Thursday, November 18, 2010

SPS Budget Survey

Update: here's a link to Bellevue's survey and supporting material. Very interesting and detailed. Their PowerPoint presentation shows WA state as 38th in spending in the U.S while Seattle always uses the 46th in the nation number. The PowerPoint has some great charts where Seattle's central spending really comes across.

Yet another fascinating yet odd survey, this one on how the district spends the dough. It's live until December 3rd. Shall we go through it together?

First page are questions that are informational.

Second page (and here's where you have to put on your thinking cap): ranking areas, from 1-5, that you feel are necessary to maintaining an efficiently run school district that consistently improves learning. (BUT, you can only use your 1-5 once each question.)

Your choices are:
  • student/teacher ratio
  • books and instructional materials that are aligned to state grad req and college entrance standards
  • wide range of program offerings (but not access to, a key point)
  • equitable program offerings across all schools (all students have access to the same programs)
  • extra-curricular activities such as athletics
So what if you wanted a wide range of program offerings AND access to them? And wouldn't number two (aligned books and instructional materials) be a given in a district?

Page Three: Here's where it gets very tough because it's like choosing who gets on the lifeboat.
  • school and classroom support staff including librarians, tutors, activity coordinator (what is this?), music, PE
  • services related to social/physical/emotional well-being (nurses, counselors, other supports)
  • teacher training and professional development to support high-quality instruction
You answer might vary from year to year because if I were I a high school parent, I would probably value having a nurse/counselor over professional development. I might feel differently in elementary. Also, define "counselor" because it means something different in primary versus secondary.

Page 4 - Choices:
  • student and teacher access to technology and tech support
  • facilities management
  • effective human resources department
  • transportation services
  • school capacity management and accurate placement of students in schools.
Hmm, how about an efficiently run central office? It's a little hard to say which one you would really say is "most important". I'm thinking most parents are going to - in their day to day lives at their children's schools - put HR dead last.

Page 5, choices:
  • business operations and procedures that are compliant with state and federal guidelines
  • systems that save operating costs
  • customer services functions
  • system that provide student data to families and staff such as the Source
First bullet, what? Yes, I do want the district to operate within the law. Do we have a choice? Second bullet, duh? No, spend away, it's just money. Last bullet, okay but that's a factor of the SEA contract so you can have it but that doesn't mean teachers will use it.

Page 7, choices:
  • communication tools and events that allow for direct interaction between community members and staff
  • timely and accurate school communication with parents including student absences, grades, events
  • user-friendly website with easy access to school and district information
  • inclusion of, and collaboration with, parent and community members with respect to the direction of the District and major initiatives
Again, c'mon. I think number two should be a given; why do we have to pick? Ditto on the third one. The last one? It could get all number ones and they would not do it. When does the district collaborate with parents in any meaningful way?

Page 8, choices:
  • infrastructure, reliable core operations
  • efficient districtwide systems: streamlined and effective business practices
  • family and community engagement, timely access to info for families
  • strong leadership; high quality leaders in classrooms, schools, support systems
  • school and classroom excellence; well-developed curriculum and meaningful student assessments
Note, nothing about strong leadership at the top.

Page 9, you get to put in comments about programs/activities not mentioned that should be maintained during the 2011-2012 school year, programs/services you want protected, programs reduced or eliminated if necessary to develop a balanced budget, general comments.

I put down that I want family support workers to stay and career counselors back at the high schools. I said reduce/eliminate academic coaches and the second principal at Rainier Beach High School (and most of the parents there want that to happen - they want services in the classroom).

Have fun!


seattle citizen said...

Speaking of surveys, I've heard that all staff members today received an email link to a survey, a survey mandated by the feds, supposedly.

This survey tells staff members to categorize themselves regarding race and ethnicity. Staff has the option not to identify themselves thusly, but in that case, their supervisor is supposed to identify their race/ethnicity via observation.

How twisted is that?

StepJ said...

Didn't the Bellevue budget survey prompt the request that SPS do the same?

Does anyone have the questions and options from the Bellevue survey?

The Bellevue survey results seemed pretty straight forward. I have difficulty imagining the same clear direction from responses to the SPS survey.

Melissa Westbrook said...

I can't get the actual budget but there's a great charter that gets down to the nitty-gritty over there.

It has the "description and effort of proposed change), number of people affected (FTE), financial impact. That gets down to the reality level.

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Dorothy Neville said...

Here's a question. If the survey simply asked you to rate the items on a 1-5 scale and you didn't have to rank them, would the survey be any better? Worse? More or less useful?

If you were designing a useful survey, how would it be different? What would it include?

I am not trying to be snarky, I am truly curious. There was lots of discussion about rank vs rate the items. I think that's a red herring (although I did have an opinion) because I think the structure of the survey is weak. I have some vague ideas of how I think a survey could be better, but not well enough figured out. So toss out idea, how would you write a useful survey for community engagement on the budget?

syeds said...

Its yet another..to say how the district spends the dough.

Sample Survey

Melissa Westbrook said...

Dorothy, I updated this thread with links to Bellevue's budget research. I would like to see something more like what they offered to help guide parents and community members.

