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Thursday, July 25, 2013

Seattle School Board Votes in Budgets

I wouldn't call yesterday's work by the School Board especially stellar.  (I think the staff did a pretty good job on the budget but, as usual, what was left out is just as important as what was put in.)

First came the Audit&Finance Committee meeting of the Whole to discuss the budget.

It is unclear to me when the Board received their copies but there had been some small edits.  I am also not sure when the appendices all got put in.  Director Carr told the group she had not read the appendices as she had been on vacation.  President Smith-Blum and Director Patu were absent.  (Smith-Blum is out of town and Patu has a family illness.)

I can only point out that one the Board's main duties and powers is to review the budget and then vote on it.  What I saw yesterday did not inspire confidence that the Board understood the budget they voted on.

Here are some key links you may be interested in. 

Budget Book
Appendix A
Appendix B
Ore-Level Budget Comparison FY14 vs. FY2013

Highlights:
  • The funding focus for this budget is Common Core implementation, K-5 math adoption and...bringing on-line the rest of the "promised" International schools into the pipeline.  This has been a stubborn pet promise of Michael DeBell's.   So many other promises were made and yet this is the one he feels is most important on his way out the door?  I don't get it.

  • The district has about $46M in debt, mostly to paying off the Stanford headquarters.  More on this later but I'm with Chris Jackins - this slow (but quickening) bleed of money for this albatross is only going to hurt more over the long run (and it's been 13 years now).  We should have a levy to pay this off once and for all.
  • There are five spending buckets in SPS.  The General Fund, the Capital Fund, Debt Service Fund and ASB (Associated Student Body) Fund.  That's four, right?  There is a fifth that I have never heard of called the "Private Purpose Trust Fund."   Here's what the district says, "A budget is presented for the four largest of these funds (the fifth fund is a Private Purpose Trust Fund for which the district is trustee; no budget is required for this type of fund)".
Okay, I'll bite.   What is this?  How much money? Where does the money go?  I have no idea.  (I did mention it in my testimony at the Public Hearing on the budget.  I asked if this was related to the Cleveland Forest property or Memorial Stadium.)
  • There are 5 FTE listed for the School Board office.  What?  I asked and the iffy answer (via Director Peaslee asking for clarification) was they "think" it's the Internal Auditor and his staff.  Since when?  And why is the Internal Auditor housed in the SB office? 
  • Urban School Turnaround funds are mentioned.  This is the $2M that Rep. Pettigrew extracted from the Legislature in 2012 for Aki Kurose and RBHS.  You may recall that while the money was a great gift, it is difficult for any school to spend $1M in a single year so they got permission to carry over "a small balance" to FY2014.   I told the Board that I assumed "small balance" is some technical accounting term.
  • The school with the lowest per student spending?  It's APP@ Lincoln (far and away) at $4,925.  So anyone who thinks those kids are getting "more" - not so much.  (Interestingly, this go brought up at the Committee meeting.  The explanation is what we have learned here already - Lowell at Lincoln has very few Special Ed or F/RL students.  The only "add" they get is what follows every single student in SPS which is a $93 per student "discretionary fund).    By comparison, B.F. Day is at $7,634, Dunlap at $9,181, Lowell is at $13, 670.
  • AS#1 comes in the highest for K-8s ($11,845) and Director Carr made a point to call this out (but seemed to miss Lowell)).  She asked if there were circumstances for this to occur or was the school an "outlier."  Staff said it is an "outlier."
  • Aki Kurose is the highest for middle schools at $8,315 with Hamilton at the low end with $5,819.
  • Garfield comes in last for high schools (something of a surprise to me) at $5,731 with RBHS at $9,825.
  • Schools that will now have free full-day kindergarten (based on more state money): Broadview-Thomson, Graham Hill, Kimball, Maple, John Muir, South Shore, Pinehurst and Sanislo.
  • It is hard to discern what is really happening with Maintenance in our district.  Under the reorg, it appears that Maintenance services goes from 88 people in FY13 down to about 60 for FY14.   But, there is a new section - Facilities Prevention, Maintenance and Technical/Technology - that will have 46 people.  It is unclear to me whether maintenance issues are going to get better, worse or stay in the same backlogged state (as we bring more and more buildings back online).  

