Friday, May 11, 2012

Transportation News Release

Here is the press release from Seattle Public Schools today regarding the Transportation Plan. This is a remarkable piece of dis-information that absolutely begs for critical review.

Proposed modifications to transportation service standards: New proposal calls for return to current 2011-12 transportation plan and minimal impact to current bell times

May 11, 2012 | Audience: Families, Community, Staff | Contact: Communications (206) 252-0200
Each year, the School Board approves transportation standards — the times at which the “yellow” school buses drop students at school and pick them up after school. Transportation standards are adjusted for many reasons, including when routes change or when new schools are opened. 

The quotation marks around the word "yellow" are because this is all student transportation, not just traditional yellow school buses. It includes METRO, ORCA, taxis, vans, and more. It is true that the Transportation standards have been adjusted each of the past several years. Prior to the NSAP, they were very stable. It is also true that they are adjusted for many reasons, but route changes and school openings and closings are not primary drivers of change. The budget drives a lot more change. The big changes - community stops, reduced service areas, and changes in pick up and drop off times - are not driven by route changes or school openings. It's a bit disingenuous - and misleading - to list those as reasons.

The current (2011-12) year’s transportation standards changes were expected to save the District approximately $4 million; however, due to enrollment growth, changes in programs and routing challenges, approximately $2 million is being realized from those changes. 

Due to enrollment growth? That's not the reason given by Transportation staff. That's a pure invention and a misleading statement - if not an out-and-out lie. The truth is that the District staff admits that they don't know why they overspent their budget, that they lack the tools or sophistication to closely estimate their costs, and they had previously indicated that Special Education, ELL, STEM, and other specific programs were the cause of the overspending (or under-saving).

Given the District’s continuing budget shortfalls, it was hoped that the transportation standards adopted for 2012-13 would generate additional savings to balance the budget. However, given our growth in enrollment, the additional projected savings are minimal as more students needed to be accommodated on the buses. 

"It was hoped... " Nice use of passive voice to hide the actor. Who hoped this? The Board? The superintendent? The COO? The Transportation program manager? And what was the source of this "hope"? I have a real problem with hope. Hope is not a plan. Again, the District blames the unexpected costs on completely expected enrollment growth. How did the District know to have teachers and classrooms for these students if they didn't know to have buses for them? It's not a credible excuse.

This spring, we worked to develop a balanced budget for the 2012-13 school year, with a goal of keeping budget cuts away from the classroom. To that end, the School Board requested an analysis of options that could generate more savings from transportation. 

"we worked... " Even if your English teacher didn't caution you away from passive voice, I'm pretty sure you were told not to use pronouns without antecedents. Who is "we"? This is not a generic "we" meaning the whole community or everyone at Seattle Public Schools because the claim is that "we worked to develop a balanced budget", and surely it was not the whole community nor was it everyone at Seattle Public Schools who did that work. So who is "we"? It also says that "the School Board requested... ", but it was not the School Board, it was two members of the Board. Only when the Board votes does it speak with the voice of the Board. This was not a vote, this was an act of micromanagement by two Board Directors - Carr and DeBell. It is incorrect and misleading to write that the Board requested this.

We restructured the Transportation Office and asked staff to both continue researching the adopted standards and also to research new cost-saving options for Board review. That research resulted in proposed modified standards for 2012-13, which were introduced to the School Board on May 2. 

"We restructured... " Another pronoun without an antecedent. Again, who is included in "we"? This is not the same "we" referenced in the previous paragraph. It couldn't be. This "we" restructured the Transportation Office. The only people with the authority to do that are Bob Westgard, Ms McEvoy, and Dr. Enfield. Which of them are part of the "we" in this case? Why not name them? Why the royal we? This "we" also asked staff to continue researching the adopted standards and research new options. Why continue researching the adopted standards? What was to be gained from that research? Research it for what? And was the staff "asked" or were they, more accurately, directed to new cost-saving options? Why pretend it was a request rather than an order? I love how the multiple adjectives ("proposed modified") reflects an effort to diminish the significance of the turd they requested and distance them from it. You don't have to be around the District for long to hear them say something like "Why take it so seriously? It's just a draft." Nor do you have to be around them for long to see a draft become the rule without much warning. This was a motion before the Board. That's as serious and real as anything can get.

