Saturday, June 18, 2011

Last Audit & Finance Roundup (Audit)

Audit&Finance Committee (Audit) - from June 7, 2011
  •  in the minutes from the May 10th meeting, we learn that there were 20 applications for the   Internal Auditor (that the district needs to fill soon so it does not keep having these poor audits).  They were interviewing and it is stated they may need a second round of interviews.  Since there has been no announcement a month later, I wonder if no one was selected after all.
  • Also there was note that a flyer would be distributed to incoming K parents about Pay for K but no date when that might happen.
  • Director DeBell brought up the issue of daily attendance and state compensation (meaning the Legislature is considering tying the two together) and how it would be a burden to the district.  Duggan Harmon said that there is a new focus at the district on accuracy and said there was no real definition of what is an excused absence.  OSPI is to come up with one and then in January (2012) districts will have to report their levels of unexcused absences.  So the State won't be looking at daily reporting but an average monthly report.  He concluded that there is always the chance the Legislature may use this for school funding purposes. 
This point sort of begs the question then of why the Board was rewriting a policy on attendance, truancy and absences when OSPI is still to define an excused absence?
  •  Kathie Technow from Accounting went over the sole source contract as well as debarment for vendors for personal services contracts.  Vendors must meet the invoice criteria or they won't be paid.  Betty Patu pressed her about how the district knows, for certain, that the work has been done.  Kathie seemed a bit surprised at the question and said managers check before payment is authorized.  (I think Betty's question was around the issues of Pottergate and that many vendors did work that was never really checked on by anyone and if it was, it still got paid for even if the work was less than what was contracted for.)  Michael DeBell asked about writing in the contract about possible debarment of vendors if they don't comply with auditor requests.  Kathie said the language hadn't been written yet but they were working on it.   One of our new volunteers to the A&F Committee, Joe Paperman, said that language in a form or contract is very important and to spell everything out clearly.  
  • Sherry asked about some audit items that had been listed for months and asked what it was going to take to close some items out.  She clearly wanted an action plan.   
  • It was also announced that Ronic Loric is the new Audit Response Manager.  I think Mr. Loric is one of those unsung heroes of the district who just does good work.  He is always prepared at meetings and tried to answer the Directors questions clearly.  
  • It was announced that Exit Conference for the 2009-2010 Accountability Audit is June 29th from 4-5 p.m., immediately preceding the Work Session on the Budget/Capacity Management from 5-6:30 p.m.  (I will just take this moment to ask why a Work Session EVER covers two topics?  Especially something like Budget that you are trying to get out the door.  Maybe they will just announce they are reopening Fairmount Park Elementary and then move onto the Budget.)
Updates on Audits and Investigation

It was a bit depressing to see this list as there are six of them and well, it means a ton of work for staff addressing the 56 findings and 117 recommendations in less than 3 years.

However, the report also showed that two of them (Performance Audit on adm/support services and Performance Audit for travel services have both completed their recommendations.  As well on the Financial/Federal single audit/accountability is 96% completed. 

The other ones have completed the following:
Performance Audit- Construction Management (BEX) 50%,
Special Investigation-Small Business Works 8% and
Financial/Federal Single Audit (2009-2010) is 33%

Cleveland Laptops

The administrative team from Cleveland High came to report out about the high number of lost/stolen laptops from Cleveland (as every 9th/10th grader gets one as part of the STEM program). 

They spent just over $1M for 3 years for 890 laptops for Cleveland per the NTN contract.   Just over 10% of the laptops sustained damage or loss.  The 10% isn't so unusual but they are not recovering the laptops at the rate they anticipated.

Enrollment at Cleveland was 800 with 440 laptops for those 2010-2011 9th/10th graders and 375 left over.  (Obviously, not enough for all the students who are coming in for 2011-2012.)  Also, apparently there is some degree of friction between the upper and lower classes over who received a laptop and who didn't.  (This was an issue when the New School Foundaiton was doing work at TT Minor and it was not school-wide.  Some parents felt their children were being left out.)

Under the state RCW, the district can't charge a non-refundable desposit for damage or loss (but could charge a refundable one).  They can't charge a damage deposit for F/RL and that is 70% of the students at Cleveland.  Currently, students who do lose their laptop (or it is damaged) have to "work off" the cost at school at minimum wage.

