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Originally published Monday, November 3, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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Guest columnist

Closing Seattle schools: bringing excellence to all

Seattle Public Schools needs to close more buildings in the face of a stagnant student population and a strategic plan that calls for beefing up programs and resources in schools.

Special to The Times

Every decision made by the Seattle School Board must support a school system where the No. 1 priority is supporting academic achievement for all students.

In June, our decision to do what is right for our students came in the form of a unanimous vote for Seattle Public Schools' strategic plan, "Excellence for All" This plan establishes the framework for moving toward our vision of a district where all students achieve at high levels and graduate ready for college, career and life. We believe strongly that this plan set the right priorities to strengthen our district and pointed out correctly that in order to do so, shortfalls in our systems and infrastructure must be addressed.

Today, the board is united again.

Last week, we voted unanimously to take immediate steps to create a stable, long-term financial position that ensures available resources are concentrated to deliver academic excellence. Facing a funding gap of $24 million for next year's budget and acknowledging the national economic downturn, we directed Superintendent Maria Goodloe-Johnson to accelerate work to address the long-standing space imbalances across the district. We can no longer bear the expense of operating more facilities than needed. We know that to fully implement our strategic plan, we must protect the Seattle school district's financial health.

Outside audits stretching back to 1990 underscored the need for the district to bring the number of facilities in line with enrollment in order to more effectively use resources. Managing our space capacity and creating a new student-assignment plan are top priorities of the strategic plan.

We recognize that closing buildings is one of the greatest challenges a district can face, but we must move forward to support our students. Budget dollars are spread thin by maintaining more buildings than necessary. Our students receive fewer resources when they attend schools that are not fully enrolled. Ensuring equal access to a quality education means we must redirect these resources to the classrooms where they will directly benefit our students.

Balancing capacity in our schools is critical and we fully understand that we can only be successful if we involve the community throughout the process. We will work with the superintendent and her staff to develop a fair and transparent process as well as criteria for closing buildings.

We need the public to be engaged in this conversation and we understand that many of these discussions will focus on the fate of individual schools. As members of the School Board, we pledge to continue to act in the best interest of the entire district, and make our decisions based on what will be most effective in serving students across the city.

We hope Seattle students and families join us in a dialogue to bring "Excellence for All" to life. We believe our success as a community and the success of our children hinges upon our coming together. We must do whatever it takes to make our students successful.

Seattle School Board members are Mary Bass, Sherry Carr, Cheryl Chow, Michael DeBell, Peter Maier, Harium Martin-Morris and Steve Sundquist. To get involved in the school-closures process, visit the district's Web site, www.seattleschools.org, and click on "Get Involved."

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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