The timeline for this research was very short, and community engagement is occurring during the two weeks between introduction and the Board taking action. We have received numerous comments about this plan, and have used the feedback in our continued analysis. 

I have heard this a lot since 2008, the idea that "community engagement is occurring during the two weeks between introduction and... action." That's not much community engagement. In fact it is none since no one actually engages the community. They passively receive complaints or praise, but no one engages.

Since introduction of the proposed new standards, staff has been continuing to research the various options with the twin goals of realizing cost savings and being responsive to community feedback. This additional research will result in a new proposal to the School Board on May 16. 

So there will be a new proposal to the School Board on May 16. And will there be two weeks of community engagement between introduction and action for that new proposal? Not bloody likely. So we will end up with a decision made without any community engagement. How is that good?

The new proposal will return to the current 2011-12 transportation plan (and therefore, minimal impact to current bell times) and a return to the 2010 ride times of up to 45 minutes. This new option is expected to save the District between $250,000 and $500,000. 

This may be the most perplexing statement in the whole press release - and that's saying a lot. The new proposal is to do exactly what the District is doing now. This is different from their previous plan for 2012-2013, adopted in February, which was to make some changes in the transportation plan. The communications department tells us that reverting to the current year's plan will save $250,000 to $500,000. Save that money compared to what? Will this be savings compared to this year's expenses? Couldn't be, because they are going with this year's plan. And, since enrollment has increased, the cost could only go up (they have already told us that rising enrollment results in rising transportation costs). So does the current year's system and plan have that kind of savings compared to the plan adopted in February? That would mean that back in February the District was planning to make a change to a more expensive plan than they were currently using. I don't remember anyone saying that at the time. In fact, I remember them saying that the plan adopted in February resulted in reduced costs. This reversion to this year's plan couldn't represent a savings over the recently proposed modified standards since that was the design that was invented to create savings. So how in the world is it possible that re-using the 2011-2012 transportation standards in 2012-2013 will save between a quarter- and a half-million dollars? Compared to what?

While other options might have saved more money, the proposed new option is responsive to the feedback and will impact the students, schools and families the least. Transportation staff are continuing to refine the details of the new proposal, and more information will be provided to the Board and public prior to May 16. 

This paragraph fills me with dread and reflects their utter lack of interest in community engagement. They are going to vote and adopt something in five days, but they can't say what it is yet because they are still nailing down the details. But don't worry, you'll have about twenty minutes to comment on it before we move forward and enact it. This also tells us that it will not, in fact, be a "return to the current 2011-12 transportation plan" as previously claimed. The details of the current plan are known and do not require any refinement. Both of these statements cannot be true. One of them is a lie, and an obvious one because it is contradicted in the adjacent paragraph. Aren't these flaks taught to separate their self-contradictions better than that?

In order to have a more thorough analysis of options for the 2013-14 and beyond transportation standards, the District has identified a task force composed of state and local technical transportation experts to begin making recommendations for consideration. 

What they don't tell you is that the Task Force was formed on February 15 and has yet to meet. The Task Force was supposed to have met several times and already made recommendations for 2011-2012 and 2012-2013 by now, but they didn't meet those deadlines because they haven't met at all. And how was this Task Force formed, not in accordance with the Superintendent Procedure for Advisory Committees, 4110SP. Another thing they don't tell you is who formed the Task Force. The credit goes to "the District". Man, that was a collaborative effort, wasn't it? Do you notice the total absence of any names anywhere in this press release? No names for any of the work - though all of it is described as credit worthy.

This task force will begin in May and have recommendations for the Superintendent to review in September, prior to the Open Enrollment period. We look forward to their recommendations and future discussions on this important topic and want to thank the school communities and parents that provided input into our budgeting process. 

