Jane and Christie cover the Seattle Public Schools board meeting on October 25th.
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Episode 10 - Community Sunset
[00:00:00] Christie Robertson: Welcome to the Seattle Hall Pass podcast, bringing you news and conversations about Seattle Public Schools. This week we are reporting on the school board meeting that happened a couple of weeks ago on October 25th. My name is Christie Robertson.
[00:00:15] Jane Tunks Demel: And I'm Jane Tunks Demel. And we delayed releasing this episode for a couple weeks because, whoosh, the election! That was kind of a rollercoaster and we just wanted ...
[00:00:27] Christie Robertson: Yeah, kind of an ...
[00:00:29] Jane Tunks Demel: Yes, it was an intense time for all of us school board watchers and so we just, sat back and took a little break.
So Christie, what were the results of the election?
[00:00:39] Christie Robertson: Still being tallied, but we have a pretty good idea of who's going to be sitting on the dais in December. Two incumbents were reelected: Liza Rankin in District 1, which is North Seattle, and Lisa Rivera Smith in District 2, which is Green Lake, Ballard, and Magnolia. Gina Topp had a huge margin in District 6, which is West Seattle, South Park, and Georgetown. And Evan Briggs leading Ben Gitenstein by 3 percentage points in district 3, which is Ravenna, Bryant, U District, amd Wedgwood.
[00:01:17] Jane Tunks Demel: That northeast area of Seattle that's south of 85th Street.
[00:01:22] Christie Robertson: That's south of D1, yeah.
[00:01:24] Jane Tunks Demel: So it looks like the board is likely to continue going in the direction that they're already going, so that will be interesting to see as they complete their transition to Student Outcomes-Focused Governance. We'll see how that all works out.
[00:01:37] Christie Robertson: Yep. And so now on with the show.
Here's a brief summary of what we're going to talk about. First, the sunsetting of the community engagement committee. The legislative agenda for the upcoming legislative session, which was introduced at this meeting. We'll talk about the absence of progress monitoring this and the prior meeting. And some thoughts about possible criteria for school closures. The resolution is coming before the board at the next board meeting, which is on November 15th. That will be a meeting of the old board, and the new board will join for the final meeting of the year, which is a whole month after that.
And now on with the show.
[00:02:18] Jane Tunks Demel: During the opening comments of the October 25th meeting, President Brandon Hersey announced that the Ad Hoc Community Engagement committee is sunsetting. And here's what he said about that.
[00:02:31] Board President Brandon Hersey: The Community Engagement Committee met today for our final meeting before the committee is officially sunsetted. We spent our time today reviewing some final one-pagers that will be submitted, well, actually submitted to me. And I will shepherd those along with staff with any necessary edits or changes and inclusion of some infographics and things like that.
[00:02:53] Jane Tunks Demel: Christie, what are these Ad Hoc Committees anyway?
[00:02:57] Christie Robertson: In the before days, before Student Outcomes-Focused Governance, they used to have ongoing committees , such as a Curriculum Committee and Operations Committee. And each committee had a schedule of reports that came through. Senior staff would come and talk about how things were going in their department.
[00:03:16] Christie Robertson: Those were gotten rid of in order to refocus the board on outcomes for students because the committees were taking a lot of time. Now, all committees except the Audit Committee are ad hoc, which means they are supposed to be established to perform a specific purpose, produce a product, and then go away.
[00:03:35] Jane Tunks Demel: Yeah, so this committee was about community engagement. And they've had 13 meetings since March. Christie and I looked at the committee work plan and it looks like they had planned to complete three deliverables, and they only partially completed one.
[00:03:53] Christie Robertson: The three deliverables were a set of written resources, which they called one-pagers, like short descriptions of what they wanted the community to know about board community engagement. Then the second one was supposed to be an actual plan to engage with community. And the third one was a toolkit, which I am pretty unclear what it is.
[00:04:16] Jane Tunks Demel: Among the one-page documents that they did finish was one that was about how should a community member communicate with the school board?
And a lot of the recommendations, there were things like email your principal, email someone at the distric — basically, email anyone but your school board director. But as a lot of us know who have students in Seattle Public Schools, when we email the district, we often don't get answers.
And actually at the October 25th meeting during public comment. Laura Maria Rivera who ran for School Board two years ago. She talked about her experience in trying to get something resolved for her student. And here's what Laura Marie Rivera said at the meeting .
