Friday, September 23, 2011

The Stranger Forum is Filling Up

As of today, nearly 500 seats have been reserved for The Stranger/Washington Bus/Save Seattle Schools blog School Board Candidate forum on Wednesday, September 28th from 7:30-9:00 p.m. at Town Hall.  Tickets are still available (and free!) but going fast.  You need a ticket to get in.


Laura said...

Melissa, do you have any influence on the questions for the candidates? If so, are you taking suggestions?

Melissa Westbrook said...

Laura, I do get to craft my own questions so sure, give me suggestions. (I have a feeling it won't be that many questions as we have so many candidates plus they each get to have opening speeches.)

Anonymous said...

Will this be taped and available online, we are a Jewish family unable to attend, but very interested in this event.

Jewish parent

Anonymous said...

Melissa, how about "do YOU know where the 'misplaced' $20 million dollars are?"

-three years to go

Guichon said...

"Melissa, how about "do YOU know where the 'misplaced' $20 million dollars are?"

Melissa, if you ask this question, be sure to ask only directors taht were around when those properties were sold. Otherwise, that would be unfair. Really, it would be unfair to ask the question since the directors don't get involved in the day-to-day running of the place and there would be no realistic expectation that they would be able to answer that question.

none1111 said...

there would be no realistic expectation that they would be able to answer that question.

Yes, but they should be able to answer related questions, such as: If elected, how would you deal with issues like this? Or how would you ensure that this kind of "misplacement" doesn't continue to happen?

That said, I think Melissa will want to be very careful with her questions because they are sure to limit the number each person gets to ask. Not sure this one would make the top 5.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Guichon, the money is misplaced/missing now. They know this. If they placidly sit by and wait to be told where it is when they know there is confusion over where it is, that's not accountability.

That said, I would ask that question in a broad fashion so that all candidates could answer it.

Charlie Mas said...

My top question for Board candidates continues to be:

How do you/would you enforce policy?

Laura said...

My concerns are about capacity in the North and advanced learning programs. (My child is in APP and I don't know where he gets to go to middle school next year. My neighborhood school, always one that was under capacity, is now over capacity and growing. It is surrounded on all sides by other schools that are over capacity.) I'm hoping there are questions that broadly touch on these concerns.

Po3 said...

Charters schools. For or against and why?

Anonymous said...

Cronyism - how would you weed out employees that are "friendly hires" and continually promoted beyond their capacity?

And yep. I have examples if you are interested. (ie the school admin/clerk who can't type, the principal who can't write a sentence.)


Anonymous said...

My biggest concern is future leadership. Given Enfield's performance to date, what are Board candidates' thoughts on finding a permanent Superintendent? Do they foresee a national search? What qualities are they looking for in a new Superintendent?

plain jane

Anonymous said...

Just to review, under Enfield's leadership so far - the Floe fiasco, TFA, APP in limbo, and choose-your-own model Spectrum.

plain jane

Anonymous said...

Re Charlie Mas "...How do you/would you enforce policy?"

And how do you write/rewrite policy that follows the law?


someone said...

I'm with you Plain Jane - the future leadership is vital right now - interested in seeing how they stand on that - and given the comments going on on Friday Open Thread re: Ms. Martin - also something about their intentions toward "community engagement" would be interesting to me as well.

Guichon said...


Unfortunately, you are wrong. Just because no one could answer the question immediately doesn't mean it is misplaced/missing. It's not like those instances where lunch room money is missing or misplaced. This wasn't a bag of money that someone put in the wrong drawer or left in the trunk of their car. It will only be "missing" if there is no record of it being deposited, or no record of how the money was spent. There is no point in sensationalizing something that hasn't been PROVEN to have happened.

You are truly making a mountain out of a mole hill in this instance, which is not like you. There is not a boogey-man around every corner or under every rock at the district (ok...there are in most places, but not all). You are looking for things to be wrong because you hate - yes, hate - the incumbents. I have no love for them, but you are not being fair with them in this instance.

Kathy said...

1. We are expecting more state cuts. The department of Research, Assessment and Evaluation is funded at nearly $3M per year. Would you cut research, evaluation and assessment BEFORE reducing classroom funding?

