Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Oh, So THAT'S What It's For (But Still A Bit of a Mystery)

I finally, after much back and forth with district staff, received an answer about the $127,000 in the budget for the Superintendent's office. The answer came from Dr. Goodloe-Johnson herself.

(And let me just say, I had to ask, over and over for this information. I asked Don Kennedy and had cc'ed Sherry Carr who also asked Mr. Kennedy and he never answered. The district's public disclosure officer, Joy Stevens in Legal who couldn't be nicer, gave me answers that never really answered the question but did give me some food for thought. I had called the State Attorney General's office for advice about what to do when you don't get information requested via Public Disclosure and now I have a few more things I can try in the future. I did let the district know I had called them.)

Here's her answer:

Thank you very much for your questions. I apologize that our initial response to you was in error. Carol Rava Treat's position is NOT funded from the $127,000 that you asked about. My responses are listed below.

What is the $127,000 being used for?

Two uses: half of the salary for Cordell Carter, who is a Broad Resident; and the full salary for Venetia Harmon, who is a Senior Administrative Assistant. Ms. Harmon's job description was sent to you previously, the job description for Mr. Carter is attached.

Why is the Broad Foundation paying for Ms. Treat's salary?

Ms. Treat was brought to Seattle Public Schools to coordinate work related to developing and implementing a strategic plan, including building relationships with philanthropic organizations and to secure funding for key strategic plan projects. Her position has been grant funded. Yes, we asked Broad to fund her salary as part of managing continued implementation of key work of the strategic plan.

Who is the Broad resident referenced in two places in the budget?

We have two Broad residents at SPS, Cordell Carter and Jessica de Barros.

Are there any new hires under the Superintendent's office for this budget?

No.

Lastly, I find that when I ask, via Public Disclosure, for information that staff either do not answer completely, give me information that has nothing to do with my question or, worst of all, do not answer all my questions. Where is the transparency we have been promised and that is referenced at the bottom of every single sheet of district paper "everyone accountable"?

Seattle Public Schools is committed to providing accurate and complete data in response to requests for public information. Because we work in a very complex environment, it is sometimes necessary to pull information from various departments and sources to fulfill each public disclosure request. Our public records officers work diligently to respond as quickly and as completely as possible. There are times when we may partially fulfill a request in order to get information sent in a timely manner and then follow up with the rest of the information at a later time. Public records requests are coordinated and managed by Ms. Joy Stevens in our legal office, jstevens@seattleschools.org. If you experience challenges with public records requests, please write to John Cerqui, Sr. Assistant General Counsel, at jcerqui@seattleschools.org or Gary Ikeda, General Counsel, glikeda@seattleschools.org with specific information about your concern. We will work to more completely and accurately respond to public disclosures in a way that feels more transparent to our public.

Thank you (end of message)

Okay so I got the answer to my question except for one little problem. Here's what the Broad Foundation's website says about salary for a Broad Resident:

$85,000 - $95,000 annual salary

and further:

"At the conclusion of the two-year program, The Broad Residency expects that school districts and CMOs will hire Residents permanently in their current positions or promote them into more senior leadership posts.

"So, let's do the math. Take $127,000 and subtract the salary of Venetia Harmon (adm assistant) at $64,015.27 (that includes benefits). What's left over ? (You smarties wait for the other people who use calculators.) Yes, it's $69,984.83. That would be for Mr. Cordell's salary. But we remember what it says at the Foundation's website that he would be making between $85,000-95,000 annually. So the conclusion we draw is that either Mr. Cordell has been making more money all along or guess what? he got a raise. Because (now grab that calculator again) if you multiply $69,984.83 times 2 (the Superintendent said they were paying half) you get...$125,969.66. Now even if you were not including benefits in a salary of $85,00-95,000 there is NO way to get up to $125,969.66.

So we hired a Broad resident and gave him a raise (heads up to Jessica de Barrios the other Broad Resident) after one year.

The same year we closed schools - because of money - and RIFed many teachers - because of money - but we could rearrange funding so that a Broad Resident who has a virtual guarantee of a job at the district after this year could have a raise.

Additionally, no explanation as to why Broad would pay for a non-Resident salary (Carol Treat). (They actually do have Associate Residents if someone is already working in a district but their website states that in that case, they DON'T pay half the salary so Ms. Treat isn't in that category.) The Broad Foundation is just a swell bunch of people who love Dr. Goodloe-Johnson so they did her a BIG favor. Oh wait, was that a pig flying outside my window? Nah.

