Once Divided, Seattle Residents in Accord On Five Goals for Improving City's Schools

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By Peter Schmidt

Seattle residents, who last fall were knotted in a raging debate over student busing, this month reached agreement on five educational goals.

Five 30- to 50-member panels selected by Mayor Norman B. Rice and city residents have each been assigned to develop by June 16 a plan for achieving one of the five goals.

A longer list of goals compiled through a series of 32 neighborhood meetings attended by about 1,900 residents in April was narrowed at a citywide "summit" of about 400 residents earlier this month.

Mark D. Murray, a spokesman for Mayor Rice, said residents' concerns had "matched almost uncannily," regardless of their neighborhood location or their socioeconomic status.

The number-one priority, residents at the summit decided, is the need to increase spending on Seattle's schools--a goal that may require changes in state laws that restrict how much the city can spend.

The other four goals call for:

  • Establishing a better learning environment, with smaller class sizes, increased pay for teachers, and stronger curricula.
  • Strengthening links between schools and communities, with more local control over schools.
  • Ensuring that every child is safe, healthy, and ready to learn, with more attention being paid to latch-key children and the need for child-care and social services.
  • Recognizing and promoting cultural diversity through teacher sensitivity training, increased efforts to recruit minority teachers, and voluntary integration through magnet and alternative programs.

Katherine L. Baxter, a former lead8er of the opposition to the district's "controlled choice" busing policy and a vice chairman of the working group examining community-school relations, said her group would examine ways to achieve integration by making magnet schools more attractive.

"About half of the magnet programs that they established last year worked, and the other half did not work at all," Ms. Baxter said. "They need to know what the market wants out there."

Last fall, the city was torn by a bitter debate over busing and the district's new controlled-choice plan, which allows students to indicate their preference among schools within their local geographic "cluster."

The plan, which requires that student assignments maintain a school's racial balance, has been criticized as driving middle- and upper-middle-class families out of the district.

Mr. Murray said that "eight or nine" neighborhood meetings had listed the need to examine student-assignment policies among their priorities, but that much of the tension surrounding the issue has dissipated.

"If you can achieve academic improvement in the district," he said, "and if you can provide school-based management, and if you can increase safety and create drug-free school zones, you have addressed some of the big issues that have fueled the busing debate."

Vol. 09, Issue 36

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