Sunday, July 20, 2014

Seattle Schools' Pre-K "Mission Study"

This will be Part One of a thread about the Pre-K "mission trip" that several Seattle schools' employees took as well as one Board director.

Part One will be the Narrative of what happened.  Part Two will be the day-by-day planning for this trip. 

Mirmac1 got e-mails via public disclosure and they paint a very damning picture.  Because of my concerns over this troubling incident, I wrote a full report to the State Auditor.  I can only say that I believe there may have been some illegalities in what happened but that's not my call.

I DO think whether or not funds were misused, some of it feels unethical and it is clear there is a heavy push - from outside the district - on those inside the district for more and more pre-K in Seattle Schools.

There are a couple of SPS individuals who are either myopic or simply do not care about how their push for pre-K could affect/impact other programs and that money is scarce.  There was very much of a "just find me the money for this trip" attitude. 

I want to make clear this is not a judgment on where we go in this district about Pre-K. I believe in preschool and I think it could be key to creating a better beginning for students coming into public schools  I still have to write up an interview I did with the City's Office of Education about this issue.

 However, I am getting a strong whiff that the City and the City Council are quietly making many plans, likely with the district, about how to roll this out that they are NOT making public.  My belief is they want to get the money and THEN tell us the plan.  

Personally, I don't like that.  It feels like a "yes" vote for the City's Pre-K plan will give those pushing it a mandate to implement it however they want and be able to say "voters wanted this."  (What was it Hall & Oates said?  "I can't go for that - no can do."  That's how I feel.)


Back Story

The state-funded primary mission of Seattle Public Schools is K-12 education.  There is no mandate for the district to provide pre-K (except for Special Education preschool).   The district does supply preschool - in about 32 schools -  through other entities like Head Start, but it is not the main focus for SPS.  When the state has been taken to court over funding for K-12 education and found wanting (see the State Supreme Court's McCleary decision), it is hard to fathom the district spending so much time and so many resources on Pre-K.  But, for some reason, this has become a primary concern of the district to the point that it is now included in their Strategic Plan.

The Seattle City Council passed a bill, CB 118114, to send a measure to the ballot for November 2014 on a Seattle Preschool for All program.  They have included Seattle Schools in this bill, believing they need the district to be a "partner" in this effort for several reasons.  1) space for preschools (which the district has virtually none but the City continues to push for it), 2) expertise in early childhood learning (SPS has a office for Early Childhood Learning) and 3) for public support. 

In early March 2014, Mayor Murray, three City Councilpersons and about 35 others went to a preschool conference and then on a tour of three cities - Boston, Washington, D.C. and Jersey City, N.J.  Four Seattle schools representatives also went - Cashel Toner, head of Early Learning, Keisha Scarlett, principal at South Shore K-8, Laurie Morrison, principal at Graham Hill and Flip Herndon, head of Facilities.  As well, School Board member, Stephan Blanford, attended.  (Superintendent Banda was invited but did not go. As well, Cashel Toner invited Shauna Heath, head of Teaching & Learning, another staffer, Michael A. Stone, and Ex Director Kelly Aramaki.)  All the SPS attendees went at the invitation of Councilmember Tim Burgess.  Only people invited by Burgess' office could attend.

Councilman Tim Burgess arranged the trip and sent out invitations to those he wanted to attend.  (Initially, another SPS employee, Deputy Superintendent Charles Wright, was scheduled to go but pulled out at the last minute.)  The trip was called the Preschool Study Mission.

Thus began, for SPS, an endless round of e-mail messages among various staffers, trying to 1) get permission for staff to go and, even before permission was granted Superintendent Jose Banda, 2) finding dollars to pay for both the conference and the travel between cities for those SPS attendees and naming which funding area in SPS those dollars would come from. 

A cache of public disclosure e-mails - available to be read at Scribd - shows just how much time was taken to arrange this trip by various SPS staff and also the machinations in finding district dollars to pay the nearly $14K it took for the attendees to go on this trip.  (Mr. Wright ended up not going but it is unclear if the district got a refund on his airline ticket or conference reservation which was $1800 itself.) 

