Sunday, November 22, 2009

Danny Westneat Weighs in on Sup's Bonus

In this morning's Sunday Times (which has a big audience), he wrote about Dr. Goodloe-Johnson's bonus that was an introduction item to the Board last Wednesday. They vote on it in two weeks and what can they do? They negotiated the contract. I think they did this because they truly thought they were hiring someone who really was going to get things done. More on this in a minute.

Danny referenced this blog and some of the posts about this issue. Happy to hear Danny checks in here sometimes. Here's what he said:

"It's hardly a Goldman Sachs-style bonanza. It's no AIG outrage. But a plan to give the chief of Seattle Public Schools a pay-for-performance bonus — albeit only $5,280 — had parental jaws hitting homework tables around the city last week."

He gives some background:

"I'm willing to take the heat on this," DeBell said. "Anytime you set goals and then attach money to them, it's going to shine a much brighter spotlight on whether those goals are being achieved."

True, money raises the stakes. I probably wouldn't be writing this column about how Seattle schools met only four of 20 goals if someone wasn't getting a dubious cash reward for it.

But schools are not widget factories. Texas just spent $300 million on merit bonuses for teachers and saw no effect on student achievement. Or on teacher retention."

And this:

"For instance, she is getting a $1,320 bonus because 2,254 out of 3,019 city sixth-graders passed the WASL reading test. That's 26 more kids than the goal set by the board. And about a hundred more than passed the same test last year.Pretty specific. But I wonder: Does a central administrator in the job only two years have much to do one way or another with such small swings in citywide reading scores?"

So I have been considering two things about this. Neither is about whether or not she gets the bonus: it's in the contract and she did what she is contractually obligated to do to get it. (Whether she really deserves it or should keep it is up for discussion.)

One, to the Board and the Superintendent - good luck with those teacher contract negotiations in the spring. You certainly can push for merit pay or teacher review standards but boy, have you dug yourselves a hole. At the end of the day, Dr. Goodloe-Johnson did give direction to those teachers who raised the WASL scores her bonus is based on but the teachers had to do the work. They will be able to say, based on value-added data, we want more money for what we do.

Two, and this is something I have been thinking about for awhile, is that Dr. Goodloe-Johnson has been a bit of a whirling dervish since she got here.

  • audits (not all of them done yet, not all of them complete).
  • curriculum review of core high school subjects to be followed by middle-schools
  • Student Assignment Plan and everything that radiates out from that including Transportation, Capacity Management, facilities' maintenance and enrollment.
  • opening a STEM high school. It is a huge undertaking because of the time and resources involved and the absolutely necessary outreach both to parents and to the scientific community who both need to buy-in and be a part of this effort.
  • Strategic Plan - a huge, overarching vision for this district that has (too lazy to check right now) but about 30 different moving parts
  • MAP (Measures of Academic Progress) in every single school
  • One teacher contract negotiation with another one this spring
  • closing schools and reopening schools with all the necessary planning and costs involved
All this in two years.

Plainly stated, I think our Superintendent and our district are overreaching. I think they are trying to take on too much, too fast. I do not believe that any of these things are necessarily being done well and with the thought that is needed. Some of this, of course, had to get done but not all of it.

Does that mean I think staff is incompetent? Absolutely not. Does that mean I think staff isn't trying? Quite the opposite. I think they have so much on their plates, they are barely keeping their heads above water. I think they likely are tired and worried about getting things done. I get the distinct feeling (not often but sometimes) that staff wished they could say something publicly but can't. (I think that is true about staff I've been able to communicate with easily and now get my e-mails forwarded to Joy Stevens, the Public Disclosure officer. There are a couple of holdouts and if you are reading this, thanks.)

Are we a wealthy district with the money and staff to carry this out? Not really. I suspect that is why the Broad residents were brought in. They are smart management people who know how to plan and enact broad-based plans (and hey, they're half-priced for two years). There is a huge amount of moving parts here.

So why would anyone do this to herself and her staff? Well, you would if you were ambitious. You would if you had your sights set higher than a small urban district. Your resume would look hugely padded out if you had this list that you could say you planned and were sending into motion. You could say you left the district with a lot "done".

Dr. Goodloe-Johnson is a professional who is out to cut a big swath through this district. I think she takes no prisoners and is certainly not out to make friends or have any emotional attachment to our district. I wouldn't really call her a superintendent because I don't think she truly cares about this district as the living, breathing organism that it is. (Contrast that with John Stanford who embraced this place from the minute he took the job. I don't think he was the saint many have made him out to be but I did like his style and I felt he reached staff, the powers that be AND parents better than any superintendent I've seen. It does matter.)

I think the Board thought "here's someone to get it done and we don't care if she's touchy-feely."(Again, I said previously that I don't have to like her to respect her ability to get things done. Problem is, I see a whole lot of churn and not a lot of good things coming out of it.) I think they are a little surprised to see they got a gun for hire. I think they are hoping positive, forward things will come from all this effort and action.

Despite her raise last year and bonus to come this year, I'm still waiting.


hschinske said...

