The Seattle School Board will vote this week whether to restructure or dissolve its two-decade relationship with its fundraising arm, the Alliance for Education.
For 20 years, the Alliance for Education has raised money to benefit Seattle’s public schools, investing about a total $150 million that’s gone to teacher and principal training, scholarships and support for literacy and other academic initiatives.
But a partnership that started with fanfare and hope has slowly eroded to the point that the district is considering severing its relationship with the nonprofit, which at one time raised $7 million to $8 million a year.
On Wednesday, the School Board is to vote on whether to significantly restructure, or end, its relationship with the Alliance.
“It’s time to hit the reset button,” said board President Sherry Carr, who recently signed a letter to the Alliance, outlining a host of issues.
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At stake is the funding the Alliance still raises — about $200,000 in general donations and $800,000 for support of the Seattle Teacher Residency program, which trains about 25 new teachers each year.
While that’s just a portion of what the Alliance used to raise, it still would be a loss. But Carr, who served on the Alliance’s board from 2005-2007, said she is comfortable with moving on.
The troubles between the Alliance and the district have been brewing for years, as the Alliance, not wanting to be just a district cheerleader, worked to be a supportive, yet independent, “critical friend.”
But the district said the Alliance has been more critical than friend, prescribing solutions rather than working with district officials to find solutions.
Twenty years ago
The Alliance started in 1995, the same year John Stanford, now deceased, was named superintendent. At the time, he called the Alliance a vital link for the district to outside communities.
“Many school districts have nonprofit organizations that `adopt’ a school, raise money, or help with school district governance,” Stanford wrote in his book, “Victory in Our Schools: We CAN Give our Children Excellent Public Education.”
“The Alliance differs from those organizations in that its work is broader,” he wrote. “Its purpose — like everything else in the district — is to support academic achievement, to ensure that all students learn.”
Over the years, the Alliance moved into advocacy as well as fundraising, wanting to push and challenge the district. At the same time, funds dwindled, from the $7 million to $8 million through 2007 and 2008 to about $3 million in 2010-11 and just $921,783 last school year.
“Now that it’s below a million (dollars), you have to start thinking about doing something different,” Carr said.
The Alliance blamed the district for the decrease but said it supports and invests in schools in many ways, not just through the dollars it sends to district headquarters.
“The churn of four superintendents in four years has left many of the district’s largest funders wary — and weary — of making large investments,” the Alliance wrote in a letter to the board.
In recent years, the Alliance also has been a partner with the district, the University of Washington and the teachers union in a teacher-training program called the Seattle Teacher Residency, which prepares participants for the profession through a yearlong internship in the classroom, and graduate-level coursework.
It also provides scholarships for principals, teachers and students, and hosts fundraising events, and serves as a “bank” for school groups like PTAs and booster clubs.
After the memorandum of understanding between the two groups expired last March, the two groups said they haven’t been able to reach an agreement on how they could continue to work together.
On Oct. 7, Carr, board Vice President Sharon Peaslee and Superintendent Larry Nyland sent a letter to Brad Hoff, the chair of the Alliance’s board, saying the district intended to dissolve its relationship with the Alliance.
“We regret that the time has come for our two organizations to move forward on their own,” they wrote.
They said they had concerns about the Alliance’s leadership, fundraising and its shifting mission as reasons for wanting to end the partnership.
“You are asking SPS (Seattle Public Schools) to help raise funds to pay for Alliance overhead, to pay for Alliance staff who are critical of SPS decisions and leadership; and to support the funding of programs that are either unsustainable, contrary to the wishes of SPS, or a surprise to the Superintendent,” they wrote. “This simply cannot continue, which is why we are moving to dissolve the relationship.
Hoff said his initial reaction to the letter was sadness, and though the two organizations had been in talks for months, he was surprised the district wanted to pull away.
“It’s a 20-year relationship where both partners are working hard,” Hoff said. “I can’t imagine any relationship not having some points of disagreement. But those disagreements are minor in comparison to the great work we have achieved together.”
In its response to the board, the Alliance countered that its leaders have never taken a position on how school-board governance should change, but it has worked to “promote and support effective school board governance.”
The Alliance agreed it had advocated in 2010 for changes in the teachers contract, along with other community organizations.
If the district-Alliance relationship ends, the district will withdraw from the seats it holds on the Alliance’s board, and ask the Alliance to stop using Seattle Public Schools’ name in its fundraising. The district also will stop participating in Alliance events.
The teacher-residency program would continue through the year, and the Alliance has agreed to provide accounting services for school groups at an agreed rate of 7.5 percent, Morris wrote in a letter to the School Board.
The Alliance also said it will continue its programs and activities whether it is a partner with the district or not.
Carr also held out the possibility that the two organizations might work together again.
A dissolution, she said, “doesn’t mean the two organizations can’t work in partnership in the future. But it needs to be expressly discussed and negotiated, and working under contract rather than a relationship-based structure.”