Saying No to Mayoral Control

A group of public education activists has come out against Rep. Eric Pettigrew's bill to all the mayor of Seattle to appoint two members of the Seattle School Board.  It includes statements from Director Sue Peters who, as far as I know, is the only Board director to go on record.  I asked for a statement - a week ago - from the Board but have received no answer.

The Seattle Weekly has a good story that has a startling ending. 
Nevertheless, it’s a bill that moves in that direction, and as such was bound to raise controversy. “The proposal is an affront to democracy,” School Boardmember Sue Peters says in the release. Currently, all board members are elected. 

“The only reason to remove elected school board members is to forcibly impose policies that everyone knows the public does not want,” adds Robert Cruickshank, a onetime communications advisory to former Mayor Mike McGinn and now president of the Northwest Progressive Institute.

Quite apart from specific policy agendas, there’s been an idea circulating in big cities around the country that mayoral control—or even state control—will solve public education’s ills. In the last two decades, roughly 20 school districts have come under some mayoral oversight, according to a 2014 report on the subject by the National School Boards Association’s Center for Public Education. It’s ironic, the report goes on to note, since a century ago, the country moved away from mayoral control of school districts due to corruption and cronyism. 

Pettigrew says this:

Pettigrew mentions the persistent achievement gap between whites and students of color, which the south Seattle Democrat says is particularly prevalent in his district. “Let’s just see what happens,” he says, if we try something different. 

What, throw something at the wall and see if it sticks?  He STILL has not explained any connection between outcomes for students of color and mayoral control.  Just rearranging the chairs will not in itself create change.  And where's that all-important data? 

Oddly, though, Pettigrew says he’s not familiar or particularly interested in how this idea has played out in other cities. The results are mixed. “Researchers are divided on the question of whether or not it has produced higher student achievement,” concludes the Center for Public Education report, entitled “Toward collaboration, not a coup.” “Almost all agree on one negative consequence, however. These researchers observed that when mayors take charge of public schools, the role of parents and the community, especially among minority groups, can be marginalized.”

That surprising ending?

He (Pettigrew) says he and Rep. Sharon Tomiko Santos are working on a new proposal stemming from their feeling that the Seattle School District is too big to manage effectively. Their solution: splitting it in two. 

Now, that’s an idea that truly seems to come out of the blue, and it raises a million questions. What would the boundaries be? Would it create better-off and worse-off districts? Would they share resources? 

And, perhaps most importantly, how would the public feel about that? 

I'll have to ask Rep Tomiko-Santos about this idea; I have never heard her mention it.  But split in two? Uh oh.


Eric B said…
Splitting has been a pretty popular idea here for a while. Logistically, it sounds crazy. The only possible dividing lines (Ship Canal or east-west through downtown somewhere) would result in a whiter, richer district north and a browner, poorer (by population, see below) district south and west. That's a major downside, but maybe a board focused on the issues of a majority minority population would be more effective? I dunno. On the third hand, if the divide was the ship canal, the south district would get all of the property tax revenue from the major commercial properties downtown and SLU. That would make the south district relatively wealthy in land and property tax receipts.

Capacity and unwinding tangled finances would be major bugaboos.
Anonymous said…
No doubt the North-of-Ship-Canal set would be all for the split. Sound incendiary? Good. Prove otherwise. Given the moaning over the resources Title One schools get (DeBell) + the lack of interest in sharing PTA resources with communities of poverty + the lack of volunteers outside parents' own little progenies' worlds of privilege, I expect most of the north end will say Bring It or more likely just shrug. Like our current Super shrugs. Other than making Garfield out of reach for some North Capitol Hillies and APPers, few would bat an eye.

Even HQ wouldn't moan that much after they got over their ego deflation of not being able to handle the full 50K students. After all - double the HQs mean double the opportunities for bureaucrats and middle management.

The number one haters on the proposition will be Realtors. Property values will decrease in the lesser academic success district which would naturally be the South End with more first generation immigrants, more language diversity and more poverty.

For all else, #Winning!

Longhouse said…
Split it in two? My god how do people this stupid get elected?
The "split the district in two" idea is way out of left field. But it's telling to me that Pettigrew felt the need to throw that out there - suggests he understands that appointing board members is going to be an uphill battle at best.

I thought Nina Shapiro's article did a good job examining this issue, especially her citations of the research from other cities.
Eric B said…
I don't quite agree with Southie on the bureaucrats issue. The major argument in defense of the number of bureaucrats when compared to Tacoma or Spokane is that SPS is so danged large, you just can't compare. It's bigger, so we need more layers of management, the argument goes.

