Tuesday, October 20, 2015

The Alliance Doubles Down

Unbelievable but true.  Not only does the Alliance say - via a Times op-ed by CEO Sara Morris and Jon Bridge -  that the district is making a mistake in ending the relationship, they don't even admit they did a thing wrong. Here are both letters.

Kind of amazing considering that the district has been trying, for literally years and years, to steady and make better the relationship with the Alliance.  The district wrote quite a detailed accounting of the issues, which the Alliance answered with their letter including a refutation chart, and now, an op-ed saying how much this partnership means ...to the district.

There was no partnership left.  Here's what I said in my comments at the Times:
This is a sad, bittersweet moment.  I've been around this district since the Alliance began.
I do remember John Stanford being very proud but the Alliance was there to serve the district, not the serve the Alliance's goals and desires.  
I urge readers to read both documents carefully.  There are some very striking items to consider. 
One is that the district's letter says that not one, not two but three Seattle Public schools' superintendents have had problems with the CEO.  That there was talking about one superintendent behind his back.  If three very different superintendents have a problem with just one other person, maybe the problem isn't at the district.  You have to wonder with all this public talk of losing superintendents, if the bad relations there with one of the district's biggest partners, the Alliance, might not have played into that. 
The Alliance has tried to control the Board's retreats (and had been for awhile) by organizing the day AND creating the agenda.  It's not the Alliance's job to decide what the Board talks about at its retreats.   
The so-called "Our Schools Coalition?" What exactly have they done? Nothing visible except take the work of an earlier group and create their group.  Ask the League of Education Voters for that story.  Or the League of Women Voters. Or the Seattle Council PTSA. Or CPPS.  They were all at the table when it happened.
What else did the district have problems with?  Lack of clear understanding about the lines of communication between the Alliance and district personnel and keeping the Superintendent in the loop. Raising the amount of money that the Alliance makes off of managing PTA school funds (they charge 7.5%).   
"Seattle Public Schools administrators have a unique opportunity to seize this moment and double down on building strong working ties with partners who are positioned to help. Now is precisely the wrong time to push community partners away." 
Actually this a great time for the district to maintain control over ITS vision.  There are enough people - the Gates Foundation, the Alliance, the Mayor, etc. - chiming in about "what" the district should be doing.  The Board and the Superintendent are the people elected and hired to do this work.   
As well, there are many community groups willing to partner in a collaborative manner.  In fact, maybe a new group will spring up and be the real partner the district needs.
The district made the right call on this one.

37 comments:

Anonymous said...

Melissa, care to go back to that Times opinion piece comment section and also post the link you made to SCRIBED so the public at large can read the letter the board sent and the letter the Alliance posted? In comparing the two letters SPS for once looks sane. Others should have the chance to examine them.

DistrictWatcher

mirmac1 said...

As I reread some of those powerbroker emails from 2012, with Sara Morris barking orders at Paul Apostle about the many, MANY stakeholders at the Our Schools Coalition that are vested in seeing SPS's implementation their CBA, yada yada. There are money laffers in here, from Carr, McEvoy, you name it.

Powerbroker-emails-reprise-2

Powerbroker-emails-reprise-2

Powerbroker-emails-reprise-4

And more of their greatest hits. Brings a tear to your eye, when you think you won't have to listen to these blowhards.

Rufus X said...

Please pardon my unladylike response to this ST op-ed, but it is a big load of horse$hit. i won't even begin to parse the specific talking points, else I'd be up all night. But let's just say the Alliance's "systemic efforts on initiatives benefiting all students" have long since jumped the shark - from actually helping students to their current goals of training adults to do the org's bidding.

I was a friend of the late Ken Bunting (Seattle PI editor, A4E board member). I was honored to be his guest at a few of the Alliance's fundraisers in the early oughts - back when they were actually focused on classrooms/schools. At the time, I was on board with their initiatives. Those initiatives changed, and though they preached "benefiting all students", it became apparent that that was NOT their goal.

Goodbye and good riddance to the Alliance for Education. Don't let the door hit ya where the good lord split ya.

Po3 said...

I am wondering what will the Alliance now do w/o a district to "support?"

Melissa Westbrook said...

Po3, and no charter schools for them to turn that laser focus to.

I'm not sure if they are trying to cause some mischief (without realizing how this could backfire) or if they think sending that letter AND also trying to wag a finger at the district in public would really work.

I also note that other readers have said - on the Alliance's point that someone in the district DID know about the principal trip - that if that is true, who is working with the Alliance without telling Superintendent Nyland? Could that be Charles Wright who used to WORK for the Alliance and who I saw talking with the Alliance Communications person outside JSCEE after the Ex Ctm meeting last week? The same Communications person who is testifying tonight at the Board meeting?

Hmmm.

Watching said...

