Friday, June 5, 2009

Q & A Sandwich

The Seattle Public School district is making me (and many, many people) a little crazy again. Possibly adding to the irritation was a heat wave, which broke last night.

And yes, it was sort of a Seattle-style heat wave, which is to say the highest point of it was the low 90s. Before you hot weather pros get toooo scornful, remember that pretty much nobody here has air conditioning (and... we're babies). Which often means about 3 days into a heat wave here, you start seeing bleary-eyed people, staggering around with some sort of (iced) caffeine, because it’s just that little bit too hot to sleep well. I would guess that right when people start sleeping badly is also when window air conditioning units start selling like hotcakes.

It’s actually been kind of fun (the heat, not the school district stuff).

Regarding the school district, I’m pretty new to its byzantine workings. So sometimes I have questions that are simple and easily answered and it only seems strange to me because I didn't catch on to How Things Worked.

Still, I have lots of questions.

Why did the district say in December that they were cutting $5M from central office expenses (page 6 of the linked presentation)? Why did that get reduced to $4M without explanation only a few weeks later in January (page 8 in link)? Why is that figure now being proudly touted as $3.8M, a not inconsiderable $1.2M short of the original cuts?

Why do only 61 schools of the reported 92 in the district have staff affected by the Reduction In Force (are you really going to try and sell me that there are no junior non-math/science teachers in 1/3 of the schools?)? Fully one third of the schools in the district have faculty untouched by RIFs (even if they may be thrown into the displacement pool)? I get the flight school exemption thing, and I have questions about that, too.

Why on earth is the Superintendent being so slicey-dicey with the truth about Jane Addams? Okay, I think I know the answer here, but it’s still on the unpleasant side of repulsive. Telling parents that the school will be a K-8 for the 2009-2010 school year is willfully ignoring their real, understandable concern that they are enrolling their children for a school that will, sooner rather than later, become a 6-8, and that mid-way through grammar school, they’ll be making the switch to ANOTHER school that’s being started from scratch. Insisting that you’re being truthful on this is much like a bank robber insisting she’s being truthful that she didn’t rob a bank yesterday morning… because she robbed it at 12:01pm. Is it technically truthful? Yes. Is it honest? No. The question, I suppose is: could you please cut it out, lady? You’re being paid more than the governor, you go on and on about the value of the community to Seattle Public Schools. Would you show the community that you do, indeed, value them by giving real, thoughtful answers to their reasonable questions? Accountability is easy when things are smooth-sailing, but part of accountability is admitting the bumpy ugliness of the truth, and that there could be more than one right answer.

I, and other parents, have been told several times that some schools are exempt from the RIF because of the contract with the teachers’ union. But the thing is, I read the contract (accompanied by lots of coffee). But... it looks as if in the case of massive state cuts, no school or faculty is exempt from a RIF (page 10, point g). Our Superintendent has posted on the SPS site that the state cuts are "unprecedented," and the language in the contract appears to make, in the case of "devastating impact" to make exemptions null and void. Do I want those schools to be affected, too? No. But I do have a peculiar preference for honest answers, and it looks as if SPS has more choice than they are acknowledging in how to handle a RIF. Asking 16 schools to deal with faculty cuts of over 10% while 30+ schools remain untouched is asking a whole lot. And it’s not just families that this takes a toll on; turning over that much faculty takes an enormous toll on the faculties.

And since I provided the link... is it just me, or does it look like exemption from RIFs is null and void because of “unprecedented state cuts?” If you have an opinion or some insight, I'd love to hear it, because I am on the slow end of the learning curve.

Why do district staff think that saying “there wasn’t time to engage the community because of _______ (capacity management issues/ budget pressures/ my regular manicure appointment/ fill in other)” is okay? They get paid, right? And yet on the transportation/ school start time changes and the musical chairs of principal re-assignment, that excuse was trotted out. There’s an awful lot of talk about accountability by district staff and the Superintendent, and this kind of thing flies? Flimsy excuses are a great deal different than accountability, kids. Don’t try this at home or your folks are likely to come down on you like a ton of bricks: “I WOULD have turned in that term paper, but… there just wasn’t time, with so many other papers due at the end of the year, and finals and all that.” Actually, do try that at home. It could be very entertaining.

Why, in an area of the city that we are being repeatedly told has loads of excess capacity (lots more seats and classrooms than kids to fill them), are the finishing touches being put on a 1,000 seat K-8 school? Why did this school get to jump to the front of the line for their construction, ahead of schools in serious need of repairs? Why, when it has to have been clear that there was excess capacity in the area, did this school not move into one of the many fairly new schools in the south end, possibly (gasp) sharing the building with another program, thus keeping another program that couldn't fill their building from having to close? Does the answer rhyme with “Sloan Foundation?”

Where in the heck do all the people come from for the insanely long lines at the new Molly Moon’s on Capitol Hill, even on rainy, chilly days (not that we’ve had a lot of those lately)?

I don’t think I’m going to get answers right away to my questions. I'm pretty sure that some of my questions are simply a result of me just not understanding.

So I will present a sandwich that seems a little questionable. I wasn’t sure about it when I made it, but I was hopeful, much as I am hopeful that I will get answers and/or understanding about the Seattle Public School district. It is a sandwich containing garlic-lime chicken and Curly’s version of guacamole. And a little romaine, if you’d like some crunch. It’s a messy sandwich. It seems like a questionable sandwich, but in the spirit of total accountability, I must say that it’s a tasty sandwich.

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