Poor marks for some school cuts
Austerity is forcing some hard choices, but so much of the education cutting seems slipshod, while the spending remains fad-driven.
Seattle Times staff columnist
That has been the spirit lately in some of the public-school systems around here. Faced with budget cuts — and more to the point, dumb budget cuts — parents just aren't taking it anymore.
Exhibit A is the amazing test boycott taking place right now up in the Snohomish School District. It's a mostly suburban and rural district that's hardly known as a hotbed of rebellion or protest.
But last week, at Seattle Hill Elementary, southeast of Everett, the parents of 147 kids who were scheduled to take the state standardized tests refused to have them do so. Meaning nearly half the kids in the school boycotted the tests (called the Measurement of Student Progress, or MSP).
As of Friday, 555 students in the Snohomish School District, across a half-dozen schools, had joined the no-test protest. By comparison, last year, 12 opted out. Several national groups opposed to high-stakes standardized testing said this was the largest single uprising against standardized tests they'd heard of in the nation.
"Often you'll hear of a few families here or there, but nearly 600 in one small district — wow! " said Peggy Robertson of United Opt-Out National, an anti-testing group. "Something must really be going on out there."
Yes, something is. It was the drip-drip-drip of budget cutting. At Seattle Hill, class sizes ballooned to 29. Art classes had to be taught by parent volunteers. This year, the school has been shut down seven half-days and one full day for teacher furloughs.
"There became a feeling of: What's happening to our schools?" says Michelle Purcell, a mom of three in the Snohomish district. "We started looking at how we spend the money we do have, and it led to this."
Large numbers of parents there have concluded the tests are a waste of time and money ($37.5 million is spent statewide on the MSP alone). It's especially grating the results aren't released until the following year, so they are of little use to teachers and students.
Why not cut back on tests of dubious purpose to save money, instead of canceling school for nearly a week?
Exhibit B was a couple of thousand Seattle parents — one of whom was me — going ballistic about a plan to push school start times so early that some bus pickups would start at 6:10 a.m.
Again, the driver here is budget cuts. The district says it can't afford to staff the buses it would take for all the schools to start at godly hours. So it spread out the start times. The result, for my family, is that one kid already starts school nearly two hours before the other. The new plan would have extended that gap beyond two hours.
As of Friday, more than 2,400 parents had signed a petition against the move, and hundreds more had called or emailed the district.
"This is the stupidest idea ever," was a typical comment on the petition. "Please consider the children and the families, not just the $$$$."
Yes, why not charge for riding the bus (at least for those who could afford to pay)? Or, if we really can't afford buses, why not cancel them altogether? I bet parents could get their kids to school OK on their own. Especially if the schools all started sometime after the rooster crows.
The district ended up pulling the early-start plan. So now it will have to find another way to cut the budget.
The common thread in all this is that austerity is forcing some hard choices. School parents get that. But so much of the cutting seems slipshod, while the spending remains fad-driven.
There have to be better, simpler ways than canceling classes or starting them in the dark.
Danny Westneat's column appears Wednesday and Sunday. Reach him at 206-464-2086 or email@example.com.
About Danny Westneat
Danny Westneat takes an opinionated look at the Puget Sound region's news, people and politics. Send tips or comments to firstname.lastname@example.org. His column runs Wednesday and Sunday.
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