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Seattle Chief's Reorganization Proposal

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Seattle's schools superintendent, William Kendrick, has touched off a wave of protest in the black community with a new reorganization plan that some contend is insensitive to the needs of African-Americans.

Under the plan, which was unveiled late last month, all but three top administrators were required to apply for newly defined jobs. Critics say the plan--the superintendent's fourth reorganization blueprint in five years--has disproportionately affected minority administrators.

As of late last week, several longtime critics of Mr. Kendrick, including several African-American groups and the local African-American newspaper, had called on the superintendent to resign. And others, including Mayor Norman Rice, who is black, had publicly questioned the fairness of the plan.

"At this point, I think he should resign," Oscar Eason Jr., a co-chairman of the Coalition for the Education of Black Children, a local advocacy group, said last week.

The reorganization effort, he said, "is just rearranging chairs on the deck of the Titanic."

Despite this recent criticism, a majority of the district's seven-member school board still supports Mr. Kendrick, members said last week. They said it was unlikely that he would be forced to resign over the issue, and noted that any board action would be delayed until June, when Mr. Kendrick is scheduled for his annual performance review.

"It isn't for us to approve or disapprove," said Marilyn Smith, a board member. "This is the superintendent's job."

The latest reorganization plan comes on the heels of a report by a consulting firm that recommended widespread changes in the way the district delivers educational services.

Echoing governance concerns raised in urban districts throughout the nation in the past several months, the $400,000 report, which was sponsored by the state legislature and released late last year, was highly critical of the district's administration and school board. (See Education Week, Jan. 30, 1991.)

In particular, the report states, the district had failed to meet the challenge of serving its increasingly heterogeneous population, about half of which is minority.

Its recommendations included eliminating the district's three geographic zones, which are each administered by an assistant superintendent.

Mr. Kendrick's plan is modeled after the report's recommendations, a spokesman for the district said.

Under the blueprint, which is to go into effect by July, the district will have two assistant superintendents, instead of its current five. And instead of supervising zones, one supervisor will head curriculum; the other will oversee strategic planning.

Minority community members became concerned, however, when it was announced that all but three top-level administrators had to reapply for the newly drawn jobs. Of the five assistant superintendents, four were members of minority groups.

In contrast, white males hold all three of the high-level jobs left untouched by the reorganization plan.

Patty McDonald, a spokesman for the district, said charges by some African-American leaders and an editorial in the local African-American newspaper that these unaffected jobs were "protected" are unfounded.

"It was unfortunate that the people who occupied those positions were three white males," she said. "[Their positions] just weren't dealt with in the report, and the superintendent wasn't interested in making any changes there."

Observers said that minority concerns were not substantially allayed even after it was announced last week that two current assistant superintendents--a black female and an Asian-American male--would hold the two new assistant superintendent spots.

"We think it's unfortunate that the plan was implemented in such a way to legitimately upset an important part of the community," said Reese Lindquist, the president of the Seattle Education Association, a local teachers' union that is affiliated with the National Education Association. "In my view, he should have cut them all loose and started all over again."

"This is not a school district that needs a whole lot of changes," he said. "It needs a period of stability."

"I'm convinced that when he's done, there will be good gender and ethnic balance," said Connie Sidles, a board member. "But you can't undo the process."

"The question isn't only who fills these positions, but how they are filled," said Ms. Sidles, who said she would have favored having the entire administration resign and then reapply for their jobs.

Ms. Sidles, as well as others, also questioned whether the plan would successfully promote the district's goal of greater school-based management and local decisionmaking.

"The really critical question of this restructuring is whether the line people will be giving orders or providing services to people in the buildings," Mr. Lindquist said. "If they act in the old ways, we'll have trouble."

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