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Tuesday, December 13, 2011

School District in the News

There have been a couple of stories about the school district appearing in the Seattle Times of late.

Among them:

Schools face $50M in 'glass palace' debt about the money owed on the purchase and construction of the JSCEE - a scheme that was doomed from the start.

School board may ease ban on junk food about proposed changes in the district's policy on vending machine food. This was followed by a weird and misguided editorial (as all Times editorials about Seattle Public Schools are weird and misguided), The Seattle School Board has the budget munchies.

41 comments:

Charlie Mas said...

I don't know what you all think, but I find Brian Rosenthal's reporting on the District to be refreshingly unbiased.

Anonymous said...

Move administration out of JSCEE. Put all of administration in portables. Without adequate common facilities. And make it clear that they may not be in the same portables at the same site next year.

Oompah

Anonymous said...

Agreed, Brian Rosenthal is a massive improvement to Seattle Times education reporting.

Hey, I know: turn the glass palace into a school to relieve over crowding and move SPS central administration to Rainier Beach High School. Win win!

Southie

Anonymous said...

I like Southie's suggestion—and make them all take Light Rail too. They can use the buddy-system walking to and from.

Solvay Girl

Charlie Mas said...

Here's a link to the David Sirota article that was in the print edition but does not appear online:

What Real Education Reform Looks Like

Jack Whelan said...

There's an excellent comment to the Glass Palace article at 6:54am by Cool Papa.

A huge problem for the district now is that it has no credibility with the public because of its dysfunction for the last decade, beginning with the decisions that led to the building of this white elephant. It really is the central metaphor for everything that is wrong with the district. It's a monument to SPS administrative hubris.

Now it's up to the new board to reverse the public perceptions and to build credibility, and that's not going to come overnight. Perhaps the board should create a position for Chris Jackins to give him veto power on any of its future financial schemes. He's been Elijah to the various district Ahabs over the last decade, and his prophetic voice deserves more official respect than it's gotten.

Charlie Mas said...

Ha! Put them all in portables! Ha!

Anonymous said...

I agree about Brian Rosenthal. I also agree with the Times editorial about the vending machines. We shouldn't fund extracurriculars at the cost of our kids' health. No to junk food in schools. Parents struggle enough to get our kids to eat healthy. There's a big difference between going off campus to find crap food and having it available right in the cafeteria.

-Still packing apple slices and carrot sticks to offset every donut/cookie/cupcake served at school/soccer/after school clubs

someone said...

I too thought it was much better reporting than in the past - which is saying something for the Times - and Charlie's comment really laid out some missing details - too bad Rosenthal didn't talk to someone like him for background.

I kept reading it having a feeling that something else is out there waiting to be discovered about this story - but given the sad state of SPS accounting practices, it'll probably remain that way...

Melissa Westbrook said...

Somesaid, I was there at the presentation and I'll do a detailed thread on what went wrong and where we stand now with JSCEE. It's not pretty. Some of the people directly involved in this mess still work at headquarters and need to go.

Chris Jackins, me and especially the late Roscoe Bass were on this story for a long time (lonely voices in the wind). In fact, Sherry Carr stated her regret that Roscoe didn't live to see this accounting.

As far as the junk food, if the district would bring their own policy in line with the state/feds, they could sell more variety of food (not soda as it is not part of the guidelines and should not be part of a teen diet).

The district PROMISED to help these kids when they lost all this money. Either help in funding or ideas. It didn't happen.

Where can these kids fund their activities? Car washes? Candy sales? We're in a bad economy. So kids only get to participate in activities through ASB funds and at the less-well-off schools, it's dire.

And lastly, hilarious that the Times in its editorial finally recognizes how badly this district has been managed over the last ten years.

Jack Whelan said...

Also about the vending machine issue. I'm probably in the minority on this one, but let high school ASBs decide for themselves what they want to put in the machines. I think they should be trusted to provide a variety of choices that meet teenager snacking needs, and would it be so terrible if among the choices was Snickers bar or a bag of potato chips?

I'm not for promoting unhealthy eating, but this Puritanism about food that has characterized much of the horror at the idea of loosening the vending machine criteria seems extreme in the other direction. There is a kind of fussy paternalism here regarding adult attempts to control high-school ages food choices that is over-the-top.

RosieReader said...

I agree that loosening the rules on junk food in reasonable, incremental ways is necessary. Last night our PTSA Board (High School level) met to consider the most recent set of grants. We're an "emerging" PTSA, not a fundraising powerhouse, and were pretty proud that we had about $9000 to allocate. (We do this twice a year.) The nature of many of the grants underscored just how much we've shortchanged our classrooms and students in past years. Our art room needs a rack to dry things -- imagine, an art room with no way to manage the work product. Our special needs classroom needs a sofa that is not dilapidated. Our ultimate players are trying to allow everyone to play, and since they're a club, the many FRL students don't get the subsidies available for varsity sports, so they asked for a modest amount. Not to mention the needs of a brand new rocket club, a request for textbooks and supplemental classroom books and funding a visiting writer.

