Deconstructing the Final Vote

So I won't go blow by blow but here are some impressions from the Board meeting last night to vote on the final recommendations.

Dr. Goodloe-Johnson. Even though she came out of this with her final recs in place, doesn't really seem like she won. The amount of anger at her and the repeated remarks about her salary are going to be tough to overcome. (Raj had a built-in niceness that even if you disagreed with him, you never felt angry at him.) I find this argument that there is a lot of racism involved in these decisions somewhat mystifying. The top tier of leadership in the district is all black. About 40% of the Board is minority. What I hear more is this is more socioeconomically based anger than being about race. They perceive Dr. G-J as being out of their socioeconomic class and therefore unable to relate to them. She got a lot of hissing and booing. She said letters to parents at whose children will be moving will be sent home next week. Director Maier asked if there would be a design team update at the March 2nd Board meeting (some document indicated this date) and she said yes.

James Bible, the NAACP president who got removed from the meeting early on (and wrongly I believe), was telling the crowd in the lobby that Dr. G-J needs to go back to where she came from. He also said that she did not understand the unique race and income issues in Seattle. He was quite the speaker when he got a head of steam. But I took him aside right afterwards and he was very calm and poised. It was an interesting shift to witness. It was unfortunate that he got picked on because it only makes the district look bad (as the NAACP threatened a lawsuit and/or Dept of Ed investigation). Mr. Bible perceives that's why he was kicked out.

Michael De Bell can hold his head up because he carried on with the meeting with a lot of grace under fire. I don't think he really wanted to close the meeting but I felt he would have if people had not settled down. He also reminded people of the history of closures and that the north end had 21 schools closed in the '80s. He said there was too much capacity in the north at that time and now there is too much capacity in the south.

Mary Bass. First, I love Mary, I really do. She's a kind-hearted woman. But she was no help here and she did a classic Mary thing which is to pull out some kind of vague plan and beg for more time. There were many weeks here to suss this out and put forth a counterplan. It didn't happen. No big surprise because Mary has done this a lot in the past. She also cried (and just like there's no crying in baseball, there's no crying on the School Board). She did what I thought was some pandering about how she had been a leader in wanting to work on the assignment plan in 2000, knew something was wrong with the budget in 2001 and got shussed, only for people to find out she was right, etc. But somehow, somehow in all the time she's been a Board director, she hasn't got much done. It's just not enough to speak up; you need to do. But Mary is a courageous person who has endured a lot (I remarked to Denise Gonzalez-Walker that I remember when Mary first came in that some Board members would not even give her the courtesy of seconding her motions so there would even be discussion. It was very disrespectful behavior on their parts.)

One thing to remember, though, is that Mary and Harium both supported school closures but did not like this plan. Mary was adamant that no assignment amendments should be supported without a new assignment plan and that she felt the plan should have come before the closures.

Steve Sundquist . Of all the new directors, the one who is likely to have engendered the most anger. I think the perception that he was helping Pathfinder (because his daughters attended there) AND that he helped Arbor Heights off the list might haunt him. I also think the fact that it was Harium and not Steve who put forth the motion to save Cooper will be remembered (not that he had to). He also said alternative ed needs an audit. One thing that does not help him is a tendency to look over his glasses at the crowd and almost lecture (one woman kept telling him to not patronize the crowd). He does get a little professorial at times and it hurts the points he makes.

Sherry Carr. She flew pretty low under the radar. She said it wasn't a case of closing or not closing schools but closing schools or losing staff at schools. And she said we could close the gap by taking 5% from every school and did we want that? Well, was it an option? No one asked. I don't know, maybe sharing the pain would have been better for some but the district was never going to give us that option. She did manage to get some boos for commending Dr. G-J.

Harium Martin-Morris. Clearly, one of the most principled of our directors. He spoke quietly (you noticed this? He speaks in a low voice and it makes you really listen) about how Cooper works with a difficult population (and without a lot of district help) and had made gains in performance scores and enrollment. He also spoke of the desire to find a home for Summit. "I failed to do that." His amendment, for whatever its worth, was his desire to save Summit (as was the CAC's idea to move Summit to Wilson-Pacific; it was purely to save it, not stick in a crummy location). I waited for him, when he put forth his amendment to not close Cooper and move Pathfinder, to have an alternative, something the other directors might have something to consider. Nope. It was a bad move.

