Public input? We don't need no stinking public input!

Clouds as gray as volcanic ash loomed over Beacon Hill as I drove down to Columbia City, eager to see what kind of early-season produce filled the stalls on the second week of the farmers market. The spring weather felt capricious, and I packed an umbrella in my canvas shopping bag in case a broom of hard rain suddenly swept over the city.

I soon encountered a friend while poking along the first row of white tents sheltering stacks of dark and bright greens, cases of frosted fruit pastries, and racks of amber honey jars. We shook hands and quickly chatted past small talk to the latest political bombshell dropped on the city: Seattle Public School superintendent Raj Manhas' decision to scrap his high-profile school closure and consolidation plan.

Since Manhas presented his plan for shoring up the $20 million 2006-2007 SPS budget deficit to the school board on April 20, a grassroots movement against the preliminary proposal flowered in the city. Folks were urged to "save successful schools," and the political heat took the issue from a simmer to a boil in a matter of days.

Manhas is not an ignorant man, and I'm sure he expected tempers to flair, which is why he and his staff scheduled 14 public hearings throughout the city's neighborhoods between May 23 and 31 to gather input on the proposal.

However, in an act feeling more capricious than a spring cloudburst, Manhas dumped both the plan and then, one business day before they were scheduled to start, the public hearings. In a May 17 statement, two days before his office sent official word that the hearings would not happen, Manhas said, "I am proud of the public response that we have received. Through community meetings, e-mails, phone calls and letters we have heard Seattle's voice, including the voices of our communities of color and our bilingual communities."

No doubt many parents and school supporters that organized quickly against the Manhas' proposal are celebrating his decisions. But a large number of people who were planning on sharing their thoughts about the proposal at the 14 neighborhood hearings were excluded from the process, and certainly not all of them were completely against the proposal.

Standing with my friend just outside the stream of ambling market shoppers, I learned she liked some aspects of the plan. She felt disappointed the neighborhood was being denied the opportunity to give its proverbial two-cents worth.

Instead of having the patience and courage to gather alternative ideas from the diverse voices of Seattle's neighborhoods during the hearings, Manhas has, according to his May 17 statement, defaulted to forming a "committee of community leaders" to work out the daunting SPS budget kinks.

It's unfortunate Manhas did not follow through on his promise to democratically engage our neighborhoods about his proposal before killing it. If he did, he would have discovered more people like my friend.

In the subsequent process of listening to what she, and others like her, had to say, Manhas most likely would have discovered more viable solutions to our egregious school budget problems than those his future, hand-picked "committee of community leaders" could ever hope to come up with.[[In-content Ad]]