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It's back to neighborhood schools for Seattle

It's also back to reopening five schools closed a few years ago, with a cost of $45 million. The district releases its detailed maps and makes the case that predictability for families will outweigh some of the tradeoffs in desegregation and flexibility.

The Seattle School District has come up with a new assignment plan that makes it clear where every student will attend elementary, middle, and high school, providing a predictability to assignments that’s been missing since desegregation busing started almost 40 years ago. But the plan requires spending $45 million to reopen five schools less than a year after a decision that closed five other schools last spring and relocated eight academic programs.

Seattle Public Schools’ neighborhood-based assignment plan probably isn’t a big deal for Seattleites without kids in the schools. Much of what will be argued about at public meetings this month — where the attendance boundaries will fall, equitable access to “choice schools” — will seem like inside baseball to most folks.

But what might get taxpayers going is this: To enroll kids close to where they live, recreating the neighborhood school system of almost 40 years ago before desegregation busing started, the district will reopen five elementary schools, two of which shut their doors in 2007 at the end of the school year and one that was closed only last year.

Reopening those schools will cost as much as $45 million in capital improvements, according to Kathy Johnson, the district’s facilities planning manager. Ironically, a report to the school board’s finance committee on the estimated capital savings from closing seven schools in 2006 and 2007 was $44,870,246. The capital cost savings, mostly avoided maintenance, from closing the five schools earlier this year was estimated at $33 million. The district will ask voters to foot the $45 million cost of reopening these schools as part of its Buildings-Technology-Academics capital levy on the ballot in February.

Rainier View in the far south end and Viewlands in northwest Seattle, both closed in 2007, will reopen in the fall of 2011. Old Hay on Queen Anne Hill, which housed a school for middle- and high-school-aged immigrant children learning English until last spring, will reopen as an “option” (read “choice”) elementary in 2011. The other reopening schools, McDonald in Wallingford (opening 2012) and Sand Point (2010), have been closed much longer, though McDonald has often served as a temporary home for students whose schools were being rebuilt. When it was closed along with another group of schools last year, district officials said reopening Old Hay was likely to handle enrollment growth in the Queen Anne and Magnolia neighborhoods.

While closing schools one year and opening others the next may undermine the district’s credibility with voters, the new student assignment plan has a lot of pluses. “It has been 39 years since we have had predictable assignments in Seattle Schools,” board President Michael DeBell said Tuesday night (Oct. 6), referring to the start of mandatory busing.

Now, based on a family’s home address, residents will know from the outset exactly where their children will attend elementary, middle, and high school. That hasn’t been possible up to now because the “open choice” enrollment system was essentially one of competition, mediated by complex rules, among all students for seats in desirable schools. Effects of every action rippled across the district as the losers were assigned to second or third choice schools. Lack of predictable assignments is frequently cited by parents as a reason to send their children to private schools.

In fact, under the system now being phased out, families moving into Seattle might find that even living across the street from the school wasn’t enough to get their kids enrolled, especially if they arrived in town after the school assignment period closed in March. Because of that, some businesses reportedly would tell new employees with kids not to move into the city, but to try Bellevue instead.

That kind of irrationality is gone in the new system. Under the new assignment plan, every elementary school has an assignment area and if you live there, your children can go to that school. Up the line, your address also determines which middle and high schools your children will attend. And at the same time, the new plan offers 11 choice schools (mostly the desirable K-8s and three alternative high schools) that families who want something different can apply for without losing their children’s guaranteed spaces in their “attendance area” (neighborhood) school.


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Comments:

Posted Wed, Oct 7, 8:55 a.m. Inappropriate

"The challenge for the district is to bring up the quality of its weakest schools, mostly those serving low-income neighborhoods, so fewer families feel they need to get out."

This has always been the challenge, this change has to be a "fight" for some parents to avoid having their eggs in an inferior basket.

How often should we move our children to new schools? The answer should have been, for the past 39 years, when the graduate.

Mr Baker

Posted Wed, Oct 7, 9:53 a.m. Inappropriate

"Can all of Queen Anne, Magnolia, and Ballard fit into Ballard High School as the plan’s high school map shows?" The answer is probably not, which is why when pressed on this question, School District official Tracy Libros stated at yesterday's public meeting that the Ballard High School boundaries released yesterday are only a proposal and that "new information" is being analyzed which may result soon in revisions to the northern boundary (currently penciled in at 85th St., NW).