[00:05:00] Laura Marie Rivera: Each time that you hear from me in a phone call, in an email, at an event, testifying at a School Board meeting, you need to know that there are 100 other parents that have not been able to get this far. First, we try the Let's Talk app, and they're pretty good about replying except their answers do not necessarily answer the questions. Then we reach out to the Ombud's Office, who says they'll look into it. They give us a date that they'll get back to us and that date comes and goes and then we keep replying and they stop responding.
So we reach out to the Office of Civil Rights because surely discrimination against students with disabilities is something that they would put a stop to, right? Well, they said they would look into it. They gave us a date. The date came and went. We follow up and they stop responding. Does anyone see a pattern?
And does anyone even see a problem? This district needs to treat families like partners in the education of our children, and instead, you treat us like adversaries to be ignored and disrespected. The worst part is, it's our kids that are paying the price for this district's refusal to properly engage the community.
The only way to improve student outcomes is to work with us rather than sit there and decide for us.
[00:06:08] Christie Robertson: I guess what I'll say is, it's very natural, and I think appropriate for people to go to their elected representative. The elected representatives that represent the district are the school board.
And it certainly could even be argued that the whole reason that they are legally required to have hearings is that they are supposed to hear people's concerns. And then the other thing I'll say, and then I'll get off my soapbox, is that the School Board job is to some degree what constituents say that it is, because constituents decide who's elected.
And I love this switch to focusing on student outcomes, especially to the degree that it's actually executed. I'm having a real, just kind of existential difficulty with the degree to which there's gatekeeping and shutting out of voices that want to be collaborative and help the district be better right now.
[00:07:06] Jane Tunks Demel: Yeah, and I think their plan for communication would be great if the district would answer parents and community members when we wrote them. So all these written documents that they finished, the written resources ...
[00:07:24] Christie Robertson: We don't even know what's going to happen to them. We assume there's going to be a website.
[00:07:27] Jane Tunks Demel: Yeah, it'll just be pages on the website, I presume. And for those interested in how Student Outcomes-Focused Governance works, some of these documents will be interesting, but for people who are actually interested in engaging with their school board directors or people at the district, it probably won't be so helpful.
[00:07:45] Christie Robertson: Also, we should note that they're written at like a college or higher level right now.
[00:07:49] Jane Tunks Demel: Yeah, they're heavily rely on the language of Student Outcomes-Focused Governance, which uses a lot of terms like inputs, outputs, care holder, customers, owners. So it's a little bit hard to sift through if you're unfamiliar with the glossary of Student Outcomes-Focused Governance.
[00:08:06] Christie Robertson: In conclusion, there is no plan for community engagement, and this committee is sunsetting.
[00:08:14] Jane Tunks Demel: Also at the meeting on October 25th, the board was introducing the legislative agenda for the upcoming session in Olympia, which will be in early 2024. The legislative agenda is a list of priorities that Seattle Public Schools is asking for, They're trying to keep the priorities broad enough so that they can be able to advocate for whatever bills happen to be coming up in the legislature that year. Christie, correct me if I'm wrong on that.
[00:08:43] Christie Robertson: No, that's true. And the idea is if you're going to represent your organization. You need to have approval , to endorse certain things but you don't have to come back to your board every time there's a bill and say, "Hey, can I support this bill?
So you get approval to lobby for anything that fits within these priorities and then you can go ahead unless there's a question. So it's so you can just do it all in one fell swoop.
[00:09:09] Jane Tunks Demel: The upcoming legislative session is... What do they call it, Christy?
[00:09:13] Christie Robertson: They call it a short session.
[00:09:15] Jane Tunks Demel: Yeah, it's a short session, and I think they call it the Supplemental budget.
[00:09:19] Christie Robertson: Yeah. The other term you might hear is biennium. They make a budget every two years. And then in the short session, which isn't, you know, it's more than half the length, so there still is significant time, but the idea is it's only budget addendums and not huge major shifts.
[00:09:39] Jane Tunks Demel: And the capital gains tax. This is the first year that the state is getting money from that and it was much more than they planned, and it is supposed to go to K-12 education.
[00:09:49] Christie Robertson: But again, we're just one of however many school districts, so it's not going to like, it's not going to fix our budget hole.
[00:09:55] Jane Tunks Demel: No, no, but every dollar counts.
