The most pressing issues for Seattle Public Schools in 2018: ethnic studies, superintendent search, and, yes, money

With two up for grabs vacant positions on the Seattle School Board filled following November’s election, new leadership at Seattle Public Schools is gearing up for a jam-packed 2018 with contentious issues such as contract negotiations with the teacher’s union.

“It’s never a dull moment [in Seattle public school news],” said Melissa Westbrook, a longtime watchdog of Seattle schools who blogs regularly at Seattle Public Schools Community Blog. “It’s become much more political and it’s become much larger than one district.”

Funding and teacher union contract bargaining: An overarching issue for Seattle public schools in recent years has been a lack of adequate funding: In 2012, the state Supreme Court ruled that the state wasn’t spending enough money to fully fund k-12 public schools across Washington and was forcing school district to rely on local property tax levies—otherwise known as the McCleary order. As a result, local levies and Parent Teacher Association fundraising have long tried to fill the funding gap, and the union representing Seattle Teachers, the Washington Education Association, went on strike demanding higher wages and other investments during the 2015 contract negotiations.

While the state legislature passed a tax and spend plan last legislative session that uses a statewide property tax to fund education, the Supreme Court recently ruled that the state needed to speed up its funding allocation to meet their imposed September 2018 deadline. (In response, Governor Jay Inslee announced that he will tap state reserves and seek to impose a carbon tax to appease the ruling.)

However, the new spending plan creates its own issues for the district, according to Westbrook. “One of the pressing issues is how much money are they actually going to get from state … all the districts have been complaining about how they are lowering their ability to access local levy money, and that may offset the state gains,” she said.

Jesse Hagopian, a social studies teacher at Garfield High School in the Central District and longtime progressive education activist, said that while the union hasn’t set their bargaining priorities for the upcoming contract negotiations, that wage increases for teachers and other staff (such as counselors) will surely be on the table. “All of these people, [including] our lunch staff, are underpaid and have an extremely hard time making ends meet in this city,” he said. “I would hope that the union’s ready for an all out struggle for a living wage for teachers.” Continue reading

Capitol Hill journalism is not dead: Seattle Central College has a new student newspaper

(Images: SCC)

Student journalism at Seattle Central has had a long but turbulent history at the Capitol Hill community college. Now, students and faculty are on track to start a brand new student-run newspaper.

Johnny Horton, Seattle Central English faculty and advisor to the budding publication has been vetting applicants for the five member publication staff of “board members” — and an additional individual to be social media manager.

“We’re going to have a focus on both investigative reporting and hard news within Seattle Central as well as the community,” said Horton. “What happens in Seattle politics and what happens in Capitol Hill affects students here.”

If everything goes smoothly, according to Horton, the new staff will begin publishing to its website by the end of January with a full-fledged print edition in swing by the end of the winter quarter. Continue reading

Exit interview: CHS talks with outgoing Capitol Hill Chamber of Commerce leader Sierra Hansen

Were you as excited as Sierra Hansen when Capitol Hill Station opened in 2016?

It was only two years ago that the previous executive director of the Capitol Hill Chamber of Commerce, Michael Wells, stepped down from his position as leader of the Hill’s chief business advocacy group. Now, his replacement, Sierra Hansen  has transitioned out of the role to head up the the planned-for-expansion Broadway Business Improvement Area on a six-month contract. The chamber’s director of external relations Mel Burchett is stepping up to manage the group. CHS sat down with Hansen to talk shop on a variety of Hill-specific issues and what she learned about the neighborhood during her tenure.

Why did you leave your position as executive director to take over the six month BIA contract? It was a natural time for me to step down. Part of the reason I was brought on board was to re-energize our membership services, really bring a strong membership focus back to the chamber, but also to work on the BIA expansion. In the expansion, I think we left it in a pretty strong place. We engaged new stakeholders that really were not as well organized, particularly in the Melrose area. The organization is kind of at this place where they really need to focus solely on the BIA … there was really nobody with the capacity in-house to do that work because they needed somebody to focus on the BIA expansion and Mel [the chamber’s director of external relations],who is continuing to do the membership and some operational stuff, just didn’t have the bandwidth so I proposed to them that I stay on board to manage the contract and it was a win-win for everybody.

