Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Sophie's Choice

I wrote that title down when I looked at the choices being put before the Board at the Budget Work Session today. Later, a staff member called it the same thing.

As I said from my earlier live blogging attempt, there were a large number of handouts. I could not believe the district handed these out, in no order, not numbered or coded so you could follow along. If I were on the Board, I would find this pretty unacceptable. A couple of Board members said they wanted to see the money coming in AND where it goes. Michael stressed again and again, the need for transparency and consistency between what is said to the Board and what gets published to the community. Kay Smith-Blum, as a business owner, is used to see budget spreadsheets and I think she was kind of surprised at how all over the place the documents were. (Again, one of those times when you say "Is this by design or incompetency because this just isn't a coherent way to walk a group through a complex budget.") Note: I left before the meeting was over so this is not the complete discussion. I stayed for 2 hours.

Two of the most interesting handouts were (1) Revenue Survey and (2) School Look-Up. The Revenue Survey was a survey the district took of 20 Puget Sound districts and their spending for meal prices, Pay for Play and full day kindergarten. The School Look-Up is just interesting because it has all the SPS schools, enrollment, budget and cost per student. Very eye-opening.

I need Meg Diaz (or somebody) because I cannot read all these budget sheets and understand all the ramifications or even what they mean (what is ARRA IDEA?). Some of this balances on whether the Governor's Book 2 or the House or Senate budget get passed. (It seems the House budget is more favorable to education.) I also need Meg because they talked about central administration reductions and some of it seemed like voodoo to me.

It looks like the district has a nearly $25m gap to fill. There is a "structural gap" of $17.6M. STEM needs another $180K. NSAP needs almost a $1M. the Strategic Core Work needs almost $5M (for what? I don't know) and Academic Assurances, $788k. So some of the solutions are on page 11; cuts to central staff, reductions in WSS, shifts to grants, reduced "extra time" (is that overtime?), increased revenue, etc. A lot of these cuts would come in 2011.

They have a lot of ideas to trim the budget. In fact so many I'm not sure which lists are the ones they want to truly work from. But here are some ideas:
  • class sizes up. For primary a minimum of 19 to a max of 27.9 (for primary!). intermediate: from 18.7 min to 31.0 max. For middle school (core only): 20.1 min, 29.8 max and for high school (core only): 18 min and 26.7 max. (No, I don't know why the levels are higher for middle school than high school.)
  • at the back of the presentation there seemed to be a discussion of kindergarten. I don't know if they ended up getting to it. What is says is that they want to support equity across SPS, make full-day K as low cost as they can afford, allow schools to offer "enhanced" programs and "support focus on the classroom by minimizing the administrative load on schools". That last one is a little worrying because they mean having central administration take over. It might mean some loss of autonomy for schools but I don't know for sure. They have, on page 25, a couple of ideas. It's things like no tuition for 55% poverty schools (Title one funds will be used.), no tuition continues for F/RL eligible students and $207 monthly tuition at schools below the 55% poverty level.
Now the bad news. For some reason I 'm not sure I understand, staff showed WSS cuts and what they would look like. Considering that's reaching the classroom, I'm not sure why they did but they must be getting people ready for the worst. What they did is get a team of people from elementary, middle and high schools, have them study the issue and make a list, went to the high schools and asked the principals there (again not sure why the high schools) and then made this list in priority order (page 12).
  • eliminate elementary counselors
  • reduce HS academic intervention specialists by .5
  • eliminate core cert .5 allocation for middle
  • eliminate core cert .5 allocation for 3 K-8s
  • eliminate core cert .5 allocation for 3 biggest elementaries
  • increase HS non-core funding ratio: 1 @ 35
  • increase MS non-core funding ratio: 2@32
  • increase funding ratio for grade 4 by 2
Options to Classroom Cuts
  • eliminate planned zone crew - (This is for the general maintenance that I have gone on and one about. The thing here that makes no sense is that this money doesn't exist because we haven't had zone crews in years. So cut it but the source of this money - nearly $1M - was never identified so I don't know how you can cut it.)
  • eliminate...athletics (almost $2M)
  • eliminate...elementary instrumental music
  • WSS FDK funding
  • reduced transportation
There's the Sophie's Choice. I'll let you think about it and try to get to another post on the the directors reactions.

75 comments:

Bird said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
J said...

ARRA IDEA = Special Ed Stimulus $

SolvayGirl1972 said...

At Graham Hill, the (wonderful) counselor covered everything for Kelso's Choice (conflict management) to calling DSHS when needed. In this day and age, I don't see how most schools could get by without a counselor.

Bird said...

I'd rather get rid of the math coaches. At my kid's school I can't see what they do that the classroom teachers can't do on their own.

I'd much rather keep the counselors and the instrumental music. That provides added value.

reader said...

Yes, the special ed stimulus dollars. All those unriffed teachers... those were on the backs of our special education students. The next time you think that we spend too much on special ed... just remember all those genereal education teachers were unriffed with disability funds.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Well, yes, the coaches kind of came in here but not in an elimination way. One, they are now claiming they only had a 100 coaches and are down 28 and that is just not what they said to the Board Committee when they were explaining Meg Diaz' report. I want a real live head count of coaches because I'm not buying their value and I'd toss them before elementary music or intervention specialists.