The district got a contract from a company called Compu-Trace that was to track the laptops.  Apparently damage is not the big issue here but loss is. (either theft or misplacement).   57 were lost or stolen, most left in a classroom.  They report this to police and school security.  Computrace has found a total of 1 laptop.  (They are apparently embarrassed and sending a tech to try to figure out why their tracing abilities are so lacking.)

The district went with CompuTrace because they believed it would be cheaper than insurance (but it doesn't look that way at this point). 

Lessons Learned:
-CompuTrace hasn't been able to quickly recover lost laptops. 
-the asset tags are too easy to peel off and they are thinking of engraving the info on the laptop
-Shoreline district had this problem the first year they handed out laptops
-they need to develop a sense of ownership among students
-NTN really likes the laptop model for project-based learning. 

Michael was quick to point out that any losses should be reported to the State Auditor.   He also questioned if the laptops are sustainable if we are not recovering them at the expected rate.  Staff said the enrollment was beyond their original projection and so they went beyond their budget.   Betty asked about the number of thefts from the school locker-room and asked about keeping it locked.  They have gone to that measure even though it is more difficult because they don't have anyone to monitor the locker-room. 

Joe Paperman asked about whether students might not be reporting theft because of the police hassle students/parents might face.  He pointed out that the reports have been made more at school even though students are off campus more of the time.  Good catch.

It was suggested that they tell the students they will have a raffle of something like an X-Box for all students who return their laptops.  Or maybe, get them lighter models as there were some complaints about the weight.

(My notes reflect - seriously?  Hey kids, you are getting a free laptop to use.  Be grateful and no whining about the weight.  There is no other school with this benefit in SPS and I'd think between the school and the parents these kids might understand the responsibility they have to their family and school (and future Cleveland students) to take care of these laptops.)

Michael said he sensed some hesitation to get all students to follow-thru on working off damage fines.  The principal said no and she would use her own time to make sure it got done (as staff has to oversee work).   There was some doubt expressed over continuing to use CompuTrace. 

Then was the update from IT from Jim Ratchford.  He was kind enough to give a careful report about our old friend, the VAX.

He said there was a "pre-2008 approach" and a "post-2008 approach" to the VAX.   (I'd have to check but I think he came on-board late 2008-early-2009.)  He said that because of that, it would be difficult to get enough history for a "lessons learned."

He said that it appeared that staff didn't want to acknowledge the complexity of the issue of migrating off the VAX and the operational and staffing issues with doing so with the NSAP.  He said staff felt like they shouldn't call attention to issues.

On the positive side, he said they have a program manager and are breaking down the silos and maintaining the scope.  He said they had a fairly positive first release of the NSAP.

But he said pre-2008, they were only "nipping around the edges" of the problem - he called it a lot of drift but no focus. 

Michael said the Board had repeatedly asked about this.  Mr. Ratchford seemed to think that over 7 years they got value for $12M (apparently that's what it cost to migrate off - kinda takes your breath away).  

Michael said he just didn't understand why it too so long and that it hindered governance changes.  He asked about leadership churn in IT as there were 3 people before Mr. Ratchford.

Ratchford acknowledged that it needed more transparency and he couldn't clearly address what came before.  He also said that the NSAP propelled the move forward but was a challenge.  Michael said he felt if was this endless circle of wanting to change the assignment plan with the VAX being a huge issue to overcome (or so the Board was told).

Ratchford stated that he didn't understand why VAX had been a barrier and it was hard for him to imagine why someone would have said that to the Board.  (Let that one sink in everyone who has been in the district for awhile. How many times were we told that reason we were still on the VAX?)  

Michael said the district cannot every allow technology to constrain district work.  He said there needed to be institutional knowledge of this period so it didn't happen again.

Betty - ever Betty - asked if the district was completely off the VAX.  No, they aren't.  There are still some archived records.  Ratchford said maybe there's a photo op in there for the Board when they are finally off it.  Wry smiles all around. 

Pay for K

The district is going to have K parents set up automatic withdrawals from their checking accounts for Pay for K.  This will start (hopefully) in August.   They will be sending many reminders to parents about the program and how it will work.  (There was a curious statement made about "the enrollment system shuts down for awhile in the summer" which I'll have to ask Tracy Libros about.  If there's one department you'd think would be operating in the summer, it would be enrollment.)

One issue around Pay for K is that many families would be eligible for F/RL but don't apply or don't know that sometimes the level changes and that they should apply again the next year.  The issue is that if parents don't pay, it will go to collections.   This is an embarrassment and hardship for parents who are near the F/RL lunch rate and they want to prevent this as much as possible.

