Thursday, September 01, 2011

What Will Happen the First Day of School? (Part Two)

CFO Bob Boesche sent Dorothy Neville a reply and a follow-up to her questions about understaffing and its ramifications on the first day of school.  I personally was a bit confused by some of his answers and I guess the only answer at this point is to wait and see.  But, keep in mind, the Board and the staff knew that any poor outcomes were entirely possible and did nothing to protect the most likely to be overenrolled schools.

His first e-mail said this (and I edited it down):

The attached document should provide additional specifics, but I want to clarify that this is not a "hiring freeze" in the traditional sense.

Hiring freezes are often long-term in nature. In this case, we will be making key adjustments within the first two weeks of the school year. Decisions will be based upon actual enrollment, addressing schools which are under, as well as over, in staffing.

In the past, SPS often did not take away staff at schools which were under-enrolled. We can no longer afford to over-staff. We will need to transfer staff from under-enrolled schools to fill similar positions in those schools which are growing. If we aggressively fill positions, we will have little flexibility to address these transfers.

This is a fine line which the district wishes it did not have to walk. However, with the high likelihood of mid-year legislative cuts and only one year of experience with the current Student Assignment Plan, cautionary steps are prudent.

Dorothy writes back thanking him for the info. She says:

While there are some unknowns, there should also be strong indications for at least some schools that they will absolutely meet expected enrollment and beyond. The situation at Garfield last Fall left a lot of people in the city angry. So I would have expected this hiring slow-down to be site specific, in areas of the city where there is the most concern about enrollment predictions. Since transportation hasn't changed for high schools, you should have better predictors for high school enrollment. Your explanation does not point to any such differentiation between schools with more iffy predictions of enrollment vs those with more solid predictions. You can believe the citizens who have been keeping track of demographics will cry foul if this affects the schools with which citizen data analysis has been more accurate than district data analysis.

So, I would have thought a more fair approach would be to protect the schools most likely to be crowded, least likely to have enrollment shortfalls, whereas your department decided the most fair thing to do would be to halt the hiring process across the board in a gradual way, allowing for those advanced in the pipeline, no matter what school, to be hired. I can imagine arguing that your process makes sense, for practicality. Reasonable people will disagree with either definition of fair or practical. I suggest that more parents, teachers and citizens would have considered my definition over yours a better course. It seems like using my definition of fair would have impacted fewer students overall.
You state that there were 580 positions open due to resignations, RIFs and retirements. Well, I would not expect a RIF to lead to an open position. The approved budget predicts enrollment growth and the need for about 110 more FTEs. Are those 110 included in that 580 figure?

Substitutes are screened and qualified for their positions? I would have to say that's debatable and not what I heard last year at Garfield. However, you do what you have to do. One question: will there be non certified teachers working under emergency substitute certifications in the substitute pool? Ie, TfA novices who still need board approval for their conditional certification?

Both of these are well-reasoned arguments. Any thoughts?


mirmac1 said...

I say if this blows up in everyone's face, the students are the losers. What a lousy way to start the school. Chaos and confusion.

cascade said...

Last year they had no process.

This year they have a process that won't address the problem.

Perhaps next year, the third attempt will be the charm.

Dorothy Neville said...

Here is Bob's entire answer, which may clarify my response.

He said a source for concern is the new transportation plan and I pointed out that high school transportation has not really changed.

He says here that when they decided to slow down hiring, he, the HR dept and the ED directors consulted and decided that the fairest way would be to slow down the hiring process overall. So my point was that it would have seemed more fair to many folk to have slowed down hiring on a school by school basis more aligned with how strong an enrollment prediction they have, not in the "get it done by Monday and all's well, otherwise the position stays vacant and you start with a sub" process they determined was fair.

I sent him a follow-up question because I don't think my original question was answered. Duggan said that if enrollment comes in at low end of projections, we will be overstaffed by about 15 FTE. So this seems overkill, in that it means we will be starting the year with about 50 open positions (ie, substitutes). Please note that this substitute figure is based on budgeted number of staff based district enrollment projections. We know that some schools, such as Ingraham, will have many more students show up next week than were budgeted for. I believe they were budgeted for about 860 students and current expectations are for about 1000 to show up. So all the substitutes that they will have to scramble to hire for those extra students are NOT counted in Bob's calculations of 50 open teaching positions.

someone said...