Melissa Westbrook said...

I read that back and realized it sounds quite callous. The coaches are real people doing a job so my apologies. However, if we are having to make big cuts and keep them out of the classroom, then the coaches seem more easily reduced than the role of counselors, intervention staff or elementary music. But that's just me.

mark said...

Yes, most definately math coaches before counselors. I teach in a south end school and our counselor is invaluable to what we do in the classroom. I can't imagine what it would be like to not have a counselor. Teachers and administration would certainly be tapped to an extreme.

ttln said...

This is proposed?At our staff meeting yesterday, much of that on the list of possibilities appeared as our new reality. This is a done deal. We were told all buildings were taking a 1.2% cut off the top. The .5 certificated core position, gone. Where the rest of the cuts are is hard to tell, since we lost 72 students due to our new 'functional capacity' determination. Functional capacity- not determined by the actual building/program capacity but by the number of students feeding into the school. Totally opposite what was said by Libby(?) at the community engagement meetings. Not only that, but we are not allowed to fill to capacity by accepting students who may want to opt in from over crowded buildings (Mercer +111, for example, into an already packed building). This is also a change from what we had been told from the first West Seattle community engagement meeting until, well, last Friday when the principal received the news. Morale in our buiding is abysmal.
Also shared was that throughout the district, many first year teacher contracts were not renewed- teachers informed before the break, principals informed at some point during the break.
So, what real choices are being made? Or are we just given the 'worst case senario' to work with that isn't real, but will have us prepared just in case it is? Talk about a morale killer.

Keepin'On said...

I went online and read the presentation - it is a bit vague-but I think til they get final numbers from the state, it must be hard to prepare a budget. The two timelines do not coincide at all.

So, after a review, I would look to eliminate coaches, rather than counselors or music as I don't think anyone has any idea what they do. I have never even seen one in the buildings my kids are in -so if they are presenting a valuable and important service, the district needs to make that very clear. The fact that they hesitate and do not do so makes me curious, as I think Michael DeBell is , about what these folks do.

And I know they all are people with families, etc, so to fire them is is not a decision to make lightly. You would think though, if they are performing a more valuable service that counselors or music teachers, the district would get their backs and be shouting it from the rooftops.

I also think Transportation should be reduced before any cuts to staff in buildings. One would think that would be the first [place they would look to cut, as we have a far more generous transportation system than neighboring districts. I would eliminate the bus for anyone not going to school in their attendance area. Hard to swallow, but I think most people would, if given the choice, have the transportation put in line with neighboring districts rather than lose teachers again.

As for the class sizes, I don't know where there are schools that DON"T have those ratios now. We in the north end have been dealing with 28 kids in kindergarden and primary grades for quite a few years now, so this is not exactly news.

Perhaps MGD could volunteer do donate 10% of her salary back to the district as a goodwill gesture as well. Ha.

SPSmom said...

What I think the biggest issue is the MGJ/Kennedy combo. They work together to spin things around and around. (The # of coaches then and now is a perfect example.)

If I were the board, Kennedy would be gone and the board would replace with an outsider who worked for the board/greater community. I am sure if you proposed that you would get the line, "It is the superindendents responsibility to hire this position."

Meg said...

I'll echo ttln here - schools have received their 2010-11 budgets. I don't know how much room for change there actually is.

I took a gander at the school look-up. The grand total of spending for ALL schools is $303m. Except if you compare that to the 2009-10 Operating Budget, Teaching plus Principal's Office equals $368m. What I am saying is that schools are getting approximately $60m LESS than is purportedly being spent on just teachers and principals. In theory, schools should be HIGHER than teaching + principals, because school budgets encompass a great deal more than simply teachers and principls. Right? Not $60m less? I could buy that there are a certain number of teachers who don't appear on individual school budgets, but $60+m? That's not an incremental amount of money.

So am I missing something in thinking this is very, very odd, or does something smell very fishy?

LynneC said...

Oh I know we all know this, but how in the world can they be pouring all that money into Cleveland but cutting so many valuable things -- taking away school counselors makes a teacher's job so much more difficult. If you have a student with behavioral or emotional issues you no longer have anyone to help with it. Instead it's up to you to deal with that in the classroom every day, while you're also dealing with bigger class sizes, losing autonomy to a new aligned curriculum that you're expected to master, PLUS facing constant pressure because of all of the emphasis on teacher performance. Arrgh. And instrumental music gone? They only fund one half day a school as it is! Athletics? At the high school level the funding is already abysmal. Without an extremely high level of parent fundraising schools have virtually no hope of having a viable program that can compete with other 4A schools. This craziness has just got to stop. It's reminding me of the '70s, when levies failed, new private schools opened up, and anyone with the resources to do so bailed. Ok, done with my rant.

LynneC said...