I have remained on extremely friendly terms with the Board and with the staff; I mean, I’m managing the contract so clearly I was not run out of town. I continue to have a really strong relationship with them and I’ve told them that if there’s anything I can do to help with their work—now or in the future—to never hesitate to pick up the phone because I have such a love for this neighborhood and the members and I just feel so humbled and honored [to get to] represent this neighborhood in any kind of capacity. I got so many lovely notes when I announced my departure and I truly feel like I was there representative first. Continue reading

Under new leadership, Capitol Hill Community Council aims to build on its unusually progressive legacy

Natalie Curtis, seated, at last year’s Capitol Hill Community Council open house at Vermillion

An anomalously diverse body as far as Seattle’s community groups go, it is also a time of transition for the Capitol Hill Community Council: As it prepares for its annual winter open house where it gathers face to face community input on what the organization’s priorities should be for the new year, council president Zachary Dewolf will hand over the reigns to the current vice president Natalie Curtis.

“I’m really excited to see Natalie Curtis lead this really critical volunteer-led community organization,” Dewolf told CHS.

Dewolf, who has been with the council since early 2013, won a decisive victory in his bid for the Position 5 seat on the Seattle School Board and is leaving the council to focus on his new duties.

Curtis, a 32-year-old Texas transplant who has served on the council’s board in various capacities over the last four years and is currently completing a master’s in nonprofit leadership and public administration at Seattle University, says she wants to increase community involvement and build on the various progressive causes and initiatives that the the organization has championed in recent years.

Capitol Hill Community Council December Open House

“I want to focus on ways to really get the pulse of the community,” Curtis said. “I’m hoping to get the community more engaged and more on board in 2018.”

Among the issues that Curtis wants to prioritize are activating the public spaces surrounding the eventual new housing developments at the Capitol Hill light rail station (such as bringing the farmers market to the development on a regular basis), working with the Seattle City Council on improving the City’s policies towards un-sanctioned homeless encampments, increasing opportunities for community members to volunteer in the neighborhood, and establishing a supervised consumption site in Capitol Hill.

“Safe consumption sites are really at the top, top top of my radar,” Curtis said. “I really want to get those going.” Continue reading

Clock starts ticking for Seattle task force to find revenue for homelessness services

While the Seattle City Council dramatically voted down a proposed tax on big businesses to fund homelessness services (otherwise known as the employee head tax) during last month’s contentious city budget negotiations, they also passed a resolution establishing a task force to study the same tax they had just voted down as well as other potential ways to pay for homelessness services.

He lost a sock

Per the resolution, the task force—which the resolution states will be composed of business owners, labor representatives, homelessness service providers, civic leaders, and experts of subjects such as healthcare, housing, and homelessness—will be selected by the council by December 11th and chaired by two council members and two community members.

After Monday afternoon when the task force is set to be finalized, the group will have until February to deliver recommendations to the council that identify progressive revenue sources as well as specific investments for said revenue that help address Seattle’s homelessness crisis.

UPDATE 12/19/2017: It took a little longer for the task force roster to be announced but the names are out:

Progressive Revenue Task Force Members:

·         Councilmember M. Lorena González, Co-Chair

·         Councilmember Lisa A. Herbold, Co-Chair

·         Jennifer Adams, Lived Experience of Homelessness

·         Andrew Coak, Labor Representative

·         Lisa Daugaard, Subject Matter Expert

·         Ian Eisenberg, Business Representative

·         Samantha Grad, Labor Representative

·         Kirsten Harris-Talley, Community Co-Chair

·         Katie B. Wilson, Subject Matter Expert

·         Brianna Little, Service Provider

·         Daniel K. Malone, Housing/Service Provider

·         Tom Mathews, Business Representative

·         Fernando Mejia-Ledesma, Business Representative

·         Courtney O’Toole, Lived Experience of Homelessness

·         Tony To, Community Co-Chair

·         Maiko Winkler-Chin, Housing Provider

In an ultimatum, the resolution states that, if the task force doesn’t deliver recommendations by the imposed deadline, that the council will begin considering imposing an employee head tax by March, 2018. Continue reading

Final election data maps: Capitol Hill leaned ‘anti-establishment,’ but rallied for Mosqueda

More blue = More Mosqueda

It’s no surprise that Capitol Hill leans hard to left in local elections. In 2015, socialist City Council member Kshama Sawant decisively won reelection against Urban League CEO Pamela Banks with roughly a ten point margin, and lefty Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders had a solid base of support on Capitol Hill during the 2016 Democratic presidential primary.

