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Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Budget Meeting? BS,BS, BS

(Update: I had asked the question if the two Broad Residents had been hired permanently but left before it got answered. Apparently the answer is yes. Folks, these are two people up the food chain who the district could have easily let go and we now have TWO more people on the payroll each making about $90K. So when they tell you they have made Central cuts and blah, blah, well, don't believe them. I'm still waiting to find out if the third person that Broad was paying for, Carol Rava Treat who makes $144k, is also now being paid by SPS. Between those 3 people that's 5% of the $6M they are looking for. Just unbelievable and so disrespectful.)

Now what is it they say about waiting before you hit the SEND button? Sleep on it, give it time, reflect. Yeah right. No, I'm going to say exactly (well, minus the swearing) what I think of the district's "budget" meeting.

It was a load of insulting nonsense and boy, my phrase "decorative engagement" is right on. I have seen some nervy meetings but this one takes the cake. (Note: I left in disgust at 8 o'clock. Enough.)

There were about 15 staff there including Dr. Goodloe-Johnson. Peter, Harium and Sherry were also in attendance as was Ramona Hattendorf, Seattle Council PTSA President.

There was a looong presentation, first by Don Kennedy and then by Duggan Harmon. Basically Mr. Kennedy said our graduation rates need to be better and that we have a large organization that needs good leadership. He said that they are using reserves and it isn't enough for a shrinking budget. He referenced the federal stimulus dollars and that they were only for 2 years. (Which begs the question, as Harium said later, are the RTTT dollars worth it for only 4 years? As Mr. Kennedy said, there is no way to backfill those dollars once they are gone.)

Mr. Harmon adopted the time-honored district action of reading the PowerPoint. (Charlie's head would have exploded by this point.) He said by May 5th, they will have to give notices to any certificated staff to be RIFed.

I'm stopping here to say I honestly believe that to cut $6M could be done and we shouldn't be having anyone lose their job.

Here are my ideas:
  • don't hire the two Broad residents permanently - that's $180K there
  • don't keep the employee who currently makes $144K and is being paid this year by Broad (these two bullets alone are nearly 5% of the $6M)
  • how about cutting everyone's salary by 1-2% across the board so no one will lose their job?
  • get rid of half the academic coaches
  • how about just one principal at a small high school like Rainier Beach?
He referenced the coaches again so boy, did Meg Diaz hit a sore spot.

(He went over his time by 5 minutes but no, they weren't going to add on any time AND Dr. Goodloe-Johnson also decided to talk for 5 minutes. Thanks, folks, that gives us less time to hear questions AND talk to each other. But hey, this is your show, right?)

Also at this point I'll say, I was a lot more aggressive than I usually am. I was very annoyed at this dog-and-pony show but it got worse.

