Director Sue Peters' Letter to Mayor Muray on Pre-School in SPS

I will note that Director Murray has received no answer from the Mayor.

I will note that Councilman Tim Burgess announced this week to an elementary school group that there WILL be 14 classrooms in SPS with the City's preschool plan.  Not "may" or "hopefully" but "will."  He did NOT mention the vote tonight by the Board nor did Director Marty McLaren.  In fact, McLaren said nothing about his statement in her own remarks.

Done deal much?

You will also recall that the Action Item on tonight's agenda has some Exhibits attached and that I had stated that there was no Exhibit "C."  Well, there is but it is not attached.  It's mentioned here in Exhibit B:

Section 100. Performance Targets and Scope of Work

Throughout the term of this Agreement, the Agency shall support the City’s Seattle Preschool Program Levy Goals included in Exhibit A and achieve the Performance Targets described in Exhibit C to this Agreement as an Agency provider of SPP by providing the Scope of Work (“Work”) implementing a Program consistent with the description set forth in Exhibit B to this contract.

Why isn't this in the Action Item?  Those Performance Targets are the ones that are the subject of the 25% holdback of money that the City insists on.  Those Performance Targets are the ones that the Superindent called mostly "procedural."

Additionally, assistant Legal Counsel, Ronald Boy, in an recent e-mail to a parent said this (bold mine):
I think it is important that you have a little bit more information regarding your questions about Cashel’s (Toner) statement at the Executive Committee meeting. As you know, the city of Seattle is working to implement a preschool program on an extremely short timeline. As partners in this project, we have been working with them to get everything put together and we were negotiating changes to the service agreement for most of the day of the committee meeting. A couple hours before the meeting, we made the decision, with the city’s approval, to make changes to the structure of the agreement which I finished with little time before the meeting began. The Board is getting all documents that are part of the service agreement and at this point I don’t expect any substantive changes will be made to them. 
1) why is the City's "extremely short timeline" the district's issue?  Isn't lunch/recess time, SBAC scores, capacity management, start of a new school year, etc. the district's MAIN focus right now? I would think so.

2) To the "all documents" point - where's Exhibit C and why is is missing?  We are just hours away from the Board meeting (and to the staff, it is now TOO late to insert it and there is no excuse that will allow this to happen without suspicion).
August 12, 2015 

Dear Mayor Murray, 

As a School Board Director, Seattle Public Schools parent and longtime public education advocate, I strongly support public efforts to help all children succeed academically. 

I write to you today because I have some questions about the scope and promise of the City’s Seattle Preschool Program (SPP), and partnership with the District, and request some clarifications and modifications, which I hope you will be able to address. Specifically: 

1. Will SPP create 2,000 additional seats – or absorb existing seats? 

Your “Preschool for All” initiative (1B on the Nov. 2014 ballot) spoke of providing 2,000 preschool seats in the next four years. As a voter, I assumed that meant the City’s program would establish 2,000 additional seats to what already exists. But upon learning in early July (via the Seattle Times: First sites, providers announced for city’s subsidized preschool program) more details of the City’s SPP plan, which consists of converting existing preschools located within the School District to the City’s program, and in recent conversations with staff members from your Department of Education and Early Learning (DEEL) and SPS who have requested two more classrooms in SPS join the city’s program (Bailey Gatzert and Van Asselt elementaries), it appears that the City’s plan largely consists of converting existing seats, rather than creating new ones. 

Is that a correct understanding of the direction if not intent of the Seattle Preschool Program? 

(When I asked Interim Director of DEEL, Holly Miller, at the last School Board meeting on July 2 what was to be gained by the District redirecting an existing preschool classroom to the City’s program, she indicated that the City’s focus was on quality rather than quantity.) 

2. Why does the City insist upon a 25 percent “holdback” of reimbursement to the District? 

Can you also please explain the city’s requirement of a 25 percent (“performance based”) “holdback” of reimbursement to the School District for its services, should it become a preschool provider within the City’s program? 

(See: Board Action Report d/14-15agendas/070115agenda

This stipulation was not divulged to the School Board during the discussions preceding the June 17 vote on the City’s and District’s agreement concerning SPP. In fact, the lack of specificity about the costs and commitments of the SPP plan to be incurred by the School District is one of the reasons I was not able to support the agreement as written, and was compelled to vote against it. 

