Thursday, May 27, 2010

Times Article Announces State Audit Findings

The Times had an article about the State Auditor's findings on several budgeting issues at SPS. I thought it had the basic facts but did kind of leave out what is most troubling, namely, that the district has been told about these issues before. Also, that the district seems to not be doing its own oversight but rather, waiting for the State Auditor to come in.

I did like the opening sentence:

If Seattle Public Schools didn't have enough financial problems already, it now has a few of its own making.

It makes it very hard for parents (and the public) to believe the district's cries of "we're poor" when we know they are not making financial oversight job one. When you don't have money, watching the money is the first thing on your radar.

The district's statement to the Times was, as you would expect, muted. They said:

District officials called the errors unacceptable and pledged to fix them, while at the same time saying that it brought most of them to the auditor's attention and that they are a very small part of the district's budget.

The overpayment of salaries, for example, represents a small fraction of 1 percent of the district's $558 million budget, said Duggan Harmon, the district's executive director of finance.

Harmon also said none of the problems will add to the $27 million in expenses that the district already is planning to cut from its budget for the 2010-11 school year.

I'll have to go back and read the audit again but I didn't think I read that the district "brought most of them to the auditor's attention". Also, yes, Mr. Harmon, the problem of finding the $82K for the Native American program does add to the expenses for the 2010-2011 budget; how can it not?

The district also issued a press release on this issue. Their opening paragraph was a doozy:

For many years, Seattle Public Schools has been working to improve the financial management of our district. As reported by the Alliance for Education, public confidence that the district’s resources are being spent wisely has increased steadily since 2006.

How come we don't hear about this, on a regular basis, about say, Renton or Bellevue? Why can't this district get its accounting under control? Why is it taking years (a VAX curse whereby everything takes longer)? And I'll have to ask Communications but I missed this Alliance evidence about people being confident about how the district's resources are being spent.

What's weird is that the district doesn't use the lines they used for the Times. They don't state that they told the Auditor about these issues as they did in the Times. Additionally, they don't make light of what they consider a small sum of money as they did in the Times.

They did have one funny line:

The district is also working to recover about $61,600 due from individuals who are no longer employees, and is in the process of investigating the remaining overpayments.

And good luck with that one. Again, it is troubling that so many employees would see extra money in their paychecks and say nothing. I'd like to think it might have been confusion on the part of some of them but most people do know what sum should or should not be on their paycheck.

9 comments:

Central Mom said...

This morning The Weekly picked up one of the reader's comments from their previous story about the polls critical of the superintendent's performance and has rerun that comment as its own blog entry/story. It includes comments about the audit.

"Maria Goodloe-Johnson Is a Great Planner, Not a Great Leader"

gavroche said...

As reported by the Alliance for Education, public confidence that the district’s resources are being spent wisely has increased steadily since 2006.

What the heck is SPS talking about? What a load of cow-pucky. Considering that the Alliance is a PR (and grant-laundering) extension of SPS, that's essentially like saying: "Our PR office down the hall says we're doing a good job."

gavroche said...

Re: "Maria Goodloe-Johnson Is a Great Planner, Not a Great Leader"

I agree with most of District Watcher's comments, but I have to take issue with Goodloe-Johnson's 'great planning.'

Let's see:

The Supt. closes 5 schools to "save" $3 million, then discovers that, gee, we're in a huge national recession so people are returning to public school from private, and there's a baby boom in various parts of town, as well as overcrowding in some schools for years, so SPS enrollment is in fact UP. So she announces, a few months later, that she wants to reopen 5 schools at a cost of $48 million.

Okay, that was stupid. But wait, there's more: at open enrollment time this year, how many families sign up for these newly reopening schools?

Sand Point: 46
Queen Anne Elem: 46
McDonald: 79
= 171 total for three schools

(Viewlands and Rainier Valley reopen in 2011, I believe.)

$48 million to open these schools that will serve only 171 kids, each with a principal costing about $100,000. Two of those schools will be in the same building for the first year, Lincoln High School, with TWO principals serving 125 kids.

"Good planning"? I don't think so.
Fiscally insane is more like it.

And then there's the new student assignment plan which promises to be a mess.

And her RIFing of 172 teachers only to have to rehire most of them once she bothered to check enrollment numbers.

And her 'plan' that kicked kids out of Cooper, closed Pathfinder's building, resulted in severe overcrowding in West Seattle.

Or the co-housing of APP and gen ed at Thurgood Marshall in direct contradiction to the advice of the APP audit she commissioned and the advice of John Stanford, which is not working out very well, as predicted.

I think even her planning is incompetent and disengaged from the reality of how schools work, who our communities are, what they need and want, and basic demographic facts for the City of Seattle.

Many of the problems currently faced by our schools this year are a direct result of MGJ's "Strategic Plan" -- problems many of us predicted and told the Supt and board not to create, but were ignored.

Charlie Mas said...
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Charlie Mas said...

I keep wondering what the Superintendent's fans see that I'm not seeing.

Yes, the new Student Assignment Plan was implemented during her administration, and it was a big undertaking, but not much of that was her work. It was mostly Dr. Libros' work. What parts of it are attributable to the superintendent? I'm thinking that she decided the sibling rules. I'm thinking that she decided that Language Immersion and Montessori programs would be attendance area programs. I'm thinking that she is responsible for the Program Placement decisions (Spectrum at Hawthorne and B.F. Day). I can't say that these elements of the plan are particularly good. Also, she is ultimately responsible for the failure of the Southeast Initiative which, strictly speaking, was part of the new student assignment plan.

She took on the capacity management project but I don't see how that can be reckoned a success:

* Closing two schools (Viewland and Rainier View) only to reopen them almost immediately.

* Closing Cooper and overcrowding every school in the Madison service area.

* The inexplicable and bizarre decision to split elementary APP.

* The inexplicable and bizarre decision to move NOVA.

* The lack of alternative school capacity all across the district.

Fans of the Superintendent point to the Performance Management thing, but that's still on the drawing board. It has not yet been implemented, so I think we should withhold judgement about it. Let's wait and see if she really can implement it.

Same for Curricular Alignment - it remains to be seen if every 4th grade classroom starts presenting 4th grade material. Let's see if she can address the factors that doomed similar efforts in the past.

I can't believe that anyone would tout her management of the budget with all of the money going to coaches without any assessment of efficacy, with the growth of the central administration, with the RIFs during a time of enrollment growth, with the audit concerns, with the money pissed away through bungled capacity management deicisions, or with the capital projects running way over budget.

Oh! Let's not forget her record on labor relations or community engagement.

So what else is there? Honestly, it's been three years. We should see something by now.

Nevermind what there is to complain about, what's to like?

John J said...
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John J said...
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John J said...
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Charlie Mas said...

I've just sent an expanded version of my comment above to the Board via email.

The Superintendent's fans, including those Board members who work for her, like to brush off the complaints, but the accomplishments can be brushed off much more easily.

If the Superintendent isn't to blame for the botch job on the Native American grant, then she doesn't get credit for the good things about the new student assignment plan. Either she is responsible for staff work or she isn't.