Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Crosscut Blindness

Ted Van Dyk, writing about the upcoming election on Crosscut, has this to say about the school board races:
The Seattle School Board:  I am voting for the incumbents on the ballot — Peter Maier, Sherry Carr,  Harium Martin-Morris, and Steve Sundquist — with the hope that they will run a tighter ship in their upcoming terms.  All are honest people dedicated to public education.  But the financial scandals unearthed by the state Auditor, the expensive closure and reopening of schools, the acceptance of a goofy math curriculum, and sometimes slack oversight of administrators cannot be repeated.
I have heard others take the same view as Mr. Van Dyk. I have heard others say that they believe that the board members are sincerely contrite and will do better after the Pottergate scandal. I'm not sure what improvement Mr. Van Dyk and the others are hoping to see, but it has been seven months since the board members all promised to start doing their jobs and we haven't seen any improvement yet. How much longer are  they supposed to take before they start showing some signs of this promised improvement?


Anonymous said...

Charlie - can you please list again what you have been expecting the Board to have accomplished since pottergate?

A friend of Seattle

Po3 said...

"But the financial scandals unearthed by the state Auditor, the expensive closure and reopening of schools, the acceptance of a goofy math curriculum, and sometimes slack oversight of administrators cannot be repeated."

And let's not forget TFA!
$11 million and counting on MAPS testing with no proof that this test is benefitting our students.

and voting on one transportation plan after another with no proof of savings.

I am sure I could come up with many other examples of why we should give these honest folks a second chance based on their platform, "we promise to do better next time."

Anonymous said...

"We're sober and exceptionally skilled at governance and management. Please give us another chance. We promise to do better next time."

Mr. Ed

Anonymous said...

Charlie has constantly posted lists of things he thought the Board should have done better (not just after Pottergate), but in general. He argues (I think fairly convincingly) they perpetually fail their oversight function, on reports they are owed, on program placement, on follow-up on promises made to the board by the administration, and, alternatively that they provide cover by voting on actions (the TFA, for example), where their role was not defined.

(Sorry Charlie if I am summarizing incorrectly -- perhaps links to a few of the posts where you've argued on the violations/lack of attention to the districts official policies by the board?)

I am often a supporter of incumbents on the grounds that they understand the system better than outsiders. In this case, though, I have been convinced that this board will not enforce/actively argue for their stated policies. And, I do believe it's this kind of sloppy oversight that results in pottergate (and other equivalents).


Anonymous said...

Thanks ZB!

A friend of Seattle

Greg said...

I too am mystified as to why Crosscut and the Seattle Times hold the school board to such low standards. The challengers are strong, the incumbents have a poor track record and show no sign of improvement. There is no reason to stick with what is not working.

Maureen said...

In the comment section the Crosscut author says:
I do not understand the reference to a "Broad Corporation" style of governance. I neither love corporations nor hate unions, as Benson appears to believe. I judge institutions and individuals, including political candidates, according to their behavior and performance. I have suggested institutional changes which I think could improve our local governance.

— Ted_Van_Dyk

Anyone who believes themself to be qualified to make recommendations in the Seattle School Board race should at least be familiar with the Broad controversy. I don't necessarily expect them to agree that Broad is harming public education, but they should recognize the name. If they don't, they are certainly not qualified to make recommendations in the race.

seattle teaching said...

Some think the challengers are strong. I would say Michelle B. is. But many community members may think a number of the challengers are lacking. Most of the challengers IMO (after attending 2 forums/debates) were pretty weak, lots of broad ideas, little understanding of the ins and outs of implementations, policy, legal restraints, etc. I don't post much here because I find if my opinion differs I get more flak than I have the energy to wade through. But I think it is realistic to say that plenty of people have met the challengers/incumbents, been wowed by none (neither sitting nor challenger), but come away with the impression that many challengers are less informed/less of a good bet than incumbents.

anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
anonymous said...

The title of this post "Crosscut Blindness" is representative of your disapproval of Mr. Van Dyke's vote for the incumbents. You suggest that anyone who would vote for the incumbents is blind. That is what I meant when I said that this blog does not feel welcoming to people who do not share the common SSS views. Sure, you'll get other like minded people to chime in and you'll have a nice one sided conversation. But you won't hear many opposing voices. You won't hear from those that support the incumbents. You won't hear them defend their positions and learn why they support them.

