Sunday, March 21, 2010

Rep. Reuven Carlyle Writes about SPS "Tax" on PTAs

Thanks to Julie for the alert about Rep. Reuven Carlyle blog thread about the so-called PTA tax that the district is levying on funds raised by PTAs (3.3%). The district hasn't even publicly announced this but it has been confirmed by several school principals. Shame on the district for not even having the courage of their convictions to publicly say this. I haven't had a chance to said the Seattle Council PTSA President, Ramona Hattendorf, about this but I'm sure she's not happy.

35 comments:

beansa said...

Maybe we can get an uprising now?

Melissa Westbrook said...

Frankly, if anything should join parents together, this should be it. I'll ask Ramona about this.

mark said...

Any sense of how they want to use the money? Is it to support schools without PTA funds or to put to use some other way? Hard to trust that they will use it to benefit struggling schools.

Dorothy said...

The money raised will not help schools. It is simply an administration fee for the grants that the PTAs and PTSAs give to their schools. It is supposed to make the PTA grants align with other grants. That was covered in another discussion of this in a different thread. IF the district had a streamlined and bareboned central administration, then the fee might be reasonable. However... ha ha ha.

Carlyle's blog makes it seem that all money raised by PTAs would be subject to this and that is not true. Any fundraising that the PTSA does and then spends itself, paying directly vendors for after school activities, field trips, etc will not be subject to this fee.

So what is and isn't covered? Clearly, if a PTSA raises money to pay for a teacher salary, that's a grant to the school and the district intends to "tax" it. If the PTSA pays directly for Book-It Theater to perform at an assembly, there's no district involvement and no fee.

When PTAs have funded carpet, blinds, wireless voice amplification systems, do they tend to pay the vendor directly or through the district?

What about if the PTA funds a field trip and uses yellow buses? Well, at RHS, the school submits the request, the school gets billed, then the PTSA pays the school for it. Would that be considered a grant and be subject to a fee? I do not know, and I do not know how many similar situations there are.

dan dempsey said...

The way I see it it is like a shipping & handling charge for central administration guidance in taking $100 from you and giving $96.70 back to you.

Jellyfish said...

This is theft. How outrageous.

Meg said...

I filed a public records request on grants some time ago - in 2008-09, the district had in the neighborhood of $12m in private sector grants.

It's absurd to say that they need to keep 3.3% of that money - $400k-ish - to manage the grants. For whatever reason, the district's assertion that they need this money to manage the grants makes me think: How many monkeys would it take to type Hamlet? I don't think we need some half dozen finance folks tracking and "managing" these donations.

PTAs are already plugging the holes, through volunteerism and fundraising, that should be the district's responsibility. Charging them for it is ludicrous.

Maureen said...

The impact of this fee wouldn't be as problematic if the District allowed PTSAs to freely hire and fund improvements on their own. However, my experience has been that SPS insists that building improvements be funneled through the Central office and our school has found it more and more difficult to hire who we want to fill various part time positions.

We have been told that positions (like a one hour per day lunchroom helper, or a two hour per week music teacher) need to be advertised only via SPS otherwise the union will complain. When a parent designed a noise abatement system for our auditorium (to correct poor results from the SPS paid remodel), we had to go through a time consuming and expensive process supervised by the District even though the whole thing was paid for with fundraising money, was in no way structural and could have been done largely by volunteers.

I understand that the work needs to be done in a safe way and that union members should not be displaced by cheaper employees, but the added bureaucracy and expense doesn't help anyone. It seems like this policy is designed only to save jobs downtown.

Central Mom said...

Here is an idea for all of us if the District insists on this asinine proposal. Deliver the 3 percent fee in pennies. Unrolled pennies dumped in the downstairs public area. I am completely and absolutely serious. We can coordinate through the Seattle PTSA for many of the fees to be delivered the same day. At least then we will know that someone downtown will be busily engaged in redistributing the money. If the District wants only checks, we will have to say "oops" and ask that same financial specialist to redistribute the funds to each school so that we can pay in an acceptible manner.

