Arbor Heights’ fight: School Board meeting begins

We’re at school district HQ in Sodo, with a standing-room-only crowd here to speak out about the school-closure/changes plan at tonight’s School Board meeting – and half the room (photo above, taken moments ago) is dominated by Arbor Heights Elementary School families, fighting to keep their school “program” from being eliminated, because district management is proposing to move Pathfinder K-8 there. No decision will be made tonight, but this is the first official board meeting since the closure/change plan was announced eight nights ago. We’ll add updates as things develop – in addition to scheduled public comment (six AH reps are on the list, which is compiled from people who called and e-mailed starting first thing Monday morning), Superintendent Dr. Maria Goodloe-Johnson is scheduled to present an update on the closure/change plan; you can watch the meeting live on cable channel 26. Side note: District HQ is formally named the John Stanford Center for Educational Excellence; a few days ago, Nov. 28, marked 10 years since the passing of the legendary superintendent (taken by leukemia at age 60) after whom this facility is named.

6:36 PM UPDATE: The first four Arbor Heights parents to speak have just taken their turns. They are focusing on four alternative proposals: Wait for Denny Middle School to be vacated when it moves to a new building on the Chief Sealth campus; close Roxhill and move its students to Arbor Heights, Highland Park, and Gatewood; move Pathfinder to Cooper Elementary or West Seattle Elementary. Two more Arbor Heights parents are still on the speaking list, along with people speaking on behalf of other controversial closure/change proposals elsewhere in the city.

6:50 PM UPDATE: Eric Iwamoto, co-president of the Arbor Heights PTSA, spoke, focusing on “why isn’t a high school being closed?” – he says Franklin, Cleveland, or Rainier Beach (which has 1300 seats but barely a third of them filled) all have aspects that could qualify them for potential closure, and he says closing a high school would save the cost equivalent of closing two elementaries.

7:20 PM UPDATE:
The public comment period of the meeting is over; the board is taking a brief break so the superintendent’s “update” on the school closure/change proposal can be technically set up for display on the big screen.

7:54 PM UPDATE: Before the school-closure briefing, a budget briefing from district financial boss Don Kennedy – district may be $37 million short next year, not just the $24 million already anticipated. Thanks to the SPS Community Blog at saveseattleschools.blogspot.com for noting that the superintendent’s presentation, including the closure update, is already posted online here. From that presentation, in a section that addresses some of the questions board members asked when the recommendations were presented last week:

Questions about locating Pathfinder at Arbor Heights or at Cooper
○ Response: At the work session on November 25 the School Board indicated that the option of altering the Student Assignment Plan to permit the location of Pathfinder at Cooper should be evaluated. Staff are evaluating this option.

The superintendent also is proposing another workshop (next Tuesday, apparently, will update when time/day/place is finalized) about the closure/change proposal, with these goals (from the presentation linked above):

□ Review of functional capacity numbers
□ Review of comments heard at December 4th and 6th
community meetings
□ Review of questions/concerns raised after November 25
work session
□ Review of potential final recommendations

“Functional capacity” is being evaluated now with walkthroughs at schools (it was mentioned last night that Arbor Heights had just gotten such a visit).

8:30 PM UPDATE: Board members have been asking more questions about the superintendent’s presentation. They’re saying they’re glad it’s obviously an “iterative” process.” Next events, a reminder – tomorrow night, a public “workshop” here at Stanford Center 6:30-8:30 pm; another one Saturday morning, Filipino Community Center, 5740 Martin Luther King Way, 9:30-11:30 am (map); that day, Saturday afternoon, Steve Sundquist will have another informal community gathering to discuss this (and other school issues) – 3-5 pm, Delridge Library.

8:50 PM UPDATE: The aforementioned work session, with lots of data etc., will be 4 pm next Tuesday here at district HQ “and we’ll go till we’re done,” says Dr. Goodloe-Johnson. She says feedback at any time can and should be sent to:
capacity@seattleschools.org
but mail also welcome at
schoolboard@seattleschools.org She just also mentioned an Arbor Heights-specific meeting for next Tuesday as well – checking on that.

