What's Weak This Week

There will be a board meeting this week and it's gonna be a doozy. Check out this incredibly long agenda. Good thing they cut twenty minutes from public testimony. Those twenty minutes were the whole problem that created long meetings. Now the Board meetings will be over in a flash.

As you can see from the agenda (and every single previous agenda ever), the board is primarily concerned with property management issues. A full 40% of all school board votes are property related. Sometimes I think that we shouldn't be looking for people with education experience for the school board so much as we should be looking for people with construction and property development experience. The Seattle School District is one of the biggest property owners in the state - think of the value of the District's real estate - yet they are renown for their atrocious property management skills. That really needs to change. Someone needs to take this real estate portfolio more seriously.

Outside of property management, the board will vote on the Teach for America contract and the Board Procedure 1620BP. It's a good thing that they are voting on the TfA contract first, because if they voted on 1620BP first then they would never take up the TfA contract. 1620BP clearly states: "The authority and responsibility for hiring and terminating employees is delegated to the Superintendent." and "Board Directors shall refer constituent feedback on personnel issues to the Superintendent." and, finally, "Individual Directors should not publicly express negative opinions about staff members or the Superintendent’s personnel decisions." So the whole discussion of the contract with Teach for America would be a violation of the Board Procedure 1620BP if it were adopted before the discussion about the contract. Some folks may think that I'm making some kind of joke, but I'm not. I have always said, from the very beginning, that the Board should not have voted on the Teach for America contract because hiring teachers is a management question, not a governance question, and the contract value does not exceed $250,000. This whole matter should have been handled by the superintendent by herself without any board involvement. The Board got involved because the contract obligates them to support the conditional certification of every TfA hire. Again, that was a bad idea. First, it was unnecessary because the Board has never failed to support a conditional certificate. Second, it's stupid to agree to endorse people before you know who they are. Teach for America and the superintendent should have just moved forward with the deal without the guarantee that the Board would endorse the conditional certificates for the corps members. The Board would have endorsed them anyway (because they have delegated hiring decisions to the superintendent) and there would have been a lot less drama.

I applaud and support the Board's efforts to define the Board's governance role and to focus their work in that role, but the proposed Board Procedure 1620BP is not without its faults.

The Board has strong agreement that policy is a critical tool of governance. For the board to retain the governance role, the board must retain the authority to enforce policy. As I have said countless times before, they can write policy, but if they do not enforce policy, then they have not made policy.

While there is much to like about the proposed board procedure 1620BP, it is critically flawed by this sentence: "The Board is charged with setting district policy and the Superintendent is charged with carrying out and enforcing that policy." When the board delegates the authority to enforce policy to the superintendent, the board surrenders policy as a governance tool.

Moreover, it is both bad governance and bad management for the person most regulated by policy, the superintendent, to also be the person charged with enforcing policy. This puts the superintendent in the impossible position of self-policing. It makes the superintendent un-accountable. It is a horribly flawed structure.

The solution is simple. All we need is for a board director - any board director - to make an amendment to delete the two words, "and enforcing", from the proposed board procedure. I can't imagine any of them arguing or voting against such an amendment?

I think it is worth noting that the corresponding policy at the Highline School District specifically states that enforcing policy is the Board's duty, not the superintendent's. The Bellevue school board also retains responsibility for policy compliance.

The Board will approve a transportation contract. They will have to, we only got one bid. I guess that takes a lot of the discussion out of the process. Remember when we used to talk about community meetings about transportation and making transportation plans and getting transportation reports? All that has sunk into the background, hasn't it?

This week we will see introduction of a revised policy 3421 on the reporting of child abuse. With this action the Board will adopt a model policy that includes all of the requirements of state law. It is good to see some progress here. We have really needed some clarification of the direction to staff around these situations.

I think this direction is pretty clear: "All professional school personnel who have reasonable cause to believe that a child has experienced abuse, neglect, or exploitation shall report such incident to law enforcement or the Children’s Protective Services Staff at the first opportunity and in no case longer than forty-eight (48) hours after the finding of possible abuse or neglect." I like this part, too: "All employees shall receive training regarding their reporting obligations under state law in their orientation training when hired and every three years thereafter." I hope this clears up any questions about what people are supposed to do and when they are supposed to do it and keeps it cleared up.

The motion regarding the restrictions on the proceeds of the sale of community schools is feel-good nonsense. It doesn't change anything.

