reverse it? Is there any legal obligation to provide what they have promised and put into print?


My question was in regard to the school board policies that this district selectively chooses to ignore. Here is the word from the AG's office:

The Supt. is responsible to the School Board. The School Board is responsible to absolutely no one except the voters.

Given the fact that the voters are apparently of little concern to these folks once they are in office. The board is responsible to no one for anything.


Clearly the board's arrogance and lack of concern is a product of the cocoon of irresponsibility in which they operate.


You said:
...... If they pull out of this one, I'm afraid they will be in dire straights in the eyes of the public.

There is nothing to pull out. Their every whim is a done deal.

Since when has a majority of the board issued a decision that the public thought important that was not in alignment with Board whims?

They can not possibly be viewed as concerned about the public. Unless of course they might be concerned about the 4 or 5 members of the public still waiting for effective new leadership to emerge.

I certainly do not see Harium as a typical Seattle School board member. But he is not the President.

So is it genes or environment?

I vote for environment as described by the AG's office.

Elena said…
Hi everyone - These are very informative comments to a teacher, like me! who wants to find out more about a district that can't seem to fill its jobs, before applying. i'm new to the area, but have my WA. certificate. i've heard that the Rainier Beach area is pretty rough. any teachers who can comment on that? are we talking bullets in windshields, high security precautions on campus? i now have an idea about the teacher/district relationship, and i know from prior experience that it's no good working in a such a system.

I gather some of you teach at Rainier. what's it really like, esp for an English teacher? how many kids in a typical class? etc.

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