Board Work Session on 2011-2012 Budget

UPDATE: Here's the Powerpoint link.

Following up on my Summary thread, here are the highlights of the discussion.

Steve started with a bit of a monologue about Board's role versus staff's (I'm going to have to have him repeat it for me). He did say something interesting that I'm not sure the rest of the Board would agree with, namely, that if the Board asked more questions than staff could answer in this Work Session, it is the job of the Audit&Finance Committee to prioritize them.

It is unclear to me if he meant that if some of the lower questions didn't get answered, it was okay. It seemed that way. Frankly, with this kind of climate and for a budget, I think ALL Board questions should be answered.

Overall themes:
  • a struggle over what will take priority; the Strategic Plan or WSS for schools.
  • frustration by several Board members but mostly Sherry and Michael over the lack of clarity in this presentation. The Board seemed very frustrated over the lack of a large picture view that would enable them to see all the factors involved.
  • lack of correct terminology. I don't know what to make of this but the staff did a sloppy job and the Board called them out. Don Kennedy used central adm and central office interchangeably and it bothered Michael. When Michael asked about this, MGJ said that this was "just a Powerpoint" and they didn't use official OSPI terms. What? This is for the Board and not laypeople. It seemed a little patronizing.
  • There were several places where clarification was asked for and, although there were many staff on-hand, no answers to be had. One was on the start-up costs for IB at RBHS as compared to Ingraham and Sealth. No one had that info. One was start-up costs for an international school and continuing costs for same.
  • Sherry was careful, as chair of Operations, to keep asking if staff were getting these questions and requests for information. They were told yes.
(Note: I'm itemizing by my notes, not by the presentation.)

Item 1:
What was also interesting is MGJ explaining the "staff goals" for the the meeting. That's all good and well but what if the Board has some of its own goals? It seemed a bit odd. The goals were listed as:
  • Directors will be able to understand the current budget context as of Wednesday.
  • Directors will be able to review, refine and confirm policy direction (I can tell you now this is a big area of contention). I have no idea if they meant by the end of the meeting OR from ensuing discussions after the meeting.
  • Directors will be able to participate in discussion* of potential budget reductions based on initial staff recommendations (bold theirs). *This discussion is for information purposes and not meant to solicit value judgments on potential budget cuts. (Personally I found this phasing a little offensive. While I understand trying to not go off on different tangents related to how Board directors might view cuts in their districts, it is hard to say that there would be no discussion that might involve value judgments. Doesn't matter, it was a good discussion that had a few value judgments.)
I do appreciate that these are initial and preliminary but the clock is ticking so the Board gets to try to express to staff what their concerns are now. This is not a one-way street; the Board needs to tell staff what they think.

Page 5 of the Powerpoint marked the start of Michael DeBell's long afternoon. This is a slide labeled "Accumulated Budget Gaps" and shows the growing SPS budget from 2009 into 2012 and the budget gaps. Michael pointed out that the chart makes it look like the budget is going down when it continues to go up. He said the public needs to be able to clearly see what point the district is making when it presents information. He said the public gets told the budget is cut and yet it seems to grow (and the explanation is not given that the growth can be tied to different grants, not more public money).

Sherry, ever helpful, offered to show Duggan a format called "walk-around" that can clearly show this kind of information.

Going on, Duggan Harmon explained that the district could eliminate all OSPI central adm staff (keep in mind, there's central office and central administration; they are not the same thing) and still have a budget gap.

Also on this page 7 was this:
  • We will be acting in face of uncertainty about the total size of cuts necessary
  • We do not have complete flexibility in how we can apply the money we have
  • We are committed to supporting employees impacted by job losses (Duggan made the point that they want to support both employees who leave AND those left behind.)
Item 2:
Peter called out an item on Page 9 (labeled page 5) in the Powerpoint about the Board's guiding principles.
  • Use future budget year projections to inform current year decisions
Okay, so he had sort of pulled this out at the Town Hall meeting. He says that we want to try to NOT cut things that have had a build up such that we end up weakening the work already done (or destroying it), only to have to redo it later on. I had taken that in a benign way but Dorothy Neville pointed out to me it could be a justification to keep on the Strategic Plan work. I don't know if Peter had a specific item in mind or not. Sherry did chime in that in addition to not tearing down that anything new has to have value-added already in place.

