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Wednesday, June 06, 2012

McDonald and IAs and Funding Them

I had nearly forgotten that I had received a reply from Director Carr on the issue of the district considering partial funding for the IAs at McDonald for next year (despite the district saying previously that they weren't and it wasn't necessary to have IAs to have the program).

I want to say upfront - the district created this program and after having sat through the Board Work Session on International Schools, I absolutely see the need for the IAs.  If the district wants the program to work, best practices would say have an IA in every room.

However, there are two points to consider here.

The main one is that that despite the popularity of the programs and the desire by many parents for access to them, they are ONLY available to children in certain neighborhoods.  This is not the fault of the parents but they also need to understand that they are getting something that other students have no access to.  And they need to understand that their program costs more than other programs.

Two, by having an IA in every class, you have just diminished the class size greatly.  That is something that MANY parents long for as well.

Here's what Director Carr said (I'm going to answer some of what she says):

The funding you are inquiring about was discussed at three A&F meetings, one whole board budget work session and one International Education work session. It’s no wonder that with that much public discussion it was a bit hard to track the whole conversation. Additionally, this item has been listed on our budget work documents that were used to track the increases and decreases to the budget. All Board members were given the opportunity to signal their support and offer their thinking on several occasions. Many members of the public were in attendance at each of these sessions. 

 The request for this one-time increase was linked to the decision to shrink the boundaries around JSIS in order to address the chronic over-enrollment. Families that were excluded from JSIS were given the option to enroll at McDonald for the language immersion program. This was a one-time situation to address the late boundary change. 

I can only state here that at the A&F meeting I attended there was NO mention of this issue being about the JSIS boundaries. 

While the boundary change had the intended impact on JSIS enrollment, there was a significant side effect to McDonald. The McDonald PTA was already drowning in the obligation to fundraise to pay for language immersion IAs. The impact was to add more kindergarten classes to McDonald than expected and planned for in their fundraising plan. This significantly increased the fundraising responsibility on the current families with no advance notice. Because this is a growing school, the base of families expected to raise these funds is relatively small and only a couple of months remained to complete the task. 

Again, I understand this but Duggan Harmon said at the A&F meeting that district staff had stated that McDonald did NOT have to have the IAs to have their program. So there is a disconnect between what the was said to parents and what was said at these various meetings. 

At the request of the McDonald PTA President, I attended a PTA meeting where they expressed deep frustration and anger, and appealed for help. All were clear they were willing to fundraise but were overwhelmed by the impact of the assignment change. Since it was a district decision to change the boundary, the dollars were offered to pay for part of the impact of the IAs for next year only. It is worth a reminder that this is a neighborhood school and most of the existing enrollment is driven by home address and not necessarily a desire for language immersion programming. 

Yes, this IS a neighborhood school but that should change. Additionally, I know that parents in that neighborhood were asked - before McDonald opened - about ideas for programming and most wanted foreign language. To suggest this was forced on them is puzzling to me. 

 Duggan Harman and the principal have confirmed that the money was included in the school budget and the funds have been allocated to hire language IAs, as was intended. I can’t speak to the statements by the PTA – I would urge you to direct those questions to them. I know that this $110k amount doesn’t cover all the costs of the IAs and substantial fundraising will still be required. As you point out in your note, the total cost is $300k. Even after the one-time district funds this still means a substantial fundraising challenge between now and the start of school.

The amount, it seems, has gone from $125k to $110K. I do not know where the money is coming from within the district budget. 

 To offer further detail, when each of the other language immersion programs was started, they were staffed with language immersion IAs. This is typical practice for these programs. Each of theothers (Beacon Hill, JSIS, Concord) had free/reduced lunch dollars, bilingual dollars, or grant funding to pay for the language immersion IAs. Only since JSIS achieved full enrollment has the language IA funding come from parent fundraising – they received grants in the early years. Given the economic climate and the characteristics of the students at McDonald, there was no such funding available to McDonald to grow the program to a full K-5 program. I would also point out that it is not uncommon for schools to receive additional funding to support development/implementation of a program. I would cite Cleveland (STEM) and Rainier Beach (IB) as two such examples.