It was explained that there were 1760 students at Title One schools with 800 being F/RL.    The money is NOT subsidizing Title One school costs. 


dan dempsey said...

"Staff said the enrollment was beyond their original projection and so they went beyond their budget."

HUH???? .... "the enrollment was beyond their original projection" ????

Much of the argument for Cleveland becoming an option school was to boost its enrollment. Cleveland opened with about the same number of students as in previous years. So what was the District's real enrollment projection for Cleveland? .... Do these people ever even know the truth much less speak it?

MGJ and Enfield said 250 per grade level for a 1000 student total was the plan. They talked about using a lottery to determine placements if more than 250 students applied per grade level.....

=> 250 + 250 = 500 9th and 10th grade students.

So many lies were told about the NTN contract and the performance of NTN schools in getting approval of the NTN contract .... now it appears Staff has little idea about Seattle's Plan either.

Steve said...

Thanks for the thorough report. Greatly appreciated, as always.

Charlie Mas said...

Yes. I'm very grateful for this report. It's good to have a record of this sort of serial incompetence.

Anonymous said...

This is Catherine Brown, I work at Cleveland. I just wanted to clarify one piece of what Melissa reported: though 57 laptops were reported missing at some point, only 37 have actually gone unrecovered. A sample scenario to explain the difference: Freshman X leaves laptop in classroom when working after school, goes to use restroom. Freshman Y sees friend's laptop unattended, thinks he's left the building, so she grabs it for him for safekeeping. Freshman X returns, reports it missing in a panic, but it is returned the next day. 37 out of 440 laptops have NOT had that kind of happy ending, though, and that is still a number we're concerned about. I think we have learned much this year, and the district as well, about supporting a 1:1 program like this.

It is really incredible what students and teachers can do in classrooms where laptops are universal. From journal prompts that a teacher can assign and read as soon as their done, rather than lugging a crate full of notebooks home, to instant polls or quizzes to check understanding, to the level of inquiry possible when students can access online information throughout their school day, these laptops have been game-changing for instruction at Cleveland. We hope to continue to provide data that suggests the investment has had good results.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Thanks Catherine.

Po3 said...

"We hope to continue to provide data that suggests the investment has had good results."

Can you share the data thus far that indicates that STEM is a success?

Can you also share what changes will be implemented next year to ensure that nearly 40 laptops are not lost?

Anonymous said...

@Po3, let me first say that I don't think there is enough data to say STEM is a success, nor would I expect to find enough data to say either way in Year 1. Here are some hopeful data points from our first year, though. We reported to the Board about them earlier this year:

1. Attendance is up from 85% to 89%
2. MAP testing results showed that our students' growth outpaced the district average in 9th grade reading, 9th grade math, and 10th grade reading.
3. Enrollment has gone up, and is projected up this year.
4. Qualitative data--we've had a variety of outside folks visiting this year, some who've been in Cleveland's classrooms previously, some who have only seen it this year. People who can knowledgeably compare the past to the present find improved school culture and instruction. People who are new to us have many positive things to say, particularly about the strengths of relationships (teacher/student as well as student/student), students' presentation and technology skills, and their engagement with the content. It's hard to represent this data since it is people's opinions/observations, but it can be valuable nonetheless.

As far as our work to reduce laptop loss next year, some of it is in district hands (i.e. reconsidering Computrace vs. insurance), and I don't know enough to comment on it. At the building level, as Melissa said, we're doing a more serious engraving of the computers using one of our engineering classes' tools. We've already locked down a problem area (gym locker room), and will continue to monitor that carefully. We also want to enlist students' help in doing a beginning of the year campaign about laptop safety awareness--this may wind up being a project of advisory classes. Of course, we did some of this work this year as well, but we think students taking more of a lead role will add effectiveness.

Hope this is responsive to your questions.

--Catherine Brown

Syd said...

I think if students are given a laptop for 4 years, we should expect attrition. The insurance sounds like a good idea to me.

Just practically, these are teenagers. Things happen. They are not entirely in charge of their environment (my son lost his phone to a thug on MLK while waiting for the bus - thug is here defined as an adult who steals from young teenagers). They may have siblings who break things. 40 out of 400 does not sound bad to me.

As well, 4 years is a long time for a laptop. I would not expect a laptop to last 4 years. I might hope it would, but I do not expect it.