In an e-mail from the Public Disclosure office, it is stated that Ms. Scarlett and Ms. Morrison's costs were paid through the school they work at - South Shore K-8.  (To note, South Shore is the only school in the district that is in a partnership with a non-profit group - League of Education Voters - LEV - whereby they receive about $1M extra in funding.  How this money gets used and if it was used for this purpose is unclear to me but Scarlett and Morrison's costs did get paid in that manner.  Whether it was the appropriate use for the funds is not my call.) 

The e-mail says Mr. Herndon was funded thru "Capital" but I don't know what fund.

Director Blanford's travel -per his request - was "scholarshipped" by either the Chamber of Commerce and/or the Alliance for Education.  It is also unclear if any School Board office funds and/or City Council funds were involved for his trip.

The e-mail says Cashel Toner's travel expenses were paid "from their department funds."

All quite vague, no? 

I will be supplying all the codes used for payments but they are numbers/letters so it is not possible for me to discern exactly what pots of money were used but I will document the "cost centers" named by Budget staff.

Key issues:

- Tim Burgess' office asked SPS for a list of people who could go.  His office made clear there were no City funds to pay for anyone else but city officials.  Cashel Toner seemed to be the point person from SPS and she initially was trying to persuade seven people from the district to go (not including Blanford).  Frankly, I think one staff person and one Board member would have been enough.

My take is that Burgess wanted as many SPS people as possible to go and especially Flip Herndon.  Why?  Because he needs Herndon to be on-board with this effort and to want to find the room at SPS schools for this effort.  Burgess also needs as many people within the district to go out and preach the gospel of his plan as possible.  

- Where else is that pressure coming from? LEV.  So LEV's foundation likely paid for Scarlett and Morrison's costs (although Scarlett worries in one e-mail that she "will get in trouble.")  Chris Korsmo, the head of LEV, sent an e-mail on March 18th to the Superintendent about the trip (and cc'd Tim Burgess, Keisha Scarlett and Holly Miller at the City's Office of Education) and said this(emphasis mine):

The District has a real opportunity right now to grow this highly successful model (South Shore). There are several new elementary schools opening in the District over the next few years and while the window for including this model in those school designs is small and closing, it is nevertheless there. Immediate action is necessary to seize these opportunities for our youngest learners, but the benefits for all would far out-pace any disruption or changes to designs and plans. It is after all, easier to get it right the first time than to retro-fit, as we’ve had to do with expanded technology and other changes to our education model.

LEV sent the Kormo letter onto SPS's head of Communications, Lesley Rogers, who then asks Cashel Toner how to "partner" with LEV. This e-mail was sent to several people including Flip Herndon who replies:

Except for the part where they still think we can have all the space.

Rogers replies, "Agreed - we can clarify that part."  

So it seems clear that several entities - the City Council and LEV - believe there IS room at current schools for preschools AND that specific preschool rooms should be added to any new elementaries.  Where that room comes from, the costs to redo designs and how it all gets paid for does not seem to concern Korsmo. 

- the sheer amount of time and effort to get this trip organized was ridiculous.  I cannot believe the district when they say "no money" and "too much work" for staff when this is what they do with their time.  

I believe there is internal and external pressure on the district to become involved in this project when our district has both severe capacity issues AND financial pressures.  That district officials felt they had to send multiple staffers and considered dipping into baseline funding as well as federal funds (Title One) is deeply troubling.

 Next up: a day-by-day accounting of what was being said and done.


#TransparencyPlease said...

Thank you Melissa.

Korsmo and the city want Schmitz Park Elementary and Decateur for preschool. Am I the only person that thinks it is unusual for an ENTIRE school to be allocated for preschool??

I hope the issue as to whether or not LEV/City have plans to put a charter preschool in Schmitz Park and Decateur ..and then provide those buildings to a charter operator.

Anonymous said...

