Parents Rising - Dear Directors

Dear Directors,

I write to you with both a heavy and joyful heart.  Heavy because there is so much frustration and sadness in our district this early in the school year.  Not because of the teachers strike but because of the staff cuts at a large number of schools. 

I am joyful because enough parents are now ready and willing.  I am joyful because, unbidden by me or anyone else, they have risen up to act.  I am joyful because they have decided that being nice, playing along and raising money for this district is no longer going to be the status quo for them. 
They feel insulted that they are expected to pay for basic education for their child when they are already paying into the system.  Now before you say McCleary, let me point out a couple of things to you.

1) It is absolutely true that this state has been starving (to use a parent phrase I heard today) our public education system.  One meal will not resuscitate nor sustain someone who is starving.

2) BUT our district is very cagey with how much money it has AND how it is spent.  There is NOT transparency in the dollars.  It does not seem to matter a whit to senior management. It is hurting the relationship that this district has with its parents and a day (or more) of reckoning is coming.

3) That there has been more hiring in central administration AND raises to senior management is not good in the face of these cuts. Honestly, no one believes the sliver on the budget pie chart for administration simply because it doesn't include BOTH central office AND central administration.

4) Neither you, as a Board, nor the district has been clear to parents on the dire situation our district faces.  With not-fully-funded education, our district needs to treat parents as adults, not children.

To whit:
- Maintenance.  Not happening and we all know it.  You asked taxpayers for hundreds of millions of dollars for new and renovated buildings that you will not maintain. And that backlog of maintenance?  Please do not believe nor repeated that tired statement that the BEX (whichever one is current) is cutting it because the problem is that you may retire some backlog but it just continues to grow between under-maintaining new buildings and the terrible aging process on our old buildings.  The backlog is NOT getting smaller. 

- The district moved $39M from the Capital budget to the General Fund this year.  In the BAR, one sum (about $15M) was moved to  the General Fund with no explanation of how it was to be used. None of you - to the best of my memory - asked.  Another sum (about $10M) was to be used for capital issues related to capacity management which kind of begs the question, "if it's a capital use, why didn't it stay in the Capital Budget?"  The last amount?  There was never any explanation of what it was to be used for. 

Please ask the district to publish - in detail - what each amount was used for.  If they don't, then parents have the right to be angry and suspicious.

- President Carr said at the Board meeting that yes, it was sad these cuts were happening and that some money had to go to pay for fulfilling the OSPI Sped issues.  That's true but see, if our district was in compliance, money would NOT be going out the door for lawsuits and compliance issues.  That's on senior management.  Why is no one being called out for costing the district dollars it cannot afford to lose?

- Former Superintendent Olchefske is the gift that just keeps on giving.  Not only did he run the district into the ground about $30M (most of which was never explained) but he brought us JSCEE.  I'm pretty sure that General Stanford, the law-and-order guy that he was, would roll over in his grave if he saw what his name was on today and the terrible cost to our district.

So there is a payment - in full - of $17M on the bonds for JSCEE that has to be paid in 2017. 

Now the BTA levy team has been out at the community meetings but, at the most recent A&F meeting, it was revealed that from here on out, all BTA/BEXs will have some portion of money to pay for JSCEE.
Could the district give us a FULL accounting of where we are now and where we will be after that payment and, of course, where the money will come from for that payment?

- Seattle Teacher Residency, also a gift that keeps on giving.  Because the Alliance, according to the Superintendent at the last Executive Committee meeting, didn't even return a call from HIM.  Is the Alliance still a partner on this or is the district going to be left holding the bag?  If so, shut it down. It's in the earliest years and yes, there are better things to spend the money on.

- Not charging rent to any group for long-term uses of SPS classrooms.  The district can no longer afford this.  Paying for utilities and custodial services is not enough.  I note that Cashel Toner mentioned that both the City-enrolled pre-k classrooms were severely underenolled and note that "we tried to help them." Was the district reimbursed for that service?  My fear is that, in the name of this new partnership, that the City is not paying its way for ITS program.

As I said, parents are now rising up.  That whole Soup for Teachers group?  None of the usual suspects there and I had nothing to do with it.  The newest group rising up against these staff cuts?  A new and young flock of parents. 

Parents are tired.  They want to send their children to schools where the building is clean and safe and not overcrowded.  They want to fund enhancements for their children, not maintenance and staff.  They do not want to see the "talk to the hand" attitude at Central and the seeming indifference to their pain and concern. 

You should understand - these are savvy, smart parents who see the writing on the wall.  They will take new measures to get the district's attention. 

For the majority of you leaving/up for reelection, is this the legacy you want to leave as you walk out the door?  A district where parents don't trust the Board OR senior staff? An disliked district that is fighting both a City and a County levy measure on the November ballot when its own levies come due in Feb.?

 Is your legacy to be the Board that so ignored parents that parents stiffened their resolve to not create change but force it?

