Seattle Public Schools Superintendent Raj Manhas’s Final Recommendation on School Consolidation and Closure has been released, and amongst other changes, my daughter’s school, Graham Hill Elementary, has been removed from the list.
Graham Hill was removed from the preliminary recommendation due to the dispersal of students violating the School Board’s principles of equity and minimizing disruption. While the Southeast quadrant does have enough excess capacity to close an additional school, the majority of that excess capacity is at African American Academy (an alternative school).
I am of course more than pleased that Graham Hill will not be closed, and that my daughter will be able to finish out her final two years. It is a fantastic school and an incredible community; properly funded it could be as good as any school in any of the best public school districts.
But while I thank both the Superintendent and the School Board for listening to our arguments and carefully reexamining both the data and the circumstances, I still come away from this process somewhat disappointed and disillusioned. I cannot help but believe that politics is what got Graham Hill onto the list in the first place, and to some extent it was politics that got our school off the list. We were very fortunate, not only to have the facts on our side, but to have a community of parents and teachers with the time, energy and ability to effectively present them.
There may be other schools still on this list just as worthy of being saved, but without such a loud and convincing voice.
I also believe that the imperative to close a large number of schools now, and all at once, was overstated from the start. In fact, there will be very few if any cost savings from these closings, while many children will have their education disrupted. I still believe that the driving force behind this round of school closures was a demand for political cover from legislators who otherwise lack the balls to fight for the kind of funding increases all our state’s schools desperately need.
And that’s where the fight goes next: to the Legislature.
I come away from this battle with an even greater respect for my daughter’s school, but with a profound sense of cynicism as to the district administration’s ability to effectively serve all our children. Gross inequities between North End and South End schools that I previously had only intuited, have now been laid out before me in neat, irrefutable spreadsheets, and I am immensely disappointed at the lack of creativity and forthrightness with which the district is addressing this problem. I’m not sure what the solution is, but I intend to exert time and energy exploring possible structural reforms.
But… the immediate fight is with the Legislature. No doubt there are inefficiencies in the Seattle Public Schools as there are in all bureaucracies (both public and private sector) but the real crisis facing K-12 education in this state is not inefficient spending, but inadequate funding. One of the major differences between a top-notch public school like the Bellevue district’s Medina Elementary, and my daughter’s Graham Hill, is the $500,000 a year the families of the Medina PTSA put into their school versus the $30,000 our largely low- and middle-income families struggle to raise.
This is money that not only buys books and computers and basic supplies, but which is used to buy down class size and give their children music, art, phys-ed and all the other elements of a well-rounded curriculum our state used to give all its children. Washington state has by law one of the most equitable school financing systems in the country, but by dramatically underfunding it and leaving it to families to make up the difference, we are gradually creating the type gross disparity — both within and between districts — that has become commonplace throughout much of the rest of the nation.
Children don’t choose to live in poverty, so why should we base the quality of their education on their parent’s income?
Whether that means raising revenues or shifting spending or some combination of the two, we need to spend more money on our schools. It is time once again to remind the Legislature and the Governor that public education is the state’s primary obligation… an obligation they are failing to meet.