2. Teachers have taken furlough days and classroom funding has been reduced millions of dollars. Yet, administrative raises were given. We're expecting more cuts. Would you insist administration takes salary reduction before further classroom cuts?

Melissa Westbrook said...

It is a total misrepresentation to say I "hate" the incumbents. That is not true.

I constantly say - to everyone - that each of them is a bright and capable person but that I don't understand their actions.

If staff knows where the money is, why do they have to wait until October to say so? It's the public's money, they haven't shown themselves to be great with the money (see July 2010 audit) and it's reasonable to be worried.

It would not have been brought up at two different Board committees if it was a mere oversight.

Wondering said...

TfA corp has 5 weeks of training. These individuals are then placed as lead teachers in our classrooms. Do you support these individuals in our classrooms.

suep. said...

Guichon, your comment about Melissa and the incumbents is hyperbolic.

Also, why discourage a citizen-activist from looking into a possibly misplaced(?) $20 million of taxpayer funds?

I think Melissa has proven to be right about enough SPS issues at this point to deserve more respect than your comment accords her.

Whereas, this district has proven itself untrustworthy and downright reckless enough with public funding (Olshefsky's 'lost' $35 mil, anyone? Pottergate, the MLK sale -- just to name a few) to deserve any extra scrutiny.

I always find it peculiar when people try to dissuade others from investigating something that seems amiss.

Keep up the good work, Melissa.

Charlie Mas said...

One of the worst elements of "Seattle Nice" culture is the ridiculous contention that criticism of a person's work is an attack on the person.

Just because you think someone is doing their job poorly doesn't mean that you hate that person. There is something insidious about equating the two. It dismisses legitimate complaints as the product of an irrational and emotional "hater".

What if someone were to suggest that Guichon's criticism of Melissa was silly because Guichon just hates Melissa and was not being fair with her?

The charge of hating and pouty whining over personal attacks in response to legitimate and well-supported criticism is feeble rhetoric and a loser's defense.

anonymous said...
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anonymous said...
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anonymous said...

"Just to review, under Enfield's leadership so far - the Floe fiasco, TFA, APP in limbo, and choose-your-own model Spectrum. "

Hmmm. I see some of these things as positives.

While Enfield's decision to fire Floe was misguided (IMO), she was able to listen to her community and reversed her decision. I really admire her for that and find it to be a huge positive.

Same for APP. The reality is that all students assigned to Lowell were just not going to fit into the building. Something had to give. Enfield met with families and heard what they had to say. She LISTENED. As requested, she moved the program in its entirety and kept the entire cohort together. APP, the program is not in limbo or jeopardy. That is an unfair statement. What they need is a permanent location, and while I understand that is uncomfortable to not know which building your program will be housed in next year, it isn't tragic.

As for TFA - well that is a very controversial subject. For every TFA hater, there are plenty of families who are eager for change and welcome TFA. Why should the directors votes represent the views of the anti TFA crowd? Further, did Enfield even have anything to do with bringing TFA to SPS? Wasn't that MGJs baby? And didn't the board vote to approve it?

Choose your own model Spectrum - well that's been going on since my kids started school over 10 years ago. That's nothing new and can't be attributed to Enfield - though she should work on cleaning up the mess left to her.


I'm with Jane said...

The released emails between Enfield and TFA reps do not reflect positively on Enfield. The coyness around identities of the TFA donors was downright bizarre.

As for Spectrum, there is variation from school to school, but what was most egregious was allowing the model to change at Wedgwood after open enrollment, and after families had made their choice.

APP at Lincoln? They knew from Day 1 of the school year that the building was overcrowded. By the time of open enrollment they had even more firm numbers on expected numbers of students, yet the solution was going to be to cram them into the building. An architect was hired and plans were drawn up to rearrange classrooms. It took protests from the special ed community and calls to the fire marshall to put a stop to that plan. Not until the day after school was out were families and staff notified of a plan to shift some students to Lincoln. Yes, Enfield ultimately listened, but how did it get to crisis mode?

