Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Shoreline District and Their Teacher Woes

This article was in today's Times about the Shoreline district and their teacher walkout that first was averted but is now back on for tomorrow. The issue:

"The Shoreline Education Association, backed by many parents, blames administrators for making elementary-school students bear the brunt of the latest cost-saving measure: boosting some class sizes three weeks into the school year."

Why did this happen? A new influx of students just 3 weeks after school started? Nope.

"The district's financial troubles blew up in 2005 when a series of mistakes by top staffers resulted in a $5 million shortfall. Two years and two superintendents later, the district has balanced its $85 million budget. The state, as part of its oversight, requires the district to be out of the hole in August 2008. If that doesn't happen, the state could assign a budget manager to the district or take other steps. Last year, Shoreline was still $1.5 million in the red.

In the latest dispute, changing the elementary-school class sizes is just being responsible, said School Board member Dan Mann, who is among three of the five board members running for re-election.

"We're trying to use our resources more effectively than we have in the past," he said."

So what's the situation?

"The latest dispute has to do with those class sizes at elementary schools. The district has to pay teachers extra if their classes are larger than 24 to 27 students, depending on the grade. At the beginning of the school year, Shoreline had 61 teachers with overloaded classes — an expense of about $500,000.

So starting this week at most of the district's nine elementaries, students were shuffled into different classes — in some cases combining two grades in one room — in order to designate some larger classes and keep the rest of the classes small. Then the district assigned an additional teacher to help out in the larger classes, usually for an hour or so a day. That way, the district doesn't have to pay any teachers extra.

The largest classes have about 30 students and could grow as new students move into the district."

Now, those of us that have had kids in programs like Spectrum or APP don't blink at 30 kids because that's the price we pay for our program and its popularity. But to do this to parents and teachers three weeks into the school year is, well, wrong. Parents know that kids do best with consistency and moving kids around is not consistency. Also, sticking an extra teacher in for an hour or so a day to save money is kind of pathetic. Also, what if you didn't want a combined grade level class?

If this was so important to do, why do it 3 weeks into the year?

To end the conversation, here's what the Board president had to say:

""I don't think the strike is going to change what's going on, and I think it sends the wrong message to the community," board president Mike Jacobs said. "Frustration and disappointment are my primary emotions at this point.""

Hey Mr. Jacobs, I'll bet there are lots of parents, teachers and students in Shoreline who would second that emotion.


Anonymous said...

It could be poor planning on Shoreline's part (that they didn't know they'd have class sizes big enough to trigger the teacher extra pay clause, and/or didn't know how much it would end up costing), but it could also be that the schools (and district) don't know exactly how many kids who enrolled will actually show up on day 1 - or how many who DIDN'T enroll will show up (and I would expect that Shoreline has more of that than Seattle because each school takes all comers, doesn't it?)

I've been in a school where the district allowed 30+ to enroll in a kindergarten, banking on the attrition that happens between Feb and Sept, as well as the attrition that happens IN Sept as wait lists move - only to have every one of them show up on day 1 - and stay.

If there is all of the family-oriented population shift to the suburbs that people talk about, and if the forecast and attrition assumptions happen to tip the wrong way, it's pretty easy to see how this could happen.

I disagree with Melissa in thinking that kids can't adjust 3 weeks into the school year - not saying it's ideal, but they can and do. when the adults lead by example and set a positive tone tone(which it's likely scores of these teachers and parents are not), the kids don't think twice.

When people want to do something, they'll find a way - likewise when they don't.

My guess is "The Shoreline Education ASsociation, backed by many parents, blames administrators for making elementary-school TEACHERS and PRINCIPALS bear the brunt..." not students - and they may be right if the district has made cuts in every place it can think of and now needs to make the ever harder ones.

What it really comes down to is that we've all been frogs in the pot as the heat's been turned up - constitutionally-mandated state funding of schools is not enough. We didn't see it coming, made up the gaps with PTA and local levy money, but it's boiling now - maybe a little faster at Shoreline since they made the budget assumption mistakes and spent more than they had.