I'm not a religious person but I was raised with religion.  I know from the Bible that as you sow, so you reap.  And if you sow the wind, you may reap the whirlwind.

Melissa Westbrook
Seattle Schools Community Forum Blog


mamashines said…
Melissa, your leadership is so valuable. Thank you for modeling careful stewardship of our city schools. I'm right here with you. -Liz H.
Liza Rankin said…
Thank you, Melissa! For sharing your knowledge and helping to empower us newbies. :) -Liza from SfT
Thank you for this Melissa. We are with you. 97 Schools, 1 District. ~ Richelle Dickerson
Angry SPS parent said…
As a new K parent to SPS I will happily stand up and fight for my children. The district has gone too far. Cut the fat at JSCEE!! Teachers and classrooms should be the last place to cut corners. It is ridiculous.
Anonymous said…
The fact is the lack of transparency and financial blundering has been fairly consistent during the last decade. The Board has supported and been the cheer squad for central admin since at least the Cheryl Chow years. It is not any different today.
[Lonely Sue Peters does not see the value in consensus support of every administrative action ... perhaps the next two years she won't be so alone.]

Whether the current parent uprising and coming Board elections will bring a positive change in the district remains to be seen. I am looking forward to directors that do directing.

Consider this from a school principal not in Seattle:
"Welcome Back!

Each school year brings new challenges to our students, teachers, parents and administrators. Our challenges are to bring fidelity and rigor to each of our classrooms. Fidelity meaning that our instructors will use the instructional strategies and deliver the content of the curriculums in the same way they were designed to be used and delivered and rigor meaning instruction, schoolwork, learning experiences and educational experiences that are challenging to and for the student."

This current Board adopted "Math in Focus" but has little interest in delivering the content of those "MiF" materials in the way they were designed to be used and delivered.

This district in far too many areas has very large achievement gaps and yet the Board continues to follow the advice from Central Staff rather than allowing teachers to make decisions in how to best deliver the instruction to the students. This Board does not require Central (Club Chaos) Staff to promote the use adopted "MiF" materials.

Cut central staff and allow teachers to teach effectively.

I am looking forward to actual transparency ... that would be a first. Peyton Wolcott had districts put the checkbook on line. That would be real financial transparency.

The coming election:
8 years ago these same 4 director positions were open and the 4 winners spent $480,000 to win.... hopefully we get a better outcome this time.

-- Dan Dempsey
Anonymous said…
Honestly, no one believes the sliver on the budget pie chart for administration simply because it doesn't include BOTH central office AND central administration.

Truer words were never spoken - its a semantics game they think is fooling us lowly citizen types. Um guys? Not so much. I wish I felt like new Board members will make a dent in this this point, I think only a failed levy will get sufficient attention. Sad that it's come to that. And that SPS Admin are so blind to the reality growing around them..

word said…
As an SPS parent, I agree wholeheartedly with this letter.
Anonymous said…
Agreed and thank you, Melissa!

North End Parent
Anonymous said…
Pulling teachers the way you pulled the teachers was the absolute last straw.
(Maybe some buildings were overstaffed, and a teacher pull was justifiable; problem is, WE don't know because the data was not presented, the big picture, the whole picture, was kept from us, and since we the public have no trust or confidence in you, you poured gasoline on the fire. The proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back.)

Families will fight back!

1) Vote NO on levies
2) Tell the Stranger and Seattle Times why you are voting NO:
-NO is for the kids
-NO is the ONLY thing that can 'redirect' the district into prioritizing kids, not themselves
3) Disregard the inevitable fear mongering that the district will unleash: it is not true; they can bring the levy back in 6 months or less and then we can pass it

To those who would say, voting no is too risky, this is playing with fire, I hear you, but, there are NO OTHER ALTERNATIVES TO EFFECT A SOLUTION to get our district onto a corrective course, plus, I would counter and say it is too risky pulling SpEd teachers from buildings, putting 4 lunch shifts in a single elementary school, doing without a full complement of counselors in every building, being insensitive to children who need bussing to avoid dangerous paths to schools, taking away far too much instructional time for standardize testing, denying kids appropriate recess, etc. The list is long. Their JSCEE has been feathered, the schools? Not so much.

Our district suffers from entrenched arrogance. Hence, the chronic bad decisions which do not reflect the desires of the community or the best practices of education. The only way to stop them in their tracks? The only way to effect a solution? Vote NO. Nothing else has worked: not petitions, not 2 minute testimonials, not new/different board directors, not task forces, not even a strike. Even high quality directors (Sue Peters) who are smart, dedicated, hard working, full of common sense and the right priorities can't change the way things are done.

Why? Because staff comes to them at the last minute, with no real information, no real analysis, and says 'do this now', 'we have no time to do it any other way' and 'I don't have any info to answer your questions' and 'if you don't do this now, there will be severe problems and the system will grind to a halt'. How many times have we see that dance at board meetings? That is why even a group of 7 great directors won’t be able to change anything. Even if the board were to try, they get pilloried as 'micromanagers'.