Mr. Kennedy started reading the questions:
  • elimination of mid-winter break to end school a week earlier to save money? A contractual issue with the teachers but no commitment if they would be bringing it up at the upcoming negotiations
  • Why did the district take over Pay for K and add a layer of bureaucracy? Schools handling of it was unequal (different costs). I raised my hand and asked why they didn't just give the schools a limit to the cost and leave things as they were? He wouldn't answer as that was not the format.
  • What percentage of funds in the classroom go to technology? The district's tech manager did give an answer but I couldn't follow it.
  • Why are we being asked to spend money for computer programs when there are free online materials? Kathy from Academics said that the current core adoptions are outdated (foreign language) and that the math adoption came with online materials. She wasn't aware of any other materials being formally adopted that are available online but schools can use discretionary dollars to buy those kinds of items. (Yes, all those discretionary dollars floating around our schools.)
  • How does our central office staffing/spending compare with other urban districts nationally? Don't know, Great Schools is doing a study on that.
  • What about the dollars in the BTA for the Strategic Plan? Yes, there are dollars in the BTA for the Strategic plan.
  • How much is the Strategic Plan costing us with MAP, computers, etc? The answer "we don't have the details here but there's an Audit and Finance committee meeting tomorrow." Yes, that was the answer and we parents all looked at each other and had the same thought "But we're here now at a Budget meeting. Did you not come prepared?"
  • What about Gates Foundation paying for some of these computers we need? Blah, blah but no real answer.
  • Why build off previous budgets, do you look at line items like travel and consultants? Yes we do.
  • Ramona asked for a clarification about the money sent back to the schools. Basically, the schools had positions converted to dollars so they could decide what to do with those dollars. The schools had about a week to decide.
  • How much of the $6M cuts to central administration? Again the answer "we don't have those numbers here" (I got up at this point and complained to Sherry.)
  • Special election cost? (One of the district's ideas is since the levy lid got raised this legislative session, well, hey, let's have us another levy election. No matter that the City will be coming to voters in Fall 2011 with the Families and Education levy.) Mr. Harmon said blah, we don't know, could be sharing costs with another entity who wants to share the ballot. Hey, Duggan, we spent $1M on the BTA election, you could have said that but didn't.
  • Selling SPS bonds to pay down the headquarters debt? Could be saving $160-180K per year once sold.
  • Eliminate high school football for a couple of years before losing teachers? Wouldn't answer and told us to discuss in our groups.
  • 2% pay cut or furloughs? Mr. Kennedy gave a convoluted answer about decline of students and central employment going up, what? Finally, he said yes it had been considered. He left it at that so I guess the answer is no.
Dr. Goodloe-Johnson claims that the rest of the questions will be answered at the budget FAQs at the website. I submitted 11 questions so I'll be interested to see if they all get answered. She also said, "Our purpose tonight was not about detail but about where we are and how we make budgets." Then why ask us for "detail" on what is important to us?

So we got into our groups (there were two whole tables!) and my table was not happy. The district had 4 questions for us to answer (one of them a bullshit question about "guiding principles for the budget") as well as what we don't want cut, suggestions from other districts on the back (like AP, music, full-day K), what is vital.

I noticed that none, absolutely none of the 15 staff, were circulating and listening to the conversations. I went and asked Harium who was speaking with Holly Ferguson, yet another up-the-foodchain person in the district, why not. Holly said they were instructed NOT to. I told Harium that was just ridiculous.

So Dr. Goodloe-Johnson and her "cabinet" were sitting at one table talking and laughing. Seriously. So I asked why staff had been instructed not to circulate and Dr. G-J said they hadn't. I told her Holly Ferguson said they were and she just shrugged but did she get up and ask staff to listen? No. I told her this was just for show and she said no, Melissa, it's for parents to talk to each other.

After that, I left. I don't need to waste my time. I'm going to let the Board know what a disappointment this was but they are unlikely to do anything.

KING-5 was there so you can look for this on the news (they chased me down as I left and please note if the interview makes the news, the marks on my face - a cooking accident, I look like an accident victim).

FYI, Michael DeBell is in our South Korean sister city on a delegation with City staff with some emphasis on the trip to be education.

41 comments:

wsnorth said...

Oddly, our local elementary school just sent out a bulletin saying a lot of money had been "restored'. I hope there are no surprises later. It doesn't sound like anyone knows where the money is coming from or going to!!

seattle said...

"Eliminate high school football for a couple of years before losing teachers?

Why football? Is football more expensive than baseball, soccer, Ultimate, basketball?

So much tradition in football....cheerleaders, bands playing, homecoming dance......

And football is one of the few sports that charges admission to watch ($5 Per person at Hale)... I would think it would be the last sport to be cut.

It's sad, really sad, when it comes down to cutting sports, but I guess it's better than cutting teachers.....

Thanks, Melissa, for attending, and giving such a detailed report. I really appreciate it.

Cherylynne said...

Yes, you're on TV. Face looks fine. Could you provide links describing commonly used acronyms? What is BTA? I read the paper, etc. and vote but I'm lost reading through some of this.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Sully, I get it (really, ex-cheerleader). I think you'd be surprised at how few students overall attend games and dances (I know I was surprised.) However, football DOES cost more than any sport by far (but cut all of them and keep club sports).