"But let's just say the Alliance's "systemic efforts on initiatives benefiting all students" have long since jumped the shark - from actually helping students to their current goals of training adults to do the org's bidding."

Indeed. The city uses the same tactic. Both the Alliance and City have infiltrated themselves into the system and use principals/teachers. I'm interested in knowing more about principal trainings. The Alliance did link to a document that indicates senior staff was aware of principal trainings, and it appears this information didn't make it to the superintendent.

The Alliance has always used the press to coerce and intimidate the board and district. DeBell was their pal and he engaged in the same type of activities.

Kudos to the Superintendent and board. Hoping the superintendent clamps down on the city (and staff members that withhold information from the superintendent), as well.

Anonymous said...

This is very encouraging. Melissa, you'd recently said that you feel there are people in SPS that are trying to take over the district. Is SPS cutting A4E loose related to what you've said? Are there factions?

Westside

mirmac1 said...

I wonder how much the Bailey-Gatzert PreK cram and mysterious check may have pissed off Nyland. That $750K Gates grant was engineered by AFE, facilitated by Toner and Wright. I was very glad their latest attempt to commandeer more classrooms for SPP programs went off the skids. Why are they still here?

Anonymous said...

The public throwdown in The Seattle Times cajoled me to do some more digging. A lot available on The Alliance as it is a non-profit. Here is the most recent tax form 990 (2013) that they have publicly posted. It's a doozy.

> More than $1 million to Alliance staff in salary/benefits

> Sara Morris CEO makes more than $150K

> CFO makes more than $95K

> Alliance paid Ed Deform PR firm Strategies 360, which constantly tries to get its tentacles into JSCEE, for a $100K+ consulting contract

> The Ostara Group ?? had another $100K+ consulting contract

> A handful of unnamed persons were making rare air contributions to The Alliance at amounts like $500K, $464K, $175K. That level of money buys what the contributors want, no doubt.

> Despite The Alliance's proclamations to the contrary in the newspaper a la Gloria Gaynor "I Will Survive" (stomp away and take its money elsewhere), the 990 is full of references to the fact that the Alliance exists to support SPS. Boy, that's not going to work for 2015 tax return documentation when the district is telling the group to cease and desist in using the SPS name in any promotion or official communication without express permission of SPS.

The Alliance is fighting for its high-salary, money-gives-us-permission-to-make-SPS's-decisions-for-it life. And it knows it.

DistrictWatcher

DistrictWatcher

Anonymous said...

More from the 990:

"All employees of Alliance for Education are actually
employees of the Greater Seattle Chamber of Commerce dba Seattle
Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce, an unrelated organization."

My side note: Yes, and it shows.

DistrictWatcher

Anonymous said...

Awwww...did somebody get their little feelings hurt? ;o(

Sorry Alliance - guess you'll have to find another little buddy to micromanage, I mean support..


reader47

Melissa Westbrook said...

Westside, I can't say if there is a power struggle in the district (with the City and the Alliance giving it a good push.)

But Charles Wright moved to Seattle and, in three months, was on the Alliance Board. That's pretty fast work for a newcomer but then, he had been working for the Gates Foundation. Who was he talking to outside of JSCEE last week after the announcement of this parting at the Ex Ctm meeting? The Communications person from the Alliance. Who is on the speaker list for tonight's Board meeting? The Communications person from the Alliance?

That the Alliance did not name one single thing in this op-ed THEY might have done wrong makes me think they are either tone-deaf to what appears to be a steady stream of superintendents who were not happy with Sara Morris (the CEO) or they just don't care.

If you burn something to the ground and then say you want it back, it would then seem to me that you think you CAN get it back. That would say to me that someone inside has to help you get thru the smoke to do it.

Anonymous said...

And finally, the 990 has a space where the organization must list their top 3 biggest program accomplishments. Here, for Blog consideration and comment is what The Alliance said:

- Increase in the on-time high school graduation rate from 62% in 2008
to 72% in 2013.

- Increase in percentages of low income students who met state
standards in math from 35% in 2008 to 53% in 2013.

- The Alliance for Education provided no-cost fiscal administration to
over 200 groups supporting neighborhood schools and their programs.
These groups include PTAs and programs in academics, the arts,
languages, public service, technology, sports and other enrichment
areas. In 2013, the Alliance processed and acknowledged more than 4,500
donations on behalf of these grass roots groups, and disbursed over
$1.38 million for instructional support, scholarships, awards,
materials, trainings, extracurricular programs and other school-related
activities.

My own cynical thought: The Alliance will fight tooth and nail to keep its role as pass through for PTA funding. It is one of their listed reasons for existence and no doubt keeps its tentacles er arms in individual schools. Hope another organization bids against it and wins the next SPS contract to serve our schools. An issue for Bloggers to track!

DistrictWatcher

Patrick said...

"no-cost fiscal administration"? I thought the Alliance charged for its services, charged a higher proportion than most accounting firms.