[00:09:58] Christie Robertson: Every dollar counts.
[00:09:59] Jane Tunks Demel: So, Christie, what did they put on the legislative agenda for Seattle Public Schools
[00:10:04] Christie Robertson: Okay, here's a parenthetical aside for the audience. Jane and I couldn't decide whether to put the legislative priorities in here. So let us know whether you think that it's interesting or not. But for now if you want to hear them, listen in. And if you don't, skip ahead 4 minutes
So I'm going to attempt to go through a bulleted list so that people know what our district is advocating for. And I'm going to try to do it succinctly, but if you want to read the whole document, we'll link it on our notes.
They are divided into four categories, which are funding, student learning, student well-being, and safe and equitable operations.
The funding areas they've identified are in special education, so if you've followed this at all, you'll know what it means to remove the special ed funding cap. Right now they have a cap of, they will only fund, up to 15 percent of your students getting special education services. And it's pretty egregious to think that if we have more than 15 percent students legally identified as being disabled, they will not, fund the additional. And right now I think we have around 70 students that the legislature is not funding for inclusionary practices. Which we don't currently get actual funds for that. And more language supports for IEPs. We got a little bit of funding on that last year, but we need more.
Then there's fixing the transportation funding formula, which has been on the to do list for a very long time. Everybody, including the legislators, agrees that it's unpredictable and insufficient.
Then there's classified staff increases. So the state sets some salary standards and then, Seattle, of course, has our own bargaining agreements and ours are all significantly above what the legislature gives us because we have an expensive city, and the classified staff really especially need an increase from the legislature.
Then there's, increase in funding for school construction, which is I believe a match that we get from our capital levies.
And this is a biggie new progressive revenue options, something that we're starting to hear city council people, legislators, and others talk about and have been a big no-no for a long time in our state, but I feel like there's starting to be some headway in. I guess partially because of that capital gains tax that Jane mentioned, having success.
Okay, so student learning. The student learning priorities. Especially in terms of equity, so mentoring and tutoring in particular for BIPOC students. And funding for our ethnic studies curriculum, which I believe was an unfunded mandate that was put into effect a couple years ago, and so they want funding to be able to implement it. And somebody, like Liza, correct me if I'm wrong.
Then there's student well-being. They have a vague "safety investments for staff and systems." They're asking for extra money for drug awareness, especially because we're really seeing an uptick in fentanyl overdoses and the ability to have more staff and system on hand at schools to deal with those, including in transportation.
And then resources for restorative practices, which I'm super happy to see on there.
And then the last area was safe and equitable operations. That's kind of a catch-all. Substitutes, which I remember, Kurt Buttleman mentioning. in specific in the last budget meeting. He said that the substitute salaries were way behind and we're paying a lot more than the legislature gives. So that might be something that I could imagine them actually doing this session.
A better regionalization factor, which is what a lot of us have been talking about that there's not enough taken into account in the legislative funding for what it costs our teachers to live in Seattle. And then various more supports for educator pathways and incentives to increase diversity, which we hear over and over from our students and families is super important.
And then an expanded use of capital funds. Jane and I recently learned that our capital levies are not capped. And so, I assume that they're trying to take better advantage of this by just broadening a little bit what we can use them for. Electric vehicles is one. Being able to use it more for maintenance. Being able to use the capital funds for curriculum. So that's about as short as I can summarize it all.
[00:14:40] Jane Tunks Demel: And all the directors had presumably read this legislative agenda before the meeting. Vivian Song zeroed in on the financial impact right away. She asked why there weren't any numbers or financial analysis attached to the legislative priorities.
She also wanted to know why the priorities weren't ranked in terms of fiscal impact, putting the big ticket items at the top.
[00:15:03] Christie Robertson: Right, I'm sure she's thinking given the chaos that we just had to save $3. 6 million, shouldn't we be really focusing on increasing our funding so that we don't have to do really detrimental changes like that.
[00:15:18] Jane Tunks Demel: One of the things Vivian pointed out was in the budget for the school year we're currently in, the district was allowed to take $10 million from the capital fund and use it for maintenance.
So if you think that we have a $104 million budget shortfall for the next school year, it would be really great if we could use $10 million from the capital fund, which as Christie mentioned, there is no cap on that levy, so there's money in there to do things with. And I don't know the details about this, but we can't do that for the following year. So Vivian's question was, "Why don't we put that ask at the top?"