  • Director DeBell questioned the 32 FTE for Transportation.  Staff said it's for Central Staff and bus monitors. 
Public Hearing

What was amazing to me is that, despite the public hearing - a legal requirement by the state which carries with it some degree of formality - being advertised at "5:00 pm", no one seemed in any hurry to start it.  (I did mention this to the Superintendent and he thought it started at 5:15 pm.  Nope.)

It finally got started at about 5:15 pm.  Chris Jackins spoke on all three budgets - Capital, Debt Service and Operations.   He pointed out that the Pacific Islander students got lumped in under "Asians" even though that is not correct.  He also said that the district was directing about $17M out of BEX IV and BTA III funds for payments on the Stanford headquarters.  While staff explained this was okay because it was capital funds going for capital uses, I will point out that voters were NOT told - when they were asked for these funds - that it would be going to pay debts.  We were told it was to rebuild/keep up our school buildings. 

He also pointed out the small sizes of Sacajawea, Northgate and Sand Point and questioned the need for new schools.

I already mentioned a couple of items I pointed out at the public hearing.  But I also brought up Charlie's issue of why there are seven schools that don't follow the WSS.  On pages 12 and 13 of the budget book, it explains the type of schools in our district but nowhere is it explained that some of them are being funded differently from the majority.

Board Meeting

Because neither President Smith-Blum nor Vice-President Patu were present, Director Peaslee took the helm.

There were three speakers; Chris Jackins, me and Cecilia McCormick.

Jackins asked about the public notice of the public hearing on the budget (there is a legal requirement of two) and asked if this had happened.

I seconded his idea of a levy to pay off JSCEE.  I also told them that time and resources are in short supply, given how much there is to do.  Since the district, along with its partners, has created the Seattle Teacher Residency program, I said I believed they should end their contract with Teach for America.

The Directors then asked questions.  Director Peaslee was smart in following up on many of Jackins' questions.

I started to stay for the Director comments but really, it was not so pleasant to hear Director DeBell say that this is a "transparent and honest" budget.

I think it is as clear as staff wants it to be and apparently that is good enough for the Board.   

14 comments:

Anonymous said...

So, everything is getting slashed, except for "TIF," literacy (what does that cover? Tutors? Curriculum?), and "grant reserves"? Oh, and detention centers. Is this as whacked as it looks? Or does grant reserves come out later and de-hack some of it?

-sleeper

Anonymous said...

Ah, the sequester. I see it in the explanations. Bummer.

-sleeper

mirmac1 said...

Melissa, I do recall from recent history that the Internal Auditor reports directly to the board (see org chart). Their querulous response satisfied me (this time).

mirmac1 said...

Of course DeBell had to point out...uh, what this...Special Ed and ELL are up? Tell us about that.

Well I'll bite. I would not be surprised if ELL is up to subsidize these boutique International Schools (can we spin these off into their own district please?) As for Special Ed, my head about exploded when the Budget Director claimed "we made an assessment and concluded that we had been understaffing (shortchanging) related-service providers (of course it was cast as "controlling growth" or somesuch). Then he quickly added the truth, that OSPI said provide the mandated services or risk losing $10M IDEA funds.

Peaslee did her due diligence in a public forum to try to daylight issues and get questions answered. DeBell did his usual sanctimonious rap.

Anonymous said...

