School-closure fight: Genesee Hill hearing tonight; radio talk

December 16, 2008 at 9:37 am | In Genesee Hill, West Seattle news, West Seattle school closure, West Seattle schools | 5 Comments

ORIGINAL 9:37 AM POST: If you see this before 10 am – Seattle Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Maria Goodloe-Johnson and School Board President Michael DeBell are on KUOW radio right now, talking about the closure/change process that’s under way. Tonight at 6:30, at the Genesee Hill Elementary building that’s long been home to Pathfinder K-8, it’s the only official district hearing scheduled in West Seattle during the process, and it’s likely to be a full house, with people speaking from not just Pathfinder but also from Cooper Elementary, which is currently proposed for “program discontinuance” so Pathfinder can move into that building, and from Arbor Heights Elementary, which was in that role on the “preliminary recommendation” list. There’s also word that bus transportation will be available to get Cooper parents from several spots on Delridge to tonight’s hearing; call the school for information: 206-252-8170. Meanwhile, more information has been added to the “Cooper School Works” website we first told you about early yesterday; follow the links from its main page at cooperschoolworks.com. 10 AM UPDATE: We caught the second half of the radio show – took notes and will add them here shortly, hoping to catch the first half when it’s posted online later. 10:30 AM UPDATE: Click ahead for those notes, including what the superintendent says public hearings like the one tonight are REALLY for:

According to Dr. Goodloe-Johnson, public hearings (like the one tonight) are NOT “for input” into a decision – they are just basically for venting (not her word) – she said they are “the same process as [at the start of] a School Board meeting, where the public has the opportunity to voice their opinion.”

She also repeated that it’s a given that nobody wants schools to close, and that it’s a given parents will always be upset. After explaining that the process continues to evolve because of analysis and data, she was asked why not do that analysis first, and replied that everything is “interrelated” — you have to research as you go along, depending on what comes up (our paraphrase).

A call was taken from Cori Jaeger, a teacher at Cooper, who asked in part: “How is it going to benefit our students to disperse them to other schools in the area when those programs are not as academically successful?” (This is a major contention for Cooper’s anti-closure campaign, that if its program is discontinued, its students will have to scatter to other schools that are not doing as well in test scores.)

DeBell said, “I have thought about it, and I believe this is one of our toughest challenges. Having closed a school already in that part of the city [Fairmount Park Elementary], we are now in a position of having excess capacity spread across many schools, so whatever school we close, the students have to be spread across several schools, and that’s very troubling.”

Dr. Goodloe-Johnson then said they would be able to handle that through creating “design teams” for the transitions – “for teachers and community members to create a stronger program; we need to duplicate that wherever the [dispersed] students are attending school. Every school has strengths, every school has work to do.”

Host Steve Scher then asked, “You’re saying that if Cooper is closed, your design team is going to go talk to people like Cori and say, how did you do that?”

Superintendent: “We’re going to have a process and ask them what worked well and what do you need to duplicate that.”

Cori on the phone: “That’s positive, but why did the school board and the district not come to teachers and board members and try to make designs and plans before this happened?”

Superintendent: “If the timing of the financial crisis had been different that woud have been great but the reality is with economic downturn the initial conversation was a 24 million budget shortfall, and now it’s [potentially] about 37 million and we still don’t know what the final (allocation) will be from the state – time is not on our side.” She contended, “We’ve been open about getting suggestions and feedback” and noted lots of information is online: “While the timing is not optimal, it’s (the best we can do) in order to have an effective opening for next school year.”

Also heard while we listened, West Seattle-area SPS teacher Jesse Hagopian, who wrote an essay we recently linked to here, suggesting that schools need a government bailout. He asked about the $2.6 milion cost of closing schools, compared to $3.6 million saved by closing them – DeBell said the first number is a one-time cost, the second is an annual savings, so “over 10 years, we’ll save $36 million” through this round of school closures.

He later also suggested – while being rushed at the very end of the show – that the state is not living up to its legally required level of school funding and that the Seattle district among others should “stand up” and demand what they are entitled to.

