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November 5, 2002

Seattle teachers union asks superintendent to resign

Seattle Times, WA
Nov. 5, 2002

By Keith Ervin and Linda Shaw
Seattle Times staff reporters

The Seattle Education Association wants Superintendent Joseph Olchefske to resign, saying that he hasn’t followed through on his goal of keeping the district’s $34 million financial crisis away from classrooms.

The announcement was a surprise from the teachers union, whose leadership has backed Olchefske in recent weeks, even though many of their members pressured them to do otherwise.

About 20 members of the SEA board of directors approved the call for Olchefske’s resignation last night, with only one opposing it, according to union officials. The SEA represents 5,756 employees, including all the district's teachers, school office staff and instructional assistants

SEA President John Dunn and Vice President Wendy Kimball said it became apparent last week that Olchefske was not following through on his promise to minimize the impact of the budget cuts on students.

The resolution adopted by the union said cuts affecting students in bilingual, vocational and special-education programs “will exacerbate divisions within the community along lines of race and class.” Dunn, Kimball and SEA Executive Director Nancy Murphy met with Olchefske this morning and asked him to resign.

Olchefske rejected the call for his resignation. “There’s important work to do here,” he said. “We have a serious problem in our district regarding our budget and we need to solve that, no question about that. We also have very important work in serving our children throughout the city.”

Olchefske said he had not given serious thought to quitting. “How could I look at any kid in the eye again if I did that?” he asked.

While cuts are being made in special education, English as a second language and a career counseling program, the union leaders said, the district’s teacher-training program “has remained intact.”

District spokeswoman Lynn Steinberg denied that, saying the professional-development budget has been cut from $1.9 million to $1.1 million, with reductions in outside contracts, teaching materials, and next year’s Summer Institute, which is a voluntary, week-long teacher training session. She said the budget also will be reduced by paying as many as 16 teacher trainers and coaches out of grant funds.

At View Ridge Elementary School, Dunn said a teaching assistant has been removed from a class of six deaf first- and second-grade students who currently are reading at grade level.

“What’s going to be the effect for the rest of their lives when the aide is gone?” he said.

School Board President Nancy Waldman reiterated her support for Olchefske, but said the board would examine his proposed budget cuts to see if there are ways to reduce their effect on the classroom.

She called Olchefske “one of the best superintendents in the country.” While some teachers have told her they have lost faith in him, she said messages from others have convinced her that “the vast majority” of teachers support him.

Teachers at Ballard and Franklin high schools and Van Asselt Elementary this past week passed statements of no-confidence in Olchefske.

Although the teachers union call for his resignation was based on his response to the budget crisis, leaders said disaffection among the ranks was based also on other issues, particularly an increasing work load on educators.

Copyright © 2002 The Seattle Times Company