Thursday, November 18, 2021

Around the Horn with the Seattle School Board

Last night there was a school board meeting and a LOT of the meeting got taken up with farewells to Director Zachary DeWolf and Director Erin Dury. This was their last meeting as directors. (The new directors - Michelle Sarju, Vivian Song Maritz and current member, Brandon Hersey - will be given their oath of office on November 30th. Their first board meeting as directors will be December 1st.) Director Lisa Rivera Smith was not in attendance. 

I'll be honest; I always dislike these public farewells. I'm fine with noting it, taking a photo, and the Board president extolling their virtues, etc. but man, these extended lovefests just don't seem right at a public board meeting. Director Harris was talking about having margaritas with DeWolf. Save it for the party.

 However, we can learn from what directors say off the cuff. For example, Director Chandra Hampson made this statement, "No one ever remembers any of us after we are gone." I'm guessing she means publicly because I certainly remember many members from over the years. 

Then you have Director Hersey who clearly is the inheritor of Director DeWolf's "let me tell you about me first." He says that there were not a lot of directors who looked like him before - young, Black, recent college grad , transplant - which may be true but I also note that his hair seems to be turning gray fast. IT was a funny juxtaposition. He stated that neither he nor Director DeWolf even have a child and yet look at them working hard for kids. I could name several other past directors who had no kids; I'm guessing he just isn't aware of Board history. 

He said that the current Board was a family that sticks together. Are they or are they the family who sticks together because a couple of them are bullies? 

Also, Director Liza Rankin twice referenced what she said was her ADD and appeared flustered at times. Odd.

What was interesting is that all during the farewells, there was this steady chanting outside the building, "No mask mandates!" I don't know how many people there were but it had to be enough to go through the walls into the Board room. There was an item on the agenda - a resolution - of the Board asking the Washington State Board of Health to review whether to include a COVID vaccination to the list of required vaccinations to be in public school. I don't know if this resolution was the reason for the protestors. 

What was a bit puzzling is that the speaker list was half-full. And none of these protestors signed up to speak. It didn't appear any were in the room. So perhaps before the meeting, they were told to leave the room? Makes it sound like perhaps they were not Seattle residents but outsiders coming to stir the pot. 

The speaker list saw a couple of Ballard students complaining about their treatment at BHS by the administration. One girl said she had been raped by two boys and that when she reported it, she had to sit for an hour talking about it, without her parents, with administrators. There is to be a rally at JSCEE on this issue on December 1 with a possible forum at BHS. 

District watchdog Chris Jackins said that the Personnel report from the last Board meeting - one that I looked at and saw a large number of sub hires - has gone missing from the minutes. Hmmmm. He also protested that the hiring of a firm for the superintendent search went straight to the Consent agenda with little opportunity for the public to weigh in. The one the Board picked - Hazard, Young, Attea and Associates - is certainly better than the last one they used. 

One parent, Heidi McDonald, asked about the plan for the staffing shortages. She paused, thinking she would actually get an answer, and when none came, she said she didn't know how to communicate with the Board. Director Hampson curtly told her that she would address McDonald's email. 

Hey School Board, if you have no community meetings and you don't answer emails, then how would voters and parents communicate with you? 

One big issue on the agenda that seemed to just go by - the Board's Legislative agenda. Blandly stated, here's what it is:

The 2022 proposed legislative agenda is focused on the following areas:Stable and Equitable Funding and OperationsSupporting Student Well-BeingSupporting Student Learning Capital and Facilities

The 2022 proposed legislative agenda is focused on the following areas:Stable and Equitable Funding and OperationsSupporting Student Well-BeingSupporting Student Learning Capital and Facilities

The 2022 proposed legislative agenda is focused on the following areas: 

• Stable and Equitable Funding and Operations
• Supporting Student Well-Being
• Supporting Student Learning

• Capital and Facilities

If you read the fleshing out of these items, you hear this underlying current of worry because it seems the district has lost many students and that means losing funding. 

They also want - rightly so - reimbursement for public health costs that were more than expected as well as fully funding transportation costs. New director-elect Song Maritz, along with a couple of other parents, wrote a white paper on transportation - maybe she would be a good person to send to the legislature to ask for this.

Ditto on fully funding Special Education. 

One interesting finding is that this legislative agenda speaks twice of specific supports for Black AND Native American students. Given how pointedly the Strategic Plan focuses on just Black boys, that's something to wonder about.

