Now what is it they say about waiting before you hit the SEND button? Sleep on it, give it time, reflect. Yeah right. No, I'm going to say exactly (well, minus the swearing) what I think of the district's "budget" meeting.
It was a load of insulting nonsense and boy, my phrase "decorative engagement" is right on. I have seen some nervy meetings but this one takes the cake. (Note: I left in disgust at 8 o'clock. Enough.)
There were about 15 staff there including Dr. Goodloe-Johnson. Peter, Harium and Sherry were also in attendance as was Ramona Hattendorf, Seattle Council PTSA President.
There was a looong presentation, first by Don Kennedy and then by Duggan Harmon. Basically Mr. Kennedy said our graduation rates need to be better and that we have a large organization that needs good leadership. He said that they are using reserves and it isn't enough for a shrinking budget. He referenced the federal stimulus dollars and that they were only for 2 years. (Which begs the question, as Harium said later, are the RTTT dollars worth it for only 4 years? As Mr. Kennedy said, there is no way to backfill those dollars once they are gone.)
Mr. Harmon adopted the time-honored district action of reading the PowerPoint. (Charlie's head would have exploded by this point.) He said by May 5th, they will have to give notices to any certificated staff to be RIFed.
I'm stopping here to say I honestly believe that to cut $6M could be done and we shouldn't be having anyone lose their job.
Here are my ideas:
- don't hire the two Broad residents permanently - that's $180K there
- don't keep the employee who currently makes $144K and is being paid this year by Broad (these two bullets alone are nearly 5% of the $6M)
- how about cutting everyone's salary by 1-2% across the board so no one will lose their job?
- get rid of half the academic coaches
- how about just one principal at a small high school like Rainier Beach?
(He went over his time by 5 minutes but no, they weren't going to add on any time AND Dr. Goodloe-Johnson also decided to talk for 5 minutes. Thanks, folks, that gives us less time to hear questions AND talk to each other. But hey, this is your show, right?)
Also at this point I'll say, I was a lot more aggressive than I usually am. I was very annoyed at this dog-and-pony show but it got worse.
Mr. Kennedy started reading the questions:
- elimination of mid-winter break to end school a week earlier to save money? A contractual issue with the teachers but no commitment if they would be bringing it up at the upcoming negotiations
- Why did the district take over Pay for K and add a layer of bureaucracy? Schools handling of it was unequal (different costs). I raised my hand and asked why they didn't just give the schools a limit to the cost and leave things as they were? He wouldn't answer as that was not the format.
- What percentage of funds in the classroom go to technology? The district's tech manager did give an answer but I couldn't follow it.
- Why are we being asked to spend money for computer programs when there are free online materials? Kathy from Academics said that the current core adoptions are outdated (foreign language) and that the math adoption came with online materials. She wasn't aware of any other materials being formally adopted that are available online but schools can use discretionary dollars to buy those kinds of items. (Yes, all those discretionary dollars floating around our schools.)
- How does our central office staffing/spending compare with other urban districts nationally? Don't know, Great Schools is doing a study on that.
- What about the dollars in the BTA for the Strategic Plan? Yes, there are dollars in the BTA for the Strategic plan.
- How much is the Strategic Plan costing us with MAP, computers, etc? The answer "we don't have the details here but there's an Audit and Finance committee meeting tomorrow." Yes, that was the answer and we parents all looked at each other and had the same thought "But we're here now at a Budget meeting. Did you not come prepared?"
- What about Gates Foundation paying for some of these computers we need? Blah, blah but no real answer.
- Why build off previous budgets, do you look at line items like travel and consultants? Yes we do.
- Ramona asked for a clarification about the money sent back to the schools. Basically, the schools had positions converted to dollars so they could decide what to do with those dollars. The schools had about a week to decide.
- How much of the $6M cuts to central administration? Again the answer "we don't have those numbers here" (I got up at this point and complained to Sherry.)
- Special election cost? (One of the district's ideas is since the levy lid got raised this legislative session, well, hey, let's have us another levy election. No matter that the City will be coming to voters in Fall 2011 with the Families and Education levy.) Mr. Harmon said blah, we don't know, could be sharing costs with another entity who wants to share the ballot. Hey, Duggan, we spent $1M on the BTA election, you could have said that but didn't.
- Selling SPS bonds to pay down the headquarters debt? Could be saving $160-180K per year once sold.
- Eliminate high school football for a couple of years before losing teachers? Wouldn't answer and told us to discuss in our groups.
- 2% pay cut or furloughs? Mr. Kennedy gave a convoluted answer about decline of students and central employment going up, what? Finally, he said yes it had been considered. He left it at that so I guess the answer is no.
So we got into our groups (there were two whole tables!) and my table was not happy. The district had 4 questions for us to answer (one of them a bullshit question about "guiding principles for the budget") as well as what we don't want cut, suggestions from other districts on the back (like AP, music, full-day K), what is vital.
I noticed that none, absolutely none of the 15 staff, were circulating and listening to the conversations. I went and asked Harium who was speaking with Holly Ferguson, yet another up-the-foodchain person in the district, why not. Holly said they were instructed NOT to. I told Harium that was just ridiculous.
So Dr. Goodloe-Johnson and her "cabinet" were sitting at one table talking and laughing. Seriously. So I asked why staff had been instructed not to circulate and Dr. G-J said they hadn't. I told her Holly Ferguson said they were and she just shrugged but did she get up and ask staff to listen? No. I told her this was just for show and she said no, Melissa, it's for parents to talk to each other.
After that, I left. I don't need to waste my time. I'm going to let the Board know what a disappointment this was but they are unlikely to do anything.
KING-5 was there so you can look for this on the news (they chased me down as I left and please note if the interview makes the news, the marks on my face - a cooking accident, I look like an accident victim).
FYI, Michael DeBell is in our South Korean sister city on a delegation with City staff with some emphasis on the trip to be education.