 I have heard several different things about the JSIS IA funding so this is all confusing. I probably should call the principal and ask. I take some issue with Director Carr trying to put this in the same category as Cleveland and Rainier Beach. Cleveland is an (open) all-city draw, not a neighborhood school. Rainier Beach is a struggling school trying to get its footing and the IB program should help. 

Related, the Board did begin a conversation about the fiscal sustainability of our current language immersion program model in SPS. The need for language immersion IAs is an additional expense that increases the cost of operating these programs beyond our WSS allocation. As previously stated, currently it is either paid for by free/reduced lunch dollars or parent fundraising. The equity of this model warrants further scrutiny as this arrangement could be argued as inequitable and/or unsustainable, especially in a neighborhood school. I expect this conversation to continue as our work progresses. I hope this information helps. 

Thank you for reaching out with your questions.

And I appreciate the thorough and quick reply.


I'll point out that McDonald's PTA is doing phenomenal work - they raised nearly $130k to support their school last year.  That's a heck of a lot of money for any PTA and for new one it is astonishing.  Kudos to them.

Now after I received Director Carr's e-mail, I checked the McDonald website.  As you may recall, they were quite excited about receiving $125k and had suggested that "we could create a reserve fund" using the $125k.  This suggests that if they did raise the funds, they would keep the $125k as a "reserve" so that the fundraising burden would not be so great on both incoming K families and current families.  I absolutely get how worrisome it must be for that community.

But the idea that they could use the money in that way just doesn't fly.

And so when I went back to the website, the wording was changed.  It was now $110k and they said that this blog was confused about the reserve.  Now a check today at the website shows all the wording about the district's new infusion is gone as is the mention of the creation of a reserve fund.

This is the issue as it stands now with their fundraising at about $90k plus the district infusion of $110 so that makes $200k.  They need $100k more by the start of school (and probably sooner as the district needs to hire people).  I do not envy their challenge.

But again, this blog looks at most issues at a district-level.  While I know it is easy to get caught in the weeds of your school, understand that we are trying to daylight issues that affect the entire district in ways big and small.

21 comments:

dj said...

Thank you for continuing to follow up on this. It is funny--every time there is conversation on here about making immersion schools into option schools, I think of that scene in Titanic where the crew member running one of the lifeboats tells the passengers, "If we go back, they'll swamp the boat. Now, do you want to live, or do you want to die.". The thing is, there is a ton of demand for immersion in this district and it would be a reasonable thing for the district to figure out how to make that accessible and funded for the parents who want it. I don't really think, absent a lot of expansion, however, that taking the couple of schools that exist and making them option schools will help much -- you will just swap "only available to people who live in the neighborhood" for "only available for people who live in the (somewhat smaller) geozone around the school + siblings of kids lucky enough to get in at some point.". Better? Not that much better.

Floor Pie said...

Thank you for the update, Melissa. It's a mess, all right. I was cranky about this last week from a special ed perspective (we are constantly fighting for more IA support and typically losing).

But I have to admit I don't envy the McDonald families who have to sort this mess out at their school. You have to wonder if foreign language immersion is really worth that much aggravation.

Floor Pie said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Maureen said...

From what I have read here, McDonald was made an Immersion school, and is being asked to ramp up enrollment so quickly, in order to relieve pressure on JSIS. JSIS has been forced, since the NSAP was applied, to take in many more kindergarteners than is sustainable. Now those kids will continue in the upper grades at JSIS but the younger cohorts there will be smaller. Instead, those same neighborhood kids will be enrolling at McDonald. Where the older chort is small, and the younger chort will be larger.

(Does anyone see where I'm going with this?)