Again, the Task Force already began in February, they just haven't met for three months. They will meet in secret over the summer when no one is watching and make these decisions that directly impact your families - no further input from you is needed. Oh, and thank you for your unsolicited input to date. You were a huge pain in the ass. And the Task Force is going to have recommendations for the superintendent to review in September? Really? She's leaving in June. Do you think she's going to call us back from Highline with this? Here is a job - one of several - that are going to Mr. Banda without his knowledge. I have never seen anyone at Seattle Public Schools accept the obligations made by the person who held their office before them. Steve Wilson did not feel bound by the promises made by June Rimmer, Carla Santorno was not bound by his promises, Dr. Enfield was not bound by Ms Santorno's promises, and Mr. Banda will not be bound by commitments made by Dr. Enfield. There are, by the way, a number of them. Read the results of the Board Retreat from September of 2011. It includes a lot of tasks for the Superintendent with deadlines that fall after she is gone. These are big projects that needed nine months to a year of work, but Mr. Banda will only have a couple months to finish them - if the deadlines are kept.

This paragraph gives us another "We" without an antecedent. Who, exactly, is looking forward to the Task Force's recommendations? Certainly not Dr. Enfield. Then who?

This press release does not stand up to much critical review, does it? It does, however, certainly invite it.


Charlie Mas said...

If I were media, I would call communications and ask them some of these questions.

I am, however, apparently not media.

That's fine. I don't claim to be a journalist. While it precludes me from the benefits that come with that title, it also excuses me from the responsibilities that come with it.

Charlie Mas said...

I just read through the Friday Memos to Board members for references to the Transportation Plan and the Transportation Task Force.

The District staff works a lot harder to misinform the Board and to give them self-contradictory information than they have ever done to the public.

mirmac1 said...

"that Special Education, ELL, STEM, and other specific programs were the cause of the overspending "

Or so they say. Having been there and done that, we are tired of this excuse. If this is the case, show me the numbers.

mirmac1 said...

Okay, I have read through your entire post and say BRAVO. That is it in a nutshell. DeBell and Carr have designated themselves as a mini-board; not micromanagers, and yet still wishing to stay in the background... Ironic, is it not?

If you want to keep tabs on who's pushing what, attend the Exec Comm and A&F Comm mtgs because DeBell and Carr are in both. These "bimbo eruptions" are due to their efforts to be the ubermeisters uber alles.

Eric B said...

"It was hoped" is a classic example of a popular verb case among politicians, the Past Exonerative. "Mistakes were made" is the another.

Charlie Mas said...

My new favorite verb tense: "Past Exonerative".

"As far as we knew..."
"It was believed..."
"Everyone thought so at the time."

"The portfolio has proved to be riskier, more volatile and less effective as an economic hedge than we thought," CEO Jamie Dimon told reporters.

Charlie Mas said...

One more thing -

Who made this decision? Who can decide to radically change or even scrap an action item before the Board? This motion was brought forward by the Board's Operations Committee, wasn't it? Who can change it now? Does it require Board approval to change it? Does it require any approval from the chair of the Operations Committee? What is the process?

ConcernedSPSParent said...

I'd be curious to know if DeBell, Carr and Martin-Morris gave
the district an impossible task (timewise) from the outset
OR was the task a reasonable one and the district dropped
the ball. To me this seems key as that dictates who is to
blame for this fiasco.

NESeattleMom said...

My son's bus has been consistently taking 55 minutes the whole school year. 3rd grade. all-city school (L&L), community bus stop. In the morning it takes 15 minutes. In the afternoon it takes 55.

NESeattleMom said...

so what is the difference regarding next year?

NESeattleMom said...

On KUOW, the reason for more transportation costs was credited to Special Ed and Homeless transportation.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Charlie Mas said...

An anonymous post, copied for preservation:

To Mirmac's point, it was seemingly DeBell, Carr plus Martin Morris..more on him in a minute..and their corporate backers at The Alliance for Education plus other Management Gurus who led a pushy whisper campaign mere weeks ago insisting that our 'other less professional board members' not micromanage staff.

Let me say it again: these board members and the people they answer to have been all over the new board members plus KSB and Patu to not mess with operations.

Then THESE VERY SAME board members, who don't know squat about transportation complexities, apparently

*spark this transportation disaster by pushing for a fix to the $ shortfall in an unrealistic timeframe. I mean dude...they seem to have fired the transporation head. Did they think the department would suddenly produce A Miracle?

