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Seattle school parents outraged by city pulling grant funding over principal’s departure

Seattle's Sand Point Elementary School has grown from 75 students to 293 since re-opening five years ago, and is expected to swell by upwards of 100 more students within the next two years. (Photo courtesy Chandra Hampson)
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If you listen close enough on the playground at Sand Point Elementary in northeast Seattle, you never know what language you might hear.

We are an immensely diverse school,” said Dan Warren, Sand Point principal. “Forty-two percent ELL (English Language Learner), over 21 different languages that are spoken at Sand Point.”

That’s just one of the things that makes the school special; the student body includes kids from all walks of life &#8212 from the nearby public housing complexes in neighboring Magnuson Park to Laurelhurst.

But like many Seattle schools, it’s bursting at the seams and doesn’t have enough staff to service all the diverse needs.

PTA President Chandra Hampson said that’s why the school applied for a grant funded by the city’s Families and Education Levy. In February, the Department of Education and Early Learning awarded the school $318,000.

“It allows us to use those funds for our basic education needs and then frees up money out of our baseline budget so that we can do something really novel, which is to hire a school counselor, which we’ve never had and desperately need,” Hampson said.

The levy was approved in 2011 to help close the achievement gap, especially for low-income, students of color, and English Language Learners.

Awards come with a number of conditions. Among them, that the principal who requested the grant remain at the school.

When the city learned last month that Warren had decided to leave after this school year, it first notified the school it was revoking the award, then decided to sharply cut it from $318,000 to $96,000.

The notice came after the school had worked out its budget and hiring for next year based on the grant. And Hampson said the school community had no idea of the requirement when they first applied two years ago. While it was a condition for the 2015-16 school year, the school originally applied for the 2014-15 school year, which did not have that condition for awards.

“It takes us at a point where we’re trying to plan for our kid’s future in the fall, at a place where we are going to have to turn everything upside down and start from scratch,” Hampson said.

But the condition was made clear in a letter to the principal when the grant was awarded, and in a follow-up phone call, said Isabel Munoz-Colon with the Seattle Department of Education and Early Learning.

A copy of the letter confirms that.

Munoz-Colon said it’s an important requirement, learned after problems cropped up at other schools after principals left.

“Different principals come in with different skill sets and different visions about the best way to support both students and the families in that community,” Munoz-Colon said. “And so we want to be able to create an environment where that principal can own that plan.”

Principal Warren disagrees, arguing the plan was agreed to by the entire community and the incoming principal is on board with it.

“The only difference is the fact that I decided to move,” Warren said. “The need of our students has not changed, everything is the same. Our staff is ready to go and I would just hope the city would look at that and give us the opportunity to be able to demonstrate that.”

Hampson and other parents are understandably angry. They accuse the city of making an arbitrary decision with no regard for the kids or community.

But Munoz-Colon said that’s far from the case.

“We really tried to be as transparent as we could from the very beginning because we had this concern about managing city investments or public dollars well, at the same time supporting the schools that really need it,” Munoz-Colon said.

That’s why they decided rather than revoke the entire grant, they would partially fund it, and then work with the new principal to do what’s necessary to qualify for full funding the following school year, she said.

But Hampson argues it’s just 30 percent of the original $318,000 &#8212 hardly enough to accomplish what they need. And she’s furious the decision was made without speaking to anyone at the school.

“Nobody has walked down to this school or driven down to this school or done anything to come see why it matters,” Hampson said.

Munoz-Colon insisted she and other city leaders do care, and will be sending a letter to Hampson soon offering to meet and work with the school.

Still, Hampson and Warren said that’s little comfort for all those kids on the playground that need support now.

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