Thursday, June 16, 2011

News Roundup (And So Much of It, too)

First up, a commentary from David Brewster over at Crosscut about the upcoming elections citywide.   It gets so much wrong about the School Board that Charlie and I just couldn't stop ourselves.   I'll just hit the highlights:

It was different with the Seattle School Board, where all four members of a particularly inept board were swept away (or declined to run) by an informal slate of business-backed, big-organization-experienced newcomers. The result was a transformed board. It changed overnight from a board dominated by petty bickering, meddling, superintendent-undermining, inexperienced bumblers. This time there is a swarm of challengers. I don't know much about them yet, but none seems to have much community stature.

 I wouldn't call the previous majority on the Board inept at all but throwing that at all four of them seems wrong (especially if you know those women).  I'm not sure what "big organizations" that Steve, Harium and Michael were part of (Sherry was the SCPTSA president and served on a major SPS community board).  He calls the previous board "bumblers" but those "bumblers" swept out four "business" types who fails to oversee Joseph Olchefske as he led the district off a financial cliff. 

He then claims that most of the problem in the district is the mismanagement by Dr. Goodloe-Johnson.  Oh, I see, she's gone and now we blame her for everything and those incumbents were babes in the woods, hoodwinked, whatever.  No, they were her BOSSES and did not oversee her work.

He also says that this Board closed schools.  I had to gently remind him that no, it was the Board before this one who, for the first time in decades, had the courage to do the hard work of closing schools.  This Board's school closures lasted a whole two years before we turned around and started reopening schools.  Is Dr. Goodloe-Johnson entirely responsible for that one?  No, she's not.

Then he gets to his main point:

You can see this in the way Democratic Party organizations in the legislative districts are making Teach for America into a litmus test for incumbents and candidates. (Hint: one word of support for the TFA idea and no endorsement for you!) And reform resisters have managed to reframe their issue from seeming to be foot-dragging teachers to stigmatizing the reform agenda as something perpetrated by corporate America and insensitive billionaires. Lots of fireworks, but I suspect the current board will survive, sustaining the momentum it has created.

You have to wonder about people who want to demonize teachers every step of the way and how this mania spread so quickly throughout the country.  Just a craze, I guess.   And that some people want to keep the public in public schools and want to be part of the public education conversation (along with our wealthier peers) seems fair unless there was something else at work.

Next - the headline in tomorrow's Times?
Seattle District to check up on groups that bought old schools.   

Guess what?  The district actually realized that they could/should enforce the contracts they signed with entities that bought school buildings. 

Seattle Public Schools said it will begin checking on five organizations that have bought schools from the district to see if they're keeping promises to provide community benefits as part of the sales.

School Board member Michael DeBell said the church has until Dec. 31 to show that it can pull together a viable "community center" at the school.

"We did not expect an instant success there," DeBell said. "We knew it would take some time."

DeBell said last week that the board stood by its decision to award the 1.9-acre MLK property to First AME.

"There was no particular motivation to get (the property) to the church," DeBell said, adding that First AME had a "stronger track record" in providing youth and community services. He said the board trusted the district's analysis of the bids.

Nooo, Mr. Bill!  When will this Board learn?  Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me.  Because here's the thing - the State Auditor's office is investigating this sale.  We all know they are pretty good at what they do and boy, has the district kept them in business.   The Times' article reports the investigation report will be out in a couple of weeks.

We already know this:

Fred Stephens, then the district's facilities director and an influential First AME congregant, was determined as early as 2007 to help the church get the school, according to the district's community liaison at the time, Eleanor Trainor.

At about that time, Stephens was responsible for changing a policy governing the use of surplus schools.

Does anyone think it was just Stephens pushing this thing?  Nah.  We could take a poll at this point as to who we think will be in the report but better, let's just wait for it.  And wait for the Board to put on their Anderson Cooper mask and looked concerned and disappointed that yet again, they got fooled.

Last story from the "is this a good idea ?" category - a husband and wife in Everett are both running for School Board for the same seat and running a joint campaign.   Okay, then.


wsnorth said...

