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Seattle Public Schools: Changes Coming

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Seattle Public School Board Part 1  10/15/2014
A meeting of the Seattle Public School Board. Part 1 of 3.
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Seattle Public School Board part 2  10/15/2014
A meeting of the Seattle Public School Board. Part 2 of 3.
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Seattle Public School Board part 3  10/15/2014
A meeting of the Seattle Public School Board. Part 3 of 3.
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Latest News:

Seattle Public Schools draws new boundaries
On Wednesday, June 17, 2009, the Seattle School Board voted 6-1 (Mary Bass voted no) to approve a new student assignment plan. The new plan would assign children to elementary, middle and high schools on the basis of geography. After decades of a “school choice” system, this action is a return to a neighborhood schools strategy. According to The Seattle Times, the goal of the new plan is to simplify the current assignment plan and save transportation costs. Currently, The Times continues, children can apply to “a wide range of schools but have no guarantee of a seat at any particular school.” The Times also reports that a group of parents protested the new assignment plan because it does not guarantee that younger siblings would attend the same school as their older brothers and sisters . Some of these parents have formed an organization called Keep Our Kids Together. The Ballard News Tribune reports that the School District will now develop specific geographic boundaries for each of its 92 schools. A draft map of the school boundaries will be available for public comment this fall.

Previous updates

Seattle Public Schools will draw new boundaries
On Wednesday, June 17, 2009, the Seattle School Board will vote on a new student assignment plan. Earlier this year, the Board voted 6-1 (School Boardmember Mary Bass voted no) to approve Policy D 03.00 that laid out the guidelines to develop new specific boundaries. According to The Seattle Times, the goal of the new plan is to simplify the current assignment plan. Currently, The Times continues, children can apply to “a wide range of schools but have no guarantee of a seat at any particular school.” The new plan would assign children to elementary, middle and high schools on the basis of geography. The Times reports that this has set off a debate among parents about the appropriate geographical boundaries for school placement.

Seattle Public Schools will draw new boundaries
On Wednesday, June 10, 2009, the Seattle School Board will hold a public hearing about its new student assignment plan. The Seattle School Board will vote on new specific assignment boundaries for its 97 schools later this year. At its April 22, 2009 meeting the Board voted 6-1 (School Boardmember Mary Bass voted no) to approve Policy D 03.00 that lays out the guidelines to develop new specific boundaries. According to The Seattle Times, the goal of the new plan is to simplify the current assignment plan. Currently, The Times continues, children can apply to “a wide range of schools but have no guarantee of a seat at any particular school.” The new plan would assign children to elementary, middle and high schools on the basis of geography. The Times reports that this has set off a debate among parents about the appropriate geographical boundaries for school placement.

New Superintendent named
Charleston County Superintendent to take over Seattle Schools

On April 12, 2007, Seattle School Board Members voted unanimously to name Dr. Maria Goodloe-Johnson as the new Superintendent. Goodloe-Johnson is currently the Superintendent for Charleston County Schools in South Carolina.

Within 48 hours of being named to the position, Goodloe-Johnson had released a four-page plan outlining her goals for her first six months on the job. Some top priorities include taking a ride along with the police chief, riding a bus route, getting to know city and state leaders and listening to community members. She cites her listening skills and being able to work as a team player for the children as strong assets she brings to the job.

"I can get pretty excited about the right stuff and I think the right stuff is the stuff we do for public education," she told community members at a Seattle meeting.

Board Members conducted their national search for current Superintendent Raj Manhas's replacement much more privately than the last search four years ago. Only the two final candidates were named this time around.

Goodloe-Johnson and the other finalist, Dr. Gregory Thornton, from Philadelphia, both came to Seattle in early April to tour schools, meet district leaders and take part in a question and answer forum with community members.

Board Members acted quickly, conducting site visits to each final candidate's home districts. Their original plan had them naming a new superintendent by the end of April, but they said competition from other districts searching for leaders prompted them to push up their timeline. Goodloe-Johnson will begin work in July.

Watch Dr. Maria Goodloe-Johnson's community meeting.

Watch Dr. Gregory Thornton's community meeting.

