Tuesday, August 19, 2008

The Times Weighs In

Yet another honeymoon comes to an end.

The Seattle Times Editorial Board was in love, Love, LOVE with the new Seattle School Board and I think they wanted to have Superintendent Dr. Maria Goodloe-Johnson's baby.

Yeah, well, that may be over.

I don't know why, maybe it was because they crossed the Mayor (the Times's One True Love), or maybe the beer goggles wore off and the Times just woke up and discovered who they were in bed with. Either way, the Times just kicked the Board and the Superintendent out of bed with an editorial in today's paper.

With today's editorial, the Times acknowledges what everyone else in Seattle has long known: Seattle Public Schools - from the bottom to the top - holds public input in utter contempt. They will squash it, suppress it, evade it, ignore it, and reject it at every possible opportunity.

Let's consider the various episodes in reverse chronological order:


The District tried to subvert the legal process through a swift little trick, but they didn't get away with it. While a hearing on the trees was scheduled for next week, the District withdrew their applications for building permits. By doing so, they removed the City's regulatory authority over the tree cutting. Their plan was to quickly move forward with the tree cutting and then re-instate the applications without the tree cutting element. Of course there would be no point to actually convene the scheduled hearing since the trees would be down and the discussion would be moot. Fortunately, Save the Trees caught the move and countered nicely with a temporary restraining order.

The tree issue is drawing out some really Orwellian stuff. The District claims that there were a series of public meetings about the Ingraham plan. That is technically true. But the District never told anyone about the public meetings - never said when and where they would be, never said what would be on the agenda, never released any plans. So just how public is a meeting like that? The meetings were only announced long after they were over.

Let's be really clear about a few things here. First, for a local government entity to try an end-run around the legal system in this way is unconscionable. We expect our local government entities to follow the law and comply with regulation - not dodge it. Second, this move was executed following a closed-door meeting with the Board on this subject. That means that the maneuver was done with either the Board's explicit or tacit approval. For our elected representatives to work against the public process in this way is reprehensible. Every one of them is going to have to answer for this someday. It is enough for keep some of them from re-election. Third, there is someone in the Facilities Department who wrote the application for the building permit and included the tree removal as part of it. That guy is NEVER going to do that again. The next time the District wants to cut down a forest and pave over it they are just going to do it before anyone can complain about the plan.

Here's the weird thing. The District may actually be right. Their plan may actually be environmentally sensitive, it may actually provide better habitat, better soil and water conservation, more greenery, and more canopy cover. It may actually be an excellent solution all the way around the track. But that doesn't matter because they have demonstrated such little confidence in the merit of their decision that we cannot have confidence in the merit of their decision.


The Board conspired to preclude public scrutiny and public discussion of the Superintendent's Evaluation. They did everything they could do to prevent anyone from asking questions about it or looking into it. It was held off the agenda until the last minute, they violated their Policy, their Bylaws, and their Affirmation of Responsibility by presenting it for introduction and action at the same Board meeting. They have withheld the supporting documents and continue to withhold supporting data. They refused to discuss the motion at all prior to voting and they have continued to refuse to discuss the motion to this day.


Even after every stakeholder group came out in opposition to the relocation of the Denny Middle School on the Chief Sealth high school campus, the staff continued to push forward with the plan and the Board approved it. The inadequacy of the community engagement was universally acknowledged, yet they went forward with it. There are no academic benefits anticipated from this co-location. There are no cost savings to be had from this co-location. There was no consideration of public input in this process.


What happens to public testimony at Board meetings? Is it tracked? Does anyone respond to it? I don't think so. The Superintendent, at her first Board meeting said that all public testimony would be tracked. She said that even people who signed up to speak but didn't get on the list would be tracked. She said that customer service staff would be at Board meetings to address complaints. She said that there would be a response from the staff for every person's testimony. None of these things are happening. How can the Board expect the staff to listen to public input, seriously consider public input, and respond to public input when they don't do it themselves? I thought the Board was supposed to model the behavior for the staff. I guess they do.

Does the superintendent respond to her public input? Is there any evidence that she seriously considers it? Isn't she also supposed to model behavior, accountability, culture, and customer service for the staff? And the same for her "C" level executives. When was the last time you got a response to a question or a concern from Ms Santorno or Mr. Kennedy?

There are other examples. Please remember that this Board has been impaneled for only nine months and the Superintendent has been in office for only about a year. They have racked up some big ones very quickly.


Melissa Westbrook said...

Boy, there is a lot I could say but Charlie, you said most of it.

To allow a few bullies in the BEX program to completely give the district a bad name is just dumbfounding. No one can say there is nothing the Board can do because there is.

The district's reputation and their ability to continue to depend on the goodwill of the citizens of Seattle to support our schools (both by voting for levies/bonds and by supporting schools in their own neighborhoods)is in jeopardy.

It's interesting because I had just e-mailed the Board today after reading about the City Council's adoption of the plan for Seattle Center. I wanted to know that the Board is clear on Memorial Stadium and that (1) they don't give away the farm just for a new stadium and (2) this is MEMORIAL stadium, not just some building. (The fact that the district has not treated it with proper respect doesn't change or negate that fact.)

Harium was kind enough to call me and say they were well aware of all the issues which also includes NOT losing a penny of revenue from the parking (even if it goes underground) as well as the understanding that if SPS uses the stadium in the most inclement times, we need covering for the spectators. (The plan only includes it for one side so that the other side can be used as an amphitheater but for only one season a year.)

