The Seattle School District can only move beyond crisis mode and break its cycle of dysfunction when it is led by a new School Board. Superintendent...
The Seattle School District can only move beyond crisis mode and break its cycle of dysfunction when it is led by a new School Board.
Superintendent Raj Manhas’ pending departure and the beginnings of a protracted search for the next schools chief highlight what this system has been missing all along: a strong board-superintendent leadership team. The majority of board members have failed Public Leadership 101: entering as individuals and acting as part of a group. Having never risen above the personal agendas that propelled them into office, board members are stuck on non-academic matters while the district veers from one emergency to the next.
A textbook example was the ill-fated push for Seattle to run its own school-bus system. For much of their tenure, board members Irene Stewart, Sally Soriano and Mary Bass have been obsessed with improving working conditions for bus drivers. This issue has nothing to do with classrooms and learning, yet the trio spent $50,000 in public funds on a consultant who studied a plan for the district to buy a fleet of buses and employ its own drivers.
No surprise there. A few years back, while district managers were negotiating new contracts with bus companies, Stewart wrote a Labor Harmony Agreement despite staff warnings it would lead to higher costs.
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This city doesn’t need a board bent on doing the politically correct thing for adults while students in classrooms go wanting.
We need an immediate change. Board members should cease their cling to power and do what’s best for children. Much is at stake, including two money measures slated for the February ballot and a fraying relationship with state lawmakers, who determine the district’s funding.
Former Mayor Norm Rice can shepherd us through this rough patch. The board should offer him a three-year contract as superintendent.
Then, save for Cheryl Chow and Michael DeBell, the board should step down: Soriano, Bass, Stewart, Brita Butler-Wall and Darlene Flynn.
Seattle is only as good as its schools. If the board is allowed to run our system into the ground, this city will be dragged down with it.
The board’s successes are notable because they are so few. One shining example was the increase of high-school academic periods to six per day — neighboring districts offer seven. DeBell scrambled to find the $2 million to pay for it. Inexplicably, Soriano and Bass voted against the measure.
The message sent to the public: extra money for bus drivers, yes; money for kids, no. This board must go. Otherwise, the district will continue to lose families and supporters.
The board practically lost the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The largest in the world, the foundation has spent hundreds of millions on public schools and bestowed its first dollars years ago on Seattle’s schools. But foundation officers declined to renew a $26 million grant and have adopted a wait-and-see approach to the district.
One situation the foundation is watching unfold is the School Board’s hesitation on a plan to launch an academy on science, technology, engineering and math at Rainier Beach. The academy was co-founded by Trish Milines Dziko, a co-chair of a citizens committee that advised the superintendent on district finances.
All acknowledge the academy’s potential to strengthen academics and boost Rainier Beach’s tiny enrollment. But School Board members have long held an unhealthy suspicion of outside philanthropy in the schools. The academy is a good idea that may never happen.
This board has become the barrier to progress. Their priorities are completely out of whack with what the schools need.
The community needs resignations from five board members. A recall sets a bar difficult to climb, requiring a finding of misfeasance or malfeasance. This bunch is simply ineffective.
Upon resignation of five board members, the Puget Sound Educational Service District steps in and a new board is appointed.
We need to be vigilant about attracting a top-quality board. To get the people we want, we have to get rid of the people we’ve got.