Aand here's how Liza Rankin and Vivian Song talked about that.
[00:16:03] Board Director Vivian Song: Is this numbered list intended to be a list of our priorities or is it just a list of four items? Or four categories?
[00:16:14] Board Vice President Liza Rankin: Oh, you mean, are they ranked? I think we ranked them starting, we just started with impact on students. So basic education gaps, student learning, operations, or wait, wait, what's that? Sorry, I missed that. Oh, student well-being ...
[00:16:35] Board Director Vivian Song: I think I just go back to: This is a legislative ask, and I think it would be helpful to ask for things ranked based on financial impact, since this is a financial relationship that we have with the state legislature. And I just emphasize again, like the $10 million of maintenance is, in my opinion, a fairly high priority, because it is a large amount of money. We've had it before, so ...
[00:17:01] Board Vice President Liza Rankin: I'm, I'm not following, I'm sorry, I'm not following.
[00:17:03] Board Director Vivian Song: It just feels like, it feels low priority when it shows up at the end of this list. But I think it's something that could be prioritized because it is a significant amount of money. We've had it in the past. It would go a long way to helping us close our budget deficit. So I'm keen to get that to be a prioritized ask.
[00:17:22] Christie Robertson: This is Christie speaking. I think Vivian's point is well taken and it would make sense to put that as a note in there for a talking point or prioritize that more. Or if some kind of budget analysis was done to show how much each of these things would actually bring in so that we can prioritize. given our financial situation.
For example, Fred Podesta, the Director of Operations, I believe, always keeps going back to how if we switch buses to three tiers, we would save $5 million. But here's $10 million that may just need a stroke of the pen by the legislature compared to all the disruption that going back again to kids starting at. from ranging from 7:00 AM to 10:00 AM or whatever it was, would be to take a big school system like Seattle and have the buses run on three tiers. So I think it was a really good point, and I think people should listen to each other.
[00:18:22] Jane Tunks Demel: Yeah, and the way I look at it is that there was this $10 million we could use from a different levy, and that seems like a very easy ask. Like, can you just please let us use that money from the capital levy again? Is so much different than going back and to lobby again for more money in special education or more money for transportation that there's so much more process to get those things done. And so this seems like low-hanging fruit that also would be 10 percent of our budget shortfall for following year.
[00:18:55] Christie Robertson: So that concludes the legislative agenda portion, and we will be hearing about the legislative session starting at the beginning of January.
[00:19:04] Jane Tunks Demel: And I believe they will be voting on this. This was just an introduction for the legislative agenda. So I think they'll be voting for action at the next meeting on November 15th, which will be a very busy meeting because I think they'll also be introducing how they want to cut the budget then.
[00:19:21] Christie Robertson: And they're going to have to stay up late if they're going to do progress monitoring.
[00:19:25] Jane Tunks Demel: Yeah, so yes, progress monitoring, Christie. What is going on with progress monitoring?
[00:19:31] Christie Robertson: Progress monitoring ... So Jane knows that I'm really upset that they didn't do progress monitoring at this meeting. Progress Monitoring is the whole point of Student Outcomes-Focused Governance. The idea is that you focus on how students are doing, the actual, what they know and are able to do, and that's how you evaluate your superintendent. And on October 11th, they were going to do Progress Monitoring. And they put it off because the meeting went long. And then they didn't do it on the 25th, which is this meeting that we're covering.
[00:20:06] Jane Tunks Demel: So we're wondering if it's going to be rescheduled or if it's just that they're going to give the report to the directors and we won't get to see them talk about it in a meeting.
[00:20:14] Christie Robertson: No, they have to talk about it. That's the whole point. Like, if you listen to AJ Crabill, staff are going to focus on what you focus on in your board meetings. So the board is supposed to be working their way toward spending 50 percent of all of their time on progress monitoring.
[00:20:32] Jane Tunks Demel: And who is AJ Crabill?
[00:20:34] Christie Robertson: AJ Crabill is an employee of Great City Schools, which is a coalition of urban schools districts across the country. And he is a consultant that is — we're unclear whether he's being paid because I've heard both ways from many people. So if somebody actually knows and can give us documentation on what the situation is. Personally, I think it's fine either way, but I would just like to know the answer.