Watching said...

Btw....I am concerned that the Alliance sent principals to a shady "university" that promotes public-private relationships.

The Alliance speaker...also works for the Gates Foundation...;)

I've not always agreed with Nyland, but I do give him credit for this one.

Melissa Westbrook said...

So DistrictWatcher, that fiscal adm costs 7.5%. At an Operations meeting, it was stated that an RFP had been sent out for this work and ONLY the Alliance applied. That seemed odd to me because it seems like fairly easy work that a small-to-mid-sized accounting firm might want.

Patrick said...

It makes me wonder if someone in the District managed to get the RFP sent ONLY to the Alliance, or ONLY the Alliance plus a few firms that they knew wouldn't be interested. I hate to be that suspicious, but ...

mirmac1 said...

Yes, Patrick, that is what SPS calls "RFP Lite".

GarfieldMom said...

Their op-ed is a lot of words saying nothing.

Snark #1: that picture of Jon Bridge at The Seattle Times? Must be 25 years old (I did some work with him that long ago -- amazing that he is STILL doing the exact same type of advocacy work with the exact same people as back then). Why does he not have an updated photo with them? He's aged well, nothing to be shy about.

The 7.5% is high. I don't know how they can justify it.

By contrast, the Associated Recreation Council, which is the non-profit partner of the Parks Department that administers all their programs and keeps the accounts/books for all of the city's Advisory Councils, gets 3% of funds from program fees and only 1% of fees from fundraising activities of the councils.

8.1% of ARC's budget is spent on admin. 12% of of A4E's budget goes to admin.
25 people work in ARC administration. 16 people work in A4E administration.
(Snark #2: salaries of key positions in a non-profit are listed in their 990s. Look at the difference in the job titles for the two orgs. Just say no to job title inflation.)
ARC Executive Director Bill Keller compensation = $113,156 (2014)
ARC Accounting Director Sharon Mauze compensation = $80,920 (2014)
A4E CEO & President Sara Morris compensation = $167,003 (2014)
A4E CFO Amy Ward compensation = $114,155 (2014)

I was also looking at those 990s (hi DistrictWatcher!) Remember how the Alliance said this in their response to the district?
In 2014, the Alliance expended $4.8 million. Of that, $3.9 million (79%) was expended on programs benefitting Seattle Public Schools.
Their 2014 990 is not yet available. But the 2013 990 states that Seattle Public Schools received 79% of all grant funds ($1.56 million). 3% were grants directly to affiliated school groups to support individual schools ($63K), 15% to other organizations ($292K) and 3% to organizations/individuals as scholarships/fellowships ($54K). That's a far cry from $3.9 million...and I don't think 2014 looks all that different than 2013, judging by the audit they referenced in their letter.

When the Alliance says they expended $3.9 million on programs benefitting SPS, they are talking largely about their programs -- the STR, the Principal Leadership Partnership, and the School Board Institute, plus the Our Schools Coalition. Included in that $3.9 million are amounts they spend on some salaries, office expenses, travel, conferences/meetings, etc., not just the grant $$ they give to SPS. SPS is, understandably, more interested in the actual $$ that comes to the district for THEIR priorities, not the $$ the Alliance spends on their own priorities.

Here's an enlightening story from 2013 about the Alliance, with a quote from Melissa. http://kuow.org/post/nonprofit-brings-support-and-pressure-seattle-schools Does this support the district's version of the relationship, or the Alliance's? You be the judge.


Anonymous said...

One of the commenters on the Times goes into great detail about how The Alliance helped Nathan Hale's Theater Program back in the early 2000's. Were they better then than now?

HP

Melissa Westbrook said...

Hale's performing arts program has improved greatly and they are really doing strong work. I have never heard it credited to the Alliance before.

Eric B said...

Most RFPs from public agencies are required to be posted publicly, but "public" can vary widely, as anyone who's tried to find stuff on the website can attest. You can end up with minimal competition if the people who might put in a proposal don't know it's out there. Even if many companies did know about it, they may have decided not to put a bid in, depending on the terms of the competition. Some RFPs are skewed to a particular vendor (this engine must weigh X pounds, no more, no less), some have weighting schemes (priority for working with SPS before or experience doing this particular job), some are biased in other ways. Even if the RFP is relatively neutral, some vendors may decide not to bid because they feel that A4E had a lock already.

I'm not saying that the RFP for the financial services was biased in any way, this is just what I've seen before. Can anyone dig up the actual RFP that A4E responded to?

Melissa Westbrook said...

Well, I should have read the comment at the Times first. If true, that's great but I never saw publicity about it that I can recall.

Anonymous said...

Ha! Sorry I meant, was the Alliance better then than now. Hale's performing arts program is chugging along. They did a wonderful production of Young Frankenstein last year.

HP

Ann D said...

