Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Tree Cutting Must Go Through Permit Process

King County Superior Court Judge John Erlick ruled on Monday that Seattle Public Schools must follow the City's permit process before cutting down about 100 trees at Ingraham High School to make room for an addition at the school. And, if the City denies them permission to cut the trees, the District must abide by that decision.

Let's be clear. The judge's ruling didn't save the trees, it only binds the District to follow the law as it would apply to anyone else and subject their plans to the usual City process of hearings and reviews. There's no telling if these reviews will decide that the trees need to be protected or if the City will allow the District to cut them down.

You can read about it in the P-I here or in the Times here.

What is clear, however, is that the District tried to dodge the permit process and they did it with either the explicit or the tacit approval of the Board.


dan dempsey said...

Charlie wrote...
What is clear, however, is that the District tried to dodge the permit process and they did it with either the explicit or the tacit approval of the Board.

I hope that SPS Board action did not come as a surprise to anyone. This board is pretty adept at ignoring the public as often as possible. They've ducked board policy so often it is only a small step to ignoring the law and hardly new ground for SPS Boards from the past (Sale of Queen Anne HS comes to mind).

Hey who knew what "Effective New Leadership" meant during the campaign? Well I guess we know now after that 7-0 vote on MG-J's contract extension that violated board policy.

Keep in mind that both Charlie and Chris Jackins pointed out in testimony before the MG-J vote that what the board was doing was a clear violation of board policy.

This board clearly knows so much more than the public that they do not care to abide by board policies, laws of Seattle, much less actually heed any public input. This board has plans and the public seems to be a major hindrance (or is that minor inconvenience) to them.

Dorothy Neville said...

I just don't get it. I just refuse to believe that all these board members planned ahead before running for election to act in this way. Time and again these are supposed to be reformers, a new slate, a new start, on and on.

So what happens once they are elected? What is it that turns such well-meaning smart board members into this travesty?

I had higher hopes for this board. But then again, I had higher hopes for the last board as well. What is really going on and can the cycle be broken?

SolvayGirl said...

Good question Dorothy. Just what does happen to turn mavericks into sheep? You'd think they'd have learned that Seattle is not in the mood for rubber-stampers and that we have no qualms about voting people out of office. Though, like you, I'll have a hard time believing the next set of reformers who run for board positions.

Charlie Mas said...

I think there are three things to consider.

First, they aren't all that maverick to begin with. These folks are generally pretty establishment types. None of those voted into office last year promised any kind of reform. On the contrary, some of them ran against reform.

Peter Maier, for example, ran against Sally Soriano saying that he would cooperate with the staff. And he has. Mr. Maier has yet to cast a "no" vote. He tried to claim that people were adequately informed about the plan to demolish Denny Middle School and rebuild it on the Chief Sealth High School campus. He is up to his eyeballs in responsibility for BEX III. He was the anti-reform candidate and he has performed as promised. He never claimed that he would advocate for the public perspective or make himself accessible to people.

Likewise Mr. Sundquist ran as someone with experience sitting on Boards and he considers anyone who doubts the district staff's promises as "cynical". Has Mr. Sundquist voted "no" on anything yet?

Peter Maier, Steve Sundquist, and Sherry Carr all ran against reform candidates, not as reform candidates.

Second, they have to work with the District staff. If they have a poor relationship with staff, they wouldn't be able to get anything done. There is a certain amount of go-along-to-get-along that happens in the name of maintaining a "good working relationship". I think a lot of them voted for Denny/Sealth because they didn't want to be in conflict with the staff so early in their term. They may have thought that if they would give the staff some flexibility on that one, that they would get some flexibility in return on something else. Ha!

Third, and I think everyone needs to seriously consider this possibility, maybe the staff perspective has more merit than we believe. Take this Ingraham thing for example. Maybe the three trees they promise to plant for each one they cut will more than mitigate the harm. Maybe the additional plantings in the understory and elsewhere will actually create a net positive. Maybe the trees they are cutting are nearing the end of their life expectancy while the new trees will last another 75 years. Maybe the plan has already been through an exhaustive set of process including permit review and environmental review and has cleared it all easily. Maybe the District has compromised over and over again and it is the other side that is being ostinent and unreasonable. Maybe in this case, and in a number of other cases, the District's perspective actually is the right one, but they are either too unwilling to communicate that or too incompetent to communicate it effectively.

Charlie Mas said...

Can the cycle be broken? I think so.

Look at Mary Bass. She has been a consistent voice for the public perspective and for reform. She has made the lonely principled vote again and again. Director Bass continues to hold community meetings and they continue to be interesting and well-attended.