I'm just trying to keep teachers and aides and we are in very desperate times.

Central Mom said...

A national look at budgeting issues from today's NYT:

Districts Warn of Deeper Teacher Cuts

Maureen said...

My two cents (sort of random):

Word from Don Kennedy is that the five Ed Director cuts do not show up in the total dollars saved by cutting Central Admin--i.e., they net out because the positions are being redefined and will be filled for next year. (I wasn't quick enough to ask if they do show up in the NUMBER of Central Admin cut--my guess from the indirect way he answered, is that they do (or maybe he only knows how to talk in an indirect way?).

The two Broad residents are on the budget (paid by SPS) for next year. Kennedy claimed he didn't know their salaries.

Two Qs (one was mine) asked if there could be an across the board pay cut or furlough--Mel reported the first answer. The second time I tried to get Kennedy to just SAY that they are overstaffed. He wouldn't say it, but he made the point that SPS employment has increased as enrollment
had dropped and that it was his duty to create a sustainable budget so he chooses to fire (rif) people instead of spreading the pain (my words). So is his point that the number of teachers per student is too high? (Has he accounted for special needs rates? Coaches are stuck in the teacher part of the budget even though they do not work with kids--are they included?) Or is he talking about really making cuts to Downtown people? I don't know.

Several Pay for K Qs. They claimed that parents would be reimbursed if too much $ was collected, but chose not to answer if that would be on a school by school basis--strong impression--Low FRL schools are subsidizing higher FRL schools and none of you will ever see a cent returned. Q re whether Pay for K nets out positive when you account for additional transportation costs of busing/cabbing home the 1/2 dayers (as required). Eric someone (nice guy-I was brusque with him) claims that the analysis nets out positive given this year's numbers. I'm thinking about starting a campaign to have three kids in each full day K opt out and get a cab home. I tried to make the point that at Alt schools at least we should be allowed to run our own K show. In what ways will ever be allowed to differ , if we can't, what's the point? Shut us down and get on with it.

Our group chose to give up our ccomment time to make more time for Q/A. Other groups suggested making investments to reduce energy costs. Meg D said cut Central Admin another 1-2 mill (I'm sure she could supply details). More than one person said-cost out the Strategic Plan money--only spend it now if it helps individual kids.

Amazing how many of them were there to say NOTHING. What did that cost us in over-time? Kennedy and Harmon could have made videos of themselves reading the Power point and then mumbling various vague budget related statements ("we don't have those numbers here..."). Did all of the staff have "Volunteer" nametags, with no name written in? I know "Eric" from budget office did. Seemed odd--were they trying to be unidentifiable?

wv is craving Chinese food--wants a 'hombowe'!

Central Mom said...

"...and she (superintendent) said no, Melissa, it's for parents to talk to each other..."

If anyone out there at District HQ is reading along, we parents talk to each other a lot. What we look for in these meetings are constructive ways to INTERACT with District personnel in a TWO-WAY dialogue.

If we want to listen to the dog n pony routine, we can follow along on Public Access TV.

Once again, the superintendent's personal skills are astonishingly lacking. And her outward respect for the parent constituents hovers at Zero. When I have a chance to weigh in on whether to extend her contract, it will be a big NO.

Meg said...

So... I can't blame you for leaving. It was absurd when you asked Mr. Kennedy a direct question related to his explanation of the question he was reading and he directed you to fill out a comment card. [Dude. Not good public relations. Also? Kind of rude.]

I stayed because sometimes things get interesting when people are tired, or they say things they shouldn't... and I was hoping that something like that might happen.

Ms. Thompson semi-came through. She was questioned about coaching (for the record, while I want to know what SPS spends on coaching, I REALLY want to know what the total sum is that SPS spends on professional development), and let slip that next year, there will be a new! type of coach, one that coaches on giving "high quality instruction" without being "content specific." I'm sure you will all be shocked, but... she didn't specify number or possible cost of the New! Breed Of Coach Which Will Be Totally Awesome. Unfortunately, she did not disclose the FTE or dollar sum that these NEW coaches will cost.

