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Originally published December 2, 2007 at 12:00 AM | Page modified December 6, 2007 at 10:06 AM

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Plan splits district, teachers

Seattle schools Superintendent Maria Goodloe-Johnson's first year at the district's helm will culminate with a "strategic plan" she'll release...

Seattle Times education reporter

Seattle schools Superintendent Maria Goodloe-Johnson's first year at the district's helm will culminate with a "strategic plan" she'll release this spring. But that plan suffered a setback last week when the teachers union voted not to participate.

A group of local philanthropists, including the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, donated the approximately $750,000 it will cost for five full-time consultants from New York-based McKinsey & Co. to develop the plan at district headquarters over the next three months.

But teachers say McKinsey has a history of recommending tactics the union opposes, including privatizing schools — putting a private organization or company in charge of public schools, something that's happened in a handful of other U.S. cities.

Since the results "may be used to undermine our union," the Seattle Education Association recommended its 6,000 members not participate.

Goodloe-Johnson said she met with union officials for two hours Thursday to try to smooth things over, and that teachers will be "at the table" as a result. But Seattle Education Association President Wendy Kimball said the organization still recommends against participating. Each union member, she said, can decide whether to take part.

Kimball said she will sit in on meetings to keep SEA members informed, but she doesn't consider that participation.

The SEA's Nov. 26 vote is a sign of growing tension between the organization and Goodloe-Johnson, who started work in July. The union generally had a good relationship with Raj Manhas, the previous superintendent.

"We have to establish a completely different relationship with a completely different downtown [administration]," said SEA Vice President Olga Addae. "And we are talking about a superintendent who is not well-versed in contract language."

Kimball said Goodloe-Johnson started at a time when teachers are under pressure and frustrated by their many responsibilities. She said there are many young and idealistic teachers in the district who have strong political views opposing privatizing schools. The superintendent will have to understand that environment.

Goodloe-Johnson moved to Seattle from Charleston, S.C., where there was no teachers union. She said she meets with the Seattle union regularly and stressed that she wants to support teachers.

"I think building that relationship is going fine, and there's going to be bumps in the road," she said. "People don't know me, so they don't trust me, and I respect that, because my leadership style is very different."

Earlier last month, the union sent Goodloe-Johnson an e-mail warning that there would be fallout from working with McKinsey & Co.

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In the e-mail, Steve Pulkkinen, SEA's executive director, expressed teachers' concern over corporate and philanthropic influence on education. SEA members have "trust issues" with major local corporate donors, he wrote.

In school systems across the country, the firm has recommended "empowering" principals to be leaders at their schools and greater use of charter schools. In a 2006 review of Ohio's schools, the firm recommended tying student performance to teacher pay — a method Seattle's union opposes.

One of nine recommendations McKinsey made this fall to Minneapolis Public Schools is that the district "set clear expectations for all staff, reward successes, and develop or remove low performers."

That kind of language worries union leaders, who question McKinsey's objectivity. "There is a lack of trust that McKinsey will actually come to a conclusion different from it had prior to interviewing our members," Kimball wrote in a letter to teachers.

The resolution passed Monday said: "The members of the Seattle Education Association will view any consultation with McKinsey and Company as a serious, but unintentional error which impinges on good faith bargaining."

District spokeswoman Bridgett Chandler said there's no agenda to privatize Seattle's schools, and she doesn't expect the consultant's report to give recommendations as detailed as the Ohio and Minneapolis reports.

The superintendent chose McKinsey because of its "collaborative" style, she said. The strategic plan, which will combine reviews of curriculum, special education and other programs, is expected to be complete in February or March.

Emily Heffter: 206-464-8246 or eheffter@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company

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