The only thing that will make the Super and his cabinet sit up, pay attention, and actually act is if they know the public won't take it anymore. The only way for the public to do that? Vote NO.

When fear mongering begins, it will be designed for one propose only: to get your yes vote, to get the levy to pass first time with 50%+1. That is the only thing they want, that is the only thing that drives them; that is all they need; that is all they care about; that is all they have to have. And, if they get it, they are done.

Be brave. Be kind. Be engaged. Vote NO.

Vote NO (con't)
Anonymous said…

They will not mend their ways, they will NOT cut excess suits in JSCEE unless and until their back is against the wall. They will not tell us about the coming high school in shifts until after they get your money, and then it will be too late to punish them for poor management (it didn't have to be this way, but now, with the years of Banda + Nyland, there really is nothing else to rescue high school. All the time Herndon spent wasting efforts on that building downtown and on flying to Boston for preschool instead of solving high school can’t be undone. ) We cannot change the past, but, we can hold them accountable for the future.

What is accomplished by voting NO? A MASSIVE yank of the leash. A clear message on how we think they are doing. A NO vote is a vote of non-confidence. It is the public telling the super that he has to do more with what he does have, and, stop wasting everyone's time on blind-ending allies. To stop planning in secret. To start being an open book. To say, ‘ok, I get it, and, I am sorry. Here is what I can do’.

We don't expect him to be a miracle worker, we do expect him to support a culture of 'customer service' at JSCEE and a culture of transparency (his customers are K-12 students + certain preschoolers). It is ok to not know the answer. It is ok to have the wrong answer. It is even ok to say you didn't have the time to do the background work you would have preferred. BUT, it is not ok to BS us, bluster, bully, and obfuscate. You are making messes the rest of us have to live with. Because while you and cabinet will rotate through and move on in, what, 3 years, the rest of us will still be here living with and paying for your bad decisions and arrogant ways and failed experiments. Every Day Math, anyone? No auditorium for Wilson Pacific (but, $6 million for extra managers?!)

Down below the cabinet, in the rank and file of Facilities or Teaching and Learning, etc, there are great people! Smart and honest staff who do show up every day and work 14 hour days to make things better, they deserve better leadership. If they were allowed do their jobs and not be 'managed' by their bosses and their bosses' bosses, thing might have been quite different. High school would likely not be on the brink of collapse. But, they kept down and are enmeshed in the culture that prevents their brains and contributions from having an effect.

Nyland and Wright and Tolley and Herndon and Echeverria and McEvoy are in no position to ask or make demands that others make sacrifices in tight times if they are not willing to do the same. Leadership starts at the very top. And, to lead is to serve. Ask not of others what you yourself are not willing to do, to give, to sacrifice.

Help start the push to correct this morass. Only you have the power. Don't look to the Board, the PTSA, the Blog, the City, the Legislature to fix this. Look to yourself. Consider your power. Consider your vote.

Be brave. Be kind. Be engaged. Vote NO.

Vote NO
"A NO vote is a vote of non-confidence. It is the public telling the super that he has to do more with what he does have, and, stop wasting everyone's time on blind-ending allies. To stop planning in secret. To start being an open book. To say, ‘ok, I get it, and, I am sorry. Here is what I can do’."

And you know, I think that is what Nyland would say if he got a course correction.

" Don't look to the Board, the PTSA, the Blog, the City, the Legislature to fix this. Look to yourself. Consider your power. Consider your vote."

Vote for those Board candidates who are running for change and vote for progressives for City Council. Because if you vote in the more Establishment candidates - Braddock, Johnson, Bagshaw, Burgess and Gonzalez - they will work with Murray to take more control of the district. I guarantee it.
Anonymous said…
It's not just parents that should be rising up. All taxpayers fund this dysfunctional administration and deserve an accounting of where their tax money is REALLY being spent (hint- not on the children). I wish these issues were wider publicized and better known outside of actual SPS families, it may not affect everyone personally but it does indirectly in many ways (tax dollars, property values, employee retention, levies etc). What about all these highly educated young people taking jobs in the city - they will have families one day and I'm sure they don't want to inherit this mess ( and they can't all go private). Pity there isn't some real investigative journalism in this city - because chronicling the last decade at SPS would be rich material.

Spread the word
Anonymous said…
Indeed. As the election draws near, I'd love for someone to write a concise post that I can share with my taxpaying, non-parent (as of yet) or parents-of-younger-than-school-age-kids friends who are fairly new to Seattle, that outlines why they might consider voting for or against these various issues (and people). I stumble all over myself when I try to explain because it's such a morass, and there's backtracking (I'll bet most don't even know what a BEX or BTA is). School districts just weren't these behemoth monsters where most of us came from. And no one I know WANTS to send their kid to private school.

I stumbled across this blog when I was pregnant and started reading then. Unfortunately, as the sea of acronyms and issues has clarified, I've gotten more angry. I ought to be a ball of joy by the time my kid starts school.

-New Mom

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