This “holdback” condition is highly problematic and let me explain why. This stipulation puts District resources at risk. It also does not represent a good-faith partnership. 

The School Board has a fiduciary duty to safeguard the resources of the District and keep them focused on our primary mandate, which is K-12. For those reasons, I maintain it would be an abrogation of the School Board’s duties as stewards of finite SPS resources to enter into an agreement in which we would promise to offer complete services – and free valuable space – in exchange for an assured payment of only 75 percent of costs. 

That this is how the City arranges payments under the Families and Education Levy is not fully relevant to this new phase in the City-District partnership and in fact does not instill confidence. For, as you know, the FEL stipulations recently came under public scrutiny when the City withheld funding from two schools, Sandpoint and Emerson Elementary, due to a change in principals. (Thank you for responding to the community and the District about that matter and appropriately restoring all the funding.) 

3. Recognize that free classroom space for preschool is already a valuable contribution from the Seattle School District.

Also, as you likely know, current Board Policy allows reduced or free rent of SPS buildings to some organizations providing educational services. Consequently, that will mean many proposed SPP classrooms will be located in SPS buildings at no rental cost. 

As I stated at the July 2, 2015 Board meeting, SPS is not just any preschool provider or partner, but the largest and most significant educational organization in the City and, as is becoming increasingly apparent, the chief provider of space and resources for the City’s plan. The mere fact that the vast majority of proposed SPP sites for 2015-16 will be in SPS buildings is a clear indication of this.
Therefore, if the district provides in good faith services as well as free space, why should the City withhold 25 percent of reimbursement to the District for these costs? 

4. Therefore, I ask that the City remove the “holdback” contingency from its potential agreement with the School District and instead guarantee complete reimbursement for costs associated with becoming an SPP provider. 

5. What does it mean to “play ball” with the City? 

In a recent Seattle Times article, you referred to the district ‘playing ball’ with the City. What did you mean by that? 

There is no question that the Seattle School District is committed to early learning. In fact, the District has a longstanding, demonstrated support of early learning, which predates the City’s preschool initiative by many years. The District already provides 66 classrooms serving over 1,600 preschoolchildren of various abilities and backgrounds across the District, and has been recognized for its Head Start program.

I cannot emphasize enough the severe capacity challenges the District is facing. With Amazon adding thousands of jobs, Expedia moving downtown in 2 years, as the many instances of traffic gridlock and development have demonstrated, Seattle is one of the fastest-growing cities in the nation and this growth is bringing many children to the doorsteps of our public schools. It is a positive problem to have and a testament to the hope and reputation of our School District. But it also means the District has legitimate concerns and challenges with space and how it is committed. 

From the beginning of the conversation about the City’s preschool program last year, the School Board – and the greater community – has made it clear that we have a capacity crisis, and our primary mandate is K-12, which remains not fully funded (as established by the McCleary decision).
Therefore, any collaboration with the City regarding preschool must not commit space or resources that the District needs for our primary mandate. So it came as a surprise to learn from the Seattle Times, that the city plans to establish its preschool program in 7 more Seattle School buildings. The School Board was not informed of these plans until we read about it in the Times in early July. 

In short, how can the District “play ball” when the City does not keep the District – which includes the School Board – fully informed and clearly tell us what ‘game’ we are playing? Moreover, by providing valuable free space, the District is already making a valuable contribution to the City’s preschool program. 

Please understand, the School Board is mandated by policy, law and our Strategic Plan to be responsible stewards of the public resources, facilities and students that we oversee. I take that duty very seriously. 

Transferring SPS space and resources to the City preschool program is not an insignificant matter. For this partnership to succeed, it must be conducted in a manner that is respectful, transparent, and acknowledges the realities of the School District as well as the goals of the city.
Thank you for your consideration of these points. 

Sue Peters
Seattle School Board Director, District IV
Audit and Finance Committee Member
Curriculum and Instruction Policy Committee Member
Head Start Board Liaison
cc. Seattle City Council


Anonymous said…
"Recognize that free classroom space for preschool is already a valuable contribution from the Seattle School District."

I'm sure local districts levy contribution of 2 billion per year was a "valuable contribution" to basic education.