Per Mr. Kennedy, both Broad residents are in the budget for next year as SPS employees. Not on grant funding any longer.

The handout that gave examples (to help us think up suggestions) for revenue increases or expenditure reductions was heavy on direct cuts to students and schools, and light on cuts that weren't in schools. A cynical girl might draw some conclusions from that.

If someone lobbed a question (on a comment card, as directed) that would be awkward to answer but is natural that you should come to a budget meeting to ask (say: what are the major strategic projects and how much do they cost?) The answer was: um... there's a budget meeting Thursday(in which the public is not allowed to participate) and we'll talk about that stuff then, but we didn't come to a community engagement meeting ABOUT THE BUDGET to talk about detailed budget schtuff.

I will say that the 3 directors there went and sat at the tables and did directly discuss with people there. The directors, I thought, made a genuine attempt at engagement.

And lastly, I can partially answer the central cuts question. Of the 89 cuts, 56 were made to central administration (page 17). Of those 56, 5 are for ed directors who will be rehired, and 5-6 are for positions that were already vacant. I went ahead and filled my table in on this and pointed out that even with the cuts, SPS has a smaller enrollment (by several thousand) than it did 10 years ago, but more central administration FTEs.

yumpears said...

Thanks for reporting, Melissa! I really appreciate It.

Josh Hayes said...

I'm reminded of a Doonesbury cartoon from years ago featuring the president of Walden going over budget cuts, and it goes something like:

UNDERLING: What about cuts to administration, sir?

PRESIDENT: I said we're cutting FAT, not flesh and blood!

There ya go. Millions for administrators, not even pennies for teachers, counselors, IAs...

WV has me pegged: I'm clearly on the conteam.

Maureen said...

Yes, Harium, Sherry and Peter were there and were the last to leave. Thanks to them!

(DeBell apparently was in South Korea on an education junket which was NOT (we were told) paid for by the District, but the information as to who did pay was not immediately available (maybe there is a closed work session on that next week?)

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SolvayGirl said...

Thank you Melissa. I just can't understand why the media is not jumping on all of this. Oh wait...the media is owned by large corporations who are all in bed with each other.

Maureen said...

Melissa, the written summary at King 5 misquotes you as suggesting pay cuts for 'teachers' as opposed to everyone in the District as you said. (BTW, I didn't notice the marks on your face and I was two feet away from you!).

TechyMom said...
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TechyMom said...
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TechyMom said...

Moved my comment to the more general budget thread, since it wasn't really about the meeting.

Unknown said...

On the Pay for K issue, it appears (and I've got my block of salt ready) that the Pat for K funds effectively get returned to our school via an increase in the allotted number of K teachers in the WSS funding.

In round terms, last year, we got 1.5 FTE K teachers funded through the WSS, and this year we have 3.2 or so for roughly the same number of students. In other words, we lose discretionary money that used to fund K teachers, but we get the teachers funded directly, for no net loss.

PS I was told that the majority of the coaches are funded via grants, and therefore cutting them won't necessarily return money to the budget. I don't know if those grants are expiring or not a la Broad residents.

uxolo said...

Maureen said, "(DeBell apparently was in South Korea on an education junket which was NOT (we were told) paid for by the District, but the information as to who did pay was not immediately available (maybe there is a closed work session on that next week?)"

Oh - we paid for it - approved at last Bd mtg. And WHY approve this sort of program now??

http://www.seattleschools.org/area/board/09-10agendas/040710agenda/debellmoureport.pdf

ParentofThree said...

What I think would be interesting to know is what did the budget look like pre-MGJ. Before consulatants were hired to conduct audits, before the expensive stratigic plan intitiatives were implemented, before more coaches were hired, before more high paid staff were brought in.

We have closed closed schools, reduced transporation, increased class size, RIFFed teachers, and more students have entered the SPS system.