And we will need to be sure to invite the media to watch the pennies being dumped. The video would be spectacular. I have no doubt it would get national play and scrutiny.

Juana said...

Maybe people should start inundating the Superintendent and Mayor McGinn with letters of protest.

Dorothy said...

Maureen, thanks for the information as to the depth of the district's involvement in PTSA grants. So the extent to which the "fee" will apply is quite big.

Central Mom, that's a good idea, with the pennies and all. Unfortunately, I am not sure the PTSAs all hold the money themselves. Roosevelt's PTSA sponsored fundraiser that supports the school budget goes through the Alliance. The PTSA never touches the money, so we wouldn't have any way to provide 3 percent in pennies. I suspect (but do not know for sure) that many other PTSAs use the Alliance for this money as well.

Maureen said...

Have kids ride Metro to make the delivery. Require a receipt. It would actually be a great Discovery Math exercise.

If your PTSA needs to fund $15,000 of your building budget, your pennies would weigh about 310 pounds: See here for a visual!


Dorothy surely the schools can get their hands on their own money? Can't they have A4Ed write the PTSA a check and then cash it in pennies?

Dorothy said...

Maureen, I doubt it. I doubt the Alliance would be willing to go along. I don't know how the bookkeeping would work.

We raised 68 thousand dollars with our No-Bake-Sale campaign. If we asked the Alliance for 3.3 percent, that would be $2,244 and in pennies (using your link for conversion) would weigh 1,300 pounds.

Central Mom said...

Dorothy, we don't need every school to do it. Those who have Alliance pass-throughs could help carry pennies for other schools. Then we'd have a crowd of people and pennies. Excellent. Do not underestimate the power of a good visual.

Josh Hayes said...

I'll be honest: at one time I floated the proposal of a 50% fee on PTA fundraising, with the 50% to be allocated to an all-school fund. The idea being, see, that some schools can raise a hundred grand without batting an eye, and a lot of schools can't raise ten grand in a year. It's absurdly inequitable to allow schools with well-off families to supplement when many, or even most, schools can't. Dorothy points out, for instance, that her school raised 68 thousand dollars via a "no bake sale". That amounts to about seven years worth of fundraising at my kids' school, and I bet there are a number of SPS schools which raise essentially zero dollars yearly.

If I thought the district intended to reallocate that three percent to low-income schools, I'd be more supportive, but as it is, it seems like just another attachment on the SPS Central vacuum cleaner. So the district is being jerks, as usual, but there's an underlying disparity which, uncomfortable as it is, needs to be explored.

時尚 said...

青春一逝不復返,事業一失難有成。........................................

dan dempsey said...

Josh,

I am having a problem in my mind with the deep philosophical constructs butting heads with reality.

#1 if I wish to buy my kid a bike, should I be required to buy a bike for every kid in the city?

#2 Since the state decides to abdicate their role as ample provider to the children ... why does that become the PTSA's mandate to functionally provide for all?
========================

I think we need to discuss the way reality is currently operating as well as what should be (as in legally required). Then if we get those two things ironed out we might proceed further.
=======================
Article IX:
Text of Section 1:

Preamble.

It is the paramount duty of the state to make ample provision for the education of all children residing within its borders, without distinction or preference on account of race, color, caste, or sex.
----------
Text of Section 2:

Public School System.

The legislature shall provide for a general and uniform system of public schools. The public school system shall include common schools, and such high schools, normal schools, and technical schools as may hereafter be established. But the entire revenue derived from the common school fund and the state tax for common schools shall be exclusively applied to the support of the common schools.
=========================
At 10AM on 2-4-2010 Thomas Ahearne and the "NEWS" folks win the state funding lawsuit based on article IX.... and most likely on the bold section of section #2.
=========================
At 11:30 AM on 2-4-2010 Keith Scully and Porter et al. win the Seattle H.S. Math adoption appeal partly on section #1 above and perhaps on SPS continual violation of RCW 28A 645.020
=========================

Here is how I see it.
#1 State must provide as a base an ample education for all. Through a general and uniform system of public schools.