"valuable contribution" being a euphemism for slushy accounting, or just plain illegal shirking of financial responsibility and proper public accounting.

Anonymous said…
I swear she's the only one on the board with any sense of what it means to provide oversight.

For or against the Pre-K initiative, one thing is clear. Sue Peters will not agree to terms that are vague and unclear.

Why everyone else will, is a huge mystery.

NW mom said…
northewesterner, I was just going to say the same thing. Kudos to Director Peters for actually expecting her questions to be answered. Why this is so beyond most anyone else on the board is indeed mystifying.
Anonymous said…
The Peters letter is strong and covers her butt when inevitable future questions arise.

Doubt it will do a damn thing though. The votes to move forward are there and the shebang will pass tonight. No need then for the city to answer. And the board will just shrug and say it's the Supe's problem from here on out. They do policy, he does operations. ---Insert canned laughtrack here.--- Martin-Morris and Carr and Burgess will spend the rest of their lives pointing to preschool as their signature achievement when the reality is a program that was already in operation and a further squeeze on our K12 students and staff.

The only word that describes the situation adequately starts with 'cluster'.


Anonymous said…
If the points in that letter are accurate--and they seem to be--it's mind blowing to not see every single Board member's signature at the bottom. That other Board members are willing to accept such an arrangement in the absence of answers to these questions suggests they are not doing their required duty and ought to be recalled.

Watching said…
I need to go through the details of this post with a fine tooth comb, but the sequence of events are disturbing.

First, the board signed a vague Partnership agreement with a promise to vote on details of Service Contract. The Service Contract will be introduced tonight and it is the board's job to accept city funds. In doing so, the board allows the superintendent to sign the Service Contract. The Service Contract should have been brought to the board separately.

Second- The Partnership Agreement was signed and the next day(!), at an E. Committee meeting, the board learned of the 25% holdback.

Third- At some point the board learned that there are 1600 prek children being served within SPS. Some of these prek are private providers that are partnering with the city and receiving free space.

Fourth- There were significant changes to Service Contract at the last minute

Fifth-Exhibit C deals with performance targets- which relate to 25% hold-back fee- is missing from the bar and language related to Exhibit C is embedded into Exhibit B.

One may wonder whether the work is sloppy or there is an intentional effort to withhold information from the board....some might say scaffold.

I've formed my opinion.

Meanwhile, Rising Moms (works with LEV) and Social Venture Partners launced a national campaign for board support, and have lined -up a long list of speakers for tonight's meeting.

Watching said…
"The Board is getting all documents that are part of the service agreement and at this point I don’t expect any substantive changes will be made to them. "

Except Exhibit C. Noted.
Anonymous said…
I so wish some of the other Board members took their oversight duties as seriously as Director Peters does. She's asked some highly pertinent questions and deserves those answers before the Board votes. Sadly, I doubt she'll get them and this sad parade will continue some easily foreseeable cluster, as DistrictWatcher so aptly suggests.

Anonymous said…
The information I received from a trusted source is that Sue has been marginalized by mostly all the other board members. At one point last year, Peters was forced to make PRRs to get around the administrations refusal to provide her any information.

At the June 18th candidates meeting, Carr made it very clear that incoming board members should take care in not creating more work for the administration. She said, "the administration is sensitive to request, especially when not channeled through the superintendent first". I believe Leslie Harris can confirm this statement, as well as the others who attended.

The district has adopted hook, line and sinker the broad foundation's board operation model. Everything that can be done to diminish the school board power is being done right out of the play-book. In my opinion there are only two candidates in November that will actually fight for our schools and our students. These are the candidates that have been making PRRs in order to actually try to determine what's really going on at the JSCEE.

I would recommend for people to look for themselves which candidates have been actually doing something or articulating changes VS those candidates not articulating anything. I'm just tired of the same old plain vanilla candidates with nothing to offer, but the same old line "I'm not a micro manager"

Maybe it's time to start micro managing?

36th District

Anonymous said…
This is what every member of the board should be asking.

The Mayor has it made. Rather than creating 2000 NEW seats, simply convert the existing ones and declare Pre-k a success! Dump most of the work and risk and financial issues on SPS, trot out his expensive DFER/TFA figurehead (and her hubby) when needed for sound bytes, and his re-election chances are all but assured and his legacy is set. Mayor Ed Murray established universal Pre-K in Seattle! All hail the savior!

