My Public Testimony Tonight at the Seattle Schools Board Meeting

I sent the Board my remarks in advance which is something I don't normally do.  I did it because I felt very strongly about them and wanted to the Board to be pondering these issues in hopes that they will actually speak up about them at the Board meeting.

In brief, they are:
  • despite Dr. Enfield's promises, we still do not know who is paying for TFA.  I think she may believe that the donor(s) himself can just pay TFA and remain anonymous.  The contract with TFA reflects that SPS is to pay TFA.  There is nothing about money passing to TFA from a third-party.  This lack of transparency is deeply troubling.  It almost feels like any kind of change or program can be bought and installed at SPS if you have the money.
  • The overhaul of Board policies (tonight it's the Series 4000 ones) seems to have some urgency to it that I am missing.  That many of the policies use the word "should" instead of "will" also makes you wonder about the teeth to the policies.  They already are underenforced so having that kind of vague language only makes it more possible.
  • The renovated elevators at Sealth are troubling because I looked at the original emergency action taken by staff.  (The issue is that the elevators starting showing problems at the beginning of the school year and yet it took staff until June to make a decision to truly fix them.  Conveniently, the Board was not around to approve the money so there is an RCW that allows staff to spend money on an emergency basis.)    What I found is that staff used the RCW as their reasoning to spend the money BUT then, did not follow it to the letter.  They were supposed to notify the Board within two weeks and didn't.  They have a vague "sorry and we'll do better next time" in their original emergency memo but NOT in the item on the agenda tonight.  I wonder why not and I wonder if the Board will yet again get rolled by staff.
Here's my e-mail to the Board about my testimony:

The three things I am going to cover tonight are TFA, Series 4,000 and the Denny/Sealth BEX elevator issue.

On TFA, I asked Dr. Enfield at the press conference, if she was finally going to say who the donor for the TFA fee per teacher per year is.  She gave me big smile and said, "A group of private citizens." 

That's not going to work as an answer.  This is a PUBLIC school district and wealthy people cannot just put money into something so they can get their way.  If I had known that countering TFA was about money, I would have started a campaign long ago.

You don't have to read all of what I reprint below but note the highlighted words from the agreement with TFA and SPS under fees:

Seattle Public Schools shall pay Teach For America an annual fee for each Teacher employed by Seattle Public Schools under this Agreement to defray expenses Teach For America incurred in recruiting, selecting, providing pre- service training and continuing professional development services to the Teachers employed by Seattle Public Schools under this agreement.

All fee payments called for in this Agreement are contingent upon
Seattle Public Schools receiving private donations to make such payments. 

With respect to each Teacher whose employment by Seattle Public Schools is to commence in the 2012-2013 academic year,
Seattle Public Schools shall pay Teach For America an annual amount of $4,000 for each year in which such Teacher is employed by Seattle Public Schools, up to two years.

Teach For America will invoice Seattle Public Schools for all amounts due

Do you see the common thread there?  Seattle Schools is to pay.  Not private people.  The money has to come to SPS and SPS has to pay TFA.  I don't know if someone thinks this is a clever way to not have to tell who these donors are but it does not seem to jibe with the contract.

And, as you recall at the last Board meeting, Dr. Enfield said when TFA hires are made, she will announce the donors.  Saying it's a group of private citizens does not cut that messaging and it certainly isn't transparency in action.

Series 4000
- All I can say is to repeat what Director Carr said at an A&F meeting a couple of months ago - this is not work on a timetable.  This is work that the Board should do with careful deliberation.  I have no idea what the rush is but clearly the public and parents have not been apprise of this work and what it could mean to their student. 

And there are WAY too many "should"s in this document instead of "will".  Should does not get the job done. 

Denny/Sealth elevators - I'll just say upfront what I think.  I don't think the Sealth elevators just happened to start going bad the minute the building reopened last fall.  I think BEX staff knew this but said nothing because they hoped it would go away.  (Once again, ignoring a maintenance problem until it's a major maintenance problem.)  They knew, according to the action item, in spring but still said nothing.  But when the Board was recessed, then it's an emergency.

What is interesting is the Emergency document says a couple of things left out of the item on the agenda.

One, it says:

The Fire Marshall has advised that if the work is not done, it may be necessary to limit occupancy of the building due to the possible unavailability of the elevators in an emergency situation.

