Audit&Finance Committee Meeting Round-Up

As if to only reinforce the idea that the real action of the district is at committee meetings, there was the Audit&Finance committee meeting yesterday.

On the upside, I think this district has made tremendous strides in bringing in some bright and capable people as district staff.  Duggan Harmon, head of Finance, Richard Staudt, Risk Management, and Andrew Medina, Internal Auditor, and Ronic Lirio, also in Finance, all come across as quite knowledgeable about their area of expertise within the district.  I think they are all capable of laying out the facts clearly to the Board.  I do not hear the hedging that I used to with, say, Don Kennedy, the former COO/CFO.

There was an update of First AME and their compliance with the contract wording for the sale of MLK, Jr. building to them.  There were members of the First AME board on-hand to listen.  District staff went through a chart that showed areas of compliance for use for youth-centered activities for the gym, playfield, auditorium, etc.  On paper, it certainly did look like it but leave it to Sherry Carr to tease out the details.

The report did note that the district suggested better tracking of hours than how the church management group was currently doing it. 

One fascinating item was the notation that the church management fulfilling usage of the playfields/gym by allowing "school groups" to use it during school hours.   I'm not sure what schools they are speaking of in general but it appears that the Bush school is one of them. 

Sherry asked about this and it was confirmed that Bush does use the playfield but district staff wasn't sure what other schools do as well.  So Bush may not have gotten the building but they certainly are getting a good (and free) deal out of using the playfield and gym.

What was also an issue is that most of the hours for the auditorium and gym available for youth are during daytime hours (and therefore, the least likely time any young person could use it).  FAME says they are going to be flexible on the hours to accommodate youth program needs and abide by the agreement.

Then they went onto Risk Management.  They were going over the time lost to the district for staff injuries.  It was a pretty startling sheet to see (I'll try to get a link up).  Mr. Staudt explained that the district lost roughly 800 days from April 2008-March 2012 and that was about how many staff hours it takes to run an elementary school.

Sherry Carr asked about terms of contracts and how they benchmark with other districts.  Duggan Harmon noted that the SEA has a downward trend and that might be explained by some contractual changes.  Staudt said that SEA has 100% payment for the first 60 days and after that, members could use sick leave or just receive the state-mandated 60%.

Non-represented teamsters and trades get the state-mandated rate but, for example, Local 609 gets 100% wage replacement until their doctor clears them to go back to work.  That's better than the SEA has.   Sherry asked about other districts and Straudt said that 30 days is the norm and that almost none have the 100% replacement as does SPS with SEA.  It appears there are more Special Ed SEA members with injuries than other SEA members and that may point to the more physically taxing work they do with students.

The district is working on better training of supervisors as well as working with school-based safety committees.  Mr. Staudt also noted that the district does not ask most workers to demonstrate they can actually do the work they are hired for and then finds they have hired some workers who cannot safely/easily do the jobs they are hired for.   They are considering how to do that so that they can make better hiring decisions.

Betty Patu brought up the long-running issue of the freezer at the JSCEE that leaked and had caused at least two injuries to Nutrition staff.  The issues with the freezer had been repeatedly reported to the district.  Mr. Staudt said that was "human failure" and people who were supposed to be checking the freezer had left those jobs and new people did not follow-up.  Well, that may have happened but this freezer was a big issue for a lengthy amount of time and that the district didn't actually make sure that   the freezer got fixed is troubling.

However the good news is that the district has saved some money on insurance policies by doing what the insurance companies required to get lower rates.

There was then a discussion on Head Start.  I did not have these handouts so it was hard to follow but the gist of it is that they have waiting lists for half-day (because it is free) but not full classrooms for full-day (which have a fee).  The usual subsidies to help these families access the full-day program have ended due to the economy issues.

Then Mr. Harmon started going over possible findings/issues/concerns with State Auditor audits that are currently being written up.  He was quite clear that this is preliminary but said that he thought most of what follows will be written up by the SAO.  The audits are oversight of federal dollars, financial and accountability.

- one was filing reports in a timely manner.  This is a repeat issue for the district but Harmon indicated that the district had changed its reporting procedure.
- one was about Title One earmarking around supplemental education services under NCLB.  (If your child's school has not been meeting standards for several years, you are eligible for extra tutoring for your child.)  The district only had one enrollment period for this service and needs to have two.
- one was about the Native American program.  Again, for the third time, the district has not properly documented the students in the program.  Both Sherry and Betty seemed unhappy to hear this.