Voters appear to have given the go-ahead to school funding

While the final numbers may not be in for a few more days, it appears Seattle voters approved two school measures on February 6, 2007 that could give the district nearly $900 million. Both measures needed at least 60 percent to pass.

The ballot consisted of a six-year $490 million Capital Bond that will fund renovations and replace deteriorating schools and facilities in the city. It also includes money for air and water quality improvements as well as new safety features throughout the district.

Voters were also asked to approve a $397 million Operation Levy. The three-year measure funds basic classroom needs such as teachers, counselors, after school programs and more. This levy makes up nearly 25 percent of the district's day to day budget.

This bond and levy will replace measures voters approved several years ago. Final numbers are expected in a few days after absentee ballots are counted.

Seattle residents to vote on two school measures

Seattle voters will head to the polls on February 6, 2007 for two measures concerning the Seattle school district. At nearly $900-million the proposals would help aging infrastructure and fund basic classroom needs.

Proposition One is a six-year $490 million Capital Bond that would fund renovations and replace deteriorating schools and facilities in the city. It also includes money for air and water quality improvements as well as new safety features throughout the district. If Proposition One passes, it would cost about $264 a year for the homeowner of a $400-thousand dollar house.

Opponents to Proposition One say the schools slated for major renovations aren't some of the worst ones in the district. They want district officials to create a more comprehensive list of schools that would affect more students for a bond vote next year.

Proposition Two is a $397 million Operation Levy. The three-year measure would fund basic classroom needs such as teachers, counselors, after school programs and more. This levy makes up nearly 25 percent of the district's day to day budget. If approved, it would cost a $400-thousand dollar homeowner about $468 a year.

Opponents to the measures feel the district needs to deal with some of the turmoil that has surrounded Board Members and Superintendent Raj Manhas' resignation before more money is entrusted to the district. The district is currently conducting a nationwide search for Manhas' replacement. They are also facing a lawsuit over their controversial decision to consolidate and close several elementary schools.

If these measures pass, they will renew existing measures approved by Seattle voters a few years ago. Those paid for new technology programs and services as well as construction projects at several schools.

Watch the City Inside/Out episode on this topic.

Public provides ideal qualities for next Superintendent

On January 31, 2007, the Seattle School Board came out with a Superintendent profile based on public opinions, outlining the qualities and qualifications for the district's next leader.

Based on the profile, the next superintendent should have successful experience in education, leadership, teamwork, and fiscal management. The candidate should also be able to reduce academic achievement gap, inspire trust and confidence, and keep effective working relationship with public education stakeholders. It's also preferred that the candidate have experience in kindergarten-through-12th-grade education.

Over the past few weeks, the Board held several community meetings looking for public input on the selection criteria for the next superintendent. More than 150 individuals attended the meetings and more than 100 written comments were received.

Seattle Public Schools Superintendent Raj Manhas announced his resignation in October 2006 shortly after the second round of highly controversial school closures he proposed was by Board. Manhas will retire at the end of the current school year. The School Board has launched a national search for his replacement.

Mayor suggests interim Superintendent

Seattle School Board members have announced plans to begin their national search for a new Superintendent. Raj Manhas announced his resignation in October shortly after the second round of school closures he proposed was met with strong resistance from parents and rejected by school board members.

Former Mayor Greg Nickels has tossed another idea into mix: hire former Mayor Norm Rice as the interim Superintendent.

"I think the scenario of having former Mayor Rice come in provides stability for a year or two or three," Nickels said on the November 2006 episode of Seattle Channel's Ask the Mayor. Nickels' hopes Rice would help unify the board, raise community's confidence about the district and move forward with the difficult issues, such as school closures.

Some have suggested the idea of having school board members appointed by the Mayor and run as a city department. Several urban areas such as New York City, Los Angeles and Boston run their schools through the Mayor's office.

While he says the idea is worth a debate, it's not an issue he's strongly fighting for, Nickels said.

"The success of our schools is really critical to the success of everything else we're doing," he added. "We can't afford to let that system continue to drift."

The school board is expected to spend up to $175,000 in the national search to replace Manhas, whose contract ends in August. Board officials have set up an email address to receive input from community members about the superintended search: Superintendent search@seattleschools.org.