*they cut out any time for parents to absorb earthshaking proposed changes

*leave staff high and dry in the court of the public opinion,

*publicly duck acknowledging to the press or parents their role in the mess

It's bitterly laughable. Let the community take notice.

Martin-Morris is in a class by himself. He started this failure 3 years ago by blatantly and unapologetically dropping a promise to the NE and N Capitol Hill community that he would be make sure a full transportation audit happened. The community had BEGGED him for leadership on the brick wall they knew transportation costs and service were going to hit, and he promised to take action. This was well documented on this blog. Since then he has contributed nothing to repeated pleas for help on both transportation and capacity. There could be a weaker example of a board member but it is hard to understand how. The man sits there and contributes nothing. NOTHING. Most of the time he isn't even sitting there. He is off at a national Board Members R Us conference. Bah. Throw the Best Practices book at him.

I am ending my day as I started on the Open Thread: staring at the sun trying to temper my hatred for this district. That's right: hatred.

Anonymous said...

Damn. Sorry Charlie. That was me, DistrictWatcher. So mad I forgot to sign my handle. Thank you for the catch.

Do you agree? Not the 'hate the district' part - but the rest. I feel like I am going to explode watching the collision of staff incompetance, lack of communication, board hubris and backroom whisper campaigns. Does no one else see this?


Charlie Mas said...

I am troubled by the fact that the same Board members who make the most noise about "Board micromanagement" and who were most concerned about one or two Board Directors putting heavy tasks on the staff were the very same Board Directors who tried to micromanage Transportation and put a heavy task on the staff.

Someone said...

Oh the things I know and cannot say...gonna be another interesting evening around the dinner table..

There are sooooo many layers going on here and sooo little internal communication, let alone "public" that it boggles the mind.

Anonymous said...

Besides being exposed to a public airing of DeBell's Freudian issues with women since the election, we also have witnessed a textbook study of Jung's "shadow self"--all the power hungry-ness DeBell was attributing to his colleagues has actually been his own quest for power being blamed on them.

So sorry to have to resort to this simple Psychology 101 analysis; even more pathetic that it's so accurate.

--enough already

Disgsted said...


I'd love to know who is pushing what.

mirmac1 said...

Disgsted (like your shorthand, kind of part disillusionment, mixed with nausea),

I can't profess to know all that goes on behind the scenes, nor in committee mtgs (I can only attend the occasional) but, of late, with our high-priced interim seemingly taking a long vacation, it is amazing how the more senior board members are asking more and more of staff. Witness the BEX IV session on Wednesday. Carr and KSB are suddenly school and demographics experts, expounding on what should be built and what shouldn't be built.

At the last budget work session I heard the same two, with DeBell, berating staff about not ginning up those $M in savings like they said, damnit. No discussion about what the community wants or needs. But then of course they were never offered those specifics and they didn't ask. Are these kind of "off with his head" demands, governance?

Someone, don't kick the cat.

Charlie Mas said...

And where is Dr. Enfield? Checked out.

Anonymous said...

Like, my god, you guys, like I keep saying...I'm outta here!

Sue in Zen Field

dw said...

NESeattleMom said: My son's bus has been consistently taking 55 minutes the whole school year. 3rd grade. all-city school (L&L), community bus stop. In the morning it takes 15 minutes. In the afternoon it takes 55.

Do you know what time the afternoon bus actually leaves? Some of those buses don't leave school until almost half an hour after school lets out.

I'll say that again for those of you in other buildings that may be affected by this next year: Some buses don't leave school until almost half an hour after the kids are done with class. Why? Because they are a 3rd tier school and the buses are busy delivering 2nd tier kids. It's not (usually) the bus drivers' fault, it's district planning and lack of response to the problem.

NESeattleMom said...

dw, You are probably right about bus departure times. L@L gets out at 3:35. I think buses are supposed to leave at 3:45. His bus gets to our community bus stop at 4:40 instead of 4:20. But it probably does not leave on time. One day with a sub it came almost on time, so he was in the house before I got to the bus stop to meet him. I hope they don't go ahead with starting any schools later than current times. Also, I have no idea how they can relax the planned bus trips from 25 min. to 45 min. without either delivering kids late to school or home, or picking up earlier. How does the planned 45 minute ride work?

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