The Audit and Finance Committee met yesterday afternoon and the first order of business was a review/explanation of the concerns raised in Meg Diaz's analysis of central administration expenses. The meeting was very well attended. The three members of the Committee were there: Steve Sundquist, Peter Maier, and Michael DeBell. No other Board members were in attendance. Neither of the two Board members-elect were there. Duggan Harman did most of the talking for the staff, but there was a whole lot of other staff people in the room. I saw Phyllis Fletcher from KUOW, Dick Lilly from Crosscut, and Lynne Varner from the Seattle Times. There were at least two other members of the media present. There were also a lot of community members at the meeting including Meg Diaz, myself, Mel, Joanna Cullen, and Dorothy. Please chime in if you were there. There were a couple of guys from the State Auditor's office there as well.
For every concern that Meg raised in her analysis, the district staff had an excuse that made it a non-issue. To his great credit, for every new excuse Michael DeBell found a new concern. I wish that everyone who doubts Michael DeBell's interest in the job could have seen him at this meeting.
The budget categories shown to the board were not the same as those shown to the OSPI. Mr. Harman acknowleged the difference, gave some historical reason for it (claiming that it gave the Board a truer sense of how the money is being spent), and then said that according to a newly adopted Superintendent's Procedure (adopted in October) the Board will get an OSPI-compliant budget statement in future. There was no suggestion that this Superintendent's Procedure change had anything to do with Meg's report; it was as if they were making this change all on their own anyway. He did confirm and emphasize that the bottom line and all of the line items were the same, just the categorizations were different.
The District spends inordinate amounts of money on teacher supervision. Mr. Harman explained that the District had been reporting the cost of the teacher coaches as teacher supervision - an administrative expense - but that they will change to reporting it as teaching. That will shift enough money out of administrative costs to bring the District's administrative costs into line with state averages. There was some discussion as to whether teacher coaches should be categorized as a teaching activity or as a teacher supervision activity. Mr. Harman's contention was that it was legitimate to call them teachers because most of them spend most of their time in classrooms and they sometimes model teaching. Mr. Harman said that is was not appropritate to list them as teacher supervisors because they do not hire, fire, or evaluate the teachers. Director DeBell didn't accept that rationale. He wanted to know how other Districts classify teacher coaches. He wanted to know how much time the teacher coaches spent teaching. He wanted to know what direction the District got from the OSPI on how to categorize the cost of teacher coaches. BEST OF ALL, Director DeBell, upon seeing that Seattle Public School spends about $10.3 million a year on 111.5 teacher coaches - about $92,000 per coach and a coach for every thirty teachers - WAY more than any other district, asked the right question. He said that we have clearly taken coaching as a major strategy for improving student achievement and he wanted to know if it was proving effective. It wasn't a question that could be answered in the Finance Committee, but it is the big question for students. Director DeBell was ready. He had called over to Bellevue and asked how they categorized teacher coaches and why. He called the OSPI and asked them how they think that teacher coaches should be categorized (they said as teacher supervision). He did his own research. He asked if making hiring and firing decisions and writing evaluations were the determining characteristics of teacher supervision. He asked for data on the amount of time that teacher coaches spend modeling teaching technique. He was brilliant.
The District's central staff has doubled over the past ten years. Mr. Harman showed that once the 111 teacher coaches are removed from the count of central office staff the growth of the central office over the past ten years has been an extremely modest 2% and only 6 FTE. He showed that, after discounting for inflation, central office expense had grown by only 1.6% during that period. I'm curious about how much of that 1.6% is the superintendent's salary. I think it is about 1% of the 1.6%.
The District has too many supervisors and managers. Mr. Harman explained that a number of people in the central office are counted as managers or supervisors despite the fact that they don't manage or supervise anyone. Apparently there was some decision made in Human Resources that anyone with a paygrade level of 28 or higher would be counted as a manager. When these people are re-coded as non-managers the number of managers and supervisors in the central office drops down to an appropriate level. Mr. DeBell asked about the history of that decision in HR. Mr. Harman said that he asked around but could not find and documents only a vague oral history. Mr. DeBell asked about the pay range for the level 28 paygrade but neither Mr. Harman nor the person from HR at the meeting could say off the top of their head. Mr. DeBell said that he recalled that the District had to offer more money to IT professionals to retain them on staff and thought that they had to re-cast the jobs as management jobs to get them into the pay range necessary to be competitive in the job market. The HR guy then chimed in and said that was, in fact, the case. This made me wonder two things: 1. why didn't the guy from HR give that explanation to Mr. Harman when he was asking about it and 1. why didn't the guy from HR offer that explanation when Director DeBell asked about it and Mr. Harman said that he couldn't say. These jobs have now been re-coded as non-managerial jobs and the ratio of managers and supervisors in Seattle Public Schools is in line with other districts. According to another brand new Superintendent's Procedure that's how it will be done in future. Then Director DeBell stepped up with another great observation: why, when the State Auditor raised this issue didn't the District staff give them this explanation and correct the coding at that time? Why, instead, did the staff tell the State Auditor it was because our district is so big and complex and therefore we need more administrators, managers and supervisors? [crickets]
The rest of Mr. Harman's presentation was a recap of what he had already presented followed by a second recap all on one slide.
Director DeBell asked that both Mr. Harman's presentation and Meg Diaz's presentation be posted to the District web site.
Everyone - including Mr. Harman - thanked Meg profusely, but they did not allow her to speak.