District after district is realizing that basic education in Washington is underfunded - hence the lawsuit and the governor's second step to Washington Learns that is to determine what "ample funding" amounts to (18 months from now). She can't come out with it before the election in 2008 or the conservatives and east-staters will put Dino Rossi into office - and even if she does, it's hard to imagine how education funding can be increased without a change in the tax structure.

In the meantime, we would all be better served (unions and parents) by focusing as much heat on the legislature as we do on district administrations.

Anonymous said...

We are a shoreline and Seattle public school family. What happened in Shoreline is this....

In order to avoid a teacher strike on September 5 (day before school started), the Shoreline School district and the SEA came to an agreement. The additional money that the district needs to honor and fund the agreement had to come from somewhere.

The Shoreline school district class size limit is 23 kids per class in elementary. They however do take all of the children that apply, that live in the boundaries of the school. This means that sometimes they go over their target class size. When this happens the district funds a teacher helper for part of the day. In the past if the classes were overloaded, they would balance the classes. So if there were three classrooms at 3rd grade that were overloaded, it would look something like this. Class 1 - 25 kids, class 2 - 25 kids, class 3 - 26 kids. Each class would get a teacher helper. In order to save money this year the district is not balancing classrooms so two of three classrooms have 23 students and no teacher helper and the third classroom has 28 kids with one teacher helper. Thus the district saves the cost of two teacher helpers. This is what the SEA is fighting. Unbalanced class size, and cutting of .3FTE (teacher helper) funding. They are not striking about the overloading, it is more about the inequality between a class of 23 students vs. a class of 28. The second part of their concern is that the district is moving kids around now, the third week of school, to accommodate these cuts. They feel this regrouping of kids/classes now is disruptive and confusing to students. Is controversial to say the least. You can read more about it on the Shoreline school blog http://budgetwoes.blogspot.com/

Anonymous said...

Sheesh. What a bunch of crybabies in Shoreline. When the state has a basic education allocation of $3,000... that is going to mean a lot more than 23 kids per class. Sorry. In Seattle many, many elementary schools have around 30 kids per class. My son's first grade was 31. And the teacher bonus kicks in at 28 kids.

Anonymous said...

Yes, let's all have lovely large class sizes of 30 kids. Instead of advocating for smaller class sizes in Seattle, let's call Shoreline families names like cry babies for advocating for NORMAL class sizes of 23 or so kids. This type of mentality is what keeps Seattle class size so outrageously high. I don't know about you, but I am darn tired of my kid having 30 kids in his class in elementary school. Go Shoreline, you rock!!!

Anonymous said...

This 23 kid target class size in elementary is part of the reason that Shoreline has stellar, high performing schools. They are a very well respected district. Lets use them as an example instead of bashing them.

Anonymous said...

The point is, it isn't the administrators fault when the class size goes up. So, you can go cry all you want, but you're really going to have to vote yourself a big fat tax hike to get small classes. In Seattle, in Shoreline, in Bellevue, anywhere. Any takers?

Anonymous said...

Count me in!

Anonymous said...

To the anonymous at 10:25-

You are missing the point. It is the new policy of the administrators that is artificially inflating some class sizes while keep others at the alloted number. This is contrary to the previous policy that kept Shoreline classes in a single school balanced. This is not about new people coming into the district or schools. It is entirely at the discretion of the school administration, so, yes, a class with 29 kids (when there are two classes with 23 kids in the same grade) is the policy maker's fault.

I agree that students should be able to adjust after 3 weeks. I'm a bit tired of hearing people complain about that myself. It distracts from the more important issue of putting all overload kids in a single class to make the numbers appear better, even though it makes a worse classroom situation for students and teachers.

This is not about poor planning. There are overload kids every year. This is about a policy change on how to deal with those kids.