Yet we see no change in the bottom line of the budget?

IF we were able to look at what the budget would look like if MGJ was not spending so much money I have to wonder would we be looking at a $31 million shortfall?

Melissa Westbrook said...

ParentofThree, and that is why the "we don't know the answer" to the questions about the Strategic Plan costs are so irritating. There was a lot of money built into the BTA for the Strategic Plan plus whatever money they have spent.

We have seen no real data on how the academic coaches have influenced student performance and yet they continue.

I think with the coaches, the huge costs around the STEM school and the Strategic Plan, there are millions and millions of uncharted dollars that we all would be quite shocked to see the final figure.

ParentofThree said...

Well all I know is that we did not have yearly shortfalls in these amounts pre-MGJ spending and I don't think we can blame it entirely on the states funding issues.

I wish we could elect a superindentent in this city.

SolvayGirl said...

I don't know if electing a Super would help much. I'm not too thrilled with how our mayoral election turned out. It would still boil down to who had the most money behind them and the best spin. Feeling very discouraged about the whole thing these days.

Sahila said...

I sometimes think the budget shortfalls are an illusion ....

how better to manipulate parents and teachers than to cry poor, year after year...

and there's no difference between last year and this, despite all the cutbacks and school closures and other changes? That doesnt make sense to me...

Enrolments go down but admin/bureaucracy costs go up?... doesnt make sense...

The District runs at a deficit year after year after year? Maybe its a problem with incompetent financial management, not with teaching costs and building maintenance and expensive transportation...

And I read somewhere that there's another audit going on to see if the District is more expensive to run than other urban districts? Hasnt that already been done... didnt an OSPI report and Meg Diaz already say that? So why another audit that costs more money?

Crazy Alice in Wonderland world...

gavroche said...

ParentofThree said...I wish we could elect a superindentent in this city.

That may be the way to go -- with campaign finance limits imposed so it's not merely a game where the person with the most money wins.

Moreoever, I'd like to see our District have a Superintendent who is from the community, preferably a respected member of it, already knows and respects our community, our schools and kids, and who won't take off after a few years to his/her next gig when the going gets tough or his/her contract runs out, leaving us with her mess and no one accountable for it.

I see this as a major problem with the current trend of the "gun for hire" Superintendents from out of state, who move to one school district after another around the country with no real commitment or connection to the communities they are supposed to serve. The "Broad Superintendent Academy" types.

Instead, aren't there any beloved and skilled retired principals or genuine public servants or educators in Seattle who could run our district with more insight, respect, competence and longterm accountability than what we currently have?

gavroche said...

This is a re-post from another thread, but seems relevant here:

What really and desperately needs to be reformed in public education is the administration of our schools.

The "intervention," "transformation," and "restructuring" that the reformites talk about doing to our schools actually needs to be done to the school district headquarters and bureaucracy.
That's where all the most serious waste, "ineffectiveness" and downright corruption appears to occur.

It's the John Stanford Center that needs an overhaul, audit and budget slashing -- not our kids' schools or teachers.

The SPS central office admin (including the Supt and School board) stands in the way of our kids having smaller class sizes (thanks to unnecessary RIFs) and solid textbooks (instead they select unsound math texts like EDM and Discovering).

Above all, it is increasingly evident that when funding does get allocated to our school district, most of it never finds its way to the classrooms, but instead gets hijacked by the central administration and redirected to fund excess staff, excess salaries, "teaching coaches," outside consultants, unproven testing products, layers of management and an overpaid Superintendent.

SolvayGirl said...

To gavroche—the voice of reason!

Jet City mom said...

nstead, aren't there any beloved and skilled retired principals or genuine public servants or educators in Seattle who could run our district with more insight, respect, competence and longterm accountability than what we currently have?

Nickles proposed that Norm Rice be interim superintendent-, in 2006, which I thought was the best idea he ever had.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Gavroche, one of biggest mistakes I feel I ever made is not supporting Norm Rice for interim superintendent. Not perfect but the guy has smarts, the ear of many and most of all, listens.