The same person has been head of that program and frankly, needs to go.  He clearly does not understand the job and/or does not want to do it.  It hurts these students, their parents and the program to have an inefficient leader at the top.  This needs to be addressed by either Dr. Enfield or her successor.

Financial (Updated 4/11 with corrections)
The district is required to reconcile their financial statement records to the King County treasurer.  Basically, it is making certain the financial statements have been reconciled before you submit them for audit.  This protects the district in case they have made any errors and is in the state RCW.  

I get a little nervous when I hear the district kind of shrugging over a "technicality."  It's those financial technicalities that get us into trouble.

- the SAO had called out some issues earlier this year about some ALE schools (Home Resource Center, Interagency and Cleveland).  The district has done a good job, according to the SAO, of clearing up the Home Resource Center issues.   It was not mentioned what the issues are with Cleveland and Interagency.
- there is also an issue with background checks being done by HR but no details.

I stop here to say that there are times, sitting at these meetings, when I want to pipe up and say, "Are you kidding me?"  or worse.  There are times when I hear good work being done and feel hopeful.  And then there are the times when I just feel depressed.  The report on Special Education that came next was one of them.

- It was reported that it seems that in some of the high schools, instead of Special Ed funds being used just for Special Ed students in various classes, that the entire class was being funded by Special Ed dollars.

I know Special Ed parents.  I know many of you have told me of this suspicion for a long time.  It came up at another district meeting but I was not clear on the issue and I said nothing here.  But now it seems clear that at some schools, principals are using Special Ed dollars to stretch out their regular dollars.

It is wrong and needs to stop.  Those dollars are to fund the education of these students and no others.  Many Special Ed students don't get their needs met anyway and to learn that some of these dollars are not going to them is deeply disturbing.

- also upsetting is the news that there is language in the machinists contract that allows them to submit requests - up to $750 - for replacement tools (that they own) that break on the job or are stolen or lost.  The issue is that every single machinist applied for and received the $750.  There was a bit of silence as everyone chewed on that fact.  They did not state the number of machinists.

Betty asked if other districts do this as well.  Harmon said he hadn't found any others that do.  Staudt said he knew others do have replacement costs but the amounts vary.  He didn't know if the machinists had to document with the district the tools they own before asking for replacement funds.  Other represented staff have something akin to this like SEA has $1500 towards helping teachers whose personal vehicles are damaged during school business hours or if they have property vandalized.  For Local 609, the district pays for safety shoes, etc.

The findings/concerns/issues from these three audits are likely to come out around mid-May.

There was then discussion of changing the A&F meeting schedule.  It seems like that they will go back to one A&F meeting (rather than the current split with Audit one week and Finance the next).  (This discussion of committee work was also a long and lengthy discussion at the Executive Committee meeting this morning and that will be in its own thread.)


TechyMom said…
Neighborhood people have started using the FAME-MLK playground a little. I was there with a neighbor recently and the church people were there, and they mostly ignored us. Our kids and theirs played a little. The Madison Valley Community Council has been working with the church, and I head that they're going to start having the annual neighborhood spaghetti dinner there again soon. I don't think it has happened since the school closed, so that's good news. The community council is a lot of the same people as the CC@MLK group, so it's also good to see the cooperation there.
Floor Pie said…
"But now it seems clear that at some schools, principals are using Special Ed dollars to stretch out their regular dollars."

Shameful. Not entirely surprising, but shameful nonetheless. Do we know which schools and which principals?
SeattleSped said…
Thank you for reporting that Melissa. And to think, Carr, DeBell and KSB are intent on cutting or freezing SpEd budgets, even though the Feds require a "maintenance of efforts", no matter who's on the board or who's in Olympia.

OSPI has been singularly incurious about this issue, leaving it up to the SAO to suss out. SpEd families want transparency with school building budgets, which are not slush funds for the principals to do with as they please. We've often wondered how it is the district says SpEd expenditures are rising, while we see ratios increasing and services decreasing. Principals are usually the obstacles to delivering the services in our childrens' IEPs. They are motivated to do this, so that they may divert the funds for other purposes. Special Ed funding is to supplement the funds to educate our children, not to supplant them.
SeattleSped said…
Ballard HS, McClure and likely others. The audit findings should make interesting reading.
It was stated that the Special Ed spending was at some high schools but none were specified.
Anonymous said…
It's obviously Ballard high school. They brag about it on tour night. They tell families that their special ed will really just be a plain old general ed class - packed to the gills with various students, but taught with a dual certified teacher. (a gen ed teacher, who also has an extra special ed endorsement) And no, you won't get anything extra to meet your needs. They say "this is the new way to do special education". No real extra service, just a teacher with the right paperwork is all you need.

