Monday, July 14, 2008

Me and the Mayor

So I'm just finished exercising and I get in the car. There's the Mayor on KUOW with his monthly visit. Just as I turn on the radio, there's a caller from NE (Lauren) who called in about worries about the overcrowding in the NE elementaries (5 of 7 have taken on a new kindergarten class with more - according to the district demographer - coming. She wanted to know how the Mayor was working with the school district on this issue.

He didn't answer the question. He said it was a great problem , if it was true, to have because the trend has been the other way. He said that he meets with Dr. Goodloe-Johnson once a month (good to hear) and that he was the chair of the last couple of levies and one reason was to "expand capacity in those areas that are necessary". He said he wanted to make sure that the schools have the money they need to carry out their mission.

Naturally, my ears perked up because very little of the capital improvements will expand capacity. The exceptions are New School (which is questionable anyway given they already have a K-8 a mile away and an elementary school in their back yard) as well as Hamilton (which will have only modest capacity gains) and Hale (which will have expanded capacity but they don't really want to have a bigger population).

So then Steve Scher, the host, asked Lauren if her concern was overcrowding and she said yes. She said that the schools were losing program rooms and what about the kids still to come?

The Mayor stated that the district had ownership of closed buildings but that wouldn't help in the short term. He said they might have to talk about "opening new schools" as opposed to closing schools.

He said it was encouraging to hear the honest talk from Dr. G-J about this district having problems and the need to fix them. He said that the last two superintendents engaged in what he termed "happy talk" and that they "refused" to acknowledge any problems (that would have been Manhas and Olchefske).

He said that the overcapacity problem "can be worked out".

So another guy calls in and gently says he didn't hear an answer from the Mayor (but opined that maybe this is a question for the superintendent). He was a parent from John Rodgers who again, asked what could be done in the short term. He suggested that Summit was not at capacity so maybe there was room there.

So the Mayor said yes, in the short-term, it's an issue for the superintendent. "I don't get into questions about operations of schools, it's not appropriate." Still, he said that it was a good trend that he welcomed. Well, I was glad to hear that but then he says that the City's demographers will work with the district's. Huh?

(We were told on Closure and Consolidation, by the district's demographer, that the City had no demographer. )

So I called in. I basically told him that if he had just been a figurehead (as I suspect he was) on the levies campaign, fine. But that yes, the district did know this problem was coming. That they had included two elementaries, in the NE (Laurelhurst and John Rodgers) on their initial remodel list but that, in the end, no elementaries made the list. I also asked about the City demographer.

(He said, somewhat curtly, that the City does have a demographer. (Okay, so I go to the City's Planning and Development page and here's what it says:

"USER ALERT! Due to 2005 budget cuts, the City of Seattle no longer has a demographer. If you have questions about Seattle population and demographic data, contact the most appropriate source listed below."

But I called anyway and it turns out the City now has a demographer. She's been in the job a couple of weeks. So he was being just a little disingenuous to say the City has one when it hasn't for years.)

Anyway, in response to my statement he said that his role was not to second-guess the list the school district drew up and that was for the Board and citizens like me to do. (Good to know the Mayor thinks it is part of a citizen's duty because that wasn't the impression I got from many people when I spoke out.)

So Steve Scher said but wait, if you were the chair of the committee and it was the City of Seattle tax dollars, you surely want some oversight.

Nope, says the Mayor. I was just there to make sure the funding came through. He said there's an elected Board and a Superintendent and hopefully engaged citizens. Then, he says

"When I think there's a problem, I will push them as I did previous with superintendents to acknowledge problems."

He said he wouldn't second-guess the superintendent.

Okay, so folks, so write this in your calendar. On the morning of July 14th on the KUOW program Weekday, the Mayor said (1) he wouldn't second-guess the Superintendent and the Board BUT (2) if he thinks there's a problem, he'll step in. Just like he did when he was saying that he thought the Board should be appointed.

(Update: who knew I'd have to update so fast? I called Rachel Cassidy who is the District's demographer, just to let her know about the City's new demographer and it turns out Rachel is gone on maternity leave until November. That's a little worrisome just because we are going into figuring out the assignment plan and Rachel's a pretty capable person. I did leave word with Tracy Libros, the head of Enrollment Planning, just so it's on her radar.)


Michael said...

Amazing that someone would tell you over the phone that a District employee is on maternity leave (confidential employee/health information), yet they have problems providing access to other records.

Ananda said...

This information is on Ms. Cassidy's outgoing voicemail. There is also someone who is filling in for her. I can't recall her last name, but her first name is Marilyn or something close to that.