#2 That certainly does not prohibit a PTSA from elevating one school in which they have an interest above that base level.

#3 That PTSA in #2 has no burden to raise all schools above the general and uniform system of ample education provided by the state to all students.
==================

Reality check:

When NY state lost the exact same funding case that Ahearne copied to slam WA State into reality, NY had to greatly increase funding.

My guess is that when all this plays out there will be around a 35% boost up in State funding of schools.

The SLAM into reality that the "NEWS" suit brings is that it is the Primary Duty to fund the schools...No highways, DSHS, No ecology department, No consultants, Not much of anything happens until
The legislature shall provide for a general and uniform system of public schools, which provides that ample education for each child.

The big point is that this funding happens first not cobbled together from available left overs.
====================

OK let us discuss ......

Leslie said...

From Ramona Hattendorf, Seattle PTSA Council President


Concerned about 3.3 percent grant fee?

Money covers SPS overhead, but kids lose out
Dear PTA, PTSA and other parent leaders,

I apologize for the form letter, but I've received MANY inquiries about the new 3.3 percent processing fee for PTA/PTSA grants.

Unfortunately, the council wasn't given a heads up about this change. Like many of you, those of us on the board are sorting out just what it means fiscally. I've asked the superintendent for clarification of the fee and what the money will be used for. I will share any information I get. My understanding is this is a processing fee that is added to all grants to cover grant administration costs. Until now, parent-funded grants were exempt.

The fee does not apply to school self-help accounts; and the 3.3 percent is not automatically levied on all fund-raising.

Several of you have asked what the council position on this is. It takes tremendous effort to fund-raise, and none of us like to see money intended for children diverted. At this point, I am gathering information so that together we can decide what steps, if any, we want to take as a coalition. If this is something we collectively want to act on, one option would be to take a formal position on budgeting priorities. Another would be a formal letter signed by member units. A third would be to encourage individuals to call and write the superintendent and school board.

A tally of how much kids would lose would certainly clarify the situation. If you wish to send me that information, I'd be happy to compile it.

Sincerely,

Ramona Hattendorf
Seattle Council PTSA president


My thoughts - we had a recent successful auction - perhaps we need to photoshop a banner across the dias and stage of the children's art projects - "Pls. make your check out for 3.33% more to accomodate the SPS's administration of your hard earned dollars - consider it a privilege fee like VISA's Merchant charges." This is a kick in the teeth to those parents who worked full time to put on a successful auction and others who spent their funds in the midst of a recession to help their school.

Am beyond distressed that the JSC continues to have a "tin ear" to their customer base.

It is right up there with not once doing an "exit survey" of their customers for their reasons for leaving the Seattle Public Schools.

We can do marketing and polls and requests to pass levies but we can't ask questions of parents at ANY OTHER TIME? Stunning.

Melissa, you mentioned you had done a Public Disclosure Request for this information - did you also ask for the policy considerations and implications on this? If not, can we respectfully request that you do. Am hugely interested in the "reasoning" for this "policy" that has been transmitted word of mouth at budget time and when we have NO IDEA of our enrollment and needs given the NSAP and the lack of legislative finality for next year's budgets.

Leslie said...

Ms. Hattendorf's Email:

"Ramona Hattendorf, SCPTSA president"

Will the other groups like CPPS be weighing in on this issue as well?

Others?

Charlie Mas said...

Here's my question: It is said that the money is to reimburse the District for the cost of administering the grant. Since when does the District administer these grants? How are they adding value? What work are they doing?

I would also be interested in the total raised this way to reckon how fair the rate is.

Leslie said...

I would like to know how the rate 3.33% was calculated- why not 20% - why not 50%?

I would also like the name(s) of the staffmembers, supervisors and where and when this embezzlement originated and what "talking points" were given to the Principals to take to their BLTs and PTSAs.

