Seattle Courant Archive

School boardmembers offer only token tweaks to school closure plans

School boardmembers offer only token tweaks to school closure plans

By Dick Lilly
January 29, 2009

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’s 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’ve 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’s 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’s 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’re sent to serve.

Similarly, many will see in Thursday’s vote a stunning lack of spine in board members who go along with the superintendent’s 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’ve hired and move forward. What’s missing on the board is the power to quietly tell Goodloe-Johnson when she’s 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: “Allow APP-qualified students who live in the walk zone to attend APP Lowell.” That’s 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’s proposal included lots of mandatory assignments for kids kicked out of their buildings; Maier’s 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.

Dick Lilly served on the Seattle School Board from 2001-05 and earlier covered the Seattle Public Schools as a reporter for The Seatle Times. You can reach him in care of