I’m going to take the opportunity to use the platform that I have at my disposal (however small) to discuss a purely local and personal issue. The Seattle school district has proposed the closure of a slew of our public schools in an effort to save money. My children’s school is on the list and, needless to say, I am not happy.
My fellow local blogger, David Goldstein of the infamous Horse’s Ass
, has written a lovely and powerful rant about the apparent complicity of the Seattle Times
editorial board in promoting the closure of my children’s school. I don’t think he had any idea that I was personally affected, but I thank him for his post nonetheless. Whether or not it proves to be effective, it certainly made me feel better just reading his righteous anger.
I have long thought that closing public schools is shortsighted and asinine. The reasons for closing schools often involve short-term financial shortcomings and end up spending more money than they save and often result in a more segregated and decimated public school system. I must have been naïve to think that a liberal city like Seattle would be any better than other cities and towns when it comes to pro-actively improving our public school system.
While I understand that public schools are hurting nationwide as a result of “no child left behind,” probably the worst public policy initiative ever to be rolled out (over the top of our children) by our government, closing schools that are working is not the answer. The unfounded mandate that is No Child Left Behind has created more hoops to jump through and more tests to administer in order to qualify for federal funding and has left most of our public schools strapped. And it certainly didn’t help our schools here in Seattle that we were swindled out of millions of dollars by shady accounting (Republican accountants no doubt). But now, in an effort to save money to pay for the city’s (and the country’s) mistake, our children’s education and future is being put on the chopping block.
How more out of line could our priorities be when closing public schools, most of them serving minority populations, is a feasible cost cutting measure, but building sports stadiums with public money is considered “good business”? If I have to hear one more whiney word about the Sonics needing more luxury boxes while the parents of school aged children have to beg to keep our schools open, I think I just might pull out my hair. And once mine is gone, I just might start working on whoever is next to me.
My husband and I chose The Option Program at Seward (TOPS) because of what it offered as an alternative public school. TOPS isn’t a neighborhood school, but rather a citywide school that strives for diversity and equality in education. It has an integrated curriculum that focuses on social justice, community awareness, and cultural, racial and socioeconomic diversity with an emphasis on closing the achievement gap. They have delivered on that promise and it is a much sought after program, yet has been slated for closure. The proponents of the plan will say that they are only proposing to “move” the TOPS program to another facility, but the facility they have designated is too small and too ill equipped to house the program as is. Therefore, I say, they are advocating the destruction of one of the most successful programs that the Seattle school district has to offer.
Why would they do this? Well, it’s quite simple actually. They want to close down a neighborhood school in the affluent neighborhood of Montlake. The parents of the Montlake school successfully fought their way off of the closure list last year, an effort that many TOPS families supported, and in an effort to appease them this time around, the Community Advisory Committee (appointed by the School Board) has decided to offer up the Seward building, that now houses TOPS, as an enticement for their cooperation. Politics is the same on the local level as it is on the national level. If you’re connected, have money and the luxury of time to get involved, you get what you want regardless of how many other children must suffer as a result.
But as angry as I am about the destruction of my children’s school, the facility that we are slated to take over would displace another community of kids. That’s right, in an effort to appease the affluent white folks of Montlake, the diverse TOPS program will vacate the facility that was designed specifically for them and that they have poured money, time, labor and love into making just right, and be moved into another public school, Thurgood Marshall Elementary, that is currently housing a program that is on the rise and is made up of predominantly minority students. The plan of the CAC seems to be, pick on minority communities and alternative programs that are focusing on diversity and where that doesn’t work, divide and conquer. They are cynically attempting to pit parents of different schools against each other in the hopes that one or more of them will roll over in defeat. Whether or not the proposals of the CAC are purposefully biased in favor of white affluent neighborhoods doesn't matter if the perception is there. In a community, perception matters.
It’s hard to ignore the fact that most of the schools slated for closure are serving mostly minority communities. It’s also hard to miss the fact that the best facilities are going to the affluent neighborhoods. If we allow this injustice to stand, as a community, we are saying that it is okay to further segregate our schools and continue to promote inequities in the system. At a time when we should be focusing on improving our educational system and investing money in our children’s future, we are instead cutting corners at their expense. TOPS is a successful school that is working to make our community a more integrated, cohesive and sustainable place. They are helping to bring up the kind of citizens we should all want to have as members and leaders in our community. Instead of breaking up the program and setting them up for failure, we should be encouraging more schools to follow the model.
I have faith that the TOPS community will fight this injustice and more importantly, fight it from the right position. Move the school if you have to, we are willing to do our part in creating a better school system for all, but we are not going to sit idly by while the city takes away what we have fought long and hard for, and hands it over to those who are already more privileged than most. And we are not going to do nothing while they attempt to pit us against a community in the south end that we support.
We need more schools, not less. We need better schools for all our kids, not more segregation. We need to be thinking in the long term and not allow ourselves to be enticed into solutions that only fix the problem temporarily. If the city is hurting for cash, tell the Sonics to go to hell (or Bellevue) and build their own damn arena. Raise property taxes, institute a latte tax and undo the damage done by Tim Eyman (and then ship him to Alabama). We do need some real solutions in our great city, but shortchanging our kids should not be an option.