Evidently, they think the parents in the room are also disabled - and won't figure out that their kids are being screwed. Or can't figure out that they are being ripped off.

By the way, they also told parents that "biotech" academy could offer reduced class size. I wonder where they get the funding? Nice.

Well, let's hope they do something about it.

-soon to be high school parent
Floor Pie said…
re special ed /Ballard HS: So it wasn't even a secret? How can anyone possibly think that's okay? Seriously, if you're reading this and think it's okay, if you went on one of those tours and smiled and nodded when they said that, I'd be very curious to hear why.

I said this in another post today, but I'll say it here too:

Non-special-ed families, when the school skimps on special ed funding (or, in this case, pillages it to pay for more "important" stuff), it hurts your kids too. There are going to be special ed students in your kids' classrooms no matter what. Might as well support them instead of letting everybody flounder and scrape by.
Anonymous said…
No, that's not how it goes. It isn't part of what everyone hears on the Ballard tour. You go to the main tour and hear the usual rah, rah stuff. If your kid has an IEP, you usually wander over to the special ed wing to see what's going on there after the main hoopla. When enough sped parents have gathered, the Ballard sped staff tells the group, essentially, that they've given away the special ed staff to general education. Then, they blame the parents. "You parents need to let your kids grow up. They don't need any extra support. That's not how we do it at Ballard. We do it the new way." ... as if the parents are really the problem. The problem isn't their idea of staffing... the "problem" is parental expectations. Pretty typical to blame the parents though. But, I've never seen that sort of hubris anywhere.


PS. It isn't true that this necessarily hurts other people. Actually, it benefits them very often, because it takes a lot of kids off the caseloads of the other general education teachers.
Floor Pie said…
Okay, thanks for explaining that stbhsp. It will be interesting to see what happens from here.
SeattleSped said…
Well, I've heard much the same attitude from some board members about ELL funding. "Let's use our ELL IAs in the language immersion schools so that they can help all the other students learn a new language!" Not, let's have the ELL IAs help the children they are SUPPOSED to be helping! Hubris, ignorance, call it anything but enlightened.
Anonymous said…
In a trickle down world, guess who winds up with the least? Those who need it the most. BHS sounds like a microcosm of our devolving society. And the majority of our Board, steeped in this top-down delivery method, will twist and contort themselves into pretzels to defend the staff who approve it.

If the dollars aren't spent where they are allocated, then diverting them elsewhere is stealing, plain and simple, and from the most vulnerable among us. Outrageous and sickening.

How do these hypocrites & sellouts live with themselves? WSDWG
Anonymous said…
Anyone know how long has Rick Staudt been head of Risk Management? Per
he has a team of himself and 3 others that are in charge of specific service areas. We just came to find out that our rep. for the Denny Service area hadn't been out to our school since 2006! I'm baffled how 6 years could pass without a visit when there are many many safety issues that have been raised with the district and also imputed into the system that goes to facilities who then determines who comes out to investigate, repair or send out to bid. Wouldn't you think that Risk Management and Facilities would be talking and sharing information about each school??? Someone clearly isn't doing their job.

Arbor Heights Parent
Floor Pie said…
Is that really true about the ELL IAs? And if so, do the language immersion parents know about this and not care, or are they being kept blissfully ignorant by whoever's making those choices?
mirmac1 said…
This is true at Concord and Beacon Hll, but there are directors who say "let's entice ELL students to McDonald so the families won't have to raise so much money for their language immersion program. Whose interests are they protecting? The child struggling to learn the langauge and stay at grade-level, or the parents of native speakers?
mirmac1 said…
This is true at Concord and Beacon Hll, but there are directors who say "let's entice ELL students to McDonald so the families won't have to raise so much money for their language immersion program. Whose interests are they protecting? The child struggling to learn the langauge and stay at grade-level, or the parents of native speakers?
Bird said…
As far as I know it's not true about JSIS.

This is the information the school has sent out about IA funding with the current fundraising campaign:

The Seattle Public School district does not fund language immersion Instructional Assistant positions. JSIS relies solely upon the generosity of families to fund these critical positions.

I don't know about this desire to entice ELL students to mooch off their funds at MacDonald, sounds sleezy.

There are, however, perfectly good reasons to try to get ELL students into the international schools.

When SPS dropped the choice system, JSIS both lost the ability to provide preference to native speakers and lost the ability to keep the ELL program in the school. I think both those things were really important to the school's mission. The school's become less diverse, and the language program is weakened if classes have very few or no native speaking students. The only good way to restore the original model is to switch to the international schools to an optional school model, but I don't see that happening as long as we have the current set of directors, especially Carr.