The title of this post could have been "Crosscut writer, Ted Van Dyk, supports Maier, Carr, Sundquist and Martin-Morris". That title is neutral. It feels open and welcoming to people of all views. It encourages participation from a more diverse group of people.


Anonymous said...

Occasional Fan of Crosscut But Not Enough To Become A Member Says:

In the comments after the author's posting there is a long explanation of the relative merits of the challengers. Van Dyk himself highlights that post and then says in a comment to his own story that the arguments for the challengers are substantive. Comes very close to reversing himself.

Anonymous said...

Welcome, Argh -
Be the opposing voice instead of telling me why opposing voices aren't heard here. What is it that you see and have seen in the behavior and actions of the incumbents before, during or after "the financial scandals unearthed by the state Auditor, the expensive closure and reopening of schools, the acceptance of a goofy math curriculum, and sometimes slack oversight of administrators" that gives you confidence in them and provides you reason to support them.


Charlie Mas said...

@ A friend of Seattle,

First I want to thank you - sincerely - for the question. I am deeply grateful to you for coming to the blog, stating your perspective, and questioning the perspective of others. You help us realize our highest ambitions.

You ask for, and deserve, a detailed answer. Let's begin with management oversight.

The Board utterly failed in their duty to provide management oversight - and did so proudly - until the July, 2010 audit report. Since then, they have made a lot of noise about management oversight, but they haven't taken much action.

First, I will give them some credit for realizing after the audit that they had failed. I will also give them some credit for taking a needed first step - they sought some help and instruction. Two months after the audit report, which is pretty quick for this sort of thing, they got that help at the Board retreat of September 11, 2010 at the Beacon Hill Library. The Board got a stern lesson in management oversight from Don McAdams that day. I was there and I heard it.

At that meeting they were told that they needed to make annual or biannual review of every department and program in the District. I went home that afternoon and, in a couple hours, wrote a calendar for these review meetings. Some of them need to come at certain times of the year to coincide with annual contracts or reports, or to fit into the right time on the enrollment calendar. I sent the calendar to the Board that day.

The Board, however, wasn't as quick writing their calendar. They just finished it. It took them about nine months just to draft a calendar for the reviews. That's one of the things I expected the Board to complete a whole lot sooner than they did.

By the way, it also took them until just this month to assemble a calendar of the annual reports by the staff to the Board that are required by policy. That should have been a three-day job at the most.

And what about those annual and biannual review meetings? How many have they had? Two. In the 15 months since they "got serious" about management oversight, in the 13 months since their Board Retreat with the management oversight theme, in all that time they have conducted exactly two "annual" management oversight review meetings. I would have expected them to be a bit more that three-quarters through their annual calendar by now.

Had they written the calendar in three weeks, they would have had it by September 30, 2010. If they gave the first departments three months to prepare - more than enough time - they would have had the first reports in January, 2011. By now they should be ten months into their annual calendar.

Instead they have taken almost no action and have only done two reviews - one in April and one in September. That's pathetic.

The Board has been a grave disappointment in the area of management oversight - both before the audit and since.

I would like to point out that even after the Pottergate scandal broke in July, come September the District awarded another contract to the Urban League. Amazing, right? And, again, the Urban League's invoices suffered from the same deficiencies described in the audit. And, again, the Urban League's billable hours were suspciously consistent from month to month. And, again, the Urban League's work was vaguely measured. Yet the District paid these invoices.

The Board never mentioned it.

Isn't this EXACTLY the kind of thing that their new heightened supervision should have caught?

Maureen said...

Hello Argh, welcome to the discussion. I would like to point out that on September 20th Charlie posted a thread called Seeking a Diversity of Voices. It generated over 170 comments.

seattleteaching, I would agree that Michelle Buetow is the strongest of the candidates in terms of understanding the inner workings of the District. I don't think any of the candidates is any weaker than any of the incumbants were when they were elected though. In fact, I would say that all of them are probably as well or better informed than Kay Smith-Blum was when elected and I believe she has been by far the most effective Board member we have. Personally I prefer a candidate who wants to understand the community they represent and who is willing to push staff to do their job over one who is familiar with staff operations and lets them do whatever they want.