As I mentioned in the Summary, Michael is worried about the budgeting being a long-term (5 years) problem. He said we have reached "the skeletal minimum for the WSS." He also seemed to say that we just can't count on more parent funding to backfill.

Item 4:
Kay Smith-Blum stated in a couple of places that she felt that there could be philanthropic groups who could help with items like musical instruments. This was in response to page 11 "Strategic Plans" Recommendations", item "Academic Assurances: Music" with an original cost of $432k and proposed cost of $432k and this item would increase the gap. This is part of the assurances from the NSAP for Rainier Beach HS and Aki Kurose Middle School for 2 music teachers and instruments. Michael challenged that we would fund teachers out of a special fund instead of funding them out of a school's WSS like all the other schools do. Peter said that he felt they could push out getting the instruments to another year given the situation.

Item 5:
On that page 11 recommendations, there was an item for Special Education as part of the Strategic Plan. The original cost was $2M and the proposed cost was $1.4 and proposed cost would not increase the gap. They called Marni Campbell, Special Ed head, to answer a few questions. She said she and staff could modify the service delivery model and there are savings in housing in "home schools" (I don't know this term; anyone?), efficiencies and transportation since more Special Ed students would be going to their neighborhood school.

Item 6:
They would scale back to just one new international school but did not name which area (I suspect McDonald would get it). What bothered Michael here is that staff had included work that was not part of the Strategic Plan (continuing costs for foreign language immersion schools) and it was mixing apples and oranges. He said, "I thought support was a baseline and now we're pulling it into the strategic strand cost?" Dead silence. He said the same thing on the line for SBOC.

Item 7:
MAP testing got some discussion. Duggan said they were looking at the contract to see if they could do testing less often. Sherry referenced something about this being discussed at the Board retreat on 1/8/10. Peter mentioned the stress of schools having to do more with fewer resources and that MAP is one of those. Steve mentioned only doing the testing in fall and winter (and forgot that we test for HSPE in the spring anyway so the kids will get tested 3 times a year). Harium asked if we had already paid for 3 times a year. Again, Duggan said he would find out. Interesting that no one in the room knew this. My analysis is that the Board has heard a lot about scaling back and MAP so all the better if it saves money.

To be continued...


Anonymous said…
re: MAP. I heard today that MAP does not even have a K version. We are apparently using the 1st grade version for K. How is that for Best of Practice. What a waste of classroom time.

P.S. Any bright bulb thought through what happens when young DHH kids take the tests (since the testing is based on auditory cues).

Two instances of strategic spending/implementation at its finest.

Please put my tax dollars into more teachers and school staff.

Anonymous said…
Without knowing the details, I can'te belive they would cut the Special Education budget by 30% when it is clearly already grossly underfunded. They are already not providing aids for most of the kids that should have one: I guess those few who did qulify for one will lose them as well.

Mom of Four
Central Mom said…
The SPED claim jumped out at me as well. Any parent who spends time in classrooms will not let that pass the sniff test. Teachers certainly won't.
Greg said…
Melissa wrote, "The Board seemed very frustrated over the lack of a large picture view that would enable them to see all the factors involved."

That would assume the staff wants to present to the Board in a way that allows review and input. I'm not sure that is their goal. I think the staff just wants to get through what they see as an obligation and hassle with as little input as possible from the Board. And, as long as the Board allows the staff to do that, as long as the Board allows themselves to be viewed as rubber stamps, the staff probably has a good strategy here of obscuring the big picture, prioritizing poorly, and trying to run out the clock on these meetings.
Chris S. said…
OK, that's the THIRD time I've heard that they could lay off [implied entire central staff] and they would still have a deficit. So let's consider that a little more closely. As Melissa said, what's the definition of that? Because going back to an old crappy chart my response is "Really?" Central admin is less than 36.6M? Since when?

The second time I heard it, I thought, well, they are just trying to make the point that it's a BIG deficit. To which I responded, why not turn that logic around and state the number of schools you'd have to close. Or the numbers of teachers, principals, paraprofessionals, and support staff you'd have to get rid of.