I think if they can add preschool space to new buildings they should be able to add a performance space to Wilson Pacific, which would be a community-wide asset. My kid is not going to WP, but I think they are making a big mistake not to build one. I love preschool, but think it can happen outside of SPS. Has anyone thought about offering preschool in Seattle Parks Dept. before/after school care spaces? My feeling about preschool is that it shouldn't be too academic, instead it should be play focused and social behavior focused, also focused on excitement of learning---not learning kindergarten work at age 4.

Anonymous said...

"Principal Kelly Aramaki of JSIS" is way out of date. He left JSIS to be the Principal at Beacon Hill where Blanford's child attended, and has been the Executive Director for the Southeast Region (and is the boss of the two principals) who went on this trip.


Anonymous said...

I don't understand. In Seattle we have three preschool programs currently: Headstart paid for by Federal Gov.; ECEAP paid for by the State of WA, and Step Ahead paid for by the City's Family & Education Levy. Are the new preschools replacing the current Step Ahead program? If they are then the classrooms and staff already exist with the excellent organizations currently running Step Ahead for the city (Seamar, Tiny Tots, El Centro de la Raza etc), esp if they are only rolling out a few classes at first. When the City wants to expand the program then they can contract with these organizations to open more classes. ECEAP and Step Ahead programs in WA have consistently been very high quality preschools for decades, especially considering how little money they are paid per student. They have the experience and the expertise. Why not expand the contracts with these organizations instead of expecting SPS, which has neither the space, the personnel nor the know how for teaching preschools to be responsible? Why reinvent the wheel?

Or are these new preschools in addition to Headstart, ECEAP, and Step Ahead? If so how are they going to decide who goes to which of the four programs? The current programs have family income restrictions, they're mostly meant for low income families and the amount of money they receive per student is quite low. The city plans to pay a lot more per student. It is going to be very nasty if lower income families go to Headstart & ECEAP and higher income families get served by the new preschools that have budgets of several thousand $ more per pupil and can pay their teachers higher salaries. The Feds and the State are definitely not going to increase the amount per student they pay to match the City's. Is Seattle planning to not take Headstart & ECEAP money so that every preschool program is funded equally? That would be giving up a lot of federal and state money and would mean Seattle would have to pay for ALL preschools in the city.

What's the plan?


TransparencyPlease said...


Burgess has met with folks from Head Start and ECEAP. I'm hoping FOIA documents surface.

Burgess's plan will cost $10K per student; more than the district receives for K-12 students.

mirmac1 said...

It's a bargain at $1.4M

Early Learning Center Memo 2014-2

Melissa Westbrook said...

Mirmac 1, thank you for this document. Where is this money coming from?

Again, parents and staff, when you are told there is "no money", challenge that. This is perfect example of when staff wants something, there's money for it.

mirmac1 said...

As expected the City and LEV demurred at coughing up dough for their pilot program. Now only two classrooms with two half-day SpEd programs each, will rattle around in the Old Van Asselt building - with no budget for a playground, administration, nutritional services, or custodial services. They'll be there two years then get bumped again.

Charlie Mas said...

Will the district have to pay to renovate the entire Van Asselt building to make it ready for those two pre-school classes?

The District is going to end up putting more money into this than the City.

mirmac1 said...

Old Van Asselt has gone through a modernization - but may not necessarily be geared for Pre-k

Anonymous said...

5 teachers, that means 5 classes, assuming they squeeze 20 kids into the class (preschool classes have to be smaller, esp if they mean to accept ALL kids incl Sped, ELL etc). $1,423,049 for 100 kids would be $14,230 per child! So 140% of the $10,000 per child that they are asking voters to approve? I think this is 2X what ECEAP gets per child (though my info might be a bit outdated, so if you have more current, pls share).

And $148,000 fot the director/principal for school with 5 classes? The great principal who was at EEU when my children were there didn't get paid anywhere near that amount! And she built one of the best programs in the world! The teachers who are teaching preschools now DEFINITELY do not get anywhere near $89,000. Heck, I'm almost certain none of my kids' current SPS teachers are making 89 thous per year.