Phase 1 of school closures to go as planned

School Board members announced the first phase of school closures is moving ahead as planned. The announcement comes on the heels of School Superintendent Raj Manhas' resignation on October 23, 2006.

Manhas' resignation came just days after a highly contentious School Board meeting where several crowd members yelled racial slurs at Manhas and a School Board member. At the same meeting, the board tabled the second round of Manhas' school closure recommendation - a round the board had specifically requested.

Manhas' said his resignation wasn't related to the failed vote, but rather a personal decision. He is currently serving the final year of his three-year term as Superintendent. He'll retire at the end of the school year.

About 10 schools are slated to be closed and consolidated beginning in the fall of 2007. Several school board members say they'll have to go back to the issue of school closures at some point. School officials estimate they will save more than $4 million dollars a year with the closures.

The Seattle School District is facing a multitude of problems including decreasing enrollment, budget issues and drop-out rates.

School Superintendent steps down

Seattle Schools Superintendent Raj Manhas announced his resignation, Monday, October 23, 2006 amidst his controversial plan to close schools.

The Superintendent's resignation came just days after the School Board rejected his second round of closure options. At that same meeting several members of the crowd became loud and unruly at times as they protested against the closures.

In his resignation letter, Manhas said, "I believe I have fulfilled my responsibilities as Superintendent and have accomplished much during my tenure thanks to the dedication and skill of our staff, families and community partners."

Manhas' school closure plan was met with controversy when first proposed in 2005. He quickly withdrew the plan and created a citizen committee to review other cost-cutting options.

That board, the "Community Advisory Committee on Investing in Educational Excellence," came back with the same plan: close schools to cut costs. Officials estimated by closing about 10 schools, the district could save about $4.8 million annually.

The first round of proposed closures were approved this spring despite the outcry of parents. Seven schools are slated to close and combine with others next fall.

Manhas is currently serving the third and final year as his term of Superintendent. He said today that he will remain in his post until the end of the school year.

Watch the Seattle School Board meetings.

School closures approved

In a highly contentious and debated vote, the Seattle Public School Board voted 5-2 to approve Manhas' final recommendation on school closures at their July 26 2006 meeting. The vote comes after months of committee research and dozens of public hearings.

Schools set to close and merge are:



All proposed closures would take effect in time for the 2007-2008 school year except the mergers of M.L. King Elementary and T.T. Minor Elementary. That merger - which was generated by community support - will take place next fall for the 2006-2007 school year.

More school closures are expected to come later this year. During the meeting the school board also directed Manhas to identify more consolidations and closures in the North, Central and West sections of the district. Those closures are expected to be named by mid-September with a school board vote on November 1, 2006.

For more information on the closures, visit the district's Web site.

The closures are estimated to save the district about $4.8 million annually. The SPS hasn't closed a school since 1989.

School leaders are also in an experimental phase of eliminating the yellow school buses for high school students and giving them Metro bus passes. The district gets $13.4 million from the state for transportation, but it isn't enough. The district pays and additional $11.7 million to cover their transportation costs. Ballard and Franklin high schools are involved in the test run of students using the Metro buses. School leaders say one advantage of bussing students on public transportation instead of school busses is it gives schools the opportunity for a later start and that can improve students' productivity.

Key Schools’ advisory panel wants major changes

In 2005, Seattle Public School (SPS) Superintendent Raj Manhas set into motion a plan to get the district out of the red and keep students in the classroom and learning. It was a lesson plan that included closing 10 schools that were older and had low enrollment numbers, eliminating an alternative program but also included building two middle schools. Parents and community members were upset that their schools were being shut down without a chance to weigh in on the issue. Facing a strong public backlash, Manhas recalled his proposal and created the opportunity for community and parent involvement to help find the answer to the difficult questions facing the district.