[00:20:59] Jane Tunks Demel: I want to put in a plug for I think AJ Crabill should be paid, because if someone is telling the district how they want to run things, or how they think it should be run, and they're not getting paid, then I would have real concern about what their motivations are.
[00:21:13] Christie Robertson: Seattle is an early adopter, so if people can point to Seattle schools and say, "Wow, in Seattle, they're doing the Student Outcomes-Focused Governance thing and it's going so well, so let's do it here too. "That would be a strong motivation for him to make sure that it works if he wants to get it more broadly adopted.
[00:21:29] Jane Tunks Demel: So if it were a pilot or something like that.
[00:21:33] Christie Robertson: One of my concerns that I haven't heard anybody on the board bring up about closing schools is first, how are they going to make decisions about school closures and make sure they fit into their goals and guardrails, but also they are going to be spending the vast majority of their effort dealing with community and staff and the district is going to be spending a great majority of their time dealing with all the fallout of that. And maybe it's worth it. Maybe it will help get to the outcomes, but I would like to see them answer that question. And say that this is worth it because we will be able to get better reading and math outcomes for black boys if we close these schools.
[00:22:18] Jane Tunks Demel: Not to mention, they're going to have to figure out all the logistics of closing schools and then moving students to new school sites, you know, and redrawing boundaries, and all the, community fallout that's going to follow from that.
[00:22:32] Christie Robertson: Right. And given that they've had a couple of years to just work on the outcomes and haven't made progress, it seems. It's going to be pretty hard to make progress while closing schools.
[00:22:44] Jane Tunks Demel: And that's what I was wondering because the progress monitoring session that they skipped actually does show that it's pretty flat — it's definitely not going up. And so we're almost wondering, are they burying this progress monitoring report by not having it at a public meeting?
[00:23:01] Christie Robertson: Right, knowing that they won't have to deal with it while they're talking about budget or after the election or whatever the case may be.
[00:23:08] Chandra Hampson, board director: And is there anything else, Christie, that you want to say about anything?
[00:23:10] Christie Robertson: The one last thing I had was, and this is maybe a good lead into the next meeting at Leslie Harris's community meeting where a group of people who showed up and one of them was Manuela Slye, who's been really involved in Seattle Council PTSA and does a lot of testimony. She kept pressing Leslie on what were the community-informed guidelines that Leslie would use in deciding which schools to close, and that the board should have those guidelines. Leslie did some dodging, but Manuel Slye kept pushing and Leslie thought about it, and at this meeting she gave her verdict on what she thought the key guidelines would be. And so here's what Leslie Harris board director said.
[00:23:52] Board Director Leslie Harris: I was pushed back pretty hard on Saturday about guiding principles. Well, Director Harris, are you in favor or are you not? Well, I can't answer that question without understanding the details that would go into making that list. And as of last Wednesday's board meeting, we had a robust conversation about that.
I was asked, and challenged in fact, to put together Director Harris's guiding principles, which for me will be something along the lines of how small a school it is, how close other schools might be. Whether or not those other close schools have room if there were a consolidation to take place. How much money we are currently spending on transportation. How much additional money we would spend on transportation. And whether there are unique programs and or populations in those schools. Those are the criteria that I have. Tried very hard to think through
And I hope that people were listening to her and that they took from Leslie Harris and Manuela Slye that principle that there need to be guiding principles besides spreadsheets to make these decisions.
[00:25:32] Jane Tunks Demel: And that concludes this meeting, and when we're looking at the calendar , the next meeting won't be until after the school board election. The school board election is on November 7th, and then there's a school board meeting on November 15th, that's when the district is going to come with their plan for cutting the budget for 2024 to 25. and that will be the current school board that we have now, and then the meeting after that will be,
[00:25:59] Christie Robertson: It's four weeks after.
[00:26:00] Jane Tunks Demel: you may want to tune in to the November 15th meeting, or you can listen to Seattle Hall Pass for a summary as soon as we can get it out after that meeting.
[00:26:09] Christie Robertson: That concludes this episode of Seattle Hall Pass. You can find our notes at seattlehallpass. org and please contact us if you have any questions or any information for us at hello at seattlehallpass.org. I'm Christie Robertson.
[00:26:28] Jane Tunks Demel: And I'm Jane Tunks Demel. We'll see you next time on Seattle Hall Pass.