Thursday, March 1, 2012

What's new at McGivlra?


It's been some time since we last covered what's going on at our by-many-beloved neighborhood elementary school, John J. McGilvra. Our last coverage, in fact, was in December when we reported that McGilvra had again been given the highest quality-education rating by the School District. It was just about this time last year, however, that we reported something that was quite controversial: the fact that the District had reneged on its ten-year-old agreement with McGilvra's PTA. That agreement had limited class size in the School in return for parental funding of special programs.  We wondered what impact, if any, the District's decision had so far had on the School.

We had heard, anecdotally, that some parents who were concerned about larger class sizes had decided to remove their kids from the School or, in other cases, not to send their children to McGilvra in the first place.  If this, indeed, has happened it's not something that is obvious to the School District. According to Enrollment Services Planning Manager Tracy Libros, McGilvra experienced an increase of almost 30 students year over year.  The 2011-12 enrollment is 298, as compared to 269 students during the last school year.  That represents an increase of five students, on average, per grade level (kindergarten included).   It had been rumored that the District would be increasing the School's attendance-area boundaries for next year in order to further increase enrollment at McGilvra, but Libros reports that "there are no plans to change the assignment boundaries." This is not to say, however, that there will not be further increases in enrollment at McGilvra during the next school year, since it is not at what the District considers to be the School's capacity.  Projected enrollment for McGilvra is, in fact, listed at 305 in the School District's official recommended budget for this school year.

Seattle Schools, incidentally, takes exception to the use of terms such as "abrogated" or "reneged" with regard to the action it took on what originally was a 20-year contract with the McGilvra PTA.  In the opinion of the District, it simply exercised its right to pay the PTA $60,000 representing the discounted value of the school portables the parents had purchased for the School ten years earlier. That was an option provided for in the contract, so from Seattle Schools' point of view the contract was completed as agreed, neither rescinded nor cancelled.  It was simply contractually terminated at the tenth year.

A potential impact of that termination is what it might portend for the continued private financial support of McGilvra by parents and friends of the School.  So far, it appears that concerns were overblown. McGilvra's PTA just completed a very successful fundraising dinner and auction which, according to auction chair Shyla Wilcynski, was attended by over 300 guests and netted over $150,000 in proceeds for the School.  She reports, in fact, that this year is the first in which ticket sales, sponsorships, and advertising for the event covered all costs.

Big turnout for the 2012 McGilvra Auction

So if the District's action last year is having a negative impact on McGilvra, the reaction is perhaps too subtle at this point to be noticed, at least with regard to community support.  The whole issue of private fundraising for Seattle Public Schools, incidentally, was the subject of a front-page Seattle Times article earlier this year in which McGilvra's position as one of the top schools receiving private funding was highlighted.  A related article the same day cited the determination by McGilvra's parents to continue raising funds, reporting that their efforts had already brought in $300,000 to the School "this year" (a pre-auction estimate).

There's more to this story--and we'll be following up with a later posting.

28 comments:

  1. One follow-up question: With the No Child Left Behind act and McGilvra cateogrized as a “receiving school,” are the 23 new kids added to McGilvra this past year part of the reference area or not? In other words, were the 23 new kids NOT in the reference area for McGilvra but in low performing school reference areas. I have a concern that McGilvra's place as a neighborhood school for Madison/Washingon park is being widdled away and the increase in enrollment is due to kids from other areas. Would love to know the data behind the increase in enrollment.

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    1. As a McGilvra parent, it is interesting to me that I often hear parents who live outside of the reference area complaining the loudest about the supposed "no child left behind" kids coming to McGilvra. I wonder what/who, exactly, they are complaining about? For years, people from outside of the reference area have come to the school---perhaps that was not an issue as long as the children were white. Our reference area includes some surprisingly diverse parts of Madison Valley and the new diversity at the school is a primary reason that I have not taken my "advanced learning" eligible kids out of McGilvra. Our neighborhood bus stop is populated by kids from many ethnicities and it gives me great hope for McGilvra's future as a true "neighborhood" school.

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    2. Good to hear -- gives me hope about Madison Park after all.

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    3. Whittle away NOT widdle...perhaps we should be more concerned with the intellect of current McGilvra parents than the incoming out-of-district kids!!!! There has been an unrelenting culture of FEAR being propagated by Madison Park parents about "no child left behind" kids being behavioral problems or suffering from "I'm not white and entitled" disease...they would do well to look at their own little monsters The reality is McGilvra parents do not want these kids because they can't hit them up for PTA donations. Thereby mitigating some of their financial burden. Hey Anonymous....do I need to define mitigate for you?