Oh I know we all know this, but how in the world can they be pouring all that money into Cleveland but cutting so many valuable things -- taking away school counselors makes a teacher's job so much more difficult. If you have a student with behavioral or emotional issues you no longer have anyone to help with it. Instead it's up to you to deal with that in the classroom every day, while you're also dealing with bigger class sizes, losing autonomy to a new aligned curriculum that you're expected to master, PLUS facing constant pressure because of all of the emphasis on teacher performance. Arrgh. And instrumental music gone? They only fund one half day a school as it is! Athletics? At the high school level the funding is already abysmal. Without an extremely high level of parent fundraising schools have virtually no hope of having a viable program that can compete with other 4A schools. This craziness has just got to stop. It's reminding me of the '70s, when levies failed, new private schools opened up, and anyone with the resources to do so bailed. Ok, done with my rant.

LynneC said...

Not sure why that posted twice, my apologies. . .

Stu said...

Not sure why that posted twice, my apologies. . .

That's ok . . . it needed to be said twice!

stu

gavroche said...

LynneC said...(...) This craziness has just got to stop. It's reminding me of the '70s, when levies failed, new private schools opened up, and anyone with the resources to do so bailed. Ok, done with my rant.

...which leads us right back to the Chaos Theory... is it possible that the pro-charter, pro merit-pay, Broad Foundation Board Member Goodloe-Johnson and her comrades in standardized testing and STEM-implants, B&M Gates have a vested interest in SPS schools falling into disarray -- so they can bring in private enterprises via charters or "private/public partnerships" (i.e. NTN at Cleveland) as the (false) "solution"?

How else does one explain all the unnecessary upheaval in the District in the three years Supt G-J has been here?

How else do you explain her support of lowering standards district-wide by imposing a D-average for graduation, and her support for unsound math texts, and her support for larger class sizes, her disdain for teachers and the union, and her uprooting and splitting of some of the District's top-performing schools and programs like Nova and APP?

Does this sound like "excellence" to any of you?

It all smells of sabotage.

Or gross malfeasance.

It may well lead to SPS families who have the means to bail the district doing just that. Those who are left behind will be the lower-income families who cannot afford any other option, many of them families of color. And they will be a demographic that will be "ripe" for intervention in the form of KIPP or Green Dot-style charters, to use Broad's own words.

The one fly in the ointment for the reformites like Broad and Gates and MGJ is the economy.

More and more of us are falling into the category of not being able to afford private schools.

In fact, enrollment is UP in SPS -- a record high of 46,000 (for recent decades).

So we are staying in the system and we don't like the "reforms" and the false choices this Broad-led District is making.

So what are we going to do about it? Perhaps the ball is actually in our court. And perhaps that means actually going to court like the sound math advocates did. Or recalling Board Members who have been enabling this chaos with their arbitrary and capricious "Yes" votes for everything MGJ demands.

blumhagn said...

I'm not necessarily opposed to removing transportation grandfathering for all kids outside their assignment area (assuming you supply transportation for special ed, etc. that have to go somewhere else for service). BUT... if you do that, you have to make space for all of those kids at their assignment area schools.

blumhagn said...

I'm not necessarily opposed to removing transportation grandfathering for all kids outside their assignment area (assuming you supply transportation for special ed, etc. that have to go somewhere else for service). BUT... if you do that, you have to make space for all of those kids at their assignment area schools.

Stu said...

I'm not an accountant but, it appears to me, there are lots of places you can cut before you start cutting sports and music. (First of all, they barely support music as it is and many sports are booster-supported.)

If I was Superintendent, or a Board member, the very first thing I would do is order a 10% cutback in every single administration salary.

Next you starting cutting administrative support positions, or cut them to half time; the very first line of cuts should not be in the schools themselves.

Every one of the magic appearing/disappearing coaches? Gone! I'm not saying they're not necessary, I'm saying that they go before teachers go.

Transportation out of cluster, with the exception of alternative and special ed programs, that aren't available anywhere else, gets cut too.

STEM? Not this year!

Must do STEM? No NTN contract . . .make it homegrown so that you don't have to pay double salaries.

You wanna save some more money? Fire every single person in the IT Department who, after all these years, hasn't been able to wean us from the outdated computer. We live in one of the most technologically advanced areas of the world; there are lots of talented, possibly unemployed, engineers and software designers out there who could get a new computer system online in a matter of weeks.

There, off the top of my head, how many millions have we saved?

stu

FHS85 said...

Is the "school look-up" available on the SPS website? I can't find it.

TechyMom said...

"You wanna save some more money? Fire every single person in the IT Department who, after all these years, hasn't been able to wean us from the outdated computer. We live in one of the most technologically advanced areas of the world; there are lots of talented, possibly unemployed, engineers and software designers out there who could get a new computer system online in a matter of weeks."

Do this first! In fact, fire them for cause, not just cost cutting. Surely there must be an off-the-shelf system we can use, now that we have a more traditional neighborhood school model? What software do other districts use?

SolvayGirl1972 said...

"Surely there must be an off-the-shelf system we can use, now that we have a more traditional neighborhood school model? What software do other districts use?"

I don't see how "more traditional" we are now, at least not at the high school level. Friends are perplexed as to how to apply (and are waiting anxiously for the "assignment" they are supposed to receive this month so they can see how the form is configured for choosing another school.)

