Saturday, December 20, 2014

This and That (and Things that Make you go, Hmmmm)

First up, the Board retreat on the 6th.  Apparently, I had been expected because Director Peaslee said something to the effect of, "wait for Melissa" and Director Peters and Michael Tolley (who ostensibly must read the blog and knew I was not coming) said, "She's not coming."  I'm sure there was a sigh of relief that no one from the "angry community" was there.

I also learned via public disclosure documents that at least one director feels the need to pass on many of my e-mails to the Board to senior staff.  To note, there are about 13 people who get the e-mails you send via ""  These include the Board, Legal, the Superintendent, Communications, a couple of cabinet people and a person in the Board office. 

So now, if I'm writing to the entire Board, I'll just send it to the main e-mail address because it seems my e-mails get forwarded on anyway.  I don't really like it this way because I think if I write to the Board, that's who should see my e-mail (unless they forward it on to an appropriate person depending on the topic).  

On the issue of the various input votes on Nyland, the principals' one was an odd one because 52% voted yes, 34% said no and the rest were undecided.  This did not represent all the principals, nearly one-fourth didn't vote.  The vote total also included 11 people in Central (and it would seem if you are working at Central, you are not a principal but perhaps these are more in the legion of "coaches" in this district).  

So let's take a count here:

- 5 Directors said yes to the installment of Nyland
- SEA said yes but it was either just the SEA President and/or Board (that has never been clear)
- PASS (the principals' association) -an unsteady 52%
- Seattle Council PTSA - Entire Board voted no to the Board not having a full search (they never said anything against Nyland)

I'm not sure if any of our other labor groups like 609 weighed in or were asked.

Interesting discussion about the vote on Nyland on KUOW's Friday morning news panel a couple of weeks ago.  Knute Berger of Crosscut ventured that "there is political safety in a unanimous vote to 'keep trust'" so that this not-so-unified vote means the school board members who voted for Nyland now "own" this vote.  

Again, there is something up with the Alliance and their MOU with the district.  They have pushed off the MOU negotiations until Feb.  (The Board voted in an extension of the current MOU until then.)

I can only think that it may have something to do with the coming CBA negotiations.  As you may recall, their faux "Our Schools" coalition had desperately wanted to not only give input on the negotiations, they wanted to be at the table.

Naturally, this is nonsense because if EVER there were a personnel matter that the district needed to conduct in the strictest fashion, it's the teachers' union contract.

Speaking of the Allliance, guess where a quite a bit of money for their share of responsibility for the Seattle Teacher Residency is coming from?  You'd be close if you said, "Gates Foundation" but no, it's the Allen Foundation.  I did put in several queries at the Allen Foundation but received no response.

And that Seattle Teacher Residency?  Why so quiet?  This would seem to be quite the big deal that SPS is producing teachers for their teacher corps.

What about Teach for America?  Clearly on the rocks locally and nationally.  I mean, there has been no big wave of hiring in the Puget Sound region.  I'd have to check but if they even have 25 enrolled at UW's College of Education, I'd be surprised.  I know they are just crossing their fingers for these charter schools but that might not pan out either.  Nationally, the Washington Post is reporting that TFA may miss their recruitment mark by at least 25% (the shine is off the gilded lily).  Hilariously, TFA says that teaching has become "polarized" and teaching is not seen as a "stable, fulfilling profession."

Having experienced the national recession through much of their adolescence, college graduates today are placing a greater premium on what they see as financially sustainable professions.

Pittsburgh ended its TFA program last year and this year the governor of Minnesota vetoed a line item that would have given TFA about $1.5M over two years.  Chalkbeat says that TFA is closing its NYC training site.  

Operations Committee meeting, Friday, Dec. 17th Agenda

- didn't have the BEX Oversight Semi-Annual report as the Chair was ill.  This was postponed until Jan.  (Director Peaslee encouraged Director Blanford that if he stayed on Operations, he really should try to go to these meetings as there was good information.  He said he'd have to check his schedule.

- they pulled the item for Loyal Heights Elementary: Capacity flexibility funding.  Ever hear that last phrase before?  Me, neither.  Director Peaslee was also puzzled and asked for a discussion.

Several things to note:
  • Peaslee is always careful to ask if something is state obligated.  In this case, the district has made up this terms and, I suspect, for their own needs.  
  • The policy cited by staff to do this comes from Policy 6,000, number D which they misquoted/miswrote.  It states, "Funds may be transferred from one budget classification to another subject to such restrictions as may be improved by the Board."  Actually, that italicized word is imposed.  My reading is that the Board may allow the staff to do this WITH restrictions the Board may impose.  
So what is "capacity flexibility funding?"  My best guess is the ability for the staff to decide one BEX project is more important than another and they adjust funding in the name of "capacity flexibility."  To whit, what they will be asking is that the advertised cost for Loyal Heights - $37.3M - somehow only has $34M in their budget.  (Whose fault this is, I don't know.)

