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Sunday, March 11, 2012

School Board Meeting Review

It was a lively meeting to be sure.  I stayed until after the discussion of the introduction of the TFA item.  Here are links (Part 2 - testimony, Part 3- rest of meeting).

The testimony was more varied than I might have expected as TFA was not the only issue discussed.  In fact, testimony about Graham Hill's preschool led to discussion at the Audit & Finance Committee meeting the next day and Sherry Carr's community meeting yesterday.  I will sum it up here but it deserves another thread of its own as it is a larger part of the discussion about the budget.

I am going to write a separate thread on the TFA testimony as it is quite telling to the discussion about ending the contract. 

Two people, Chris Jackins and me, spoke to the Board approval of the final closeout of the Garfield project.  For the record, Chris is right in saying that the project was not on-budget (the district is fond of saying BEX projects are) and Garfield was funded by both BEX II and BEX III.  It also took over the the World School's funding of $14M and now that figure is down to $10M for them without explanation.

Two speakers, Dan Dempsy and Rick Burke, spoke about the math issues our district has as relates to the instructional materials policy.

Graham Hill's issue is a little hard to track and I have written to their co-presidents to try to find information to flesh out this issue.  What I understand is that Graham Hill has the oldest running preschool in the district.  At some point, it became a Montessori pre-school to complement the Montessori program they have for their K-5.  However, they did not want to charge full-freight for parents in the pre-school program (reason unknown) and were charging a higher kindergarten fee to off-set those costs.  They had been charging $372 for kindergarten and $350 for preschool.

Now before Pay for K came into being, this was allowable.  But when the Board set the fee for Pay for K across the district and the district became responsible for taking those fees, that ability to charge higher went away.  The Graham Hill parents who spoke at the Board meeting said that their school had not been notified in a timely manner that they could no longer control what they charged for kindergarten and naturally, that endangered the pre-school.

The division/misunderstanding seems to be that GH believes Dr. Enfield said they COULD continue to charge whatever they wanted for kindergarten and they were challenging the SB's authority to override that decision.  I don't know what Dr. Enfield said or didn't say to GH but the Board is in charge of voting to set fees and they did vote in a mandatory kindergarten fee for ALL schools.  I agree that all schools should have been duly notified what this might mean to their programs.

So it seems what happened is that GH says they did not realize the impact of this policy last year until December and asked the district to subsidize the pre-school for the rest of that year.  The district did so but now GH wants them to do it again until they can figure out what to do to pay for the pre-school program.  This cost has been $70K per year.

(Sherry Carr verified that this is the issue as it stands but neither she nor I have all the dates of who said what and when.)

So I'll leave that issue at that until I get to the Audit & Finance Committee.  But it is interesting because the parents are phrasing as the Board is interfering with the Superintendent's decision and I don't think that is the case.

We also had a speaker, Rob Eleveld, who put forth this idea of a new group, Moderate Voice of Parents, which he said supports a single issue which is "professional corporate governance" and that Policy 1620 is a good first step.  He didn't say who is starting this group, when it started and I can't find anything on-line about them.  Odd.

So onto the agenda.

Dr. Enfield gave the round-up of good news in the district.

The Board comments were sparse.  Martin-Morris did make a point of saying that arts are core and not an add-on but I missed the context to his remarks.  Smith-Blum pointed out the upcoming "capacity management meetings" and Michael gently corrected her that they were BEX IV meetings.  That is an important point to make - it is not just about capacity management for BEX IV.

DeBell went over the superintendent search, noting that the application window closes on Friday, March 23rd.  He said they have a large number of applications (I have heard upwards of 130) and he said the "community focus team" will interview finalists on April 23, 24, 25.   The Executive Committee is expected to name the focus group committee members this Wednesday the 14th.  I expect it to be populated with the usual suspects but I hope to be pleasantly surprised.  (I believe the consultant group, HYA, will pare the finalists down to 20 and name their top 10.  However, the Board will get 20 applications to look at to make sure they see ALL the top finalists.)

They then got to the action item to approve a two-minute limit for speakers at Board meetings.  Patu said she liked the 3-minute time as that is how she receives information AND finds out how she is doing.  Peaslee agreed and said that they could encourage people to use less time if they didn't need a full three minutes.  Harium said he was against the idea as there may be the perception that the Board doesn't want to listen to the public and that he looked around and saw many districts nationwide that do use a 3-minute limit.  He said the City and the Port (which use 2-minutes) aren't "us."