In July 2005, Manhas created the Community Advisory Committee on Investing in Educational Excellence made up of 14 civic and business leaders charged with the task of coming up with ideas to help develop the district into a strong, successful, urban school district. After months of public meetings, surveys, comments and questions, the committee released their report in early February 2006. The Community Advisory Committee for Investing in Educational Excellence Report is a 60 page document of statistics, their recommendations and how the district, state, students and parents can make their schools stronger. The group broke their recommendations down into three categories:

  • Leadership
  • Academics
  • Fiscal viability

Leadership:
Members of the committee believe a stronger voice and guidance from Manhas and a cohesive, decisive voice from School Board members will help the district gain clear direction and rebuild public confidence that has waned over the years. Top three goals for leadership are:

  1. Strengthen leadership by improving governance and leadership capacity throughout the system.
  2. Ensure academic priorities drive dollars spent through the development of a rigorous, system-wide strategic planning and budgeting process.
  3. Establish clear lines of accountability throughout the system, based on the concept of earned autonomy.

Academics:
The district is facing an academic crisis consisting of low enrollment and high drop out rates. Currently, nearly 47,000 kids attend schools in the district. The district has a graduation rate of 59% and a dropout rate of 22%. Something all involved agree needs improvement. The top three goals for academics are:

  1. Place a major focus on teacher hiring, development and retention.
  2. Establish system-wide curriculum consistency and rigor, focused on math, science, reading and writing, with added emphasis on music and language.
  3. Invest in target class size reductions/improved student-teacher ratios.

Fiscal viability:
The SPS District has a $437 million budget. Committee members discovered that over the next five years, the district is projected to have cumulative deficits ranging from $15 million to $44 million. The report states structural deficits are due to district policy choices in transportation, facilities, salary clauses in the 2004 teacher contracts and limitations of the state-funding model. The top three recommendations to balance the budget include:

  1. Close schools to eliminate wasteful spending on buildings that are not full due to huge enrollment declines over the last 30 years through a process guided by a consideration for demographic trends, academic out comes and building conditions.
  2. Maximize the revenue potential of the district's surplus real estate.
  3. Reduce the gap between transportation services provided by the district and transportation funding allocated by the state by charging reasonable fees for some options.

Information from Community Advisory Committee for Investing in Educational Excellence.



Background:
Seattle Public Schools [SPS] is the largest school district in Washington State. SPS was founded in 1867 and purchased its first four school sites in 1869. By May 2009, it was operating 92 schools (53 elementary, 12 high schools, 10 K-8 schools, 10 middle schools and 7 alternative schools). SPS educates around 45,000 students and employs over 8,000 people including 3,097 teachers. SPS serves around 75 percent of the school-age children living in Seattle; the majority of the other children attend private school. Nearly 40 percent of the children who attend SPS are low-income and qualify for free or reduced-price meals.

SPS’s operating budget for 2008-09 was around $556 million. Most of the SPS’s funding ($300 million) came from the state of Washington followed by $120 million from levies approved by the city’s taxpayers. SPS has had budget problems for the last fifteen years. School Boardmember Steve Sundquist acknowledged to The Seattle Times that this most recent budget is unsustainable and may result in a $20 million budget deficit for 2009-2010. According to The Times, SPS’s budget woes come from a combination of rising costs and declining enrollment that results in lower revenue.

In response to its budget woes, SPS has cut costs in a variety of areas. The most visible debate over cost savings has occurred regarding school closures. First in 2006, SPS closed 10 schools; then in 2009, the school board voted to close five other schools. Each round of school closures has resulted in major debates between community members, parents, teachers and school administrators.

SPS has also struggled with graduation and dropout rates for many years. In 2005-06 (the most recent year available) the on-time graduation rate for SPS’s students was 44.7 percent. In 2004-05, the dropout rate was 14.9 percent.

SPS is overseen by the Seattle School Board. The Board’s seven members represent geographic districts in the city of Seattle and are elected to four-year-terms. Day-to-day operations of SPS are directed by the Schools Superintendent. On April 12, 2007, Seattle School Board Members voted unanimously to name Dr. Maria Goodloe-Johnson as the new Superintendent. Formerly Goodloe-Johnson was the superintendent for Charleston County Schools in South Carolina.



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If you have any questions or comments on this article, or if you have an In-Depth story idea, contact SEATTLE CHANNEL at contact@seattlechannel.org or 206-684-5755.



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