Peter Maier. Again, something of a professor stance here and he used a lot of cliches (which did not go over well with the crowd and got a lot of sarcastic "really" remarks). He claims that the closures fit in with the student assignment plan but I'm not sure I got his meaning.

Cheryl Chow. Well, Cheryl is a hard one to read. She was the only director to not speak during the Board remarks which led some in the crowd to yell, "What about Cheryl?" She kept her head down and my notes reflect nothing from her on any of the amendments. But out of nowhere, after one of the votes, she decides to speak and launches into a history of AAA. Yes, it was quite odd. To me it seemed, like Mary, a bit of pre-election pandering to try to say that AAA had been given much support and the program still wasn't succeeding. But she went on to say, as Sherry Carr had said, that the AAA culture could be infused into Van Asselt and the name would stay with the building unless the new community changed it. What a bunch of nonsense. What about Van Asselt's name which has been around for 100 years?

Other assessments:

Summit. Well, it finally came out that the reason they are closing Summit (besides wanting the building for another program) was...transportation costs. Okay, they are very high. But, if they had relocated the program to a central area and had a more across-the-city population, I think the costs would have gone down. But at least they gave I reason. I had asked the Board, in an e-mail) to please not let district history record that Summit closed because it was a failing school that wasn't viable (because it is not true). Harium, Michael and Maier (in his own way) recognized Summit's long history. Michael, like Harium, had felt it important to find Summit a home and could not (but, of course, no one explains why Lincoln or Marshall couldn't have been an option). Michael said, quite tenderly, that "acts today fall most heavily on Summit K-12".

SBOC. Michael did say something kind of lame. Namely, that the "SBOC relocation is not the complete fulfillment of (Board) actions several years back but it's the best we can do now." And no one felt it necessary to try harder when those actions were passed? He did say that both SBOC and Nova are used to a high degree of autonomy and needed it at Meany. He said that Meany had 2 gyms and he felt, in time, the programs would grow to respect and appreciate each other.

The Board. After the meeting, I had asked a couple of cops if they were hanging around to walk the Board to their cars. They said yes. It was that bad and I'm sure it felt scary from their vantage point. There was a lot of shouting at this meeting at the beginning and end. I think if Mary, Cheryl and Michael want to run again they likely all would win only because of the odd nature of running for School Board. They all have solid bases of support but if voters outside of that base joined forces (and had a good opposition candidate), they could lose. But incumbency is on their side. I see no signs that none of them will step down but if I had to bet it would be Michael (he may be tired by now, I hope not) or Mary (if she found someone good to endorse).


MadronaGreen said…
Melissa, I would be interested in your assessment of APP. In your opinion, what is/are the district's goals for APP? What did the APP community do well, what could they have done better?

What is the likely future for APP?

Unknown said…
"Mary and Harium both supported school closures but did not like this plan."

People always support school closures in theory, but not when it comes down to dealing with the political fallout - same thing with the last board.

I agree with you 100% that Mary talks a good game, but does almost nothing - the teary declarations about what (sigh) might have been, if only there had (sigh) been more time - she knows how to work her constituency (and the press), time after time after time.

You're absolutely right - there were any number of solutions she could have worked, just not at the 11th hour. the procrastinator's out - "if only I'd had more time, I'd have done a better job."

Easy to vote no, play the victim, and lament how hard it is to fight this fight alone - much much harder to actually do something, build consensus among her fellow directors, find more compatible souls to run with her, etc.

Mary and Harium? They had every opportunity to try to shape a closure plan (if in fact they did support closures) and didn't. People should be holding them accountable instead of lauding them.
reader said…
My feeling is that, unfortunately, the Supt won the battle but lost the war. The wide perception is not that no schools s/b closed necessariliy but that more time could have been taken to make sufficiently informed and strategic decisions about which and where. What would have hurt to have had that time elasticity in Central Office's back pocket? I am not so sure that the loss of public confidence is superficial or temporary. Our family has certainly lowered our expectations.
Thanks, Melissa, for this post. I always appreciate your tremendous knowledge of the district players.

This probably isn't the perfect spot, but I want to comment on all the kids at the meeting, many whom attend schools that will be closed.

Despite the supercharged, tense vibe throughout the meeting, the students around me (from Meany and Summit) were very respectful and mostly quiet. The few times they did shout, it was to cheer or chant their school name a few times, not to hurl incendiary remarks.