The other Board members, however, did vote to support the measure and it passed.  Carr blandly said that we need to look at how we receive public input.  Every Board says this and then does nothing.

The modified Waiver of Basic Instructional Materials Policy passed 7-0.  It now has the addition of a school being able to appeal to the Board if the Superintendent denies their waiver.  The issue of finding funding for materials for the waiver is still a little dicey.  The district will give money (if they have it) but they may not give the same amount to each school.  Naturally, each school can also rearrange their money or find grant money or raise the money themselves.

Next they had the renamed of F.A. McDonald elementary to be F.A. McDonald International School.  I put this in only because the Board complains of the length of the Board meetings and then has 6 staff members from McDonald come forward, introduce themselves and then talk about the change.  Really?

Then they got to the TFA Intro item.   Again, I will go over this section in a TFA thread on the Board meeting.

I missed the rest of the meeting but I reviewed the tape for Policy 1620 discussion.  I thought it was a fine piece of work that the entire Board worked on together at their Board retreat.  Anyone who says they can't work together is NOT paying attention.  (Interestingly, Dr. Enfield was not able to attend the retreat.)  Both Patu and DeBell said they thought the work had gone well at the retreat.

There was a bit of discussion about adding a piece at the beginning of policy stating that the Board holds the Superintendent accountable (after the section on Board being governance and the Superintendent enacting policy).   McLaren left mid-way through this discussion for a community meeting.

Issue of superintendent enforcing policy, according to DeBell, is that "all employees need to understand and enforce the policies that are relevant to their work.  The Board itself has no obvious tools to ensure that policies are being followed."  He said the Internal Auditor is one place where the Board could do enforcement. 

On Garfield, Patu asked about more money to Garfield project.  She expressed her concern on that.  Ron English said the school was completed in 2008 and the Board transferred, in 2009, $1.2M.  Staff did note at that time there were $5M of outstanding claims and this approves it.   The dilemma is to settle the claim. 

Patu asked if this would complete the project and, to my surprise, Mr. English said there are a few small issues of $4k or $5k (for the mediation board) but no outstanding claims or work to be done.  

DeBell handed out a "gold star" to Ron English for saving the district money in this mediation.  DeBell is right but frankly, it should not have gotten to this point but that's not Mr. English's arena.  DeBell called it "saving money for student needs."  I think he misses the bigger point which is that we spent way too much money on one building and took money away from other worthy projects.

21 comments:

David said...

130 applicants for superintendent is good news.

Can anyone elaborate on the math instructional materials issue? Does this relate to allowing schools to use Singapore Math instead of the awful Discovery Math (or, even better, making Singapore Math the default)? Where are we on that?

Wondering said...

Why would Enfield agree to pay $70K for pre-school while laying off elementary school counselors?

Melissa Westbrook said...

David, yes the waiver is related to schools using different curriculum for any subject, not just math. There is now a process that schools follow to make this request to the district. Charlie and I think it is a more elaborate process than it should be but the fact that schools can appeal to the Board if the Super says no is good.

Keep in mind, this the school's request and parents cannot use this process on their own.

Wondering, again, I'm piecing this together on GH and I think they paid it last year because GH received notice late about the district not allowing them to charge more for kindergarten. It is up in the air if they will do it again this year.

I doubt that Enfield made any promise besides "we'll look into."

Anonymous said...

Graham Hill's issue is a little hard to track and I have written to their co-presidents to try to find information to flesh out this issue. What I understand is that Graham Hill has the oldest running preschool in the district. At some point, it became a Montessori pre-school to complement the Montessori program they have for their K-5. However, they did not want to charge full-freight for parents in the pre-school program (reason unknown) and were charging a higher kindergarten fee to off-set those costs. They had been charging $372 for kindergarten and $350 for preschool.

Now before Pay for K came into being, this was allowable. But when the Board set the fee for Pay for K across the district and the district became responsible for taking those fees, that ability to charge higher went away. The Graham Hill parents who spoke at the Board meeting said that their school had not been notified in a timely manner that they could no longer control what they charged for kindergarten and naturally, that endangered the pre-school.


Not quite correct. We started at the GH Montessori pre-school in 1998. The program started in the early '90s and did begin as a Montessori Preschool with tuition for 3–5-yr-olds. It was established because the school was under enrolled primarily due to the fact that it sits practically next to TWO Jewish Orthodox synagogues—hence a large portion of the surrounding families would never send their children to public school.