Consider this scenario. Mary J. is assigned to RBHS, but really wants to go to Garfield, so she wants to try for one of the golden ticket choice spots. If she can't get Garfield, she'd prefer Sealth next, then Franklin, then The Center School, and on down the line with RBHS as her last choice. (Note that this scenario is playing out in many southend homes.)

If Mary doesn't make the lottery cut for Garfield, where will she land? Won't, feasibly, the lottery choice slots at Sealth get snapped up by others who put it as their first choice? And on down the line...?

Under the old system, there was a distance tiebreaker, so distance trumped someone's first choice. Now, a lottery is a lottery (with of course the complication of a sibling tiebreaker).

I don't consider this a traditional or simple system at all. And it certainly isn't predictable. The Catholic private schools are going to rake in a fortune in "fall-back" deposits this year specifically because public high school assignment is so unpredictable if you want something other than your neighborhood school.

Melissa Westbrook said...

And keep in mind about high school enrollment (because I did miss it); the high school enrollment is predicated on STEM at Cleveland being popular. They didn't just estimate how many kids from each comprehensive would go there, they are planning for it. So if 82 kids from Ballard/Magnolia/QA don't go to Cleveland, then they will take seats at Ballard and there go the 10% choice seats. If STEM doesn't work, there will be far fewer seats available for choice at comprehensives.

Keepin'On said...

That is so true SolvayGirl. Especially because SPS is not even letting you know what program or school you will get until JUNE if you do the open choice spot enrollment or spectrum program application.

Deposits for private schools are due in MARCH. Tuition payments start in June.

Nice job SPS.

Stu said...

Surely there must be an off-the-shelf system we can use, now that we have a more traditional neighborhood school model? What software do other districts use?

The people who code for amazon.com, microsoft, google . . they all live here. You mean someone can't program the variables and get a system that works? I do a little bit of coding, and am not very good at it, and even I can figure out a way for a computer to do some of the variables. Worst case, if something's complicated, it spits it out for someone to look at.

How many years have they used the VAX as an excuse? Fire 'em all.

stu

SE Mom said...

OK, for those of you wanting to make bets on high school enrollment for next year:

Does my kid have a better chance of scoring a choice seat at Sealth or Garfield?

Probably more out of area siblings at Garfield to use up choice seats. But maybe fewer kids opting for Cleveland from Sealth. What to do, what to do...it's enough to make me crazy.

Stu said...

Someone once wrote on this blog, I think it was during the whole APP split thing, that they believed the district was doing all this ridiculous stuff on purpose so that they could intentionally drive people from the district.

If I remember the logic, and it stayed with me because it made some sick sense, it held that if all of the families who might be able to afford private school actually went to private school, that would lower the expectation of the public school system a bit and they would no long have to offer some of the elective and more advanced programs. If you have a district that teaches to the "middle," and only have "middle" students, that district will be more successful. If you eliminate all music and art, and lots of sports, then the families that believe those are essential elements of a complete education will have to go elsewhere.

Sick and twisted, perhaps a bit evil, but not that far off the mark.

stu

Dorothy said...

SE Mom, I believe you get the Barnhard-Waldman amendment this year, so you are not penalized for putting your choices in the order you want.

I am in the FireTthe Whole IT Department camp. It's unconscionable that we still are tangled up in the VAX and there is not regular off backup/disaster recovery plan. I do acknowledge to do the IT right would take more than a few weeks, but a qualified team could get it done in less than a year. The current size of the department is way out of line as well.

LA Teacher's Warehouse said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
LA Teacher's Warehouse said...

One thing we should be clear about: displacing coaches will not save teacher jobs. Most, if not all, coaches are certified. If they are displaced from their coaching jobs, they will return to the classroom. That means displaced coaches will, in turn, cause teachers will less seniority to be riffed.

wsnorth said...

The Vax excuse is the lamest thing I've ever heard!

Can someone explain this more (from Dorothy): "Barnhard-Waldman amendment this year, so you are not penalized for putting your choices in the order you want." We have the same choice of Sealth or Garfield, living in neither area.

wsnorth said...

... and the way the district purposefully overloaded Sealth and undersubscribed WSH is crazy! It is as if they are trying to keep "out of area" kids out of Sealth for some bizarre reason.

Dorothy said...

Well, you probably have a better chance at Sealth because of siblings at Garfield and the attendance area is bigger than the tie breaker distance of the last couple years. (Is that correct?) But that doesn't mean that putting Garfield first would hinder your chances at Sealth.

The B-W amendment is that instead of a "simple" lottery, the algorithm is a variant of the "stable marriage" algorithm which is a well known algorithm used often to maximize the most people's desired choice. It's a little hard to explain and it is not intuitive at first glance. But when you get it, it makes sense and it really does optimize choice and allows folks to list their choices in their actual desired order without penalty. I can't explain it right now, perhaps someone else can. (check wikipedia for stable marriage algorithm)

The district has decided to do away with the B-W amendment. (Conspiracy theorists say it's because it helps people too much) but alas, that damned VAX is coded for using it and it is too much risk of breaking everything if they delete the code this year.

ArchStanton said...

Ahh, the VAX. Is there nothing it can't be a scapegoat for? It deserves it's own thread.