Wow Garfield Mom, good on looking up the amounts. So out of the 2013 budget (~$5 million like 2014?) they spent under $2 million on SPS initiatives. It sounds an awful lot like their 990s might not actually reflect reality.

Anonymous said...

This makes darn interesting reading.... Politics and political manipulation is what goes on at the top ... along with great salaries.

It is long past time to move away from bloated salaries and top-down decision making. Junking dependence on the Alliance is a good start but the SPS Directors need to go much much farther.

There is an urgent need to put educational decision making into the hands of teachers at the school level. The number 1 need is a site based model that empowers teachers to make instructional decisions. Decisions about professional development and academic programs. School level decisions about how to deliver the instructional services required by IDEA law.

The most recent Central Dictate requiring the jumbled mishmash elementary math scope and sequence be followed demonstrates how urgently a move to site-based decision making is needed.

-- Dan Dempsey

Melissa Westbrook said...

"There is an urgent need to put educational decision making into the hands of teachers at the school level. The number 1 need is a site based model that empowers teachers to make instructional decisions. Decisions about professional development and academic programs. School level decisions about how to deliver the instructional services required by IDEA law."

Yup and that would be job one for the Board after the election. I just had a talk with a teacher who feels disconnected from the Strategic Plan and that it does not meet the front-line needs of students.

Eric B said...

Local decision making is a double edged sword. For every instance of top-down ridiculousness like the math scope and sequence, you can find examples of local ridiculousness like the Ballard High SpEd funding siphon from a few years ago.

Anonymous said...

Eric B ... you are correct. A big component of site-based is oversight and accountability..... past boards have demonstrated neither oversight nor accountability of much. ... Less cheer leading needed.

Looks like this election maybe rolling the dice and hoping for a better outcome.

Place your bets ladies and gentlemen ... in a few years we will see the outcome.

-- Dan Dempsey

Anonymous said...

Melissa,

Oh YES !!! Let's review the Strategic Plan: It is mostly about believing.

Seattle's Strategic Plan a misguided or ignored document in too many ways

Mission: Seattle Public Schools is committed to ensuring equitable access, closing the opportunity gaps and excellence in education for every student.

We believe effective leadership is vital at all levels of the organization and will create student success.

We believe it is our public duty to properly steward district resources through ethical behavior, compliance to the law, transparency of processes and sound fiscal controls.

We believe in a district, including the central office and support staff, which is dedicated to providing high-quality service in support of teaching and learning.

We believe community partnerships and family engagement are fundamental to achieving and sustaining student success.

==========================

SPS is big on lots of believing but short on doing.

District as seen by public: Anyone held accountable?

-- Dan Dempsey

Anonymous said...

Hmm...well, can find a few RFP's out there in internet land, but not one dealing with the Alliance - I"m sure it's there, it's just a matter of asking the question in the right way. Have to kind of laugh - the Alliance has a link to the Times story on their FB page and only 4 people have "liked" it - talk about the echo chamber effect ;o)

reader47

Anonymous said...

Ah - found it! RFP went out June 1st with a June 12th deadline

Request for Proposal No. RFP04573 School Account Management Services

reader47

Anonymous said...

FYI ... ARC gets WAY more than 3% for the after school classes they "sponsor" at schools. They might get only 3% from the parents paying for the service ARC provides of managing after school class enrollment, etc - but outside providers have to pay a very hefty fee. So much so that long-time after school club providers almost ALL drop out when ARC takes over at a school. It seems like only a few very generic providers who know the ARC system start to provide everything.

It's a shame - the ARC-enrolled stuff we've encountered is okay, but the former direct providers (sewing, iPad animation studios, small theatre groups, etc) were incredible.

The ARC stuff is like whatever company works their system (is it ARC itself, a subsidiary, or someone who's just tight with ARC?), they picked a lot of neat sounding classes off the internet and downloaded the lesson plans and then hired someone random to supervise them - it's okay - but the old way, with genuinely enthusiastic and skilled providers whose core business was the single topic they were teaching - was far, far better.

And the small business that used to do the most amazing classes have told me many times (during summer camps when I asked if they were doing school again) about the huge chunk of their money ARC takes, which is what stopped them from doing it.

-- Nameless4This

GarfieldMom said...

Thanks for the info, Nameless4This. I don't know anything about how ARC interacts with outside providers, nor much about the after school classes at schools. Wonder what's considered a hefty fee to those club providers. Some of the after school programs/classes are free for families, I *think*, depending on the school and the provider.

I only know the Advisory Council side, and only offer the info because they are similar to the Alliance in that they are a fiscal agent for those councils. Program fees for classes and programs you sign up for through the SPARC system at Seattle Parks are deposited with ARC and they charge a 3% "PAR" fee. If an advisory council holds a fundraising activity, those funds are deposited with ARC and charged at 1%.

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