Seattle Mayor Ed Murray wants to create an expansive new Department of Education and Early Learning, he said Tuesday.
His plan, which the City Council will take up as it constructs a new budget this month, is an indication that the mayor remains focused on education issues as Seattle residents prepare to vote in November on two ballot measures aimed at providing prekindergarten education to needy families.
But the proposal to create a new agency — bringing together services now run by different branches of city government and adding more — shouldn’t be read as a sign that Murray is moving toward mayoral control of the city’s schools, he said.
“I’m not interested in a takeover of Seattle Public Schools,” Murray vowed during a news conference at City Hall. “I’m interested in outcomes, and I think we need to look at what creates the best outcomes.”
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There already is an Office for Education within Seattle’s Department of Neighborhoods that allocates money collected by the existing Families and Education Levy and that works on numerous learning-related programs.
But Murray believes a stand-alone department with additional responsibilities can help Seattle close the so-called achievement gap between white children and their black and Latino peers, he said Tuesday.
Only 56 percent of the city’s African-American students are reading at grade level, while 90 percent of white students are meeting the standard, the mayor noted.
“I want Seattle to be the first urban city in America to eliminate this achievement gap,” he said.
The Department of Education and Early Learning would house 38 employees, nine of them new positions, and would manage an annual budget of $48.5 million, including $30 million a year in Families and Education Levy money, according to Murray’s office.
It would require minimal new spending: an additional $68,000 in general-fund revenue and $542,000 more from the levy yearly, his office said.
The new agency would oversee the city’s Early Childhood Education and Assistance Program, its academic and social-support programs, its school-based health services, the Seattle Youth Violence Prevention Initiative and other programs.
It would connect city services at the pre-K, elementary-, middle- and high-school levels and would coordinate with local community colleges and universities, making it a “one-stop shop” for education, Murray said.
The proposal is his response to a City Council directive, he said.
The council asked the mayor last year to develop a new approach to education with an emphasis on preparing the city for a subsidized prekindergarten program.
Murray and the council are backing a property-tax levy on the November ballot that would raise $14.5 million a year for four years to subsidize pre-K for up to 2,000 children.
Voters also will be asked to consider a competing measure with significant union support that would mandate city subsidies for pre-K while raising the minimum wage of more than 4,000 child-care workers to $15 an hour.
The mayor said there will be more details available when he submits his complete budget plan to the council on Sept. 22.
Larry Nyland, Seattle Public Schools’ interim superintendent, said he welcomes Murray’s proposal.
Daniel Beekman: firstname.lastname@example.org or 206-464-2164.