WOW. Is the district's program supposed to be that much better? Banda is using university salaries or something (Adjuncts DEFINITELY do not make that much). The EEU requires master degrees in Early Childhood Ed for its teachers. Is SPS planning to hire PhDs?

The City has a VERY efficient Early Learning Department who has been running excellent preschool programs (ECEAP etc) for decades. They NEED to be the one running Preschool for All, NOT SPS, NOT LEV, NOT Gates et al., I don't think Seattle can afford to pay $1.4mil to send each 100 kids to preschool. And they haven't budget overhead costs for classrooms: space, maintenance, electricity, utilities, janitorial, buses etc in the 1.4 millions. How much more $ for those costs? Could it end up to be thousands more per kid?

Will the voters know these are the numbers they're really throwing around when they send in their ballots? YIKES.


Anonymous said...

Ugh, Will the voters know these are the cost numbers they're really being asked to pay?  Sigh, clearly shock kills coherency.

Disclosure, the City's Early Learning Department had almost a completed plan for Universal Preschools several years ago. Sent people to look at 3 different programs in other states. Went to several conferences on Early Learning and Special Education and Multicultural Education. Worked out costs, budgets, rules, quality requirements, expectations, curriculum requirements, social skills programs, parental inclusion & support, providers recruitment, possible problems, kinks etc for over two years. I was on a couple of the committees that slogged it out. Plan was to have Headstart, ECEAP, StepAhead merged under one administrative department to get rid of duplication, lower costs and have the same rules & structures for all programs to ensure quality and equity; to expand the successful programs by modelling new ones on them. Classes/programs to be provided by providers that can be nonprofits or for profits. All must offer certain required services and quality and comply with a clear set of rules (no cherry picking, no discrimination, no expulsion etc) to the kids.The EAL license & ensure quality of programs & quality of teachers through training, support & yearly quality inspections (what they're doing now with ECEAP etc). We were very close to implementation & then the economy tanked. No money to implement..

So I've been very confused with this initiative. Seems like Mr Burgess just dumped all that research & planning and just began the whole process all over again. Those universal programs he visited & the fustercluck of SPS people looking for $ to go to conference etc, we'd already done all that! We worked out everything, costs/benefits/ program/budgets etc (more than two YEARS' worth of effort, - and our budget of how much it would cost was NO WHERE NEAR 14 thous per kid!)

Did they look at the records from all that research & planning at all? Was there a fire down at City's archives and everything was lost or something? Yes, there's bound to be things that have changed but why not just tweak & fine tune instead of starting over from scratch (and with people with no experience/ expertise)!

Looks like the politicians & the Ed For Profits think they can do better than professionals who've worked in the field for years! And those costs and salaries!!! Almost like they already have people in mind who they want to hire, who will stay a couple years on their way to bigger better money.



Anonymous said...

Btw, I do not work for Early Learning Dept ( mispelled once as EAP above, autocorrect gremlins), or any of the preschools or programs, not now, not then.


Lynn said...

That budget covers five full-day classrooms for non-special ed students with a certificated teacher and an instructional assistant in each classroom. (The salary amounts likely include benefits - that would put them in line with elementary school staff.)

If the city wants to pay for pre-school for every four year old in the student, and residents approve the necessary tax - I don't have a problem with it. The district should stay out of it though - as it distracts from their actual reason for existence (K-12 education.)

The statement that only 60% of the city's 3 and 4 year olds are in pre-school confuses me. They must not include the many childcare facilities that include pre-school curricula.

What really doesn't make sense to me - who would choose a six-hour a day five day a week September through June program? Families with two working parents need year-round care and children with a stay at home parent don't need that many hours of pre-school.

Lori said...

Can a Kindergarten classroom also be used/readily converted to a preschool classroom?

I ask this because we know that the Wilson Pacific elementary school is being designed with K classrooms even though its currently slated program (northend elementary APP) does not include Kindergartners. Surely others remember this issue coming up a few weeks (months?) ago at a WilPac public meeting?