The kids seemed very earnest and hopeful that their presence could somehow stop the closures. Of course it didn't, but I hope they reminded the board and district staff that at the end of the day, the bottom line is our kids' education, not a few saved bucks.
dan dempsey said…
I think that the Supt. and the board have a lot to live down with her raise and contract extension. As a teacher who like many has given my all for my kids. I found the idea of performance bonuses especially repugnant.

If the Supt. would do a better job for the kids and the community she is supposed to be serving because of bonuses then she is not much of a role model or teacher. The board seems not to know enough about teachers to realize this. The Supt. is supposed to be a role model. The idea that more money will get better performance seems absurd. $240,000 per year and a car allowance and yet that needs to be raised 10% and performance bonuses added. This raise was based on nothing and the process violated the provisions of School Board policy.

What king of position does this put the board in for future teacher contract negotiations?

Having had the School Administrators bar me from putting up posters for my testimony one evening and then later deny having done so, I find the expulsion of Mr. James Bible right in line with SPS admin strong arm tactics.

I find it particularly unfortunate that there is so little exploration of other options. When I ran for school board two years ago, I thought that co-location with other service providers or agencies could enhance our schools as well as make them more economical to operate. This is done in some places ... but facilities and the Supt. never looked into it.

I am particularly displeased with the idea that bigger and more uniform is better. I see nothing that leads me to believe that. Rather than look for a solution to Summit's transportation costs it was a lot easier to ax Summit ... doing so fits the plan of bigger and more uniform.

Does anyone know anything about the "NEWS" lawsuit over school finances that was supposed to be headed to court about now?
Dorothy Neville said…
Evan: Mary and Harium? They had every opportunity to try to shape a closure plan (if in fact they did support closures) and didn't. People should be holding them accountable instead of lauding them.

I totally agree. I got no sense that there was any behind the scenes lobbying or negotiation that could have and should have happened.

Those of us following along know that it's all nuanced and not "all about race", but those that are not reading every detail? Like my husband? The message he's picked up from cursory attention to media is that it is all about race. That was a great photo on the cover of the PI, escorting Mr Bible out. I'm guessing my husband is not alone in his perceptions.
anonymous said…
I agree with Dorothy and Evan. Mary Bass and Harium had plenty of time to come up with reasonable, viable amendments to the proposal. Neither did. Mary knew her plan wouldn't go anywhere. How could it? Instead of grandstanding, she should have put forth an amendment that was viable. Something that was realistic. And then she could have worked WITH the other Directors to build concencus. She chose grandstanding instead. I am dissapointed to say the least. As for Harium, he should have stood up for Sumitt. He should have stood his ground and he should have found an approproiate building for them. He knew Aki could never work. He obviously didn't think transportation costs were an issue, otherwise he wouldn't have proposed a building for them far away in SE Seattle. For some undisclosed reason he didn't fight for Marshall, or Lincoln or Meany?

I can't believe these two Directors are being applauded and held as heroes, when in actuality they did nothing to help shape this proposal. Just like the rest of the board. They both talk a good talk, but neither walks the walk. It's almost worse than the other directors who let you know clearly where they stand. I may not always agree with them, but I also never feel like they pull the wool over my eyes.
zb said…
Race is heavily overlaid on all of this -- and the fact that MGJ is black does not change that. Race and its SES correlates results in vast differences among the different schools that are then tipped further by the choice system.

Every non-traditional school (except AAA) has a whiter & richer population than the SPS.

And I believe all these effects result without anyone in Seattle (the school board, the superintendent, the people of Seattle, the parents making choices about where to send their children) being racist. I don't think most people are.

But the interrelationships among these variables means that many decisions have racially disparate effects, that we need to consider and think about and examine as a society.

I still think the answer to this is to move on, rather than fight past battles, but I think dismissing race in all of this is not realistic.
zb said…
I don't get the displeasure at Mary & Harium, and the complaints that they didn't do the "dealing" to make a better plan. It seems to me that that weight can be just as heavily laid on the shoulders of the other 5 board members.

I do have to say that the outcome of the school board votes is disturbing, that on every single vote the board broke along racial lines. I don't know why, but I"m troubled that that's what happened.
owlhouse said…
zb- My frustration is spread across the board. But, while most members didn't even attempt solutions, Mary tearfully and dramatically claimed that she "tried". I don't see it. Rather than make individual amendments for each change in her cluster, she used the broad stroke, "don't touch my babies." I would think this approach guarantees a lack of support from other board directors. On top of that, she said that with more time and creativity, a better outcome could have been reached. Did she have a prepared timeline and propose an extension? No. I'm paraphrasing, but at Thursday's vote, she said that she could have included AAA in her amendment, but... didn't. Also she spoke to Summit deserving a home, but no proposed amendment. Maybe I'm confused on this, but it is my understanding that amendments could have been proposed during the meeting, meaning that once Summit at Aki failed, alternate amendments could have been proposed. Meany or Lincoln or Marshall...

