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The recent storm of controversy created by the announcement of the Seattle Public Schools central office of plans to cut 25-28 teachers across the school district in late October, and well into the semester, required student classroom reshuffling and disruption and necessitated additional grade-split classes. It was another example of irresponsible management by the Seattle Public School district. If Seattle expects to attract and retain a high caliber workforce and citizenry, our public school central management needs drastic improvement and Seattle parents are uniting to demand it.
What emerged in that controversy was a saga of the school district’s dodgy planning and data gathering, opaque process, blaming and excuses which resulted in more bad decisions that impact tens of thousands of students around the city.
WHERE’S THE DATA? While Seattle Public Schools (SPS) hatched and finalized its plans to cut teaching staff, they were unable to provide supporting enrollment data because “they are still working out those numbers” and relied on enrollment numbers that were not the most current.
BLAMING. Superintendent Nyland and his top staff blamed the severity of the cuts on the September teacher strike but could not point to any data to support their claims. They claimed similar cuts were happening around the state in October but when King 5 News reached out to other districts, only Kent reported making cuts in early September.
VERY LOW BAR. Washington State has the dubious distinction of being 47th in the nation in class size, with only three states ranking worse. Planned cuts maintained these large classroom sizes thereby subverting Seattle voter’s mandate to reduce class sizes passed with Initiative 1351 in 2014. Research shows that smaller class size improves academic performance and helps close the opportunity gap.
WHO’S IN CHARGE HERE? At a Seattle School Board meeting in October, Director Carr said she felt it was improper “micromanagement” to interfere in SPS teacher cut decisions. However, the SPS website says: “It is the belief of the Board of Directors and Superintendent that they are partners in the governance team of Seattle Public Schools.” Parents and voters wonder: Does the current school board manage the Superintendent or does the Superintendent manage the school board?
MONEY MYSTERIES. SPS says there is no more money for schools yet central office spending continues to increase. Superintendent Nyland got a 5% raise and other perks in his recent contract renewal. The raise is retroactive to the date of his initial contract. Parents had written and called School Board members, asking them to defer the vote on extending Superintendent Nyland’s contract for another year to give the new Board an opportunity to vote. The School Board went ahead and committed Seattle families and educators to more of the same through mid 2018.
Sadly, for our “4th wealthiest city in the country, Seattle families and educators continue to struggle with health and safety concerns in our schools, issues that have been allowed to fester for years, thanks to SPS inaction.
Overcrowded classroom facilities rely on moldy 20 year-old “temporary portables” that present continued health and safety issues to students and educators. In some schools, classes are held in hallways and lunchrooms.
Transportation problems persist and will continue to be exacerbated by the ongoing three-tier start time system which include poorly planned and often dangerous rushed bus routes, late school arrivals that cause missed class time and overcrowded buses. At one school a bus driver simply refused to drive a bus that was overcrowded.
And if that isn’t enough, the SPS school experience can be truly hellish for our most vulnerable kids and students already feeling the opportunity gap squeeze.
SPS continues to shamefully rely on “PTA grant” income to balance their budget. Annual program budget shortfall “emergencies” have become the norm and now represent the sole or primary annual funding for many of the arts programs, libraries, nursing services, sports activities, professional development and other key educational, health, and safety programs rely on parents to pay for these necessities. Some schools even rely on parent donations for office and cleaning supplies. You have to pay to play.
Repeated SPS reliance on this system only increases the equity gap for schools in lower income areas.
Special education students continue to receive inadequate accommodations and support, and threatened cuts, may affect them worst of all. Teachers have been cut well into the school year, just as student’s ISP’s and student-teacher rapport were being solidified. I have heard stories from parents that support my own family “conference” experience in which parents are encouraged to wait before getting their dyslexic child involved in SPS testing in order to “avoid the stigma of having Special Ed”. My child, who went on to have private services and is now in college, was a Rare Lucky One. Other kids grow up feeling judged, falling behind… is it any wonder we have kids growing up angry at the world?
Admittedly, many of these resource issues would be partially relieved if the Legislature would finally get around to doing their constitutionally mandated “Paramount Duty” to fund public education. However, SPS does have money now, millions in cash reserves and at least enough cash on hand to keep the central office staff growing.
SPS must reevaluate central office decision-making and address what parents perceive as their hollow promises of transparency. Many parents are clamoring for an audit of SPS central office. Students, parents, school staff and classroom educators are getting nickel and dimed and yet the district offers no plan to create austerity measures within district offices.
This year SPS parents have found their collective voice. We have discovered and united with thousands of other parents throughout the district who are like-minded, frustrated and very well-informed. We are organized, united and connected.
We will not stop until our district becomes accountable, transparent, and focused on putting the needs of every student in the district before those of central administration.
We look forward to seeing newly elected Board Members work with this new wave of activist parents to improve school administration in our city.
The times they are a changin’.
Parent of a Hamilton Middle School 6th grade student
Note: Hamilton is one school that is not facing cuts this year.
Amy Hamblin is a parent and a studio artist working in Seattle. She has worked in community mediation, and currently volunteers to support and advocate for Palliative Care.