School board OK’s controversial donation

  • Sarah Koenig<br>Enterprise
  • Monday, March 3, 2008 11:38am

A controversial $45,000 donation from the Highland Terrace Elementary School PTA to the school got the OK from the Shoreline School Board at its Sept. 11 meeting, but only narrowly.

The Board voted 3-2 to accept the donation — technically with no designation on how it’s to be used. However, board members stated they knew the money would likely be used to fund classified classroom help at the school.

The vote took place after an emotional discussion.

Miriam Tencate, Terrace principal, began by presenting information about the donation to the board: $45,000 to fund classified staff to support the school’s fourth, fifth and sixth grade classes, which are overcrowded enough to qualify for an “overload” designation. “Overload” means the class is big enough that the teacher qualifies for extra staffing help or extra pay.

The money also would be used to fund classified help in other classrooms at the school that aren’t in overload.

The offer was a revision of an earlier offer to fund a certificated classroom teacher for the school’s large fourth grade class.

Board president Mike Jacobs answered Tencate by saying the board was bound by a district policy. The policy states that donations accepted by the district can have no designation on how they will be used.

“Funds are being offered to Terrace for the purpose of hiring staff for Highland Terrace,” he said. “The policies we have in place restrict us from accepting something along those lines.”

The donation wasn’t given with designations, Tencate said.

“No one has said, ‘We won’t give (the donation) to you except for x,’” she said. “I went to staff and asked, ‘What can help you and help the kids?’ The staff and myself together said, ‘This is what was needed.’”

Tencate called the donors to tell them what staff came up with, she continued.

“They said, ‘Whatever you decide,’” she said. “It’s not strings attached, it’s what staff feels is best.”

Terrace used PTA money to fund a math specialist for the school last year, she added.

Board members then discussed the fact that they could, technically, accept an open-ended donation to the school while knowing what it would likely be used for.

Jacobs called that action a “shell game” and said the board wasn’t acting transparently.

“So, there’s a motion to accept $45,000 (without specifics),” Jacobs said. “Then (Tencate will) be back next week asking for personnel.”

Board member David Wilson said the process was transparent.

“You’ve spoken candidly about what will probably happen,” he said, referring to the fact that the money would probably be put toward classified staff. “It’s apparent to everyone in this room the chain reaction that will occur. I don’t think it’s a shell game.”

“In the past, PTAs have given money to specific sites, this much and more, to fund what the school sees fit,” said board member Debi Ehrlichman.

Wilson and Ehrlichman, with board member Dan Mann, voted to accept the donation as technically open-ended. Jacobs and board member Jim Leigh voted no.

If classified staff are to be hired at Terrace, the board will have to approve the hiring.

After the vote, several community members spoke during public comment.

Some supported the donation and said they were disappointed that it’s so difficult to give money to Shoreline schools. Nick Hanauer, a Terrace parent, called the evening’ discussion Kafkaesque.

Others argued that the district, by accepting the donation, was veering toward becoming a private, not a public, school system.

A related donation — $30,000 from Hanauer — was not voted on, though it was minimally discussed. The open-ended donation could be used at any school.

“There’s an offer of $30,000 to the district to be used as seed capital to address equity in the district,” Mann said. “It’s money we could spend on anything we needed.”

Over the coming year, the district plans to create a new policy for accepting donations. At recent board meetings, district officials and board members have agreed on the need for a new policy, saying they will work with the community to craft it.

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