Then there is this very official wording:

Under the Building Excellence IV Program, the Capacity Flexibility  Funding was established to provide individual projects with additional funding when increases to capacity needs are realized.

Staff knew that Loyal Heights' original building needed renovation BUT they also want to put on an addition to increase seats.  But somehow the budget was only written for the renovations, not the addition.

So this new "capacity flexibility" means they figured out how to add more seats at one place but that means someone else's budget is likely to suffer.  Because I don't care how many pots of capital dollars are out there - the money is finite.

I find it quite disingenuious for staff to NOT say where the transfer of funds would come from.  And no, not a single Board member asked.  (But again, this item was bumped to next month.) 

- the monthly Capital financial report was quite interesting as Melissa Coan from Budget pointed out the huge amount that has come in from the BEX IV levy.  (She says the largest amounts come into the account in October and April.)

The current balance fund for ALL revenues ( BEX II, BTA II, BEX III, BTA III, CEP, Grant, BEX IV, and BTA 1 is about $154.3M.

(To note, BEX II has about $600lk, BTA II has about $6.7M, BEX III has about $6.9M, BTA III has about $53.4M, CEP has $17M, there are no Grant dollars, BEX IV has $69.7M and there is nothing from BTA I.)

So I know your question - how is it that there is so much money floating around from these old funds?  I have received various answers thru the years and frankly, I'm not sure I do truly know.  (I've been told "carry-over funds", "underspend", "close-out funds," etc.

- BTA III - John Marshall building is on track but they had 10% in change orders. It's a historic building so that's not surprising.

- Arbor Heights had an item about  state matching grant which is great.  But, there was a discussion of what it was being spend on and from there we heard terms about the "interdisciplinary coordination between the architect and engineering,"  "coordination between owner and provisions owner,"etc.  Sounds like a fancy way of saying people working together to coordinate the project.

- Then there was an odd discussion with Richard Best in Facilities about adding additional capacity to buildings like Genesee Heights, Wilson-Pacific, Thorton Creek but that they hadn't really sought Board approval.  Ron English wasn't there but Best stated that English had some kind of handwritten document on this issue.

Director Peaslee said she is in favor of additional capacity for future needs.

There then was a discussion of how large they want elementaries to be.  Flip Herndon said ed specs were for 490-660.  He said they had been talking with "the team" about revising ed specs for the "second wave" of building for BEX IV.  He said 1351 got passed and that had to be taken into account.  He said this review of ed specs would happen in early 2015.  

He said that for 1351, there wouldn't be a whole lot of difference for K-3 because McCleary already had that built-in and SPS had been doing this for low-performing elementaries.

Director Blanford said that Governor Inslee had said on KUOW on Thursday that he would not enforce 1351.  I can't find that on KUOW but in other media outlets he has stated that he supports smaller class sizes for K-4 and also stated that he did not support an effort to repeal it.

According to Herndon, Joe Wolf took a look at what 1351 would mean if enacted in SPS and it would be about 80 classrooms for grades 4-12 and about 350 for K-3. He said for a 660 sized elementary, it would be essentially adding 4-5 classrooms for K-3 and for 4-6, maybe 1.

- Best also said that they had received a letter from the state about how energy efficient the new Pinehurst building was turning out (13% better than the WA state energy code).  He said energy efficient buildings were a big focus for the BEX Oversight Committee (a legacy of Director Kay Smith-Blum as well as the efforts of Director Peaslee).

- Then they had a SEPA discussion which was pretty much about the irritation over a few people (namely, Chris Jackins, a long-time district watcher) who file a SEPA on nearly every single building built or renovated in the district.  

- About the Federal Reserve Building, the discussion was a review of what I've already published.  The bidding has opened, there are no bids, the opening bid must be $5M and there is a required $100K deposit to bid.

But then came something I don't agree with (and was not challenged by the members of the committee) - the district is seeking Board permission to bid up to 10% above the appraised value of the building.  But the district is NOT going to use whatever the appraisal number is from the feds - they are going out to pay for one of their own.   I'm suspecting that's because if they, as a public entity, said they were using the feds' appraisal plus 10%, then anyone else bidding would know how high the district would go.  