Chris S. said...

Wow, great questions! Thanks to everyone who went and waded in the BS.

h2o girl said...

Gavroche for Superintendent.

ParentofThree said...

Yeah, I guess electing a superindentent is not the answer.

It's like MGJ shops at Nordstrom's while the rest of us pick through the bins at the local thrift stores.

And I just don't understand why the board doesn't cut up her credit card.

Chris S. said...

Talk to your elected official about getting rid of her.

Unknown said...

I remember during the period when her contract renewal was on the table, the superintendent asked people if they trust her. If she ever asks that question again, would everybody please say "No, and please go away."

Meg said...

blumhagn- the "coaches are funded by grants" thing is a little misleading.

Cutting grant-funded coaches wouldn't return baseline (WSS formula-driven) funds to schools.

But. At least three grants that pay for coaches: LAP, Title I and Title II, can be used to buy teachers. At least $4m of coaches are funded from LAP, Title I and Title II (combined total). To be fair, the coaches paid for with Title I money fulfill a spending requirement for professional development that comes with the money. It can be spent on other types of professional development, too, but the district has to spend that money on some type of professional development. And there are rules about how you can spend these grants. For LAP and Title, the core idea that the money is intended to "supplement, not supplant." This means that you can, say, buy a math teacher at your elementary school, because you wouldn't normally have a math teacher, and having one supplements what you've got. But you can't buy a 1st grade teacher, because you would have one normally - that's considered supplanting. Title II money, however, can be used to reduce class sizes.

By comparison to the $4.1m+ SPS spends on coaches from state and federal grants, SPS uses $400k of Gates Foundation money to pay for coaches.

I think that too often, the remark "it's a grant" or "it's grant-funded" ends up preventing further discussion (and I didn't say it was an intentional way of doing so, just that this seems to be the result). Yes, grants have a bunch of rules that need to be abided by. But particularly with state and federal grants there are usually multiple spending options for that money.

Unknown said...

Meg, thanks for the update and information. It's always good to know the difference between a grant and a grant!

Michael said...

Just a few thoughts after reading the comments here:

The budget fiascos started in the early 2000's under Olshefske (sp??), so deficits existed before MGJ came to town.

Past budgets are public records and are available from the district or from OSPI.

The District used to have over 100,000 students, and spend a lot LESS money to run the district. Granted, costs have gone up over hte years, but with enrollment at half of what it used to be, shouldn't spending have gone down proportionately (my apologies to the math whizzes here if my word choice is incorrect).

It is SOOOOO funny that the district is paying for a study (not an "audit") by Great City Schools to find out if their admin costs are high compared to ther "urban" district. The state auditor did a performance audit 2 years ago and told them that very thing - but they would rather spend more taxpayer dollars to get a report that tells them they should spend MORE money. An insider at the district told me once that the Great City Schools organization is all about hiring more people (central staff)- not about making real, effective spending cuts.

There is no such thing as transparency at the district, and attempts at establishing accountability are half-hearted and not supported by the executive team or the Board. Quite literally, the left-hand doesn't know what the right-hand is doing at that place.

dan dempsey said...

Well said Michael....

Very Clear that Seattle public schools are no longer under public control ... Majority of School board and the superintendent need to be removed.

dan dempsey said...

Meg said:

"SPS uses $400k of Gates Foundation money to pay for coaches. "

Is that $400k specifically aimed at coaching?

Where can I find the language that specifies this piece? or the actual grant language?

Meg, Thanks for being a super sleuth ...

dan dempsey said...

Toss MGJ and install Norm Rice as interim Superintendent.

rugles said...

Gavroche, one of biggest mistakes I feel I ever made is not supporting Norm Rice for interim superintendent. Not perfect but the guy has smarts, the ear of many and most of all, listens.

What happened to his smarts when he was at the Federal Home Loan Bank?

there's a reason why he was available.