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Sunday, January 10, 2010

McGinn Speaks...and It's About Youth, Families and Education

I attended the Open House at City Hall yesterday and heard Mayor McGinn speak.

It was a pretty nice event; there were tours of the Mayor's office, we got to meet the deputy mayors, aides and, of course, the Mayor himself. I told the Mayor (who for some reason, remembers me from that long-ago interview last April) to please not forget about Seattle schools. He said it was in his speech (and indeed it was). I also got to go through the City Council offices and touched base with Tim Burgess and an aide to Sally Bagshaw (a new member of the Public Safety and Education Committee), Kathy Nyland, who said she periodically checks this blog. It is a great thing to know that our city leaders are making the effort to keep public education on their radar and not just from the district's point of view.

(Also, if you have little kids, they had a great kids band something with Monkey in the name. If you ever see they are giving a concert, go. Very fun and very high-energy. They had the kids going in a conga line up the City Hall staircase.)

McGinn is not and may never be a barnburner of a speaker. But he speaks with a quiet authority and is very willing to concede that he and his staff don't know everything out the door. They want community input and I don't know if this will mean Seattle Process gone wild or a new day where the people of this city actually give input and see some of it enacted.

I was struck by how his words about how he sees his administration going forward and parallells to the upcoming BTA levy. He also said some things that line up with some of the frustrations heard here over parent/community input/ideas to the district. Here's some of what he said:
  • They heard, at various community meetings and from online input, that citizens want vision. So he said, "We're taking the long view. People told us 'don't make short-term decisions'." This is absolutely valid for the BTA levy vote. We have been going with short-term solutions and band-aid fixes as far as maintenance is concerns. There needs to be a long-term vision of how we are going to take care of our facilities and, at this point, there isn't one. (I will write a separate thread on the BEX Oversight Committee meeting and you will see what I mean.)
  • He also said, "We can't push issues under the rug and say, 'Oh we can't deal with this now'." At that point in the speech, he was referring to problems of youth violence but again, he could be talking about maintenance. How long will we push this issue under the rug and what will be the ramifications if we continue to do so? We're at a $500M backlog so how much further can we and will we push that envelope?
  • He said what he and his staff were struck by was how many people came to them and said, "How can I help?". That is also true for our district. We have so many smart parents with skills and talents that would be glad for the opportunity to help and yet our district pretty much shuns them. Go work in your PTAs and leave us alone.
  • He said one of his three focuses going in would be supporting youth and families. And guess what? That includes education. (He did, of course, acknowledge that we are a large city with many issues and that everything had to be worked on.) He said he wanted to give youth opportunities to do their best. He said he had been questioned by people, "Why is one school so much better than another?". He talked about finding jobs for youth to keep their dreams alive. To that end he announced that the City was receiving $3.8M in stimulus money that was going to give jobs to young people to work on energy efficiencies for Seattle. (He acknowledged that trying to get this money was in motion before he came into office.)
  • He said it was not enough to say "we're working on it" and that the City had a find new and different ways to address youth violence.
To that end he announced a Youth and Family Initiative headed by, among others, Norm Rice. He said there would be a series of public meetings to ask people what they wanted for youth, families and education. The meetings will start in late February and into March and I'll post the dates and locations later but nearly all are to be held in public school buildings.

He said there would be no "predetermined outcomes" and that this Initiative had the full support of Councilman Tim Burgess who heads the Public Safety and Education committee for the City Council.

He said he hoped the meetings would dramaticallyinfluence the direction of public education.

Education is on his radar. Although he didn't say it, I think he still feels strongly that there needs to be clear and visible signs of improvement in Seattle Public Schools. I agree.

4 comments:

Chris S. said...

OT: Math court date postponed, as is usual with SPS court dates, by SPS attorney calling in sick.

Dan or somebody, please keep us updated about rescheduling - hopefully some of us can show up on short notice.

Charlie Mas said...

I wonder if this would be a good time to dust off the idea of turning the District's property management over to the City? The City actually does a good job of maintaining their property, much of the City property is adjacent to School District Property, and property management sucks up way too much of the District's time and attention. About 40% of Board votes and discussion is on property management issues.

If the District would lease all of their buildings to the City for a dollar a year and the City would lease them all back to the District for a dollar a year the City could pay for all of the property management - that's lights, heat, maintenance, repair, cleaning and insurance. The District would save over $30 million a year, which could be re-allocated to education instead of buildings. It would also reduce the District's overhead in any number of other ways. For example, many fewer employees would allow for reductions in HR.

As an added benefit, property issues would be de-politicized by this change.

The City could raise a special tax to cover the new expense. I don't think $30 or $40 million a year would be much of a dent in the City's taxing authority.

I would really like to see the City (or somebody - anybody) take over the District's capital projects as well.

Let's face it. If the City wants to help the schools they are going to have to write a check to do it. If they balk at the expense, or, worse yet, at the idea of writing a check, then just what sort of help were they thinking of offering - other than lip service?

Melissa Westbrook said...

Charlie, I'll suggest this one next chance I get. It makes since especially since this district is probably already making academic decisions based on building condition. How is that really a good idea? Shouldn't programs be where people need them or are easiest to get to?

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