Thursday, May 10, 2012

Questions about Transportation Revision

I have just a few questions about the Transportation Plan that are bugging me.

1) The Transportation Task Force was formed on February 15 but won't meet until May 16. Really? They haven't had anything to talk about for the past three months? Really?

2) When the Board ratified the contract with First Student, on March 21, the Board was only complimentary of Mr. Westgard, the contract, and the transportation plan. They even went so far as to congratulate him on total cost of transportation for 2012-2013. There was not a word spoken about trying to find another million dollars of savings. Here's the video. Jump to 130:01. Why no mention of this issue as late as March 21? Why only happy talk?

3) The Board Action Report for the revised Transportation Plan says:
"This motion at the April 26, 2012, Operations Committee of the Whole meeting, after the Audit & Finance Committee reviewed and approved the approach to reducing transportation costs for the 2012 – 2013 school year. This item was recommended to be reviewed by the full Board."
I recognize that there's a verb missing from this, but I'm sure everyone gets the drift. The Operations Committee met on March 15 and barely discussed Transportation. They didn't talk about making any changes to the service standards. This is a committee of the whole. If any Board member wanted to raise concerns they could have and should have. There's no mention of any concerns expressed in the minutes. Transportation Service Standards did appear on the agenda for the April 26 Operation Committee, but it does not appear on the agenda for the April 12 Finance Committee meeting nor is there any mention of Transportation in the minutes of the March 8 Finance Committee or the previous meeting on February 9. Why don't we see anything about the discussion referenced in the Board Action Report? Why was the Audit and Finance Committee discussing this at all - this is clearly an Operations Committee matter.

4) The call for a revision in the Transportation Service Standards - or at least for savings on Transportation reportedly came from Board members on the Finance Committee. The Committee is chaired by Director Carr, and staffed by Director DeBell, Director Patu, and a public advisor, Joe Paperman. The revision of the Transportation Service Standards, in particular, the effort to revise them between February 8 and May 6, represents an extraordinary task put on staff by the Board. Take a look at what Board Procedure 1620BP has to say about that:
"Requesting Work of Staff: Any requests of staff involving significant staff time must come from at least two Board members. All requests must be made through the Superintendent or appropriate senior leadership. In the spirit of collaboration, Board members are committed to be sensitive to staff workload issues and to reach mutual agreement with senior staff regarding due dates for requested work. The requesting Director shall confer with the chair of the appropriate committee regarding requests."
Now, I know that this procedure was not adopted until March 21, but three strong proponents of this procedure were Directors Carr, DeBell, and Martin-Morris. Directors Carr and DeBell had to have been the ones to request the work and they had to confer with Director Martin-Morris, the chair of the Operations Committee. This request by them is really inconsistent with the spirit of the procedure they were promoting at the time.

5) The Board Action Report on this motion says:
"The Superintendent will review the staff’s recommendation(s) and report back to the Board prior to October 2012."
It better be sooner than that since the Superintendent will be gone by mid-June.

This is just one of several assignments from the Board to the superintendent that come due after she has left the District. Does Mr. Banda know that the Board has given him a short list of jobs with deadlines within the first six months of his hire date? Does Mr. Banda inherit these timelines or are they canceled? And, if they are canceled, then what was the point of making them?

6) This thing first appears as a motion before the Board? Really? It somehow goes straight from idle musings by a couple of Board members to motion before the Board in a matter of weeks without any intermediary steps? There was little or no discussion at committee meetings. There was no hint of this at Board meetings. Not only was the public surprised by it, but so were the schools and, in truth, the Board.

7) Why can the staff and the Board sometimes move this fast on things, but in other cases they need years - literally years - to enact changes that everyone agrees should be made? It took them two years to grant high school credit for classes taken in middle school. They are taking years to develop a program placement procedure. They need years to move NOVA and the Center School to the WSS. But this they can do in weeks with very little prompting.

8) Given the obvious flaws in this plan, why did the Operations Committee approve it for consideration by the full board? It seems that the committees just automatically advance everything that comes before them without performing any real function whatsoever. This idea supposedly went through two committees, yet both of them regarded it ready for consideration by the Board? And, let's remember, the Operations Committee is a committee of the whole. They weren't trying to include anyone new in the discussion.


mirmac1 said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
mirmac1 said...

BTW, can someone explain to me how they come up with these "gaps" of $21M for FY12. I thought there were no state funding cuts.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Good historical overview as well as analysis, Charlie.

Dorothy Neville said...

Kellie said it great in another thread. The downtown staff's ability to do real analysis is incredibly poor. We certainly have never seen any real figures, anyone speaking who really has a grasp of the complexities and interdependencies.

I was at that April A&F meeting, as was Cecelia and Brian Rosenthal. Two things that struck me.

One. A whole parade of folks came in and Westgard pointed out that these transportation folks were working So Hard! Incredibly hard, late hours and all!!!! Just to provide this analysis and to find ways to save money. Even then, they didn't have the whole plan fleshed out yet. But we should all bow down to their effort.

Recall at the May 2 Board meeting, a board member (Carr?) complimented them on how terribly hard they were all working!! But there shouldn't be compliments for working long hours, the compliments should be saved for results. Where are the clearly spelled out alternatives with clear costs and consequences? There are none. In fact, the reason Westgard said that he could not suggest one of the alternatives was that staff had not had time to properly analyze them so he doesn't know how much they would cost or save.

I find it incredibly hard to believe that in this day and age we can't get good scheduling and cost software and analysis in a more timely manner. I almost expected him to blame the VAX.

Second: (which is alluded to above) is that the details were not presented. All that was said was that they wanted to simplify bell times and that they wanted to move to a 45 minute max ride instead of a 25 minute max ride (which wasn't working anyway) and that a few schools, maybe 4 or 6, would change tiers, but they didn't know which ones yet.

How can you possibly know how much money something is going to cost unless you have specified exactly which schools you will affect?

irked said...

Why no comment from the Superintendent on the latest transportation proposal? The silence is deafening.

mirmac1 said...

(reposting from above because I needed to change the link)

Okay, let me try and address some of Number 3.

The matter gets trotted out at the Finance Committee because they wanted to make a savings of $1M in transpo costs one of the solutions in their "gap" analysis (sorry, for the scribbles). Realize that they left $1.7M on the table for a SpEd reporting screw up in FY11. Uber mgrs Carr and DeBell simply MUST HAVE EFFICIENCY and control over those darn budget busters.

The "task force" was an internal one with Bob B., Ed somebody, and two Sr transpo mgrs. They started 2/15 and came up with this scheme (apparently they worked 24/7 the way it was cast at the April 12 Finance Committee. Again that's why I'm harping about having the right scheduling and planning software to avoid this in the future).

Rather belatedly, another Transportation Advisory group is getting formed to get that community engagement after the fact

Anonymous said...

I'm outta here!

-Sue in Zen Field

Eric B said...

I have a theory on #1 based on no actual knowledge. One of the task force members is Tracy Libros. She's been swamped since at least mid-February dealing with Open Enrollment and all of the support her department gives to FACMAC and other committees.

If one of your task force members has no time, it's easy to push the first meeting off. Also, if it was known to management that there would be a shakeup at the top of Transportation, it makes some sense to delay until at least that person is gone and the replacement has had a little time to get their feet under them.