Really. The district doesn't exist to give grownups jobs. It exists to educate children.
Jet City mom said…
ITA Chris.
We are committed to supporting employees impacted by job losses (Duggan made the point that they want to support both employees who leave AND those left behind.)

What does that mean- so is our main concern adult employees? or children?

I don't know this term; anyone?), efficiencies and transportation since more Special Ed students would be going to their neighborhood school.

So - sounds like the kids who were assigned to schools outside their neighborhood- for program or to fill seats are now going to be assigned to a closer school?

Should be interesting if that actually happens.
StepJ said…
Perhaps... if Teaching Coaches and other line items that are now seemingly being included (hidden) in the WSS were returned to the Central Office/Central Admin. bucket - likely cutting a portion of Central Admin./Office would balance the budget.

dan dempsey said…
Talk about SpEd and the sniff test.

Check this data.

It compares the change in SpEd scores from 2006 to 2007 the year before MGJ arrived...... with the change in SpEd scores from 2009 to 2010 the last year of MGJ's results ... so far.

Note these differences are calculated from the change in special education students scores in comparison with the change in all students scores.

The change in scores from 2006 to 2007 shows SpEd doing better than All students.

The change in 2009 to 2010 is the exact opposite with All students doing better than SpEd in regard to annual change.

The difference is shocking ... but who cares? It is Seattle and WA STATE WHERE EVIDENCE IS REGULARLY IGNORED.

The Directors as a group ignore the relevant data at every opportunity ... They are "Living the Dream" by believing in fairy-tales.
MAPsucks said…
eerrhh, staff didn't want to spill the beans. Doesn't take a contracts expert to see that NWEA's contract language is a full year license billed and due at the start of the year. Oh, NWEA's been nice about giving a credit for tests not taken but... Frankly, there's enough talk these days about the impropriety of the whole sole-source, conflicted procurement process I don't think any amount of cutting their losses will help the credibility gap.
hschinske said…
re: MAP. I heard today that MAP does not even have a K version. We are apparently using the 1st grade version for K. How is that for Best of Practice. What a waste of classroom time.

MAP is not necessarily a grade-level test. It adapts to the test-taker, so lower- or higher-level questions may appear. There are only three broad levels: MAP for Primary Grades (K-2), 2-5, and 6+. Some districts choose to use MAP for Primary Grades in second grade, some go with the 2-5 from second grade to fifth. I don't know which SPS does.

Helen Schinske
"I can'te belive they would cut the Special Education budget by 30% when it is clearly already grossly underfunded."

Okay, to be clear (and I did write this), the cut is to the Special Ed spending in the Strategic Plan, not Special Ed spending overall. That said, I agree that I find it hard to believe they can make that big a dent in a program that isn't well-funded to begin with.
StepJ said…
To the 36.6 million for one year or two?
StepJ said…
And what is the total budget? What percentage of reduction is needed? 6%, 10%, ?
GreyWatch said…
I submitted a question/comment as part of the public comment process for the NSAP transition plan to all the directors and several SPS staff. I specifically asked what is the official policy (and if there is no policy, what is the rationale) regarding language immersion (LI) and montessori schools being neighborhood based not option schools.

I had a few other questions about cost analysis of programs, etc. My main concerns were, however, focused on access to programs.

The ONLY response i've had in the week since submitting was from Kay S-B. She sent Susan Enfield an email asking her to respond to some of my questions. She also said it was her hope that there would be an LI program in every district which would improve access, but they would still be neighborhood draw schools as that is the path the district taken. No comment on Montessori.

I also asked for a distinction between LI and IB at high school. IB is (or could be) a desirable program that should be accessible to those willing to take it on. I know its an application based process in other areas. Does the LI pathway mean IB? It may be that there is a distinction between the two programs, but it seemed blurry enough to ask about.
Anonymous said…
There are NO SPECIAL ED TRANSPORTATION SAVINGS IN HOME SCHOOL assignments. The special ed department has repeated that over and over at every public meeting! SEAAC, sped_ptsa, everywhere. Too bad the tune changes now. Students in the new program, ICS, are "door-to-door" designees on their IEPs, meaning they get their own special transportation coming directly to their homes. If they live in the the walk zone of their school, they get CAB transportation. That's not a savings!!!!! If they live outside the walkzone, they still get the short-bus, which is the same extra cost, no matter where it goes. There's no "general ed" transportation for ICS students. Board!!! Wake up.

