Somehow, the messy Seattle Way of making decisions with an “open process” that spreads responsibility far and wide has birthed a complex school assignment plan to ease overcrowding and squeeze new schools into the mix.
But many parents do not love this baby or how it came into the world.
The Seattle school board voted unanimously Wednesday to approve changes that will affect some families next year, especially north of the Ship Canal where there will be a much needed additional middle school next fall.
The board also unanimously approved a contentious plan for adjusting boundaries over the next five years to fill the schools that are being built or renovated, including another middle school in the north and one on Capitol Hill.
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The board voted 5 to 2 to save the Pinehurst K-8 program, also known as Alternative School 1, for at least two years. The program, which serves 150 students, will move next fall to the former Lincoln High School. Its current site near Northgate Mall will become the home for the Jane Addams K-8 school. Board members Michael DeBell and Harium Martin-Morris voted against.
Other changes will be phased in over the next five years as newly built or renovated schools open their doors, though the district will review the plan each year.
Frustration over the ever-evolving plan had grown so intense that the night before the vote, the Seattle Council of Parent, Teacher and Student Associations blasted an email to some 10,000 members calling on School Board members to hit the brakes and approve changes only for next year.
On Thursday, district staff were working to update the district’s website with details of the amended plan the board approved Wednesday night.
Last April the district kicked off the process by establishing a timeline for “community engagement” and a set of guiding principles that included “Be responsive to family input to the extent feasible.”
District officials promised repeatedly that early drafts of the plan weren’t set in stone and revised plans repeatedly in response to feedback from community meetings, an online survey, reports from advisory committees, and emails and letters to the district and to the board.
Parents have tried to follow along as district staff worked and reworked various scenarios for moving students around.
Many of those changes revolved around the drawing of boundaries for the new Jane Addams and Wilson-Pacific middle schools in the north and the new Meany Middle School on Capitol Hill.
To make room, the district must divide the existing elementary schools among 12 middle schools instead of nine, which means some communities will not keep their traditional middle school. Parents felt whipsawed trying to follow various iterations of where those elementary schools would eventually send their graduated fifth-graders.
The agenda for Wednesday’s big vote was a moving target as the staff tried to keep up with School Board members’ amendments and amended amendments.
The document, first posted Friday evening on the district’s website, changed repeatedly over the next few days, the changes highlighted in last-minute revisions, corrections, updates and strike-throughs.
On Monday night — about 48 hours before the vote — board President Kay Smith-Blum and board member Betty Patu explained to hastily assembled and anxious supporters of the Seattle World School why they were proposing a surprise change of plan. The school, for newly arrived immigrant children, has already moved several times and the district has promised it a permanent home at the T.T. Minor building once it’s renovated.
Smith-Blum explained to the crowd on Monday that T.T. Minor may be needed for a walkable elementary school in a few years.
“We just got data in the last two weeks that showed that this might be in danger,” Smith-Blum said.
“The data shows that you change your mind over and over again,” a World School supporter yelled, which led to chants of “Not OK! Not OK! Not OK!”
Wednesday night, the board decided to keep World School at T.T. Minor.
The endeavor was constrained by some hard truths:
• There is not enough room for every child to attend the school closest to home.
• Although the nearly $700 million construction levy passed by voters in February takes a big chomp out of the problem, some schools will continue to be overcrowded even after the work is done.
• Every conceivable configuration of school boundaries requires trade-offs among the district’s guiding principles, which include minimizing disruption, maximizing walkability and providing equitable distribution of services and programs.
John Higgins: 206-464-3145 or firstname.lastname@example.org On Twitter @jhigginsST