In that case, I do think Sherry Carr is the incumbant most likely to try to represent her constituents. I have seen her (in committee) be outraged (for instance) that Pay for K money was not being collected. Unfortunately, I have rarely seen her translate that quiet outrage into actual oversite and enforcement of policy. She has improved somewhat over time. The other three incumbants, not at all (Harium has gotten worse, Peter and Steve never tried in my opinion).

Charlie Mas said...

Let's turn our attention now to Governance, another neglected duty of the Board from the start and a stated focus of the Board since July, 2010.

Governance is policy work. The core of policy work is enforcing policy.

This Board has never enforced any policy. They don't even have a process for enforcing policy. You can write to them and tell them that a policy has been violated but they will take no action.

I would expect them to take action to assure compliance with policies, particularly when the policy has been violated. They have not done so at all ever.

I started telling the Board that the district is out compliance with the program placement policy in the Spring. I have told them over and over again since then. The staff have acknowledged that the policy wasn't followed. Not one member of the Board has ever responded to my concern. Not one of them has taken any action to address it.

The same can be said of a number of other policies that are regularly violated. These include the policy for advisory committees, the high school credit and grade marking policy, and more.

Policy work also includes writing policy - although that is a much smaller element. The Board has promised a comprehensive policy review for years. They have even passed a resolution committing themselves to writing a calendar for policy review. They have even written calendars for policy review. They didn't keep to any of those calendars.

The Board has, finally begun their epic policy review effort, and, as much as I would like to give them credit for it, they are going about it in their uniquely indolent style.

First, they re-wrote all of the Section B policies - now Series 1000. They did them all at once and they did a very sloppy job of it.

They failed to notice that they repealed the policy that required introduction of a motion at one meeting and action on the motion at a subsequent meeting.

Their new governance policy doesn't have any governance in it.

Their new policies try to delegate the duty to assure compliance with policies to the superintendent which, let's face it, is stupid because A) the superintendent is the person most regulated by policy and B) it is an indelegable duty of the Board.

They are now revising all of the other policies but they are doing it in two phases. In the first phase they only renumber them and add a few that they figure they were missing. They won't actually consider and review any of the controversial ones until Phase II. They have a rare and special gift for indefinitely deferring consideration of issues rather than dealing with them.

They are telling the public that this is not the time to offer any input on the policies - as they are changing them - because, they claim, the opportunity for that is coming. Is it? Is it really? Why should anyone believe that?

That brings us to community engagement.

Charlie Mas said...

The Board are the elected representatives of the public. They should advocate for the public's perspective. If nothing else they should at least advocate for the public to have a voice. This board never has and still doesn't.

The Board never enforced the transparency commitments written into the Strategic Plan and they still don't. They never enforced the Community Engagement Protocols for Strategic Plan projects and they still don't.

The Board readily accepts motions for consideration and approves them when those motions have absolutely no community engagement or public input whatsoever. This happened before their commitment to transparency was reborn and it continues to happen since.

Take a look at the motions that have come before the board since July, 2010 or even since March, 2011. There aren't more than one or two that have the benefit of any community engagement or public input prior to introduction to the Board. There is absolutely no evidence that the board has ever heeded any public comment on any motion before them.

The Board is quick to expedite motions by bringing them for introduction and action at the same meeting even when there is no emergency and no real urgency. The practice serves no purpose other than to shut out public comment.

The Board's primary community engagement is the public testimony at Board meetings but they do not respond to the people who testify at the meetings or after the meetings. They do not respond at all.

At every interaction the board demonstrates their contempt for community engagement.

Anonymous said...

Argh: You have the floor. Tell me why I should vote for any of the incumbents.

Why would the incumbents be better than the challengers?

I invite you and any other alternative voice to list valid reasons why I should support the incumbents.