The tuition covered the cost for one additional 3-4-5 classroom, with the 3–4s attending mornings only, and the two groups of 5s coming together as a pure kindergarten in the afternoon. That structure still holds. The Montessori parents raised funds to provide scholarships to low-income families.

Over the years, tuition had to increase. When full-day kindergarten started to charge for tuition, then Principal Birgit McShane opted to not charge the students in the two traditional K classes, but did charge the Montessori Ks, as she only had enough money to fund two K classes.

The finances around the program have always been messy, with the school controlling tuition payments, etc. The school admin was always lax about collections and some parents got a free ride who should not have. Funding the program has always been an issue, but parents have always stepped up.

Over the years, tuition continued to increase, and at one point the PTA decided that the Montessori parents could no longer fundraise separately for tuition scholarships, reducing the number of low-income kids in the class. This was, of course, a huge mistake on the PTA's part, but they were concerned that people perceived that the Montessori students somehow "got more" than the others. Financially, they did not, though they did have a much greater level of parent involvement, etc. What they did was create a program that is much more elite and less diverse when it began. From 1998–2006, my Euro-American daughter was in the the minority in her Montessori classroom.

The program has been on the chopping block at various times, and has somehow managed to survive. I don't know what a fair and equitable solution would be, but it is accurate that the District threw this latest boondoggle at the school with little to no warning. The parents are willing to work hard to pay for it and are not expecting something for nothing. They just want the time to find a solution. They love to be able to offer preschool to all.

Solvay

Anonymous said...

130 applicants, huh?

Remember how The Alliance and The Elite and frankly DeBell and Martin-Morris and Sundquist and Maier moaned and groaned that if we didn't keep Enfield we wouldn't in a million years be able to attract a superintendent?

ROFL

DistrictWatcher

dan dempsey said...

Hey ...
The problem is not in attracting applicants for SPS Superintendent but rather in selecting one that can bring about significant improvement in academics. Enfield arrived mid 2009 and showed herself to be highly skilled at playing politics and completely unable to bring about academic improvement for educationally disadvantaged learners and many others. [[She also wrote atrocious error filled action reports]]

The District is set on TopDown decision-making and the use of instructional practices that are largely ineffective and inefficient. I am sure that the SPS can find another Superintendent to administer misdirection equally as well.

It is clear from the Common Core State Standards and the pushing for Teach for America that a cadre of intelligent knowledgeable teaching professionals is not desired. ((Nor should the public be listened to --- two minutes is enough))

In "Visible Learning for Teachers" Hattie shows that to greatly improve instruction in a school requires decision-making at the school level by an empowered knowledgeable faculty with a plan. The political leaders of Seattle and WA state have no interest in such actions or plans for schools.

It is not about improving education but rather following tribal leaders. ... Tough Luck kids.

Melissa Westbrook said...

District Watcher, in fairness, there may be a large number of less-than-qualified applicants in that pool.

But I agree. I think there are plenty of great people who are able to take a lot of issues in stride and see what a great place SPS and Seattle can be. Anyone who has been a superintendent has had to deal with a School Board. Has had to deal with curriculum. Has had to deal with parents. If any of this were a shock to an applicant, then they are new to being a superintendent.

Anonymous said...

I just bought "Visible Learning for Teachers", thanks to Dan Dempsey. Anything you recommend, I'm right on it.

You Rock!

--(not) enough already

Anonymous said...

The Graham Hill Montessori prek program was up and running well before 1998.


Former GH Mont. teacher

Anonymous said...

If you read my post I stated that the Montessori program started in the early '90s. My daughter started there in 1998.

Solvay

Anonymous said...

My mistake, Solvay. Tired eyes!

GH Mont. teacher

Anonymous said...

GH Mont Teacher–I know that issue; I'm at the point where I sometimes have to read things twice.

I hope the District can come up with a way to keep the program functioning. The new rules make it difficult as the parents, as you know, were always happy to raise the money to keep the program running. Preschool is an integral part of the Montessori Philosophy. The multi-age classroom allows children to work at their own pace and become mentors as they get older. I remember my 4-yr-old coming home with the news, "Miss Maureen let me do Kindergarten work today."

Solvay

Dorothy Neville said...