Sped Parent
Anonymous said…
"They called Marni Campbell, Special Ed head, to answer a few questions. She said she and staff could modify the service delivery model and there are savings in housing in "home schools" (I don't know this term; anyone?), efficiencies and transportation since more Special Ed students would be going to their neighborhood school."

Speaking of "Board, WAKE UP" - what does this mean: "modify the service delivery model in "home schools"? After all they've heard from ICS families and teachers I hope the Board is on top of this one. Why don't they ask questions about all that SPED middle management instead of taking it out at the school level???????

Kathy said…
Step J,

We're looking at cutting approximately 9% of the budget.

Still expecting more news from Olympia. Impact unknown.
StepJ said…
Thank you Kathy.
Anonymous said…
Melissa, where we can find the powerpoints you are describing? Thanks

dan dempsey said…
About the money and how big a cut is $36 million.

Here is OSPI data for Seattle in 2008-2009 school year per student:

Financial Data (2008-09)
Per Student Amounts Percent
Total Revenues $11839 100%
State 6740 57%
Federal 1553 13%
Local Tax 3341 28%
Other Sources 205 2%

Total Expenditures $12078 100%
Central Administration 1122 9%
Building Administration 707 6%
Maintenance and Operations 1045 9%
Food Services 252 2%
Transportation Services 658 5%
Teaching 8060 67%
Other 235 2%

So if we figure $12,000 per kid and 46,000 students total would be = $552 million thus a cut of 36 million as a fraction is = 36/552 = 6.5%

6.5% is a whopping big cut ...

So why the spending on NWEA/MAP and STEM at Cleveland and more pointless math books followed by more time in court?

"To improve a System requires the intelligent application of Relevant Data." .... SPS Leadership = ZERO.

So if other revenue sources are only 2%, why does it seem like most decisions are based on Grant Money?

Tail wags Dog.

Relevant data is continually ignored. Please don't but leeches on my neck when I need penicillin.
Susan Sturms said…
Someone may have addressed this already Re: "Home Schools" for special education service placement. It's another case of the district using multiple terminology for the same thing. I thought we settled on "Attendance Area School." That's what Marni means, I think. This is the promise of ICS (Integrated Comprehensive Services) - students receiving special education services will attend the school they would attend if they were not disabled, and the services and supports necessary for their success will be brought to them.

The rub is that the implementation of ICS was to assign students to resource room caseloads of 22 students where, in many cases, it was not possible to provide the services and supports stipulated in the students' IEPs (Individual Educatio Program.

It is repeatedly brought up, apparently to deaf ears, that the recommendation from the external review of SPS special education conducted in 2007 was that elementary level cross-categorical special education caseloads should be 10 students for each certificated special education teacher. (Not enough money for that. I get it.)

SPS is currently in discussions with SEA about a "Service Model Proposal" to reduce the Resource/ICS caseloads. I am trying to sit on my hands a bit and let this play out between the District and the Union. But I am talking with both sides and letting my concerns be known.

In the end, you can't do more with less. And you can't spin straw into gold - even if you can say "Rumplestiltskin."

Sadly, I think parents of special needs children should brush up on their knowledge of filing for Due Process. For many of us, that's going to come in handy.

Susan Sturms
President, Seattle Special Education PTSA
Anonymous said…
Ms. Sturms,

Not just "deaf" but so willing to play dumb. Is fixing ICS really a matter of money? Who buys in to that? What about all those middle special ed managers sitting around at Central Office? What about the union refusing to go to bat and pampering only the ratios where our children are sealed off from others in their schools? There is such a lack of leadership here vision here and a terrible moral vacuum.

Dorothy Neville said…
Thank you Susan for the explanation. Yes, the cut was proposed as a cut in the 2 million for special ed as part of the strategic plan, not all of special ed. Marni spoke fast and with a lot of jargon in her upbeat analysis of why they could bring that down to 1.4 million without any problems. Given the amount of unhappiness I have heard about the ICS rollout, I was a bit surprised. But fundamentally, I have no idea what that particular money was supposed to do.