Warning: If I disagree, I'll let you know. I hope that's not too aggressive or cynical of me to venture that. I'm not a big supporter of P.C. culture, Seattle nice, or the almighty Seattle process, where everyone must feign consensus or not make the party guest lists. WSDWG

Thanks. WSDWG

Charlie Mas said...

To round out a few more recent actions or inactions of the Board which reflect their failure to improve their practice since the July, 2010 audit of the firing of the superintendent let me just offer this list:

* Native American program is disarray, out of compliance, and showing no sign of effectiveness

* Board inaction over the district's failure to promptly correct the errors on School Reports as promised in December

* Board inaction over the Lowell overcrowding fiasco

* Board inaction over the NE elementary overcrowding fiasco

* Board inaction over the West Seattle elementary overcrowding fiasco

* Board inaction over the north-end middle school overcrowding fiasco

* Board reneging on high school choice commitment

* Board inaction on staff reneging on promises to APP at split

* Board inaction on staff reneging on promises to NOVA at relocation

* Board inaction on staff reneging on promises to Cooper and TT Minor students and families at relocation

* Board action on Teach for America.

First of all, the Board should never have been involved in the Teach for America contract. Hiring decisions are management decisions, not governance decisions so the Board should not have a role here. In addition, the contract was for less than $250K so the board should not have been involved.

Secondly the rationale for the contract was feeble. The contract did not notably increase the "candidate pool". There never was any benchmark for how large the candidate pool should be. There is no evidence that TFA corps members could close the academic achievement gap. There is scant evidence that TFA does a better job of recruiting minorities than the District. All of these rationale would suggest that the District simply drop the requirement that applicants for teacher jobs have teaching certificates rather than lead us to creating any sort of agreement with a single recruiting agency.

My biggest problem with this episode, however, is the board's interference in a management matter. They should restrict themselves to governance.

* The Board continues to accept staff statements without any effort to verify any of them - even when the statements are called into question by members of the public

* The board chose to fire the superintendent "without cause" despite the fact that they had ample cause. This choice transferred $264,000 from the district directly to the former superintendent. A gift. An unnecessary expense. I think it was hush money to sweep the story of their failures under the rug.

Altogether this board has floated through their duties like a sleeping boaters adrift in the stream. They have made no noticable effort to dip an oar into the water - not before July 2010 and not since. They remain content to allow the staff to run the whole show.

Charlie Mas said...

Oh, yes, the Board failure to demand any kind of accountability around:

Pay for K accounting failures

The failure of the MAP to function as a formative assessment

The profound failure of Southeast Education Initiative

The inequity of opportunity within the District

Inequitable access to Montessori

Inequitable access to language immersion

The dismantling of Spectrum

A School Performance Framework that isn't fair and doesn't work

The absence of effective and reliable interventions for struggling students

Student growth measures that don't measure student growth

Charlie Mas said...

@ Argh,

The title of the post, "Crosscut Blindness" does not, as you presume reflect my disapproval of Mr. Van Dyk's endorsement of the incumbents but for Mr. Van Dyk's failure to see what he claims he is looking for.

Anonymous said...

WSDWG and Oompah, why do you assume I am voting for the incumbents? I never said such a thing. Never even implied it. You know what happens when you ASSume things.

What I said was that I want to hear all points of view - that helps me make more informed decisions. I like hearing many perspectives. I like diverse discussions. Not echo chambers.

For the record I'm not entirely sure who I'm voting for yet - and am still on the fence in the Sherry Carr/Kate Martin race, but am leaning toward Sherry Carr. I'm afraid Kate Martin will be too closed minded and that for me is worse than Sherry Carr not speaking up enough. I'm going to a candidates forum tonight and will decide after that.


someone said...

I don't know - I might have been in favor of retaining the incumbents if there had been the least evidence of actual behavior change since the whole sordid MGJ/Potter debacle. I just haven't really seen that - I see a lot of high level rhetoric, but little in altered behavior. I'm ready to give someone else a chance.

dan dempsey said...

Correction the hush money paid was $273,000 to MGJ and $90,000 to Don Kennedy for a grand total of $363,000.

Giving the Seattle Public 22 hours notice from 8:30 Tuesday night to 6:00 PM Wednesday Board meeting on 3-2-11..... = HUSH HUSH white-wash.
What did they know and when did they know it?

