For this Work Session, all of the directors were present in person except for Director Blanford who was there via phone. The Superintendent was there as were several senior staff members.
President Peters did seem to set a good tone for action when she stated, "We are going to have to make decisions tonight."
I actually don't want to do a complete detailing of the work session but I'll just summarize and give some highlights. Also, some of the nitty-gritty of the details of what pots of reserves that are actually going to be used went over my head. I felt like I must have miss that discussion somewhere.
1) There actually was only one decision made and that was whether to go with all the staff's recommendations as a package or not. At the beginning, I absolutely did not think that this was how the Board would do it. I thought they might eliminate or substitute items but as the session dragged on, it became clear it would be all or nothing.
Naturally, nothing really wasn't an option so the majority of the Board (except for President Peters and Director Patu) said yes (to varying degrees but frankly, once you say "yes," it's yes).
(Editor's note: in my first posting of this thread, I referred to Director Patu as Vice-President; the current VP of the Board is Director Leslie Harris. My apologies.)
2) Keep in mind that because of how senior management works - mostly in secret and with less-than-optimum transparency in their decision-making - PLUS the factor that we really don't know what the final outcome will be from the Legislature (nor when), there truly are a lot of holes out there.
Hence, during the meeting, the Board and the staff regularly referred to "Restoration 2.0" and "Restoration 3.0." So there will be on-going changes.
I'll note that Director Harris did talk about the lack of ability for community to give feedback and the belief that Central Office may be bloated and it feels all very vague "and I understand why."
For example, as you may know, the levy cliff bill was passed. However, right now, it will only fill a $25M gap and not $30M because of the per pupil inflator (PPI). The district may, in the end, get the entire $30M but it just not clear now.
3) I must praise (with some of it damning) the efforts of JoLynn Berge who performed quite well in her role as the main speaker for the district. She was measured and careful in her wording but really didn't budge an inch. But that was to her credit and there was not much pushback from the Board.
4) What put the Board in something of a hemmed in feeling was that staff would not say where Central staff cuts might happen because they hadn't told those people. Well, it is possible to generally state - as they seem to have done quite easily for school staff - where departments cuts might come from for Central. It was mentioned that there was an April 7th deadline for notifications.
- The Superintendent spoke of how they were able to restore two-thirds of possible cuts to staff at schools. However, he spoke of a "small request to give a hint of hope to Central Office staff" that they would not bear the brunt of the cuts.
- One item that some on the Board particularly did not appreciate was one of the guiding questions from staff for restoration - "Are people more essential than other non-staff items in eliminating opportunity gaps?" I agree. I think that is something of emotional bait that is not helpful in making hard, cold budget decisions. Director Burke called it "polarizing."
- Well, will you look at that? Staff using the Moss Adams report to back up what they want. I find it quite amusing that after all that is in that report they pick out some quote about "balance in government" and "if they just cut enough.." Berge's point was that Central staff does supply services to schools and there might not be enough staff to oversee functions. I noted that word "oversee."
Except that we all know there could be cuts at Central Office. Like Executive Directors (and that was not mentioned once).
To my surprise, Director Blanford also chimed in on Moss Adams saying it talked about "cuts that went too deep."
So I will have to go back and reread Moss Adams to see where they got these phrases but I find it mighty lucky that BOTH Berge and Blanford had these quotes at their fingertips.
To note, Moss Adams was NOT about the problems of cuts at Central; it was about mismanagement at Central. No revisionist history allowed at this blog.
- Most of the Board was concerned over possible cuts to the STAR mentors program (which supports new teachers at high-need schools) and were reassured when told that program would be sustained.
- Less impressive was Nyland talking about the opportunity gap and one program, My Brother's Keeper, saying there wasn't a lot of evidence but what little they do have says it's working. So cross your fingers because apparently data is important for some things and not others.
- Very worrying is the belief that Title One may be changing (via the feds and our new Ed secretary, Betsy DeVos) and that there may be fewer dollars coming in.
At this point, Director Patu asked why, if they knew these changes were coming, why they had not planned for them earlier? (I always love Director Patu for her ability to cut right to the chase.)
Berge said that their belief is that once MTSS is fully in place, it WILL support every child and lessen the need for Title One. Deputy Superintendent Steve Nielsen said that their backup plan was the State fully-funding education.
Director Harris chimed in, talking about the need for communications on MTSS. She said if the district is putting all it's eggs in the MTSS basket, parents need to really understand what it is and what it means.
She also went on a bit of a tear, saying "if we don't do IB right, why do it? If we aren't cleaning classrooms and restoring counselors, what are we doing?"
- It was stated a couple of times that 2018-2019 could be worse for the budget than 2017-2018.
- Director Burke said that if they had no reserves left, the SMART goals money should be used if the district doesn't get the full PPI money. He got some pushback from staff on that.
- One thing that struck me was that the Board was more interested/concerned about curriculum adoptions than staff. The very basics of teaching and learning and yet, not so much interest from staff.
- It then came to Ms. Berge who stated that this was the staff recommendation (see page 11 of the agenda) and that they wanted to move forward with it.
- The vote: Geary said she was good with it as did Blanford. He went on to say that it seemed like "we continue to act as though we don't have a huge crisis and spend on ELA adoption when we have to lay off teachers."
Harris said yes but that she was "terrified."
Peters said no because of her concern over lack of reserves and loss of Title I/II funds. She said she was glad for the funding for the ELA adoption but worried over the math adoption for middle schools.
Patu said no because of Title I/II and worry over equity funding for high needs schools.
Pinkham said it was a tough decision but "okay."
Burke said yes but that they needed to "fully fund ELA K-5."