I am hoping the district experiment with classroom ipads goes well. I think tablets might be more useful. Think of the savings in paper. My second grader just came home with enough paper to fill our recycling bin. I know I got rid of a lot during the year, and probably the teacher did at school as well. I'll bet he used more than his weight in paper this year. Add on the cost of printing, and you are talking real money. I know they use even more paper in HS, because my 10th graders closet is filled with this year's detritus.

Dorothy Neville said...

They do expect attrition, they do expect loss. But the issue is how to factor that into the budget.

Computrace was very surprised it couldn't find the missing laptops. It usually has good results. And the district was expecting that as soon as the first stolen or misplaced laptops were recovered by computrace, word would get out and fewer would go missing. But something was wrong from an IT perspective in how the computrace software was installed, or something like that. So we take a hit and computrace takes a hit. Additionally, computrace pays market value for the missing item. That was OK the first year, but by the second year, market value is no where near replacement cost. AND it doesn't cover the cost of any of the software, so we lose out there. But everyone expected computrace to recover a higher percent of missing laptops.

Anonymous said...

(Thought I posted this already, but it didn't show up? Anyway, if it winds up posting twice, that's why.)

@Po3, let me first say that I don't think there is enough data to say STEM is a success. I don't think year one of the program will provide enough data to say either way.

However, we had some hopeful data points that we presented to the Board earlier this year. Here they are:

1) Attendance is up from 85% to 89%.
2) Enrollment was up this year, and projected up for next--here are the numbers:
October 2009: 695 students (before STEM)
October 2010: 738 (first year of STEM)
October 2011: 751 (projected)

About enrollment: remember that no students are assigned to Cleveland--starting this year, every student we got had to choose us in the enrollment process.

3) MAP data--our MAP results showed student growth that outpaced the district average in 9th grade reading, 9th grade math, and 10th grade reading.

4) Qualitative data: some discount it, but I value the feedback we got from many, many visitors to our classrooms this year. Some could knowledgeably compare past Cleveland to STEM, and these visitors universally reported improved school culture and academic focus. Other visitors came who were new to us. They had positive things to say about relationships (teacher/student as well as student/student), student technology and presentation skills, and student engagement.

As far as what we're doing to reduce laptop loss for next year, some of it is in the district's hands (i.e. Computrace vs. insurance), and I don't know enough to comment on it. At the building level, as Melissa reported, we're planning to do a more serious engraving on the computers using a tool from an engineering class. We've locked down one problem area (the gym locker room), but we'll continue to monitor that. And we're thinking we'll ask students to design a beginning-of-the-year media campaign around laptop safety awareness. Adults led the work on that this year; we think adding student voices to it will increase the effectiveness of the message.

Hope this is responsive to your questions.

--Catherine Brown

dan dempsey said...

Dear Catherine Brown,

You said:
"We hope to continue to provide data that suggests the investment has had good results."

..."continue to provide" (????)

So far it seems you have yet to provide any data ... just anecdotes.

In fact when NTN was selected .. NO accurate DATA was used ... only anecdotes.

{loved the NT Sacr 98% graduation rate, when in fact the tracking of cohorts at NT Sacramento showed 37% and 44% of cohorts graduated in its first two graduations}

The data from NTN schools was uniformly poor and was overlooked when NTN was selected and approved for an $800,000 contract.

Both NTN Action Reports that recommended the NTN contract be approved were highly inaccurate .

"To improve a system requires the intelligent application of relevant data"

Data is rarely used to make a selection in the SPS
..... Data is often cherry picked to support selections after the fact.

The level of research in selecting NTN was beyond pathetic. There were NO NTN STEM schools in California and yet two Board members and the CAO went to Sacramento to look at an NTN STEM school. Only upon arrival did they discover New Tech Sacramento was not a STEM school.

The fact that NT Sacramento had continually worsening annual overall California API test results and that the Algebra II End of Course assessment showed clearly that Math was not working at NT Sacramento ... was never disclosed by District Employees ... instead glowing anecdotes were presented by both employees and the school Directors who voted for this proposal .... It was the usual 4-3 vote as Martin-Morris, Maier, Carr, and Sundquist ignored the evidence as usual... to pass the Superintendent's $800,000 NTN contract proposal.

dan dempsey said...

Compiling anecdotes into Qualitative data .... is no substitute for Quantitative results that show significant academic improvement.

Could you please be more specific about these MAP test results and where the raw data can be found.

I certainly wish everyone at Cleveland well ... especially when remembering carry over funds from 30+ low income schools were diverted to help finance this venture.

dan dempsey said...