Seriously. I don't know what it's problem is, but if it's in danger of physically failing, someone ought to be able to program an emulator - then at least they could continue to run the same software on modern equipment.

I mean really, can anyone here explain specifically what the problems with the VAX are?

wsnorth said...

I'll bet a 5th grade traditional math class could figure out how to replace the VAX with a random number generator and "blind" assignment algorithm. Of the 45,000students, we are mostly talking about K, 6, and 9 here, and of those some % must be happy with their area school (we were, until they assigned us an "elementary area" school far away, out of our neighborhood...). So how many "assignments" are we talking here? A few thousand?

StepJ said...

This link explains the B-W method of assigning students much better than I can.

SolvayGirl1972. I'd be be happy to help you more offline if you will contact me at help2enroll@hotmail.com.

As for current IT staff. It is true that the project underway could and should have been accomplished by now. I know more than one consultant who has started with SPS and then left within less than two months because of the crummy work environment.

The majority of tasks to complete the project are reliant on folks outsite of IT to set requirements, test and approve the new system. Yet, these folks are incredibly resistant to participating in developing the new system. Nor are they held accountable for not participating. Instead, the contractors are held accountable.

As the contractors are in a no-win situation, and are in-demand professionals they just say no thanks, good luck and leave. Of course word spreads through the tech. community of what a miserable place SPS is to work so they have difficulty hiring new contractors.

People are held accountable for failure. Just the wrong people.

Dorothy said...

Stepj, thanks for that link on the BW, I'd seen that before but forgot how to find it.

You are right that it's those that are supposed to be supervising IT or working with IT in other departments that ought to be canned. Yet I have also heard from reliable witnesses that the work culture within IT is not professional. Seems like since all the truly professional IT folks would leave quickly or not even accept a job at SPS, the ones who are willing to live with such a lack of professional quality are not worth keeping either. A catch-22 perhaps. Those that have been willing to work there for any significant length of time are clearly demonstrating that they aren't worth keeping.

StepJ said...

Dorothy - I don't disagree about current IT staff. That is definitely part of the problem. There are many IT professionals that are fully capable of straddling both the old and the new. And the issue with the current VAX staff is they seem willing to only keep to the old and have convinced staff at SPS they are the only and rare breed that can handle that wile VAX.

Not true. But, they have convinced the people that hire and fire that it is true.

If current IT staff does not cooperate and current Enrollment staff does not cooperate - they are all effectively forestalling the day when their positions will be obsolete.

Sully said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
SolvayGirl1972 said...

Thanks for the link StepJ.

I was pretty clear on how the old system worked with the distance requirement, but how does it work with a lottery-only (save for those pesky siblings)? Does EACH student get a lottery number that sticks with them (like the old draft system from the '70s)? So those with low lottery numbers would keep getting dumped into their next choice until they finally hit one? That would make some sense. I was assuming that each school's lottery was a separate entity and those ping-pong balls would whirl giving a different number at each school.

But as noted in my earlier post. This is no more predictable nor simple than the old system. I guess it will be more so next year.

Sully said...

As it is right now instrumental music in elementary school is a joke. Another one of those "in name only" things.

The district offers 5th grade students (and only 5th grade students) an opt in instrumental music program which includes 40 minutes of instruction one time per week. That's not enough time to learn anything, especially with 30 kids in the class all trying to learn different instruments. It just doesn't work. All the instruction really accomplishes is for kids to get acquainted with their instrument. An instrument, btw, that the district doesn't provide.

At this point it wouldn't make much of a difference if they cut elementary instrumental music. Tragically, our kids don't get much out of it the way it's currently offered anyway.

Our elementary students deserve a real music program, not one "in name only". No wonder we have one of the highest number of families attending private school in the nation.

Meg said...

There was a review of DoTS (dept of technology services) in April of 2008 by the council of great city schools. Feel free to slog through it, but the precis is: an ineffective hot mess of a department that is absurdly overstaffed (there's a nice little chart on page 28 illustrating just HOW overstaffed). The same review also covers finance and HR (and is not very complimentary about those departments).

I'm going to be a little bratty and basically re-comment: does anyone understand why schools get so much less money ($60m-ish) than the total for teaching plus principals?

Michael Rice said...

SolvayGirl1972 writes:

Consider this scenario. Mary J. is assigned to RBHS, but really wants to go to Garfield, so she wants to try for one of the golden ticket choice spots. If she can't get Garfield, she'd prefer Sealth next, then Franklin, then The Center School, and on down the line with RBHS as her last choice. (Note that this scenario is playing out in many southend homes.)

All I can say to all of the parents in the RB attendance area, is to come visit the school and see for yourself what is happening here. We will offer as much rigor as any other high school in the city, but with a more personalized approach.

If, after you visit, you decide that RB is not for your child, then thank you and good luck.

However to just dismiss RB as a viable option for your child without even taking the time to visit and actually see a school day and talk to teachers, staff and administrators is to be part of the problem and not part of the solution.

We have already held an open house at night, and we are scheduling school tours as I write this. However to visit me, you don't need to do any of that, just walk through the fornt door and tell the office, you are here to visit with Mr. Rice.