Lastly, I am always patient when I ask for information. But this was a VERY easy request and they know it. But see I'm asking questions they don't want asked. I also just noticed something very interesting about this issue at the SPS website but it's too late to call the headquarters so they'll be an update tomorrow on this topic.

(Sorry about the blue; something in the HTML would not sort out for me.)

23 comments:

Patrick said...

Interesting, yes, but you should also check your math before you broadcast it further. $127,000 - $64,015.27 = $62,984.73. $62,984.73 x 2 = $125,969.46.
Your point is good, but errors in math detract from it.

Is it possible that benefits account for the additional $30,000? Medical, dental, leave time, retirement? I really have no idea.

zb said...

I'm the one who always argues that simple incompetance/overwork is often an explanation for confusing responses/answers to these questions.

But, reading about your interaction (and I know you feel this way about capitol funding projects,too) is forcibly inducing me to consider the possibility that people really are trying to hide information and mislead the public about how money is being spent in the central office/administration.

So, now, what does a Broad resident do anyway? Is it something they should get paid nearly 100K to do?

Renee said...

I believe this is the was this Superintendent operates. Something similar happened to a colleague who simply asked a question to someone at the district about some paperwork that we needed to better help our students. The superintendent (who must monitor our emails) replied to "All Staff" with a rather cryptic response. I later found out that this questioning almost cost my colleague (who is amazing) their job. I feel as if we are living under "Big Brother". I have to say I really appreciate this site, and those of you who do question. I feel like if I do question the way they run things in the district, I need to fear for retribution.

wseadawg said...

Broad says the answer to all our problems is to "run schools like a business, or the military," and recruits his candidates from both areas.

You will not find more wasted money than in the U.S. Military, nor more corruption than on Wall Street, in professional sports, or in corporate boardrooms across the land.

Yet people naively buy into the idea that Broad, Gates and all are about something other than money and power, privatization and domination of the marketplace.

Its a can't lose proposition for them. Huge tax write-offs up front, while seeding school districts with their cronies and toadies, who will then open the money spigots to line the pockets of curriculum providers, consultants, and computer software and hardware makers.

All the while bashing teachers and proclaiming that "it's all about the kids."

Again, f-o-l-l-o-w t-h-e m-o-n-e-y.

Melissa Westbrook said...

And Dawg, that's just what I'm doing.

owlhouse said...

Renee, that is so disconcerting. I have also heard rumors of parent and staff retribution/intimidation. I don't know of anyone taking their concerns public, but hearing of multiple incidents which in no way overlap has heightened my sensitivity to the way in which the district conducts itself.

Maureen said...

Is it possible that Broad pays for half of the salary but none of the benefits? If so, $63,000 (using Patrick's correction) less $47,500 (half of the maximum Broad salary) leaves $16,500 to cover benefits. Is that out of line? Am I missing something?

But, M G-J says there are no new hires, but the 127,000 is an increase in the budget? So, Melissa, are you saying that the whole $127,000 is for raises over and above what those employees were paid last year? (Sorry I'm being slow-It's so hot!)

Dora Taylor said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Dora Taylor said...

OK, so let's say that there is some funny money happening at SPS with the Broad. I wouldn't be surprised about that.

What concerns me even more is that this resident is there to “coordinate work related to developing and implementing a strategic plan, including building relationships with philanthropic organizations and to secure funding for key strategic plan projects”. So, we are paying this person to strengthen the relationship between Broad and Gates and SPS as well as ensure that we receive even more money from them and therefore more influence by them on our school system.

This calls for a time out. We didn’t ask for these people to be here and we all know where they want to go with their money and influence. This discussion that we are having on this blog needs to be put on the table with the board and our superintendent. We need to have a public conversation about the presence of the Broad within our school system and why they are here.

Another aspect about this Broad resident that gets to me every time I think about it is that Garfield High School and Nova lost a valuable asset due to the rif’s with the loss of Elizabeth Peterson. She was our college counselor and always shared with us invaluable information about jobs, college opportunities, grants, scholarships, internships, all of the information that helps our students succeed. We lost her and instead get a Broadite who is there to strengthen relationships with an organization that we didn’t even invite to our table.

Melissa Westbrook said...

From what I can figure from the benefit amounts given to me for Ms. Harmon (salary: $54,910.54; salary+benefits: $64016.15) and Ms. Treat, it seems like benefits are about 16%. Additionally, I spoke with someone at the Broad Foundation (that could be a whole other post) about the Broad share of payments. It is unclear to me whether Ms. Harmon has received a raise with her salary today. (She was previously paid under the Gates grant.)