These are not frivolous extras. If selling vitamin water and "energy" bars that don't contain oats helps to cover some of this, I'm all for it.

Kathy said...

Southie might have a valid point. Using the John Stanford Building for High School could relieve overcrowding related to Queen Anne, Magnolia and Garfield populations.

Eric or Kelly- What do you think?

I found the title of Rosenthal's article (related to vending machines) to be inflammatory. The title did not reflect the nature of the policy. SPS doesn't need more controversy.

Kathy said...

Sorry, I meant to say "title" of article relating to vending machines did not accurately reflect policy.

KG said...

Sell the Glass Palace Shrine and move to Lowell and cut Central admin. down to 3% and use the savings to bring back counselors in the WSS and the rest to directly help students and at the same time reduce the deficit.

This probably makes to much common sense, but if kids have to go to school in junk then why can't the central admin. do the same?

Melissa Westbrook said...

Kathy, blame the headline writers, not Rosenthal. He has zero input on that issue.

Kids, seriously, where could we put headquarters? We are using almost every available building. Where would you put all those people and services (the Central kitchen is there)?

Anonymous said...

"We shouldn't fund extracurriculars at the cost of our kids' health. No to junk food in schools"

Sorry Jack, couldn't disagree with you more on this one. And the timing of talking about revenues through vending machines once again I find absolutely disgusting. The Board did not fulfill their verbal commitment (oh, yes, because of the economy.....in 2008!) My child would spend every extra bit of change (if she had it) buying crap
but instead she's paying for Metro to go to and from home. It seems to me kids buying the snacks would most likely be those with discretionary change in their pockets. If they want the real junk food, indeed I think that the students should have to take their time and energy to actually go get it somewhere else. I'm certain that that actual decision prevents some of the junk purchases.

And Melissa or Charlie, can either of you answer the question as to why the Alliance provided the Facilitator and Coordinator for the Board Retreat?

Two and a half years to go.

mirmac1 said...

I say get rid of a bunch of those people. My guess is, in that warren of cubbies, more than half the employees are taking long lunches and sitting at their desks NOT answering their phone or email.

KG said...

Melissa,

Kids? The kids are the ones allowing central admin. to lie and
cheat our kids futures and they start with the cheif financial officer.

To me this blog needs to work on this issue harder.

I know that many apparently find this acceptable. To muh Kool-Aid.

Sharon Peaslee said...

On the junk food issue-- the conversation the SB had with students who brought the issue before us had NOTHING to do with easing restrictions on junk food. It had to do with increasing the container size limit on foods and drinks so that we could put more variety of healthy foods/drinks in the vending machines. Very few high school students want to buy orange and apple juice or water, the only beverages currently allowed in our machines due to the size limit. The nutritional standards allow for more, such as vitamin waters and sports drinks. But these are in bigger bottles than current district standards allow. So this was what we discussed changing.

As far as nutritional standards go it was raised that our standards are higher than the state. It was also agreed that we won't discuss any possible changes until the new Fed guidelines come out around January. But there is NO intention to allow junk food in the vending machines.

Jan said...

I do wonder, Melissa, if it might make sense to consider the sale of the building. This is a pretty bad "down" market -- and thus not a great time to sell. It might be preferable to hold off for a few years, if they can swing the payments in the interim -- and THEN sell. Of course, this all depends on building valuation, etc.

As for where central admin goes -- I think that the board should tell them to look for empty space in closed schools (if any are left) and then --- if there are none, to look for cheap (i.e. NOT downtown) rental space -- which there is TONS of!

And -- if they have to get "split up" between 3 or 4 buildings -- fine. I realize it is a hassle, but far less of one than even 10 years ago, given the internet, video conferencing, etc.

I also wonder -- if they "reopen" a closed building, but use it for office space, rather than school space -- does it cost the same amount to reopen?

ArchStanton said...

Move administration out of JSCEE. Put all of administration in portables. Without adequate common facilities. And make it clear that they may not be in the same portables at the same site next year.

I love this idea SOOO much!

dw said...

Jack, I love most of your posts here (voted for you in the primary :-) ), but strongly disagree on this issue.

Some level of junk food will make its way into most of our kids no matter what we teach or show them. That's just life. But there's absolutely no way I want it in the schools. That's tacit approval, and maybe even encouragement for them to solidify bad habits at a young age.

I'm sure there are plenty gray-area vending items, but if you allow each building's ASB to decide, one can easily imagine the wealthier schools' parents figuring out how to mitigate things, but not the less well off buildings. There's a strong correlation between poverty and obesity/diabetes, and the sales & marketing arms of the junk food corporations will jump at any chance to increase their sales. They are not friends of children.

