Following up on my Summary thread, here are the highlights of the discussion.
Steve started with a bit of a monologue about Board's role versus staff's (I'm going to have to have him repeat it for me). He did say something interesting that I'm not sure the rest of the Board would agree with, namely, that if the Board asked more questions than staff could answer in this Work Session, it is the job of the Audit&Finance Committee to prioritize them.
It is unclear to me if he meant that if some of the lower questions didn't get answered, it was okay. It seemed that way. Frankly, with this kind of climate and for a budget, I think ALL Board questions should be answered.
- a struggle over what will take priority; the Strategic Plan or WSS for schools.
- frustration by several Board members but mostly Sherry and Michael over the lack of clarity in this presentation. The Board seemed very frustrated over the lack of a large picture view that would enable them to see all the factors involved.
- lack of correct terminology. I don't know what to make of this but the staff did a sloppy job and the Board called them out. Don Kennedy used central adm and central office interchangeably and it bothered Michael. When Michael asked about this, MGJ said that this was "just a Powerpoint" and they didn't use official OSPI terms. What? This is for the Board and not laypeople. It seemed a little patronizing.
- There were several places where clarification was asked for and, although there were many staff on-hand, no answers to be had. One was on the start-up costs for IB at RBHS as compared to Ingraham and Sealth. No one had that info. One was start-up costs for an international school and continuing costs for same.
- Sherry was careful, as chair of Operations, to keep asking if staff were getting these questions and requests for information. They were told yes.
What was also interesting is MGJ explaining the "staff goals" for the the meeting. That's all good and well but what if the Board has some of its own goals? It seemed a bit odd. The goals were listed as:
- Directors will be able to understand the current budget context as of Wednesday.
- Directors will be able to review, refine and confirm policy direction (I can tell you now this is a big area of contention). I have no idea if they meant by the end of the meeting OR from ensuing discussions after the meeting.
- Directors will be able to participate in discussion* of potential budget reductions based on initial staff recommendations (bold theirs). *This discussion is for information purposes and not meant to solicit value judgments on potential budget cuts. (Personally I found this phasing a little offensive. While I understand trying to not go off on different tangents related to how Board directors might view cuts in their districts, it is hard to say that there would be no discussion that might involve value judgments. Doesn't matter, it was a good discussion that had a few value judgments.)
Page 5 of the Powerpoint marked the start of Michael DeBell's long afternoon. This is a slide labeled "Accumulated Budget Gaps" and shows the growing SPS budget from 2009 into 2012 and the budget gaps. Michael pointed out that the chart makes it look like the budget is going down when it continues to go up. He said the public needs to be able to clearly see what point the district is making when it presents information. He said the public gets told the budget is cut and yet it seems to grow (and the explanation is not given that the growth can be tied to different grants, not more public money).
Sherry, ever helpful, offered to show Duggan a format called "walk-around" that can clearly show this kind of information.
Going on, Duggan Harmon explained that the district could eliminate all OSPI central adm staff (keep in mind, there's central office and central administration; they are not the same thing) and still have a budget gap.
Also on this page 7 was this:
- We will be acting in face of uncertainty about the total size of cuts necessary
- We do not have complete flexibility in how we can apply the money we have
- We are committed to supporting employees impacted by job losses (Duggan made the point that they want to support both employees who leave AND those left behind.)
Peter called out an item on Page 9 (labeled page 5) in the Powerpoint about the Board's guiding principles.
- Use future budget year projections to inform current year decisions
As I mentioned in the Summary, Michael is worried about the budgeting being a long-term (5 years) problem. He said we have reached "the skeletal minimum for the WSS." He also seemed to say that we just can't count on more parent funding to backfill.
Kay Smith-Blum stated in a couple of places that she felt that there could be philanthropic groups who could help with items like musical instruments. This was in response to page 11 "Strategic Plans" Recommendations", item "Academic Assurances: Music" with an original cost of $432k and proposed cost of $432k and this item would increase the gap. This is part of the assurances from the NSAP for Rainier Beach HS and Aki Kurose Middle School for 2 music teachers and instruments. Michael challenged that we would fund teachers out of a special fund instead of funding them out of a school's WSS like all the other schools do. Peter said that he felt they could push out getting the instruments to another year given the situation.
On that page 11 recommendations, there was an item for Special Education as part of the Strategic Plan. The original cost was $2M and the proposed cost was $1.4 and proposed cost would not increase the gap. They called Marni Campbell, Special Ed head, to answer a few questions. She said she and staff could modify the service delivery model and there are savings in housing in "home schools" (I don't know this term; anyone?), efficiencies and transportation since more Special Ed students would be going to their neighborhood school.
They would scale back to just one new international school but did not name which area (I suspect McDonald would get it). What bothered Michael here is that staff had included work that was not part of the Strategic Plan (continuing costs for foreign language immersion schools) and it was mixing apples and oranges. He said, "I thought support was a baseline and now we're pulling it into the strategic strand cost?" Dead silence. He said the same thing on the line for SBOC.
MAP testing got some discussion. Duggan said they were looking at the contract to see if they could do testing less often. Sherry referenced something about this being discussed at the Board retreat on 1/8/10. Peter mentioned the stress of schools having to do more with fewer resources and that MAP is one of those. Steve mentioned only doing the testing in fall and winter (and forgot that we test for HSPE in the spring anyway so the kids will get tested 3 times a year). Harium asked if we had already paid for 3 times a year. Again, Duggan said he would find out. Interesting that no one in the room knew this. My analysis is that the Board has heard a lot about scaling back and MAP so all the better if it saves money.
To be continued...