I've been very critical of this process, but did hold some small hope that there would be some 11th hour visionary leadership. It was not there. Board Directors seem to have no ability to think outside the box. Frightening that they lead our schools.

That said, I do appreciate Harium's intentions and think that Michael did a "good" job leading an incredibly difficult meeting.
anonymous said…
"I don't get the displeasure at Mary & Harium, and the complaints that they didn't do the "dealing" to make a better plan. It seems to me that that weight can be just as heavily laid on the shoulders of the other 5 board members."

I'm certainly not excusing the 5 other board directors for not putting forth amendments that reflected community input. But they didn't play any games. They were straightorward and stayed the course. What offended me about Mary and Harium is that they claim to be activists and advocates of the community. They act as though they have done all they can and it's just out of their hands when that is not the case at all. They act like they are so saddened by the proposal, even crying, but yet the did nothing viable to change it. Harium says "I failed". He's right. He did fail. Where in the world did Aki come from? He could have insisted that Summit be moved to a central location. He could have tried to build concensus among the other board directors. He didn't. He was not a victim nor was Mary. That's the difference between them and the other 5 directors. Nobody else played the victim. They stood strong, and though I don't agree with the outcome, I prefer having directors who know what they want and go after it, instead of whining about what they could have, should have, would have done. If Mary and Harium knew what they wanted they should have went after it with vigor. Then if they failed, at least they could hold their heads up high. They didn't even really try.
anonymous said…
So, to sum it up, I guess I would say we have 7 dud board directors, instead of 5.
Unknown said…
To the comments by zb and owlhouse relative to criticism I offered of Mary and Harium - just to be clear - I didn't expect any board member to show up with amendments either by the deadline or during the meeting - they're not supposed to be micromanaging and they need to support the superintendent, whose job it is to do this work.

But nothing prevents them from suggesting or vetting an idea with her early in the process and as it moves along - and/or from gathering a coalition of influence from parents, city leaders, and others that would give that idea momentum.

Everyone wants good ideas that will work and be supported - everyone - and I have to believe the sup't does, too.

I have no idea what any of the directors may have done in this regard, but it's obvious that changes were suggested and made - because the final recommendation was different from the original.

For people who think it's all about power - what they don't know and what hurts them every time (in my opinion) is that the district WANTS to do the right thing for kids who need more, and they WANT to get good ideas that will help them do that, and they would especially like those good ideas to come from different quarters - and probably hate it that it looks like they capitulated to the ham-handed 'sacrificial lamb' PTA.

But you have to work on relationships, you have to treat them as you would like to be treated, and you really get nowhere by screeching at them - they just tune you out.

In my experience, it's either building relationships and credibility with them - or lawsuits - and nothing in between (except maybe happy accidents, which is what I think Arbor Hgts was - at least for Arbor Hgts.)

Just my two cents.
Sahila said…
I thought the amendments were a total balls up - nothing visionary, realistic or helpful or workable in any of them, and told the Directors that - all of them...

What I liked about Harium and Mary's final vote was that they had the grace to vote against each of the amendments and then the whole plan rather than capitulate and stick with the majority...and I realise they can then go on and argue that "at least I tried", (not very hard) but at least they werent being hypocrites in supporting something they knew was badly conceived, is damaging for the children and the community and will be hell to implement...
owlhouse said…
Evan said- "I didn't expect any board member to show up with amendments either by the deadline or during the meeting - they're not supposed to be micromanaging and they need to support the superintendent, whose job it is to do this work."

Really? If board directors need to support the superintendent, they should be district staff, not elected officials.
Rather, I'd say they need to act as liaisons between the community and district staff. They need facilitate communication and encourage collaboration. They need to educate the district and one another on the specific concerns of their districts.

I'm checking the district website, trying to get clarity on the "official" role of the board. Anyone?
Unknown said…
owlhouse, Charlie and Melissa can speak to this a lot better than I can - but I believe the Board hires the supe, sets expectations for her, and evaluates her performance; sets policy and evaluates compliance; develops strategic plan and monitors compliance; and is responsible to vote on budget and monitor financial performance.

