Thursday, April 12, 2012

The Newest Sleep Aid - The Executive Committee Meeting

Keep in mind here, that I came in late and yet I still hit the wall at two hours.  But not to get ahead of myself.

I came in as the Executive Committee was discussing the MOU with the Alliance for Education.  You might recall from the last Executive Committee meeting (Charlie and I were both present) that the Alliance wants to raise its fee to oversee school and ed groups finances from 5% to 7.5%.  This comes out of the General Fund.  Charlie had said he would do it for 5%.

This really isn't the main focus of work for the Alliance so why is it such a big deal for them to keep on doing it?  
Now the Alliance says that the cap at 5% was not enough.  I'll let them explain it:

The fee arrangement quickly proved inadequate.  Direct costs of administering the services exceeded the cap.  Before 2009, interest which we retained on the first $25,000 of each account helped to defray the shortfall between the fee and what it costs to provide the service.  however, the Alliance's ability to defray the shortfall evaporated with the impact of the recession and the decline of interest rates on government insured investments. 


The updated MOU proposes a fee cap for our direct costs not to exceed 7.5% - a rate that both the Alliance and district staff deem reasonable given costs and comparables.

As it turns out, the district has not sent this out to a competitive bid.  Why not, I don't know. 

Now I got a little confused after reading the above paragraph because when Director Smith-Blum stated that her figures showed that the 5% fee covered their expenses (and then some), Sara Morris of the Alliance said nothing.  I would assume if what Director Smith-Blum had said was untrue in any way, Morris would have corrected her.  She didn't.

Now Director DeBell seemed to think this was fair and all made sense and pointed out that these were "complicated financial services" (they are not - I'd love to ask any industry person to show me how they are) and that the industry works on a percentage basis.  The problem is that the Alliance is NOT a financial institution working on a percentage basis and if that's what they want, then maybe this work should be sent out for bid. 

Director Smith-Blum delicately asked if there might be a compromise between 5% and 7.5%.  Holly Ferguson, Governance staff, spoke up and said the "staff" agrees with the Alliance that it should be 7.5% but offered no backing data for that statement.

When Director McLaren said that it seemed that the district was paying from our General Fund to offset the Alliance's expenses, Ms. Ferguson point out that the district would have to pay for these services anyway.  True enough but why don't we find out in a down economy, if we might not get a better price than 7.5%?

After this discussion, it was voted to send this to the full Board.  I expect the discussion to remain spirited with one side saying the Alliance is our friend and we should graciously spend extra for services we haven't even costed out and the other side saying, no we can't pay more because we are currently a poor district.  I wonder which side will win out.

One piece of good news - the $9.4M that the district had asked the Legislature for to use for capital projects was approved in the budget filed yesterday.  (This was also announced at the Capital Fund Budget work session yesterday.  It will flow into the vat that the district likes to call Capital Fund Budget but really, track it right here, right now because you'll never hear about where the money went to again.)

Then there was a slight discussion around Policy 1310.  This policy would allow staff to change policy wordingwithout Board approval for:

..updating the header or footer, titles of staff, departments, or schools, and legal or cross references that have been changed since policy adoption; making format changes; and fixing grammatical, capitalization and punctuation errors of a current Board-approved policy.  Further non-substantive changes that do not affect the meaning, duties, intent or character of the policy also do not require further Board approval.

I see the meaning and possible need for this policy but being a suspicious person, I'm not sure about it.
It was stated that, of course, the Board would receive a "courtesy" notification if any changes were made.

Then there was the slog that was discussion about committees.  It seems the Board and the staff are drowning in meetings.  There has been "Committee of the Whole" meetings but never one where the entire Board was able to attend. 

Dr. Enfield said the staff assessment is that they put in a lot of time preparing for these meetings and that often even 3 hours of meeting isn't enough time to cover everything.  She said it might be better to return to a separate committee structure.

Director Martin-Morris, from the phone, stated that he concurred with Dr. Enfield.  He said there was a 'burnout" factor after two hours.

Director McLaren respectfully disagreed with them and said she got a lot out of meetings of the Whole. 

One point that Director Martin-Morris made, that is indeed important, is for Board members to trust each other.  He said that they all served on committees and that trusting the work of the committees when it came to the full Board was important.

Round and round it went. 

Holly Ferguson chimed in about the Great Consultant in the School Board Galaxy, Don McAdams, who thought the Board president and Superintendent should meet once a month and then have quarterly meetings or ad hoc, as needed. 

Sidebar - Is Don McAdams on the payroll?  He seems to get referenced a lot.  Plus, does he know the history of our district?  We need to err on the side of too much oversight, not less. 

Director DeBell stated that it matters that directors comes to Board meetings prepared to "act within duties."  He said it (committee structure) works effectively for what is expected in our city and "our citizens expect us to be well-informed of issues." 