The rest is more property management and of only limited interest except for this item: the modernization of science labs at Rainier Beach and Roosevelt High Schools. I'm thinking: "Waitaminute. Isn't Roosevelt High School practically brand new? What modernization could the science labs need already?" It turns out that they don't. The project at Roosevelt is to convert an existing office suite into a science classroom.

Don't get too excited about the work they're going to do at John Marshall. It's just a $1.1 million roof replacement. On the other hand, maybe we should get excited. What kind of roof costs $1.1 million dollars? You couldn't see it, but I wrote that with a Dr. Evil voice and put my pinkie finger to my mouth.

So with eight consent items, six action items, and twelve introduction items to push through and make a gesture of interest at each one (even the boring ones), it's a good thing that the Board isn't pissing away an extra twenty minutes listening to members of the public. Let's hope they can get out of there before midnight.


Anonymous said…
There's another public school property, TFA, and For-Profit charters theme going on in Washington Post education section. TFA just formed a partnership with Imagine School, largest for profit charter company with controversial history. Interesting and very profitable real estate deal a charter school can make off public school property. You can blame those loopholes and flawed charter laws that so many people have reservations about, but never bother to close them.


-is this where we're heading?
Anonymous said…
The John Marshall contract states, "Time is of the essence," and "the owner will suffer serious and substantial consequential damages" if the work is not completed by August 17, 2012.

a reader
I, too, saw this agenda and went "Holy smokes." But that extra 20 minutes from the speakers' time will surely cover it.

To let you know, a number of the property issues have been moved to the Consent agenda but I am hoping a few exit it.

One is the Roosevelt issue for another science lab. I just wrote the Board about. Understand that BTA III (that we all voted in) had about $3.5M for high schools for computer and science labs.

That was their wording; high schools.

Now half that $3.5M, about $.17 is going to these two projects.

As I told the Board, of course I see RBHS getting these upgrades. After all, they didn't get a renovation like most of the other high schools.

But Roosevelt opened in 2006 and it is vital that they get a new science lab?

It couldn't be that say Nova, SBOC, Center School, Ballard, Sealth or Franklin might need something in the way of science/computer labs?

This is THE most important thing to do with our scarce capital dollars?

No, I don't get it.

Here's what I told the Board in my e-mail:

"I'm sure there is this burning need for another science lab at Roosevelt but what about other schools that have waited patiently for their turn for BTA money? It can be documented that RHS needs this more than Ingraham or Franklin or Nova or SBOC? I'd like to see that documentation or, more importantly, YOU should see it before you say yes to anything."

Also I just don't get the South Shore thing. The district has to pay out all the costs for the removing and reinstalling of carpet and flooring at South Shore even though the installation and materials were still under warranty?

How is it that the district seems to always be the one holding the bag and can't get these companies to pay up - on time - even when the warranty is still effect?
Anonymous said…
Melissa - regarding the district always holding the bag, it goes to Charlie's point about having people that understand property development and management - and having contracts signed, supervised and enforced during and after the process. School districts seem to get stuck in situations like this. You can bet that a private client would not tolerate these outcomes.

dan dempsey said…

I have a problem with some of what you wrote on TFA and conditional certification of TFA CMs.

The Board got involved because the contract obligates them to support the conditional certification of every TfA hire. Again, that was a bad idea. First, it was unnecessary because the Board has never failed to support a conditional certificate. Second, it's stupid to agree to endorse people before you know who they are. Teach for America and the superintendent should have just moved forward with the deal without the guarantee that the Board would endorse the conditional certificates for the corps members. The Board would have endorsed them anyway (because they have delegated hiring decisions to the superintendent) and there would have been a lot less drama.

Whether the Board had Authorized the Superintendent to seek Conditional Certificates or not, the Board is to supervise the Superintendent's actions. The Superintendent violated WAC 181-79A-231. Directors by their oaths of office are obligated to support the constitution and laws of both the USA and WA State.

The Board needs to redress the damage done by the Superintendent's illegal actions and end the for Teach for America contract. If Directors fail to do so, they are violating their oath of office.
Charlie Mas said…
But Dan, the Board could have just as easily ignored the superintendent's violation of the law even without the contract. The contract is completely superfluous.
Anonymous said…
Susan Enfield involved the board because she was/is an interim superintendent and needed the political cover for her pet project.

