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Originally published February 9, 2009 at 12:00 AM | Page modified February 9, 2009 at 9:28 AM

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Don't hang a closed sign on Seattle Public Schools

Shuttering a school is more than mothballing a brick-and-mortar edifice — it is hanging a closed sign on the hopes of a community, argue Jesse D. Hagopian and Andre Helmstetter of the Educators, Students and Parents for a Better Vision of the Seattle Schools. Instead of closing schools, Seattle Public Schools needs a plan for delivering the kind quality education that will woo families back to the public schools along with per-pupil state funding.

Special to The Times

Seattle Public Schools Superintendent Maria Goodloe-Johnson and five School Board members have enrolled the city's schools in a course titled "Closing Schools for Excellence."

We have been instructed that the closures of five schools and disruption or discontinuation of eight additional programs are fiscally responsible. We are told the decision will lead to better academic outcomes by eliminating empty seats and concentrating educational resources.

However, the instructors of this course didn't analyze their lesson objectives and have produced a curriculum that will fail our students. To align the district's course for our schools with best teaching practices, we call on the district to enroll in "A Better Vision of the Seattle Schools," encapsulated by three remedial classes:

Basic Math: The district estimates a $25 million budget deficit. By the district's numbers, the proposed closings will only save $3.6 million a year, while disrupting the education of more than 3,500 students. This just doesn't add up — especially when the district has more than $30 million in its reserve fund.

To exponentially compound the absurdity of the district's panicked school-closure vote, Congress is currently debating a stimulus bill that has $316.2 million slated for Washington state schools.

Intro to Geography: During the last round of school closures in 2006, 20 percent of the displaced families migrated out of Seattle Public Schools — and with them went the money the state pays per pupil enrolled.

The total number of students involved in the current closure plan is approximately 3,562. Projecting only 10 percent attrition directly linked to closures, we'll lose about 356 students and the $5,282 per student from state funding, totaling some $1,880,392 a year. Additionally, if you factor in Initiative 782 funding and federal dollars lost per pupil, it could actually end up costing the district money to close schools.

Moreover, the closure plan is beyond the borders of the rational when one considers that by its own demographic projections, T.T. Minor (one of the schools slated for closure) is located at the center of Seattle's highest projected growth in school-age population.

American History: One of the central tensions in American history has been between the country's creed of "liberty and justice for all" and its practice of slavery, segregation, mass incarceration, job discrimination and substandard education for people of color. The hope that this contradiction could be lessened was raised by millions in this country when they voted for the first African-American president with the anticipation that we could judge persons, not by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character. Yet the Seattle School Board's response to this new optimism was to approve — with the two African-American members dissenting — a school-closure plan that unquestionably targets families of color and lower income:

• African American Academy — 99.1 percent minority, 80.5 percent low-income;

• Cooper Elementary — 77 percent minority, 71.3 percent low-income;

• Meany Middle School — 87.1 percent minority, 68.7 percent low-income;

• Summit K-12 — 50.2 percent minority, 47.2 percent low-income;

• TT Minor Elementary School — 84.5 percent minority, 78.6 percent low-income;

The rationale behind the district's recent abolition of the Department of Race and Equity now becomes clear: Get rid of the agency that would cry foul when families of color were singled out in the closure plan.

Course summary: Shuttering a school is more than mothballing a brick-and-mortar edifice — it is hanging a closed sign on the hopes of a community. Instead of the downward spiral of closing schools, fueling attrition rates, and claiming the need for more closures, our school district needs a plan for delivering the kind quality education that will woo families back to the public schools along with per-pupil state funding.

There is agreement between Gov. Christine Gregoire's Washington Learns Commission, the Basic Education Finance task force, the "Tennessee STAR Project," and Washington state voters that smaller class size improves education and will help close the achievement gap. Unfortunately, Seattle's school chief disagrees. In a recent KUOW radio interview, talk-show host Steve Scher asked "Is lower class size an academic model for you, Superintendent Goodloe-Johnson?" Her direct answer?: "It is not." (12/16/2008).

With a closure plan that will lead to larger class sizes (and the associated decreased academic outcomes), doesn't provide any substantial savings, targets low-income families and students of color, and is devoid of a long-term vision for the betterment of our educational community, please believe that the fight to save our schools has just begun.

Jesse D. Hagopian and Andre Helmstetter are members of ESP Vision: Educators, Students and Parents for a Better Vision of the Seattle Schools (www.espvision.org).

Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company

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