Up front - NO decisions were made. I suspect that staff will want some soon so look for another meeting next week.
One thing from the get go is that many of the Board members were not happy to be given a list less than 24 hours before this meeting. Not happy at all and, as Directors Harris and Blanford said, "This is no way to do business."
That's not because no one had ideas on how to spend the money, both on the staff side and Board side. I'm sure many of us could think of what to do with that money.
The staff had things like:
- RULER - which for socio-emotional learning and would be training and support for staff at Tier One schools
- the academic data dashboard (no encouragement on this one from the Board and I agree. If the district is allowing schools to go their own way on curriculum and program methodology, there is no hope to know what works and why at any given school)
- paying for PSAT and SAT testing
- teacher release days for PD (got a mixed reaction from the Board as they get varying feedback from teachers on how much worth there is to any given PD)
- one interesting item was School Leadership with Michael Tolley saying it would be worth it if school leaders could head off problems so they didn't get bigger
- contract with "Thought Exchange" - some kind of online public engagement
- Building Leadership Team training - given that every school doesn't even have a BLT and most are tightly controlled by principals, I'd say no to this one.
I didn't actually see what the Board members got and their documentation included mitigation for schools. Also included was new middle school math curriculum which seems to be long-overdue.
There was one funny spot where Director Harris was inquiring about how the mitigation numbers came about and was told there was a combination of factors like F/RL, academic outcomes, school segmentation, etc. Harris said, "So there's a formula?" The answer from Tolley was yes. So Harris said, "But it's not provided so I don't understand how it works." Tolley said, well he didn't have the formula and the person that developed it no longer works for the district. Oh.
He also said something interesting. He said that McDonald and Stanford, because of their dual language programs, have "always received mitigation funds." He said that the other schools in this program - Concord, Beacon Hill and Dearborn Park - want funds as well.
Director Peters pointed out that, for example, at Center School, they are losing enrollment. This could be because of the erosion (and now) cutting of their arts program. Tolley's answer was that smaller schools always have issues with being able to provide what larger schools do. Peters pointed out that if these schools met their enrollment, they likely would not need the mitigation. Tolley agreed.
Budget head Linda Sebring explained that the deficit number they will be working with if the levy cliff comes (and this would be for 2017-2018) is about $74M but if they could move it just one year further out, then it might only be $45-50M. Meaning, take the whole extra $11M and use it as a buffer - don't spend it at all.
What was made clear is that the WSS for schools is simply to provide the stripped-down basics for a school (and meeting contract requirements.) As Tolley said, every school is different and has other needs beyond the basics.
To note, the documentation showed that most of the schools in Tier One were "low equity," meaning, not having equity issues within the school. When Director Geary asked why, Superintendent Nyland said, with just a shade of bitterness, "Because we made promises we can't keep."
IB got mentioned but Superintendent Nyland said it wasn't on the list because "it's another new promise and we aren't even meeting the old ones."
Pinkham pressed on the point, asking about what the promises were. He also pointed out that the spreadsheet had hidden columns and when he uncovered them, it looked like some items had been given a higher emphasis (didn't say which ones.)
Nyland said the promises were around dual language, Montessori, K-8s and that they were chronically understaffed.
The feeling - to me - was to blame those who came before and the promises those people made. I will point out that none of the programs involved was created just on a promise. All of them went to a board via a superintendent.
Geary kind of touched on the issue saying that they can't give lip service on creating programs and not following thru. She mentioned being out of compliance of laws and "setting ourselves up for lawsuits."
President Patu was of the mind to drive the $11M into the schools. She said the schools need help now.
They ran out of time and the whole issue got tabled.
Then I watched the first part of the Board meeting including the public testimony. There were a couple of very stark moments.
One was having deaf/hard of hearing parents come forward (with great ASL interpreters), explaining how badly deaf students are being treated and how they are been underserved. They acknowledged other students who are also underserved but said that if black children were being told in order to learn they had to act white, there would be a huge outcry and yet, their children have been told they need to learn to read lips in order to truly learn. And, at least one deaf program is down in some basement akin to a dungeon.
It was truly upsetting to hear. These children have the same rights to be educated and yet, somehow, continually get shunted aside.
The second stark moment was the testimony of two principals - Ballard's Keven Wynkoop and Gerrit Kischner, principal at
There was also moving words from Directors Blanford and Peters and Geary about their concern over funding. Blanford seems very worried about the dollars and how much there will be if the levy cliff comes. (Geary also touched on Orlando and student testimony on gender neutral bathrooms and support for all students. Peters also said she understood Principal Wynkoop's feelings about equity which she shared. But she said she was obligated to listen to ALL parents, appreciate their efforts and try to draw in as many other voice as she could.) (Update: Director Peters says she didn't agree with Wynkoop on either not listening to some parents or to get rid of smaller schools/programs.)
I am loathe to say this because it plays into the hands of people who want to take over the district but, honestly, this district is is disarray. I sit in meeting after meeting, year after year, and superintendents and boards and staff like to complain and yet they seem to have no control over what is happening.
I've said it before - we need a sheriff. We need someone like Anthony Boudain who, when he visited Top Chef and looked around, asked, "What kind of crackhouse is this?''
I would NOT call SPS a "crackhouse" but it is almost unintelligible. To wit:
- Operations are not under control. The examples of this are legion. The Deputy Superintendent says, just this week, that senior management can't tell the schools what to do. What?! The district puts out money for a consultant on nutrition services, gets back a fairly damning report and....does nothing with it. Nor does the Board. Special Education? Not good. It's is just bewildering.
- Our district has seemingly taken on too many programs, year after year, almost as if they are good PR vehicles without seeming to understand they had to be paid for. And, if the district wanted good results from them, it was going to cost more money than a traditional school.
The district's one good thing - alternative schools - that had been here more than 20 years, parent/teacher created (the original charter schools), many were run into the ground or weakened by the district.
Dual-language is a great idea but no one truly understood/believed three things. One, you need two adults in the classroom to truly make it work. Two, all those elementary kids would grow up and go where next for that program? Three, equity. How was it fair to give that kind of opportunity to just a couple of neighborhoods?
And yet, Director Michael DeBell, as his parting gift to the district, pushed thru opening more dual-language schools, saying that promises were made. In essence, he created more mouths to feed.
That leaves the current staff in a rather untenable position of resenting these programs rather than embracing them. And it leaves the district ever more struggling and trying to put a good face on the whole thing.
What do they need to do? Or maybe the question is, at this point, what can they do?
They should strip down schools to the basics. It's cheaper to operate schools that are vastly similar in offerings. It is also more equitable. And, you can more easily focus on those who need the support.
It would make operations simpler and, for this district, that alone would be a big help.
I know many of you are thinking, "She must be kidding." I'm not kidding but I also know it's not realistic. It would take some humble pie to say, "We can't handle all this and we cannot go on this way especially with a possible levy cliff coming." It would take political courage.
Honestly, we can all argue that the district has to fund what it started. What I feel I am hearing is the staff saying, "No, we don't" and, in essence, are possibly going to starve programs into folding.
It can't be on parents to fundraising them out of this dilemma, either.
I don't know the answer.
I just know - as I have said over and over - this district will never get ahead with closing the opportunity gap as long as they cannot control their operations.
I see no evidence of that changing soon.