I look forward to meeting many of you before you make a decision on where to send your child for high school.

Sully said...

As I recall (and please correct me if I'm wrong) Solvaygirl said she showed up for one of the tours at RBHS a few years ago, but nobody at the school even knew it was happening. Not even the principal.

That wouldn't leave a great first impression. Especially when Garfield, right down the road, is hosting well planned tours with coffee and snacks, presentations by the PTSA, speeches by the principal and teachers, open classrooms, and the award winning jazz band entertaining families.

But, it sounds like RBHS has come a long way in the past few years. The SE initiative brough more rigorous classes, and Lisa Escobar, a proven leader has joined the community.

I'd give the school a look if I lived in the neighborhood. If for no other reason than it provides a smaller more personal community, and the my kid might get Michael Rice as a teacher!

SPSmom said...

RE: Choosing not choosing RBHS. My problem is that it is a school that is in the process of getting turned around and I don't have enough time for my student to be a part of this process. I need a high school with a proven track record.

I also have noted, that MGJ placed her child in a successful school. Had she gone to one of the more struggling schools I would have more faith her "It will take time, but all schools will be high quality schools" mantra.

She did not put her money where her mouth is. I am left asking why is a struggling school a good option for my kid and not hers? Why should I trust her commitment?

agibean said...

SPSmom-I know I've mentioned this before, but South Shore (New School) has one of the ONLY PRESCHOOLS in the public school system that is NOT either Head Start or attached to an in-school daycare. MGJ had a PRESCHOOLER, not a K-5 student so she needed a PRESCHOOL.

The Head Start programs are usually resctricted to low-income children and the daycare preschools are all over the place in terms of quality. Also, they have specific numbers of kids for all-day care they can take and don't always have the room when parents want them.

So maybe because she lives in the area and had a PRESCHOOL student she chose the PUBLIC SCHOOL with a PRESCHOOL that is part of the SAME PROGRAM as the REST OF THE SCHOOL.

I don't know why you people don't get this! We applied to the SS preschool and ended up on the waiting list. We didn't get there until 2nd grade. So we had to pay for a different preschool program then change schools. Maybe MGJ wants her kid in the same school for 9 years. If had a been a good fit for us, we'd have done the same thing.

This has nothing to do with her putting her money where her mouth is-the surrounding public schools do not have PUBLIC PRESCHOOLS. If she'd have gone with a private one, you folks would be all over her for THAT.

FWIW, this is independent of any thoughts I have on MGJ's effectiveness. I just am boggled by the fact that you have issues with her choosing a public school that offers the GRADE LEVEL education she needs.

Michael Rice said...

SPSMom writes:

RE: Choosing not choosing RBHS. My problem is that it is a school that is in the process of getting turned around and I don't have enough time for my student to be a part of this process. I need a high school with a proven track record.

Sounds like a classic chicken/egg thing. All I ask is that you come visit Raineir Beach High School and see for yourself. I don't know if you have a child who is going to be a 9th grader next year, but if you do, I know your child will be challenged just as much (more likely more) as any other school in the district and it will be in small school environment with lots of personal attention.

SolvayGirl1972 said...

Michael...sorry I used RBHS as the example, but the point I was making was that the new system is no more predictable or simple than the old one. I am sure there are parents all over the District who prefer a school other than their assignment school. I just used the example many of my friends are wrestling with.

And, as for rigor...the rigor may be great at RBHS for the honors classes, but 9th graders are all lumped together for most of their core classes, and the school has had a problem with classroom disruption and discipline. I hope the new staff additions can turn things around.

StepJ said...

More on HS assignment...

You will be assigned a separate lottery number for each school you apply.

If more people apply than open seats your assignment will be determined by the tie breakers.

1. Sibling
2. Lottery

If there are more siblings than space available then assignment will be given to the siblings with the lowest lottery numbers.

If you don't gain assignment to your first choice then processing of your application continues on to your second choice. You are assigned a new lottery number for your second choice and on it goes.

The wait list is put together using the tie breaker criteria.

Different than past years you will no longer be able to select a school for your wait list. The only option available is to be on the wait list of the school you list as first choice.

Overall, you will likely have better odds of getting into an Option School than an Attendance Area school as all seats are open for assignment at the Option school vs. just the 10% set aside at the Attendance Area school.

Apologies to the majority as I know this is off topic for this thread.

Patrick said...

Dorothy, are you really saying that there is NO off-site backup for student registration information? If there was a fire in district HQ, no one would know what students we had? If so, that is grossly irresponsible and the people in IT should not only be fired for cause but barred from working in the IT industry ever again. That goes beyond whether they're using a Vax or some other hardware. If they don't want to send that information over the network, burn CDs with the data on them and send them to a couple of the schools for safekeeping. Or punch a card deck if they are such antique lovers.

By the way, no one would have to write a Vax emulator. Commercial quality Vax emulators are available (such as http://www.stanq.com/charon-vax.html). But, really, database software can and should be independent of the hardware.

Working Together said...

Melissa-- Can you post a link to the school look up?

Thank you!

rugles said...

To give them the benefit of the doubt, lets assume they have offsite backup.

