by Will Sweger
A group of about 20 protesters picketed the construction site of the Green Dot middle school on Rainier Ave S. Thursday, less than half a mile from the existing Aki Kurose Middle School. Posting signs reading “Charters Drain Resources” and “Public School = Democracy”, they elicited honks from passing motorists on Rainier.
The Seattle Department of Construction and Inspections approved the school project last year with an exception to allow the building an extra story above zoning regulations for the area.
Green Dot Schools is a nonprofit private charter school operator based in California. In Washington, it is technically classified as Nonprofit Public Benefit Corporation. The organization offers education to children tuition-free and focuses on college preparatory courses.
To determine student enrollment for the Rainier Valley Leadership Academy Middle School, Green Dot is planning to host a lottery on April 14, 2018. The school operator is new to the Seattle area and while it does allow teachers’ unions at facilities in other states, there is no union representation yet at its other schools in Tacoma and Kent.
The operating budget for Green Dot facilities comes from public schooling funds, necessitating tighter budgets at public schools. The new school will have a capacity of about 600 students and according to Mark Epstein, a teacher at Rainier Beach High School present for the protest, every 25-30 kids who leave Seattle Public Schools will result in the layoff of a public school teacher.
“I would say to Seattleites, you’ve neglected the Rainier Valley for far too long making the schools here fight tooth and nail for every position that we get,” Epstein said. “It’s time to be equitable to provide an equal education for students all over the city.”
Darrin Hoop, another teacher at Rainier Beach High School, attended the protest and pointed out the Board of Directors for Washington’s Green Dot does not include individuals with school teaching experience.
Political organizer Kevin Amos showed up to counter-protest. He explained, “This is a public school, it’s a private-public school and in our state, you can have those. That’s called school choices.”
He went on to criticize Seattle public schools for hefty administrative spending that detracts from student outcomes. Seattle Public Schools plan to spend about $51 million or six percent of its $857.7 million budget on central administration out of a budget of $857.7 million for 2017-2018.
The new Green Dot middle school is slated to open in the Fall of 2018.
Will Sweger is a contributor to the South Seattle Emerald and a resident of Beacon Hill. His work has appeared in Seattle Weekly, Curbed Seattle and Borgen Magazine. Find him on Twitter @willsweger