It was resolved to keep this system until May and then revisit it in June.   Director Smith-Blum worried out loud about too many "siloed" conversations. 

Dr. Enfield said the new superintendent might want to weigh in on this issue.  Director DeBell disagreed, saying it was too much to put on someone just arriving and perhaps they could discuss it in the fall.  

Then, oh joy, another discussion started, this time about Board start times.  Erinn Bennett said that they only received about 20 responses to their web questionnaire about Board start-times.  It was split with 7 staff supportive of moving start-times as well as 2 members of the public.  Against moving start-times; 8 members of the public and 2 staff. 

Now they started off like this: Director McClaren was in support of a 6 p.m. time for public testimony and said that there needed to be a solid start time so people would know when to show up.  But Ms. Bennett pointed out that the Work Sessions (linked with Board meetings so the Board only has to show up on one day) end at 5:30 p.m. so starting the Board meeting at 5:30 p.m. would be difficult.

So again, round and round.  Dr. Enfield pointed out that if they had the public testimony later, it would get staff disciplined in their remarks so as to not make the public wait.  (DeBell did clarify that staff has 7 minutes per presentation.)  It was also remarked that the Board needs to self-edit as well.

DeBell also did not want the Board comments before the public testimony because it helps the Board to hear what public might have to say and then be able to possibly respond to those comments during the Board comments.

By then they were at a 4:15 p.m. start time and public testimony at 4:45 p.m.  For some reason Director McClaren was stuck on a 5 p.m. time at the earliest for the public and by shuffling various items around, they got there. 

Now most people may get off work at 5 but more likely 5:30p.m. but whether it is 5 or 5:30 p.m., it will be hard to be AT the meeting at 5 p.m.  That seem to not have been considered. 

I'm not actually sure where they ended up because of all the switching around of items but I'm sure we'll find out in June when this all commences. 

Ms Bennett had done due diligence and researched other Boards around the country.  Hilariously, DeBell pointed out that in Chicago they get have a once-a-month Board meeting at 10:30 am in the morning because "they're appointed."  Yes, that elective stuff really can get in the way of scheduling.

Director McLaren brought up a request to have public speakers' faces up on the screen as they gave testimony.  (I vote no - too distracting to see yourself talking.)  So it was kind of a light-hearted thought until Dr. Enfield chimed in.

She said that a reminder is that the testimony is to the Board, not the audience.  And, that the Board meetings are the Board's "business meetings" but conducted in public and that they are not "public meetings."  Now, I get what she is saying but I remind us all that this is a PUBLIC school district with elected officials.  They do answer to the public so anyone who wants to get on their high horse about "their" meeting might want to reconsider that position.  (Attack away, Crosscut.)

DeBell stated that it is a statutory requirement to have public input.  He went on about how some people used to turn their back to the Board and speak to the audience and that "some people come to get attention."  That may be true but yes, it is their statutory duty to have time for public input.  It's hard to be in a democracy sometimes.

Fun fact:  Ms. Ferguson let the committee know some new Census information.  It turns out that out of 295 districts in the state, ours in the only one with director districts.  And, because of the legislative redraw, some of our director districts might have slight changes made to their boundaries because of it.  The director districts have to be population balanced and staff would work with King County staff on this.  New boundaries will be introduced in May and approved in June.  Then there would be a public hearing and a vote.

I'm sure they will be small changes but will it allow some previous candidates to run in a different district in the Fall of 2013?  Interesting.

DeBell brought up the issue of either recording and/or showing live the Focus Group committee interviews of superintendent finalists.  This was Director Peaslee's request. 

Of course, then he said it was not a good idea.  He said that HYA had told the finalists and the focus group committee they would not be recorded.  (I'm thinking they are all grown-ups and probably wouldn't flinch at this idea but that's just my thought.)  Ms. Bennett was wondering about the feasibility given the interviews would be upstairs at JSCEE.  Again, I'm pretty sure it could all be worked out.

No one seemed to like this idea and yet there was some concern expressed over the transparency of the process.  There was some thought of "shielding" the finalists from the glare of publicity. 

Whatever.

However, senior staff now wants their own private meeting with the finalists.  (Ah, so the process can be changed but it depends on who is asking.)  Now, I actually think that this isn't such a bad request given that these people will be the new superintendent's senior staff but boy is this process evolving by the day.

It will only be a meeting with no questioning.  However, they will ask one person on the senior staff to give the group's impressions to the Board.

Then Director McLaren asked about other community groups.  Michael said that that is covered by the focus group committee and that the finalists will see three schools - elementary, middle and high - so they will meet teachers, staff and students. 

But what about the Mayor, asked Director McLaren?  DeBell's crisp answer was that the Mayor's chief of staff is on the focus group committee and there is a legislator there as well. 