The November 2017 general election results complicate this picture — but only slightly. Thanks to Phil Gardner, regional Democratic strategist, CHS has access to detailed visualizations of the final precinct-level voting data from the 2017 local general election. (November’s final election results were finalized on November 28th, according to King County Elections.) Gardner looked at voting data from the citywide Position 8 city council, mayoral, and King County Sheriff’s races. Continue reading

Who, where, how much? What we’ll learn from Seattle safe consumption site ‘feasibility study’

With $1.3 million allocated in the 2018 budget for studying and building a safe consumption site in Seattle, staff at city and county agencies are gearing up to draft the “feasibility study,” a report that will address location and costs for the site, who will pay for it, and how it will be run.

As noted in the $1.3 million budget amendment sponsored by Seattle City Council member Rob Johnson (District 4–Wallingford, University District), the report “must include a full cost estimate and a location for siting that HSD deems viable, and a scope and timeline of necessary capital improvements to create the Safe Consumption Site.”

Additionally, the budget amendment stated that the facility will provide, among other things: “supplies and space for consuming illicit drugs via injection, smoking or sublimation, and nasal inhalation”, overdose treatment (e.g. Naloxone), syringe exchange services, basic medical treatment, wraparound social services and case management, and sexual health supplies. Continue reading

After council punt on employee hours tax, what’s in the plan for Seattle’s 2018 budget — and what isn’t

Following last week’s dramatic and tumultuous implosion of a relatively small but hugely vital components of the city’s more than $6 billion proposed 2018 budget, the Seattle City Council will be voting on a highly amended budget Monday afternoon that includes notable cuts.

Last week, the City Council voted 5-4 against enacting a employee hours tax—also known as the “HOMES tax”, which would have  have taxed businesses earning more than five million in gross annual income—this figure was estimated to be around 2,200 businesses—roughly $100 per full-time employee annually, generating an estimated five million every year to fund affordable housing and other homeless services.

The tax—originally proposed by council members Mike O’Brien (District 6–Ballard) and Kirsten Harris-Talley (she is an appointed and temporary citywide member)—was pitched by chair of the budget committee, Lisa Herbold (District 1–West Seattle), as a continuous source of revenue that the City could immediately bond against to affordable housing and services.

With key elements for homelessness services and more in the budget structured around revenue from the employee hours tax, the proposal’s defeat left the council back at square one to address a $13 million dollar hole in the budget. Among the items that would’ve been funded by the tax was expansion of the Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD) program and funds for establishing an emergency domestic violence center. Continue reading

Rule #1: No ugly buildings — Capitol Hill design guidelines up for review

Boxy. Monotonous. Ugly. We’re not sure changing the process will change the results but the City of Seattle wants to hear from you at this Thursday’s open house on changes to the Capitol Hill Design Review Guidelines.

“It’s been ten years. A lot of development has happened since then. There has been a change in the urban fabric, and there has been a call from the community to review those guidelines and bring some fresh light into them,” said Patrice Carroll, a planner with the Office of Planning and Community Development (OPCD). “This is advice that the board gives to someone who is developing a project.”

Capitol Hill Design Guidelines Update Open House

The guidelines, which haven’t been updated since 2005, serve as a neighborhood-specific vetting framework for projects that go through the city’s broader design review process. These guidelines inform how design review boards evaluate the exterior aesthetic of proposed projects (the guidelines include metrics such as building materials and building shape). Continue reading

‘We need to act as cities’ — what Seattle can do about gun violence

In the wake of Sunday’s mass shooting in Texas, local politicians are joining the national chorus of voices — yet again — calling for substantive measures to address America’s gun violence problem. Seattle’s likely mayor-elect and former U.S. Attorney Jenny Durkan called for municipal-level action on the issue in a statement made on Monday: “With no leadership from this Congress or our legislature, we need to act as cities,” she said.

But what does Seattle leadership on preventing gun violence look like? Local advocates for gun control and evidence-based approaches to reducing gun violence have a few ideas.

“There are a lot of things that can be done at the local level,” said Renee Hopkins, CEO of the Alliance for Gun Responsibility. “It’s really important that municipalities and counties are dedicated to investing resources into ensuring that the laws we know are effective are implemented.” Continue reading