Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Meg's Latest Analysis

Meg Diaz wanted to let readers know that she did an analysis of personnel cuts from the last Work Session (2/9/11) on the budget. Her full report is at her blog, Dolce & Nutella. (Did you know that Costco sells Nutella in big jars a lot cheaper than anywhere else? But I digress.)

Her basic points are good (I did a bit of cut-and-paste to put point together rather than spread out in her thread):

When basic school and student funding is on the chopping block – and it is, since WSS cuts are being considered – then everything else needs to be up there as well. And if it's not, saying "it's grant-funded" isn't enough. There needs to be detailed transparency justifying the protection of that much administrative expense.

However. Only 2/3 of Central Administration employees were even listed on the "core FTEs" handout (compared to 100% of Other Support). Central Administration cannot be effectively restructured when over 1/3rd of the organization is conveniently omitted from the exercise. Cuts are about reducing total expenses, not just those with certain revenue sources.

Here are some highlights from her work:

Total Recommended Cuts in Central Reductions Exercise: 97.15

My rough breakout:
Central Administration: 15.3
Teaching (that'd be Evening School): 2
Administration billed as Teaching (coaches, SpEd consulting teachers & coaches): 8.5
Teaching Support (I counted athletics in here, though in discussions, that sounded more like an administrative cut): 11.2
Other Support (includes Information Systems -- known in SPS as DoTS -- maintenance, custodian, grounds): 60.75

Numbers Comparison:
Total Employees listed in Central Reductions Exercise: 734.85
Central Administration: 155
Other Support: 507
All other functions (teaching & teaching support, mainly): 72.85

Total Central Administration FTEs (from F-195 budget report, available on OSPI): 245 (i.e. 90 more than in the Central Reductions Exercise)

Total Other Support FTEs (again, F-195 report): 507 (i.e., same as in the Central Reductions Exercise)

Given that the positions on the handout were identified as "non-grant funded," one is left to conclude that... the remaining third of Central Administration employees are grant-funded. There are several issues:
  • Over one third of Central Administration is grant-funded?!?! Well... it sure looks like it.
  • Why? In previous budget cycles, administrative positions were “shifted to grant” in order to reduce pressure on baseline funding, not to optimize use of grant funding.
  • It looks like SPS spends at least 10% of its ~$90 milllllllion dollars in grant funds on Central Administration – and that’s not including professional development coaches, who are billed to Teaching (and supposedly most of them are “grant funded” too).
End of Meg's portion

I think I may write to the State Auditor. From the TIF grant to many others, it sure looks like a lot more than is usual is being used for administration and overhead for SPS grants.

Thanks, Meg!


bj said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
zb said...

Why is "It's grants supported" not an excuse? The grants really are for specific things, and the money isn't fungible (at least, that's true for most grants). In fact, grants makers actually go through quite a bit of effort to prevent their money from being fungible, preventing their grants-funded employees from taking on the responsibilities they deem as being out of the scope of their grant.

I don't know the details of grant-funding at SPS, so I'm not talking with knowledge there. But, I know that at a research university, it really is true that grant funded activities can really be funding neutral (including the indirect costs that can come with grants).

2/16/11 11:25 AM

Anonymous said...

As a grant writer, it's been my experience that it is very difficult to secure grants to cover costs of personnel. This is specifically because the grant is not guaranteed to be renewed from year-to-year (or whatever the terms of the grant are).

I realize that this may not be the case with many/all of the SPS grants, but I sure would like to see some particulars here. SPS would NOT be the first organization to misuse grant monies.

SolvayGirl (still can't access my account)

Maureen said...

Solvay girl, try changing your password. That worked for me (thanks to Josh!).

Re. ...the money isn't fungible, I guess it depends what you mean by fungible. Meg has shown pretty conclusively in the past that Title money has been diverted from K-5 to Cleveland STEM (by increasing the FRL floor from 40% to 55% for Title eligibility). Several of the cost savings being proposed by staff this year (on that 11x17 doc with four point print that I don't have a link to) are dependent on moving high level administrative staff positions to the SIG or TIF or another grant. That sounds like the grant funds are somewhat fungible. Or at least SPS thinks they are. How often are they audited on federal grants? While it may not violate the terms of the grant to use it for such administrative positions, that doesn't mean it is the highest return use of the money under current conditions.

Jan said...

ZB: I don't know what Meg and Melissa had in mind, but here is how I see it. If I use, as an analogy, a family budget, this is like saying that my mother sends me $5000 a year, and requests that I use it for business clothes, educational expenses for the kids, and family vacations -- the three things she most loves to support.

