The Streetcar Gets More Expensive

Plus: Lakeside School has a new conservative lined up to speak, and the WASL lawsuits have begun.

Transportation

The cost for Mayor Greg Nickels' 1.3-mile South Lake Union streetcar has increased $3 million to $50.5 million, and the city still needs to find $4.8 million to complete the project. "Predictably, there is a funding gap, and I don't want the city to pay for it," says Seattle City Council member Peter Steinbrueck. A streetcar skeptic, he released the new figures on Monday, March 13, as part of the council's ongoing scrutiny of planning for the project. Steinbrueck will offer an amendment to upcoming streetcar legislation that will increase taxes on property owners in the South Lake Union neighborhood to cover the additional costs. The mayor's streetcar point person, Mike Mann, deputy director of the Office of Management and Policy, is confident that the city will secure additional grants to close the funding gap. Steinbrueck says the struggle to pay for the project has just begun. He expects further escalation in construction costs and is concerned about the money to run the streetcar once it is built. Says Steinbrueck: "We still don't know who will pay the operating costs." GEORGE HOWLAND JR.

Education

Seattle's private Lakeside School got a big dose of controversy earlier this year when it canceled an appearance by Dinesh D'Souza. The conservative scholar had been invited as part of the annual Bebie lecture series to talk about the war in Iraq. But members of the faculty and staff demanded that D'Souza be disinvited because of his allegedly "racist" 1996 book, The End of Racism. School head Bernie Noe, worried that D'Souza's appearance might upset minority students and derail the school's diversity efforts, rescinded the invitation. The cancellation set off howls among many parents and faculty who wondered why the school was putting racial diversity ahead of ideological diversity and whether it had become hostage to political correctness. Lakeside pledged to find a more acceptable conservative and has now settled on neocon pundit William Kristol, the amiable and overexposed editor of the Weekly Standard and a Fox News regular. His talk on Iraq is scheduled for April 5. Whether that will salve Lakeside's self-inflicted wounds remains to be seen, but Noe isn't counting on it. He's continuing to host "spirited" discussions with members of the "Lakeside community" to process the D'Souza fallout. KNUTE BERGER

Given the lawsuits that have popped up around the country as school systems have implemented high-stakes tests, it was only a matter of time before this state was hit with litigation over the Washington Assessment of Student Learning (WASL). As schools are beginning to give this year's WASL, and as the consequences for failing the test become real, lawsuits are trickling in. Tacoma parent Alton McDonald filed the first on Friday, March 10, in U.S. District Court on behalf of his two children, both high-schoolers. McDonald, an African-American paralegal who is pursuing the case without an attorney, claims the schools discriminate against poor and minority kids by failing to adequately prepare them for the test. He is asking the state to stop administering the test and pay $250,000 in damages for each child. McDonald says he is working with two other African-American parents, one in Tacoma and one in the Ferndale school district, who plan to file similar suits this week. NINA SHAPIRO

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