Perhaps the State Legislature would like to levy an administration fee on the funds that are distributed to the districts as well? Is it not the same principle?

I would like to know the math story logic problem they propose to use to clarify this "teaching moment"

zb said...

I'm actually pretty confused about the outrage here -- it's pretty standard to charge "overhead" on granted funds. Otherwise, the money required to administer the money (and money always requires administration) get eaten by other budgets.

In the case of hiring a teacher with grant funds, it's absolutely clear that there are administrative expenses. I'm frankly surprised that they'd be as low as 3.3%.

And, in the case of a re-designed sound system, ignoring the bureaucracy makes sense to the parties, because they all know each other -- they know the installer isn't installing shoddy parts or creating an electrical hazard, or simply taking the money and running. You don't think any of those things are going to happen, but, that's 'cause you trust the individual. Bureaucracies exist because not everyone can have that trust.

I think this is an existing cost -- you can try to shift it to other parts of the budget (rather than the funds raised themselves), but I'm not at all sympathetic to the idea that there is no cost.

(and, yes, I'm one of those who thinks that there should be a redistribution tax -- probably 20-40%).

Melissa Westbrook said...

1) Contact the Board and loudly.
2) Contact the Mayor and the City Council. They need to know this is happening, done without notice to the school communities OR the SEattle Council PTSA OR asking/notifying the Board
3) let's plan the media blitz (and Communications department, no we won't be saying online when we will do it so this isn't a heads up to you except that you better be ready with your pre-fab press release). I love the pennies idea.

blumhagn said...

One of the reasons I hate this proposal is that the District gets involved in many minor projects where parents volunteer to do the work themselves. A small example--we had two small cinder block walls built on our playground to fix design errors from the remodel about 8 years ago. The walls were a total of 10 feet long, maybe 3 feet high.

We had a parent volunteer, a contractor who knows how to do it right, who was going to do the work for the wholesale cost of materials. Instead, the District forced us to hire in a maintenance worker from the central shop, and charged the PTA around $6K.

Similarly, because of a union issue, WaMu volunteers were unable to paint parts of the school during a volunteer day a few years ago.

I get that the unions need to defend their turf from paid non-union contractors. But with their backlog, do they need to defend their jobs from volunteers?

Eric

Maureen said...

I would be fine with the fee if there were a way to avoid it. We would be happy to hire our own very part time staff, and install our own noise deadening baffling in the gym but SPS both forces us to go through them and charges us to do so. The extra cost pays for people to do work that we would happily do ourselves for free. The inefficiency in this time of budget cuts makes me livid.

I would be fine with a tax to subsidize poor schools, and yes, I know, paper pushers are people too and it is sad to see them out of a job, but I prefer the money stay in the schools.

Melissa Westbrook said...

ZB, I see your points. Here's my issues:

- why now? PTSA have been donating to budgets for decades. Why now?
-most importantly, why no public announcement or notice? It looks bad, it looks suspicious and boy that trust factor goes way down. No notification to Seattle Council PTSA either so that they could tell communities.

And frankly, given that they have done this work for so long for free AND get a huge benefit from all this fundraising, I think they'd spot us that fee.

I haven't seen enough cutting centrally yet to justify this fee.

zb said...

"- why now? PTSA have been donating to budgets for decades. Why now? "

I think it's what happens when budgets are tight -- people start looking to follow up on where all the costs for everything came from. If, say, an administrator spend 5% of their time dealing with fiscal matters for the PTA money, when an office is fully staffed, it's not a worry, where, exactly that money comes from. When they're not fully staffed, then, they start worrying about where they are spending their time, compared to where the money is coming from.

I can't speak to the questions of whether the financial administrators are over/under staffed anyway, or whether they're competent. But, that's a performance management issue, not one of whether charging overhead is logical, in principle.

(and, to the question of how the amount was set -- aren't they saying that it was set based on what overhead they charge for other grants received by the school?)