When I said support the supe, my meaning was "in not taking over the closure process and doing the work that is hers to do" - I did not mean support as in 'agree with her' or 'work for her'. Sorry for the lack of clarity.

I do think directors can be a channel for information between the public and the district - but if by staff you mean anyone but the supe, I think that's not part of the job description.

See more info at Washington State School Directors Association, including here
Here's what I said elsewhere on this discussion of Board versus Superintendent:

Naturally, this points to the bigger issue of "What is the role of Board Directors vis a vis the Superintendent?" Many people who write comments after the on-line stories at the PI or Times websites seem to think the Board should get out of the way otherwise, why hire a superintendent? Is the Superintendent a visionary or a manager or both? You'd likely get a variety of answers from other political leaders or business leaders or parents. Directors are elected officials so they get that authority but get paid little so their work is thought-of as glorified volunteer work. (And folks, you can do a ton of volunteer work and my experience one really takes it all that seriously if you don't get paid. But I digress.) The Mayor seems to think we'd get a better caliber of director if they were paid more. I'm not so sure.

Evan said,

"owlhouse, Charlie and Melissa can speak to this a lot better than I can - but I believe the Board hires the supe, sets expectations for her, and evaluates her performance; sets policy and evaluates compliance; develops strategic plan and monitors compliance; and is responsible to vote on budget and monitor financial performance."

I'd have to go back and look at the official duties but that's pretty good right there. (They also advocate in the legislature.) I don't think they develop the strategic plan but rather the superintendent tells them her vision of how to get to where they want us (in broad terms) to be.

I did love that "monitor" stuff. Why? Because you have Board members who are really torn on what they are supposed to be doing. Mary Bass was the only one, during the Olchefske years, who was monitoring the budget and she sounded an alarm and got pooh-poohed by her colleagues. Whoops!

I should go back and see what the Moss-Adams report suggested for the Board. I do recall that the report said the Board needed more hands-on budget training.
owlhouse said…
Appreciate the follow-up, Evan.

Just checked the "Duties of Individual Board Members" and found it less than inspiring. Basically, they should attend meeting, study materials presented to them and let the Superintendent know if they have any questions- so district staff can prepare answers Nothing about serving the public's interest, problem-solving, helping the Supe see the broader perspective...Board Directors can submit per diem compensation claims for meetings with groups and organizations, when they are invited as guests to observe speak or participate.

Still considering what all this means.
Charlie Mas said…
I have been pondering this and here's where my thinking is today:

The Board has three primary jobs: to be a policymaking body, to represent the public, and to provide oversight.

There are some Board members who simply are not doing any part of this job and they are keeping the Board as a whole from fulfilling their functions.

It is not enough for the Board to write policy. For them to actually make policy they have to enforce it. Policies that are not enforced or followed are indistinguishable from policies that were never written. Right now the Board is not fulfilling its duty as a policymaking body for two reasons. One, they are not writing policy. The new student assignment policy is two years late, the new high school math adoption is two years late, there have been almost no updates to any Board policies for the past year since the new Board was elected. Two, the Board is not enforcing the existing policies. This includes a number of policies that are regularly violated without any mention and the occassional policy that is openly broken, such as Policy D12.00 was broken with the Capacity Management Plan.

Representing the public
It may sound dumb or too obvious to mention, but the Board are the elected representatives of the public. No one else in the District is accountable to the Public, consequently no one in the District automatically thinks to include public input in their decision-making process or to consider the public's wishes when making a decision. The Board should fill that gap. Unfortunately, the Board is not doing a very good job of representing the public. They aren't even doing a very good job of communicating with the public. If there were a principal who conducted public input the way that the Board does it, that principal would be in deep trouble for the inadequacy of his or her process. While there are a couple of Board members who do it well, they are the exception rather than the rule and the Board as a whole is a complete washout. I don't believe that I have seen any member of this Board advocating strongly for the public's interests.

The Board has responsibilities for oversight that fall outside of policy writing and policy enforcement. This includes final decisions about capital projects and school closures, text book adoptions, property management, and a whole host of other miscellaneous decisions. This Board isn't being diligent about questioning the staff's thinking or practices. They just aren't doing this job.

All in all, it's pretty clear that the Board isn't doing their job very much and the parts they are doing they aren't doing very well.

Three of them will be up for re-election this fall: Cheryl Chow, Michael deBell, and Mary Bass. I leave it to each of you to judge if any or all of these Board members are doing their duty.
Charlie Mas said…
This comment has been removed by the author.

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