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Monday, December 08, 2008

Got a Little Free Time? Like to Pore Over Data? Have I Got Some Information for You (Part One)

I was privileged, absolutely, to have served on the CAC with some really smart people. One of them, who is going to remain nameless at this point (she's a little shy), found some data that I know many of you will find interesting and possibly useful to our discussions.

First up, a document called School Closure Update by Holly Ferguson, Manager for Strategic Alignment dated Dec. 4, 2007. It's fairly eye-opening. It gives an overview to where students who attended closed schools ended up, closing costs, expenditures and savings. From the report:

"In the end, only 377 (50.7%) of eligible students actually were enrolled in the expected receiving school on October 1. Of the 366 students who are not attending their expected receiving school, 154 chose to leave Seattle Public Schools. If the percentage of students who enrolled in the expected receiving school is a reasonable indication of the success of the planned merger, the Viewlands/Broadview-Thomson merger was the most successful, with 58.3% of Viewlands students enrolling in Broadview-Thomson. Conversely, the Martin Luther King merger was the least successful, with only 36.2% of Martin Luther King students choosing to enroll in T.T. Minor."

What they learned:


"The difference between these two mergers shows the positive impact that the communities themselves can have on the outcome of school closures. Should closures be contemplated in the future, staff are encouraged to keep this in mind, while also considering the reality that, if given the choice, most people will not volunteer to close their school, and so it will still fall to District staff to develop recommendations and propose them to school communities."

"It is clear that, especially in Seattle, where we have contracts that require people to be paid to move and where costs in general are higher, closing buildings is an expensive endeavor. However, these one-time costs are not so great that they detract from the overall savings (both general fund and capital fund) of having fewer buildings to maintain and staff. Honesty in the closure costs, along with an acknowledgment that we are committed to making closure a successful process for all involved, will make future budgeting for closures an easier and more."

"Clearly the capital department did an excellent job anticipating the real costs of the closure related activities. On the general fund side a significant number of necessary activities were not budgeted for in the closure document, although the actual line-item budget included additional dollars. School closures will save money (both general and capital) in the long run, but there is no question that it does take money to close schools. In order to have a positive transition for our students, staff and families, it will be important to appropriately budget for these activities if future closures are contemplated."

"The goal of closing schools was to make the District more efficient and save money, while offering students larger schools that would have more services available. In this particular case we were able to merge schools together, although the emotional part of the merger is still being worked on. In the future straight mergers may not be possible, depending on where excess capacity lies. Even if the result looks different in a future closure process, however, the elements reported above, and the other comments that principals and staff have made, will be relevant. Honesty and transparency in budgeting, early clarity in staffing, and clear project management by central staff will be necessary in any school closure process to ensure that students, families, and staff are provided the environments necessary for academic success."

Of special interest:

"Early in the closure process the School Board approved a resolution dedicating half of the anticipated savings to academics so, during the 2007-08 budget cycle an additional million dollars was added to the budget. These dollars were spent specifically on the receiving schools by giving them an additional staff member for the 2007-08 year. Dollars were also spent on the elementary math adoption and the creation of the K-2 libraries, both of which positively impacted the receiving schools. In addition, every school received an increase in their Weighted Student Formula (WSF) Foundation. Elementary schools and non-traditional schools received an additional $3,696.00, middle schools received an additional $7,812.00, and high schools received an additional $10,000.00.

By creating an academically-driven budget for 2007-08, especially with the flexibility that the additional $1 million brought, resulted in more dollars being targeted specifically at academics than has historically happened."

12 comments:

Roy Smith said...

From the report: The goal of closing schools was to make the District more efficient and save money, while offering students larger schools that would have more services available.

I don't have time to go dig up references, but this goal completely ignores a pretty significant body of research that suggests that schools that are small by design are generally more effective in just about every measure of academic success, and that bigger schools, in general, are not any more cost effective than intentionally small schools.

This lack of a cost effectiveness advantage for big schools is even more pronounced when we critically look at performance measures; for instance, we generally view school costs as costs/student. However, since the goal of schools is actually to produce graduates, it may make more sense to measure cost/graduate. Since it is easier to keep dropout rates down in smaller high schools (mostly because of less anonymity/more individual attention), smaller high schools generally outperform larger high schools when measured on a cost/graduate basis.

dan dempsey said...

Excellent comments by Roy,

Is the SPS in the business of academic improvement?

Apparently not.

All we have heard is bigger and more uniform. Roy points out that bigger and more uniform is not a guide to academic improvement.

The math adoptions were a sad situation. So where is the academic improvement going to come from?

At the Dec 4, 2008 first meeting of the High School math adoption committee the Superintendent said the Process of the Last go round of the adoption was just fine it was derailed by politics. This is an unbeleiveable statement.