It doesn't seem unfair to characterize APP as being in limbo. In the past three years the program has been split on all levels and parents do not know where their students will be in the coming years. Hamilton? Full. Garfield? Full. Lowell/Lincoln? There's no telling what form the program will take in the coming years. And with the way they handled Spectrum at Wedgwood you don't even know if the program you signed up for during enrollment will still exist come the fall. You don't even know if it will be in the same building...

And the Floe fiasco. It just should never have happened.

The pattern of oops, sorry, now I'm listening...well, it's disconcerting. Admittedly better than I Make No Mistakes MGJ, but still disconcerting.

Hmmm said...

"The released emails between Enfield and TFA reps do not reflect positively on Enfield. The coyness around identities of the TFA donors was downright bizarre."

As I look at the upcoming elections, I have to wonder which directors will vote to keep Enfield.

The released e-mails between TfA, and cat and mouse game behind donors have created a feeling of concern. Enfield's actions are not as blatent as MGJ selling a test to the board (without full disclosure of her board position), but concerning none- the-less.

Melissa, Thanks for keeping your eye on the $20M

Dorothy Neville said...

There is no missing 20 million dollars. There is no missing 20 million dollars. There is no missing 20 million dollars. The appropriate steps are being taken in A&F committee to fix issues created by someone in the past. Olchefske for sure and at least one of Manhas or Kennedy. If you ask this at the debate, Sherry will look quite good in that she can point out that you have been terribly wrongly misinformed. There is no reason why any of the other incumbents up for reelection would even know about this yet. Because it is an A&F committee issue for now.

Melissa Westbrook said...

"As requested, she moved the program in its entirety and kept the entire cohort together. APP, the program is not in limbo or jeopardy. That is an unfair statement. What they need is a permanent location, and while I understand that is uncomfortable to not know which building your program will be housed in next year, it isn't tragic."

Well, district management allowed this all to come to a head so it's not like it wasn't something they didn't see coming. And no one is saying what is happening is tragic - but it is troubling that it goes on and on, year to year. The program needs some stability and this district needs to make up its mind about it.

I'm guessing you are a new reader because no, as it turns out, TFA was very much Enfield's "baby" and MGJ just opened the door.

Dorothy, you and I will have to disagree on the $20M. You were at one meeting and I was at the other. That the staff is being cagey about this is odd - why not just say where it is and how much there is? (A source tells me there's more than smoke so until it is all clearly explained, I'm not backing down.)

mirmac1 said...

Okay Okay, I confess! I took the $20M and donated it to Norm Rice. I wanted to remain anonymous, dammit!

Wv: The Board will wagger your child's education for big campaign contributions.

Charlie Mas said...

Second question for the Stranger Forum:

Every Board candidate says that they want to improve the Board's communication with the public - the incumbents said it four years ago. The Board's community engagement is no better now than it was ten years ago - in fact it is worse. Specifically and concretely, how will you improve the communication between the board and the public?

Why doesn't the Board respond to people who testify at Board meetings?

Why doesn't the Board respond to emails?

Why doesn't the Board ask questions of members of the public during discussions at committee meetings or legislative meetings?

Anonymous said...

I have received responses to various emails from the following Board members: DeBell, Carr, Maier, and Smith-Blum. My emails are few and far between, but at least one Board member has responded to each letter.

It's unfair to say they don't respond.


Guichon said...

Suep - talk about hyperbolic....I am not trying to dissuade an activist from questioning or looking into the whereabouts of $20 million. I am solely concerned that this breathless pursuit of a possible scandal is itself very hyperbolic. Melissa's sources have been wrong before, and it seems as though there is no objectivity in pursuit of factual matters. I don't mind someone showing a bias on topics such as TfA, how to close the achievement gap, or on who to vote for. But pre-supposing that there is something terribly wrong without getting all the facts is irresponsible, and demonstrates, I believe, why the district doesn't recognize her as a journalist.

As Dorothy said (despite Melissa's protestations about her incontrovertible sources), there is no missing $20 million. It would be wise if she were to take her source's tips with a grain of salt to ensure that maybe there isn't a concerted effort to discredit her.

Dorothy Neville said...