If you had two districts, that argument would pretty much go out the window. Not to say they wouldn't come up with other ways to duck and weave, but it would be more transparent. Plus, even if the new districts went to 5 directors each, the board districts would be much smaller and easier to win on grassroots support.
Greenwoody said…
The concern I'd have is that if the district was split, the Southeast Seattle district would become a laboratory for all sorts of horrible "ed reform" nonsense. I could see it having an appointed board, full of charter schools, staffed by TFA.
Anonymous said…
Does anyone have the press release by the education activists. It wasn't linked in the article and my google queries are missing the mark b/c I can't find it.

Thanks to those folks for speaking up !!

katydid, you can find the release here:
Anonymous said…
There are districts in California that are "split" along grade level lines. From the word of mouth amongst friends, it seems to work well and the Elem. level district works with the High School districts to anticipate enrollment, etc. I apologize that I cannot for the life of me remember particular districts' names. Organizing in this manner might alleviate the problems with a geography based split. Just tossing this out there for discussion fodder.

Alyssa, there are a number of such districts in CA - including those in Anaheim, where Jose Banda had been superintendent before coming to Seattle.
mirmac1 said…
Dam. The rest of the board needs some balls.
Anonymous said…
Thanks Robert !
Nice work.

Anonymous said…
If there is an ideal class size, why not an ideal district size? Smaller districts could potentially mean better local control. Maybe 15,000 students maximum is a good number.

Anonymous said…
"A whiter richer district to the north" OMG come on up to Ingraham, viewlands, Broadview Salmonbay and show me the wealth.
I think what you want to imply is the northeast is wealthy I'm not sure I would agree since Thorton Creek is in that area and was lacking in many ways. When I looked at schools in the SW and central area I couldn't believe how posh many were compared to the North end schools. Not all the schools mind you, but there are some palaces in the SW.

Please stop thinking everyone in North Seattle is wealthy it's not true.

Benjamin Leis said…
@STOP: The demographic reality is that more of the minority population and more of the FRL population in the district exists in the South half of the district. That doesn't mean that the north (both ne and nw) is all wealthy or all white just relatively more so and that brings up equity issues if you did such a split. This doesn't have anything to do with the building conditions which are much more of a mixed bag.
Anonymous said…
The part that's truly scary is that Rep. Pettigrew says he's not interested in what has/hasn't worked elsewhere. So why is he doing it? Well, other than someone with big $$ and/or influence convinced him to do so. But geesh what a dweeb.

As to splitting the district - there are days I'm sure we've all wondered if that might be the only answer from a management perspective. The nitty-gritty of doing so is significantly less attractive as several have already pointed out.

When is Mr. Pettigrew up for re-election? Talk about an empty suit....

Anonymous said…
Just because a student isn't getting RFL doesn't mean they are rich, FRL means very little when deciding if the North is richer than the south. My parents refused to take welfare of any type! We went without food.

Really you need to stop with your liberal bias and "got to save the minorities" at any cost elitist attitude. I think everyone is sick of it!

With the exception of a very small pocket of excess wealth in the Highlands and UW area there's more wealthy people living south of the ship canal than north of it. This has always been so and as I remember most wealthy people in the north end children would go the private school route either Lakeside or Blanchet. I went to the north-end schools, Viewlands, oaktree, Wilson and Ingraham in the 70s and 80s. No one was wealthy and nor are the current populations of those schools, unless they are slumming it.

I disagree that building conditions don't have anything to do with education or the perception of value in the students eyes. Students know when their school is a dump they judge their worthiness sometimes based on the schools condition, just go ask a few students how their building makes them feel.

Watching said…
"The part that's truly scary is that Rep. Pettigrew says he's not interested in what has/hasn't worked elsewhere. So why is he doing it? Well, other than someone with big $$ and/or influence convinced him to do so. But geesh what a dweeb."

Reader 47 hit the nail on the head. Who gave Pettigrew the bill? LEV? I've heard this bill will get a hearing and I'm sure we will find the usual suspects showing-up to support this bill.

I don't recall Pettigrew knowing a lot about the charter bill he submitted while in the legislature, either.

Let's not forget that the city is looking for Highline to annex into Seattle. For some reason, I always believed the city's prek program is part of an effort to build a Harlem Children's Zone type charter school Pure conjecture on my part.
Anonymous said…
I just love it when white people tell whats best for me. I'm more than capable of taking advantage of all the opportunities afforded by this country and it doesn't matter
if I'm in the north or south, it just matters that I make the effort. Diversity can be very disruptive when forced on us.

