- Associated Press - Monday, February 2, 2015

SEATTLE (AP) - Two Seattle lawmakers say it’s time to take radical action to fix Seattle Public Schools.

Rep. Eric Pettigrew and Rep. Sharon Tomiko Santos have jointly proposed a bill that would break up the state’s largest school district into two or more pieces.

They say the school district can’t keep doing the same things over and over again and expect the results to change.

However the president of the Seattle School Board is a little baffled by the d proposal and another one from Pettigrew to allow the Seattle mayor to appoint two school board members.

She says Seattle doesn’t need to be saved.

“The claim that Seattle Public Schools is failing is just simple wrong in the facts,” said school board president Sherri Carr.

She sites improving graduation rates, improving test scores and progress on narrowing the achievement gap among ethnic groups.

“The fact is that these schools are working very hard. We are seeing evidence that they have been making great gains,” Carr said of the schools in Settle’s south end that serve a diverse group of students.

Santos, who is chair of the House Education Committee, said she and Pettigrew haven’t always agreed about what should be done to address their shared concern about the way students of color have been served by the Seattle school district, but both agree change is needed.

They believe that with nearly 52,000 students, districts can’t support its schools and communities in the same way a smaller district can.

“The district has gotten further and further removed from the actual buildings,” said Pettigrew, who has sent his two kids to Catholic school, because he didn’t trust the public schools to help his African American son succeed.

“When I looked at Seattle Public Schools, I wasn’t willing to take the risk,” Pettigrew said.

Their proposal, House Bill 1860, does not set new boundary lines or even suggest how the district should be broken up. If approved, the bill would prohibit school district of over 35,000 students and appoint an independent panel to figure out what to do when a district gets that large.

Carr suspects people would try to divorce the high achieving north end from the mixed picture in the south end of the district. She says the costs to run two districts would eclipse the cost to run one and the loss of operational efficiencies would take money away from the classroom.

The next biggest school districts in the state are Spokane and Tacoma, with just over 29,000 students in each district.

Pettigrew believes a smaller school district can do a better job of educating children and also meeting the needs of parents.

Seattle parent Terri Goodwin could see both good and bad points to the proposal. She thinks a smaller, less geographically spread out district could do a better job of addressing problems in individual schools.

As an example, she mentioned the revolving door in the principal’s office at her local middle school.

“These kinds of things are frustrating and it makes me wonder if they’re paying attention,” she said.

Goodwin expressed concerns about the district budget after a break-up. She already sees that West Seattle High School doesn’t have enough money to offer all the programs that larger high schools have.

“It’s not fair,” said the mother of both a middle school and a high school student.

She said she would keep an eye on the proposal, but her bigger concern was what is going to happen with the Legislature’s response to the Supreme Court’s ruling on the school funding lawsuit known as the McCleary decision.

Santos said she’s been working on this Seattle schools idea for about six years, but others have been talking about it for closer to 20. She said she resisted the idea at first, but has decided that something radical is called for.

“At the very least, we’ve already gotten a lot of great discussion going,” Santos said.

Her committee expects to hold a public hearing on this proposal sometime during the week of Feb. 9. The other bill, House Bill 1497, on appointing members of the school board, is scheduled to be heard on Tuesday.

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