Really?  If the Mayor or City Council phones up and asks to meet briefly with the finalists, President DeBell is really going to say no?  I doubt it.

14 comments:

Anonymous said...

I wish some of these administrators and reformers who are trying to wring more work for less money out of teachers would do the same for the Alliance.

Now that would be progress.

n...

Anonymous said...

BTW, I'm watching Chris on TVW. I'm beginning not to like her.

n...

mirmac1 said...

it's getting curiouser and curiouser...

Someone said...

Interesting re: the Alliance - I seem to remember they were paying a pretty hefty paycheck to the FTE's doing this work - something like $50,000 or so? Might be off on that but I do know it's more than a lot of the line staff at SPS make - I wonder how it compares to people in SPS's own fiscal department - not the Execs, just the regular folk.

It always feels like there's so much undercurrent of "behind the scenes" going on at these meetings.

mirmac1 said...

Meanwhile PTSA treasurers labor as ATMs for our schools. We do this because a) the district underfunds buildings for supplies, services, even salaries; and b) we want a healthy, enriched learning environment for our children.

What's Alliance's motivation? It is evident that Sara Morris relishes her power and access. Just how many transactions do they handle? Is it the weekly numerous pass-throughs and self-help reimbursements? Give me number of transactions - not total dollar value, because we know some of their friends write big checks with strings attached.

Anonymous said...

I can't find this info, but how much money each year is processed by the Alliance for this fee? And does the fee cover more than just the financial transaction itself (e.g. does it cover grants management, evaluation, etc.)? If they are just providing 501(c)(3) status, accepting donations and distributing funds, it seems 5% is high. Even a designated fund at the Seattle Foundation is less expensive. Does anyone have a copy of the MOU?

I found a good web site (http://www.fiscalsponsordirectory.org/index.php) with a lot of info about fiscal sponsorship. They've surveyed fiscal sponsorship organizations around the country. Here's their summary of fees:

FEES: Most charge 5%-10%

About 30% of fiscal sponsors charge fees of 5% or less of a project’s revenues, and nearly half charge 6% to 10%. Only 16 charge more than 10%, in most cases to handle government-funded projects, which can require adhering to higher federal audit standards. Some sponsors have sliding-scale fees, depending on a project’s revenues; others will negotiate the fee. What accounts, in many cases, for the disparity in fees are the services the sponsors provide.


- RFP before MOU Renew

Anonymous said...

According to the IRS 990 form they filed in 2010, they processed and acknowledged more than 6,000 donations and disbursed over $1.8 million in funds (see page 2).

I see that in 2010 they payed a company called Brainbox (on Bainbridge Island) $611,00 for "Info/Data Management - Seattle Public Schools". Anyone know what this is for? Just curious what function they outsource on behalf of SPS.

- RFP before New MOU

mirmac1 said...

I believe it was for dashboard development (which I don't think is really up and running yet, if the Strategic Plan updates are any indication.

mirmac1 said...

If the Brainbox temp staffing contract for working on the Academic Data Warehouse had gone through SPS, it would have required an RFP or at least a sole-source justification.

"Brainbox Consulting, a Seattle based business intelligence consultancy focused on business performance management, enterprise data management and data architecture. Brainbox's core platforms of expertise are Business Objects and the Microsoft business intelligence toolset."

Since Gates Foundation funded the Academic Data Warehouse - which is still a work in progress and has cost millions, it's conceivable that someone there said, hire these guys.

Charlie Mas said...

The Executive Committee isn't working well.

They don't question any elements of the MOU with the Alliance. Excuse me, but why should the Alliance get the Board President and the superintendent to sit on their board? Who else demands that? How about it if your PTA required that the Board rep from your director district, the executive director of schools, and the school principal sit on the PTA board - in non-voting roles of course? Want it? Get an MOU.

Board policy says that financial services contracts don't have to be put out for competitive bid, but I would think that given the appearance of a conflict of interest they would want to make a point of doing it with this one.

Charlie Mas said...

What about the Mayor? He's represented on the committee. Yeah, well so is senior staff.

Melissa Westbrook said...

RFP, I believe it covers the financial transaction itself and the other things you listed. I just wonder about why the district wouldn't send this out for bids if the Alliance is angling for more money. It is not their domain; it's the district's.

Anonymous said...

Since deBell is on the Alliance board, it is entirely possible that he may be substantively involved in Alliance plans to raise these fee rates. I can imagine this being discussed at an Alliance board meeting. Since Michael has some fiduciary responsibilities to both organizations, what would he say to a fee increase that might help the Alliance and hurt SPS? He hopefully recused himself from any discussion about this at the Alliance.

- RFP before MOU Renew

mirmac1 said...

Melissa, particularly in light of the fact that A4E may likely be contracting it out...

There's no value-added. They get to hold our purse strings and, as Sara Morris put it, have a "say in the matter".