At bit more about NTN

The NTN contract fiasco

complete with links to the proof.

Fraud and Forgery

NTN #1 Action Report: Introduction January; Action Report revised on Feb 2, and Contract Approved February 3, 2010;

Appealed March 5.
The Action Report did not match the contract (big no-no). Upon appeal the District went to Plan B for an entire ReRun DoOver

NTN #2 Action Report: written on March 12
and introduced on March 17, 2010; Approved on April 7, 2010;
appealed May 2010

The NTN contract fiascos ::

Action Report #1 The original School Board Action Report (SBAR) contained numerous claims that were incorrect. Among these that 2/3 of NTN schools were STEM (actually only 10 out of 41).

The claim believed by the Board was that there were NTN STEM schools in California. Two Board memebers and CAO Enfield visited NTN Sacramento and when they walked into the building, they found out it was not a STEM school.

JvA said...

I'm curious about the MAP data as well. It sounds like the scores themselves were not higher than the district average, but rather the amount of improvement (and I'd want to know exactly how that was calculated). The thing is, I'd expect any school that was a low (the lowest?) performing neighborhood school and suddenly became an science magnet option school to have a large year-over-year improvement. You could do that with the change in students alone and no change in instruction.

I'd love to see some meaningful data, if any exists yet, about student performance at Cleveland.

Melissa Westbrook said...

I think you may have misunderstood, Syd. I don't think they expect these laptops to last 4 years. That isn't my understanding (but I will try to get clarification).

The other issue the loss that we are paying money to a company to track these things. If they can't do their job, pull the contract and get insurance.

Also, this is just about the laptops and not the success of STEM. I appreciate the qualitative data that Ms. Brown presents but if parent qualitative data is not considered, then neither should school qualitative data. The district can't have it both ways. Either experience input is valid or it's not.

Anonymous said...

Here's the link to our Board presentation: http://district.seattleschools.org/modules/groups/homepagefiles/cms/1583136/File/Departmental%20Content/school%20board/10-11%20agendas/040611agenda/stempresentation.pdf

Here's the MAP data I'm referring to from there, though I don't know if I'll format it very well:

Growth index Cleveland:
9th grade Math 1.5
9th grade Reading 1.4
10th grade Math .1
10th grade Reading .5

Growth index District Average:
9th Math .9
9th Reading .8
10th Math .7
10th Reading .2

@ JvA, this set of data looks at our growth index between students testing in fall vs. winter as compared to the district average growth index. So this isn't measuring last year to this year, but how much our current students grew this year to how much students grew in the same time span across the district. You can also find another table about our percentage of students meeting or exceeding typical growth. I'm lacking time to add it in as well, but it can be found using the link.

Also @JvA, I'm sure that the fact that we have 9th graders who chose our program influences things. But as Charlie has written about in previous posts, we continue to serve students and families in the south end of Seattle. The vast majority of our 9th graders attended either Mercer or Aki Kurose for middle school. And our 10th, 11th and 12th graders are almost entirely the same students we had last year. Our rate of students who receive free and reduced lunch is 70% this year.

As I said earlier, this is just the data we have at this point in time, not enough to make sweeping generalizations either way. I will say it's been a very hard-working year for the staff and students of Cleveland, and we will go ahead and celebrate glimpses of hope that our hard work is having a good effect, and at the same time make note of points that indicate areas to focus on (10th grade math, i.e.). But it would be foolhardy to evaluate a school transformation program on so little, so soon.

--Catherine Brown

Anonymous said...

Sorry, Melissa, I just saw your post. I didn't mean to thread-hijack away from laptops onto program evaluation, just responded to the question from the commenter.

I'll be unplugged for the rest of the day, so won't contribute to any more birdwalks. : )

--Catherine Brown

JvA said...

Thanks for the extra info, Catherine -- I'll take a look later on. I live very close to Cleveland, in the Mercer zone, and would love to see evidence the new program is doing well. The building is lovely, and I'm thrilled to see that the maintenance staff keeps up with the graffiti.

Patrick said...

Did Jim Ratchford happen to say what was replacing the Vax? I liked those computers back in the day and I wonder what's doing the job now.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Patrick, no, I don't know specifically.

Mad as hell said...

Missing laptops at Cleveland High School are just the tip of the iceberg regarding 'lost' tech equipment in the district. The lack of concern and oversight shown by headquarters is ridiculous. Each year thousands of dollars in computers and tech equipment is lost or stolen but nothing is done to recover any of it.