My spouse becomes unemployed and we sit down to do a budget in really constrained circumstances. ALL the sources (and uses) of income need to be on the table during that conversation. I can't sit on the $5000 check, and realistically decide how much of the remaining income (unemployment, savings, my paycheck) goes to my work clothing budget and the kids' educational expenses (because these are not zero budget items, regardless) unless we are "aware of" and including the "other" funding. This does not, of course, mean that I can divert that money to the mortgage, however much I may want to -- but maybe I do, in that case, spend ZERO other dollars (other than the $5000) on those categories. Is is so often the case with the district, the problem is -- the work coming from staff is so awful that neither the board nor the public can see the whole picture. They either can't (or can, but willfully won't) lay out ALL of the information in a clear presentation so we know:
1. What ALL the sources of revenue (including grant money) are;
2. What ALL the expenses (including those covered by grants) are;
3. What revenue is restricted (by grant, statute, etc. to specific expense items (and whether there is any ability to redirect that money, consistent with the grant, to other purposes -- using the home example, I think it would be a problem to dedicate the $5000 all for a family vacation -- and then claim that we were going to have to stop funding IRAs and paying off credit cards in full because the kids have educational needs that have to be funded from remaining income and all my work shoes are worn out.)

I think you are correct that much of the grant money must be used in very specific ways. But it still needs to be part of any overall analysis of what gets cut and what stays. I simply do not understand why the staff cannot prepare clear, correct, credible financial documents. And I absolutely cannot fathom why the Board puts up with it.

MAPsucks said...

FYI, remember when the District said the MAP pilot was grant funded? It was, by a grant intended for the purchase and administration of other assessments for thousands of kids(not the trial run of a single assessment for a few hundred). So, no, you cannot take them at their word.

SolvayGirl said...

Thanks Maureen—it worked!

Dorothy Neville said...

And Yes, there is an expected overhead to administering grants. I believe Meg once told me the generally accepted amount is 3%. Did anyone happen to notice that the TIF grant's administrative overhead is 9%? Yup, $228K a year to pay folks downtown simply to oversee the grant. That is not including creating the evaluation tool, developing PD to explain the evaluation tool, the external vendor to conduct an evaluation of the grant, paying for the Student Growth Analyst position, and the people working in Research Evaluations and Assessments for all their work on data collection and management, plus perhaps developing or purchasing an automated employee performance evaluation system. (Automated?)

Chris S. said...

zb, I thought so too. But that's limited to federal grants. Other funders may have other tighter or looser rules. When Meg said things "were shifted to grants" at the last budget cycle, that was really a signal to me that there rules here are looser. And even the federally funded grants must be looser than NIH/NSF - in the case of Title 1 there is no direct vs. indirect, meaning you can decide how much to put toward administration and infrastructure. It would be interesting to know aht oversight there was.

Kathy said...

The district proposes a 1/3 reduction in Per Pupil allocations up to $3.2M. The district claims this is a supply allocation.

Does anyone have a handle on the actual dollar amount of this per pupil reduction?

Something about the word "supply" bothers me.

Kathy said...

BTW- the Budget Meeting is on Seattle Channel.

mirmac1 said...

Good point Kathy. You have reason to be bothered. I heard a director say "we could just increase the allocation and let principals decide for themselves if they want elementary school counselors or not." I dunno, people and pencils are not equivalent ya think?

dan dempsey said...

Speaking of Analysis....

The King County Prosecutor has informed the SPD, it will accept a complaint involving fraud and SPS administration. The SPD refused to do so earlier.

Here is my testimony for tonight's Board meeting.

Maureen said...

Kathy Wow, I hadn't done that math!

$3.2Million is about $70 per student. Last year my school's "per student allocation" (discretionary fund number) was about $175 per student, so when they talk about cutting up to 1/3 of "supplies" I think what they mean is cutting 1/3 of ALL the discretionary dollars a school has (Not counting LAP and Title money). That is money that is needed to fill out positions they only fund at a fraction of an FTE (like when they say we qualify for 1.8 FTE 4th grade teachers to cover 56 kids and we have to pay the District $16,000 to keep two teachers in front of two full classes for the year.). That is the ONLY money principals have to work with to buy anything or anyone SPS doesn't supply. We aren't talking about pencils and paper we're talking about anything that isn't core staff (reading specialists, recess support, library books,...).

Shoot, I hate to give up on full day K, but, if I'm right, this is where the 'found' $3.3Million should go.