Former school board member Dick Lilly had a moment to make a few points and said he believes “all the costcutting factors should be placed on the table now rather than going through school closures first and then looking at everything else.”

One other side note — Dr. Goodloe-Johnson was asked about class sizes increasing as the result of this process and contended that lower class sizes themselves do not make a difference in most cases, “high-quality teaching” does.

Again, tonight’s hearing is at 6:30 pm, Genesee Hill Elementary.

5 Comments

  1. If we have excess capacity (which it appears we do) a government bailout for schools does not seem practical. Sorry Jesse.
    Out of curiousity though, does anyone know how many south side students attend in low capacity north?

    Comment by HighPointDogWalker — 11:00 am December 16, 2008 #

  2. money cannot continue to be the bottom line for schools. if you are closing a successful school, like cooper which is a model for success in their demographic, in order to save money, what are you actually saving?

    students have to be the bottom line, academics need to be where the buck stops. period. closing successful schools never, ever makes sense.

    Comment by brittany — 11:11 am December 16, 2008 #

  3. I worked as a reading tutor last year at Cooper while working on certification/masters in education. In aggregate, Cooper has an incredible faculty. They’ve drawn some of the best teachers and kept ratios really low.

    But the district knows, and we know, that this school is the path of least resistance because of student/parent demographics. I don’t know the numbers, I just know its pretty big.

    sigh. what a shame.

    Comment by westseattledood — 11:24 am December 16, 2008 #

  4. The Superintendent’s honesty about having a public process that isn’t part of their decision-making process at all, just an attempt at giving an illusion of being listened to, is refreshing. I have seen this approach carried out under five superintendents, so it’s probably endemic to the system regardless of leadership. It’s certainly not news; I suppose it’s less insulting to the public’s intelligence for the District to admit that their meetings are sort of like giving a starving dog a rubber bone, than to think people can’t figure out that the suggestion box is just a document shredder with a sign taped on it that says “We value your opinions.”

    Intentional or not, it is a cynical perversion of the values we want to instill in our children, a waste of the time and passions of people who participate, and a painful embarrassment to those of us who support public schools.

    Intentional or not, the gulf between the planners’ publicly-stated motivations/goals and actual reality is often vast, and by the time we sift through spurious reasoning and questionable data to grope for the truth, the damage is done.

    I don’t understand why a good school district, peopled with intelligent, committed, and well-meaning staff and leadership, would want to seem so determined to undermine its own credibility.

    Comment by alboss — 12:11 pm December 16, 2008 #

  5. Just got this message from the district about tonight’s hearing:

    “We want to thank those of you who have signed up to testify at tonight’s public hearing and those who wish to attend. The weather has created concerns about safety, and we send this information to update you about conditions around the Genesee Hill building where the hearing will be held from 6:30-8:30 tonight.

    Road conditions this morning lead us to recommend that those who choose to attend the hearing carpool and look for parking along the north shoulder (school side) of Genesee. That road was recently sanded. While there is some remaining ice on the shoulder area, it is much clearer than the south side of Genesee.

    The sidewalks and steps into the school building were sanded this morning by SDOT, and staff requested that Dakota and 51st be sanded as well by SDOT since there was ice on both of these side streets. The school playground is CLOSED for your safety because of ice, so please look for parking along Genesee. Metro bus information is available at http://tripplanner.metrokc.gov/cgi-bin/itin_page.pl?resptype=U.

    We ask that people enter the building from the corner of 51st and Genesee and follow the signs to the cafeteria where the hearing will be conducted starting at 6:30.

    We want our families and staff to be safe, and we also want to hear your input. If you make the decision not to attend tonight, we want you to know that we are reading the emails that come in to capacity@seattleschools.org as we will also read the transcripts of each public hearing held this week. Transcripts will also be posted to our capacity management web site which you can visit from our home page at http://www.seattleschools.org.

    Thank you for your participation in this engagement process as we prepare final recommendations for further public review.

    Sincerely,

    Bridgett Chandler”

    Comment by bbakeman — 3:04 pm December 16, 2008 #

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