Thursday, July 05, 2012

Breaking News: Creative Approach Schools Challenge Wins in Court

Yes, word is that a King County Superior Court judge ruled for the challengers - Carline Brown and Rita Green, Jack Whelan, Robert Femiano and Eric Muhs.    

Please, if you wanted a better policy for this approach, you may get it (and with Board oversight and more parent involvement).

PLEASE consider sending a check - big or small - to defray the costs of this litigation.

Make the check out to "Newman Duwors Attorneys" noting MOU appeal/Keith Scully.  Checks can be mailed to district watchdog Chris Jackins (who makes me look like a slacker):

Chris Jackins
Seattle Committee to Save Schools
PO Box 84063
Seattle, WA  98124

Details to follow

Update:  spoke to Jack Whelan, who was in the court when the decision was read, and Director Peaslee.

Jack Whelan and Lina Brown were in attendance but apparently only the district's hired lawyer was there.  No one from SPS nor SEA.

About the decision, Jack said, "Judge Erlick gave a thoughtful decision that seemed based on common sense."  Judge Erlick supported the plaintiffs' view that the School Board (the district's legislative body) cannot delegate out their responsibilities that are listed in state law.

The issue of the Creative Approach Schools is remanded back to the Board who has a couple of choices.  Revise it and get it approved by SEA and the district (but it cannot cut out Board oversight).  Or dump it.

Director Peaslee stated, "I am hopeful this will have far-reaching and positive benefits.  It is important the Board be part of this process." 


Jack Whelan said...

I'll have more to say about this when it's all sunk in, but the judge basically knocked down the district's argument that the board has a right to delegate policymaking to the superintendent or to any staff committee. The district's argument that the superintendent, if he should choose to waive a board policy, must "consult" with the board was not sufficient. Erlick said that there had to be wording in the MOU that gave the board "final approval" concerning any such policy waivers. Without such, the superintendent can inform and consult, and then do what he wants no matter what the board says and he would be completely within his rights.

Fixing this problem, of course, was the intent of the Peaslee amendment that five board members whatever their peculiar reasons, voted down 5-2.

So the MOU is remanded to the board to either revise and send back to the SEA for a vote or start from scratch. I have a feeling that J. Knapp and others who pushed this so aggressively will find that had they fixed the bug with a simple amendment, it would have been a lot easier to get through than it will be now. There are other deficiencies in the MOU that will now get a lot more scrutiny.

Whatever this means for the future of CAS, this ruling is sets and important precedent, but we can get into that another time.


mirmac1 said...

WooHoo, July 5th is a great day for democracy!

dan dempsey said...

So will the Board appeal and delay action for more than a year?

Look at what happened when Scully won the High School math legal action. ... It was over-turned in appeal court. .. net result k-12 math program still sucks. ----- J Knapp's cooperative approach as outlined in the Times is looking to need a lot of improvement. So the Union failed to see a need for the District to follow responsibilities outlined in state law. ..... J Knapp should send a big check to the plaintiffs to defray legal expenses.

Anonymous said...

How ironic on the day the Times runs a puff piece on Knapp. Who is big on ego but not quite as strategic as his ego thinks.

I applaud the ruling. Not out of a gotcha sense. Out of the Good Governance of Seattle Schools sense. No doubt DeBell and The Alliance disagree.


Anonymous said...

Did anyone see how Microsoft took a multi-billion $$$$ bath on its acquisition of A-Quantive aka Avenue A from the Dot Bomb days? That was the acquisition that made Nick Hanauer rich (after he'd invested his mom and dad's mattress $$ into high tech.)

A reminder that A Quantive was actually a bust, despite Hanauer's bucks. Important as we hear his name louder and louder in the coming March to Charter weeks. No doubt he will use this court ruling as another reason We Need Charters. To get out from under local Boards.

Of course, the whole reason we don't need them is the same lack of board control that this lawsuit is trying to stop.

Anonymous said...

That was me DistrictWatcher above.

Kate Martin said...

Congratulations all around. Lots of things feel within reach because of this decision today by Judge Erlich. Thank you to Director Peaslee and Director Patu, both of whom voted NO on this MOU CAS and to Director Peaslee especially for her excellent analysis of the MOU and her prescient and pragmatic amendment offered at the time.

Anonymous said...

Wonder what the Times editorial page will have to say about this.


Anonymous said...

Or Tim Burgess. Remember, he deigned to grace us with his presence at that school board meeting (seeing as how he views himself as the shadow superintendent with our $200M tax dollars)


Jon said...