What's odd is that in the previous paragraph (and in the item on the agenda) it only says, "The Fire Marshall will not permit occupancy..."  So which is it? 

Two, after explaining why it is legal for them to sign this document authorizing the work, they then admit fault (again, this is NOT in the item on the agenda):

Note: we acknowledge that this memorandum should have been submitted promptly after the problem was recognized in mid-June.  However, it would not have avoided the need to obtain the emergency declaration or Board ratification.  The lack of timely management of this problem will be addressed.  (bold theirs)

Let's go thru that statement to see the problems. 

One, they fail to state the reason they should have done it sooner is because the RCW they cite to authorize the work without your okay states that you are to be notified within two weeks.  Obviously, that didn't happen.

Now we ask ourselves why not.  What would have been the big deal to get this memo to you in a LEGAL and timely fashion?  I have no idea (but I'm sure in the next audit, the SAO will call this out).

Also, hilariously, they say they will address the lack of timely management themselves.  That's handy.  So is the Superintendent going to actually say something to Noel Treat, Cathie Technow, Don Gillmore (gone thank goodness), Pegi McEvoy and someone else whose signature I can't read?

And will you point this out to the Superintendent as something she should do - tell her staff to follow the law?  Because this is the SAME nonsense that you as a Board get year in and year out from staff.  "Whoops", "we'll do better next time" "time was of the essence". 

There are laws and policies for a reason.  If you allow yourself to be their doormat every single time, you better believe the culture in this bureaucracy will NEVER change. 

Be the change you want to see.


dan dempsey said…
"There are laws and policies for a reason. If you allow yourself to be their doormat every single time, you better believe the culture in this bureaucracy will NEVER change.

So here is the written testimony I am sending to the Board. The oral part is less in order to make the three minute time limit.

Tonight you will supposedly consider more TfA action.
(( Since this is an Introductory item/ Action Item one meeting proposed slam dunk …. There will likely not be consideration or weighting of public testimony.))

This action (like many of the last four years) masquerades as a tool for closing the achievement gaps.

Fact: TfA never demonstrated a positive impact in any situation where an adequate supply of fully certificated teachers were available.

Fact: The WAC on limited certificates states …

{{ (a) The purpose of the conditional certificate is to assist local school districts, approved private schools, and educational service districts in meeting the state's educational goals by giving them flexibility in hiring decisions based on shortages or the opportunity to secure the services of unusually talented individuals.}}

The professional educator standards board encourages in all cases the hiring of fully certificated individuals and understands that districts will employ individuals with conditional certificates only after careful review of all other options. What review has this district had???

{{The professional educator standards board asks districts when reviewing such individuals for employment to consider, in particular, previous experience the individual has had working with children. --- If these TfA applicants had extensive experience working with children they likely would have been in a traditional program NOT TfA. }}

From The Action report: The Teach for America contract was initially entered into because of a belief that a broad candidate pool will result in high quality teachers in each of our classrooms. …. There is no supporting data for this belief. The truth is the District entered into this agreement because the PESB’s Jennifer Wallace, Dean Stritikus, and District Administration made it happen. The only reason that the achievement gap is mentioned is that was the only way to run around state law.

{{ The PESB has displayed either ignorance of the law or are deliberately choosing their own (erroneous) interpretation of requirements for 1) alt cert entry requirements; and 2) satisfying HQT under NCLB.}}

Fact: “Seattle Public Schools requests conditional certificates for all Teach for America corps members on the grounds that circumstances warrant the issuance of such certificates, {{as permitted by WAC 181-79A-231.}}”

From the Action Report: The district match part of the Teach for America agreement must be funded by private donors; no district funds will be expended. … but transparency is non-existent the District has failed to disclose who these funders are.

Fact: The achievement gap is used for proposals that have no other justification. The gap is never the reason that these proposals originate.
dan dempsey said…
Fact: The Superintendent is more concerned with public relations than evidence based decisions in regard to the achievement gaps.

Melissa Westbrook reported: Dr. Enfield was asked about the high school math curriculum ..{{but basically said that they are looking at trend data and it's on the upswing this year. She }} ….. and said teachers "have worked at it for a few years and gotten better, more confident and more agile" in using it. She said she was speaking about the math curriculum at all levels.
– … BUT….

Results from MSP MATH DATA for grades 3, 4, 5 for low-income and Black students are all worse in 2011 than in 2010.

