Mayor Ed Murray’s education summit is a chance to find a “collaborative perspective” on Seattle Schools.
SEATTLE Mayor Ed Murray’s dogged push to force a civic conversation about the city’s schools is necessary and timely. A series of education-focused community meetings are being held now — four are planned in the next two weeks — and will culminate in an education summit April 30.
The city of Seattle’s role in improving Seattle Schools is mostly limited to supplemental funding via the $235 million, seven-year Families and Education Levy approved in 2011.
Broadening that role to governance — granting the mayor power to appoint School Board members, for example — should be added to the topic list. But Murray says he’s not putting that “on the table,” and seems weary at the prospect of the political battles that would ensue in Seattle and in the Legislature, which would have to grant that power.
How to participate
Join these community conversations in advance of Mayor Ed Murray’s education summit:
• Tuesday, April 19, 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. Garfield High School, 400 23rd Ave. To be facilitated by students.
• Wednesday, April 20, 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Nathan Hale High School, 10750 30th Ave NE. To be facilitated by students.
• Tuesday, April 26, 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. Van Asselt Community Center, 2820 S Myrtle St. Sponsored by Seattle Education Association.
• Tuesday, April 26, 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. Northgate Community Center, 10510 5th Ave. NE. Sponsored by Seattle Education Association.
For more information, including an online survey: seattle.gov/educationsummit
There’s plenty else to talk about.
The state’s education-funding crisis forced by the state Supreme Court should enter a new phase this winter, as lawmakers reform an uneven financing system that foists about 30 percent of teacher-salary costs onto the local levy. That problem contributed to the first strike by Seattle teachers in 30 years.
After decades of enrollment declines, Seattle schools now are bursting at the seams. The district has had uneven leadership, and the district too often treats parents as a problem, not a partner.
But the most persistent challenge for Seattle Schools involves student outcomes. While it is possible to get an excellent education in the district, such opportunities are too often defined by neighborhood as the city gentrifies.
Every year for the past decade, less than half of Seattle Public Schools’ African-American students in grades three through eight met state standards for math, while more than 85 percent of white students met that standard. Results for literacy and reading were only marginally better. Rates of suspension or expulsion for black students were more than triple those for white students.
“When it comes to our schools, we really have two different cities,” Murray said in an interview this week. “Equity is the key issue.”
Murray modeled the education summit on one held by Mayor Norm Rice in 1990, as Seattle was confronting demands to end mandatory busing. Rice, who is writing a book about that era, said the summit helped form “a collaborative perspective and a sense of moving forward for the common good.”
That is a spirit badly needed today. Asked what this summit could bring, Murray said Seattle could realign its spending and youth-focused programs, and could help ease the district’s capacity crunch by offering city land for new schools.
This is an opportunity to shape those responses, through community meetings and an online survey. Let the mayor know what you think.