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.