I'm Robot
Anonymous said…
In Arizona, there was once a push to split to smaller districts. Since then, many of those smaller districts have reconsolidated into the larger districts. Transportation, admin costs all got to be too much for the smaller districts.

A large district in Utah recently split. The rich, white areas along the foothills did not want to pay for new schools in the poorer valley areas.
Now there is a small, wealthy district of mostly white middle to upper class Mormon kids, and the remaining large district that contains most of the FRL, ELL, and special ed population and still needs to build new schools to meet its ever increasing enrollment needs. (Most Utah schools that are not in rural areas are on track systems because of enrollment - but once they have 4 tracks running on year-round enrollment, they have to build a new school, so their enrollment issues are much worse than those in SPS.) It was a nasty battle, with much bitterness between and among various groups that still persists. I would hate to see that happen in SPS.

As for Pettigrew - typical ed deformer. Toss research to the side, rely on ideology handed to him by a campaign funder like LEV, A4Ed, Stand on Children, etc.. The reliance on ideology rather than research is why they US public education is where it is today, No Child Left Behind? Ideology behind the 4 pillars, not research. "Texas miracle" that was the basis for some of the cornerstones in NCLB? Lies and cheating. Race to the top/bottom? Market-based ideology. Even the lame 3rd grade reading/grade rentention bills are based on ideology, as the research shows that retention is not effective, particularly when used in that manner. Charter schools? More market-based ideology. Yet these same ed deform fools insist - and even legislate - that teachers/schools make "data-driven decisions". Hypocrisy much?


cmj said…
If you're interested in the per capita income of neighborhoods in Seattle, here's a 2013 income mapping.
Unknown said…
PEr capita income in that 2013 map is interesting, but I think to settle the matter you have to look at what kinds of households have young children. AS an example, the U District maps out as low income, probably because of the high percentage of college students. The data re school age children is harder to get at.

As someone pointed out, not all low income families choose to apply for FRL. But I think it is the best indicator we have right now. I mapped out Title I schools in SPS. Title 1 funds are initially allocated to districts by census data, but then distributed to schools on district data re: free and reduced lunch status. This map clearly shows definite skewing toward the south side of Seattle
Unknown said…
BTW, the State Board of Education in Arkansas voted to take over the Little Rock School District today. The Little Rock School District is the largest district in Arkansas. The district was taken over because 6 of the schools were classified as failing.

The State Board of Education in Arkansas has "partnered" with the Walton Family Foundation and 4 of the 8 members of the board have direct ties to the Walton Family Foundation. These are the 4 members of the State Board of Education that voted to take over the Little Rock District. The Chair of the State Board cast the tie-braking vote. You can read more here in the Arkansas Times

Has anyone done an analysis of ties of current members of our State Board of Education to Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and other education reform foundation?
cmj said…
Mary G, that's a lovely map. I didn't know that you could integrate spreadsheets into Google Maps.

I agree with your point about the "low income" in the U District. Definitely, not all FRL eligible families apply for FRL, but it's probably a better measure of SPS student family income than per capita income. Not all families in Seattle have children and not all children in Seattle attend public school. I recall hearing that over half of the children in Magnolia and Queen Anne attend private school, but I think that statistic is rather old and may not still be accurate.
Watching said…

Thanks, for the link Mary. Interesting to note that Arkansas for Education reform was involved with charter school take-over.

Ahemmm...any chance DFER and McFarlane have been whispering in Pettigrew's ear?

In other news, charter schools drained funding away from schools in Pennsylvania. The answer: Turn more schools over to charter operators.

Scary times.
Anonymous said…
Southie, please stop. North/South split? The bigger question I think we both need an answer to is why in the hell Pettigrew and Tomiko Santos are doing this, instead of raising revenue? They need to pay for schools, not split them. Then there's this:

"...the country moved away from mayoral control of school districts due to corruption and cronyism."

If anyone even thought about splitting this district, especially along a north/south axis, they'd have to stopped,and would hope that's something we can all agree on.

Lynn said…
According to the last list I saw, Seattle has the 94th largest school district in the nation. Many districts cover an entire county. This is not a problem that needs solving.
Anonymous said…
And Southie, in case you missed it, that income map cmj provided above shows that the greatest concentration of dark turquoise (highest income) is in Magnolia, QA, Capitol Hill and Madison Park--that area just SOUTH of the ship canal.