The agenda also speaks of "ensure resources for individualized needs of all students" and I think that is quite aspirational because no large district can or does that. That's just a fact. 

Then we get to "Capital and Facilities Requests" and here's where it gets troubling. 

The district wants more capital funding for a couple of reasons. One is to buy electric cars, fine. And again blandly, "Seek capital funding to provide accessible, high-quality learning environments." Okay, sure. 

But then the district wants a law RCW 28A.320.330 - changed "to include curriculum as an allowable expenditure of local capital funds." As well, the district wants "to continue to allow all maintenance costs to be an eligible use of local capital funds." 

What does that paragraph mean? It means that the state funding given to SPS isn't enough to cover curriculum or maintenance needs. That state money IS supposed to cover basics and you can't get a more basic operational item than curriculum nor a more basic facilities item than maintenance. 

Keep in mind that the district ALREADY uses capital funds for academics. They use capital funds to support 90% of technology operations. So SPS already is behind in what they use state funds for and now they want to dig more into BTA and BEX funds? It makes a mockery of what those two capital levies are truly for. 

And the Board is going to go along with it. 

At the last Board meeting - November 3rd - there was another troubling Board action around capital issues and I think it was done to throw a bone to leaving director Zachary DeWolf. 

The Board was voting on accepting the BTA V levy wording. At the last minute - that day - DeWolf had put in an amendment. That was wrong because there is policy that amendments have to out sooner, especially for the public to weigh in. 

From the amendment:

Given the severity and acceleration of the climate emergency, Seattle Public Schools needs to do everything it can to mitigate climate change and prepare our schools to transition to cleaner sources of electricity. This amendment would increase the line item for Clean Energy Improvements in the Proposed BTA V Project Summary List from $1,000,000 to $12,000,000 to prioritize clean energy projects as part of building upgrades, as well as providing additional funding for contingencies.

In short, they raised the cost of BTA V from $765M to $783M. This changes the taxing for the levy and the district always loves to say that "your taxes won't change," well this time, it does.

I listened to the discussion of this change starting with its author, DeWolf. He just dripped with sincerity about how it was "mea culpa" and "I know this is not how we do things" and so on. Same with Director Harris. And yet all the directors voted yes. 

If this amendment was SO very important, how come not a SINGLE member brought it up months and months ago as this was being hashed out? No one talked about that but just congratulated themselves on caring about the environment. As well as making DeWolf look good going out the door. 

So folks, we have a Board that is making a habit of NOT following its own policies. They make up reasons for " just this once" and then do it again.  It is shameful behavior but it appears that this Board just doesn't care. 

Expect this to keep happening. 


Michael Rice said...

I think back to Charlie Mas who used to post: "Culture of Lawlessness" when discussing the the school board and the atmosphere at the John Stanford Center for Education Excellence. It seems as if nothing has changed after all these years.

Anonymous said...

Not a fan of Rankins comment on the vaccine:

“ For those who don't want to receive the vaccine if it were to become a requirement for students, "you do not have to participate," board member Liza Rankin said. No one is forced to attend public school, she added.”

How tone deaf. Like many students can afford private school or can home school. Would have been better off informing folks how they can receive an exemption, which is their legal right. Don’t assume everyone will magically come around on this. Unenrollment, layoffs, further disruption to the district may be some fallout of School Board tone, here. Just the facts, ma’am, no need to be all my way or the highway.

Vax You Very Much

Stuart J said...

Highline School District also has a superintendent search going, and their search firm is HYA. I wonder if there will be conflicts of interest. I also wonder if Seattle and Highline searches will overlap and save some time, so then the districts would get a price break.

Re curriculum as a part of capital: seems wrong. Capital is supposed to be for items with a very long life. Curriculum purchases get dated quickly, consumables are only good for a year.

I am still wondering what happened at the meeting where the board was going to allow a lot of things to be done via consent agenda.

Oy said...

I was shocked by Rankin's comments, too:

“ For those who don't want to receive the vaccine if it were to become a requirement for students, "you do not have to participate," board member Liza Rankin said. No one is forced to attend public school.."

Rankin basically showed complete lack of compassion for the parent that testified and feared giving her autistic child a Covid vaccine. Rankin's comment failed to acknowledge distrust in a system that brought us the Tuskegee experiment.

Every child is entitled to a public school education. Similar to Dr. Fauci, I expect the board to correct misinformation, allay fears and provide facts.