As if to only reinforce the idea that the real action of the district is at committee meetings, there was the Audit&Finance committee meeting yesterday.
On the upside, I think this district has made tremendous strides in bringing in some bright and capable people as district staff. Duggan Harmon, head of Finance, Richard Staudt, Risk Management, and Andrew Medina, Internal Auditor, and Ronic Lirio, also in Finance, all come across as quite knowledgeable about their area of expertise within the district. I think they are all capable of laying out the facts clearly to the Board. I do not hear the hedging that I used to with, say, Don Kennedy, the former COO/CFO.
There was an update of First AME and their compliance with the contract wording for the sale of MLK, Jr. building to them. There were members of the First AME board on-hand to listen. District staff went through a chart that showed areas of compliance for use for youth-centered activities for the gym, playfield, auditorium, etc. On paper, it certainly did look like it but leave it to Sherry Carr to tease out the details.
The report did note that the district suggested better tracking of hours than how the church management group was currently doing it.
One fascinating item was the notation that the church management fulfilling usage of the playfields/gym by allowing "school groups" to use it during school hours. I'm not sure what schools they are speaking of in general but it appears that the Bush school is one of them.
Sherry asked about this and it was confirmed that Bush does use the playfield but district staff wasn't sure what other schools do as well. So Bush may not have gotten the building but they certainly are getting a good (and free) deal out of using the playfield and gym.
What was also an issue is that most of the hours for the auditorium and gym available for youth are during daytime hours (and therefore, the least likely time any young person could use it). FAME says they are going to be flexible on the hours to accommodate youth program needs and abide by the agreement.
Then they went onto Risk Management. They were going over the time lost to the district for staff injuries. It was a pretty startling sheet to see (I'll try to get a link up). Mr. Staudt explained that the district lost roughly 800 days from April 2008-March 2012 and that was about how many staff hours it takes to run an elementary school.
Sherry Carr asked about terms of contracts and how they benchmark with other districts. Duggan Harmon noted that the SEA has a downward trend and that might be explained by some contractual changes. Staudt said that SEA has 100% payment for the first 60 days and after that, members could use sick leave or just receive the state-mandated 60%.
Non-represented teamsters and trades get the state-mandated rate but, for example, Local 609 gets 100% wage replacement until their doctor clears them to go back to work. That's better than the SEA has. Sherry asked about other districts and Straudt said that 30 days is the norm and that almost none have the 100% replacement as does SPS with SEA. It appears there are more Special Ed SEA members with injuries than other SEA members and that may point to the more physically taxing work they do with students.
The district is working on better training of supervisors as well as working with school-based safety committees. Mr. Staudt also noted that the district does not ask most workers to demonstrate they can actually do the work they are hired for and then finds they have hired some workers who cannot safely/easily do the jobs they are hired for. They are considering how to do that so that they can make better hiring decisions.
Betty Patu brought up the long-running issue of the freezer at the JSCEE that leaked and had caused at least two injuries to Nutrition staff. The issues with the freezer had been repeatedly reported to the district. Mr. Staudt said that was "human failure" and people who were supposed to be checking the freezer had left those jobs and new people did not follow-up. Well, that may have happened but this freezer was a big issue for a lengthy amount of time and that the district didn't actually make sure that the freezer got fixed is troubling.
However the good news is that the district has saved some money on insurance policies by doing what the insurance companies required to get lower rates.
There was then a discussion on Head Start. I did not have these handouts so it was hard to follow but the gist of it is that they have waiting lists for half-day (because it is free) but not full classrooms for full-day (which have a fee). The usual subsidies to help these families access the full-day program have ended due to the economy issues.
Then Mr. Harmon started going over possible findings/issues/concerns with State Auditor audits that are currently being written up. He was quite clear that this is preliminary but said that he thought most of what follows will be written up by the SAO. The audits are oversight of federal dollars, financial and accountability.
- one was filing reports in a timely manner. This is a repeat issue for the district but Harmon indicated that the district had changed its reporting procedure.
- one was about Title One earmarking around supplemental education services under NCLB. (If your child's school has not been meeting standards for several years, you are eligible for extra tutoring for your child.) The district only had one enrollment period for this service and needs to have two.
- one was about the Native American program. Again, for the third time, the district has not properly documented the students in the program. Both Sherry and Betty seemed unhappy to hear this.
The same person has been head of that program and frankly, needs to go. He clearly does not understand the job and/or does not want to do it. It hurts these students, their parents and the program to have an inefficient leader at the top. This needs to be addressed by either Dr. Enfield or her successor.
Financial (Updated 4/11 with corrections)
The district is required to reconcile their financial statement records to the King County treasurer. Basically, it is making certain the financial statements have been reconciled before you submit them for audit. This protects the district in case they have made any errors and is in the state RCW.
I get a little nervous when I hear the district kind of shrugging over a "technicality." It's those financial technicalities that get us into trouble.
- the SAO had called out some issues earlier this year about some ALE schools (Home Resource Center, Interagency and Cleveland). The district has done a good job, according to the SAO, of clearing up the Home Resource Center issues. It was not mentioned what the issues are with Cleveland and Interagency.
- there is also an issue with background checks being done by HR but no details.
I stop here to say that there are times, sitting at these meetings, when I want to pipe up and say, "Are you kidding me?" or worse. There are times when I hear good work being done and feel hopeful. And then there are the times when I just feel depressed. The report on Special Education that came next was one of them.
- It was reported that it seems that in some of the high schools, instead of Special Ed funds being used just for Special Ed students in various classes, that the entire class was being funded by Special Ed dollars.
I know Special Ed parents. I know many of you have told me of this suspicion for a long time. It came up at another district meeting but I was not clear on the issue and I said nothing here. But now it seems clear that at some schools, principals are using Special Ed dollars to stretch out their regular dollars.
It is wrong and needs to stop. Those dollars are to fund the education of these students and no others. Many Special Ed students don't get their needs met anyway and to learn that some of these dollars are not going to them is deeply disturbing.
- also upsetting is the news that there is language in the machinists contract that allows them to submit requests - up to $750 - for replacement tools (that they own) that break on the job or are stolen or lost. The issue is that every single machinist applied for and received the $750. There was a bit of silence as everyone chewed on that fact. They did not state the number of machinists.
Betty asked if other districts do this as well. Harmon said he hadn't found any others that do. Staudt said he knew others do have replacement costs but the amounts vary. He didn't know if the machinists had to document with the district the tools they own before asking for replacement funds. Other represented staff have something akin to this like SEA has $1500 towards helping teachers whose personal vehicles are damaged during school business hours or if they have property vandalized. For Local 609, the district pays for safety shoes, etc.
The findings/concerns/issues from these three audits are likely to come out around mid-May.
There was then discussion of changing the A&F meeting schedule. It seems like that they will go back to one A&F meeting (rather than the current split with Audit one week and Finance the next). (This discussion of committee work was also a long and lengthy discussion at the Executive Committee meeting this morning and that will be in its own thread.)