Update: a couple of corrections.
Sue Peters is, of course, the Chair of the Audit&Finance Committee (which I attributed to Director Harris.) Director Peters had asked Harris to chair the meeting since Peters was unable to be physically present.
As well, I attributed a statement to Peters that was Geary's about how Director Blanford felt the $11M should be spent.
end of update
As I previously reported, the Board was having an Audit&Finance Committee Meeting of the Whole and then had an Executive Committee Meeting of the Whole and then a Work Session on the 2016-2017 Budget to figure out to do with this $11M underspend that was found.
All the Board members were present except for Sue Peters (on the phone the entire meeting) and Stephan Blanford whose absence was not explained. Also to note, during committee meetings of the whole (COW - how's that for an acronym?), only members of the committee vote on items but all Board members can partake in the discussion.
The meeting also was a first look at the new CFO, JoLynn Berge. The rest of the room was filled out by staff. I was the only member of the public present.
While the meeting was marked at times with laughter and the tone was respectful, it was also a sober meeting.
There were only two items to discuss, both of them Technology items. Representing DOTS (Department of Technology Services) was Nancy Petersen and David Oestreicher, Director of Technology Infrastructure. Former head Carmen Rahm left the district in early June. Like many senior staff before him, he left some real problems. The two items on the agenda were notable for that reason.
One was a BAR for the next Board meeting on July 6th for purchase of technology for BEX IV schools, capacity classrooms, K-3 class size reductions and Special Education classrooms. (This includes 85 capacity classrooms that have been created out of other spaces.)
It didn't start well as Deputy Superintendent Steve Nielsen had to confess that the BAR had left out an Apple contract that would move the cost on the BAR from $1.5M to $2M.
That's a pretty big issue right that there anyone could read a BAR on a contract and not realize it was not complete.
Another issue is that staff wanted this to be introduced and approved at the July 6th meeting.
President Patu was not happy. She said that she hadn't had time to review this and certainly not the public (on a holiday weekend.) She said the committee at talked to Rahm who had, at an April meeting, presented this in pieces (seemingly to avoid needing Board approval by not going over the $250,000 threshold.)
Director Peters said that the conversation at that meeting had members asking why the contracts were separate and what was the value to that (given that, generally, you save more buying in volume in one contract.) She said "it doesn't make any of us look good" when contracts are presented in a less-than-clear fashion.
Director Harris (also Chair of A&F) said the Board had a clear fiduciary oversight duty. She said she did not want schools to not be ready next September without this technology and said that if the Board did not vote for this, they could be - once again - be accused of micromanaging. She said she was "extraordinarily disappointed" in staff but that she would vote for this BAR for the "greater good."
She also stated that she would put this particular piece of business on the list for the Internal Auditor.
Board members asked about alternatives if this BAR was not voted thru. Mr. Oestreicher said that they could not buy anything but that would leave entire school, not just students at the school, under-resourced. He said they could put off the purchasing for the students and buy just needed technology for staff. Director Harris asked if they had a spreadsheet for that but the answer was no.
Director Geary asked about the funding and, oddly, staff said BEX IV. (Most of the money is coming from BEX IV but also from BTA II and BTA III -it's right on the front page of the BAR so it's a mystery to me why they couldn't say that.) She asked if this was what voters knew when they voted. Director Harris pointed out that the district, after the vote, has the leeway to do what they wanted with the money. Director Geary worried that it might "violate the spirit of the levy."
(They also had "Genesee Hill Elementary" on the BAR and that's also a mystery where that school came from. Director Burke showed me some SPS webpage that said "Schmitz Park at Genesee Hill" but it would be nice if the district would get on the same page for the name of the school. It's a legal issue and they know that.)
Director Burke asked about why this was all coming forward now (from April) and why the surprise?
Oestreicher said that in discussions after Rahm had left that new CFO, JoLynn Berge, discovered that they couldn't be breaking up the contract in pieces to avoid the Board oversight.
The second item on the agenda was a one-year additional support agreement with PowerSchool.
Director Geary asked again but why wasn't this recognized in April. Nielsen said, "Carmen did recognize this as a problem." He said yes, Director Peters had asked questions at the time.
