Schools, parks and trains

Lander Street Follies

It was kind of like a quarterback dropping back to pass, looking down the field and seeing that all his receivers are gone. Off the field. Through the locker room. Out of the stadium altogether.

That's just about what happened to the Seattle Public Schools Board of Directors last week when all four of the finalists for the superintendent's position said no, but thanks anyway.

And who can blame them? The mayor, the City Council president, community activists and others had called on the School Board to delay its hiring of a new superintendent until at least after the November election. (It appears, based on the primary election results, that incumbent Board members on the ballot may well be defeated.) And there had been much grumbling about the process that named the four finalists for the superintendent's job (lack of meaningful input from the community, etc.). Who wants to walk into that hornet's nest?

So the Board did what a quarterback occasionally has to do. It fell on the ball. And then it punted, in this case to Raj Manhas, the interim superintendent who has filled in at least adequately, by most accounts, since taking over for Joseph Olchefske, the "money man" who led the district into its budget woes. Olchefske, as you probably recall, kind of fell into the superintendent's gig himself, having previously been the district's chief financial officer. He stepped in when his pal John Stanford died. (Stanford and Olchefske met in an elevator-I am not making this up-shortly after Stanford came to Seattle. The two became friends, and Stanford offered Olchefske his first job with the district.)

Here's wishing Raj well. And here's hoping that all the people down at Third and Lander, and everyone else who professes an interest in educating our kids, can soon turn their attentions to just that.

South Beacon Hill doesn't get enough attention

Saturday morning found a handful of South Beacon Hill neighbors busy tending to groundskeeping at Benefit Park.

Unless you live down that way, you're probably not familiar with the place. It's a bit off the beaten path, at the corner of 39th Avenue South and South Benefit Street. It's a couple of acres of green space, mostly, with a basketball court and some swings and a stone sculpture and a couple of swaths of lawn, one of which is a favorite summer evening spot among the local volleyball playing set.

The bushwhacking neighbors are members of Friends of Benefit Park. They're working on a plan to tweak the park here and there-another play area, improved ball courts, a path around the perimeter, a circular plaza.

"The park has good bones," says Chris Morrow, the Friends president. He points to the diagonal path lined with linden trees as an example of what's already pretty darned cool about the place. The group just aims to make it better, he says, to make it more appealing to more neighbors.

"We want them to feel common ground here," Morrow says. "There is no other place on South Beacon Hill."

Friends of Benefit Park aims to do about a quarter of million dollars worth of work. So far, the Friends have been awarded a Department of Neighborhoods matching grant (their labor counts toward the match). They picked up $10,000 from Starbucks, $28,000 from a King County youth sports grant and a few thousand dollars from other sources.

What the group could use now, Morrow says, is more volunteers, to get the work done and to help them meet the match. And the plan calls for inscribed pavers, the kind you see in all sorts of public plazas these days. Selling pavers with names etched in them will raise a little money, Morrow says, but that's not its primary purpose. It is more to lend neighbors a sense of ownership of the park.

So, to see your name on a paver, or to volunteer your efforts, call 723-8179.

Afghan connection on Cloverdale Street

Kids at Dunlap Elementary School are getting a lesson in how much of the rest of the world lives, thanks to their art teacher and an outfit called Children to Children International.

This week, about 200 works of art created by the Dunlap kids will be presented to kids in Afghanistan. Art supplies were also sent along, in care of Marvin Taylor, who works with Health Emergent International Services, a humanitarian medical aid organization. Come November, Taylor is to return to Dunlap, with artwork made by the Afghani kids.

The aim is "to connect with and support the children of Afghanistan, who have been through so much," says Donna Amira, the Dunlap art teacher. "It's good for our kids to think globally and to help."

Amen, Ms. Amira. Rainier Valley may not be Palm Springs, but it's certainly a darned sight removed from Kabul. Most adults seem to have little appreciation for that. It can only be to the better that the youngsters are getting clued into it.

The train is coming, we think

Dwight Pelz and I chatted-about Sound Transit, mostly-last Friday afternoon.

Pelz, besides representing most of y'all on the King County Council, also serves on the Sound Transit Board. He is, of course, a light-rail advocate. This city and region are way behind the times in building a rail system, he says. We should have gotten started a long time ago. Most major metropolitan areas in the country, and even some lesser ones, now have light rail, and the public there uses it and loves it.

Some of the region's GOP elected officials would just have us build more roads, Pelz says. But that would only get us more of what we don't want. The roads would fill up shortly after they're built. They would fuel continuing sprawl, and people would still be without a good alternative to driving their cars. Even Dallas, which is hardly territory hostile to SUVs, has a rail system, Pelz says, and those dime-store cowboys down there are nuts about it.

Pelz will acknowledge, when pushed, that Sound Transit has had its lapses. But he maintains that once the first segment of the line is up and running the public on both sides of the lake will be clamoring for lines of their own. And he says he's willing to bet me five bucks that the $500 million federal grant, the one that Oklahoma Rep. Ernest Istook Jr. has been holding up, will be coming through, and Sound Transit will soon break ground on the project.

And if that doesn't happen? What happens then, after the businesses moving out on Beacon Hill to make way for the station there (the venerable South China restaurant, most notably) are gone, and construction is even further delayed?

Don't worry about those structures becoming graffiti magnets, Pelz says. The regional transit agency won't let that happen.

I have no reason to doubt that.

But given the project's history (scaled back, behind schedule, etc.) there's little wonder that the public might be on the lookout for something else to go wrong. Arguing, as some do, that such is often what happens on large public transportation projects hardly undoes all that's gone kaplooey with this one.

OK, so maybe we aren't getting quite what we were sold when we approved Sound Transit at the ballot box. But then, we didn't get quite what G.W. Bush and company sold us when we went to war, either. George is still looking for those WMDs (and a link between Saddam and Osama), and Sound Transit is still looking for a way to go north.

Sound Transit can't very well pull the plug now, what with properties along the light-rail route being boarded up and businesses relocating and all. And the U.S military can't just come home and leave someone else to clean up the mess in Iraq. Call me delusional, but at this moment I suspect we'll see trains pulling into a station near the University of Washington before we see our military pull out of Baghdad. But don't hold your breath.

I didn't take Pelz up on his little wager, but I am willing to buy him a drink if his guess proves correct. It's just a shame we won't be bellying up to the bar at the South China.

Editor Tony Brouner can be reached at

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