This is part of the bigger theme of staff being cagey with numbers, hiding real numbers from the board in the hopes that all is normal and the board will simply use the information provided to come to the conclusion the staff wants.

What is the whole Special Ed budget? What exactly was the two million for and what exactly will be streamlined/cut if they only get 1.4 million? How can the board make an informed decision without that information?

The good news (well nothing is good news with respect to the budget) is that the board, especially Michael, Kay, Sherry and Peter are not accepting the staff selected data, they are pushing back and asking again and again for ALL the information they need to decide.
Dorothy Neville said…
I assume the power-point will be up soon. The theme is striking, that the staff is doling out information to support their goals. For everything related to school based cuts, the numbers are there, along with suggested cuts. For much of the strategic plan spending, there are no numbers attached at all, simply an assurance that there will not be an increase in spending.

In the half-empty vs half-full metaphor, the very good news is that the board is clearly onto them and are pushing, pushing pushing. There is no reason at all that there is not a line item for each and every function in the district, with clearly labeled functions. There is no reason for this budget proposal not to list every element of the strategic plan and how much it costs. (Well, there is a reason and we all know what it is.)

So thinking in a gloomy way, one can say that even though the board is asking, the staff is still stonewalling and the likely conclusion is the same as last year, where schools got cut and no one knew for sure how much downtown was protected. The reason why I suspect that is not entirely going to be the case is that it is only January AND that a large portion of the public is paying attention. What is different this year is that there is great transparency in what is not transparent. We all can see what is happening and we can all encourage the board to follow through and we can all protest the lack of staff follow through on transparent budget figures.
Anonymous said…
Dorothy, I don't see any greater interest in transparency around the special ed budget issues than usual or any greater call for transparency from the Board. Did they really just let the comment on reduction in ARRA spending go without any questions? They have to get up to speed on these things and start connecting the dots.

Dorothy Neville said…
When they got to the page proposing central would be cut by 4 million dollars, or 60 FTEs (so we are talking an average salary and benefits of 66K, so what does that mean? Salaries around $45K?) Michael was extremely unhappy given that the next page showed cuts to the WSS of 5 million dollars.

Michael wanted to see more like 12 million in cuts to central. Don replied that that would be a third of the budget. Kay added that her analysis says that nationally urban districts of similar size spend about 4 to 4.5 percent of budget on central (with the caveat that different states define this differently) so with our budget, we would be in line if central was $22 million. That matches up quite nicely with Michael's intuition that cutting 12 million from central was the way to go.

Here's the deal. Don is shocked at cutting a third of central. He said it would mean a Very Different Model of central. For him, it is thinking entirely out of the box. I say YES! Let's have a very different model of central administration right now. Let's pay the bills, administer the grants, maintain our properties and handle the day to day administrative needs that an organization needs and spend nothing on extras.
Dorothy Neville said…
Parent, I agree that asking for more transparency with respect to special ed is not something that I am seeing the board ask for. I suspect that right now reining in the strategic plan and protecting schools is the thinking. That does seem to be the focus, especially of the meetings I have been attending, which are mostly audit, finance, budget. (but I have heard several board members in passing mention that parents and teachers are expressing concern to them.)

So I stand corrected and thanks for the awareness. Yes, in addition to the needed extreme daylighting of strategic plan costs and protecting WSS, we also need a focus on daylighting the Special Ed issues. Perhaps we can come up with as clear a list as possible of what data to ask for? Since staff is reluctant to provide clear information, there is an iterative process of board asking, staff providing something that might resemble the desired data and board (finally!) pointing out that no, this isn't enough or not what was asked.

So, what would be the clearest set of questions to ask regarding Special Ed? What committee is most responsible? C&I? (Audit and finance are of course responsible from the budgetary aspect.)
Chris S. said…
Thanks Susan for the clear explanation.

I have the idea that ICS was supposed to save a lot of money, and yes, if you are going from a ratio of 1:10 to 1:22 you better bet it did. For some kids formerly self-contained kids in our school, the ratio increased even more. That cost saving over the last year and a half might be something to ask about before cutting spec ed further. IMHO 1:10 seems like a totally realistic compromise, even in lean times.
Anonymous said…
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