But I'm not sure paying yet more money for yet another building review is worth it.  They already had architects go thru the building.  I had to smile when they discussed paying for the building (should they prevail in the bidding) because Herndon stated it would be the $5M in BEX IV (which is probably down a couple of hundred thousand with all this reviewing) and "unallocated capital reserves." 

What?  There's money - in Capital - that has not been slated for a building use or is not being held for emergency use?  With so many buildings in poor condition?  How much is in this reserve?

So basically, the Board, if they okay this, will be saying that a downtown school is more important than on-going needs in current buildings. 

-There was an excellent discussion of anaphylaxis medications, meaning an epi-pen versus an epi-kit.  (I regret I did not hear the name of the district medical official giving the information but she was great.)  Epi-pens are ones that anyone can use BUT they expire and the district ends up with hundreds they never use and then throw away.  Epi-kits can only be given by a nurse but don't expire.

Director Peaslee then asked an odd question about how schools handle these emergencies.  She asked if there were a certain amount in a middle school region and if a school didn't have one, did they just call someone nearby to bring one to a school with an affected student?  A bit of a stunned silence as we all pondered how long it would take to call a nearby school, ascertain they had an epi-pen and get someone to drive it over.

What the district nurse ended up saying was that for SPS, as an urban district, it might be better to have epi-kits with more staff trained to use them and using the savings to hire another district nurse.  Or call a medic to come and administer the kit (she was asked if the response would be fast enough and she said yes).

She said the most important thing is to fully education staff, parents and students about the seriousness of the issue and prevent episodes from happening.

- Then, there is the strange tale of the health clinic at Rainier Beach High School.  First, they had Gretchen DeDecker who is the long-time head of self-help projects at SPS come forward to explain.  She said that this project was a self-help project as the funding didn't come from district or facilities dollars.  She said that the clinic was one of the first in SPS (from the early '80s) and that it has been operated by King County.  KC found grants to support the renovations to the clinic.

Great so far.

But then there was "but this project was just under $250K" so they didn't have to come to the Board.  The project got started in early summer and is due to be done in the next two weeks.

But guess what?  The project went over budget to about $300K but miraculously, King County found more grant money to finish the project.

So DeDecker asked Legal about what to do if a project that WAS under the $250K Board approval amount, now was OVER it.  So Legal said they didn't need Board permission to continue but it would be good to tell the Board.

DeDecker first said the overages were for "embellishments"  like a sink in the nurse's office (which they didn't have).  Another stunned silence - no sink in a nurse's office.  Director Blanford said that he didn't think that was an embellishment and she backpedaled and said it was a "bare bones" project and she would have to get an accounting from KC.

Blanford said there had been issues about the number of projects just coming in under $250K and so if they did bring it to the Board for notice, they should bring verifying documents.  He said it might look suspicious otherwise.

No kidding.

Lastly, there was a discussion about the bell times update by Pegi McEvoy.

  • they just held the second meeting and the minutes from the first meeting are available.
  • it's a larger taskforce than the Title IX taskforce
  • they are still looking for SEA elementary representation
  • the taskforce is doing a survey (not sure of whom) but will take info from other places as well
  • there will be two meetings each in Jan and Feb.  
  • Director Blanford asked about the understanding by the committee that they are only there for an advisory role and that the Board makes the final call.  McEvoy said she made sure every single taskforce understood that issue.  
  • McEvoy also referenced a second survey but again, nothing specific. 


Anonymous said...

To be filed under things that make you go, "Grrrr...."

Families who have seniors at Ballard High School got an upsetting notice today - from the letter:

" A serious error was made recently. On December 8, 2014, the student transcripts of the Ballard High School senior class were inadvertently sent by a Counselor through email to a Ballard High School parent and the admissions office of Western Washington University."

The letter goes on to that the "...transcripts released in error have been deleted and are no longer in the possession of any private parties outside the district."

This is a FERPA violation, yes? And the timing of this letter - delivered by snail mail - stinks!

Ballard Furious

Anonymous said...

"So basically, the Board, if they okay this, will be saying that a downtown school is more important than on-going needs in current buildings."

Grrrr, indeed! I guess this means I'll be writing yet another letter to the Board (and whomever they forward them to).

I'm confused about the epipen issue. Each year, for the last 6 years, I have supplied my son's elementary school with 2 epipens, along with his other asthma and allergy meds (he is allergic to peanuts). His meds and his paperwork are to be at the school by the first day. I was not aware that the school had epipens on-hand (though it sounds like a good idea)...or is this just for middle and/or high schools?

