Monday, March 9, 2009

Quality public education is fundamental to a society that values equal opportunity for all people. It has long been known as the great equalizer. Whether you are poor, a minority or speak English as a second language our public school systems are intended to create opportunities that level the playing field. It is unfortunate that the Seattle School District has forgotten the importance of providing quality education for all.

On January 29, 2009, the Seattle School Board approved the Superintendent's proposal to close five schools that disproportionately serve students of color and students with learning disability. It is estimated that of the 1800 children directly impacted by school closure over 1500 of them are minority, many speak English as a second language and many have learning disabilities. Four of the five schools slated for closure are between 99 percent and 70 percent minority. The fifth school is 50.2 percent minority. It is also notable that these schools also served a disproportionate number of students in poverty. During economic hard times public schools should not be balancing the budget on the backs of those that are poor and minority.

The Seattle School Board and its superintendent claim that we are facing a 24 million dollar budget deficit and that these school were under enrolled and ineffective. If you were to analyze the Seattle School Districts Budget a little closer you would find that the District has a 30 million dollar rainy day fund. In addition to having money in reserve, it is important that the Seattle School District develop more creative strategies to address any perceived budget crisis. How about cutting administration. It is increasingly apparent that the largest increase in expenditures in the Seattle School District are linked to administrators that do not directly serve children. In deed, our own school superintendent makes over 260,000 thousand dollars per year and took a 10 percent pay increase during a period in which it is likely that she was preparing to close schools. Is this a reasonable allocation of resources? Is this how our school district squanders money? Perhaps the administration should move from lush John Stanford Building and operate out of one of the many schools that they closed just a couple of years ago. This would likely serve to save a significant amount of money and would have less of an impact on children.

We have an opportunity to build a school district that has smaller school and class sizes. We should seize this opportunity to do better by our children instead of seeking to eliminate opportunity for disenfranchised populations. The Schools that are now slated for closure were doing as well at educating children of color and the poor as any other schools. Instead of closing these schools we need to provide greater support.