By Charla Mustard-Foote
Reporting for West Seattle Blog
Seven people with a vital interest in West Seattle public schools got together with West Seattle’s Seattle School Board rep Steve Sundquist at Coffee to a Tea in The Junction this morning, to discuss issues ranging from proposed new staggered school start times (to accommodate a dual busing schedule) to a redefinition of the statewide definition of Basic Education.
It was Sundquist’s first “coffee hour” since the board’s controversial vote on school closures/changes, but that wasn’t the top issue on the mind of attendees — who had ties to Center School, Pathfinder, Garfield, and Washington Middle School — all were passionately concerned about the effects of state and local budget deficits on the content and quality of Seattle educational programs.
The definition of “basic education” determines education requirements for schools across the state. In times of drastic budgetary constraints, this is where the bar is set. Parents present were concerned that schools provide programs to attract and retain all students; limiting funding to “basics” at the expense of art and sports programs can sharply cut into attendance, even though the budgetary issues are obviously important.
Issues of transportation and “bell times” are also in the forefront of school planning now. Using the same “yellow buses” for two trips per day can cut back on transportation costs. Determining start times for younger students, versus high school students is of critical interest to many parents who have to coordinate bus times with their own work transportation issues. Again, parents were urged to get involved and express opinions early in the process to get the most attention.
Parents expressed concern about rumors that Deans, who identify at-risk students at Pathways High School, will be retained but teachers who work with the students may be laid off. Sundquist acknowledged that these are difficult trade-offs, but they may be required by the drop in available funding. An across-the-board concern was that these drastic cuts will mean that fewer kids graduate from high school — and, ultimately, their work opportunities will be limited by short-term budgetary constraints.
Many critical school issues piggyback on other state financial concerns: Funding for the Metro bus system will impact availability of alternative transportation for high school students, school funding included in the Federal Stimulus package will affect money available to local schools, and, of course, decreases in city property and sales tax revenue have a negative impact on the overall money available to schools. The school board and administration has to consider all these variables as they plan upcoming budgets and they depend on input from parents to assist in this planning.
Thursday, February 26, is the statewide PTA Focus and Lobbying day in Olympia. The revised basic Education definition will be a major topic of this annual event. To get more information, check out the state PTA web page and contact your local school’s organization.