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Seattle School Board Approves Deal With City's Pre-K Program

Kyle Stokes
Preschool students participate in an art lesson at Genesee Early Learning Center in Seattle's Columbia City neighborhood.

Seattle school board members agreed to become partners in the city's new preschool program under an agreement that broadly defines the district's role in the pilot project.

Indeed while board members approved the document by a 5-1 vote Wednesday night, many also expressed concerns that the deal left too many unanswered questions about the district's role and responsibility in the program.

At the meeting, city and district staff sought to reassure nervous board members, saying the broad language only set the stage for more formal and detailed agreements later on critical issues — like how many classrooms and how much administrative help the district would provide for the city's program.

Once skeptical of the partnership, board member Marty McLaren said she's been encouraged by the collaboration between city and district staff.

“There’s a lot of ambiguity there, there’s a lot we don’t know," she said. "But it’s very important that we have this formal agreement to ground the further steps in.”

Seattle voters approved a four-year, $58 million property tax increase that will eventually subsidize preschool tuition for up to 2,000 children. Though city ordinance names the district as a partner in that effort, it does not obligate the district to provide staff or space to the program.

The agreement — which is due for approval in the Seattle City Council next week — outlines financial safeguards for both the city and the district, contains promises that both sides will work to merge their enrollment processes and commits the district to providing ID numbers to make it easier to track students' progress.

But board member Sue Peters said the document left too much unspecified. She was the only board member to vote 'no' on approving the agreement.

"There are about three different agreements that are referenced in this that are either in development or don't yet exist, so I'm not sure what we're committing to with this document," Peters said.

Board member Betty Patu abstained after voicing similar concerns.

Kyle Stokes covers the issues facing kids and the policies impacting Washington's schools for KPLU.