The 2008-2009 figure for salaries (which is when Mr. Cordell came in) was between $80,000-90,000. So they pay half ($40,000-50,000) but you're right, they pay no benefits. The District is responsible for those.

However, I also learned that the district can certainly pay more than the required minimum. So the question is whether Mr. Cordell came in last year at a higher rate than the Broad minimum or the $127,000 includes a raise for him.

So we had the Gates grant paying for Ms. Harmon last year, the Alliance paying for Carol Treat last year, Mr. Cordell coming in at some unknown starting salary (but we know the Broad Foundation is only paying out $40-45,000).

This year the district is paying Ms. Harmon's salary, Carol Treat's salary is being paid by our friends at the Broad Foundation and Mr. Cordell is making some unknown salary. (You'll notice that the Superintendent slyly didn't tell me his salary but left it for me to guess. I feel absolutely no remorse if I got it wrong - and I don't think I did - because again, you can ask the questions but if they don't give you clear answers, the confusion is on them.)

The point is:
- I don't begrudge the Superintendent an aide but why all these musical chairs?
- why is Broad paying a full salary for an SPS employee not associated with them?
- what does Broad want out of this?

Melissa Westbrook said...

From what I can figure from the benefit amounts given to me for Ms. Harmon (salary: $54,910.54; salary+benefits: $64016.15) and Ms. Treat, it seems like benefits are about 16%. Additionally, I spoke with someone at the Broad Foundation (that could be a whole other post) about the Broad share of payments. It is unclear to me whether Ms. Harmon has received a raise with her salary today. (She was previously paid under the Gates grant.)

The 2008-2009 figure for salaries (which is when Mr. Cordell came in) was between $80,000-90,000. So they pay half ($40,000-50,000) but you're right, they pay no benefits. The District is responsible for those.

However, I also learned that the district can certainly pay more than the required minimum. So the question is whether Mr. Cordell came in last year at a higher rate than the Broad minimum or the $127,000 includes a raise for him.

So we had the Gates grant paying for Ms. Harmon last year, the Alliance paying for Carol Treat last year, Mr. Cordell coming in at some unknown starting salary (but we know the Broad Foundation is only paying out $40-45,000).

This year the district is paying Ms. Harmon's salary, Carol Treat's salary is being paid by our friends at the Broad Foundation and Mr. Cordell is making some unknown salary. (You'll notice that the Superintendent slyly didn't tell me his salary but left it for me to guess. I feel absolutely no remorse if I got it wrong - and I don't think I did - because again, you can ask the questions but if they don't give you clear answers, the confusion is on them.)

The point is:
- I don't begrudge the Superintendent an aide but why all these musical chairs?
- why is Broad paying a full salary for an SPS employee not associated with them?
- what does Broad want out of this?

zb said...

What I want to know is what these people do.

I'm presuming the answer to what "Broad" wants out of this is better schools for the kids.

gavroche said...

If Broad truly wanted better schools for our kids, why is it pushing a failed "reform" model that even Education Secretary Duncan is scrambling to defend -- corporate-run (but taxpayer-funded) charter schools? (See the CREDO Report: http://docs.google.com/gview?a=v&q=cache%3A1KCWs0WHX6cJ%3Acredo.stanford.edu%2Freports%2FNational_Release.pdf+%22charter+schools%22+and+%22stanford%22+and+%2217+percent&hl=en&gl=us&pli=1)

And why is Broad pushing for mayoral control of school districts, in which one person -- the mayor -- appoints the entire school board AND the superintendent, with no input from the community or voters -- which is another failed (not to mention undemocratic) "reform"?
(See: "Mayor Bloomberg's Crib sheet" by Diane Ravitch, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/04/10/opinion/10ravitch.htm?_r=1&pagewanted=print, which begins: "ARNE DUNCAN, the secretary of education, has urged the nation’s mayors to take control of their public schools so that they can impose radical reforms. He points to New York City as a prime example of a school system that made sharp improvements under mayoral control.

Actually, the record on mayoral control of schools is unimpressive. Eleven big-city school districts take part in the federal test called the National Assessment of Educational Progress. Two of the lowest-performing cities — Chicago and Cleveland — have mayoral control. The two highest-performing cities — Austin, Tex., and Charlotte, N.C. — do not."
)

And if Broad is truly interested in constructive change ("education reform") for the betterment of our kids, why are Broad-trained/indoctrinated Superintendents and "Broad Residents" developing a reputation for creating chaos or mediocrity wherever they go?