Maybe someone can help me clarify how to think about this. I'd like to support this lawsuit, and I'm sympathetic to the governance issue, but I really like successful and popular alternative programs in Seattle and want to see things like TOPS, STEM, Spectrum, and language immersion duplicated and expanded.

I thought Creative Approach Schools promoted alternative programs? Is that not correct? Honestly, I'm looking for reasons to support this lawsuit, and I could be convinced, so someone please tell me why, if I want to see expansion and experimentation with more alternative programs in Seattle, why the lawsuit is a good thing?

Just saying said...


DeBell was the leader on this one and the judge spanked him. He isn't the leader some believe him to be. Don't forget, DeBell was previously charged with failing to oversee district operaions. Yet, he continues to carry water for politicians and reform groups.

Kudos to Director Peaslee for offering an ammendment that would have prevented all of this. I hope her colleagues are taking note.

Melissa Westbrook said...

LOL, I hadn't thought of that; funny.

Jon, it is a good idea. But the Board HAS to have oversight. Parents HAVE to be involved in more than a superficial way.

The original MOU had the Board cutting itself out (which the Judge ruled is a violation) and virtually no parent participation.

Creative Approach is a good idea but the devil surely was in the details.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous at 6:32 pm,

That company was not a bust until Microsoft took over. Avenue A and later A-Quantive survived and thrived during a time when dot coms were cratering left and right. They had good management and built a remarkable company.

Stick to the subjects you know.

SPS mom

Eileen said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

Avenue A made Hanauer rich? OMG! I had it and dumped it along with a bunch of others after dot.com bust. Just got tired of waiting. But hung on to Loudeye and made some fair money there.

First I've heard about Avenue A and have wondered about it from time to time so thanks. Guess I should have hung on a little longer.

Creative Approach? I'm still for it but everybody needs to be on board. Can't argue with that.


joanna said...

On the MOU, I was never sure why the Board was willing to dump its oversight responsibility/power if they believed in the concept. It remains a mystery to me. I, otherwise, thought it an interesting idea. Thank you for keeping your eyes on this.

Eric M said...

One theory kicking around was that the "Creative Approach" MOU was being pushed forward during union elections, in part to give Mr. Knapp a bully platform.
There was significant suspicion and opposition within the teaching corps when this was first put forward, in the usual great-urgency-must-act-now-before-you-have-a-chance-to-think methodology of SEA. Union leadership pulled out all the stops, recruiting lots of teachers to speak and vote who normally don't even show up to the monthly RA meetings (In January, I believe, after a vote was postponed in December. I don't recall the precise reason for postponement, but I think it must have had something to do with the lack of clarity which pervades this MOU).
Shortly AFTER that vote, Director Peaslee discovered the School Board had been written out of their legal responsibility, and brought this up to the School Board. Mr. Knapp was furious, and it certainly would have been embarrassing, difficult, and a lot more work for him to have to revote, and repeat his parliamentary success of the previous SEA meeting. All the more so because this was playing out during an SEA election where there was, for the first time in recent memory, significant opposition to his record of giveaways and concessions.

There were certainly other forces at work as well. Mr. DeBell has worked very diligently to limit the power of the elected School Board, and you should ask him why at one of his coffee Saturdays.

Charlie Mas said...

Jon raises an excellent question. That is, don't Creative Approach Schools represent exactly what we want - reforms determined and implemented by the school staff, more opportunity for innovation, less standardization, etc. How can we crow about this victory in the Court if it strikes down CAS?

First, Jon, the Court's disqualification of the CAS MOU doesn't prevent reforms implemented at the school level by school staff. They can and do innovate - even if the District doesn't know about it or pre-approve it. Innovation will not be slowed by this Court decision.

What we hope is slowed by this Court decision are two dysfunctional elements of the District's institutional culture: the utter disregard for the rules, and the utter disregard for stakeholders.

Seattle Public Schools suffers from a culture of lawlessness. No one enforces the rules (whether they be superintendent procedures, board policies, state law or federal law), so no one bothers to follow them. Typically, no one even bothers to check them before making decisions - decisions which often violate the rules. This culture of lawlessness pervades the District and not only makes all kinds of abuses possible but actually encourages them.

