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November 6, 2002

Olchefske asked to step down

From: Seattle Post Intelligencer, WA
Nov. 6, 2002

SEA reverses its position, cites cuts in school programs


The Seattle Education Association is calling on Seattle Public Schools Superintendent Joseph Olchefske to resign, saying he has not kept cuts to fix the district's $34 million financial crisis away from classrooms.

The association's board of directors approved the call for Olchefske's resignation at a meeting Monday night, with only one of 20 members present opposed to the motion, SEA President John Dunn said. The association represents more than 5,700 employees, including public school teachers, school office staff and instructional assistants.

Olchefske said yesterday that he is disappointed by the vote but has no plans to quit.

"How could I look any kid in the eye if I did that?" he said. "I've got an important job to do right now, and I'm focusing on that job."

The move is an about-face for the union's leadership, which has backed Olchefske since he announced the financial problems in early October. Dunn has stated repeatedly that the district needs stability while the crisis is addressed and that Olchefske is the best person to lead it out of the mess.

But Olchefske is making cuts in special education, English as a Second Language instruction and a career-preparation program, Dunn said, proof that the superintendent is not following through on his promise to minimize the effect of budget cuts on students.

In addition, a teaching assistant is being removed from a class of six deaf first- and second-graders at View Ridge Elementary, and another school will lose an auto mechanics vocational program affecting 23 students, Dunn said. "The cuts are affecting kids when other departments haven't been touched," he said.

Bill Bleakney, the district's human-resources director, said cuts include eliminating eight or nine English as a Second Language positions, reducing the district's 11-member career-preparation staff by about almost a third, and cutting about 13 special-education positions. Bleakney said the displaced special-education employees could apply for 17 special-education vacancies or for other positions

District spokeswoman Lynn Steinberg said View Ridge Elementary is losing the teaching assistant position because of lowered enrollment. The school's two hearing-impaired classes have a total of five educators for 10 children, she said, more support than they had last year.

Steinberg said the district's professional-development budget has been cut from $1.9 million to $1.1 million to help shore up the money gap. Reductions were made in external contracts, materials and principal and teacher training, she said, and salaries for 16 consulting teachers will be covered by grants instead of through the district's central budget.

Additionally, Steinberg said, the budget for the district's curriculum, instruction and assessment department was cut from $2.5 million to $1.4 million. Those cuts include shifting salaries for nine curriculum consultants in math, science, social studies and literacy from central-office funding to grants, and eliminating a program manager position and one supervisory position.

Olchefske said further cuts to professional development will be made, but that other cuts may be more immediately apparent in schools.

"As we've said all along, these cuts take time through development and to implement them. There are substantial cuts throughout our institution, in all departments and divisions," he said.

Dunn, SEA Executive Director Nancy Murphy and Vice President Wendy Kimball met with Olchefske yesterday morning to ask for his resignation. Dunn said the SEA realizes the district would be saddled with the challenge of finding a new superintendent if Olchefske resigned, but believed it needed to send a strong statement.

"We're challenging him to make a major direction change or he's going to get more pressure," Dunn said.

The union's resolution said the cuts "will exacerbate divisions within the community along lines of race and class."

Olchefske dismissed the suggestion. "I don't believe that. We believe the cuts are very broadly based and they're borne across the district."

Last week, the majority of staff at Ballard High signed a petition of no confidence in Olchefske, and teachers at Franklin High and Van Asselt Elementary were polled on holding no-confidence votes. Members of the Principals Association of Seattle Schools have also pushed for a no-confidence vote but decided last week not to proceed with it.

School Board members, who last week issued a statement backing Olchefske and taking responsibility for the budget, were surprised by the union resolution but remained steadfastly supportive of the superintendent. Board Chairwoman Nancy Waldman said she believes the "vast majority" of teachers support Olchefske. Vice Chairman Steve Brown was disappointed by the union's resolution. "I think stability in leadership right now is in the best interest of Seattle schools, and I believe that the overall job which has been done by the superintendent is positive," he said.

Board member Barbara Peterson said she hopes that the board and the union can work more collaboratively in addressing the financial crisis. "It's not going to be pain-free," she said. "The question is, what's in the best interest of all the schools and the 47,000 students?"

P-I reporter Deborah Bach can be reached at 206-448-8197 or P-I reporter Gregory Roberts contributed to this report.

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