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    4. http://district.seattleschools.org/modules/groups/homepagefiles/cms/1583136/File/Departmental%20Content/enrollment%20planning/FINAL%20AMENDED%20ON%20FEB%2016%202010.pdf?sessionid=8c356649fe4e46d7bb212656af89d346
      The above link is to the 2011/2012 Student Assignment Plan. I think the label "neighborhood schools" is confusing in that it implies it is exclusively for children in any given neighborhood. If you read the assignment plan it explains that all kids within the neighborhood are guaranteed a spot but any additional spots are assigned using a simple series of tie-breakers. When the contract with the district was disbanded, McGilvra received a functional capacity number. This was all explained in a PTA meeting last year by Board Member Harium Martin-Morris. This explains the additional headcount. Given the way the assignment plan is structured, there is no need to increase the assignment area - if more spaces are available than there are neighborhood kids, the district can pull from the pool of non-neighborhood kids. Some of these kids are "no child left behind", some are siblings of grandfathered non-neighborhood kids and others are assigned through the open-enrollment lottery process. McGilvra is not the only Level 5 school in the district to see a spike in enrollment. McGilvra went from 269 in '09/'10 to 298 in '10/11 - an 11% increase. John Hay on Queen Anne went from 487 in '09/'10 to 530 in '10/'11 - a 9% increase. The important thing to remember they are all just little kids - little nuggets of potential and none are better, none are worse and non are more or less deserving. I have not heard of any neighborhood kids being denied entrance to McGilvra but the district could answer your concerns.

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  2. Twenty-three additional kids? My gosh! Are they having to ration water, yet?

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  3. What a country we have, where it is considered unjust to support your own children. If people are so concerned about inequality in this country, they should take it out on their elected leaders, like President "Hope and Change", who extended the Bush tax cuts to the wealthy.

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    1. The U.S. Constitution leaves the responsibility for public K-12 education with the states. States and localities are the primary sources of K-12 education funding and always have been.
      Roughly 83 cents out of every dollar spent on education is estimated to come from the state and local levels (45.6 percent from state funds and 37.1 percent from local governments). The federal government's share is 8.3 percent. The remaining 8.9 percent is from private sources, primarily for private schools. This division of support remains consistent with our nation's historic reliance on local control of schools.

      So while blaming your dissatisfaction on Obama, realize the percentage for which he is responsible is pretty limited.

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    2. Just curious... Where did you find this breakdown?

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    3. National Center for Education Statistics

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    4. Thank you. I found the information very interesting.

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  4. There is nothing wrong with supporting your children. There IS something wrong with using money and influence to turn OUR PUBLIC SCHOOL into YOUR private school by controlling class size, staffing, enrollment levels, quality of teachers and even the size of the building.

    Now reality has set in. The District needs the space in OUR public building to educate children other than yours. It does not appear that more money can solve your problems for you this time. Some have taken their marbles and gone home and that is good.

    Perhaps now the students who do not drag-up and head for private school will get a more well-rounded education, surrounded by a handful of minorities, in an environment that is going to require a little more competition, a little more focus, a little more compromise, a little more understanding and acceptance, a little more like, well, the real world.

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  5. Look at the photo. Arches, a sign in lights, white tablecloths, suit jackets, ties, cocktail dresses, not a brown face in the crowd. Exactly the kinds of things I think of when I hear "Seattle Public Schools."

    Yeah, right.

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  6. So, nobody outside the neighborhood complained when McGilvra was a low performing school, now, after the neighborhood and parents get involved and support the school and test scores go up, it is not fair?
    If the school was predominately non-white would there be any controversy?

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  7. The posting above, with its not-so-subtle racist undertones, seems to imply that people are upset about test scores. It misses the point entirely.

    I can guarantee you than elementary school test scores are not a hot topic among the masses. What are hot topics are things like the rich getting richer, the growing void between the rich and the poor and people of wealth and influence working the system to their advantage and to the detriment of others. If you have followed the news in the last three years, these kinds of issues are everywhere. This is just another example.

    In 2009, the average private elementary school education cost about $7,000 annually in this country. Using the enrollment and fundraising numbers provided in this posting, McGilvra parents are paying only about $1,300 annually for their taxpayer-supported private schooling. That is quite a bargain for them.

    The true intentions of McGilvra's parents will become known when it is time for middle school. How many will continue in the public school system that they now devote themselves to, and how many will bolt for private school? My money says a significant portion leave for private school, $ 25,000 worth of savings in-pocket and waving artifically-inflated test scores. Care to bet?

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  8. I would love to see all outside funds split among the schools. We forget, but it is in everyone's best interest that ALL children have an equal opportunity to the same education.

    Will there be lazy parents who do not raise a dime? You betcha. But, it's about the kids, not the parents.

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    1. I am glad to see the changes going on at McGilvra. There is no reason why it can't be more inclusive, diverse and an excellent school. ALL parents want their children to thrive. If it means supplementing a school district budget that has been systematically cut-back then that is what parents will do.
      Yes, there are parents at McGilvra that make outrageous entitled and bigoted comments --like fingernails on a chalkboard. Their words spread far and wide and leave us speechless. But they are a tiny, tiny minority. It is nice to finally see new leadership in the school community and my guess is that the school will continue to excel.
      P.S. Nice call on the middle school litmus test. Never thought about it. It would be telling to know how many send their kids to public or private after McGilvra--although there are not too many options for middle school in our area. Washington Middle school is the only on that comes to mind.