Part of the deal to open McDonald should have been to require the JSIS PTSA to subsidize the McDonald IAs (using the fundraising power of their large cohorts as they move through the upper grades). Instead, the large JSIS cohort is being given a break on fundraising because the District is paying for the IAs the JSIS PTSA would have had to cover for those neighborhood kids if they could have fit into the JSIS building.

I think it is the Board's responsibility to try to get the JSIS PTSA to pitch in and help the McDonald parents (and therefore the District) for the next five years. Is it too late?

Maureen said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Melissa Westbrook said...

Maureen, interesting ideas.

Anonymous said...

Maureen, will never happen. The board will pull out the 'the PTSA is independent of our structure' speech. I have heard the 3 veteran directors use it before.

Doesn't mean you aren't right in essence.

The only way to ever fix this ridiculous situation is make these schools option schools NOW. BEFORE BEX. Then bring neighborhood schools and boundary redraws online accordingly.

DistrictWatcher

Maureen said...

How about a court of public opinion?

McDonald PTSA has no incentive to lean on JSIS PTSA if SPS is handing them cash. JSIS parents are making money on this deal. The rest of us (K-5s with no counselors, Sped students with no IAs....) shouldn't have to subsidize them.

Unfair said...

What happens if McD doesn't raise the additional $100k? I do feel for the parents, but I can't help but remember how this went down in the first place. The parents lobbied hard for it. The group lobbying said THEY would raise all the money needed. The District was on record saying they would not need to contribute. Now, here we are.

This is grossly unfair. Arbor Heights could use that money for renovations, transportation could have used that money instead of really changing the lives of familes at 6 schools just to save $300k, or L@L could have used it to get a playground! Heck, we could have kept a counselor or two...

Lori said...

"The board will pull out the 'the PTSA is independent of our structure' speech. I have heard the 3 veteran directors use it before."

Well, this isn't some sort of canard, it's actually true. Each PTSA is an independent, non-profit corporation, with all the rights and responsibilities of any other such entity. The district can't *make* any PTSA do anything.

And, even if the JSIS PTSA wanted to donate money to McDonald, it might have to jump thru some legal hoops first. It depends on how it defined its non-profit mission when it incorporated. If they used narrow language, such as "this PTSA is set up for the benefit of the children of JSIS..." then they can't just make a donation to another school because that would be outside their non-profit mission. They'd have to go back and change their mission to indicate that their goal is to benefit "all" children or whatever language it would take to make a donation to McDonald a legitimate use of their funds.

And, they would be wise to consider polling their membership first and gaining consensus on such a donation since the Board probably didn't budget for something like this, and the budget must be approved by the general membership.

so, in principle, I can see how it would be a great gesture if JSIS could help get McDonald up and running. But even if they wanted to, it might take months to make it possible.

Maureen said...

IIRC, JSIS has partnered with south end immersion schools to pay for art. Partnering with McDonald should fall under the same category.

I just wrote to the Board:

Board members,

(First of all, I think it was wrong of the Board and Superintendent to authorize the creation of neighborhood schools that rely on private fundraising in order to effectively teach their basic defined curriculum, but given that the immersion schools have been created and are not Option programs...)

I am writing to ask you to reconsider granting McDonald K-5 over $100,000 to pay for Immersion IAs.

From what I understand, McDonald was made an Immersion school, and is being asked to ramp up enrollment so quickly, largely in order to relieve pressure on JSIS. JSIS has been forced, since the NSAP was applied, to take in many more kindergarteners than is sustainable. Now those kids will continue in the upper grades at JSIS but the younger cohorts there will be smaller. Instead, those same neighborhood kids will be enrolling at McDonald, where the older chort is small, and the younger cohort will be larger.