Here is my understanding of the discussion in A&F. The money is not really missing. What is missing is a clear understanding of how much was net from the sale of the properties and how it was used to pay down the bond. Additionally, what else was used to pay down the bond? Have we always had enough rental income to cover it? Have we used other funds? Very likely we have used other funds and that's not good. Very likely, current rental income earmarked to pay the bond is not going to be enough and that's not good.

How many years ago was some of the rental income moved to the general fund? Certainly I can believe Kennedy could have and would have done that, without regard to the fact that it was already needed for the bond. Could it have happened even earlier? Again, that will take some digging.

That is not something that one could expect the district to provide at a moment's notice. It means doing a deep dive into 11 years of financial transactions and we all know that the folks in charge of the Capital Finances for those last 11 years were not stellar and clean.

So, is this a house on fire that demands everyone get excited now or is it finding termites? I think it is termites. No, don't immediately tear out all the walls and pour poison everywhere, but cautiously and systematically investigate. I believe that is what Bob Boesche and Duggan Harmon are doing. If there is more than smoke, they will bring it forward. But it takes time to pull though all the data to find the truth.

Melissa Westbrook said...

"...incontrovertible sources.." never said that.

It's a mystery to me why people take a simple statement

(A source tells me there's more than smoke so until it is all clearly explained, I'm not backing down.)

and turns into me saying I know this for a fact. I never said my sources were incontrovertible.

Dorothy Neville said...

Everyone should suspect more than smoke. Well, not exactly smoke and fire, but definitely systematic damage that has occurred over time. This issue with the JSCEE bonds is nothing new, it is only being uncovered now.

I suspect that everyone would agree that most likely the bond debt service has been paid with funds that were not authorized for the debt. I suspect that we will not be able to complete debt service without dipping into funds that should not be used for this debt service. That is definitely a problem and it stems back to poor decisions made 11 years ago complicated with an ongoing terrible mess of accounting, especially on capital side of the district.

What I object to is

A: Characterizing the money as missing. The short answer is that the money from the sale of the properties was authorized to pay the JSCEE bond. The properties brought in less than 20 million (most likely) and we have paid to date way more than 20 million dollars on the debt service. So how can the money be considered missing? If there is a scandal (and I have no doubt there is one) it is not because that particular pot of money is missing.

B: Characterizing the board as doing wrong by "placidly" waiting for answers. This scandal requires untangling 11 years of financial records. It simply makes no sense to expect that to happen immediately.

Michael said he wanted this information for years. Sherry is chair of A&F, so some fault might rest with her for not listening to Michael and demanding it. She claimed at the A&F meeting that she asked for it in response to the public advisor advising her to ask for it.

How could this have been avoided and how could it be avoided in the future? Well, anything as big as a 54 million dollar construction bond should have gotten better due diligence. The board should have and could have asked an independent third party to verify the district's claims. Having the public advisors on the A&F committee would probably help because those professionals would sniff out flaws in finances better than board members inexperienced with finances could.

Charlie Mas said...

Dorothy wrote:

"Well, anything as big as a 54 million dollar construction bond should have gotten better due diligence."

When the District floated the bonds they claimed that the bonds would be paid back out of the savings they would realize from having everything together at one central building. They were supposed to issue an annual every year until the bonds were paid back on the savings created by the building.

As usual for Seattle Public Schools, they only kept their word for a couple years.

That was supposed to be the closer monitoring that the bonds and the expense of the building required.

Dorothy Neville said...

Charlie, did you read my longer explanation? The savings from consolidation was only one small part of paying back the bond, but the flaw from day one was that the savings they were talking about would all be in the general fund -- and you cannot use general fund money to pay a construction bond.

In my opinion, it's not that they didn't follow through with the annual report on the consolidation savings, it's that no one thought questioned in the first place. One cannot use such savings, ie, general fund money, to pay off the construction bond and claim that they aren't taking any money from kids. Also, it makes no sense to create an annual report on consolidation savings because after one year, those figures will be dubious.

Let's say you get a new more efficient furnace. The first year, you can probably make a good estimate of how much money you saved, but after 5 or 10 years there are so many variables, weather, the cost of fuels, the number of people living in the house, other remodeling or maintenance projects, etc, that any annual report on how much the more efficient furnace saved is going to take too much guesswork to be meaningful.