I think most people would probably agree the previous board was pretty inept. As a group, they were really clueless. At least they weren't evil - who ever thought any board could be worse!?

Regarding property disposal, if there is not a law about this, there should be. The "old Cooper" and "Fauntleroy" sites in West Seattle were also given away for pennies on the dollar. The Fauntleroy site's mission is to give (relatively) wealthy people a convenient place to drop off their kids on the way to work. Very noble, and clearly worthy of a generous public subsidy.

Joan NE said...

"And reform resisters have managed to reframe their issue from seeming to be foot-dragging teachers to stigmatizing the reform agenda as something perpetrated by corporate America and insensitive billionaires. "

I am very encouraged by this comment. Here we have a pro-reform journalist providing indication that the public is less naive about reform, and providing indication that the public is now more able to see through the anti-teacher propoganda (which has succeeded in convincing many Americans that "ineffective teachers are the central problem in public education").

I hope that David Brewster is right that the anti-teacher propoganda is losing its bouyancy, and that a significant proportion of Americans are now becoming aware and uncomfortable with the outsized influence on public education of some very wealthy corporatists.

Charlie Mas said...

wsnorth, there is a state law that requires that Districts get at least 80% of fair market value for any property they sell.

Anonymous said...

Isn't "Fair Market Value" determined by "the market" itself? In that case, the MLK sale would be illegal, because "the market" was set by the Bush school bid.

I may only be a science teacher, but my rudimentary understanding of Math tells me that the FAME bid was not at least 80% of the Bush bid...

WV is commenting on my content area? Or is it a WV fortune cookie? "befulart"?

A sad SPS Science Teacher who is not "fulart"

Melissa Westbrook said...

Joan, upon reflection, I think you are right. That paragraph really didn't have a lot to do with local elections and I sense people feeling the pushback.

For the record, at the 36th Dems meeting, neither the teacher contract nor Teach for America was mentioned. I believe TFA was mentioned at the West Seattle meeting but I can't speak for the other endorsement meetings.

mirmac1 said...

There is cause for encouragement. I recall the WS 34th Dems meeting last fall when they considered endorsement of the Supplemental Levy. Then, Teach for America was mentioned by a dissenter and the silence was deafening. I was very disappointed in what was, obviously, a clueless crowd. Since then they've read the ST a few times and seem to have changed their minds.

Oh, and BTW we were some of the "relatively" (NOT) people dropping our child off at Fauntleroy while we trudged to work to pay the mortgage. Funny comment coming from an Admiral/Alki/Schmitz Park area parent. In fact, the 34th Dems meet at Fauntleroy CC and it, along with the Fauntleroy Y, are the heart of that community.

someone said...

JoanNE - I thought that was an interesting way of putting it too - it's at least an acknowledgement that the smoke and mirrors of blaming teachers isn't working very well anymore.

On the MLK front - wow - why is it that SPS is always CYAing after the fact, instead of proactively thinking thru the "what ifs" of a scenario? Could Michael DeBell sound ANY more clueless??
I heard from a friend who lives near MLK recently that heroin needles have been found on the property - oh that's helpful for our youth - what a mess - can't wait to see the audit report ;o)

basically said...

Oh man, you guys are brilliant. I wonder if he will respond to your comments? I'm not holding my breath...

Anonymous said...

Hello all,

We certainly made plenty of mistakes but inept? No.

We inherited a district in disarray due to colossal mismanagement of $34 million. Schools were ‘entrepreneurial’, resulting in a mish-mash of programs, curriculums, and standards. Policies were outdated and freely ignored. The outgoing board had just appointed another non-educator as Superintendent in the 11th hour. The overstaffed Alliance for Education was itself in the red, with a murky relationship to the district.

We rolled up our sleeves and got busy.

Financial stability. The Superintendent cut operating and administrative costs, and reconciled capital budgets. He hired a budget manager and improved internal communications. The board developed cost-saving policies on student transportation and natural resources. We increased financial oversight, insisted on greater accountability, and adopted an important policy regulating use of grant funds.
Results: District in the black; $26 million reserve; clean audits; improved ratings by Standard & Poor’s.


Anonymous said...