But, of course, this is just one of the many examples of the district letting capacity rule all. I'd like to see SPS be genuinely intentional about their programming and planning. There is a long list of students and programs that have gotten jerked around and thrown to winds of capacity planning with much more severe effects than JSIS.
Floor Pie said…
It seems so obvious to me that language immersion schools should be option schools. That would free them up to run their programs effectively and true to their mission as Bird described, and it would allow them to cap enrollment so they're not ridiculously overcrowded as JSIS is now. Also, it makes access more equitable, because you no longer have to buy your way in with prime Wallingford real estate.

What possible argument could there be against it except the old "We've always done it this way" or "I've lived in Wallingford for X number of years, so MINE!" I know it will make Carr's contituents cranky, but no crankier than those of us whose special ed dollars are being missused and I'll bet a lot of us will still vote for her.
Bird said…
What possible argument could there be against...

The answer I've gotten in the past from Carr and Libros was that the international schools in the south end can't be taken offline as neighborhood schools because there are no other schools down there to fill the neighborhood school gap, and they can't have one international school optional when the others are neighborhood.

The logic on that latter point has never been made clear to me.
Bird said…
I'll add my suspicion this is not really the reason. Maybe it's more along the "Mine" rational, but that would have to be, of course, speculative. No one's stupid enough to admit that.

Carr, in her usual way, will listen intently to the concerns about the need for an optional program at JSIS and claim it's all out of her hands, you must go to SPS with your concerns.

I can't help but notice, however, when Carr got it into her head that having MacDonald as an international program would solve a number of problems, she seemed perfectly capable of pushing the district to action.
Anonymous said…
I'm not sure how many of these teachers are involved with the special ed funding siphon at Ballard High School, nor for how long it has gone on. Evidently, they've done it so long that they no longer even think it wrong, or even questionable. From the tour, they said they wished to do this with all their special ed teachers and that they ONLY hired "special ed" teachers that were dual-certs (so that they could be redirected into general education). If even 1 teacher is reassigned for 1 year - that's a cost of something like $130,000. Multiply that by 4 or 5 teachers, and do it for 3 or 4 years... and that's getting well into the millions of dollars. This thing is really right up there at the Silas-Potter level - or could be. And if other schools are doing it... well, it just grows.

high school parent
Anonymous said…
I spoke to a parent whose special ed kid was originally assigned to Ballard last year. When she went to visit the self-contained special ed program, she found it to be a regular general ed classroom. After complaining all the way up the food-chain, her kid was reassigned to Ingraham. That's another effect of misallocation of funds - kids get shipped off too.

high school parent
Charlie Mas said…
The school board directors like to have the best of both worlds. They like to deflect complaints by saying "Hey, that's the superintendent's call. The board doesn't have a hand in program placement." but they love to take credit by saying "I worked to get this program into this building."

Call them on it.
Anonymous said…
I would really like to understand how special ed funding works in the district. What are the sources, what are the spending requirements for each source, how much is tied to each child or service, how is that translated into staff?

I realize that it is complex. Even when I see the numbers I do not understand the terminology so it doesn't make sense to me.

Something like the education/information campaign that Meg did regarding admin funding would help. Of course it should be clear from district publications what is happening, but it is not.

-blended classroom volunteer
SeattleSped said…
blended classroom volunteer-

i would love a Meg Diaz analysis. I can only offer the following simplistic information:

SpEd kids bring both a) the basic ed allotment per child; as well as b) the SpEd allotment. The latter is intended to cover ONLY the time necessary to design, and implement the specially-designed instruction for that child. Again, the use of those funds is restricted to that use only.

Since there is a subset of children who are, and will remain in, self-contained, one would ask where their basic ed $$ go.

For 6-12 SpEd kids, their "basic ed" allotment is reduced according to the weighted staffing standard; in the case of a mildly autistic child in an inclusion program they only get 20% of their basic ed allotment (because of the perceived reduction in "contact time") and they end up in overcrowded classrooms.

In the pursuit of SPS' new slogan "every child a general education student first!", the elementary WSS eliminated the reduction in contact time. So for some students who would perhaps do well in a better staffed inclusion program, they now spend most of their time in the resource room (or the principal's office because of lack of support) while their fully-paid genEd seat goes empty. This impacts FTEs and capacity.

Yeah, there is a middle ground. But not one that deliberately uses SpEd funds to hire teachers to teach GenEd and fail to service their illusory SpEd caseload.

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