I think it important that the Superintendent set the tone for staff and not hire people in senior positions who think it their job to try to outwit the Board.
There was discussion about possibly following Board policy to introduce it in July and vote on it in August and could Apple/Dell expedite process? Staff said they probably could for the shipping but it was really the work when it reaches SPS that takes time. Director Peters put forth a motion for introduction but didn't get a second from either Harris or Pinkham (the other members of the committee.) Director Harris then moved for this item to be introduced/voted on at the July 6th Board meeting. Pinkham seconded and they voted. The vote was 2-1 with Peters voting no.
There was a bit of a slight verbal tussle when Director Harris reiterated that she wanted this to go to the Internal Auditor. Erin Bennett pointed out that the A&F committee had already charted out that work. Harris was undeterred and pointed out that the Internal Auditor was the Board's employee, not the district's.
Again, the Board was asking why this was being brought to them in a rushed fashion for intro/action on July 6th.
Ms. Petersen said that "it was a case where we wanting to be accountable and transparent." She also revealed that while the district was paying for service from PowerSchool that you had to pay more to get your issue answered more quickly.
Director Harris asked about why this was before them on this basis. Ms Petersen said that the staff had done their own upgrades previously but that they didn't get the new software in time and they worried about getting it done on-time for the start of school. She went on to say that this release has "new features we really want" like a mobile gradebook for teachers.
There was back-and-forth on this issue especially around why the district needed to pay extra in order to get this done. I was waiting and waiting for Ms. Petersen to explain what was in the BAR - the vendor was late in releasing the software (by at least a week) which she said was highly problematic for staff. I wish a Board member had asked why the company couldn't pay for some of the service since it was their delay.
Geary asked if buying this service might be a cost savings for DOTS with maybe the need for fewer people. Petersen seemed startled and said not in staff numbers but probably in staff time. Petersen also stated that they do tracking on isolation and restraint for Special Education students manually and it would be better for reporting to feds and state if it was done by computer.
Again, Director Patu asked why this was coming to them so late. Petersen said that late last month they looked at what they needed to get done and were worried about the work given the late release date of the software.
There was discussion around the fact that DOTS had accepted service from PowerSchool with PowerSchool understanding that if the Board didn't okay this contract, SPS couldn't pay them for the service. As well, there was discussion about the start and end dates on the contract which specified June as a start date but that the actual contract wouldn't be voted on until July.
Peters again tried to get a motion for just intro at the July meeting but there was no second. Director Harris then moved for intro/action at the July meeting but again, she wants this to go to the Internal Auditor. It passed 2-1.
That was the end of the A&F meeting.
Executive Committee of the Whole
The only item here was to review the July 6th agenda for the Board meeting. Because of the two previous items there will be changes to that agenda but, as well, the principals' contract had already been struck from the agenda.
Director Harris pointed out that a number of community members expressed interest in seeing the final contract and asked about community engagement. Dr. Clover Codd stated that it had not been completed in time for the July 6th meeting and would get to the Board to review and posted for community members to review. This item was already introduced at the last board meeting but only as a placeholder as, obviously, there was no documentation attached.
Again, no one is asking to be at the table. But a timely review of the contract by both Board and community is not out of order.
Director Geary also asked that one item be taken off the Consent agenda. That was Item #11, Northwest School of Innovative Learning (SOIL). The district has a contract with this school for some Special Education students. Director Geary said some issues around isolation/restraint at the school appear to violate Board policy and those needed to be worked out.
Work Session on Budget
Steve Nielsen lead this portion of the meeting and this is where it got somewhat tense. He explained that the Cabinet had done "exercises" to figure out what to do with the underspend of $11M.
Director Harris asked why, if the Legislature seems to "stick to us" every year, why that isn't anticipated and made part of the budget. Neilsen said it was different every year and hard to anticipate.
Nielsen also made clear that the $11M is an estimate. It could be higher or lower and they wouldn't know until November numbers were available.
Ms. Berge said that no blood was shed during the staff's exercise work. Nielsen went to the chart on the wall to show the priorities. (See photo.) He then showed a duplicate chart and said that they had 11 dots for each director ($1M per dot) and invited the Board to come and put their dots up.
