Washington News

Seattle Times
November 5, 2004

Seattle District Presents Five-Year Schools Plan

By Sanjay Bhatt, Seattle Times Staff Reporter

Seattle Public Schools staff yesterday unveiled a five-year plan that sets 2009-2010 as the deadline to eliminate the achievement gap in reading and math, but could also mean closing some schools and limiting bus service.

The plan envisions spending at least $20 million on new programs next year and investing another $6.4 million for new software, computers, and vocational programs. But the district, having exhausted surplus funds to balance this year's budget, is estimating a $7 million budget deficit next year.

To come up with the cash to pay for the academic changes and promised wage increases for teachers, the district's managers say resources will have to be dramatically shifted soon. "We have to downsize the number of facilities we have," said Superintendent Raj Manhas. "Without it we can't do some of these wonderful things we want to do. There is no other money coming in the short term."

Seattle hasn't closed a school since the late 1980s. The district has closed 42 buildings and reopened 14 since 1970. Enrollment has fallen from 86,000 students in 117 schools in 1970 to 47,000 students in 100 schools today, officials say.

Under the proposed five-year plan, the board would begin to close schools in the 2006-2007 school year and change transportation and student-assignment plans.

Here are a few of the 21 benchmarks Manhas is proposing to use to measure the district's progress in meeting the plan's goals:
. Reducing by 20 percent a year the gap in discipline rates between white and minority students.
. Increasing by 10 percent a year the number of children of color completing high-school advanced-learning classes.
. Reducing middle- and high-school dropout rates by 10 percent each year.

All the talk of closing the gap in student achievement between whites and minorities isn't new. Two years ago, the district said it would do so by 2005. And 18 years ago, the district's self-imposed deadline was 1990.

Manhas, who took the district's reins in June 2003, said yesterday that he believes Seattle schools can do it. Earlier this year, the district negotiated a historic, five-year contract with the Seattle Education Association that creates for the first time a framework for providing special support for staff members who work at schools with high student turnover.

The district needs to find outside sources of revenue to help pay for that help and is pursuing a $2.5 million closing-the-gap grant from the National Education Association.

To increase the effectiveness of teachers, the district estimates it will need $3.75 million for literacy and math coaches who will be based at struggling schools; $2.3 million for training teachers in proven instructional strategies; $2.46 million for strengthening the preparation, recruitment, and mentoring processes for all staff; and $660,000 for improving working conditions and staff retention.

Under the plan, the district also would tackle equity issues in several ways. About $3 million would be spent to develop a rigorous college and technical program at every high school; $250,000 to create a central office group charged with raising awareness of institutional racism and giving people the skills and knowledge to dismantle it; $575,000 to create partnerships with bilingual communities; and $1 million to carry out intervention plans in struggling schools.

Sanjay Bhatt: 206-464-3103 or sbhatt@seattletimes.com

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