Wednesday, March 18, 2015

No Additional Portables At Laurelhurst Elementary School Committee Decides And Principal A No-Show At Important School Meeting

North playground

A packed room of almost 200 people attended last night's Design Departure Committee Meeting, at Laurelhurst Elementary School, where the Seattle Public School District (SPS) presented their reasons in requesting a waiver from City zoning regulations to allow up to four additional portable classrooms, increasing the allowed lot coverage of 45% on the two playgrounds.

Almost 2 hours of public comment was heard, about 50 speakers, including students, who were each given two minutes for their testimony. Every single speaker spoke passionately against increased lot coverage at the school which would have resulted in a significant decrease in playground space, as well as permanent livability impacts to surrounding neighbors.

The Laurelhurst Community Club said in its recent newsletter:
The affected playground is surrounded on all sides by single-family homes with direct, un-buffered sight lines to proposed portables, drastically affecting look and feel of the area.

The Committee passed two motions, both 6-1 (School District representative voted no on both):  
1) in favor or making a decision at the meeting last night, thus voting against no further meetings
2) in denying the proposal for additional portables at the school

Holly Godard, Department of Development (DPD) Land Use Planner, said at the close of the meeting that DPD is not required to accept the recommendations of the Committee.  DPD will review the meeting summary report that Steve Sheppard, with the Department of Neighborhoods (DON), will prepare within 30 days, that will first be circulated to Committee members to review and approve.

The report will then be submitted to DPD who will makes its determination on the proposed departure and SPS can accept or reject it. One attendee said there was some talk of the School District going to the Hearing Examiner to appeal the decision if it stands as it did last night.

The overall sentiment of last night's lengthy meeting was that the SPS presentation was weak in demonstrating their case justifying the need for additional portables, which clearly showed poor overall preparation for the meeting.

One attendee said that SPS did not provide key details and facts, such as conveying clear statistics comparing NE Schools lot coverages,  which were "on the other hand, convoluted and misleading."

Noticeably absent from the important meeting was the School Principal, Dr. Sarah Talbot, placed at the school this year, who was in favor of additional portables. Several teachers and administrative staff were in the audience.

Parents told the Blog Staff that Principal Talbot should have attended as the leader of the school and liaison with the Seattle Public School District, where such an important, long-lasting decision was being discussed and voted on, even though she and the majority of parents "were not all on the same page."

"It was a given that she should have been there, without any doubt" a parent said.

Another parent commented:
It is hard to rationalize why the principal wouldn't attend such an important meeting. It is poor business etiquette, especially when she has a major stake in the proposal.  She could have outlined her justification for more space to the beneficiaries - the students, the school community and the neighborhood at large.  
It would have been a great opportunity to share the advantages of having more space - smaller class sizes, more funding, etc. She shot herself in the foot by not being there, in the eyes of the school community and neighborhood, which could have a lasting impact on her reputation.
Another parent said he was "stunned and disappointed not to see Principal Talbot in the audience when she could have publicly stated her case to a captive audience", which he believed was a given in her overall role of supporting and working with the school community in their "unwavering dedication to the school, the students and the neighborhood as a whole."

"It is completely unacceptable that she was not in attendance" another parent added.

Parents also remarked that they were disappointed that Principal Talbot was not present to hear the numerous thoughtful and articulate public comments , including those from the student body, that pertained not only to the specific issue but to her overall role as principal, which "could have helped her on so many levels to better understand parent issues and work with the community in the success of every student's education."

Another attendee commented:
Principal Talbot  missed the boat when she could have used it to her advantage to connect and build a bond with the school community. 
It was an excellent opportunity to show she is interested in everyone's input, not just her own agenda by being actively engaged in being be a part of the community at large, rather than avoiding facing her school community and taking a leadership role in speaking at the meeting.  
If she's committed to a cause, she has to stand up for it and face the music. That's gutless she did not show at the meeting. What does that say for other causes our school will face and her role as a leader?

Written comments are still being accepted regarding the increase of lot coverage and can be sent via email to or by mail to:
Steve Sheppard
Seattle Department of Neighborhoods
700 5th Avenue, Suite 1700, PO Box 94649
Seattle, WA 98124

For more information about the issue go here.


Anonymous said...

Let's just hope the decision of the committee is respected. Hopefully the SPS will not turn this into a nightmare. And shame on the principal.

Anonymous said...

So was the principal paid to be in attendance, or does the parent body assume she will be at work on a voluntary basis? Perhaps the meeting should be scheduled at a time she is paid to be at work, if it's considered to be "shameful" of her not to be there.

Anonymous said...

The parent body probably assumes she will be there because she is the principal...the leader of the school. If teachers and principals only attended meetings they were paid for they would all make six figure salaries. Perhaps the public is unaware of how much teachers and principals do for schools on their unpaid time.

Anonymous said...

Nobody was paid to be there - not the SPS reps who presented their case to the Committee, not the DON or DPD staff, not the Departure Committee members, not the parents, staff or teachers, neighbors who were there. No one.

The meeting was scheduled first and foremost when the Committee Members could be there. Then SPS, DPD, DON must attend at that time. They don't first ask the Principal for her schedule and then schedule the meeting! Look at the Blog posts and you will see the procedure and processes for the meeting.

The Principal initiated the request for more portables, so she should have been there to state why, on behalf of the kids she is supposed to be fighting for.

Plus even if she was coddled - paid to be there and everybody worked around her schedule - she still wouldn't have been there! That's a given.