I don't think a lot of us realized that that 20-item goal list was a list of extra credit problems. Did the board?

Helen Schinske

MoneyPenny said...

They most certainly did. Peter Maier is a lawyer, and Steve Sundquist is a competent business person. You may not like it, but this is the deal the School Board struck. Personally, passing a new student assignment plan unanimously is a pretty big accomplishment, so I disagree that there hasn't been action.

Melissa Westbrook said...

I didn't say there wasn't action. I also said that some things did need to get done and the SAP would be one of them.

SPSMom said...

Bets on whether she takes it or leaves it on the table?

I say she takes it.

seattle citizen said...

Was the SAP one of the 20-odd factors that would trigger bonuses?

Is the raise she received enough to cover work on the SAP?

Is her salary enough to cover work on the SAP?

Since this is a group effort, do all district employees now get 2% bonuses, particularly those that sweated the details (Tracy Libros comes to mind)

Melissa Westbrook said...

She takes it.

dan dempsey said...

A quarterly report on the Strategic Plan was missed. Only 3 out of 4 reports in the last year.

Hardly worthy of a bonus.

Could someone please quote the contract language that says 4 out of 20 goals is worth $5,200. Did the board really enter into such a contract?

That WASL pass rate sounds more like normal statistical variation than significant improvement.

Remember 12 out of 13 high schools had lower WASL math pass rates in 2009 than 2008 (again few were probably statistically significant).

SPSMom said...

Since MGJ is getting a chunk of change for the 6th grade reading results I went back and checked how these 6th graders performed two years ago when they were 4th graders, MGJ's first year I believe.

District wide 4th grade Reading WASL = 80% pass

District wide 6th grade Reading WASL = 71% pass


Seems to me that we are losing ground here!

dan dempsey said...

SPSmom says same kids drop 9% but the board sees this as improvement. Welcome to the upside-down views of the Seattle School Directors.

Stu said...

Realizing that none of us have actually seen the contract, I have a stupid question.

If the bonuses are tied to specific achievements, 4 or which the district has met, why is there a vote? Wouldn't it be triggered automatically or is this just a procedural thing? Are they voting to give her the bonus or are the voting to allocate the money for the pre-determined bonus?

Can they vote no? Not this board, obviously, but a board that pays attention . . . could they actually vote no on this?


h2o girl said...

Sorry to hijack the thread, but thought some folks may be interested (if they're not at the curriculum mtg at Ballard the same night):

Mayor-elect Mike McGinn is holding a town hall meeting, Monday, Nov. 30 in north Seattle to give people a chance to share their thoughts about the future direction of Seattle.

The meeting is set for 7-9 p.m., Nov. 30, at the Northgate Community Center, 10510 - 5th Ave. NE.

Charlie Mas said...

This post by Mel hit me at just the right time. When I was talking to David Tucker about the failure to hold the community meetings on the STEM program that were supposed to have occurred in September and October, he said that he's sorry they couldn't do them but they were really busy with the new Student Assignment Plan.

I questioned him whether the people who were working on one project were the same people working on the other project.

What I should have asked instead was "Didn't they know, by the time they made the presentation to the Board on September 16 how busy they would be on the Student Assignment Plan?"

Melissa Westbrook said...

I'd also be willing to bet that in the last 10 years, the use of outside consultants in this district has risen dramatically.

dan dempsey said...

MoneyPenny said:
"Peter Maier is a lawyer, and Steve Sundquist is a competent business person. You may not like it, but this is the deal the School Board struck."

The Superintendents contract was signed in the summer of 2007. Neither Sundquist nor Maier took office until Dec 2007.

The credit if any goes to:
Chow, DeBell, Flynn, Butler-Wall, Soriano, Bass, Stewart

dan dempsey said...

Melissa wrote:"I'd also be willing to bet that in the last 10 years, the use of outside consultants in this district has risen dramatically."

And ... how has that improved anything?? Look for more of the same to come ... because this is an education fad that MGJ follows to be a knowledgeable in demand urban superintendent. Remember results are not as important as playing the "Club Ed" team game plan.

This would be the same type of planning that led the board to believe that a bonus for an over-paid superintendent would improve student learning.

John said...

Maybe I'm naive, but I think a public school superintendent who needs a nickel-and-dime cash incentive on top of a generous salary doesn't really have the right attitude.

At this point I'd be much more excited about somebody who wanted to excel even if their pay wasn't that great. Hey, just like my child's teacher!

SPSMom said...

It is amazing to think that the board wrote a contract to say MGJ could get $1,000 if 26 additional students pass a flawed test that is no longer being used.

What else is hidden in the fine print I wonder?

It really is amazing to watch.

FYI: Harium supports this, I saw a comment on the Seattle Times that showed his response to a parent.

Personally, I am ready to vote the whole board off the island.

Will be interesting to see what the new mayor thinks about this he's reading this blog!

dj said...

Charlie, what I don't get about that is that the SAP depends on people choosing Cleveland. It's an option school, which is great for the program if people choose it, not so much if noone knows what it is other than that it is located in a school that hasn't been a popular choice for parents to date.