Isn't Graham Hill a Title 1 school so wasn't supposed to be charging for Kindy? What the school board agreed to recently was that the Title 1 principals no longer wanted this restriction/requirement on their Title 1 allocation. Now the non-FRL kids at those schools along with non-FRL kids everywhere will be subsidizing Pay4K district wide.

Melissa Westbrook said...

"The new rules make it difficult as the parents, as you know, were always happy to raise the money to keep the program running."

Could you explain this? Because there as I understand it, there is nothing stopping parents from raising money for kindergarten or preschool scholarships.

Chris S. said...

Rob Eleveld's wife works for ---wait for it!--the Gates Foundation.

Google "Eleveld Seattle."

Anonymous said...

Melissa–in 2006 the PTA, headed by a parent with a child in the traditional program, put a stop to any separate Montessori fundraising (including scholarships for low-income pre-school families and purchase of Montessori materials not covered by SPS). It was part of the fall-out from the proposed closure of Graham Hill that year as many higher-ups (including the principal at the time) felt the program was divisive.

Prior to that time, there was specific fundraising for scholarships that did not impact the rest of the fundraising for the school. The GH PTAs, most often comprised entirely of parents in the Montessori Program conducted fundraisers that benefited the entire school—including the major playground project ($400,000) in 2005. The PTAs provided field trip buses, as well as funds for assemblies and classroom supplies.

Obviously, that policy could change, but it would take agreement from all involved, including staff. It continues to be a touchy topic. Traditionally, the Montessori classrooms have more parent volunteers, etc. I'd be happy to discuss this with you via email.

Solvay

Anonymous said...

Dorothy. When we were there GH was allotted TWO free all-day kindergartens. Birgit McShane, opted to keep the two traditional pre-schools tuition-free (as they had the higher percentage of FRL students), with the Montessori Ks essentially paying for the second half of their day. Most M parents happily paid to keep the other classrooms free. This was still the case when we "graduated" in 2006.

Solvay

Dorothy Neville said...

Thanks, Solvay. It's an extremely complicated situation, eh? But there is no such thing as free, so the question would be, who paid for the free all-day-K classrooms? Title 1?

I wasn't at the most recent A&F committee meeting, and am looking forward to Melissa posting more about it. This did come up at a previous A&F committee meeting and there was head-scratching. The district should not be paying for preschool out of apportionment, so where does the money for preschool come from? The big sheet summary of all school funding listed GH as getting both Title 1 and LAP, but that's not supposed to happen. Staff was supposed to report back to clarify that. I haven't heard that they have yet.

Anonymous said...

Back in our day, I believe the "free" Ks were Title 1...the school's FRL was around 60% at the time.

It is extremely complicated, and not well-served by GH's past issues (we saw NINE principals—including iterims—in SIX years). I remember when our last principal came in (Not the current principal), she didn't even know how the Montessori pre-school functioned. I watched her jaw drop when we (PTA Board) told her what the tuition was (then close to $300/mo. if my memory serves me well).

I honestly have no idea how much the District has contributed to the preschool over its history. I know funding the preschool has been an issue since at least 1998.

Solvay

Charlie Mas said...

Once again, Director Patu used the board meeting as a place to ask a question that she really should have asked through an email long in advance of the meeting.

This time the question was about the "warranty" on the final acceptances on the consent agenda.

Charlie Mas said...

In the board discussion of the Teach for America contract, Director Martin-Morris suggested that terminating a contract makes the board look bad. He also, oddly, said that he didn't think it was worthwhile to go through all of this debate and drama for six employees. Which seems to support the termination of the contract so we can put all of the debate and drama behind us. It was a strange, mixed message and didn't suggest any rational basis for a decision, but, instead, two irrelevant bases for a decision.

Director Patu spoke, but I'm not really sure what she said. She seemed to be saying that we have plenty of certificated teachers available. Director Martin-Morris was right to deliver a smack-down. Of course, his argument would support the idea of the Board having nothing to do with the contract in the first place.

Director Peaslee did a good job of responding to Director Martin-Morris' odd concern that we were not meeting our obligations under the contract. The termination process is part of the contract. She also spoke to the real concern - the training is inadequate.

Director McLaren spoke well to the concern about putting the least-prepared teachers in front of our most demanding classes.

Director DeBell claimed that peer districts use Teach for America and he considers it an innovation. He referred to the "monopoly" of schools of education and the diverse quality of the students leaving those programs.