Pettigrew was just reelected but boy, did The Stranger have some choice words about him. He rarely sponsors any bills, seems fixated on ed reform and, no surprise, is very heavily supported by LEV, etc.

I don't agree with splitting the district because of the north/side connotations (whatever you believe). I also have friends in Tucson who HATE the multiple districts and the disparity of what is offered and all the little fiefdoms that leave parents out in the cold.
Anonymous said…
@Reader47 and CT

You got it! Those ed reformers are all about the data, until it says something they don't want to hear!

Chris S.
Anonymous said…
People: This is what class-warfare vented on this blog brings us. This is why I encourage people to stop embracing this red-herring that the South end is the 99% and the North is the 1% or anything similar.

SPLITTING SPS = DIVIDE AND CONQUER. Period. That's it. That's all.

We do not want a two-state solution. We do not want our city divided into the North vs. the South. We are all in this together and we grab our ball and run home to our collective peril and epic failure to do right by one another and our children.

The North vs. South divide is ridiculous. I am fairly certain that the number of so-called "rich neighborhoods" in the South outnumber those in the North, and whether that's true or not, the differences are nowhere near significant enough to divide our precious resources.

I hate reading posts where South End residents slam the North End and vice versa. It's the pinnacle of ignorance and intolerance and it plays directly into the hands of politicians always looking for the latest trend to grab onto in hopes of increasing their popularity.

Don't feed this monster by harboring resentment against those you perceive to have it better or worse than yourselves.

Splitting the district is in no way and advance. It's a retreat. A giving up. A surrender, and failure.

We need to unite, embrace, support and band together with each other, North and South, and sh*t-can this terrible idea ASAP.

John said…
Well-said WSDWG. That is exactly correct.
Ditto on WSDWG. This fighting plays into their hands...every single time.
Anonymous said…
Thanks, WSDWG. That was perfect. You nailed it. I wish, oh how I wish, that the Ed reformers would dry up and blow away. There is so much real work to do in education -- to improve learning, close gaps, deal with funding issues, fix SPED, find stable funding for arts, STEM, etc. etc. etc. ALL the ed reformers EVER seem to do is take everyone's eyes off the REAL ball, while they chase after one faddish non-solution to a non-problem. From the pointy- headed cluelessness of Arne Duncan, right down to the fatheaded vacuity of Ed Pettigrew.

We don't need the cronyism and non-democratic BS of mayoral "partial control." We don't need the divide and conquer tactics of a split district (how much time would THAT take away from the actual running of schools -- to say nothing of the joys of staffing and paying for TWO sets of administrators).

Off to write my legislator (and yes -- it is unfortunately Ed Pettigrew).

Anonymous said…
Someone needs to ask Pettigrew & Co. who wrote this bill. That will tell us everything we need to know. WSDWG
Enough said…
I also hate the south/north- end bashing.

There are thousands of north end students receiving FRL, but schools don't get additional support because the free and reduced lunch population falls below 40%. PTA support drops significantly in middle school. Care to look these students in the eyes?
Anonymous said…
@Greenwoody: I'm right there with you. I think that's exactly what would happen. And somebody would cloak it in terms of "freedom" to do this and that. Think of Republicans howling about excessive red tape and over-regulation. Then think how Michelle Rhee and other supposedly Democratic Reformers use the exact same play book to get their hands into the taxpayers piggy bank and hook up all their LearJet owning friends. A South-only SPS distict would look like Fort Knox to them. And the kids? Data points. WSDWG
"From the pointy- headed cluelessness of Arne Duncan, right down to the fatheaded vacuity of Ed Pettigrew."

Thank you for that laugh; I needed it.

Jan, I also think you should write those comments up as an op-ed and submit it to the Times. People need to hear this.
Anonymous said…
So whats the difference between "ed reformers" and people who just want the district to properly function?

I would say reform is required at SPS for it function properly.

That's the type of ed reform I want and if it takes a new admin approach I say lets give it a try before claiming the sky is falling.

Pete S.
TechyMom said…
And in that South Seattle district, the kids in Magnolia, Queen Anne, SLU, Capitol Hill, Madison Park, Seward Park and all along the various waterfronts would keep going to private school, likely in increasing numbers, while their parents' tax dollars would go to KIPP. There might be a nice artsy/alternative charter or two for a few lucky middle class kids.

Just a dumb idea.
Charlie Mas said…
@ Pete S, who wrote "if it takes a new admin approach I say lets give it a try"

Pete, let's only give it a try if there is any reason to believe it will create positive change. Otherwise we might as well try having the kids come to school with their socks inside-out. After all, we haven't been getting the results we want with the socks right side out. Those teachers who oppose the inside-out socks idea are just protecting the status quo and afraid of trying something new.
Anonymous said…
@Techymom: I'm afraid you're probably right, and I don't even want to think about it.