Second, let's remember that the District staff has no interest in the legitimate needs of the public. They don't care about what we want to know, they don't care about what we want from our schools, they don't care what we think. The public just doesn't rate with them, not at all. And they regard the Board much as they regard me and Melissa - as particularly loud members of the public. The Board Directors are not staff, so they are outside the District, so they don't matter. When they devised this MOU, despite the fact that it required Board approval, they never considered what the Board wanted from it or if the Board would object to any part of it. They didn't include the Board as a stakeholder in the process and delivered an unacceptable document to the Board along with the ultimatum that they had to approve it (as is), or they would risk delay and possibly loss of the agreement.

This, by the way, is how almost everything comes before the Board.

The folks negotiating this MOU should have taken a little time and checked with the Board before they cast it in cement. They didn't because they didn't care what the Board - who are, after all, just seven loud members of the public - thought about it or needed from it.

They blew it.

So, with this Court victory, we are celebrating a win against lawlessness and a win for the board's authority and the involvement of stakeholders. The innovation will happen with or without the MOU.

Ed said...


I've been a "district-watcher" for decades and your fourth paragraph above is the best summation of the internal culture at SSD is spot on.

Its really hard to see through all the sparkling facades but thats the best analysis I've seen.

Thanks for putting words to my thoughts. It helps me know its not "just me".

erik t said...

The losers are the fifteen schools, staff, parents and ultimately the kids at those schools who had applied for the MOU.
It's funny that discussions always revolve around the grownups and the kids are just am afterthought.

Kate Martin said...

Please consider a donation to this cause. This is a link to a paypal site where we have been collecting donations to help pay the legal fees associated with this victory. The effort is still thousands of dollars in the hole and your donation will help spread the burden of costs out. Thank you. https://www.paypal.com/us/cgi-bin/webscr?cmd=_flow&SESSION=YSdgZ3zJWGTMJy8JdGgGwe6YWvX8M2ZcIkcvGB1uO3tr-79Rx7wTgGZvVLa&dispatch=5885d80a13c0db1f8e263663d3faee8d8494db9703d295b4a2116480ee01a05c

seattle citizen said...

eric t writes, "The losers are the fifteen schools, staff, parents and ultimately the kids at those schools who had applied for the MOU.It's funny that discussions always revolve around the grownups and the kids are just am afterthought."
Uh, no, Eric - the grown-ups discuss how best to spend their tax dollars under a democratic system to best help students. Grown ups get to do this, ya know? Of COURSE the kids aren't an "afterthought": ALL t he discussions about schools are about kids. I suspect, Eric, you've had a wee dram o' the kool aide, as your comment is straight out of the "reform" playbook.

Melissa Westbrook said...

No, the kids are not an afterthought.

As you may recall, three issues for parents were (1) lack of real input putting a proposal together (2)no parents on the committee to approve the proposals and (3) the idea that your neighborhood school could change into more of an alt/option school and yet you still were assigned to it.

I am sorry that people put a lot of work into their proposals. Doesn't mean they can't happen. The Board could introduce a motion to put themselves into the loop at the Board meeting in August, the SEA can get their act together and vote on that one change to the MOU and the Board can vote it in at the September meeting.

All done by the start of October.

Kathy said...

"The folks negotiating this MOU should have taken a little time and checked with the Board before they cast it in cement."

It is worth noting that Michael DeBell worked in conjunction with Jonathan Knapp on this MOU.

I found it unfortunate that there was intense pressure on the board to prematurely pass this MOU. I hope lessons were learned.

I support Creative Approach Schools. but the board can not give away responsibilities when it comes to fiscal oversight, safety and ethics. There must be ample opportunity for the board to intervene.

Jack Whelan said...

To the commenters here who wonder whether this ruling is bad news I think it's important to understand that this suit is not about Creative Approach Schools. It is about a badly written MOU that sets a terrible precedent.

One of the major flaws in this MOU was addressed by the Peaslee amendment, and it was rejected, precisely for the the reasons that Charlie describes above. The district culture could care less about the legality or illegality of what it does, and from time to time someone has to call them on it. That was the purpose of this suit.

We can't call them on everything, but this one was so over the top and set such a bad precedent and had such enormous potential for abuse, that we felt we had to do something.

Regarding CAS, in principle, I am for them because I'm all for giving families more choice and control over the education they provide for their children. But as Melissa points out above, this is not a families-friendly MOU.

Freedom and autonomy? Yes, but for whom? This MOU is set up so that most of the freedom and the autonomy will be for those with top-down agendas rather than for meeting real needs of the people at the bottom.

I feel badly for those who put a lot of work into their CAS applications for next year, but don't blame those of us who brought this suit. Blame the people that so aggressively and unnecessarily rushed this through. If they had supported the Peaslee amendment, we would not be having this discussion right now. That was a point Judge Erlick made at the hearing a couple of weeks ago. If he "got it" why was it so difficult for our board, staff, and teachers' union to get it?

