Bill Could Divide Seattle Public Schools in Two – Or More

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Two lawmakers in Seattle are looking for ways to make changes to the Seattle Public Schools system, and those changes might be significant.

A joint bill has been proposed by state representatives Eric Pettigrew and Sharon Tomiko Santos that would in effect divide the one of the largest school districts in the state into at least two pieces – and possibly more.  The two reps argue that the district cannot continue to do the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.

Seattle School Board President Sherri Carr does not understand why the bill is being proposed, in addition to another bill that would allow the Seattle mayor to appoint two school board members.  Carr feels the district is not in need of saving.  “The claim that Seattle Public Schools is failing is just simply wrong in the facts,” she said.

Carr went on to say the district has seen rising graduation rates, increasing test scores and progress on closing the achievement gap among ethnic groups.  “The fact is that these schools are working very hard. We are seeing evidence that they have been making great gains,” Carr said of the schools in Settle’s south end that serve a diverse group of students.

While Santos, who is head of the House Education Committee, acknowledges the fact that she and Pettigrew have not always agreed on what should be done concerning the education of students of color in the Seattle school district, they both agree that a change is needed.

According to the pair, the district, which is responsible for almost 52,000 students, cannot offer the same support to its schools and communities the way a smaller district is able to.

“The district has gotten further and further removed from the actual buildings,” said Pettigrew, who has sent his two kids to Catholic school, because he didn’t trust the public schools to help his African-American son succeed.

House Bill 1860 does not suggest how the district should be broken up.  Instead, it would prevent school districts from reaching more than 35,000 students, and create an independent panel to decide what should be done once a district does become that large.

However, Carr feels that in the end, most people would want to divide the district so that the north end, who boasts high achievements, would be split from the south end of the district.  She went on to say that the cost to run two districts would not be less than the cost of running the one and would result in less money being put into the classroom.

In a response from the Seattle Public Schools to the bill proposal, they said that dividing the district would increase costs to taxpayers as there would need to be separate governance boards, leadership teams, office support, all in addition to extra supplies and equipment.