If there was a fire and it destroyed the Vax what would they do?

Given the current status quo, wouldn't they try to purchase another Vax?

Patrick said...

They'd probably purchase an emulated Vax. It would be important to get the databases up and running again quickly, and a good IT shop should have it done within a couple of days of locating a usable computer room. I hope they've practiced restoring their data onto a new machine.

I don't know how much has been done already, but adapting a large database to a different design could easily take months or a year. (But how long have they been working on it?)

wsnorth said...

RE: high school rigor

I guess we are a bit off topic, but is there a place where the district lists how many AP classes various high schools have? How many does RBHS offer, for instance?

SolvayGirl1972 said...

wsnorth—there are no AP classes at the 9th grade level, except perhaps for the official AP kids at Garfield. That's the issue. Many schools, not just RBHS, lump all the students together in the 9th grade year, so there is often much less rigor and more disruptive behavior—even at Garfield. Some (most?) do have some semblance of honors classes, but not all.

Patrick said...

I suppose it's just another coincidence that this comes up a couple of days after the Board has signed the NTN contract, rather than a couple of days before.

dan dempsey said...

Patrick,

Are you implying that at the time of the NTN contract the board was unable to see even a couple weeks ahead?

I thought everyone knew we were in a very budget restricted environment.

The academic performance of these NTN schools shows they should not be copied at any price. So given the boards ongoing difficulty in using evidence to make decisions, I doubt more information would have influenced any of the 4-4-4 from 2007 from voting 4.

it is clear that MG-J chose the NTN over all these other (likely more worthy) needs and foor directors said: "Yes. we see" and then voted yes."

Stu said...

I suppose it's just another coincidence that this comes up a couple of days after the Board has signed the NTN contract, rather than a couple of days before.

What I find constantly amazing is that they simply refuse to demand facts from the staff and yet, at the same time, refuse to carefully look over facts delivered by anyone else. If you're not willing to do the research at least accept the research others have done.

The NTN contract stuff is ridiculous; if they signed a contract saying it had to be two separate academies with two sets of teachers, principals, staff, etc., while at the same time telling us the opposite, then they're either stupid, immoral, or evil. There really is no in between. Did you read the contract? That's it, then. If you didn't understand something, and didn't ask questions or thought you could just ignore it, you're stupid! If you understood it all and signed anyway, you're a liar and should be recalled. Perhaps, Harium is right and there are pages we're not seeing but, being a public body, we're supposed to see everything.

This is a lawsuit waiting to happen; I can't believe they would leave themselves this wide open.

stu

Melissa Westbrook said...

Patrick, that is correct. There is no off-site data storage (or very, very limited). That was in BTA III at Harium's insistence (not that no one argued about it but he kept on it). He couldn't believe either that we have no data back up. So yes, if there was a fire or some other destructive episode, all the registration data on students would be lost.

hschinske said...

wsnorth—there are no AP classes at the 9th grade level, except perhaps for the official AP kids at Garfield.

Once again, AP courses at Garfield are for anyone who has the prerequisites, but are not generally available to 9th-graders--at least that was the policy last year. (The only exception I can think of is if a student came in who was already ready for AP calculus; I assume any school that had AP calculus would allow a qualified 9th-grader to take it.)

Helen Schinske

Dorothy said...

Patrick, Melissa already answered better than I could that BTA3 which just passed has a disaster data recovery part. There is currently none or very little.

"I don't know how much has been done already, but adapting a large database to a different design could easily take months or a year. (But how long have they been working on it?)"

Here's part of an email the current Chief Information Officer Jim Ratchford sent to Kay Smith Blum in response to a query from me. I haven't asked but don't expect he would mind me sharing it, as it shows history and he seems like the most competent person who has been in his position.

"When I signed on as Chief Information Officer in June 2008, four projects had been established to migrate the VAX to new technologies and to retire the VAX. This made sense as the manufacturer of the VAX (a mainframe computer system) had discontinued this equipment in 2000. Since 2000, the District planned, funded through BTA and BEX levies and initiated projects to retire the VAX. My initial research revealed that meaningful work began in 2005. However, only marginal progress had been made through 2008. In early 2008, the Superintendent, CAO and CF/OO determined that this was unacceptable, made this a strategic objective, and prioritized this work.

Retirement of the VAX mainframe is my top priority. There is a technical team in-place to fully execute multiple projects to create new/replacement systems that will allow VAX retirement. It is easy to understand a view that this work should be straight forward to able to be completed in short order. Particularly if the assumption is that old software is simply being rewritten into new software. However, this isn’t the case. There is more than one software solution running on the VAX to support a variety of systems (i.e. Student Assignment, Student Registration, Special Ed, Bilingual, Transportation, Safety & Security, Child Nutrition, etc.). There are many dependencies between the VAX systems and non-VAX systems currently in-use. These dependencies make the work complex. Then, there is the additional work to create new systems to support the New Student Assignment System. Much of this work directly relates to the VAX and increases the complexity of the coding of new software and ultimately retirement of the VAX."