New information??? Come on people! You've been stewing over where to draw this very line for over one year now and when you finally release a map you tell us that your planning to change it soon. What kind of a bait and switch operation is the District running here? Is the plan to simply lower the boundary to 70th St. after everyone's gone home and is no longer paying attention? If there truly was any new information that needed to be analyzed, then why did the District release the maps in the first place? Why not do the analysis first?

Up to this point, the District has done a pretty good job with an open process. But when they finally release a map and tell us on the very same day that it's unfinished and likely to soon be changed, it really calls their commitment to openness into question.

--Annoyed and Disappointed

jlederer

Posted Wed, Oct 7, 10:15 a.m. Inappropriate

$45 million to reopen those schools? Sounds expensive. On the other hand, how many millions will they save every single year by not busing kids all over town?

Posted Wed, Oct 7, 11:02 a.m. Inappropriate

Dick, I would expect you to know better than to deride alternative schools as "escape valve for those dissatisfied with the quality of their neighborhood school." Alternative schools include some of the most successful and popular schools in the district, and many of us choose them for what they offer: progressive, engaging education.

It is true that not all option schools are alternative. Parents will need to do their homework.

eyesopen

Posted Wed, Oct 7, 11:33 a.m. Inappropriate

Wow, common sense at last. I wish we were parents facing this prospect now instead of in the 1980's when we tried our best but decided on private schools. Lincoln High School Alum 1956.

ctb

Posted Wed, Oct 7, 7:44 p.m. Inappropriate

I for one liked the school choice system and I'm a little mystified at why so many parents would simply prefer to have the matter taken out of their hands and be assigned to their neighborhood schools. (Although it sames them the time of having to actually visit and pay attention to what goes on in different schools in their neighborhoods).
The choice system allowed you to compare schools, find a program that was suited to your child's learning style, and still stay relatively close to your home (by choosing from schools within your local cluster). It also helped to make schools somewhat accountable and responsive to parent needs: by essentially "competing" for students, school administrators needed to work harder to attract and keep students. Of course the rub with this plan was the district never came up with a workable plan for dealing with schools parents preferred not to choose.
I actually think this new plan could increase private school flight, because it takes away options from parents.
I also believe the district needs solid funding (i.e. increased) to address the achievement gap.(Doing away with allocating funds according to enrollment a few years ago was a good first step.) By taking away choice from parents in lower-income neighborhoods, it will likely increase the disparity between the "have" and "have-not" schools. Higher income families can always opt out of the system to a private school, but low income families don't have that fallback, and are left "stuck" with an underperforming school if they're assigned to one. The choice system at least gave low income parents a way to "shop around" the district.
Seattle just doesn't want to face the fact it has a two-tiered public school system.
The district needs to seriously consider, for instance, placing limits on the amount of privately-raised PTA funds that can go to a single school, and how much of those funds should instead be shared with the district as a whole. Portland has instituted this policy, but in Seattle this is taboo topic.
I believe the new plan will increasingly segregate Seattle schools, and though Seattle thinks of a itself as a "progressive" city, its citizens seem to not care about this fact.

Andy_E

Posted Wed, Oct 7, 10:26 p.m. Inappropriate

All that's needed now is a joint effort between the City and the School District to create a new high school in the new Interbay neighborhood now being developed between Queen Anne and Magnolia. This would finally repair the botch inflicted on those neighborhoods 20 years ago when QA High School was given away. New construction is also less expensive than remodels, so the District could actually save money and make a long-term, sustainable improvement to the high school system at the same time.

slame

Posted Fri, Oct 9, 9:12 a.m. Inappropriate

The lack of choice for high schools and middle schools is a disaster when the district no longer uses yellow buses. We had to choose which middle & high schools based on where Metro routes would allow. Our closest middle school would have necessitated our kids transfering buses downtown, so we had to choose a farther one to get a single bus ride. The new assignment plan means for both high school and middle school, we have to drive our kids to school every day. If the district won't provide safe, predictable transportation, then they shouldn't be allowed to determine where we send the kids.

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