A great quote in this article: The Link Between Poverty, Obesity and Diabetes says: "Many poor people in this country are consuming an excess of nutritionally-depleted, cheap calories from sodas, processed foods, and junk food. These folks scarcely eat whole, fresh foods at all, and for good reason: We have made calories cheap, but real food expensive."

Allowing junk food into the schools will disproportionately affect poor families. Not a good plan.

The Coca Cola Corporations of the world are all over this, and they do not deserve to "win" while kids "lose".

Dorothy Neville said...

I agree with Charlie about Brian's reporting being refreshingly candid and fair. I agree with Kathy that the headline on the Junk Food article was unnecessarily inflammatory (and not Brian's fault). I can attest that Sharon Peaslee is accurate that the discussion was on making our nutritional guidelines match the Fed guidelines (which are stricter than they were in 2004) so that ASBs have more variety to offer. We will not be seeing Coke and Snickers in vending machines at schools (however, check the vending machines at JSCEE).

I appreciate Charlie's comment on the ST article about the 50 million dollar JSCEE debt. The only thing I take exception to is his statement that Sherry or Harium tried to keep this quiet before the election. Harium isn't involved in finance issues at all and I saw nothing from Sherry to show she tried to keep it quiet either. I attended every A&F committee meeting. If you have proof that Sherry worked to keep it quiet, please share.

There are advantages to the HQ being in one place. One of the budget guys after the presentation pointed to some, such as how he helps staff the enrollment desk during the enrollment crunch. That sort of cooperation isn't feasible when folks are siloed in separate facilities.

Duggan's candor and presentation was refreshingly unbiased and complete. The issue highlights some of the flaws over the past 10 years such as minimal minutes in committee meetings. He had only his institutional memory and the audio recording of some (minimal) discussion among board members at archived legislative meetings to go on with some of the intentions of actions from way past. One of the aftermaths of the famous 2008 accountability audit is that most of the committees have gotten MUCH better at insisting on complete Minutes.

It's really too bad we can't hold Don Nielsen and Joe Olchefske accountable for the bond mess.

dw said...

Sharon, thanks for the update. It's great to have the real scoop from those in the know, rather than secondhand misinformation. It sounds like the ST article was a bit misleading. Although it does have over 350 comments!

Oh, and Oompah, great comment about setting up portables for the administration. Wonderful visuals.

mirmac1 said...

Hey, we made the Today Show! WooHoo!

Junk food ban hurts schools

WV says I'm a nexual

dan dempsey said...

Dorothy wrote:
Harium isn't involved in finance issues at all and I saw nothing from Sherry to show she tried to keep it quiet either. I attended every A&F committee meeting. If you have proof that Sherry worked to keep it quiet, please share.

I spoke with Roscoe over a period of many months about his frustration in getting the Board to take any action on his concerns about how JSCEE and a lot of other items were and are financed. It was like trying to get the Board to initiate a search into which walnut shell the pea might be under. No one wanted to ever look .... but now we've found a moldy disgusting pea.

Sherry may not have "Kept it quiet"
but she certainly did not aggressively try to assist Roscoe.
=====

It is amazing how this incredible JSCEE debt was hidden, while AME bought a property for 25 cents on the dollar. ..... New Tech Network got $800,000 for something of little value.... and it looks like the TFA failure to look at "all options for closing achievment gaps" was because the TFA action was really about replacing expensive verteran teachers with much cheaper teachers. --- Dr. Julian V. Heilig has a paper on this emerging pervasive TFA practice. --- It is in use at recent Broad prize winning Charlotte-Mechlenburg SD ---- and MGJ was all about winning the Broad Prize.

Bird said...

I'm not for promoting unhealthy eating, but this Puritanism about food that has characterized much of the horror at the idea of loosening the vending machine criteria seems extreme in the other direction. There is a kind of fussy paternalism here regarding adult attempts to control high-school ages food choices that is over-the-top.

I'd be with you, Jack, if it were, say 1980. But today, something in the range of 20-25% of all adolescents are overweight or obese.

Obesity is a public health disaster, and it's not getting better.

Under those circumstances, I don't think you can put junk on offer in the schools in good conscience.

Dorothy Neville said...

Brian didn't use my quote on the junk food issue, but it wouldn't have passed his editor either.

Here's a question for you: Did the junk food ban result in healthier teens? If so, then I am all for such strict rules of what can be sold. If not, then how can we justify not relaxing the guidelines to include the products that are far better than the chips and snickers available off campus AND attractive enough to get the kids to spend their junk food money on?

dan dempsey said...

To payoff the $50,000,000 on JSCEE simply do the numbers. With about 50,000 students, we only need $1000 per student..... SPS spends $2,500+ per year more than Auburn.

