Tuesday, March 06, 2012

School Board Meeting Tomorrow

Since the holiday break in December, the Board meetings have been somewhat sleepy affairs with the speakers list not being full and just a little jousting as the School Board adjusts to its new make-up.

Tomorrow night (and two weeks in the future) should be somewhat different.  What's the difference?

Well, for one, the Board is finally voting on the now infamous Policy 1430 - Waivers of Basic Instructional Materials Policy.   There were two amendments, one of which is incorporated into the new policy wording.  That amendment came from Director Peaslee and would allow schools an appeal to the Board should the Superintendent deny a waiver request.  I am glad this is part of the policy even as I believe it will be a rare day when the Board would override the Superintendent's decision. 

The other amendment, to allow for district funding for schools that cannot afford to pay for materials on their own, was dropped by Director Peaslee.   However, the policy has been altered to say that schools can seek funding from the district or other sources, in addition to grant/school funding.  It is clear that even if the district has the money, they may choose to fund different schools in different amounts.

Two, is the introduction of a motion to drop the contract with Teach for America.  I always smile when I see the Board room packed as it can be such a little club of gadflies, old-timers and well, the rest of us.  Get one hot topic and suddenly everyone is very interested in Board meetings.  

As I previously mentioned, I do find it annoying that the Action report says that "the fiscal impact to this action will be zero."  This is NOT true and I am going to ask that this wording be changed by voting time in two weeks. 

This is one of the tersest motions I have ever seen.  I have to wonder about its authorship.

There is also the introduction of the revised (and also infamous) Board Procedure 1620BP.   I see by the revisions that this is a kinder, gentler and more collegial document than I had previously seen.  Good for ALL the Board members for putting in this work at last weekend's Board retreat.  It reads better and I think that any superintendent candidate would get a good feeling from it.  (Rumor is that there are a rather large number of applications coming in.  This is also good news.)

I see by the speakers list that there are large number of people speaking to both the TFA contract and the Board Procedure 1620BP.   The student speakers are to be students from Nova High School and that's always a treat as they are a fairly articulate bunch.

The pro-TFA list is quite large.  There's the local head of TFA, Lisa MacFarlane (lately of DFER), several other TFA formers and employees and Liv Finne of the Washington Policy Center (they always confuse me because they don't like government spending and yet they support this kind of extra spending).  There is one actual TFA teacher from Seattle speaking and that will be interesting.  I'm pretty sure at least one pro-TFA speaker will cry (even though there is an unspoken rule about no crying at School Board meetings unless someone has died). 

I'm last on the speakers list and it's a tough call about whether to speak only about TFA or one other issue. 

What would be that last issue?  The long and drawn out Introduction to the "Final Acceptance of the work performed and settlement of Impact Claims under Public Works Contract, blah, blah" for Garfield.  The district has finally come to agreement with various vendors on a final accounting for cost overruns on Garfield.

Basically, the Board is to transfer $605,000 out of BEX III savings to pay off Garfield.  (I love how the district brags about saving money only to see it go out the door for some other reason.  Understand that sum is now not available for any number of other projects.)  

Is this motion written so an average person could discern exactly what happened and how much it cost?   Of course not.  I'll even have to go to watchdog Chris Jackins for some explanation.

Basically, I think it says this:

Original budget - $ 74M (well, it was $50M but that was in 2004; this amount is from 2006)
Change orders -   $ 14M
Sales tax on that  $   7M
                            $ 96.7M

If only the district had just spent $96.7M on Garfield but no.   You really should read the narrative - it's great reading.   The district has been working on these claims for three years.  They had most of them settled but had to go to a Disputes Review Board that was established for this project (no telling how much that cost someone). 

The change orders totalled nearly 20% of the budget but the district says in renovations of historic structures, this can happen.

So the current total project budget is "forecast" to be $116,834,444.  I'll let the motion take over from here:

This represents an increase of $38,054,444, or 48 percent, from the original 2001 project budget of  $78,780,000. 

Now the project already took $1.45M from BEX III to fund change orders at Garfield based on their belief that the total project costs could go as high as $119M but whoo, hoo, it didn't go that high.   But wait, there's more:

Reimbursement of Capital Eligible Projects (CEP) Fund: The CEP fund was used to pay $2,250,458 in Garfield project costs (including $99,866 for this contract).  Reimbursement to the CEP fund of this amount from Building Excellence funds will be addressed in the Capacity Management discussions in March and April, 2012.

The "Construction Closeout Summary" goes on about how this building received a number of awards.

Was it on-time and on-budget?  No.  That's what voters like to hear especially when we are about to discuss how to hit them up for even MORE dough next Feb. 

Also, ask Director Smith-Blum if the building is really "finished".  

This "Summary" says:

GHS was impacted the most of all the BEX II projects by hyper- escalation which is the single most reason for the substantial budget overage.

My answer to that is to say the district said this over and over for years.  They were using the same tired reports in the Action reports to the Board for years about the rising costs.  Was there a bad period for construction costs?  Yup.  Do I believe it is the "single most reason" for the overages at Garfield?  I do not.

The district had better have some good answers about how they will do things differently under BEX IV.  We cannot afford this kind of building.  We cannot afford every historic rebuild.  We cannot have rotundas in K-8s.  We need good solid buildings that afford flexible spaces for learning and safe and comfortable buildings for students and staff.