Operational Efficiency. The board soon discovered unhealthy conditions in schools and developed model policies on water quality, toxics, and nutrition. We invested in historically-underutilized businesses. The board streamlined transportation by putting high schoolers onto Metro. We consolidated schools and closed 7 unneeded facilities. The Superintendent streamlined payroll and human resources departments. We changed our funding system to ensure that all schools had core staffing.
Results: Increased student health and safety; added more resources for the classroom, specifically in SE Seattle; reduced environmental impacts; reinvested in community.

Academic Achievement. The board insisted on greater accountability with academic audits. The Superintendent hired an experienced Chief Academic Officer, who reorganized supervision of 100 principals and recommended a new math curriculum. The Board developed policies on career/technical and alternative education, student fitness, military recruitment, and program placement. We fully funded high school classes. We updated all policies in special education, bilingual education, and student discipline.
Results: Increased transparency and accountability; improved consistency and best practices; improved academic achievement.


Anonymous said...


Effective Governance. The Superintendent developed a strategic plan and the Board held him accountable through rigorous annual evaluations. We insisted on implementation of board policies and strengthened our vetting process. We developed model policies on family, community, and student involvement. We televised board meetings, posted information on the website, and increased community engagement. We initiated frank discussions with the Alliance for Education, leading to their reorganization. Upon the Superintendent’s resignation, the board conducted a successful national search for an experienced educator.
Results: Increased transparency, responsiveness, and accountability; highly-qualified new Superintendent.

Strong Advocacy. The board developed legislative items directly and through the Washington State School Directors’ Association and met often with legislators. We strongly opposed charter schools and inappropriate WASL use. We worked closely with the City on the Families and Education Levy. We passed three levies and a bond on the first try.
Results: Changes to use of WASL by legislators and OSPI; statewide visibility; increased local and state funding.

Our accomplishments are significant and came with a price. We have been vilified in the press, sued, and subjected to a recall attempt. Our families suffered. But by grappling directly with tough issues, we brought the district under control. I ran for office pledging accountability, responsiveness, and advocacy, and I kept my pledge.

It's great to see so many running for school board this year. Despite the negatives, it is possible to make change that benefits children, as our board demonstrated. Don't get distracted by the name-calling.

Brita Butler-Wall

cdubs said...


Any comment on the sale of MLK?

cascade said...

Good job sticking up for yourself and the work of your fellow board members Brita. I don't agree with all of your 'accomplishments' but then nobody will. That's democracy.

But I do believe your board worked hard and to have it recast by the National Ed Reform crowd and those downtown business people who are all about appearances and not much about the details of this district is not right.

Keep on speaking up. A healthy skepticism about the current board is finally gaining ground and I for one am glad.

dan dempsey said...


"DeBell said last week that the board stood by its decision to award the 1.9-acre MLK property to First AME."

The Board stood by its adoption of "Discovery" textbooks for HS Math as well.

So when hasn't the Board stood by a decision?

Would State Law about 80% of market value make any difference?

Brita --- thanks for joining the discussion...

I still remember the elementary school math adoption.... where the Board decided to trust their hired professionals (Rosalind Wise, Carla Santorno, Linda Host et al.)... you let me know that.

This trusting and following plan is the only thing that explains the current Board's frequent dismissal of evidence in making decisions. The Board seems to be following an agenda rather than evaluating evidence in decision-making.

====>> thus Crosscuts and The Times find this Board to be a big improvement over your board..... Un-believeable logic ... oh apparently those two media outlets are just following the plan.

ArchStanton said...

I finally got around to doing a photoshop with a MLK/FAME theme:


wsnorth said...

Are you sure about that state law requiring 80% FMV? The old Cooper site and Fauntleroy center in West Seattle were also basically "given away" for pennies on the dollar.

This would be concrete and pretty indisputable evidence of illegal actions, wouldn't it?

wsnorth said...

Oh, and we sent our kids to the Fauntleroy Children's Center for years, too. It is a great place. I just don't think it is particularly deserving of a heavy subsidy from the Seattle Public School system.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Arch, you continue to slay me.

ArchStanton said...

@MW: Happy to oblige ;-)