Look at Director Harium Martin-Morris, our Rookie of the Year. He voted against the Denny/Sealth co-location because he saw that every stakeholder group opposed it and that every reason the District staff gave for moving forward on it was either flimsy or false. Director Martin-Morris has a blog, he responds to messages, and he holds an open meeting with constiuents every month. When he heard that the staff were taking two years to allow high school credit for middle school courses, he said forget about that and is working to get it resolved in September. He sees it as a twenty-minute problem - not a two year one.

I am most disappointed in Sherry Carr. She has lost her voice, lost her principles, lost her purpose, and lost her way. What is she even doing on the Board? She is not the least bit skeptical of anything the staff tells her. I watched her in the Operations Committee meeting as she meekly accepted the news that no solution for the NE capacity crisis would be possible until 2011. She didn't complain about it, and she didn't dispute it. Are we really to believe that it would take three years for the staff to re-open a closed school building? That simply isn't credible. It takes them less time to build one. But Sherry Carr just accepted that claim without question or critique. Sad. Pathetic, really. This is not the same person as the candidate Sherry Carr, is it?

reader said...

My two cents? There is a very unclear distinction, in the minds of the board, between "operations" which is staff and "policy" which is board. Of course one morphs into the other but so far it seems that staff have the upper hand in getting the board to confuse policy with operations. Take the June 08 program placements for children with disabilities. These placements had zero to do with board policy c56, they had to do with one thing: the availability of seats that no one else in the district wanted. Even the Chief Academic Officer has said that that was the overriding factor in placing those programs.

Even still, the board leaves these unchallenged and when asked, says they cannot interfere with operations.

Go figure.

Charlie Mas said...

I agree that the "governance" of the District is seriously messed up. The distinctions between policy and administration are blurred and the benefit of the doubt always goes to the staff.

Another problem with the governance is the Board's inability to enforce policy. They can write policy but if they can't enforce policy then they haven't made policy. Let's say that the staff HAS violated policy (and they do it ALL the time with innumerable policies). What can the Board do about it? Nothing. They can ask the superintendent to conform with the policy (pretty please) and that's about it.

As with saw with Raj Manhas, if the superintendent simply refuses to comply with the policies the Board has no means of enforcing them short of firing the superintendent.

This inability to enforce leads to meaningless and unenforcable policies such as the program placement policy C56.00. Have you read this policy? It says that the District "should" consider these factors when making program placements. It's not a rule; it's a guideline. The Board didn't write a stronger policy because they knew they couldn't enforce it.

Sue said...

Read the article in the most current issue of Newsweek to see what happens to school boards who continue to be inept. Washington DC has a new, rather draconian superintendent who has eliminated board power, giving it to the mayor, closed failing schools, and is now taking on the teacher's union.

My thoughts were - how can we get this woman to Seattle!!!

Charlie Mas said...

Personally, I would be very happy to follow the State model of an appointed Board that has a small, rather ineffectual, regulatory role and broad, but shallow, policymaking authority. Of course the state model also has an elected superintendent. That's what I really want.

Look, all of the real authority and responsibility is in the Superintendent's hands. Let's have an elected Superintendent and look what we'll get:

* A superintendent who is accountable to the public.

* A superintendent who has a duty of loyalty to the public

* A superintendent who is responsive to the public

* A superintendent who has some of the necessary political skills to represent the District in Olympia, in the City Council, and in the Mayor's office

* A superintendent who has the job for four years solid and, if re-elected, eight years. That's a period of stable leadership that any urban district would love to have

This would also give us a Board who no longer is trying to lead the District but can focus on their primary duty: making policy. Which means both writing policy and enforcing policy. That Board would have a chance to be effective. An appointed Board would never micro-manage the administration of a popularly elected Superintendent.

snaffles said...

Just a couple of thoughts here:

Even if we have an elected Superintendent we still have facilities staff who have been around longer than any of the elected. I feel that is why the facilities gets away with so much miss managed projects, they have been there forever and the Board relies on them to "know" the rules and the proper ways. It has worked well at Denny/Sealth, Hamilton, Queen Anne, and Ingraham. What lies in the future?

A communication note: The District didn't tell the building contractor to stay out of the trees at Ingraham. So today the contractor was in there trying to install a fence. A fence that will probably need to be removed so logging can take place. So much for following the Judge's orders.
And yes, Mr. Gilmore and Mr. Mcwilliams were in the courtroom on Monday when the decision was made.

i am also wondering if cutting down the trees is the only way to build this addition because by BEXIV the plan is to build another one on the North side? Does anyone know? I think the Judge called it Piecemealing. I wonder if piecemealing costs the taxpayers more?

I was wondering which board member is the Environmental one? I was told one of them was heavily involved in Environmental issues, I can't figure out who.

I like the way Harium and Mary take the chance and actually vote NO on things. It does make me wonder what the Board was actually told about Ingraham compared to what is really happening. I would love to have been the mouse in the corner at the Emergency Executive meeting.

thanks for letting me ramble

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