Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Louder Now

So I guess the folks at Schools First are getting a little desperate. Because in not one but two radio interviews, their spokesperson said things that were just plain wrong and/or misleading. I want to point this out because no matter how much you want to win, you do not tell voters wrong information. Not if you want to have your group keep any integrity going forward.

Exhibit 1. This afternoon, Dorothy Neville of the Committee for Responsible Education Spending debated Sharon Rodgers from Schools First on KUOW.

Sharon stated, that "no money was lost" in the audit.

Yes, it was. The district overpayed something like 80 employees over a series of months and is working to get the money back. It is unlikely this will happen. Missing assets (equipment) was also another of the findings. The Superintendent's gifting of public funds in the form of the gift certificates she gave out at the retirement money is money lost (this from the Attorney General's office, not me). Using $1.8M of capital money improperly (which is now leaving the General Fund to go back into the capital fund). The district had to repay the feds money from incorrect counting of Native America students.

Exhibit 2. A story on KPLU. Sharon said (and I didn't know this because we did our interviews separately because otherwise I would have called her on it). She said,

"This is purely to help keep our classrooms in business over the next three years," she said.

Look folks, please understand that no matter how emotionally attached you are to your child's school, this levy is NOT going to drive dollars into the classroom. Whether or not the teachers get their raises or the contract is enacted (more on that in a minute), your child will have a teacher in their classroom. The classroom is in business.

(Keep in mind with the TIF federal grant, the teachers contract - sans raise but with everything else - will be enacted at 34 schools (that's about a third of our schools. So it's like getting free money to pilot the program.)

Crappy textbooks? Yes, but who let them get this old and out of date? Who stopped buying books on a timely basis? And if the Legislature hadn't lifted the lid? No textbooks at all (which most would consider, after the teacher, a classroom basic so how come the district doesn't treat it that way?). And how much will the consultant cost for the social studies and science textbook adoption? The one for the LA adoption was pretty pricey.

And understand that the first year money is about $14.5M for school year 2011-2012 when the district says we will be about $28M in the hole. The levy will give the district that $14.5M in 2011. So when they start preparing budgets, look and see if any of that money goes to protect the classroom. Out of that, about $12.5M is promised in other directions, not the classroom. So money to go directly to the classrooms of the 94 odd schools we have? About $1.5M for 2011. How that will fill school budget holes all over the district is a mystery. Come 2012? Probably the same thing.


8 comments:

Seattle-Ed2010 said...

I also noticed that in the KUOW interview, Rodgers said that it would be possible to trace how the levy money is spent by the district if it passes.

That's not what I've heard.

Isn't it true, Melissa & Dorothy, that once voters approve levies, the money basically gets sucked into a general fund and the district can and does spend it how it wants, regardless of what it promised during the levy campaign, and the flow of money is not easy to trace, which is a part of the accountability problem here?

Haven't people like Meg Diaz had to do serious digging to uncover the shell games the district plays with funding? (ie. redirecting Title I money to pet projects. Also, didn't SPS redirect voter-approved I-728 funding that was earmarked to reduce class sizes, to SPS admin pet projects? http://www.k12.wa.us/i728/)

Wasn't this lack of financial transparency and misuse of resources one of the key criticisms of SPS that the state audit made?

Please correct me if I'm mistaken on any of this.

And yes, Schools First's misrepresentation of the facts is disturbing.

Thanks!

Sue p.

(p.s. Dorothy did a great job on KUOW. I'll go track down your KPLU piece next, Melissa.)

Melissa Westbrook said...

First and foremost, yes, once you vote in a levy, the money can be used for any purpose (as long as it is operations since this an operating budget).

Now, of course, it behooves the district to do what they say but many times money gets diverted elsewhere (see BEX). And yes, I defy anyone - Schools First or anyone - to ask the district for an accurate accounting of where levy money goes (in real dollars).

The largest part of the 3-year money - $23.1M - is in the vague "reduce the number and severity of cuts." The district claims that they have no way of know WHERE funding cuts will be made so they can't specify. C'mon guys, you know where they were made last time. You know where they could be made. I think they have a pretty good idea of where the money might need to go.

But again, is our district running lean and mean? No, it's not. I think our schools are but I don't think the district is.

Also, keep in mind they are going ask for this again in 3 years (the levy lid lift is for 6 years). I really fault the legislature here (and not the district) because this is NO way to run an educational system.

Last, the district says on their levy document that the new textbooks will be in schools by next fall. I'm sure the choral books for the elementaries will be but don't they have to vet the science and social studies alignment? Didn't that take at least a year for LA?

And yes, SPS redirected I-728 money (and the state allows it) but it was quite the sell to voters to say it was to reduce class size.

I had laugh because on the KPLU interview it said this:

"The school district says it's corrected many of the issues and is working on others."

Corrected many of the issues? Some were a one-off but as I sat in the Audit and Finance Committee meetings, I was struck by how much work there is to do. Working on others? There's an action plan but to say they have cleared up a lot of these issues just isn't true. As Charlie has pointed out, saying you're going to do something is not the same as doing it. The district has dropped the ball before - many times - in its efforts to get on the right financial track. Forgive me for wanting to wait to see (and believe) in real results.

Kathy said...

Sat in the last Budget Meeting. No guarantees have been made regarding allocations to WSS formula- my area of concern.

I have the impression one Director wants to restore WSS, while another one wants funding for Ed. Reform Initiatives. Where would the latter leave our classrooms?

Dorothy Neville said...

Ah, Kathy, glad you were there, my son had the flu and I stayed home.

One wants to protect the WSS and one wants reform measures. Now who could that be?

From The Stranger's Slog:

"DeBell's letter also announces a significant change in the district's annual budget-making process. From now on, the board will give first priority to the school budgets instead of the central administration budget."

From Peter Maier's letter to his constituents, August 24th:

"$6 million of the Supplemental Levy would be used in 2011 to replace worn out and outdated textbooks in high school science and social studies, middle school language arts, and elementary music materials. The remainder would be used to support reform efforts and to support student achievement."

cascade said...

YooooHoooo. Still have not heard anyone who is running against Peter. It would be such an easy race to win. Surely there is one civic-minded individual in north Seattle willing to step up.

Aunty said...

The little bear finally stands up to the big bear and says NOOOO on the levy.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2h_yG4ChBUc

caution - filthy language

Dorothy Neville said...

If you still haven't voted, are still on the fence, how about the League of Women Voters forum? You need Silverlight to watch this. You can learn about the liquor initiatives and the county charter amendments as well as our little levy. Plus you get to see Sharon and me in action.

It's the Oct 7th LWV forum.

(a caution to Aunty or others with video tools. This is not to be edited and rebroadcast, especially for advertising, that's the rules. Just point interested voters to this site to watch.)

Seattle Parent said...

The WS blog (in the Forum section) has a strand on the Levy in case anyone wants to put in their 2 cents.

http://westseattleblog.com/forum/topic/seattle-schools-levy-for-or-against