I think people can be outraged about the overhead cost if they want, and that they might succeed in the money being absorbed by other parts of the budget, rather than being charged directly to the aid funds (lots of charities do that -- absorb administrative costs elsewhere in their budget, 'cause no one likes to hear, when they're donating money, that 5% is going to the credit card fee). But there will be an overhead cost, whatever budget it's paid out of.

And, although I don't care if it's hidden elsewhere in the budget, I don't think it's fair if it's hidden in the entire SPS budget, rather than in the budget of those schools that specifically benefit from the fundraising. If it's true that McGilvra raises 200K+, and that Pathfinder raises 50K+, and some other school raises 0K, the $8250 overhaead costs for administering those funds shouldn't be spread evenly over those schools (at 2750 each). That'd mean that some poor school is paying the costs for McGilvra's spending.

ParentofThree said...

Remember, Meg has pointed out that the district is already skimming $400K off grants, surely that is more than enough money to administer the paperwork involved at the PTA level.

In other words, the $400K can cover all the costs, they do not need additional funding. And if they do, well then that is another issue, I think it's called poor management.

zb said...

"Remember, Meg has pointed out that the district is already skimming $400K off grants, surely that is more than enough money to administer the paperwork involved at the PTA level."

I guess this is the calc that says that if they've been charging 3.3% overhead on private grants of 12M, that there's 400K to do grants administration? This would presume 1) that the private grants should subsidize the spending of the PTA funds (and, if the private grants are given preferentially to poor schools, then the poorer schools are subsidizing the richer ones spendign) and 2) that the amounts required to administer funds are independent of the amount of those funds (i.e. once you have 400K, then you don't need any more).

Both those ideas would be problematic. On the other hand, 400K could be too much, but if that's true, then the percent overhead should be recalculated (not preferentially charged to one donor).

(and, yes, I've spent too much time reading on the fed's rules about these issues. They get very irritated when they think they're paying everyone's overhead).

Central Mom said...

zb: In times of fiscal crisis you also typically scrap for every additional source of funds to supplement your baseline. Look at the arts groups or social services groups in town who have been dramatically affected by the economy and face further state fundng cuts.

What do they do? They tailor special outreach programs to their local benefactors. They tinker with their programming to entice more people to become involved. They send out personal appeals. They do NOT alienate their community base, even if they are "eating" the fees to develop these new outreach methods.

In short, what I read from the District on this tempest in a teapot is another exclamation point on the fact that the Superintendent's Staff does not view Parents as Partners. If they did, the fee would not exist. At the very, very least it would have been communicated differently.

It's time for a major change in attitude downtown towards parents and I intend to use my various political contacts to help that process along. For the general public...letters to the Mayor's Office and to Board members? You betcha.

ParentofThree said...

Yes, the private grants should subsidize the PTA "grants" as the top priority is to get as much money into the schools as possible, not into the district account.

And yes, $400K is a lot of money to be skimming off the top.

I think SPS just opened themselves up a big can of worms - remember is was a state rep who called attention to this!

hschinske said...

I thought this was exactly the kind of task that was supposed to *justify* keeping all those administrators busy. Seems to me like double-dipping.

Helen Schinske

Keepin'On said...

According to the SPS website, there are 5 people working in the Grants and Fiscal Compliance Office. One manager, one office assistant and 3 fiscal folk. I certainly feel that this department needs employees, but this should come out of the central admin budget.

If they have been taking 3.3% all along, at the tune of 400K per year, that is a slary of 80K per year per person.

With the newly announced cuts, downtown I couldn't help but wonder - is this 3.3% fee meant to restore a position in this office? Or maintain them?

ParentofThree said...

King 5 news reported the story at 5:30, the district refused to comment on camera.

nacmom said...

Ahh, King5 reported on it...

I noted that this issue was ramping up quickly to garner some pretty bad press for SPS. One thing SPS hates more than it loves spending our money? Bad press.

Received two confirmations late today that this policy consideration is being abandoned. "...and it is clear that the idea of extending the policy of charging an indirect grant fee to include PTSA grants is not a productive suggestion"

Common sense didn't tell them that?