Start paying attention to spending and selling.

The District had 111 instructional coaches for teachers... (say 100 X $100,000 per coach for salary and benefits .... there is a cool $10 million savings in one year.)

Stop the cavalier spending ... extra spending for Cleveland STEM option high was never really seen as an obstacle.

Try opening more schools to create more space at each school and to reduce transportation expense. With long term co-tenants at each school (Doctors, Dentists, or others) whose rent will cover the costs for the upgrade and on-going maintenance.

Replace all the District's teachers with TFA corps members ... that should do it. In fact the SPS will probably be able to buy a few more Post Offices.

Anonymous said...

Another public relations disaster for Seattle Public Schools. How can parents trust these people to manage education?

The focus at SPS should be about academics. There are so many improvements that could be made. Start with the math curriculum and go from there.

S parent

Pat said...

Good catch "dw"

Usually it is the vending salesman who contacts the Activity Coordinator who gets a stipend for fund raising but likes looong lunches and not answering the phone, so the two decide it would be a great idea to sell candy and gum to kids rather than anything resembling actual work like washing cars, selling magazines, etc.

And then the two enlist the kids to whine about not having candy.

Its adult behavior gone wrong and it should'nt have ever even made the paper.

Do they even know theres a war on?

Front page drivel.

Jan said...

I would imagine that it IS more convenient, cost effective, etc. to be in one building. But -- if you can't afford the building, that is a big problem!

If they can't figure out how to afford the building, we need to figure out whether the best, most fiscally prudent thing to do is to sell it, and do a cheaper, less convenient thing -- until we CAN afford a central building

dan dempsey said...

Jan,

The problem is not the "Building" it is the District. Yes the district bought something with a bogus plan for payment based on pure fantasy.... but ...

The real problem is decision-making and planning. As I've regularly pointed out many action reports that are approved are no more sound than the logic that produced the Glass Palace payment plan.

The JSCEE building can be easily paid off ... if the District will dump its very expensive Top Down centralized control plan.

As I've pointed out before the spending on Central Admin is absurd. HERE is the data. note at the Bottom that the SPS is spending $400 annually per student more than the state average.

Decentralizing decision-making about instructional materials and practices and putting academic action research at the teacher level would put the SPS in line with high performing nations and save a bundle.

In fact who knows teachers might even get possible career advancement by doing something other than mouthing fidelity to central administration's abysmal poorly functioning dictates.

Anonymous said...

It's time for the administrators and directors to get out of the way and let students raise serious cash. Their need is directly traced to the stupid, arrogant decisions made by these same adults.

Portables and bake sales. That's the kind of reform we can live with.

Mr. White

KG said...

Spot on Dan about Central Monster!!!!! CUT IT WAY BACK!!!!!

Patrick said...

Here's a question for you: Did the junk food ban result in healthier teens?

How would we know -- is there statistical information about teens' body mass index in Seattle?

I'm okay with them selling bigger servings of fruit juice. But I think they should stay away from selling things that are mostly starch or sugar. School should be a place to give kids a positive example, not a captive market to exploit.

Patrick said...

How can they have spent $50 million and gotten such a blah building?

Paul said...

Lets not forget the "Hero" whose deceit (most civil word available) and downright BS (couldn't hold back) was responsible for the purchase of JSCEE.

Although lionized since his passing, the guy was a total phony shill for the downtown wealthy. Remember his real estate commercials, or his "TV Show" that ended after the first uncomfortable question?

That guy makes Susan Enfield look like Tom Dooley (educator, not the one whose 'head hung down' and 'met her on the mountain').

And how did we find that icon who began the downhill slide? Yes kids, it was yet another "national search" facilitated by Don Nielsen and the Chamber.

Another reason to hold with Susan and give her a chance.

We don't need another empty flash in the pan like he was.

Michelle said...

Hey Paul

Obviously the generalissimo, right?

The "war hero" who actually handled supplies from the mainland right?

Yeah, that was the death of innocence.

Ed said...

Michelle

I think "death of innocence" occured long before Stanford got here. However, I think Paul raises a good point; "Stanfords folly" was a accident waiting to happen from the beginning and it was an obvious white elephant.

BUT NO ONE WAS ALLOWED TO SAY IT DUE TO A CULTURE OF LIONIZATIOON AND FEAR combinede at District.

For example, we kinda thought that because now may not be a good time to sell the veterans memorials at the Center, an idea might be to rent out the parking lots at JSCEE nights and weekends for sporting events, etc. However, we learned that Stanford signed away the districts right to do that when the place was bought.

Ah yes, the great innovator.

And we pickup the pieces while he never had to meet "accountability".

Maybe the board could "re-visit" THAT agreement with their pal Mayor Looney.