School boardmembers offer only token tweaks to school closure plans

The board votes tonight on the superintendent's plan, and it looks as if closure opponents have lost their battle
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Nova Alternative School, housed in the historic Horace Mann Building, will be relocated.

The board votes tonight on the superintendent's plan, and it looks as if closure opponents have lost their battle

This would be a great time not to see the handwriting on the wall. At least that would give a half day of hope before the vote on school closures at tonight's Seattle School Board meeting.

Yesterday afternoon we got to see the school board members'ꀙ proposed amendments to Superintendent Maria Goodloe-Johnson'ꀙs plan to close five school buildings, kill off five other school programs, and relocate eight others — moves that will affect more than 6,000 of the district'ꀙs 45,000 students.

With only a modest exception for boardmember Mary Bass, all six amendments proposed by boardmembers make no substantive changes in the plan. Based on the timidity of the other amendments, there'ꀙs every sign the board will vote to close five schools, tear the accelerated progress program (APP) for gifted children into four parts with no guarantee of continuing quality, and terminate two alternative schools — Summit K-12 and the African American Academy. Additionally, unless Bass prevails with an amendment that would, among other things, keep T.T. Minor Elementary in the Central Area open, the number of places for elementary and middle school children around south Capitol Hill and the Central Area would drop dramatically.

This outcome will be a huge disappointment to closure opponents who'ꀙve done their best to urge the school board to delay. They have argued that the relatively small savings from closing buildings (net only $1.4 million per year from operations not including staff cuts which the district could make without closing schools) compared to the $25 million-plus budget gap is not worth the disruption. They say a year could yield a better plan, advancing the district'ꀙs goals rather than tearing communities apart at the risk that more kids — and the funding that comes with them — will leave the district.

Given the widespread and reasoned opposition to this round of closures (seven schools were closed in 2006), the longer term question will be where the district goes from here. Much of the goodwill and confidence that school families bestowed on Goodloe-Johnson when she arrived two years ago has evaporated. One can see the district'ꀙs central office building down in SODO as the new Fort Apache, where the folks in charge are alien and unconnected to the interests of the community they'ꀙre sent to serve.

Similarly, many will see in Thursday'ꀙs vote a stunning lack of spine in board members who go along with the superintendent'ꀙs plan. But they will have done what school boards commonly do and the consultants who train them recommend: present a united front, support the superintendent you'ꀙve hired and move forward. What'ꀙs missing on the board is the power to quietly tell Goodloe-Johnson when she'ꀙs wrong.

So for the moment, one can only judge board members by their amendments:

Mary Bass: Keep the Mann, T.T. Minor, and Old Hay buildings open and their programs in place. Keep APP elementary intact at Lowell.

Sherry Carr: 'ꀜAllow APP-qualified students who live in the walk zone to attend APP Lowell.'ꀝ That'ꀙs it. Nothing else.

Harium Martin-Morris: Co-locate the K-8 portion of Summit K-12 at Aki Kurose Middle School, and merge the 9-12 portion of Summit with Nova, an alternative high school. Keep the Genesee Hill building open and keep the Pathfinder K-8 there; otherwise Pathfinder would move to the Cooper building and displace those elementary students.

Steve Sundquist: Tinker with the reassignment of the displaced Cooper students to various West Seattle elementaries, allowing those living close enough to the Cooper building to walk to enroll in Pathfinder.

Peter Maier: A compassionate proposal, addressing a general problem. Goodloe-Johnson'ꀙs proposal included lots of mandatory assignments for kids kicked out of their buildings; Maier'ꀙs amendment would grant displaced students priority assignment to schools of their choosing.

Board President Michael DeBell and past president Cheryl Chow did not offer amendments. Chow, a school administrator herself in her past career, has previously said the staff knows best.

All this means closure opponents will spend the day hoping for a miracle.


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About the Authors & Contributors

Dick Lilly

Dick Lilly

Dick Lilly is a former Seattle Times reporter who covered Seattle neighborhoods, City Hall and public schools during 14-years with the paper.