Oh, and it is just plain ridiculous to suggest that an epipen be delivered to the school. There is not time for that nonsense. It's bad enough that the epipens are kept in the school office, and not with the classroom teacher. I would hope they would call 911 (which they should be doing anyway!) if they aren't going to have epipens on hand.

- North-end Mom

Lynn said...


Page four of this monthly update report shows that the original BEX IV budget included almost $20,000,000 for capacity flexibility. I think these funds are to be used when the original budgeted cost of a project is insufficient. $12,000,000 has already been used.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Lynne, that's fine but how come the Board doesn't know this? How come, when staff was explaining this to the Ctm, they didn't say that?

That there is no clear line of explanation - for either voters or the Board - is troubling.

Staff has it within its power to explain this spending clearly - all the BEX spending - and they choose not to do so.

cmj said...

" A serious error was made recently. On December 8, 2014, the student transcripts of the Ballard High School senior class were inadvertently sent by a Counselor through email to a Ballard High School parent and the admissions office of Western Washington University."

....This is a FERPA violation, yes? And the timing of this letter - delivered by snail mail - stinks!

FERPA covers "educational records" -- grades, classes, contact info, etc, of students. I don't know if it covers student names (that would be an issue for school yearbooks). So, yes, that is a FERPA violation.

Some reactions:
1. It's good that the school admitted this via snail mail (instead of e-mail) before the media broke the story and forced them too. Ahem, Dr. Nyland...

2. It sounds like this may have been caused by the same error as the SPED FERPA violation -- attachments embedded into pdfs. I'm just speculating here, but I'm having trouble thinking of how so many records would otherwise be disclosed via email by accident.

3. This is Seattle, the land of software companies. There have to be plenty of SPS parents with expertise in digital security. The district could put together a task force to fix any security holes in SPS and come up with a training so that staff don't accidentally keep sending out confidential student information. (Until the SPED FERPA disclosure, I myself wouldn't have known that you could embed files in pdfs, so thank goodness that I don't handle much confidential information at work.)

Really, this is something where the district ought to employ a contractor to fix the problems -- because student privacy is a right, not an "extra"-- but using parent volunteers might get the problem fixed sooner. There certainly was little urgency to fix the problems after the SPED FERPA leak. Did the investigation Peters proposed ever get started?

Watching said...

I am in agreement regarding the Alliance for Education, MOU and CBA.

Are you saying that Blanford sits on the Operations committee, but doesn't attend the meetings?

Watching said...

I am in agreement regarding the Alliance for Education, MOU and CBA.

Are you saying that Blanford sits on the Operations committee, but doesn't attend the meetings?

Mia said...

The Steering Committee for the Teacher Residency program includes, Nyland, Stritikus, Sarah Morris and Jonathan Knapp

Melissa Westbrook said...

No, Blanford attends the Operations Ctm meetings but Peaslee was suggesting that he also attended the BEX Oversight Committee meetings.

Ballard Furious, that's absolutely a violation of FERPA. A couple of things:

1) Peters is concerned about this as am I. I have told the Board all is not well in this area and the IT people told them it is so there you are.

I think these data breaches should tell them otherwise about the lax thinking on this issue.

2) I am working on a bill for the WA state legislature (probably not this session as it may be all McCleary, all the time plus 1351) for student data protection. Several other states have passed them and others are pending.

3) You got a hard copy letter? I'm not sure all the Sped families involved in the massive data breach have gotten one. Nyland told me translating the letter was hard. I'll have to ask again.

4) Arne Duncan weakened the FERPA law and the whole thing needs overhauling. Some prominent companies are trying to get out in front so that they can press for change the way THEY want it but I say for student data, ask parents. More on this to come.

mirmac1 said...

English just makes this %#@&% up. According to Attachment one of SP 6220.A:

"Although there is no requirement for School Board approval just because an amendment or modification causes the total contract value to exceed $250,000, the School Board must be notified through the appropriate Board committee once a contract amendment or modification causes the contract value to exceed $250,000. In addition, the contract amendment or modification process shall not be used to circumvent the requirement for School Board approval, by splitting a single contract or activity into multiple actions to reduce the amount below applicable dollar thresholds."

For grants, the $250K approval limit applies to:

"Amount is based on total multiyear payment to District, or District commitment to expend funds, whichever is greater"

No, "it would be good" or latest lying hogwash. Given that the KC "grant" was supplemented later (into the same grant account, most assuredly), that made it a grant of greater than $250K which, under policy, requires Board approval. DeDecker fails to distinguish between grant and contract modification in her tortured explanation.