See:
Antioch, Calif:
"Foundation cuts ties with Antioch schools," By Hilary Costa
East County Times
http://www.contracostatimes.com/education/ci_12681159

Or Portland, Oregon: "The Broad Foundation and Portland Public Schools" http://www.ourglobaleducation.com/2009/04/broad-foundation-and-portland-public.html

And right here in Seattle:
"The Broad Foundation" http://saveseattleschools.blogspot.com/2009/07/broad-foundation.html

?

gavroche said...

And to revisit a previous post of mine, what exactly does Broad mean by its seemingly contradictory term "Venture Philanthropy"?

(See: http://www.broadeducation.org/investments/approach.html)

Our Approach to Investing: Venture Philanthropy

We take an untraditional approach to giving. We don’t simply write checks to charities. Instead we practice “venture philanthropy.” And we expect a return on our investment.

The Broad Foundation works in partnership with our grantees to provide the funding and strategic assistance to improve the learning environment for all students. We connect our grantees to a growing network of innovative leaders who are making some of the greatest gains and implementing the most promising practices in urban schools today. We hold ourselves and our grantees accountable for results—because results are what will improve the education of every American student.

The Broad Foundation does not accept unsolicited proposals. Unlike many foundations that have a traditional grant cycle and review process, we proactively seek out investments that align with our mission to dramatically improve urban K-12 public education through better governance, management, labor relations and competition. We are continually on the lookout for urban school districts and organizations nationwide that are progressive, led by talented, effective visionaries, and are strategically focused on improving student achievement. Once we have identified a potential investment opportunity, we initiate contact with a prospective grantee organization or individual and invite them to submit additional information."


The link at the bottom of the page leads to another page outlining their "investments." ( http://www.broadeducation.org/investments/current_investments/investments_all.html)

This raises a number of questions, the most troubling of which to my mind is: Why does Broad even bother to "invest" in a district such as ours in which the Broad agenda (charters and mayoral control of school districts) is currently illegal?

Isn't this a waste of Broad's time and money?

Or is Broad attempting to make our district "ripe" (to use one of its own words) for its agenda?

(continued on next post)

gavroche said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
gavroche said...

(continued from previous post)


How so?

By enabling or directly weakening some of the district's strongest schools, abolishing or disrupting our alternative schools -- the most direct competition for charter schools -- closing schools despite the fact that demographic data shows there will be a need for schools in those neighborhoods. (How convenient -- unused, closed school buildings in neighborhoods that are having baby booms are now available if anyone were looking for a site to open a charter or two, for example.) Laying off teachers despite the fact that enrollment applications have increased by 1,200 more than the district predicted.
Adjusting and readjusting belltimes. Moving dozens of principals around with no community input. Eliminating fresh cooked meals. Declaring all these changes will significantly save money, when data shows that they won't.

Does any of this make any sense?

One could explain all this disarray as pure mismanagement on the part of SPS. If so, then what are these clandestine "Broad Residents" and now our Broad Board of Directors Superintendent bringing to SPS that's so stellar? Where are the fabulous results?

Or does a mismanaged, chaotic school district serve the purpose of making parents throw up their hands and declare, 'Give us something, anything other than this?' Opening the door to "education reform" and its key component, charters.

Here’s the key problem with the Broad’s presence and influence on our kids’ schools as I see it: What is Broad’s incentive to make our existing schools and district strong and help our teachers do their job if its goal is to replace public schools with corporate-run charters filled with inexperienced, non-union Teach for America teachers? (Both the founders of Teach for America and KIPP charters are on the Broad board of directors, along with Maria Goodloe-Johnson.)

Earlier this year Broad gave SPS around $1 million. At the School Board meeting where the Directors voted to accept the money, Director Bass mentioned that some SPS parents had concerns about the Broad Foundation and its expectations and asked whether the Broad Foundation determined how that money would be used. Supt. Goodloe-Johnson said no, it didn't.

Her statement and the Broad web site text seem to contradict each other. So what is the truth?

Also, earlier this year, an SPS parent asked Supt. Goodloe-Johnson if she and Broad were trying to bring charters to Seattle. Goodloe-Johnson replied "The Broad Foundation has nothing to do with charters. Read their web site."

To which the savvy parent replied, "I have. That's why I'm asking."

So what is Broad buying with its "investment" in Seattle Public Schools?

And why all the evasive non-answers and outright dishonesty surrounding the Broad Foundation's presence and influence on Seattle's public schools?

Clearly Broad has expectations -- or strings -- attached to its 'philanthropic contributions.'

Don't we parents have a right to know what a well-financed, out-of-state corporate-oriented foundation with a stated agenda that runs counter to the law and volition of our city, district and parents is doing inside our school system?