I would not include items that should be common sense and basic like following federal regulations and giving parents timely, complete information.

lendlees said...

/on soapbox

I write surveys, analyze data, and aggregate information for a living. I love surveys, I think they are an amazingly easy way to stay connected with your customers or engaged with your constituents--I love that there are DIY tools so a lot of the barriers and mystery have been taken out of doing research.

But, what I hate is when I see poorly written surveys, surveys that are biased, and lousy questions that no one can understand...kind of like this one.

Rate your choices from 1 to 5? But you can't actually rate them, you can only rank them. Ugh.

/off soapbox

Dorothy-I'd be happy to chat with you about how to put together a meaningful questionnaire for community engagement. I can send you a note off-line if you like.

StepJ said...


Thank you for the adding the links to the Bellevue information -- very helpful!

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StepJ said...

*sigh* I wish our District would put out a supporting information sheet so direct and to the point as Bellevue provided.

The choices are not easy - but how can you make them if in essence you are playing pin the tail on the donkey, in the typical blindfolded state.

I would really like to see something that is blunt -- like pay $200 to participate in a sport, or have it eliminated.

Or, reduce the temp. in schools in winter from 71 degrees to 70 degrees.

If only...

Dorothy Neville said...

Lendlees, yes, please contact me, if you would like to share more. I know someone working on creating a better survey for their PTA. Unfortunately we do not have clear data like Bellevue presented. I think a survey without the actual numbers attached is pretty pointless. My email address is available in my blogger profile.

While our board talked about the Bellevue model (which is actually the Lake Washington model that Bellevue adopted) they decided that they didn't have the resources to engage the community at that level. Pretty unsatisfying, if you ask me.

The survey they did create is written the way it is because it aligns with the strategic plan. So of course, no place to say save millions by eliminating MAP being used to evaluate teachers or anything else so concrete.

Sahila said...

I just think its horribly funny that they think we are stupid enough not to see that we know the questions are slanted to give them the results they want to fit in with their predetermined agenda...

Its insulting, arrogant and disrespectful, wasting our time pretending they want to know what we think and that our input will have any meaning/influence...

The only ameliorating point I can come up with is that maybe they are so tied to their version of reality at a core level they really, really dont/cant see what is wrong with this...

Anonymous said...

The survey had very vague wording. Many things could be interpreted in different ways. They need to be more specific, so that when you check a box you will understand exactly what the outcome will be for your student.

Maureen said...

You can use the comments at the end to state your priorities more clearly. Mine came down to fully funding the WSS and cutting back on Strategic Plan Initiatives. I said no professional development from downtown. I also made some suggestions re transportation and asked that BLTs be allowed to prioritize acoss categories under the WSS as well as within (e.g., sub a librarian for a counselor if that makes sense for your building or vice versa.) And I said raise the overhead fee for any new initiative grants that we are stuck with like TFA.

Anyone else have suggestions for what to cut?

dan dempsey said...

Here are my questions about Budget for coaching and what is being accomplished.

As the District is spending in excess of $10 million annually for Academic coaches is this an effective efficient expenditure of funds?

(1) OSPI score changes show little if any improvement at most grade levels in many if not all subject areas. This is particularly true for educationally disadvantaged learners. Math at middle school this last year was an exception where after years of poor results last year's change was positive.

(2) TfA was brought in by the Board for what reasons I not really sure but it seems that the Board buys into ongoing training of TfA newbies by TfA methods. Are these superior to what SPS provides?

(3) The district has programs to assist teachers to develop are those being adequately funded?

(4) In spite of a decade of talk about the achievement GAPS while those in reading shrank those in math expanded. It seems expenditures on Coaching, Professional Development, Instructional Materials, etc. in math need to be analyzed.
Are these being analyzed in terms of producing results? Is their any Bang for the Buck in these areas?

(5) Writer's Workshop is there any Bang for the Buck there?

lendlees said...

On the subject of bad surveys, this one just came through from OPSI:


Last summer the Governor, the Superintendent of Public Instruction and the State Board of Education collaborated to develop an education reform plan to be submitted in connection with the state's application for a grant under the federal Race to the Top program. Although the state was not selected for one of the grants, the Governor's Office is seeking feedback from parents and other stakeholders to determine which parts of the program should go forward.

I couldn't understand half of it. Too much reform, edu-speak stuff in it. Ugh.

Kathy said...

I've been educating our community to use the comment box to fully restore and maintain WSS funding.

I hope others do the same.

Anonymous said...

Just to pick on page 8: Why should we have to choose (i.e. RANK, not rate)? Aren't these ALL important and independent, unrelated qualities?

But Melissa, to go off on your comment there, isn't "strong leadership at the top" what you are objecting to from MGJ? Corrupt, maybe. Misguided, maybe. Transparent, like a smoke-screen. Anti-democratic, you betcha.

But, strong leadership? "A" for effort, anyway. I thought getting steamrolled was NOT what you wanted. Where does strong leadership stop and dictatorial begin? The devil is in that detail above all, as I see it.

Simplistically, an answer to that issue usually depends on whether you agree or disagree with the dictator. "Evidence based" is the ideal, but that demands that a strong and impartial referee exists to rule on the evidence, which is absent in most systems.