Frustrated said…
Maybe it is already covered in the post or prior posts but the agenda for the meeting tonight also appears to include proposed amendments from Director Peters to limit the expansion to just one location and restore some of the termination language that had previously been removed. It seems that this would at least be some improvement and give the other board members cover to say they didn't entirely vote it down as big bad meanies to poor kids.
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Anonymous said…
Anon said: Does this mean our tax dollars are now being used to pay for preschool seats that we were already providing? That just doesn't seem right. Perhaps we need a second legal action to pursue a return of our tax dollars.

To which I'll add: And are we paying more for these seats under the SPP than we were before? How would no increase in seats, but an increase in costs, be an improvement? Oh right, it's an improvement in "quality" if not quantity... So is SPS saying their old preschools were bad, and the city is better are running quality preschool?

Anonymous, I will be eliminating your comment (no anonymous comments) but to your question - those preschool seats were paid by fed dollars (Head Start) or other public dollars. However, those preschools were 3-4 hours - the City is paying for a "six-hour academic day."

If we get 500 NEW seats out of this program, citywide, I'd be shocked. It looks like all the City wanted to do is take over preschools in Seattle Schools to try out their new vision.

HF, I don't know the City would say those preschools are "bad" but rather the City's is the highest quality.
mirmac1 said…
The board should have voted on the CONTRACT valued at over 250K. The agreement GCs provided with the BAR clearly show there is an arms-length contract with consideration and valued at >$650K. I would gladly be party to a lawsuit.
mirmac1 said…
The district will be expected by parents like me to offer equitable PreK services to preschoolers with disabilities and ALL their needs. Where does the COS-SPS "boilerplate" general/special conditions address that? It doesn't. Because that's how SPS rolls - act now, figure it out (and fail) later. I've decided it is my personal mission to hold SPS to the same level of commitment, verve, and machinations that they've done for this latest bright shiny thing. Period.
Leslie said…
@ 36th.


Leslie Harris
Disgusted said…

To date, the district has spent hundreds of SPS administrative hours on the city's program and have not reimbursed the district one penny; there is no documentation to indicate the city will ever reimburse the district. Meanwhile, administrative staff moan that they have too much work to do.

We don't have nurses to take care of kids with peanut allergies, and the city thinks we have nurses to maintain health records!!! What happens when a prek student has anaphylaxis on an SPS site and there is no nurse? Lots of finger-pointing- I'm sure.

The Executive Committee should have insisted on an audit and finance meeting, operations meeting and work session. Epic failure.

A lot of last minute changes to agreement did not allow for discussion.

LEV/RisingMoms put on quite a horse and pony show. In addition to audio being out, I couldn't help but notice they didn't show Melissa's face. For Melissa, a view of Melissa's back speaking to the dias was fine.

Let's just wait for the first big lawsuit and see what happens.
Disgusted said…
"Recognize that free classroom space for preschool is already a valuable contribution from the Seattle School District."

I'm sure local districts levy contribution of 2 billion per year was a "valuable contribution" to basic education. "

NNCR makes a good point about levy dollars that are being used to create prek spaces when the district is growing at 1000 students per year, and 6000 students are in portable buildings- not to mention evaporating playground space.

Burgess was at a K kick-off at Van Asselt Community Center. Has anyone heard talk of the city using their community centers for prek?

It will be interesting to see how many locations are NOT at Seattle Schools' buildings. I'd bet very few will be at community centers.

As I told the Board, I will be filing a complaint with the State Auditor on the very concerns that Disgusted raises.

I have to say that SPS parents may not be so happy when dollars, resources and space go to pre-k (and it can be charted). There are those Feb. 2016 levies.
Anonymous said…
"At the June 18th candidates meeting, Carr made it very clear that incoming board members should take care in not creating more work for the administration. She said, "the administration is sensitive to request, especially when not channeled through the superintendent first". "

Uh, did Director Carr decide to conveniently forget that it is the Board's job to supervise the Superintendent--and NOT to have that individual decide how the Board will exercise their legal authority?
Carr and some of the others are sensitive about having others know that they, because they make decisions without all of the necessary information, sit back and allow the public to be screwed over?!
The question I have is what do the school board members receive for refusing to do their jobs? For doing Broad, Gates,and the rest of the wealthy crew's bidding?
If the City of Seattle eventually takes over, does this mean that the Board members who help to usher in this "not - so brave new world" will get some sort of pat on the back?
I realize that while being on the school board is a thankless job in so many ways, this trend is appalling.