I hope this isn't just passed off as "we'll do better next time."  Keep in mind that even with the generosity of Seattle voters that it will be a tough sell to voters in Feb. 2013 for BEX IV.


dw said...

I'm last on the speakers list and it's a tough call about whether to speak only about TFA or one other issue.

I know this isn't exactly a question for the audience, but I'll offer a suggestion.

The issues around Garfield construction are certainly problematic (both for Garfield specifically, and in general moving forward), but this particular deal is more or less done. You're not going to affect anyone's vote on it, and there will be more board meetings in the near future to have these discussions.

But the TFA issue is on everyone's minds right now, and there is at least a slight chance that one or two directors might be on the fence. Plus we know there will be a gaggle of TFA supporters speaking that need to be balanced out. Your call, of course, but that's my input.

StopTFA said...

Brian Rosenthal reports there are 12 speakers on the waiting list. How much you want to bet it is the TFA Alumni class of (insert year here). What?! They didn't score their spot three weeks in advance like seven months ago?

Anonymous said...

I got this response from Kay Smith-Blum to my email urging the end of the TFA contract.

"I continue to listen to our principals with regard to this issue. As many of them feel they would like TfA as an option in their hiring pool, I believe it is my duty to support them. As our HR department develops processes that strengthen our ability to "grab on" to our own student teachers, I believe that process, in the long run, represents our best option for bringing teachers of color and innovative instructors into our system. This transformation should take about 2 years, about the length of the existing contract with TfA. Until then, TfA is another tool in our tool box which many highly respected principals say they want."

I continue to be baffled by the inability of intelligent people to comprehend the facts.

-dismayed teacher

Anonymous said...

And here is my response. I am not very hopeful but I had to say something.


Thank you very much for taking the time to respond to my email. I appreciate it, but I am not satisfied with your rationale.

I have to wonder how many principals feel strongly about this issue; so strongly, in fact, that they would be willing to further alienate their teaching staff. I also wonder whether you give equal weight to the vast majority of teachers in this district who are overwhelmingly opposed to the presence of TFA. It falls on us to provide the extensive mentoring and support they require and the negative impact they have on the teaching profession is carried squarely on our backs.

Your decision to support the continuation of the contract is based on three very flawed assumptions.

1. That there is a lack of talent in the teaching pool. I find this insulting both to the teachers currently working in SPS and the bright young certified new teachers entering the profession.

2 That TFA beings diversity to the hiring pool. It doesn't. The data is very clear. Have you looked at the statistics?

3. That TFA brings innovative teaching to the district. This is the most egregious of your misconceptions. Innovative teaching takes years to develop. Perhaps 1 in every 50 TFA corps members has a natural gift for teaching that over time will develop into truly innovative practice. The assumption that an Ivy League education and 5 weeks of "training" means innovation is based, at best, on wishful thinking. I have an Ivy League education and TFA training, but it took a year of study in a School of Education, student teaching, and 3 years of classroom experience before I became proficient. Innovative, as defined by the Danielson framework (which I assume you are familiar with) is difficult to accomplish even for master teachers with many years of professional development, hard work, and experience.

I am National Board certified and have earned the Innovative rating. I know what it takes to meet the high standards set out in the framework. I can assure you unequivocally, that there is no way to achieve them as a 1st year or 2nd year teacher, no matter how smart, well educated, ambitious, or dedicated you may be. Please don't further insult the teachers in this district and our profession by claiming that TFA corps members will bring innovation.

I have always respected your reasonable and intelligent approach to the complex issues facing our schools. Right now, I am just perplexed. Please reconsider your position. What harm would there be if the contract is rescinded? If there is any, it is surely far less than the damage to teacher morale and confidence in our elected School Board.

-dismayed teacher

Anonymous said...

Dear dismayed -

your response is well thought out and well presented - and it doesn't matter to her social class.

she's 1 of them, she's not 1 of us.

when it matters, she'll be on the side of those who know better because they're succe$$ful, and, you are NOT.

I'm sure Jonathan Knapp will find all kinds of reasons to stay BFFs with Kay and Tim and Michael Debell - the rest of us teachers should be keeping our ears to the ground to get candidates like Sharon & Kate & Jack ...Marty ? Michelle?

the rest of us teachers better be willing to HELP the opponents to KSB in the summer of 2013, or, we'll get a school board of those who know best for those of us who know no body.


StopTFA said...

As another observer pointed out to me; TFA seemed to have toned down their usual hyperbolic tone about "best and brightest" and wanting to bring world peace and end hunger. What I heard tonight was:

It's not fair people talk about us on blogs.

It's not fair you quoted my statement from an LA Time interview

It's not fair to "ban" TFA from applying for schools.

It's not true that TFA are "taking" jobs from fully-certified teachers;

It's not fair our extraordinary and superhuman efforts aren't counted for more than what other teachers do every single day.

I was (indirectly) called out as "unfairly" exposing candidate personal information. Well, let it be know that, after the seemingly typical political theater led by TFA and our 148K/yr Comm Dir, we ended up with, yet again, a focus on the poor ole maligned TFA teacher.

I feel strongly that alternative certification laws were developed for paras and mid-career changers to move into teaching roles. There's is NO STOPPING truly extraordinarily talented individuals to apply under Alt Cert Rtes 3 or 4. However this does not fit the TFA paradigm It is only TFA and other Urban Residency models that wish to foist untrained, unskilled novice teachers upon our most vulnerable students.