I'd be amused by the prospect of what is going to happen to the district's projected numbers were it not for the fact that there are real kids affected by all of this.

Stu said...

Is MGJ's contract an ongoing thing or is it for a specific time period. For example, is it a 3-year contract, or 4-year contract, with certain "renewable" clauses, or is it just ongoing with annual bonuses and reviews?

I'm asking 'cause I'm thinking of starting a "when will MGJ leave Seattle" contest. I would put a giant grid online and everyone would get to "buy" one month over a three-year period. (As tie-breaker, each person picks a day within their selected month.) Each "pick" would cost a person a $5 donation to a public school PTA. In addition, each "player" commits to another $5 donation to the winner's PTA choice!

As for voting out the entire board, we couldn't even find a way to get Charlie Mas into the general election and he's one of the most knowledgeable people out there. I can't imagine we'll be able to make much of an overall change. Part of the problem is that there are people who like the direction of the board; there are people who believe in the "business-model" approach and the Gates Foundation and the Broad Foundation and all the great things that are going on in the district.


SPSMom said...

49 students listed CHS as a first choice this year. Lowest since 2006, when MGJ started.

too bad their isn't a "fine" structure in place for these kinds of dips. (see my WASL scores above)

MGJ would probably owe us!

Charlie Mas said...

Dori Monson will be talking about this on his KIRO radio show this afternoon. KIRO is now at 97.3 FM (no longer at 710AM).

Danny K said...

So why would anyone do this to herself and her staff? Well, you would if you were ambitious. You would if you had your sights set higher than a small urban district. Your resume would look hugely padded out if you had this list that you could say you planned and were sending into motion. You could say you left the district with a lot "done".

Bingo! She's going to have a bumper crop of "bullet points" for her resume, and she won't pay the price when all these new programs are dying on the vine. The APP reshuffle isn't going well and the admin isn't meeting any of their deadlines for curriculum. This is how they do it, they have no use for APP until it's time to tweak it again for another improvement plan.

I think parents need to start saying, politely but very bluntly, "Don't promise anything new until you keep your old promises. You have no more credibility."

When the economy improves, I fully expect there to be an exodus of students into private schools because their parents have given up the district's ability to deliver on its promises.

dan dempsey said...

Right on those promises. When the Super can only deliver three out of four required quarterly reports what chance does any promise have?

This is looking like hostages ... those who cannot afford out are held hostage. If you doubt this start examining the lowest performing largely black elementary schools. Think of being assigned to one of those schools with only the Super's promise to make every school a quality school.

wseadawg said...

Stu: And someday, like Alan Greenspan, they'll all say, "Gee, I was wrong."

A school district has as much in common with a for-profit business as Genghis Khan has with Gandhi.

The very idea that for-profit business models are appropriate for a school district is nuts. If the district were a business, it would stop doing business with lots of its customers right now, instead of hand-wringing over them. Ugh. It needs no further explanation.

Before MGJ says, "If we were a business," she ought to realize how foolish and fanciful that is coming out of her mouth, from a person who NEVER RAN A BUSINESS!
She may as well preface every statement with "If I were 20 feet tall and had 6 legs..."

Simply amazing.

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

While the Sup is getting a bonus, I am being asked to pay hundreds of dollars, on top of my tax dollars, to keep my kids public high school afloat.

To date, at my sons high school, I have paid the following:

$20 for mandatory Logbooks

$35.00 to the art teacher for art supplies

$25.00 to the science teacher for supplies (science, yikes!!!)

$50.00 for a yearbook (isn't $50 a bit steep?)

$30.00 for my family of 4 to see the school play X 4 times a year

$20.00 each Friday for my family of 4 to go to the football game

$90.00 for 2 auction tickets

$X00.00 for auction purchases

$100.00 Foundation/annual campaign donation.

And I pay these fees gladly because the school could not function without this money. But, it's like pouring salt on a wound to give the sup a bonus while we struggle and give what we can to keep our school above water.

Stu said...

Like adhoc, I never begrudged giving money to the elementary school our son attended, or to the Lowell fund. We went to auctions and plays, we sold wrapping paper and entertainment books, all so the educational experience could be improved.

What always bothered me, however, was that I remember the board discussing PTA fundraising during the APP split discussions. They were including fundraising figures in some of their discussions about school funding and a number of people pointed out that it was the job of the district to pay for a lot of these things and that, just 'cause we made up the difference, raised money should not be part of their calculations. Quite often, I would hear them discuss class size without mentioning that some of those sizes were "paid down." They never mentioned maintenance that, against the rules, parents managed to arrange. this was particularly serious when discussing the APP split 'cause there was no way that both schools were going to get the same kind of money that Lowell had been able to raise. They were splitting a community AND that community's ability to support the program. How's that turning out now?


dan dempsey said...

Hey Stu,

Keep in mind the "NEWS" lawsuit over funding education adequately. A decision will be given prior to end of February.

It is the paramount duty of the state to adequately fund education. The idea that the school directors are looking at PTA funds as part of the school budget makes me think that Mr. Ahearne will be winning the "NEWS" lawsuit for the plaintiffs.