Wednesday, December 17, 2008

FUBAR Fits the Bill

Trying to add pictures right now is making my computer freak out completely, so I'll deal with that lay-tah. And, just as a warning, this is a strident post about a local issue.

We’re caught up in the debacle that is the Seattle Public Schools Superintendent’s closure plan that will (supposedly) help get us to "Excellence For All." It can’t be just me that’s instantly suspicious when bureaucratic organizations come up with annoying, generic little marketing tags like that.

The opera has played out in, well, operatic fashion. One school completely knifed another in the back to save themselves. It turns out that pretty much everybody hates the nerd school (which, of course, is where my sweet, but nerdy, boy goes). The Superintendent has set up hearings for the Board of Directors to attend. And then she publicly said that the hearings are really just a chance for the public to vent, and don't make a difference. She also said publicly that "no school is safe."

So the upshot? To close 7 buildings, the Superintendent’s plan involves forcing 5,028 kids to move. There are about 45,000 kids in the district.

As a point of reference, in the last round of closures, of 5 buildings closed (there were I think 7 buildings closed, but some of the data is sparse on the last two), 743 kids were forced to move, and it still cost the district a total of about $2M to $2.7M. If you even optimistically supposed that it will cost half as much per kid to move this time (because... well, I don't know how you would suppose that, but I'll bet they have), that’ll still run you a whopping $6.8 to $9.4 million. And that doesn't include revenue loss from kids that leave (about $3.6M or more), and a contract the district has with one of the moved schools to provide them with a remodel ($10M).

I understand that building closures are year-over-year savings, so that although the first year might not provide extensive savings, following years will, and that it really adds up. And actually, I'm not against all closures. I can see where it might make sense. Even so? This makes no sense.

And last time? Although the five elementaries that closed weren’t rich, about 20% of the kids moved still left the district (you could make an argument for 15%, because some of the kids were from out of the district, but even so- 20% of kids who were enrolled and moved left the district). That would map out to a tidy 1,000 kids this time, more than 2% of our 45,000 or so enrollment. And that's supposing, given the level of turmoil, that the number will stay around 20%. It might go up.

The stated reason for the closures is that our district is in the middle of a financial crisis. I’m not disputing the financial crisis. However, looking at the schools that are on the list for closures, moves and consolidations, more than half of them are alternative schools (and for the purpose of this, I’ll say nerd school is alternative, but that’s arguable). Even if you don't care about whether or not alternative schools are treasured by their communities, or good programs, if an alternative school is within standard of student costs for similar standardized schools, than they reinforce the strength of standardized schools by functioning as an incubator for new teaching methods and serving the kids who would be under-served in a standardized school. And, cynically, they don't cost you extra for doing that. So why chop them up? And from the way she talks about "corporate structures," "streamlining" and "efficiencies" it looks like standardization is what the Superintendent wants (also, Ms. Superintendent: successful corporate structures with customers put customers first, their workers second and their executives last, not the reverse).

It’s all very depressing, in particular because when more than 10% of a district’s enrollment is being moved around, it's clear that nobody who made the plan was thinking of how to disrupt the lives of the fewest number of students for the greatest savings.

There’s no way that I would be as informed of the effects of the whole plan as I am if my son’s school wasn’t affected. But I am incredibly angry, not just about my child’s school, but about the disruption to many students lives and the dismemberment of so many valued programs and schools. On a personal level, I'm angry about what the district is doing to our program, but I believe that it will probably be okay (but not because of the district). But that's not the case for so many programs and children. Do I see that someone has to get the axe? Sure. Well... mostly. And it sucks. But it would suck a lot less if it seemed like there was an impartial, fair framework of criteria that was carefully used, and there were concrete plans, laid out to affected school communities, to demonstrate how the education of affected students would improve as a result. Promises for "design teams" and "support" are a whole different kettle of fish than actual planning.

Our Superintendent keeps talking about how data driven she is, but with data like this, it looks like she's driving us off a cliff.

On a bright note, private schools in Seattle are doing really, really well.


inDdecor said...

From one Seattle parent to another-great post! We seem to go through this crap here about every five years, and the special programs, like APP and alternative schools are always on the block. That's so hard to understand, because some of those schools are actually making it work, while the mainstream programs are really a mess...

Meg said...

Thanks. It's making me crazy, especially with the pretense that it's about capacity management.
The evisceration of so many successful programs is beyond maddening.

And it's not making the superintendent and company look any less sneaky and dishonest that Lowell's hearing has been rescheduled for January 20, well after the final proposal is released and very, very close to the date of the final vote.