Part of the deal to open McDonald should have been to require the JSIS PTSA to subsidize the McDonald IAs (using the fundraising power of their large cohorts as they move through the upper grades). Instead, the large JSIS cohort is being given a break on fundraising because the District is paying for the IAs the JSIS PTSA would have had to cover for those neighborhood kids if they could have fit into the JSIS building.
I understand that the District has no formal power over what individual PTSAs do with their funds, but I think it is the Board's responsibility to try to get the JSIS PTSA to pitch in and help the McDonald parents (and therefore the District) for the next five years. It is not right that K-5s with no counselors and Sped students with no IAs are being asked to subsidize JSIS families. By choosing to fund the McDonald IAs, you are removing any incentive the McDonald PTSA has to put pressure on JSIS to help them out. Both McDonald and JSIS are also risking whatever goodwill they have been able to generate in the broader community by accepting that subsidy.

Please reconsider this decision. Alternatively, I ask that you make the grant to McDonald in the form of a loan that will be repaid by reducing their discretionary fund allocation by $13,000 per year over the next ten years.


Thank you,

Maureen *

(parent of two SPS students)

Floor Pie said...

Immersion schools really should be option schools. This neighborhood thing is not sustainable.

I live on the western edge of Wallingford and I know that there is tremendous peer-pressure for parents to move closer to JSIS as their kids near kindergarten age. There's this common (very inaccurate and kind of unfair) perception in the neighborhood that language immersion = Yale and B.F. Day = Greendale Community College, and parents respond accordingly.

I think we could take some of the over-enrollment pressure off of JSIS simply by toning down the kool-aid-speak a little. JSIS is commonly referred to as a "Cadillac" program. Touring parents have been told "You see students from JSIS and you can just TELL that they're JSIS students. They stand out." Playground moms tell each other "There are two elementary schools for Wallingford: John Stanford and B.F. Day. Wouldn't you rather send your child to John Stanford?" On our neighborhood blog, commenters have referred to B.F. Day's "demographics" as a reason not to send one's kids there.

That's not the only reason why Wallingford families are flooding the immersion programs, but it doesn't help. They're worried. They want The Best for their kids (and don't we all), and the absolutely unquestioned perception is that language immersion IS the best.

The board could do something to change that perception. What does Sherry Carr tell these people when they show up at her community meetings?

I think language immersion is a very impressive program and seems to work very well for a lot of families. But it's also a very particular kind of education, it's very rigorous, by design it can't really emphasize math and science beyond the basics, and -- as I've said many, many times -- it is not appropriate for some special needs students and students of a particular temperament. My heart absolutely breaks for those kids with undiagnosed ADHD/high-functioning autism whose parents are forcing them to live the language immersion dream. For kids like that, ANY kind of school is an immersion experience, regardless of what language they're speaking, because the language of social skills, the language of "school" itself can be incredibly counterintuitive and intimidating for them. And then you get more behavior problems in those 30+ classes. It's NOT for everyone.

They should be option schools.

Melissa Westbrook said...

I would think if McDonald doesn't raise the money, then they hired fewer IA. Either have the IAs split their time or have it concentrated to a couple of grades.

I am going to believe the district when they say all they can give is $110k.

I will gently say that, for example, Ingraham is losing a counselor that has special skills in IB which totally supports that academic program. Why that is not as worthy, I don't know. But the district has to make choices and that's their job.

This thread was not written to pit school against school. Doesn't help, won't work. Nor is it about "stirring the pot" (as if I didn't have better things to do).

But as more issues get attention, it becomes harder and harder for the district to hide these actions. The budget and its spending should be open and transparent for all to see.

Rufus X said...

@FP said

There's this common (very inaccurate and kind of unfair) perception in the neighborhood that language immersion = Yale and B.F. Day = Greendale Community College

This made ol' Rufus laugh. Thanks FP!

So True said...

"I will gently say that, for example, Ingraham is losing a counselor that has special skills in IB which totally supports that academic program. Why that is not as worthy,"

Additionally, out enormous middle schools lack support and elemenentary schools lack counselors.

mirmac1 said...

Well said Floor Pie

Jan said...

