What’s in a name?

Seattle has never suffered from any shortage of controversy; then again, we’ve never had a shortage of people with good intentions, either. Is there a connection?

Perhaps, if the recent fight over the renaming of the former Sharples Middle School is any indicator. Last November, the building was renamed the Aki Kurose Middle School Academy, to honor the well-known Seattle elementary school teacher and peace activist.

But, shortly after the School Board’s November 3 vote, the district was contacted by a second group of citizens who were angry over the name change, feeling it dishonored the memory of Caspar W. Sharples, a leading member of the Seattle School Board in the 1920s who is best remembered for his central role in the creation of Children’s Orthopedic Hospital (now Children’s Hospital and Medical Center).

There’s no plot here: Sharples got the shaft because, by Seattle standards, his story is ancient history. And the School Board members are hardly historians. A Seattle Weekly public records request showed no evidence that anyone involved—from the Kurose name change group, to district staff, to the School Board members themselves—had any idea of who Sharples was or made any effort to find out.

The controversy is acquiring a nasty edge. A group of prominent Kurose supporters recently sent a letter to the School Board complaining that the Sharples supporters are somehow to blame for allowing the school to fall into disrepair. Actually, the district dropped its regular middle school program at Sharples some two decades ago, and the school has served as the site for a rotating group of district programs, ranging from alternative schools to a teen pregnancy center.

The board has also defended its adherence to the district’s written policy on name changes, which requires little more than a written report (which in this case amounted to a short memo) and School Board approval. The policy does ask for a show of support by the current staff and students, a requirement that was technically met. However, the old Sharples School is occupied by another wandering district program, the South Shore Magnet Middle School, whose teachers and students couldn’t be expected to have any sentimental feeling for the Sharples name.

But, in our society, if naming a building after someone is the ultimate tribute, wouldn’t removing the name be the ultimate insult? The four Sharples grandchildren have since written to the district protesting the school’s renaming, as have about 15 other Seattle residents. The most moving letter was from Dr. Robert Coe, whose ancestor Frantz Coe is the namesake of Queen Anne’s Coe Elementary School. “I must say I would feel humiliated, deeply so, if a future board should decide to rename the Coe School,” he says, “and I am quite sure that the Sharples heirs now feel that same humility of rejection.”

A committee of three board members convened to smooth the waters has so far only produced the lame compromise of naming the gymnasium or auditorium at Kurose Middle School in Sharples’ honor. Understandably, the Sharples family has declined.

Having already insulted the Sharples family through their shoddy work, there’s no reason for the district to insult the Kurose family as well. Let the name change stand and find an appropriate building to rename in honor of Dr. Caspar Sharples. Although the district isn’t building new schools, it should be noted that the board had no trouble finding something to name after the late John Stanford, the former superintendent who is the namesake for the new international school program.

The district is consolidating its operations functions in a single building near the stadium district, which has been dubbed the Seattle Public Schools Support Center. Could there be a better name than the Sharples Center?

Sidran saturation

A recipe for a headache: City Attorney Mark Sidran briefing the Seattle City Council on the effects of any law he has championed in the past.

His most recent guest appearance was a monologue delivered to the council’s Public Safety Committee on the city’s vehicle impoundment program for motorists arrested for driving with a suspended license. Many of those in attendance later praised council members Jim Compton and Judy Nicastro for the good questions they sent Sidran’s way. While Compton and Nicastro fully earned their kudos, these weren’t really questions—they were simply requests for pertinent information Sidran had purposely omitted from his presentation for political reasons. The council is currently considering amending the legislation to sharply narrow the scope of the impoundment ordinance.

We’ve all heard the argument that the Seattle city attorney serves a dual role: as both the council’s lawyer and as a fellow citywide elected official. However, Sidran needs to figure out which of these roles he is filling on any given day. If he won’t deliver complete, unbiased information, he’s not a good choice to deliver a factual presentation (especially one required by law).

Beware Heavey bearing gifts

Just days after he was declared Public Enemy #1 by Mayor Paul Schell for blocking state approval of a special taxing authority for Seattle’s zoo, aquarium, and open space acquisition, State Senator Mike Heavey was extending the hand of compromise.

Make that the long arm of compromise: Heavey has joined with State Senator Jeanne Kohl-Welles (author of the bill he helped kill) to create a special voter-approved property tax for his good friends in City Hall. Heavey had already earned the enmity of city officials with his criticism that Seattle was trying to fund luxuries while neglecting basics like road repair and housing. Now he’s hidden another ticking time bomb in his replacement legislation. Although it’s unlikely to sneak through the Legislature so late in the session, Heavey’s special tax isn’t limited to parks, like the city requested, but available for any use. Does anyone really think vigilant City Council Transportation Committee Chair Richard McIver is going to see potential road repair money go to the giraffes and the fishes without a fight?

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