It’s another year, so it must be another mismanagement mess up at Seattle schools. To all you parents racing around trying to save your teachers: You’re saints. Just remember to pace yourself.
What I’ve learned being a parent in Seattle Public Schools: It’s about endurance. Can you make it through before they wear you down and drub you out?
Every year there’s some management blunder that’s so dumbfounding that we parents, admittedly, start to go a little crazy.
Witness that Righteous Dad in Ballard, Brian Jones, who out-of-the-blue donated $70,000 to West Seattle’s Alki Elementary this week. It’s a school his kids don’t even attend. He said he was driven by anger at the school district’s head-scratching plan to remove teachers from Alki and up to 23 other schools a full month after school has started.
“If you had told me yesterday I would be doing this, I would have been like, ‘What are you talking about?’ ” a worked-up Jones told KING 5 News. “But finally something just broke in me that said this is ridiculous.”
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I feel you, man. But if you’d allow me to dispense some unsolicited advice: You’ve got to pace yourself. In Seattle schools, there are fresh outrages like this every year.
Trying to drive change as you’re doing is electric. But the key to making it through this system is another quality entirely: It’s to keep padding along like a whipped dog.
OK, I’m joking, but only sort of. Regular readers know I love the teachers and the overall spirit and quality of Seattle’s schools. But the bureaucracy is like getting caught in a bed of sea kelp — the harder you thrash, the more it tugs you down.
Take, say, Sand Point Elementary, a small school of 290 kids, about 45 percent of them poor enough to qualify for the free-lunch program. It has fluctuations in enrollment because many of its families are in housing-voucher programs. So what it needs, most, is stability.
This year there was a surprisingly large kindergarten cohort of 60 kids. The first grade has only 40. But the school adjusted by putting three teachers in kindergarten and two in first grade, for classes of 20 students each. The state’s goal for these lower grades is 17 per class, but this is pretty close.
So what does the district do? This week, four weeks into classes, it announces it wants to transfer one of the kindergarten teachers for budgetary reasons. So Sand Point will be forced to reconstitute its lower grades into one K/1 split class, two K classes and one first-grade class — with an average of 25 kids per class.
The school’s PTA is so beside itself it’s considering canceling the parent-funded music program and using that money to save the teacher.
“The way the district does business is insane,” says Chandra Hampson, Sand Point’s PTA president. Last year she made headlines in a pitched battle with the district over pulling a grant from the school. Her kids are in kindergarten and second grade. (Remember: Pace yourself!)
I told her it could be worse: My 10th-grader is in a Spanish class that started the year without any teacher. Four weeks in, there’s still no teacher (there have been subs.) An email this week about hiring a Spanish teacher said, “No set deadline is in place, right now, it is day-to-day.”
Hampson is now heading “Kids Not Cuts,” a group to help the district fix its maddening budget processes. A former financial auditor at Wells Fargo Bank, Hampson says Seattle isn’t the only district with fiscal mess ups. But it is routine here.
This time it was that enrollment came in 675 students below projections. So now with less revenue the district says it needs to cut costs.
Yet in this year’s Seattle schools budget, the total devoted to central staff administrators soared 16 percent. The superintendent’s office: up 16.4 percent. The public-information office: up 25 percent. Meanwhile the budget for teachers is up 8.4 percent, while enrollment — the number of actual customers — is up only 1 percent.
I’d say if they need to cut costs, it’s right under their noses.
I’d also say these energetic parents trying to help are saints.
But after saying all that, I’m back to padding along like a whipped dog. Sorry, I’ve got five more years, and an endurance test to pass.