Clearly the goal is longer to to improve academic learning of our students. It is to carefully follow process.

Look at the results we get from following process....
Gee Wiz lets all follow the school closure process ....

The goal is to improve student learning NOT follow process.

When following process is not improving student learning and in the case of math is making students more math ignorant .... it is time to change the process.

Roy makes an excellent point ...
The goal should not be larger schools. I like Roy see no relevant data that leads me to believe that larger schools will improve educational outcomes.

The Carnegie Commission on schools said problems rise considerably as schools get significantly larger than 500.

Seattle plans for a Denny/Sealth too large school ... of which no successful example can be found on the West Coast.

Yes there are several 7 thru 12 successful schools but they are all significantly smaller than what Seattle has planned.

The administration seems ill equipped to do much more than follow ... what they believe to be true.

Ms. Santorno said in response to Mary Bass on 5-16-2007...
No we did not look at Singapore Math as a primary adoption because Everday Math is going to give great results we are sure of this.

The school size situation is again the Central Admin doing what they wish rather than actually looking at what the data reveals.

Great Point by Roy.

dan dempsey said...

Last sentence in the Posting:
By creating an academically-driven budget for 2007-08, especially with the flexibility that the additional $1 million brought, resulted in more dollars being targeted specifically at academics than has historically happened."

dan dempsey said...

So where was that 1 million targeted ??? More Central administration ? More math coaches? More literacy coaches?

reader said...

In addition, every school received an increase in their Weighted Student Formula (WSF) Foundation. Elementary schools and non-traditional schools received an additional $3,696.00, middle schools received an additional $7,812.00, and high schools received an additional $10,000.00.


Are you kidding me? They are told people about pouring the money into academic programs as a result of school closures... and then they report giving elementary schools less than $4,000??? What a joke! I mean, why bother reporting a pittance like that? Sounds like the receiving schools got just enough to cover the extra salary the vice principal will need to sharpen pencils for the WASL.

Sue said...

This is really interesting - thank you for posting it.

i am fearful however, that there is not much "honesty and transparency" this time around. It the sups goal is to get APP parents, for example, to prop up failing schools, she needs to say so. If her goal is to shut the alternatives down, she needs to say so. Quit pussy-footing around, and just say it. She will still be unpopular, but at least seen as truthful.

However, what i really want to know is.-what is the other shoe waiting to drop? What is she going to do to close the budget gap? End the 6th period for middle and high school that the district is paying for? Eliminate busing? Fire central staff?

I think we are all so focused on closures right now, that we are missing the bigger story.

reader said...

However, what i really want to know is.-what is the other shoe waiting to drop? What is she going to do to close the budget gap?

Isn't it obvious that the biggest bang for the budget will be to raise class size? 30% more kids per teacher would probably yield a 20 - 25% savings... so maybe you'll only need to raise class size 15% for a 10% savings, say around 40 million. Whack 50 administrators downtown, save 10 to 12 million. There you have it: 50 million in savings. Will that be enough?

snaffles said...

why would any administrators be whacked?

The administration is needed to write the reports that hide the truth from the general public.

The possibility of larger classes is a very real concern. That is often the quickest and easiest answer determined as efficient by Superintendents and School Boards. Wait and see?

Just a side kick, did someone in all this say that Rainier Beach had a great Football team? Ingraham is looking for a Football coach...suppose that is why Rainier Beach is being closed?

After raising class size and cutting classes (6th period) perhaps the District will have enough money to give DKA and the Superintendent bonus's.

I wonder too as to what is really going on behind the scenes...

another mom said...

As this report noted, it costs money to close schools. The savings are seen in the long term rather than the short term.If the suggestions made in this report are incorporated into the current round of closures, the 3.6M estimated savings will not go toward filling the budget hole. It will be needed for the schools that receive displaced students. Deeper cuts to the central administration will be necesssary. Those cuts must include some administrators, but also support staff. Mid-level administrators not protected by a contract go first, then the contract folks, and then it is by seniority. Some will not leave the district but will bump someone else. And even with a barebones administration (if they have the guts to do that much),cuts to schools/classrooms will likely happen. The gap is too big.

Free said...

Just a quibble, but the post's title should read "pore over data," not "pour over data."

Thank you for this excellent blog.

The Kidde Woodward Family said...

I was glad to see they acknowledged that the transitions were underfunded and undermanaged last time. That was certainly our experience at Orca. I hope they have learned from that, and that they will allocate enough money and staff time to really support these school communities through what is an incredibly traumatic process.

Beth Bakeman said...

Seattlehorn, thanks for the language tip! I've made the correction in the title.