Jack Whelan said...

BTW: here's the link to the Seattle Times article on the ruling: http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/localnews/2018614556_creativeapproach6m.html

mirmac1 said...

City players want to control creative approach schools

Well, these education "experts" blew this one. And they're trying to spend our levy money and control our superintendent.

Ed said...


You sooo good!

Charlie Mas said...

The 15 schools will, I presume, move forward on their plans. There is no reason for them to even slow down, let alone stop. They are working towards a fall 2013 implementation. I'm sure that the district's legal issues can be worked out by then.

dan dempsey said...

Jack Whelan wrote:

" If he (Erlick) "got it" why was it so difficult for our board, staff, and teachers' union to get it?"

The majority of the Board, upper staff, and union leaders form a TopDown club with little interest in getting it.

To improve a system requires the intelligent application of relevant data -- They just don't get that either.

Carol Simmons said...


What an opportunity to donate to Good Governance of Seattle Schools.

Please donate to cover Attorney Costs. Checks may be made out to "Newman DuWors Attorneys", noting that it is for "MOU Appeal/Keith Scully". Mail checks to Chris Jackins, Seattle Committee to Save Schools, P.O. Box 84063, Seattle WA 98124

Thank you to all who supported this effort.

Anonymous said...

Charlie: The problem for the 15 schools with pending CAS applications is that the terms and conditions could change -- a lot -- by the time the plan is amended.

The deadline to submit a full proposal is October. (No word on that having changed after the court ruling.) That's a tight deadline as it is, and it could get even more complicated if the rules change in September as the Board and SEA amend the MOU.

It's pretty clear that many parties have issues with the old agreement. And they now have the opportunity to raise their concerns again and demand that they be met. Seems like a lot of things could happen to derail the entire timeline if stakeholders can't agree on the terms for moving forward.

Can you really, in good conscience, tell those schools to keep moving as if nothing has changed?

- Concerned

Melissa Westbrook said...

I don't know that anyone is telling anybody what to do. If the Board was smart, they would take steps at the August Board meeting to allay those fears.

But it is far more important to have real oversight (and someone to go to with a concern or complaint) than put something into place with no oversight.

What is your recourse as parents at a school without it?

Anonymous said...

Will J. Knapp, Mr. 15%, (that is 60% of the 25% who voted in the SEA election) work to compromise and reach out to the 75% who are so turned off that they couldn't be bothered defending Mr. 15%, or

will Mr. 15% work hard to compromise with the powers that be in DeBell & Burgess land?

It is ridiculous and sad and tragic that so many of those limbaugh-ites who commented on the Times Knapp puff piece think that an-in-bed-with-the-boss teacher union is a greater threat to their limbaugh-ite financial security than the 7 and 8 figure a year limbaugh-ite bosses are. However - will Jonathan engage in real democracy with his membership, and give people time to review and to discuss his MOU stuff, or, will Jonathan dump MOU changes on his members with some last minute agenda and some last minute meeting shenanigans, as he did in December?

It is ridiculous and sad and tragic when union leaders pull insider crap, and reinforce the negative stereotypes of the limbaugh-ites.


Charlie Mas said...

Yes, concerned, I can, in good conscience, tell those schools to keep moving as if nothing has changed.

The only change needed to the MOU is one little bit about Board approval for any policies waived. It should not change anyone's plans or delay anyone's progress.

No other terms or conditions are are even remotely likely to change.

Let's not create a lot of drama and uncertainty when there isn't cause for it.

Dorothy Neville said...

Really, the only reason that the board needs to stay in the loop for final approval is to ensure that state and federal laws will still be followed in the areas where the school wants to waive policy. One would hope that the 15 schools currently working on their applications are not planning to waive laws or ethics policy or other basic core district values, so the application process should be as smooth a sail for them as before.

But also, look at Mercer. They flew under the radar, got publicity for their success so the district cannot make them reverse course. A de facto waiver.

Anonymous said...

I don't recall the precise reason for postponement, but I think it must have had something to do with the lack of clarity which pervades this MOU).

Eric M. You know it was postponed because teachers - the reps themselves - felt we needed more time to consider it. I keep reading rushed on here but we reps are the ones who in the face of Olga's pressure not to demanded a postponement for increased understanding and at the next meeting there were a lot of questions and a lot of scrutiny. Then a vote.