About TFA... it was an inside job from the get go.

December 11, 2009 the PESB executive director was planning how to get around the certification problem and at that time in correspondence with all the players... OSPI certification, TfA employees, and Seattle Schools folk.

Just read these three ... and "INSIDE JOB" will be clear.

Letter to OSPI certification

The Proof for OSPI certification

The response from OSPI certification

This explains why Joy Anderson and I are moving with legal actions. Joy's 10-21 Appeal of the School Board TfA actions on Sept 21 and October 5. Our recall filing for Randy Dorn filed 10-24.

Anonymous said...

Sorry, Argh, I thought you were talking about your particular feelings when you "said that this blog does not feel welcoming to people who do not share the common SSS views". Apparently you know folks who have differing views who don't feel welcome to air them here? Or are you just assuming that...

As far as the particulars, TVD gave a brief character reference ("All are honest people dedicated to public education.") and "hope" as the reason he's voting for the incumbent board members. Not enough for some folks.

And that was really funny the way you called me an ASS(ume). Good one.


Charlie Mas said...

Someone captures a lot of my sentiment.

I have long said that I never wanted any of the Board members to step down. On the contrary, I have always wanted them to step UP.

They haven't.

Even after they acknowledged that they need to step up and after they promised to step up, they still have not stepped up.

My patience is exhausted.

These are smart, capable people. Their failure to do the job hasn't been because they cannot do it but because they will not do it. It is a conscious choice on their part and they are continuing to make that conscious choice. Their inaction is what they believe, in their heart of hearts, is the proper role for the Board. They aren't going to be shaken from that conviction so they just have to go.

Anonymous said...

Argh: I think you're being too idealistic. This is a blog, not Cronkite or Murrow. Unless you are unaware that parents do not feel listened to or taken seriously by the powers that be in this district, you must realize that this is about the only forum where alienated and ignored parents can speak freely and vent their frustrations.

I would not expect it to be fair and balanced. But admission is free. Can't get much more democratic than that.

As for the opposing views? They are plentiful. See the Seattle Times, A4E, Stand for Children, SPS Website, LEV, etc., etc. (You think this blog sounds monolithic or repetitive? Check them out.) WSDWG

Unknown said...


I love your depth of knowledge and utterly consistent refrain of accountability. I love that you enjoy a debate and don't take stuff personally. Here is my question: should the challengers be held to any different standard than the incumbents if elected, or should they be held to the same standards? Example: one challenger admitted to not knowing much of anything about SPED. Frankly in order to vote for someone I'd have to be convinced that they'd gone out of their way to learn a huge amount about SPED, but, say, let's give them some benefit of the doubt and time after election to learn. But then: At what point, if any, does an elected challenger get held to the standards you've detailed? Or does outsider status also confer a different set of standards the public ought to hold a challenger to?

dan dempsey said...

Working Together,

The Board makes and enforces policy as a group. I would not be overly concerned about a challenger not being well versed on SpED right now.

My concern is with the Board directors doing the research required to make evidence based decisions. More rubber-stampers are not needed.

If like many of the current board an elected challenger did not answer questions about how decisions are made, then I would be outraged. I would expect them to read contracts before approving them. The incumbents did not read the first New Tech Network contract.

Here is today's back and forth with OSPI Associate Director of Certification ...

Educationally disadvantaged learners have been continually shafted by decisions of the current board. The fact that the directors refused to answer the question: When was a careful review of all options for closing the achievement gaps conducted? ... should be extremely disturbing as repeated board approvals were based on this claim.

The OSPI stance that WAC 181-79A-231 requirements were met, while refusing to disclose how they were, is absurd.

This type of behavior has become typical of the administrative and elected classes ... ruling us. Transparency is only dispensed as they deem appropriate. Clearly in regard to the WAC question there will be no answer.

I would be looking to elect directors that possess common sense and an ability to make intelligent decision by applying relevant data. The incumbents running have not done so.

Charlie Mas said...

@ Working Together asked: "should the challengers be held to any different standard than the incumbents if elected, or should they be held to the same standards?"