He concludes that retiring the VAX is his top priority and that work is scheduled to be done by Fall 2011. I guess this is such big work and supposedly budgeted for, there's no time or budget (yet) for disaster planning offsite storage. One would hope that with BTA3 passing, that could be done simultaneous with the VAX work.

(but if work had been done professionally from the get-go, there would be disaster data recovery in place and there would not be all these software dependencies that are so hard to untangle.)

Stu said...

He concludes that retiring the VAX is his top priority and that work is scheduled to be done by Fall 2011.

I'm sorry. I'm sure that Mr. Ratchford is a nice guy, and he's only been there since 2008, but 6 years to do this work is just insane. The only way it could take this long is if the people working on it are deliberately taking their time 'cause they know they won't be able to get a job anywhere else. (Who would hire one of these guys if the last 6 years were spent doing a single job . . . badly?)

First of all, there are VAX emulators that run on a standard PC. THAT transition should have been done immediately 'cause then the backups would have been simple. Next: are they telling us that no other school system in the world does similar stuff to what we do and, therefore, there's no way we could just start over with a new, pre-programmed, system? Even re-entering all the data would take less time than what they're doing now, and would use cheaper staff to do it!

This is high-priced incompetence and no board member, let alone a Superintendent, should have stood for this all these years.

stu

Dorothy said...

Oh, it's not just 6 years, recall that the money was allocated as early as levies from 2000. I wonder what would happen if he could fire the whole group and restart. I am fully agreeing with you that the group is either totally incompetent or maliciously incompetent to hold onto their jobs as long as possible. And since no one in power really understands what they say, they can just mumble vax....danger...scary...risk! and no one will ask questions and bother them.

SolvayGirl1972 said...

Helen
It's my understanding that NEXT year, Garfield will be offering some special classes for the 9th graders who come out of APP at Washington and Garfield. I am not sure which classes, but believe there will be some. This is from friends with kids in AP at Washington.

SolvayGirl1972 said...

OOOPS - Washingtonand Hamilton.

hschinske said...

Probably science and history. I think it's nice to have the *option* to take AP classes earlier, but I think it's a terrible idea for the vast majority of students, even those at APP level. I just cannot imagine doing AP bio or physics in freshman year, especially not physics, which really requires calculus. (I may be biased by the fact that when I was at Lakeside, only about 5% of the students, almost always seniors, took AP physics -- not because it was badly taught, either, but because it was bloody hard.)

Helen Schinske

reader said...

"I don't know how much has been done already, but adapting a large database to a different design could easily take months or a year. (But how long have they been working on it?)"


But, we're not talking about a large database; we're talking about 40,000 records, or so. You could type them all in by hand at this rate.

As a long time technical person, you see this sort of problem all the time. But, you don't often see it at this level of incompetence. People often cling to the old stuff.. just because it's all they know. The whole arguement "but we're dependent on student assignment, registration, special ed... blah, blah, blah... It's soooo complex. Wah!". Sounds like a big messy ball of wax, and that it should have bene rewritten and redone long ago. And, the whole thing could still be re-written, and streamlined in a few months, max. If only there were some competent people. If they still can't get this done by fall... then somebody should just rewrite it. That would actually be an easy job.

Think about what it really is: 40,000 records, full of fields and records of student information. Then, let's do assignment based on some rules. This stuff isn't hard. Truly not!

It's only hard if you want to do it the "old" way... and do it the "new" way at the same time. Kill the old way, and just start over. What a bunch of scared weenies.

College&CareerWoman said...

Where are the cuts in administration?

Patrick said...

It shouldn't be that difficult to store off-site backups. Off-site backups have been standard practice industry-wide since the Vax just a gleam in DEC's eye. It's not that difficult, you make a couple of extra copies of your backups -- tape, disc, or whatever media you're using -- and mail them to a couple of the schools to store in rotation. After the next couple of backups, the old media can be reused. Cost is minimal.

Bird said...

Think about what it really is: 40,000 records, full of fields and records of student information. Then, let's do assignment based on some rules. This stuff isn't hard. Truly not!

Where I work, this is the sort of project you'd assign to the college intern for the summer. It's small potatoes.

Stu said...

The problem with all this VAX stuff is that it's just the perfect excuse for everything. Why would they possibly want to give that up?

stu

gavroche said...

When does the state audit of the Seattle Public School District get released? Sometime in May? Someone really ought to be looking into all this waste.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Gavroche, tick tock. I wait and wait but the district decided to just throw hundreds of pages of documents at the Auditor and just say, "you figure it out". Well, that's what they are doing. Sadly, the audit is only about BEX over the last 5 years or so but again, I don't expect to hear good things. The Auditor always tries to be even-handed but I suspect it will not be good. But they might point out that having 28 FTE for BEX (and that's not even Project Managers - they are contractors) is just too much. Again, too much central administration.

Yes, if we audited the Central Administration, I think we'd find a lot of things that would make us upset.

StepJ said...

The perception of "Choice" seems to be false.

Our Principal announced today that all elementary school counselors are being cut. As she is not a person for drama or revealing information other than what is allowed, apparently CA has already made the "choice" of cuts to the classroom.

(And for the record I view cutting music as a cut to the classroom.)

Will any Board Directors say no?