High School Students who took an Algebra Class and the End of Course assessment were worse than the State results.
At Garfield 3 out of 10 Low income students passed and 2 out of 10 Black students passed.

At Rainier Beach for Low Income 1 in 12 passed and for Black students 0 out of 53 passed.

TfA is nothing but a diversion financed by the Big Money to disguise the incompetence of this District in regard to the Achievement Gaps.

The four directors up for reelection and the Superintendent are complicit in this ongoing “Opportunity Gap” fraud.
{… Follow the money.}

Thank You.
This comment has been removed by the author.
Hello and welcome back to all.

My name is _______, RB PTSA VP, Parent and Alum.

I am here today to ask the Board to review Policy No. 1640 Responsibilities & Authority of the Superintendent as it relates to some recent School Site Based Interviews where the Interim Superintendent has blocked the hiring of the Top Candidates as put forth by the interview teams.

The range is from Principals to Athletic Directors to name a few.

The District already has a robust and exhaustive screening process to even get in the hiring pool (THIS Process has COST US SOME GOOD CANDIDATES) and should suffice in most cases as the Superintendent’s recommendations as described in line 9 of the policy.

Exceptions being made in the case of Principals and the inability to verify references.

In 2010 the State Audit found that too much authority was being given to the Superintendent.

This is an area where I believe the Interim-superintendent is overstepping boundaries.

In Line item 10: The policy states that the Superintendent shall be responsible for assignment of all personnel within the district. It does not mean that the Superintendent shall assign or deny top candidates from being hired.

School based interview teams are formed because the people at the school know what type of staff will fit best with their team.

This is why you hire Principals. A Principal is the leader of the school and as such should have the final say when hiring their staff: providing of course that the prospective hire has met the requirements of the SPS screening process. And their references check out.

One cannot lead if they really aren’t in charge. This is the District micromanaging Schools and we have seen how unsuccessful this type of leadership has been. It is Time for Change and that change needs to start now.

Thank you
StopTFA said…
So much for the board having any backbone. Ask the interim superintendent who's paying for these TFAers and she says "talk to the hand." Sundquist loves that kind of abuse.

Double secret probation, I mean, donation
Juana said…
I had emailed the School Directors last night voicing my concern about intro/action items in general and also about the intro/action item #2 regarding the TFA on the agenda tonight. I stated that knowing that there is a huge achievement gap in mathematics that I was wondering why a candidate with a degree in Theater Arts/Education is being considered for 4th grade teacher at South Shore. This is the response that I received from Director Smith-Blum which I found interesting.

Did you mean Aki Kurose – or South Shore? To my knowledge we are ONLY hiring TFA candidates at Aki Kurose middle school – please advise.

Kay Smith-Blum
Director, Position 5
StopTFA said…
Uh, don't board directors read their agendas and action items....? Scary.
someone said…
Well, I suppose they do get a sea of things to read everyday, so missing one line isn't surprising - though moderately worrisome to be sure.

I love that line from the Supe in the linked email "they want us to be transparent" - um..well duh!! You work for a public agency - unless you are protecting a whistleblower or a child's safety then yes you should expect to be transparent - aiyiyi
uxolo said…
StopTFA - this email is INCREDIBLE!

Should be a good show tonight on Channel 26. WIsh I could be there in person to see the faces as Melissa, Dan and RBHS PTSA Secretary make their presentations. What is going on with the hiring at RBHS?
StopTFA said…
OMG, the directors grew spines!? THANK YOU! You told your ONE employee that she cannot keep secrets from you.

I feel faint...gotta sit down....

WV: TFA, y'wanna psymee?
Reality Doh - said…

Saw brief discussion of the change to the 4+ policies.

Are the Board members up for re-election F*ing stupid or too F*ing bought.

This real/reality is too depressing. Gonna flip back to BRAVO instead.
StopTFA said…
Reality Doh,

You and I must be on different channels. Either way, we'll keep up the pressure.
Anonymous said…
DeBell's therapeutic voice almost cracked when he told Enfield that it was an "either/or".

--talk about fed up!
Charlie Mas said…
Those emails were from October of last year! Dr. Enfield has been keeping this secret for 11 months.
StopTFA said…
October of last year... As they were firming up the MOU language. They knew it then and she knows it now. Amazing. I'll bet Enfield's calling every director today, giving them some soothing line Lesley Rogers cooked up, and the directors buy it.

But thank you for exhibiting some backbone tonight, no matter how fleeting.