Huh - well, they are right to be concerned about the new transportation plan - from what I've heard from friends "in the know" there is likely to be mass chaos on the first day due to some poor communication and ongoing "snafus" - so it ought to be a veerrrrRyyy interesting first day all around

Jan said...

I have to say -- I have never worshipped at the shrine of "seat time," and I consider that much of the first week -- in all but the smallest and most advanced classes, is largely wasted. (Not that this makes it a no brainer to waste the second and third weeks as well). I do recall how incredibly it was at GHS last year, especially for freshmen and sophomores, who bore the biggest brunt of the overcrowding and understaffing.

I concur with Dorothy's hypothesis that this seems an odd way to deal with student number popularity (and agree with cascade that maybe this is just "year 2" of floundering. But given that they have ceded any control over school populations, and no one is required to sign up in advance for a neighborhood school -- or even show up for a week or two -- because they can still get in, whenever they arrive -- I am not sure I see how the District will EVER -- in a budget shortfall year -- be able to avoide the possibility of overstaffing. (After all -- who knows -- maybe they will leave for private schools or other districts, or homeschooling, by the hundreds -- or maybe they will leave those things, and flock to public schools, by the hundreds). We seem to have no good solutions (as this one certainly doesn't seem good).

Anonymous said...

Regardless of the outcome, central administration has once again caused chaos and confusion for schools at the 11th hour.

Schools were prepared to interview candidates and had done logistical preparations for whom they were supposed to hire.

The budget is nothing new. Why did
they wait until right before school to spring this change onto school staffs?

--running the district by the seat of their pants

Melissa Westbrook said...

Running, that's a good thought.

They knew the money was an issue.

Mr. Boesche said way back in April that they didn't want to overstaff.

So why wait until the last minute to tell teachers (and allow it to trickle down to parents)?

Kate Martin said...

At Roosevelt while my kids were there, it was super embarrassing to go to curriculum night and find a note on the door that "Teacher C" had not been hired yet. This happened repeatedly. I think it's only fair that principals communicate with families when there is no assigned teacher to a classroom. For us it was weeks into the school year. That is very disruptive. It should be no secret to families that there is no teacher assigned to their students.

Dorothy Neville said...

On the other hand... I spoke with a long-term high school counselor this summer who defended starting with substitutes. She said it was a good tactic to wait until the displaced teacher pool was empty before hiring, so the principal did not get stuck with someone in the pool.

Looks like this year 10 staff in the displaced pool will be "carefully placed" and isn't that an odd term? So is part of this hiring slow-down forcing principals to take the displaced pool sooner rather than later? I have no idea how all this works.

Anonymous said...

Please don't assume the displaced pool is Seattle's version of the Rubber Room.

Many hardworking, dedicated teachers may be returning from leave (travel, health, etc.).

Sure, in the abstract, a pile of candidate applications to choose from from seems very desirable--but, if you believe in worker rights, this is part of the package.

Also, a displaced teacher is often a good way to get an educator of a different persusion into the school--hiring teams tend to choose someone with similar qualities as themselves. Children (and adults) learn from people outside of their bubbles.

--be careful of the very slippery slope

Anonymous said...

that was "persuasion"

--not careful enough

Dorothy Neville said...

I am not assuming the displaced pool is a rubber room. That was the position of the high school counselor with whom I had a chat.

I would assume that the displaced pool would have folks from a variety of backgrounds and abilities.

Anonymous said...

Have to agree with "Careful" regarding hiring team hiring people of similar "persuasion". Guess it is just a reflection of America these days. We gravitate to like minded people and forget what we can learn by being around different or opposing veiws.... the end of civility of town hall meetings. (A general observatoin, NOT a pro-reform or anti-reform education stance.)

-I'm off for a cold one with my tea partying neighbor (where I'll need lots of liquid sustenance to blunt the arrows coming at me!)