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Thursday, March 11, 2010

The Board Job

I don't know what job the members of the school board came to do. I don't know what job they think they are doing. But I do know what job they aren't doing: they aren't doing the Board job.

The Board job begins with serving as the elected representatives of the public. But the Board members aren't representing the public's voice in Seattle Public Schools. They certainly aren't advocating for the public's perspective. We know that they aren't because if they were, we would hear them begin their sentences with the words: "My constituents want... " and they don't. We don't hear them say "My constituents want equitable access to language immersion programs." or "My constituents want equitable access to Montessori programs." or "My constituents want access to a real Spectrum program for their Spectrum-eligible children." or "My constituents want reduced class sizes." We aren't hearing that. And we sure aren't hearing them follow these statements with "So let's make it happen for them."

The Board isn't the voice of the public in Seattle Public Schools and they don't advocate for the public's voice to be heard. They will not stand up for community engagement. They don't insist that the staff deliver on community engagement promises - such as the unkept promises in the strategic plan. They won't reject a motion based on the lack of community engagement. They send the staff the clear message that they can skip community engagement because it isn't important.

This shouldn't be surprising since the Board has the worst community engagement practices of any department in the District. Their primary community engagement is the citizen's testimony at Board meetings and they do not respond to it. They don't respond at the meeting and they don't respond after. Citizens speak into the void. They can claim that they get email and voicemail - but we know how well and how much they respond to that as well. Some of them have community meetings, but do they really expect people to attend or arrange seven meetings? That's an undue burden on the citizen. Why not just respond to the concerns that they get when they are all together?

The Board job is also to supervise the superintendent. They don't do it. They don't correct her when her decisions and actions violate state or federal law. They don't correct her when her decisions and actions violate Board Policy. They don't require her to provide legitimate rationale for her decisions. Examples abound: unfair labor practices, failure to provide complete records to the Court, failure to consult with alternative school communities before assigning principals, indefensible program placement decisions, etc.

The Board also has failed in their duty to seriously consider the motions before them. A Court has already found one of their decisions to have been arbitrary and capricious. They approved the $756,300 contract with Education First without knowing what it was about. They approved the $800,000 contract with NTN without even reading it.

Again, I don't know what job the Board members came to do. I don't know what job they think they are doing. But they are not doing the Board job. They need to step up. And if they are unwilling or unable to step up, then they should step down.

14 comments:

Melissa Westbrook said...

Sigh. The Board.

Again, there is some kind of Kool-Aid these people drink when they become directors. The weird thing about this Board is that many of them, on their own, do take a stand. Sometimes that even plays out at Board meetings either in the form of "I need clarification for my constituents" or a vote that says no to something staff wants. (Charlie, Steve is big on the constituents need to know stuff but oddly, his constituents seem quite upset with him. In large numbers, too.)

But boy, when it comes to the big ticket votes, the things that cost money, you rarely hear a no vote. That Kay and Betty, the newest members, would not vote yes on the NTN contract shows a streak of independence that is rarely see in new directors.

I think the real issue, really, is that most Board members fear the powers that be in this city that say "don't micromanage the Superintendent" AND they are uncomfortable being boss to the Superintendent and want to be a colleague. Well, overseeing the Superintendent does not have to imply an unhappy or strained relationship but most Board act like it does. I have rarely, rarely, seen any Superintendent being called to account by any Board.

I agree with Charlie; there isn't a lot of mystery to what the Board directors are supposed to do. I'm not sure what directors think the job is because if you attend any community meeting, a board meeting, a committee meeting, you get a pretty good idea what the job is going to be. Naturally, this unwillingness to face down the job begs the question if some of them ran because someone(s) told them run and those someones want to control the Board and help the Superintendent do just what she wants. Meaning, be a rubber-stamp with personality.

I mean no disrespect. I know most of the Board and I respect them as people who stepped up to do a hard job. But as Charlie points out, their job is to hold the district accountable to the public. They are the elected link and that is the only one the public has so if we don't feel we are being heard, then we are going to call them on it.

wseadawg said...

I've said it before and I'll say it again, for the thousandth time: FOLLOW THE MONEY!

Look at who contributed to Sundquist's, Carr's Martin-Morris's and Maier's campaigns which raised about 150k+ each, compared to the 12 to 15k raised by their opponents. All the head honchos of the League of Ed Voters, all the BRT folks, all the Microsoftees, both husbands and wives, etc., etc. It's the Northwest's corporate leaders from both sides of the lake buying SPS Board positions to enact the agenda they believe in.

Of course they don't work for us. They work for their real constituents: The one's who bought their seats.

I have nothing against the NW corporate leaders wanting to get involved and help their local schools. That's great. But they need to respect the educators and not assume because they succeeded in their various businesses: Costco, Microsoft, Boeing, Museum Quality Framing, etc., that they can directly ply their talents via their Board proxies and work miracles in the education field. And, they don't seem to practice the "First, Do No Harm" principle.

I'm glad people want to help, and I'm glad to have corporate sponsorship and funding, but this is not true philanthropy nor generosity; it's Quid-Pro-Quo.

You can draw a direct line from the checkbooks of many wealthy couples who contributed 6k at a time and what's going on in our schools. If Gates wants STEM at Cleveland, by God, there WILL BE STEM AT CLEVELAND. Or else they'll close their checkbooks and leave us on our own.

I only hope, at some point, with failure after failure to improve things, they might start listening to the front line soldiers, the teachers, instead of buying into the latest Edu-Reform fad, which always includes anti-union bias at its core.

dan dempsey said...