Melissa said: "This thread was not written to pit school against school. Doesn't help, won't work. Nor is it about "stirring the pot" (as if I didn't have better things to do). But as more issues get attention, it becomes harder and harder for the district to hide these actions. The budget and its spending should be open and transparent for all to see."

I just wanted to say thanks, Melissa, for this post. While I think that I need, on a regular basis, to ask myself if my arguments/attitude reflect a school-against-school dynamic, and I agree that that is unhelpful and doesn't work to advance the cause, I totally agree that ALL of these decisions -- whether it is extra funds for RBHS, IA money for IB or LI, extra money for Cleveland STEM -- whatever it is -- we need to get all this stuff out in the sunshine and discuss it.

The decisions that get made can't possibly please everyone, but I think we are more likely to get to things like making LI and Montessori schools into option schools, etc. if we are upfront and transparent about what goes (or doesn't go) into staffing these and all other programs.

It would be great if this District gets in the habit of saying what it is doing -- and then doing what it says.

Charlie Mas said...

While it is true that each PTA is an independent entity that does not take orders from the district, there is no reason that the District could not enter into an MOU with the PTA at McDonald and the PTA at JSIS which would create an enforceable agreement.

Again, I strongly advise all PTAs to seek an MOU with the District similar to the ones that The New School Foundation and the Alliance for Education have formed.

If you write it into the MOU then the District cannot renege on their promises.

kellie said...

As an instructional decision, it is inappropriate to supplement a lack of parent funding. Mostly because parent funding should be for extras, not core stuff but that is another topic.

As a capacity management decision, it does makes sense to spend one time dollars to pull students from an over-crowded school into a nearby school with space. $110K is a fraction of the cost of any construction based capacity management solution.

However, that is a different question. Kind of like when you eat free food at a buffet and you are either unaware or unconscious of the calories. You eat more, make poor choices and in the end have to deal with the excess calories that were consumed, regardless of whether you understood them or not.

The money for IA's at McDonald is a direct result the failure to make JSIS an option school under the NSAP. The justification for McDonald and JSIS being "neighborhood" schools was that the district would be unable to guarantee assignment school seats because there would be no assignment seats only choice seats.

However, the "inability" to generate assignment seats is not an operating budget issue. I would much rather that there was a capacity management fund and items directly related to capacity management were billed accordingly.

Dollars that are assigned to schools so that they can increase their ability to attract and retain students and alleviate nearby crowding are NOT instructional dollars, even when they are spent on instruction.

I don't begrudge McDonald the money. That little community has done so much to build something out of nothing. They have been in interim housing for two years and are just moving into their new building in September. This $110K is actually a rounding error on all the Millions that were spent to open the building. Frankly, I think all brand new buildings should get a little extra staffing money for that critical first year as they have so much more work to do than an established community.

I do however, object to this being paid for out of the very precious operations budget.

Anonymous said...

The most frustrating part about all this is that the success of language immersion schools seems to take priority over that of general ed programs. We all need more resources, and the district should be allocating those resources equitably. By their very design, these language programs are inequitable in that their success demands more resources than general ed programs, and by designating them as a neighborhood school, it makes them exclusive. Yikes.

It is ridiculous that these language immersion schools are not available and open to everyone in the district, but that they are the neighborhood schools for one of the most expensive areas in which to live in Seattle seems even worse.

Dragon lady

Maureen said...

I happened across this post on the Wallyhood Blog. It seems relevant to this discussion:


JSIS Fundraiser to Send Fifth Graders to Japan

By fifth grade, the students at John Stanford International have been immersed in a foreign language (Spanish or Japanese) for six years; but for students in the Japanese track, the ultimate exercise in immersion comes during the summer of their last year, when they spend five days living with a host family in Japan. In order to make the trip happen, the school must raise money to cover the cost of airfare and lodging for the students, and the school is reaching out to the neighborhood to help with the fundraising....

The trip itself costs approximately $100,000, .... This does not include the expense of 12 invaluable chaperones, who must pay their own way.