Wednesday, January 17, 2007

The American School Board Journal on School Closures

In a case of “you get the publicity you earn even when it’s not the publicity you want,” the ASBJ has a great article on the pain associated with closing schools in their December issue, as part of a bigger special report on urban education. Their lead is the Seattle situation:

Seattle Public Schools’ enrollment had dropped steadily for years—decades, in fact. But it never caused a great deal of alarm among its administrators or board. Maybe the decline happened to slowly to notice. Maybe large reserves masked the subsequent slide in student aid. Maybe frequent turnover prevented anyone from grasping the big picture.

It’s hard to say how the school system operated so long without having to make major adjustments. But everything changed in late 2001, when the district’s budget managers discovered a $24 million shortfall. And that deficit was projected to rise to $35 million by the following year.

The article goes on to describe how Raj Manhas homed in on closing schools as a way to deal with the shortfall. He talks about how buildings are fixed cost, and that not taking care of those costs essentially was “robbing the classroom.” Some numbers that make the point:

As the district’s chief of operations, Manhas already was familiar with Seattle’s problems when he became superintenent. Enrollment has steadily declined from a high of nearly 100,000 students in 1968 to about 46,000 today. Yet its inventory of buildings remains virtually the same.

When you lose half your kids, you also have to lose some buildings in the process. That’s just common sense, which makes the following so frustrating:

(Regarding Manhas’ push to close schools) Board members Mary Bass and Sally Soriano rejected the recommendations, then weeks later displayed their dissent in a most unusual fashion. At a press conference in front of the soon-to-be-closed Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary School, a community group announced it was suing the school district for discriminating against minority and poor students. Among those attending were Bass and Soriano, who openly supported the groups claim. Soriano even provided a statement in the complaint.

“Well, that’ll help!” The Rain said sarcastically. Sure, the lawsuit was dismissed because it didn't get filed in time, but I can't see how it would have solved anything had it gone on.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I share your frustration at this phenomenon.

Along side silly board members who evidently have trouble comprehending the math of declining enrollments, are the collective bargaining agreements in Seattle which also pretend that the downsizing isn't going to happen.

Even more frustrating when activists and journalists dare suggest that school closings have something to do with low state funding. Seattle is one of the most generously funded schools.

It is as if they believe that schools exist for the benefit of the adults of the system...even if there were NO students.


11:56 AM  
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5:18 AM  

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