I disagree with Charlie. Had the board not been involved with voting in TFA, they would have been more vigilant about how it has been enacted. Since they are invested in TFA (as a consequence of approving the contract), they have their own credibility at stake with the TFA outcome.

Don't forget--Susan Enfield is first and foremost a political animal. She made sure that the buck would not stop with her on TFA.

Kay Smith Blum needs to be voted out of office if she approves this contract again (which she will).

--enough already
dan dempsey said…
Enough Already wrote:

Kay Smith Blum needs to be voted out of office if she approves this contract again (which she will).

Might I suggest an immediate filing of a recall petition for the recall of any directors that choose to continue the TFA contract. Four of our current Directors violated WAC 181-79A-231 on several occasions and such violations are grounds for recall. So says the WA State Constitution in sections 33 and 34 of article I.
Sahila said…
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said…
Perhaps all board members should read this blog from a fomer TFA member, Gary Rubinstein. He's was one in 1991, chose to stay in teaching and even went onto teach classes to would be TFA teachers. But here is where he has diverged from TFA of today and Ed Reform groups. It's a thoughtful POV. You can tell he's notstalgic for the idealism and work ethics of the old TFA that has gone extinct.


-another TFA POV
Sahila said…
Wendy Kopp provides 'teachers' (TFA), Eli Broad provides 'superintendents' and 'district managers' and trains School District Board members (BROAD FOUNDATION) and George W Bush Institute provides 'principals' from military, business and sports ranks.... 50,000 within 10 years, I think the aim is... so where in all of this, is there place for real teachers, as dedicated, valued professionals?
peonypower said…
there is none- because clearly we are not valued as professional
peonypower said…
there is none- because clearly we are not valued as professional
common sense said…
Let me get this straight- you complain that Roosevelt is over capacity, then complain more when the district adds another science classroom to accommodate the increased student population?
SeattleSped said…
You know, I read this and think of what is happening in Michigan: But in the other school districts, and in the four Michigan municipalities currently under an emergency manager's authority, the takeover was imposed, not requested.

Are they waiting for the Broad Saviour? Do they know what we, in Seattle, want and need? NO.

Why do I post this? Well, the current direction of 2013 budgeting is to cast SpEd costs as the "bogeyman". How convenient for a "money manager" to "deal" with this troublesome issue...
Anonymous said…
Following is a late night comment by 'Don Matt' culled from another clusterstinkbomb of an editorial on TFA from Lynne Varner.

This is priceless. Repost. Send to friends, voters and board members.


Does your knowledge of education reform match that of the Education Gurus of the Seattle Times editorial staff?
Please take this short quiz to find out if you measure up! (Answers below)

In order to improve the quality of teachers in our schools, we should:

A. Require principals to have more than three years of teaching experience before evaluating teachers.
B. Attract top college graduates with enticing salaries.
C. Hire large numbers of teachers with neither training nor experience.
D. Create formal partnerships between school districts and colleges of education in which veteran teachers gain the most current ideas in education and education school professors learn what the front lines are really like.

2. When a school has struggled with test scores for several years, we should...
A. Hire a core of experienced and accomplished educators .
B. Replace all veteran teachers with a group of 22-year olds fresh out of college and no training.
C. Invest in after school tutoring programs and smaller class sizes.
D. Increase community outreach so as to encourage parents, grandparents, neighbors, etc. to particpate in the education process.

3. What is the best way to permanently establish a strong school in an impoverished area?
A. Fire everybody whose students test below grade level at the end of the school year.
B. Hire a corp of teachers who will leave within two years. (This way you don't have to fire anybody!)
C. Hire Lynn Varner as principal.
D. Open another school nearby to siphon off all strong students.
E. All of the above.

4. Who knows the most about education?
A. Randy Dorn
B. John Marzano
C. Bill Gates
D. Don Matt and West Seattle Dan
E. Joe the Plumber
F. Romney, Santorum and Gringirch, collectively
G. President Obama

5. What is the best training program for teachers in the Seattle area?
A. University of Washington
B. Seattle University
C. Western Washington Univesity
D. None

4- Trick Question - H: Lynn Varner
mirmac1 said…
Well Charlie, I see you got your wish for an amendment to 1620BP, just added to the agenda.
Charlie Mas said…
Yay Director Peaslee!

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