"Steve is big on the constituents need to know stuff but oddly, his constituents seem quite upset with him."

Right ... ummm Whatever....

NOT Really Odd as Steve is a poser. He readily decides to side with Staff happy talk and against solid verifiable data.

#1 May 6, 2009 approval of Discovering

#2 NTN contract approval: Watch his happy talk about New Tech schools when I had sent him all the data showing those lines he was about to deliver were untrue.These schools are uniformly sub-standard

#3 Voted to side with MGJ on appeal of Spector's Order of Remand .... meaning we do not need to use evidence in decision making ever !!!
Thanks for the clarification on that.

ttln said...

don't forget his "they discouraged me from making any amendments" for the NSAP vote instead of making a proposal to fix the North South problem in West Seattle, which came from his constituents.

wsnorth said...

West Seattle just gets screwed over and over. Our director outwardly seems to be an intelligent and caring person, yet does nothing when two schools that have been full with wait lists for years (Madison and WSH) get their budgets WHACKED! Why punish those schools that are succeeding at serving SPS students, in spite of SPS itself?? Just leave us alone and focus on schools that need the district's "help"!! No business person would ever concoct this scheme - turn customers (students) away from your most successful locations. WHY?

SP said...
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SP said...

To add salt to the WS wounds, the district has announced that enrollment will be capped at the extremely low "projected enrollment" numbers that the budgets are determined by. The District said that no matter how many students from other areas actually signed up for Madison & WSHS next year, that the cap will stay in place (this will force extreme budget cuts that would not be necessary otherwise). Parents were also told that the District wants all of the kids to only go to their neighborhood school.

Yes, there were proposals made to all the Board (and to the District) which would have balanced the WS enrollment (and demographics) more equitably, but the Board would not consider them.

Here are the numbers from the Budget pages- Denny & Sealth will be growing next year. Denny up 131, Sealth up 143. Their budgets are looking good with 4-5 new teachers being hired at each.

Madison will be down by 65 (all from the entering 6th grade). WSHS will take the biggest hit, down by 153, with the 9th grade class cut from 280 this year down to 180 next year! At WSHS, 13 FTE (full time equivalent positions) will be cut, not to mention the related classes and programs being cut into the bone.

How can the Board allow this to happen? A tragic tale of the two sets of schools, one pair thriving, and the other taking all the hits. This is not equitable, not even close, as the enrollments will drop even further with each incoming class for the next 4 years.

The maps clearly must be adjusted in West Seattle, just as parents told the Board last year. How long will the kids have to pay the price for this unnecessary blunder?

dan dempsey said...

WOW!!! on the WSHS mess:

Remember when WSHS wanted to keep their four period day? Santorno and MGJ were not happy with WSHS ...

is this vindictive pay back?

wseadawg said...

Sounds to me like WSHS may be targeted for a Charter. They are doing everything they can to weaken and cripple the program, thereby creating a "crisis" befitting radical change.

Next they will say, "we can't afford all those empty seats (that we created by design), we must do something, now! The Status Quo is unacceptable (even though it isn't the status quo, but the result of our terrible decisions and unnecessary meddling with what already worked).

This is how it's done, folks. Disaster (Smash and Grab) Capitalism at its best.

ttln said...

I havea email from Sundquist to a coworker re her concern over the assignment plan's impact on Madison's proram. He claims he was unaware of this being the case and needed to check with Libros about it. Why can't he take it as fact from the people who are dealing with the budget and NSAP on the practical, front of implementation? Libros didn't care about programs and budgeting when creating the plan. Why would she know? Also, he was told from the start this would happen. I don't get the claim of ignorance of the impact. He told us "I was discouraged from making any amendents to the plan." "The boundaries are drawn to suppor Denny/Sealth co-location." Is he lying to my coworker? Or is there a disconnect/lapse in logic about how school enrollment #s dictate budget/dictateS FTE/dictates program struture and service provision?

Charlie Mas said...

ttln asks: " Is he lying to my coworker?"

Yes. Director Sundquist is lying. He was told, on several occassions, that Madison and West Seattle High School would be assigned too few students to sustain programs.

The problem, of course, is that the people who told him this were not members of the District staff.

In the topsy-turvy world of the Board, they accept as gospel anything they are told by the staff - who have a long and consistent history of misinforming them - and disbelieve everything which is told to them by the public - who have a direct connection with the truth.

ttln said...
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ttln said...

weird stuff going on with the 'puter. I didn't think the first post took on 3/15. Sorry for the similar posts.

thushara said...

It seems to me that most organizations that claim to support have serious in-adequacies. I'm told by the PTA of Stevenson Elementary in Bellevue that we can't tell the parents the true picture of the Bellevue School District Budget. the fact of the matter is that the school board is not presenting a full picture and they shut down all questions that ask for details on policy, etc.

And the PTA has a hierarchical structure where the president wants any information to be blessed by a couple of individuals serving in the Belleve PTSA council. I had an email conversation with them and they simply disagreed that we should focus on helping students over private interests (which is exactly what the school district is doing). Thus I can't even share this information with parents who absolutely must know what is happening.

I can't help but draw parallels to so many other organizations that are failing ordinary working people. The unions, the token strikes, the separation of forces rather than uniting against the common dictates we all seem to be getting from private interests.

We should join hands. I will try to update my blog with more data as well:

http://bsdbudget.blogspot.com