Some people might find that 10k extra for each sped kid is actually a lot of money and they might think that immersion schools should be more available not less. Ya,sped services suck, from what I have heard, but is more money the answer? I mean, DeBell hits home for a lot of parents, taxpayers and even teachers when he implies sped costs too much money.
I want to know where are the measurable results? Are there success stories? I don't hear them or read them. I see stasis, services no better, parents of sped kids unhappy, the kids themselves not getting what would be best for them.
The situation is a soul killer, but we have to fix it and keep non sped parents happy, or at least content. Whether that is right, is questionable, but it seems practical.

RP

Melissa Westbrook said...

Well, RP , since you seem to know so much about SPed services (I've heard), tell us what should change? You are implying that Sped parents are somehow asking for more for their children. And fyi, Sped parents don't control costs - the district does.

Your next paragraph then says to fix it.

I'm confused.

David said...

Melissa said, "What I saw yesterday did not inspire confidence that the Board understood the budget they voted on."

This is really annoying. The primary job of the school board is oversight, the biggest part of which should be a careful audit of the budget. Where the money goes controls everything else, but the Board does not give this the attention they should.

Charlie Mas said...

The budget is a policy document. Given the competing needs in the district, such as summer school, it is fair to ask if language immersion programs are a higher priority.

mirmac1 said...

SpEd success stories. My child for one. That fact notwithstanding, are we looking at value-added, successful outcomes? and who determines what's best for these students? The IEP team, including parents - then DeBell and his beancounters come in and muck with it, breaking the law.

Anonymous said...

RP,

"I mean, DeBell hits home for a lot of parents, taxpayers and even teachers when he implies sped costs too much money."

What are your sources for this very blanket generalization?

As a veteran teacher, I can say that I have NEVER heard a teacher make such a comment.

A belief like this (and what it says about DeBell) proves why we need laws (rather than dependence on decency) to ensure equal access for our students.

--enough already

Anonymous said...

If you don't want to pay for sped services, you absolutely will pay for it everywhere else. We already dumped many sped services in favor of something else - which was just dump kids in general ed with nothing. They call it ICS. They have to eat it, so do their teachers, and everybody else. 1000s of teachers signed a complaint asking the district to fix it. Immersion really is a luxury, and completely discretionary. Debell has commented that he thinks sped, a federally mandatory requirement, is discretionary. Btw, sped students are entitled to equal access to this and all other district programs. Families should reasonably expect to get their specially designed instruction in an immersion environment too. Imagine the cost of that when some savvy parent asks for it... or better yet, sues for it.

Sped parent

Anonymous said...

As a parent of children with special needs in SPS I had to blink a couple of times when I read the following statements on this thread:

-- "I mean, DeBell hits home for a lot of parents, taxpayers and even teachers when he implies sped costs too much money."

-- "As a veteran teacher, I can say that I have NEVER heard a teacher make such a comment."

These people have evidently never been in an IEP meeting. At my latest one the prinicpal, the sped teacher, the GenEd teacher AND the person from Central Office SPED all started talking about too much money can't afford it we're in sequestration didn't you know.

So I have to ask where vetern teacher is actually vetern.

reader

Anonymous said...

Reader, there's one answer for that one. If they say "We can't afford it, we're in sequestration." there's a single response that you must make:

"Oh. That's ok. I'm hearing: the district is in sequestration and therefore can't consider my request to meet my child's needs at an IEP.??? Correct??? That's OK, but please put it in my PRIOR WRITTEN NOTICE. I am entitled to an explantation of everything we discussed, including things that were denied, AND the reasons why in Prior Written Notice. If you can say it as a reason, that's cool, but you must also write it in the PWN."

Guess what? Mostly they will. That's exactly the paper trail you need. At your subsequent IEP meeting they will cave if you have PWN. The district has been under corrective action to provide appropriate PWN. And PWN is the ticket to better services.

sped parent

Anonymous said...

sped parent - there is no way any such district antics get into a prior written notice. i happen to be a veteran teacher and i have seen it happen many times that the district controls iep processes by controlling the content of the prior written notices. it is very easy to claim oh, i don't remember that. oh, we didn't say that. oh, you must have misunderstood. ....

veteran teacher too