Dead silence. No one got up from the Board's end of the table.
Harris said there was a huge spread on the SMART goals (from $4.4M to 7.6M) and that many of those items were "on-going items, not one-time ones." She said her cynical self thought this was a set-up for next year and why the goals weren't being met and staff would say "you wouldn't approve the money."
She said she didn't like the WSS and not having the public understand how the budget gets decided. She said she appreciate the idea of voting with the dots but she would not do it.
Burke also said he was uncomfortable with the dots about something "that needs debate and dialog."
Berge said the idea was to be able to start the conversation "where alignment is or isn't."
My own internal take on the dots was no. I mean, this isn't a community conversation with a bunch of community members. It's elected officials taking dots to vote on priority items. It just seemed the wrong way (and frankly, kind of undignified.)
Patu said she didn't even see items up there that she thought should be there and her vote would not represent what she truly thought.
Director Peters said she had no dots so obviously she would not be able to participate in a clear fashion. She said she, too, thought that the Board would be contributing to what
would be on the list and not just voting on what staff wanted.
Director Geary mentioned that the Board had the understanding that Director Blanford wanted the entire $11M to go into a reserve over his concern about a possible levy cliff.
Bingo! I mean, nice try on the part of staff but it didn't work.
Nielsen ruefully offered another way to go. He asked what the Board wanted to see. (Staff was shifting around in their chairs and not comfortably. I find sometimes it is far more interesting to look at the people who aren't speaking than the actual speaker.)
They went down the list:
School mitigation - that was a yes from the directors at about $2.2M for Tier One and Tier Two schools. (There is already about $2M in the fund.)
There was back and forth about high school schedules and mitigation
issues. Superintendent Nyland said it was difficult because "everyone
makes the same argument" and half are legitimate and the other half
aren't. (It would be interesting to know what the non-leg arguments are
but no one asked.) He said they don't always have enough data to know
whether arguments are legitimate or not.
Director Burke pointed out that mitigation requests might become "the
new normal" and that one area of "heartache" for him was the class size
reduction that may force splits at many schools.
Tolley quietly said that there were 18 FTE for that purpose. Nielsen,
who was almost next to me, said, "I didn't know that." Nyland said he
hadn't been "in on this conversation" but it will all depend on if they
"hit our enrollment number" and that it may happen at some schools but
Nyland said that with Berge's help, "We don't think the split issue will be as dire as once feared."
Compliance - a big one for Director Geary - yes from the directors at $1.9M (this could be slightly more or less because the regulations have not yet been written.)
IB for the three high schools that have the program - there was a bit of a discussion about sustaining money versus "aspirational" goals. They settled on $750,000. There was a bit of tension when Harris said the IB schools needed the help and Nyland said, "We didn't make that promise" and she shot back, "I respectfully disagree, you weren't here."
Geary said what about later for these IB schools. Nielsen said that they are looking at other sources. He said there is a state grant that they hoped Seattle would get part of and the other is a private funder who is interested in the program. He couldn't say more on the latter.
Middle School math adoption - this would be about $3M. Peters and Burke were really talking this one up. Geary was not for it because she said that the elementary math adoption wasn't going smoothly and that she "didn't see the promise of consistency and equity."
Tolley explained that Mercer Middle school was using Saxon math with good results. But then he went on and it was very troubling.
He said that the critical area of instructional materials that are needed for our system aren't available. He talked about teachers having to create their own materials.
This goes to what a couple of readers (northwesterner and craziness) said in other threads: why are there not instructional materials in our schools? How can teachers be creating their own, not because they want to but because they have to? How can we have 20+ year old books? Science as a tested subject and yet not basic lab materials for middle and high school?
Again, for me, this goes to my theme of back to basics. We must have a functional district, stocked with the basics for public education from the first day of school straight-thru to the last. Period.
I left this meeting before the end (I was there nearly 3.5 hours already.) What I was told is that the Board and staff agreed to put the balance of money - left over after IB, mitigation, compliance - about $6M into an "escrow" account to be spent this school year on SMART Goals and possibly a new middle school math curriculum.