--Modern Sound
mirmac1 said…
I'll lay bets that Carr pushed that the SPP Bar conveniently only addresses voting on the grant. SPS Superintendent Policy clearly shows that revenue-producing contract over $250K (like this one) shall be approved by the board. Doh! You'd think the Board President might remember that!? Selective amnesia. It's all about pushing this BS through. SAO finding in the making.
Modern Sound, somehow, someway, Board members have been hoodwinked into believing they are a problem to staff and that they shouldn't be.

But they are elected to do an job that involves oversight and any superintendent (and senior staff) that don't like it might consider another district. What has been passed by this current Board has not passed the sniff test (and would not at most districts, not to mention companies).

I frankly think there is nothing to be done except elect new Board members who will actually to the job of oversight especially on fiscal matters.
Anonymous said…
I see many problems with the way SPS conducts it's board meetings. It beings with elevating the position of superintendent to parallel the board. You will notice the board and the super sit at the same level at board podium with the super next to the President, this projects that they are at the same power level. Then you will notice any effort by certain board members to press the administration are labeled as "dysfunctional" by some member of the administration.

We need to watch the board closely, they smell possible change coming and I believe outgoing board members will start to initiate scorched earth tactics in their final months in an effort to further weakening our boards capabilities. To counter this, we must elect new board members that are tenacious, smart, and are NOT status quo. We need people who walk their talk.

Who are those candidates?

On a side note;
To better understand how a board meeting function, I think all parents should read "A Practical Guide to Effective School Board Meetings" You will see it's all a show with the real work being done in advance without much input from the board.

Hale Parent
Hale Parent, I agree; I think some exiting Board members will move to shore up the administration AND I think, come January. there will be more attempts by some Seattle legislators to divide the district and/or turn over some Board posts to the Mayor.

Who are those candidates?
Jill Geary, Leslie Harris and Rick Burke.

I just don't know about the District 1 candidates. As well, in two years, we have to re-elect Sue Peters and find good people to replace Betty Patu (who I perceive will leave after 8 long years) and definite replace Stephan Blanford (because beyond not liking his where his attention is focused, I think he is probably the best rubber-stamp on the Board.
Transparency Please said…

The board voted on the city/prek partnership program 2 days ago, and the city is enrolling students into both Van Asselt buildings. One would have thought it would have taken the district/city a bit of time to organize teachers, classroom, enroll students etc.

Anonymous said…

Is there anything we as parents/voters can do to prevent /head off attempts by Seattle legislators to divide the district and / or turn over some Board posts to the Mayor?

(And can I just say - for the record - how much I despise Ed Murray? I was neutral on him before he became mayor. Actually I hoped McGinn would get a second term, but I didn't think Murray would be quite as dire as he has turned out to be.)

Update said…
The board voted to accept funding from the city, and allow the superintendent to sign the Service Agreement Contract. The vote was placed on August 19th.

It is worth watching the board meeting. SPS's attorney- Mr. Boy- states at minute 46 that staff didn't have time to do a line by line analysis of the Service Agreement between the City of Seattle and SPS. Issues related to contract termination, union/city/sps are unclear etc. Furthermore, SPS's attorney- Mr Boy- tells the board that changes will be made to service contract- after the board votes. There were changes to the Service Agreement AFTER the Ex. Committee meeting, and changes were not vetted in committee.

With the exception of Director Sue Peters, all board members voted to accept city funding, and allow the superintendent to sign the service contract.
Update said…
The the board majority accepted city funded and will partner with the city's prek program. It is worth noting:

1. The district has NOT presented the board with over-arching policies. Hard to believe that the district/board would operate in such a shoddy manner. Students will be in classrooms within a couple of weeks.

2. The board has not established guiding principles.
Update said…

The board majority accepted city funding and partnered with the city's prek program.

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