I'm figuring TFA's waiving it, but can't risk alienating the other pathetic districts who pay as much as $10K ea. for these folks.
uxolo said…
"Those emails were from October of last year! Dr. Enfield has been keeping this secret for 11 months." Good to note, Charlie.

And at the Board meeting she used a phrase like - "for a few months" blah blah .. we have been working on this --what a liar!

if this is how she tracks time for our students, a few months, a few years - it says what a loser she is.

DeBell shocked me. Carr looked like she's in on the lie the way she jumped right in to rescue the Acting Supt. with an amended motion.

WV: en con (end con?)
I give Sherry credit for once again giving Susan an opportunity to say let them know if there is an issue why she can't say who these donors are. That Susan said nothing (or is now saying they have to wait until all the hiring is done) is odd.

One other thing - not one Board member spoke up in support of Michael's incredibly brave point. Frankly, I was shocked. I thought for sure Kay or Betty would but they did not.

Keep in mind that not ONE incumbent running for office spoke up to support Michael for transparency. Not one.

All Steve did was to (1) declare his undying love for TFA (or rather, that he has and still supports it) and (2) he was looking for a way to move the process along. That's disturbing because for him it's getting this done, not making sure the district was operating in a transparent and honorable manner.
snark anon said…
I'm figuring TFA's waiving it,

Hmmm, that one didn't occur to me.

I've been thinking it's only, what $20,000? Maybe all of the admin's downtown are covering it from their 'market study' pay raises. Or Susan and Janis are pitching in.

Did Gates end up paying any of it? I.e., are any of the hires math or science teachers that his STEM grant would cover?
Snark, well, if they actually hire anyone with a math or science degree, then yes, Washington STEM (via Gates) will fund those TFA teachers.

But we haven't hired any of those...yet.
Bird said…
One other thing - not one Board member spoke up in support of Michael's incredibly brave point.

That this is considered "incredibly brave" is so sad.

This is the board's basic function -- oversight.

It is wrong to simply accept the money is coming from a mystery donor. If there is a donor, the secrecy is wrong, but also, at this point, the public doesn't even know there is a donor. It could all be a bunch of BS or merely a promise from a donor that won't deliver.

We were told there would be no hires unless they could deliver the $4000 fee without touching SPS funds. If they can't prove that they can do this, the board shouldn't let them hire anyone.

Susan better start looking for a new job now. This behavior tells us that she is not the right person to lead SPS.

Does anyone remember why the last Sup got fired? For not being transparent and forthright with the board.
someone said…
@Bird - exactly - if nothing else you'd think she could learn from the previous example and not try to obfusticate her way thru this. The silence on the part of the running incumbents tells me something -most likely that they don't want to jeopardize campaign funds. Because lets face it - the people who have that kind of money to donate to SPS for this are also, likely, the same people who give large campaign contributions.

Yes - it is sad DeBell's action needs to be seen as "brave" - it's what they SHOULD be doing. I hope sincerely hope there is enough new blood on the board to replace Enfield with someone who understands such machinations are no longer acceptable.

wv says poust - is that what Ms E is doing now since she didn't get her way? ;o)
Sahila said…
For anyone who argues for TFA teachers!:

“Excellence is an art won by training and habituation. We do not act rightly because we have virtue or excellence, but we rather have those because we have acted rightly. We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit.” Aristotle ....
Anonymous said…
Re: Jack Whelan's question about Michael DeBell's support to extend MGJ's contract.

The answer is YES. My take on DeBell is that he draws some lines in the sand in order to keep up (his own sense) of his "Liberal Cred" but that he is basically a wuss following the crowd.

On a an ethical level, that may make him more culpable than the others because he CLEARLY knows better.

If things are so much better than a year ago, then why was DeBell such an overall champion for the status-quo a year ago?

I say vote him out, too, come re-election time, unless he gets a spine with more than an occasional vertebrate. However, if a new board is elected, watch him follow that crowd, too (which may be mistaken as having grown a backbone).

Seattle deserves these fools if they re-elect them. Enfield is Sarah Palin with an NPR dialect.

Notice how many times can she starts a sentence with "so", talks about "this work", and uses Nancy Pelosi hand gestures--all subtle communication to the "in club" (a liberal version of the Tea Party)--namely, the Race to the Top wing of the Democratic Oligarchs.

--Wake up and smell the stink

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