I had assumed back then that the district was just planning for an eventual elementary APP split, with both groups cohoused with neighborhood kids, but maybe they are instead planning to put preschool classrooms into that building, as suggested by the city? Maybe that's what those "kindergarten" classrooms are really for? From a facilities perspective, are those rooms easily interchangeable?

Anonymous said...

Mispelled as EAL! Sigh, need coffee.

Thanks mirmac1 for this very disturbing info. How can the voters be informed of this?


Anonymous said...

Lynn, looks like you're right, no Occupational Therapist, no Speech Therapist, no Physical Therapist. So SPS is planning Preschool for ALL in Alterna Seattle where there are no Sped 4 year olds?

Oy!!! Lawsuits central.


mirmac1 said...

CCA, I sense your frustration (with both COS and autocorrect : ))

So the past COS plan did not include these EA "Centers"? I'm particularly incensed with the whole Decataur thing. SPS was ready to dissolve Pinehurst and hand an empty building to Burgess' folly.

Lynn said...


The document linked by mirmac1 says:

The school would have a dedicated space for Child Find services, therapeutic services, health support, family engagement, family support and professional development.

The classroom serving 4 year old children will need a funding stream while the classrooms serving special education students have identified funding.

The budget we're looking at was for the non-special ed classrooms only. I believe the city won't be supporting this model site because it gives a bad impression to voters if they begin the project before the election. There will only be special ed classrooms in the building this fall.

mirmac1 said...

SpEd Pre-K get only 1.15 the BEA rate per student. That will not sustain a stand alone building.

Anonymous said...

"The budget we're looking at was for the non-special ed classrooms only. I believe the city won't be supporting this model site because it gives a bad impression to voters if they begin the project before the election. There will only be special ed classrooms in the building this fall."

Pre-Ks need to be organized to promote inclusion with typical peers. Yes some children will be more severely impacted, but for many this is the golden era of getting identified. Is anybody giving a thought to inclusive services? What in the world is going on here?

Pre-K parent

Anonymous said...

I agree with Pre K parent. If they are planning to have Sped kids in separate classes that is very disturbing. Is it even legal? The committees I was on with Early Learning planned full inclusion classes.

Mirmac1, it's been a few years and the stress of rearing my bundles of joy has not been good for my memory, but I don"t remember anything like what is being planned right now by SPS. We have some very high quality, first class ECEAP programs here in Seattle, so we wanted to expand that model, where the whole family is included & supported so that they can actively participate in the children's education (wrap around services with family support workers and monthly family evenings).

Lynn, most of the current ECEAP and Step Ahead providers have summer programs. They accept childcare subsidies from DSHS and the City for working parents. Headstart programs that are in SPS schools do not have summer programs but I believe the ones that are not using SPS schools like Denise Louie & El Centro etc do. Also, what is this "identified funding" for Sped? If it is public money for Pre-K Sped it will not be anywhere near enough. The EEU gets lots of private funding in addition & they still has to have auction each year to pay for everything ( when we were there their auctions raised around $750,000 each year, I do not see SPS being able to do this). And EEU salaries are a lot lower than what is proposed by SPS, they also have an unending supply of volunteer aides from the UW that they do not have to pay for.

This is why SPS shouldn't be running Preschool for All, even if they can find the space in our exponentially growing district, it would be too costly to keep the schools open in the summers for the preschool programs. If they want only public entities to provide preschools then they should look to Parks and Rec's Community Centers, not SPS. Some of the community centers (Ballard, Loyal Heights, Ravenna Eckstein etc.) already run preschool programs.


mirmac1 said...

"If it is public money for Pre-K Sped it will not be anywhere near enough."

No. It's not nearly enough. Like the State BEA is not enough for K-12. The difference is that SpEd funding cannot supplant regular funding (grant or nongrant) provided for basic education.

My point is that, by opening a separate building and incurring all the associated costs, the district has set this up to fail. To fail these young kids.

I'm very upset about these machinations for Burgess and Murray, both whom I'm sure are gunning for higher office. (sorry for any word crimes : )).

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