I don't think it is fair to characterize it as if it were pushed down out throats or dishonestly sold to us. We're not a bunch of dumb clucks.

I am and was for the MOU but I also posted on another thread that Jonathan (whom I did not vote for) was a little too arrogant and hasty in his certainty to the school board that all was well.

Obviously, it wasn't. But it can be fixed and I bet the reps again vote yes on the idea.


Anonymous said...

n at 7/6/12 6:25 PM

With any group of people there are different perceptions and different reactions to anything which happens. You don't perceive the MOU as being pushed down our throats, and you react differently than calling it dishonest or labeling it as being pushed down our throats. That's fine.

It is also fine to say you think it is not fair to call it dishonest or pushed down our throats ... and so the mud begins ?? ;)

Given that Jonathan and Co. never use the most rudimentary technology to engage the membership - such as an SEA blog, or, such as widely broadcasting MOU things well in advance of votes on MOU things, or temperature taking with tools like SurveyMonkey - I think it is the height of political naivete and gullibility to view these MOU things as other than dishonest and pushed down our throats!!

You apparently think the process was somewhat fine - I think it epitomized what limbaugh-ites use to lie about unions being run by undemocratic commie socialists - or - it epitomized what other parts of the political spectrum would define as a bought and sold company union in bed with the bosses.

Can you see that we can see things differently, and can you see that we can react differently -

and when people want to call me unfair, I want to call them chumps, and then ... we're heading towards the playground of 2nd graders ;) !!

WHY didn't 75% vote in the SEA president election? Was it because people who are active, as you and I are, was it because we see things differently, and we react differently, and we defend our turf, and everyone is sick of all of us ...

or was it because people are FED up with "democracy" being a game for the insiders most willing to manipulate and waste everyone's time?

What is the point of "democratic" process if all we're going to do is do whatever Tim & DeBell decide, behind closed doors, what is the 'compromise'?

(pst! you are not a chump or a naif;)


Eric M said...


I didn't call anyone a dumb cluck, did I? Nor did I use the word "dishonest" or the the description "pushed down our throats". Your words.

I'm not crazy about your use of the phrase "You know..." as if I knew something different than what I wrote. I wrote honestly.
I was there through the entire process, and I stand by my previous description, which was as accurate as my memory provides, six months later.

I wrote: "There was significant suspicion and opposition within the teaching corps when this was first put forward, in the usual great-urgency-must-act-now-before-you-have-a-chance-to-think methodology of SEA. Union leadership pulled out all the stops, recruiting lots of teachers to speak and vote who normally don't even show up to the monthly RA meetings (In January, I believe, after a vote was postponed in December. I don't recall the precise reason for postponement, but I think it must have had something to do with the lack of clarity which pervades this MOU)."

I'm really not not sure how that version of events significantly diverges from your own.

Whether or not reps will vote for the MOU again is anyone's guess. I'm not a rep anymore, and I don't know the future. It certainly doesn't matter to me personally. I have no issues with creativity in teaching. I am sorry for staff that have put in effort towards applying for this, but the Board can easily fix this in short order, and so can SEA leadership. They didn't get it right the first time, and they certainly had all the information to do so. That's on them.

I am pleased that Judge Erlick upheld the law.
And I stand by my assertion that Mr. Knapp would have been embarrassed, during the election, to have had to bring the MOU with Director Peaslee's amendment back to teachers for a vote, after all the work he did to get it passed in January.

Anonymous said...

I wish McLaren felt she was more independent of the former CTE teacher who steadfastly asserts TFA conditional certs are just like him back in the day.


Anonymous said...

Can you see that we can see things differently, and can you see that we can react differently -

Of course I can. Can you see that I can post my "different" view? You don't speak for all reps or membership and neither do I. But I do know that the membership refused to cast a vote until they had more information. When they got it, they voted.

Not my perception. Fact.

Eric: Union leadership pulled out all the stops, recruiting lots of teachers to speak and vote who normally don't even show up to the monthly RA meetings... There was significant suspicion and opposition within the teaching corps ...

There is reason to infer that you think it was forced on us.

And neither of us knows what the "teaching corps" thinks. I can only speak for my school which was fine with it. I was one who voted to postpone because I hadn't run it past my staff and I agree it hadn't been satisfactorily illuminated. When I did that, there were questions, but most teachers actually wanted more freedom to choose instructional strategies and a voice in making curricular decisions. That's my reality.

As for theories, I don't rely on them for information. Often they are mischaracterizations based on rumors. BTW, I wasn't drafted to come in order to push the vote. I actually regularly attend meetings.