The nurse must've have had some previously unknown space-age method of maintaining sanitary conditions.

mirmac1 said...

re: Ballard

Actually, the SpEd PTSA Board recommended that every SpEd and/or Roosevelt family receive a letter detailing the specific information released. We reviewed a draft - but have yet to see it get mailed. Don't know what the thinking is. It's not like these things age gracefully....

I'm sure not every Ballard family has computers, speaks English as a first language, or checks email. I would be curious to see this letter - and inquire about the whereabouts of the over 7400 breach last month.

mirmac1 said...

Pg five here:

Budget transfers do not require Supt or Board review or approval. I registered my strong concerns about this before Enfield signed it but, meh.

End-Run said...

Interesting comments regarding cost run-overs in excess of $250K.

It is time for the board to grapple and get-a- hold of these issues.

Administrators should not have the ability to spend $250K. I propose the board be made aware of ALL expenditures. It doesn't take much...just a simple list.

Melissa Westbrook said...

End-Run, yes, I agree that a list of approved expenditures should be given to the Board on a monthly basis (anything over say, $150K). Not for approval but for oversight.

Jamie said...

Mirmac, I rec'd the letter from Principal Wynkoop as well - I believe it was just sent to the BHS senior class. I'll type it up (it's not all that long) and post it here for you when I get home.

mirmac1 said...

Thank you Jamie. I suppose that, if its as good as BHS senior fams, it should be sent as quickly, if not more so, to SpEd and RHS families.

Jamie said...

Here is the letter:

December 18, 2014

Dear Parent/Guardian,
A serious error was made recently. On December 8, 2014, the student transcripts of the Ballard High School senior class were inadvertently sent by a Counselor through email to a Ballard High School parent and the admissions office of Western Washington University. Immediate action was taken as soon as the school was informed of the error in order to minimize any risk to our students. As a result, both recipients have confirmed in writing that they deleted the data and did not disclose or use it in any way.

As a result of this incident, we have reviewed our transcript release processes and educated our staff on best practices to avoid this from happening again. These protocols include searching for transcripts one at a time when it is to be shared and establishing an expectation of double checking personal information to be shared is accurate before it is shared with anyone else. Furthermore, we will continue to review all practices related to the sharing of student information for issues that could potentially lead to similar problems.

The transcripts released in error have been deleted and are no longer in the possession of any private parties outside the district.

Questions can be sent to or you can also call 206-252-1000.

I apologize for this error and we will continue to work on safeguarding student records.

Keven Wyncoop

Transparency Please said...

When will Toner and Nyland bring the prek intiatitve to the Operations Committee?

The city has worked with BERK consulting, and they have ALL information regarding enrollment, capacity etc., and a plan to locate prek within Seattle Public Schools. This information is available NOW.

The city's prek program will impact facilities, teaching and learning, enrollment, finance, Assessment, Data and Research, and possibly transportation.

When will these issues be brought to committee?

The city's will pay SPS for space, but Audit and Finance Committee should get ALL information regarding payment etc.

Then, of course, the Curriculum and Instruction Committee should be informed about prek alignment through 5th grade.

The above committees should hear about the city's initiative and the impact on SPS BEFORE a partnership agreement is signed.

As per usual, I'm sure the work will be shoddy and there will be an attempt to ram the Partnership Agreement before elements and impact to SPS is understood.

End Run said...

Yes, Melissa, it would be nice for the board to receive a list of expenditures. It would be as simple as putting expenditures in the Friday Report.

Let's face it, we've seen Tolley making "bridge loans" for prek junkets. The board needs to be made aware of these issues.

IMO, high level administrators have the ability to blast through millions of dollars. Not cool.

mirmac1 said...

I attended the retreat and I'm angry...?

mirmac1 said...

The big push at the retreat was to actually RAISE the thresholds for staff and Board approvals. The board is already in the dark on many issues - this would just aggravate that situation.

Some on the board are pounding the "governance" drum, but seem to have short memories when it comes to "lack of oversight" and internal controls.

Joe Wolf said...

Melissa and all:

"Capacity flexibility" is a line item in the BEX IV program budget.

- What it funds/what it's for: Supports the addition of capacity/seats to the new elementary campuses in BEX IV, from 490 seats/school to 660 seats/school. The school-specific program budgets fund 490 seats and core spaces to support 660 seats. Calling out "Capacity Flexibility" as a discrete line item provides ... well, flexibility in the planning and execution of the BEX IV elementary school projects.

I hope the blog posts an update on this topic. There was a lot of speculation - and, to be blunt misinformation - flying around.

As always, feel to contact me at