Many people in Shoreline would welcome the opportunity for another levy in order to solve or short-term school crisis. That is not an option for us. We are "maxed out" for levies and we are not legally allowed to have another one on the ballot yet. I believe this is part due to the laptop initiative. Apparently, those funds are earmarked and cannot be used for other purposes.

Dan Dempsey said...

Class sizes ???

Concern about class size in Seattle - where? when?

We have a plan for instructional coaches for teachers - implementation for 2007-2008 costs $4.2 million.

No with this kind of expenditure - instead of hiring teachers - we expand administrative bureaucracy.

Class size is not a concern in Seattle that merits a priority decision.

Go Shoreline!!!


Dan Dempsey said...

Some numbers from OSPI for 2005-2006

Per Student expenditures:
Seattle per student:
Total $9242
teaching $6312 = 68%

Shoreline per student:
Total $7910
teaching $5711 = 72%


Anonymous said...

How can Shoreline spend less per student than Seattle???

Shoreline has high performing, well respected schools with higher test scores than Seattle.

Shoreline has much smaller class sizes in elementary school than Seattle.

Shoreline gives each and every student their own laptop in MS and HS.

In elementary school Shoreline has a 1:1 laptop ratio in house for student use.

How do they do it???????

It's not the demographics as Shoreline is not an elite, upper class area. It is pretty lower middle class and middle class blue collar neighborhood for the most part.

How do they do it??????

Anonymous said...

Well, anon 6:17, they didn't do it - the $7910/student of 2005-6 wouldn't reflect the overspend last year of $5MM - at 2006-7 enrollment of 9500 per OPSI, that's another $526 per student - or $8400 (i.e., what they really spent, and which they will likely miss this year - aside from having to tighten belts to make up the remaining deficit.)

OK, still less than Seattle, but there is more to the story - while Shoreline had the same % of special education students as Seattle at 12.7%, they have half the students eligible for free and reduced lunch (20% vs 40.5%) and about half the bilingual transition students (5.7% vs 11%).

Those high-poverty and bilingual students mean more money from both state and federal sources, thus more spending on a per-student basis for Seattle - but that money is supposed to be for those students and for specific purposes - so you won't see it in smaller class sizes for the general ed population.

I'm also guessing that Shoreline uses CAPITAL levy money for laptops, which wouldn't be reflected in the $7910 per student which is money from either the state and feds alone, or combined with local operating levy - either way it's all OPERATING money.

Anonymous said...

Seattle uses Capital Levy dollars too. Seattle also has Title I and Lap to help compensate for the struggling, low income populations.

Anonymous said...

Yes, anonymous 11:41, so I meant when I said federal (Title I) and state (LAP) sources - which flow through OSPI and are reflected in Seattle's higher dollars.

My point was that those sources make Seattle's dollars per student higher, but are specifically for high poverty students, which Shoreline has many fewer of.

If you compared dollars for both Shoreline and Seattle without Title I, LAP, and without the money for bilingual transition students (which Seattle also has more and a greater % of), the dollars would probably be more comparable.

And yes, Seattle has capital and BTA levy $ too, but uses them for different things than laptops, likely.

My point there was that it probably isn't accurate to assume that Shoreline gets less operating $ per student and yet is not only able to have smaller classes and higher academic achievement, but provide laptops, too.

Charlie Mas said...

Higher performance in schools - and by that I presume that Anonymous at 6:17 means high WASL pass rates - are not a function of school district spending. In fact, I think the data would likely show that it is negatively correlated with District spending.

Let's try to break ourselves of this idea that more spending will deliver higher test scores. That leads to a frame of reference in which we think we can buy high test scores and a frame of reference in which we complain about not getting what we paid for when the test scores don't come.

District spending - at least the way is has been done so far - does not deliver higher test scores.

Dan Dempsey said...

To produce better achievement it would help if the SPS could begin to follow their own policies so we actually had a plan for improvement that all were aware of.

Clearly throwing money without a defined target does not produce positive results.

Where are the defined necessary skills and effective interventions?