Harium gets it and believes all the Board get it so I feel good in trusting them. He also said that they are getting some outside guidance on this matter which makes me breath a HUGE sigh of relief given how badly the Queen Anne High School deal turned out. (We have most of the same staff that crafted that terribly flawed deal.)

Here's a case where the Board is doing a good job with a facility. Why this can't be extended to the capital projects I don't know but somebody has got to get these people in check.

Of course, we can always wait for Brian Sontag, state auditor, to do it but then the Board will look weak and ineffective. It's always better to be out in front of problems than playing catch-up.

snaffles said...

Thank you for acknowledging what I was beginning to think had been swept under the carpet.

The Boards entire process of taking Facilities opinions, designs, and projects as the one and only way to do things.

However, I must caution in regards to Ingraham putting something in an Environmental checklist and then removing it is not unusual. It happened with the field and the field lights, the parking and the stadiums.

It is a continual problem at Ingraham. If the community objects in a SEPA the item is removed with the promise: We will do another SEPA if we do that particular project. It is what we in the neighborhood call piecemealing. It also allows for engineering evaluations that say public meetings are not necessary.

Ingraham neighbors have been bullied for a long, long time. The trees are only one of many items.

And interestingly enough, It isn't the educational value to the project that the neighbors object to. IT is the secrecy, the lies, the manuevering to get what they want, the lack of public in put. Followed by: Next time we will include you. Next time is here, and we weren't included and we are mad.

Steve Zemke said...

Well said, except for the part about the School District maybe actually having a plan for better habitat, soil, water, greenery and canopy.

The School District did make a lot of additions to their proposal once we started questioning it but some basic problems remain. One fact is that there is no obligation on their part to do anything of what they said they would do.

Point in case, during our appeal before the School District hired Hearing Examiner, the landscaping person said this time they were going to do it right. When they did the athletic field at Ingraham they planted a lot of trees around the field and they all died because they didn't install an irrigation system.

New trees were added and some of those died, even including ones this year. So, this time, they told the hearing examiner they were going to install special irrigation systems for all the new trees, including the street trees.

About two weeks ago I saw the Shool Principal Martin Floe and the Project Manager John McWilliams talking to the contractor doing the street improvements. They weren't too happy to see me but I did ask a few questions. One was where the irrigation system for the street trees was going to be.

The contractor responded before the other two could, saying "What irrigation system, there isn't any in the plans?" He said he could put one in but was cut off by McWiliams.

McWilliams said they could put it in later and then he added they could just use those green bags. He didn't seem too certain what the plan was and it didn't at all sound to me like the elaborate proposal they presented and defended to convince the hearing examiner of the soundeness of their plan.

It doesn't make sense to put pipes in after you put the sidewalk in because you would have to go under the sidewalk.

As the Hearing Examiner said, nothing they promised to do in their proposal (like irrigation) was guaranteed just because they said they were going to do it. And she couldn't, by the process, require them to do anything.

Obviously she was right in nothing being guaranteed . The School District seemed willing to say whatever they thought needed to be said to convince the Hearing Examiner, yet the project manager seemed to know nothing about an irrigation system.

Even if you buy the phony argument that three 6 foot tall replacement street trees are somehow equal in canopy to a 100 tall 75 year old Douglas fir tree; if you can't even guarantee the replacement trees are going to be watered the whole thing is a farce.

But then what do you expect when the School District could have easily had both trees and new construction by just building the proposed addition on the North Lawn where no tall trees would have to be removed.

What was the school district thinking in proposing to build the new addition in a 75 year old grove of trees? Probably the same thing they were thinking when they did a drawing of a master plan for Ingraham which was submitted to the City of Seattle in October as part of their permit application that circled the grove of trees on the east side of the campus that is shared with the Parks Department and labeled it "Potential East Parking Lot" I kid you not.

They since have said the east forest is to be spared as part of their canopy plan but they will not commit to saving it beyond 5 years even though the Hearing Examiner said it contained exceptional trees and was a good representation of a native forest.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Steve, just wondering, did the School District ever give any thought to going up i.e. a second story? Or could the building as it is not support one? I mean if there's problems/challenges in all directions, could they go up?

Michael Oxman said...


Page 3 of the minutes of the School Design Team meeting from Nov. 14, 2005. This is the staff-only meeting with Fitzgerald Architects, where the decision was made to build the 10,000 square foot building in the 1.2 acre grove.

This document was offered as an exhibit in the SEPA Appeal Hearing, but the district lawyer objected. The Examiner rejected it as irrelevant.

The ecological assessment and arborist report was done 2 years later, in October of 2007. This procedure was done out of sequence.

Best Management Practices in the Facilities Master Plan require that the ecological assessment be done prior to siting of the construction envelope.

Someone at this meeting said the neighbors will be furious when they find out all these trees would be cut down. The group must have overruled this person, and the design became set in cement.

To see more of the SDT Minutes, just change the last number in the URL above from 1 thru 6.





snaffles said...

I noted a question regarding if the District had considered up. There is a notation regarding up, by the Fitzgerald architect, up would cost more due to the need to reinforce the building and to remove the students from the building.

Thus up was dismissed, no one wnated the students to leave the building. Let alone actually spend enough money to double the capacity all at once. Instead, part of Science has been done, small library and now small additon with plans for a small north additon. A Sprawled mess.

Up would have made the place look decent.

Not a plan by a one year old with building blocks.