9:24 PM NOTE: We have all of tonight’s Arbor Heights speakers on video and will upload those clips later tonight when we’re back at HQ – more pix too, like this:

ADDED 11:40 PM: Still working on the next report but in the meantime, here’s the info on the Tuesday meeting at Arbor Heights: 6 pm, per this district webpage. Concurrent with part of the aforementioned board workshop.

4 Replies to "Arbor Heights' fight: School Board meeting begins"

  • Heather Woodruff December 3, 2008 (7:15 pm)

    Wish I could have been there! Arbor Heights is a great community school needs to be saved!

  • Vicki Golden December 3, 2008 (7:39 pm)

    As a former teacher from, and current parent at Arbor Heights, I would like to say thank you to an incredible group of parents, teachers, and students! Arbor Heights is truly an example of a neighborhood school that works with extensive community involvement! Don’t let the district evict Arbor Heights!

  • Franklin Hu December 4, 2008 (3:38 pm)

    There are always alternatives to cut the deficit. Closing schools may have the reverse effect of cutting the deficit. The following was submitted to the board during the meeting.

    Does Closing Schools Save Money?

    1. From the last round of closures, we can see that sudden school closures cause 20% of the students to drop out of the Seattle Public School completely. They take apportioned state dollars with them. The total number of students involved in this proposed closure is 3,733. If we see another 20% dropout, SPS will lose approximately 746 students who will take with them $5,311/student from state funding and $485/student from I-782. The total reduction in yearly revenue will be $$4,327,002. There could be other losses based on student reduction as well. The board must ask serious questions to the staff about how many students they expect to lose from the district. If it is anything less than 20%, that should be viewed very suspiciously. If you figure that the closing of 7 buildings will save around $500,000, this will save the district $3.5 million/year. This is offset by the loss of revenue and the net result to the yearly budget is a loss of $800,000/year. If the district is to realize savings by closing schools, it must do so in a manner which does not cause students to drop out of SPS. This could be done by proposing mergers rather than outright closures or to extend the period of closure by closing the school to new enrollment so that no existing students are displaced. It may be more expensive, but anything worth doing over the long run is worth doing over a longer period as well.

    2. It is very expensive to close schools. Based on the last round of closures, it cost $927,364 in FY07 and an additional $500,000 in FY08 for General Fund Expenditures. That is a total of $1,427,364 to move 743 students. If we use these figures to project the cost of the proposed move of 3,733 students @$1,921/student, the estimated cost would be $7,171,093. There are also capital budget costs which amounted to $1,077,983.00. It is impossible to estimate these capital budget costs for this much larger move, but it will undoubtedly be a much larger value. The staff has indicated that it would pay for these costs out of the FY09 budget. However, the FY09 Budget, has no line item for $7 million in school closure costs. These costs will have to come out of the reserves funds, which is also where the FY10 budget will also have to go to close the budget gap. It may be a bit of semantics, but the move costs simply add to the FY10 budget problem. It is also going to be a challenge to get all of the spending into the FY09 timeframe. The last closure had nearly 35% of the cost occurring in FY08. It is likely that some spending for the closure must spill into the official FY10 budget. The board needs to ask questions to the staff about where the money comes from for the closures and is that simply an accounting trick that may fool some, but does nothing to address the FY10 crisis – it in fact makes the crisis worse. The board also needs to ask questions about whether they have correctly anticipated closing costs. During the last closure, costs were grossly underestimated and went from $379,241 for FY07 and $116,000 in FY08 to nearly tripling to $927,364 for FY07 and $500,000 in FY08. Even with this increase, the process was considered to be underfunded. Let us at least learn from the lessons from the past and I would advise to board members to carefully review the document from which the data presented here was drawn:

    http://www.seattleschools.org/area/capacity/schoolboardfinancecommreport120407.pdf

    Since the meeting, we have found that I-782 may be cut which would reduce the amount lost by 300K. Additional research shows that the expected average dropout rate for a middle/high school should be around 3%. Therefore, the dropout rate due to school clousres is still at least 17%.

  • Terry Simpson December 6, 2008 (5:37 am)

    This seems like good analysis to me. Thank you. Since a large portion of the schools being moved or closed are Alternative schools (larger than 06-07, I think but I’m not sure…anyone??), I think you could make a point that we could lose a higher than 20% portion of students from SPS. Doesn’t that make sense?

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