I AM the father of two elementary-school children who attend Seattle Public Schools. Nothing is more important to me than the quality of their education.
Seattle is one of the mostly highly educated areas in the country. So, it stood to reason that our public schools must be some of the most well-run. My social liberalism and naiveté had swaddled me in a warm blanket, protecting me from the fiscal travails of our school district. That is, until I started digging into the details.
The irony is that by continuing to support the lack of accountability, restrictive and expensive collective-bargaining agreements, bloated administration and poor budgeting, I was actually hurting our children, not supporting them as all the levy fliers claim. I will be voting no for both of the Seattle Schools levies on the Feb. 12 election ballot.
The six-year capital levy, known as Building Excellence IV or BEX IV, would raise $695 million over six years. The campaign has been misleading in its language to coax passage. For example, on the first page of their mailer, it says, “FACT: Seattle has one of the lowest levy rates in the region.”
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They must think we are all poor at math. While the levy rates themselves are low, it is only because we have the highest assessed values and higher density.
What they fail to mention is that we spend over 20 percent more per student than our neighbors, based on my analysis.
The district cries “poor” while its general fund expenditures have increased by 21 percent, from $490 million in the 2006-07 budget to $591 million in the 2012-13 budget. Yet, enrollment has increased by only 10 percent to just more than 48,000.
A Seattle Times news story Friday showed that the Seattle spends far more than other state school districts on school construction.
I have been to PTA meetings discussing how we are going to prevent losing our English Language Learners (ELL) program, or how we are going to deal with the possibility of having a $230,000 portable placed on our school grounds to mitigate capacity issues.
Surely, someone in the district should have done a better job planning. If not, then what have the administrators making more than $100,000 per year been doing? And what do they ask for — more money for fewer services for our children. Hardly the recipe for closing the achievement gap.
We have passed three previous capital levies going back to 1995. You would think there wouldn’t be a need for portables, or that we would not have schools with asbestos, water damage and other problems. Fifty years is not that old for buildings that have been properly maintained, but some have seen little or no maintenance for years.
The lack of accountability has allowed the schools to fall apart, thus vaulting routine maintenance into a costly capital expenditure.
Our beloved schools could not escape the grips of big-city cronyism and questionable spending. Enter Silas Potter, former schools manager, and $3 million of misused funds stolen from our children. That dollar figure excludes the public litigation and investigation costs riding the coattails of improprieties.
Seattle Public Schools rewarded our previous superintendent’s lack of accountability with a $274,000 severance package. I guess the next time this happens, the district will just write more severance checks, and then ask you to pay for it.
This is emblematic of the problems at our district, and problematic if we are serious about closing the achievement gap.
We have to put an end to the district holding our children hostage to its financial mismanagement. We have to change the way we fund education or there won’t be any for our children. Yet, we keep funding a failing system because for most, it is much easier to cling to the comfort of familiarity, rather than embrace opportunity.
We need to shift the budgets and control of the money to the individual schools, and stop funding the bureaucracy that is destroying them. Our children are depending on it.
Erik Levy is a longtime Seattle resident. He writes at seattlehiker.com.