School group threatens to fight levies

Parents seeking the removal of Superintendent Joseph Olchefske warned the Seattle School Board last night that they might mount a campaign to defeat two levies next February if he remains.

That threat came from members of the Citizens for Effective Administration of Seattle Education (CEASE) during a week in which the teachers union and the principals association are taking no-confidence votes on Olchefske.

CEASE member Maggie Metcalf-Hess said the group also might seek to replace School Board members who have supported Olchefske.

"We come here, we write letters, we call, and you are not listening," she said.

CEASE members include parents and community members who are angry over $35 million in budgeting errors this year and last, and about Olchefske's rocky relations with alternative schools, parents of gifted students, and organizations representing ethnic and racial minorities.

School Board meetings frequently draw parents angry at the superintendent and the School Board, but the threat by some CEASE members to oppose the district's operating and capital levies raised the stakes.

"You members of the board and members and employees of the Alliance for Education should be asking yourselves, 'How desperate must parents be to have their voices heard that they would knowingly and willingly trash their children's education in order to be heard?' " asked Karen Deyerle, a parent at Alternative Elementary No. 2.

The School Board also heard pleas from physical-education teachers for the district to reverse a decision to eliminate the job of Bud Turner, the district's coordinator of physical-education and health programs.

His is one of many jobs in the central offices and schools that may be cut next year to deal with an estimated $9 million budget shortfall. Three hundred teachers also have been displaced from their jobs, and some will receive layoff notices if positions can't be found for them in other schools.

Earlier in the board meeting, kindergarten through 12th-grade students displayed skills they had learned in the unconventional PE programs built by Turner. The students did gymnastics, juggled, performed double-Dutch stunts with jump ropes, and rode unicycles.

"Shame on anyone who would dismantle the PE program," said Rob Silver, a technology coordinator and playground coordinator at Cooper Elementary School.

Without a strong central administrator to hold "great ideas" workshops and conferences, and to solicit gifts of athletic equipment, Seattle could not have built a nationally renowned physical-education program, teachers said.

In other business, the district has reached a deal to sell its former computer center on Fourth Avenue North in Lower Queen Anne for $2.25 million. The buyer is the Church of Scientology of Washington.

The computer center is the last of four properties that became surplus when the district last fall opened its new headquarters, the John Stanford Center for Education Excellence, south of downtown.

The four property sales came in above appraised prices. If all the deals close, they will bring in $21 million.

An independent audit of the district's finances due April 16 will contain about 100 "observations" about problems that led to a $35 million financial crisis last fall.

Tom Krippaehne, manager of the audit by Moss Adams Advisory Services, told the School Board the audit will address issues related to the organization of the district as well as strictly financial issues.

Keith Ervin: 206-464-2105