Thursday, May 31, 2012

Fair Funding for NOVA Issue Explained

Folks who watch school board meetings have probably heard students from The NOVA Project speak to the board about how their school is funded. You may wonder what the heck they are talking about. They are NOT talking about the 15% reduction in funding that the state grants to Alternative Learning Experience schools. This has nothing to do with decisions made at the state level. Instead, they are talking about how the District unfairly under-funds NOVA, along with The Center School and South Lake High School. The story is not hard to understand, but it it is tricky because it doesn't make any sense at all.

Nearly every school in the district is funded through the Weighted Staffing Standards. There are, however, a few schools which are not. It might make sense to fund and staff schools like the Homeschool Resource Center, Interagency, and Middle College differently from the way that other schools are funded. They are not organized or structured like other schools. But if you were to go to The Center School, South Lake High School, or The NOVA Project, you would see the familiar structures in place: a principal, teachers in classrooms with students, a class schedule, a library, all of the normal stuff. So why aren't these schools funded as any other school would be funded?


Here are the weighted staffing standards for schools in Seattle Public Schools for the 2011-2012 school year. These are the number and variety of staff that the District believes are necessary for schools to operate. This, according to the District, is what students deserve. You will see that there are different staffing standards for elementary schools, middle schools, high schools, and K-8s. For each level of school there are staffing standards based on the size of the school. A high school with less than 800 students, for example, needs 1.0 assistant principals. High schools with 801-1500 students need 2.0 assistant principals, while high schools with more than 1501 students need 3.0 assistant principals. The exception, of course, is The Center School that doesn't need any assistant principal.

Why not? We don't know. No rationale is provided. We have asked around. No one knows the answer. No one - no one on the board, not the superintendent, not the Assistant Superintendent for Business and Finance, not the Executive Director of Finance, no one, can answer this question. No one can explain why The Center School is not provided with an Assistant Principal when the District believes that every high school should have at least one.

If The Center School, South Lake High School, and the NOVA Project were funded according to the WSS, the way that the District believes schools should be funded, they would all get additional funding - funding that their students deserve just as much as any other high school students deserve it.

This is one of those weird issues in which everyone agrees that it should be changed, but no one makes any move to change it, so it doesn't change and everyone denies responsibility for the inertia. Here are the Weighted Staffing Standards for 2012-2013 and, once again, these schools and students are cheated out of what they deserve.

Some folks say that these schools are funded differently because they are so small. NOVA has an April enrollment of 344, The Center School 269, and South Lake has an enrollment of 168. But let's remember that Rainier Beach, which is getting the full WSS for a school with an enrollment of under 800, has an enrollment of only 364 - just 20 students more than NOVA. If size were the issue, then the dividing line must be somewhere in the narrow range between 344 and 364.

I have yet to research whether these schools would get an increase in funding if they became charters, but there is every reason to believe that they would.

9 comments:

Eric B said...

What is the school population of NOVA and Center School? I could see an argument that a very small school (say 250 students) isn't large enough to support an assistant principal. For comparison, elementary schools don't get an AP until they hit 450 students or so. The magic number for high school might be 300 or 350 or whatever, but there is certainly a threshold there somewhere.

As it stands now, that decision isn't transparent. What the District should do is put together one or two more rows on the WSS to accommodate lower-enrollment high schools and fund all schools to that standard. Where it gets sticky is that Rainier Beach might fall into one of those categories, and it may be harder to justify the extra money RBHS gets. I don't for a minute begrudge them the extra staff, but if the discussion turns to fairness, extra money for one small high school could reasonably be seen as unfair.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Eric, Charlie put in the populations of the schools.

Eric B said...

You're right, I'm brainless today. The reasonable floor would be 200-250 students. It's a big jump from there to 800, so you'd probably have to add two steps in the WSS. 200-500 and 501-800 would be about right.

Po3 said...

RBHS gets additonal funding/staff because it is a struggling school. If you are successful school you do with less and each year less is given. If NOVA bacame a stuggling school they would get more money.

Charlie Mas said...

Yes, Po3, RBHS does get some additional funding outside of the WSS. We're not talking about that. We're talking about the funding that every school gets regardless of which students are enrolled.

Po3 said...

It's stealing from Peter to pay for Paul. Take the funding that should go here and put it there.
Of course nobody will ever say that, which is why you can't get an answer.

Charlie Mas said...

A school board director admitted to me that the funding for NOVA is unfair, but, I was asked, where would the District get the money to fairly fund NOVA. I told the board member to take from all of the money they had saved from cheating NOVA for thirty years.

Of course, the District can find money when they want to. They can find money for the pre-school at Graham Hill. They can find the money for bilingual IAs at McDonald. They could find the money to pay the new superintendent more than the last superintendent. They can find the money for this or that whenever they want.

It's not even the board's job to find the money. That would represent inappropriate micromanagement on their part.

Po3 said...

"I was asked, where would the District get the money to fairly fund NOVA."

From all the buckets they create for pet projects.

The money is there they are just choosing not to put it where it belongs.

It's a decision made each year - overfund this school and underfund that school.

Melissa Westbrook said...

To state again, Graham Hill is gettting NO money and their preschool is closing.

I am awaiting Director Carr's answer on McDonald and their request.

I,too, find this magic money pot puzzling. We are told, over and over, the district has no money but when it comes to consultants or other items, somehow they find the money.