@Pete: We don't need reform. People in JSCEE simply need to do their jobs.

How many times have we heard "I'll have to get back to you on that" from staff, who then never "get back" to anyone with anything. SOP at JSCEE.

Why demand something different or new when nobody's actually tried just doing what they are supposed to do?

This mirrors the call for "reforming" the current Board, which the Times and Ed Reformers absolutely refuse to give a fair chance to function, knee-capping them every step of the way.

The only "reform" we need is to get rid of the corruption we have. Talk about the status quo! Good God! WSDWG
Anonymous said…
The best solution is to remove JSCFE
from the equation. JSCFE staff hide away and most never interact with the schools. They are completely out of touch.

Reduce administration staff and distribute the remaining employees around the district. For critical resources SPS could have small satellite administration buildings in each region. Then sell the JSCFE on ebay.

La coop
Anonymous said…
@Pete: We don't need reform. People in JSCEE simply need to do their jobs.

Apparently the board and the super believe they are doing their jobs.

Pete S.
Anonymous said…
Oh Pete - someone who as seen the inside of the monster, up close and personal, I can tell you there are many pockets of HQ that really lead one to ponder....

There are 2 schools of thought I've seen:
a)lay low, don't get noticed, appear to be playing the game
b) bluster, pontificate, pretend to be finding answers to citizens questions, look really really busy and important but never really fix anything, except perhaps your resume for the next/better job up the ladder.

I suspect neither the Board nor the Supt (whom many @ JSCEE have never actually even met) never gets to see the "real" insides of that place, and would be appalled if they did.

The answer isn't splight districts or the mayor's little powerplay drama. Its peeling back the layers of SPS's HQ - demanding people actually earn their paychecks or move on. Not that I believe for one second that quagmire is tameable - but that IS the answer to so many of the whys of SPS

Anonymous said…
@Pete: I do think this Board is doing the best job of any Board in the last 15 years. Unlike the last one, at least this board is trying to deal with real problems, instead of making them exponentially worse. See 2008 closures, for example.

I don't think enough people understand and appreciate the backbone it took to stare down the central staff Peacocks in full pride and demand the best Math for our kids, for just one example. The last time I saw the Board side with parents and the community and reject central staff recommendations was, well, let me think.....Oh. Never. WSDWG
Unknown said…
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said…
DWG - 99% of the time, I agree with you - THERE IS CLA$$ WAR - and it is that tiny minority of over lord$ & their lackeys & their dupes VS. the rest of us.
We gotta get real about this over lord cla$$ - they have 8 or 9 or 10 or higher figure net worth. That is over $10,000,000 or $100,000,000 or $1,000,000,000 - they like being on top, they like being in charge, and they'll do anything they can get away with to keep it that way.
One of their best sets of tools is setting those below them against each other - and a very useful tool in that set is yelling "don't start that class war thing!!! LOMG!!!"
In WA. state there are appx. 2,500,000 households & about 1/2 a million have money income over $100,000 a year. For 95% of that >$100k crowd, it is in their best self interest to NOT have 2,000,000 households living desperately on the edge - unless they want to spend all their personal wealth protecting their undisclosed locations - don't venture out unless you're in a armoured convoy & have lots of reliable armed guards!
As a district & a city & a county & state & a nation we gotta stop stepping on each other, but, we gotta do that to politically neuter the over lords & their lackeys.

Ann D said…
Powerful words from reader47:

"The answer isn't split districts or the mayor's little powerplay drama. It's peeling back the layers of SPS's HQ - demanding people actually earn their paychecks or move on."

Is Nyland and the rest of his management team up to the challenge?
Joe Wolf said…
To all of you who snark and bitch about JSCEE staff:

I invite you to spend a workday with me.

Can I spend a workday with you in return?

Oh, and sign your actual name.
Lynn said…

I'm guilty of referring to JSCEE staff when I post here when I actually mean these specific people who work in the JSCEE and are really pissing me off. I apologize.

You have to understand that when you post here to answer questions, it's quite often the only time a parent has encountered a helpful JSCEE employee.

Thanks for all the useful information you provide.
Anonymous said…
Joe you seem to be the exception to the rule at JSCEE. The information you provide is much appreciated here. I am sure there are more like you at JSCEE but very few of the over $100,000/yr types seem to be doing their jobs.


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