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    2. If everything was split equally McGilvra kids would have to compete on a level playing field and that is their parents' greatest fear! Getting ahead for many of these folks can only be accomplished by corralling as many resources as possible for THEIR kid and freezing everyone else out. A more blunt way of saying it is "If my kid is to succeed, your kid needs to fail"

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    3. I hear you. But I don't think we would get a tenth of the funds at any school... Not just Mcgilvra. I would not give simply because I'm afraid it would go into a SPS black hole. There is a sense that we can make a difference on a smaller scale. I do agree with you that there needs to be reform on a larger scale as well --going to Olympia is just as important if we truly want all kids to succeed. We are woefully knee deep in it when it comes to public school education. Can't blame Enfield for taking a powder.

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  9. Bryan, I realize you are merely a blogger but you obviously are trying to sell some sort of agenda or you would do what a real journalist does and get your hands on a copy of the now defunct contract. Either there was a district opt-out clause…or there wasn’t. That should answer the question about your use of the word “reneged” in your opening paragraph. My guess is that there was a clause if the District was willing to go on the record stating so – oh wait; you provide no source except to cite “the District’s opinion”. Journalism is about ferreting out the truth, my friend, not citing innuendo or 2nd hand sources. How interesting you lead with the “reneging” and chose to bury the Distict’s opinion in the middle of the article. That coupled with the FACT that the school, for at least the last three years, had not producing sufficient income to cover the cost of the contract makes it’s dissolution a moot point. It was just a matter of year or so until the reserve money ran out and McGilvra would have had to pull the plug on it anyway.

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    1. Bryan is at least brave enough to put his name on the blog, instead of taking anonymous potshots.

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    2. Pot meet kettle!

      Holding someone who defines themselves a "frustrated journalist" to a journalistic standard is hardly a potshot. The canons of journalism: truthfulness, accuracy, objectivity, impartiality, fairness and public accountability matter if you are to call yourself a journalist. I don't care what your neighbor heard on the playground - journalism is about facts. Unless of course The Mad Park Blogger wants to be renamed US Weekly - Seattle.

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    3. Yes, the contract does provide an opt-out clause that allows the School District to pay off the PTA by buying the portables for their depreciated value. So the District is correct in stating the legal case that it carried out its obligation under the contract, since it paid for that right. "Reneged" is not used by me in the legal sense but in terms of the original intent of the deal between the District and the parents that if the parents did what they agreed to, the agreement would be in force for 20 years. That didn't happen, obviously. It was not my intent to imply that the District failed in its legal obligations by "reneging."

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    4. Thank you for clarifying. Frankly I'm surprised the District held on as long as they did given the sloppy and negligent manner in which payments to them to them were handled. This contract was the PTA's to lose…..and they lost it. Some examples:
      • In 2008/2009 the PTA failed to make one of the two $110,000 annual payments. That a payment accounting for 37% of total budgeted PTA expenses would get "missed" seems surprising. Interestingly enough, this failure to pay made the end of year surplus/deficit amount appear that the PTA was approximately $5k in SURPLUS, whereas payment would have reflected an over $100,000 DEFICIT. (PTA Budget Approved for 2009/2010 handed out at the May '09 PTA Meeting.)
      • In 2009/2010, the PTA OVERSPENT their budget by $283,000, $264,000 of which was “prepayment” of the 2010/2011 contract payment (this was told to us at PTA General meeting). It seems the district learned not to trust that payments would be made as promised and required the PTA to make advance payments. (2009/2010 Budget vs Actuals handed out at the June 2010 PTA General Meeting.)
      • This year, 2011/2012, there is a $78,000 true up to cover lack of payment for an earlier year. Not sure what this amount is for. My guess, yet another “missed payment”. (PTA generated Budget History Comparison forwarded to McGilvra Staff in January 2012)
      These facts all paint a clear picture of the lack of fiscal responsibility in managing the contract. The PTA’s repeated failures to make mutually agreed upon payments in a mutually agreed upon schedule makes their self-righteous and incredulous attitude toward losing the contract seem hypocritical. Hindsight is 20/20 but doesn't give parents the right to blame the district for exercising their LEGAL right to terminate the contract when the headache of dealing with a flaky and often delinquent PTA became too much.

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  10. Another two cents from another anonymous source. I am a Madison Park resident and a McGilvra Elementary parent that supports the PTA's fundraising efforts proudly. As expected, I'm not a fan of spreading all fundraising across the district - Oh wait, that is unless the district is willing to fund all elementary schools equally. Our fundraising efforts (as big at they may seem) still leave us near the bottom of the list for amount funded per child. Given our small enrollment and the lack of economies of scale on our fixed costs we don't even begin to come close to creating equal funding.





    There is a question above about the payment of $78k made in 11/12 for a 10/11 true-up - this was for the final reconciliation with the District when the contract was terminated and the invoice was paid promptly upon receipt by the PTA.

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