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November 6, 2002

Teachers union: Olchefske must go

From: Seattle Times, WA
Nov. 6, 2002

By Keith Ervin and Linda Shaw
Seattle Times staff reporters

The Seattle Education Association yesterday asked Superintendent Joseph Olchefske to resign, saying he isn't following through on his promise to keep the district's $34 million financial crisis as far away from the classroom as possible.

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

The leadership had been arguing "to try to approach this in a calm, sober way," SEA President John Dunn said yesterday. "But when we see the direction that the cuts are taking, we can no longer support being quiet."

Olchefske rejected the union's call for his resignation, and School Board members reiterated their support for him.

"I'm sure from their perspective this is an important thing to do," board member Barbara Schaad-Lamphere said about the SEA board's vote. "I, as a School Board member, have to take a different perspective."

School Board President Nancy Waldman said she's convinced the vast majority of teachers support Olchefske.

Olchefske yesterday 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.

Some questioned the timing of the vote.

Coming after the School Board and community leaders have expressed their support for the superintendent, the union "is just a wee bit too late to have impact," said political consultant Cathy Allen. "People are more likely now to be looking at their motivations as opposed to their clout."

The SEA board of directors voted Monday night on a resolution that urged Olchefske's resignation. About 20 members of the 27-member board were present, leaders said. All supported the measure except for one no vote and one abstention.

"In order to get the train moving in the direction we feel we need to be moving in ... we needed to make a very powerful statement," said Wendy Kimball, vice president of the union, which represents 5,756 school-district employees, including teachers, office staff and instructional assistants.

Dunn and Kimball said union leaders object to the cuts Olchefske has said will be made in special education and vocational programs. Those cuts will directly affect students, the resolution said, and "will exacerbate divisions within the community along race and class."

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 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.

However, district spokeswoman Lynn Steinberg said the aide's position was not eliminated because of district budget cuts, but because enrollment in two classrooms for hearing-impaired students fell short of projections.

Kimball said the district should look for cuts in professional development. Teacher-training services, she said, "are services that schools can postpone without a significant sacrifice of providing services to students."

Steinberg disputed the union's contention that professional development hasn't taken its fair share of cuts. She said the district's Department of Curriculum, Instruction and Assessment has seen its budget cut from $2.5 million to $1.4 million and that the district's professional-development budget is down to $1.1 million from $1.9 million.

Those cuts will move about 25 teacher trainers and curriculum consultants into positions funded by grants rather than the district's baseline budget.

The professional-development department also is slashing outside contracts, teaching materials and next August's Summer Institute, a voluntary, weeklong teacher-training session. But Kimball said the professional-development program will stay intact, even though some employees will be paid from a different pot.

The SEA board's vote comes after teachers at two high schools — Ballard and Franklin — approved votes of no confidence in Olchefske, but the superintendent's supporters organized a news conference to express their faith in him.

Speakers included Pat Stanford, wife of the late Seattle Superintendent John Stanford; and Pat Wasley, dean of the College of Education at the University of Washington.

The SEA board's vote shocked David Westberg, president of the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 609, which represents school custodians, security, grounds, heating and food-service workers.

"I don't know what's changed between last week and this week that would change their opinion," he said.

Paul Hill, acting dean of the UW's Evans School of Public Affairs, said the vote will hurt the union more than it hurts Olchefske.

"It demonstrates some disunity in the union," he said.

And he said it could erode the relationship between Olchefske and school employees.

"Now being against him, he doesn't have to deal with them," Hill said.

School Board members last night told Olchefske they wanted a more active role in hiring and working with consultants who will conduct an independent audit of the district's financial practices and information systems.

"I don't think of this as a management review. I think of this as a board review," said board member Barbara Peterson.

Olchefske said he hopes to hire an outside audit team by mid-December, with a final audit report to be issued by mid-March.

The district also plans to appoint a blue-ribbon review panel that will make recommendations on restoring the district's financial credibility.

Keith Ervin: 206-464-2105 or Linda Shaw: 206-464-2359 or

Copyright © 2002 The Seattle Times Company