I think that all Board Directors, regardless of their experience, should be expected to exercise critical reasoning skills, to be honest, to serve the public interest, and to seek to fulfill their duties as they see fit.

That said, there has never been a Board Director elected who came into the job with broad and deep knowledge about the District. They all need a couple years to learn their way around all of the various departments and programs.

So I would not expect a newly elected Board Director to know all about Special Education and IDEA. I would, however, expect them to ask good questions and demand cogent and consistent rationale for decisions. I certainly expect Board Directors with a couple years of experience to be not only familiar, but facile with IDEA and the various service delivery models used in Seattle Public Schools for students with IEPs.

Is that fair?

Anonymous said...

I cannot wait to vote against the incumbents in my district. It is the ONLY way that real change will finally occur. Sharon Peaslee (District #1), Kate Martin (#2), Michelle Buetow (#3), and Marty McLaren (#4) appear to be excellent candidates. Let's give them a chance.

Ann C.

Unknown said...


Fair to wait some but I don't think we have a couple of years to give them. Also, of the sitting Board members, I recall that Sherry, Peter, and Michael went into the positions with extensive experience, and I for one appreciate experience as a tool to do the job, and voted for them because of it. I'll give a few months and then I'll expect any elected challengers to be fully up to speed, and I will be expecting a high level of accountability at that point. I'm just a parent but I'm up to speed on the basics (and more, simply from volunteering) and I think it's reasonable to ask that any elected challenger not muff the basics by 2 months in office (coincidentally budget season).

Challengers, I know you're reading, if elected please be VERY familiar with draft governance policies, board policies and bylaws, WSSDA materials, WA ed funding formulas, OSPI reporting, org charts, and past year purple and gold books by January so you can effectively govern. Thanks.

Chris S. said...

Regarding experience: I'd just like to point that while the challengers may have little bureaucratic experience, several have extensive boots-on-the-ground experience in schools. I'm thinking of the teachers, and Kate's stand-in over non-teaching at Roosevelt. Michelle still has kids in elementary and I know she's in that building.

PTSA and Levy campaigning are just not the same - it's adults separated from the primary mission of a school. I know 3 of the incumbents have high-schoolers, but I often feel they have forgotten what elementary is like, and they ALL seem to accept bureaucratic constraints that negatively affect what happens in schools.

That and, like Charlie, I don't see any evidence the past year has changed their behavior. I was very proud of Sherry when she didn't vote yes on CSIPs she hadn't seen but oh my, that is such a low vbar.

Jan said...

Working Together: I was less involved with board governance stuff in 2007, but my vague recollection is that part of the "change" in the board at that time resulted from a sense that we had maybe a little too much activism (even if we liked the folks) and wanted some more sober, experienced management sorts. I don't really have any good facts to back that up--but am thinking of the "failed" round of school closures, etc. There was a sense that the group didn't work effectively together.

These guys certainly do that -- but here is what I found disappointing. I would have thought, from management types, a better comprehension of the level of integrity and honesty with respect to the products delivered to them by staff, staff follow through, etc. The "contract" that MGJ had them all sign at the first board retreat; the failure to ask for required reports; the failure to get good data and answers from staff. While they are not throwing things at each other and storming from the room, I can't quite imagine "non-experienced" folks doing any worse in the actual "being awake and caring" part of the job.

I worry that certain of the challengers may end up causing major distractions by being too abrasive, or not thoughtful enough -- but I am confident that all four really really care about the current district issues and are ready to dive wholeheartedly into trying to improve schools and district governance.

I guess if I was "betting" four years ago that four folks (none of whom understood the issues very well, because almost no one does, coming into this job) at least understood how to manage, I was wrong. Now, I am "betting" that four new incumbents can learn, pretty quickly, from Kay, Michael and Betty how to curb any tendencies to be "too activist" or too abrasive.

I think Charlie captured my thoughts best -- they willfully choose not to govern. They willfully choose not to press for answers when they know there are problems. They choose to allow staff to deliver dishonest, incomplete, biased reports, though the problems are obvious to parents and others, and though they know they have been "rolled" by staff in the past.