Sahila said...

Gavroche - are you cross-=posting anywhere else, and also CCing all this stuff to the various education journalists around town and nationally?

Perhaps naively, as a sometime braodcast journalist, I would expect my editor to be jumping for joy to get material such as this for a story... makes one hell of a major story, in my 'naive' opinion...

Who's got (personal) links with education reporters and educational media? This stuff needs to be pushed out there, over and over again, until it makes an impact... sometimes that's the only way to get notice - persistence, squeeky wheel and all that...

Melissa Westbrook said...

I do, Sahlia and they don't seem to be taking a bite on this story (I believe they will eventually). I have to say that the amount of investigative reporting in this City is quite small; you have to have something big to make them want to look at it.

The state audit of BEX coming in the fall might just do the trick but the linkage of Broad with the district isn't quite enough. Interesting, though, that the link that Gavroche put in to the ContraCosta Times story says that the Broad Foundation stopped their interaction with that school district because the Board got rid of their (Broad) superintendent. The quotes in the story seemed to imply relief.

Sahila said...

Melissa - I am glad you are doing that....

I dont mean to step on any toes here, and you probably know this already, but may I just put forward a question/suggestion as a journalist/pr/marketing person?

What kind of language are you using if you are sending out messages with title/heading bars?

Sometimes it takes using a little 'colour' or 'passion' in words to get attention, to draw in to look at the substance... and when journalists are overworked, underpaid and inundated with press releases which are not about news at all, but instead about products and services for which people want free advertising, or to express extreme right/left wing fanaticisms, it takes a lot to stand out and catch their attention...

Putting it in context (almost writing the story :-( ) and repetition, repetition, repetition of the same core points but from different angles seems to work really well....

An exercise in calm and patience...

Tho I dont get why there has been so little uptake on this; am wondering if the media (ownership) is swallowing the Gates/Broad/Duncan line and the journalists are too tired/apathetic to go look further....

Meg said...

I would love, really, REALLY love, to read or hear a non-canned response from the Superintendent. I'm not going to hold my breath, though.

This leaves me with a bunch of questions. 1) Does Treat work 75% of the year, or are you simply subtracting out weekends and a couple of weeks of vacations?

2) What are the stipulations from Broad if they're paying Treat's salary? Why is Treat's work on the strategic plan so critical that the Broad Foundation is willing to pay for it instead of, say, actual teachers in the classroom? Her answer doesn't, to me, get to the meat of the matter.

3) Whether or not the employees are new, the Superintendent requested an INCREASE in her budget for these staffers, at a point when she and the board are telling parents and schools that everyone has to make do with less. The $127K is a comically incremental amount in the face of the overall budget, but for ANY single school in the district, it's a HUGE chunk of change. Her answer to you appears to ignore the fact that even if she's not hiring new staffers, she is increasing her office's budget.

4) How much longer will the Broad Foundation be covering a portion of the salaries of Ms. Harmon and Mr. Cordell? And, given that the foundation has indicated the expect that the two will both be hired into SPS AND promoted, what's the bill for them that we'll be looking at when the foundation isn't partially funding them? It may (debatably) be a "good deal" in the short-term, but the long-term cost makes it look otherwise. To me, anyway.

Ultimately, I don't have anything in particular against the Broad Foundation, and I think it's well within the rights of a donor to attach substantial strings to money that they give. HOWEVER, I often get the sense that folks down in the central offices are very much seduced by the glossy, bold-faced names of foundations and don't really look closely enough at what it REALLY means, financially, for SPS (and yes, I'm thinking right now about using capital money to build The New School).

Melissa Westbrook said...

Treat's job description says 260 days of work. That's all I know.

I don't know why the Broad Foundation is paying Ms. Treat's salary and what they expect out of it. You'll note the Superintendent, despite the "why" in my question, did not answer it.

Mr. Carter and Ms. de Barros will continue half payment of their salaries through school year 2009-2010. The only other Broad resident is now a full SPS employee so my guess is come next year they will both be here.

And Meg, I asked all these questions because I believe these hires to be disrespectful to parents, teachers and students ( in the face of a financial crisis) and that the Board doesn't realize that this is pennywise and pound foolish. Getting something for half price when you have NO extra money is foolish. Signing on with a Foundation who clearly has some sort of expectations with districts they work with could be problematic down the line.

Sahila said...

For those wanting to know about all things Broad and Charters, here's a new blog that is/will be posting huge quantities of information, all sourced and referenced and on the public record...

http://seattle-ed.blogspot.com/

rosie said...

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