Monday, September 15, 2014

Seattle Schools This Week

Update: A&F Tuesday meeting agenda.    

The minutes from the previous meeting reveal that the next district audit will include Ballard High and Special Education.  (The previous audit included Garfield and guess what?  They were found to have several volunteers not screened or had no application at all. )

Also, the Internal Auditor, Andrew Medina, said this:

Mr. Medina spoke about an additional finding for personal service contracts (PSC). He noted that there have been instances where work started before the PSC is approved, as well as sole-source contracts that lack adequate supporting justification. Mr. Medina also noted a lack of administrative procedures, an employee handbook, and clear channels of communication. The audit also cited that the District lacks procedures covering the delegation of purchase approvals to administrative staff. 

Ms. Technow listed some of the forms, contracts and checkout lists currently in place, noting it is typically the same departments allowing work to begin before contracts are finalized. 

For anyone new to the district, understand these are concerns that have been going on for years.  Why do they continue?  Because staff knows no one will hold them accountable.  I can remember this issue of personal service contracts (shades of Silas Potter) coming up several times.    And, per Technow's remarks, they even know which departments start work before contracts are approved/finalized.  

Directors noted their disappointment that previously chronicled internal audit findings are recurring. Directors asked about corrective action for individuals and departments not in compliance. 

Really?  They're disappointed?  And, will they actually do anything about that disappointment?  Nope.

On data security:

Mr. Dizon thanked Directors for their recommendation to better protect staff privacy by having restrictions on access to and storage of sensitive information. Directors noted incidences where laptops have been stolen from cars leading to personal identifiable information being compromised. They asked that work be done with the Department of Technology to develop indestructible controls to ensure data cannot be shared or stolen. Directors spoke about systems and controls to protect data and employee training. 

But there are no "indestructible controls" that I know of.  What's odd is that the Work Session on Technology made it sound all under control and Board members didn't do much challenging on that issue.  It's very confusing.

There's also a fascinating section of the A&F minutes about private schools and input from them on Special Ed students they serve. 

End of update. 

Tuesday, September 16th
Audit&Finance Committee Quarterly Audit Meeting, 4:30-6:30 pm.  Agenda not yet available.
As Charlie noted elsewhere, this is the meeting where staff has to report back on various issues raised.  I am hoping to see Director Carr hold some feet to the fire but we'll just have to see.

Wednesday, September 17th
School Board Meeting starting at 4:15 pm.  Agenda

I am aware that the Stop Sexual Harassment group will be attending this meeting (rallying before the meeting and likely to speak/silently protest) about the Garfield field trip incident.

I still take issue with the use of Rental/Lease money into the General Fund budget BEFORE getting the Board's approval.  Even when Director Carr called this out at both the last A&F committee meeting AND the last Board meeting, her words seemed to get a shrug from staff.  I'll state what she also stated: it does not necessarily follow that the Board will continue to approve this money being used for the General Fund.  

As well, staff hasn't said - nor has the Board asked  - one salient question: what are you going to use that $2.6M for? 

This is a Board  resolution and here's the kicker line in that resolution:

WHEREAS, Capital Projects funds are sufficient to meet the demands for new construction and improvements, and

I predict this will pass 7-0 but I also predict that later on - like when people are running for re-election or the district is trying to pass BTA IV - it may come back to haunt them.  (It doesn't make for great governance to say "Oh, this was already in the budget and we passed the budget BEFORE we made this resolution so it was just a pro forma thing."  Nope.)

One interesting item is a change in Board policy around Audience Participation at Board meetings.  Here's one addition;

Further, the Board may schedule special hearings to receive additional public testimony, for topics of special public interest or as required by law.

Good to know because sometimes I believe the Board, on some issues, should take more public input.

However, a change has been made that the Agenda doesn't have to be posted the Friday before the meeting, but three days before the meeting.  Three full days before the meeting would make that Sunday. That's significant because (1) citizens would have less time to read, ponder, and/or give input on the agenda and (2) it's not three business days but just three days. 

There is some irony in one Intro item - the resolution to Congress to reauthorize NCLB (known as the Elementary and Secondary Education Act).  The "alternatives" to the Board NOT passing this resolution were a bit droll.

1. Do not approve Resolution 2014/15-5. This is not recommended because this resolution is designed to highlight and support the desire of school districts to reauthorize the Act. Failure to pass the resolution will mean that Seattle Public Schools remains silent on this issue. 

But what is great is what the Resolution says (mincing no words) - basically, Congress, your law stinks, it hasn't worked and get off your butts and revise it. 

Also on the Intro list is an agreement with Mathematica Policy Research on "data-driven instruction."  The district has agreed to work with this group and eight schools will be participating.  The "treatment" group of schools will be Schmitz Park, Arbor Heights, Sandpoint and Leschi.  The "business as usual" group will be Hazel Wolf K-8, B.F. Day, Alki and Northgate.  This work would start in December 2014.

From the BAR:

Although data-driven instruction is receiving increased attention as a promising approach to improving student achievement, there is little evidence of its effectiveness. In September 2012, the Education Department engaged Mathematica as the prime contractor to conduct this important study (Contract No. ED-IES-12-C-0086), which will evaluate the impact of data- driven instruction on student achievement and other outcomes. 

The schools selected to participate were identified using state summative assessment data. Schools falling into Seattle Public Schools segmentation levels 2, 3 and 4, with a large number of students scoring a level 2 on the Measurement of School Progress, were put forward for consideration.
I guess this is okay.  (Good news; the student data privacy protections are actually much better than usual.)  

There is also a RttT item around Prek-grade 3.  I'm going to save that item for a separate discussion.  

There is an item for hiring a Sped "educational consultant" for between $400K-500K.  There is no person/company named for this item yet but the Background Info section of this BAR says that the RFP closed on September 5, 2014 and there were two applications received.  The decision has to be made by September 30th but the Board won't vote on this until Oct 1 (they are hoping OSPI is okay with this).  

Good news - another Intro item is the acceptance of a grant for nearly $850K for an emergency response system and training of staff to use it.  This sounds really great as it would use a schools version of the system that the City of Seattle (including police and fire) already use.  It would put the district in-sync with them (the district calls this "having the same Common Operating Picture solution.") 

Also in good news, is the BAR for the acceptance of an Energy Efficiency Grant from OSPI for $500K.   Along with other BTA III funds, this grant will be used for "a green project and mechanical upgrades for Adams Elementary.  (Yes, that does seem like a lot of money directed at just one school but they are putting in a geothermal ground source heat pump system.)

Thursday, September 18th
Operations Committee meeting.  The meeting is from 4:30-6:30 pm.  Agenda not yet available.

Executive Committee Meeting of the Whole from 6:30-7:30 pm.  I don't know for certain what this is about but I suspect it might be to discuss their guidelines around looking for a new superintendent.  

Saturday, September 20th
Community meeting with Director Peters at the Magnolia Library from 11am-1 pm. 


Anonymous said...

Interesting story here:

How Seattle's Involvement In Education Is Unique Among Cities


Anonymous said...

this one too...

With Tech Taking Over in Schools, Worries Rise


Anonymous said...

@ Katydid and Melissa et al -

I read the NYTimes article referenced above and it is a very good overview to the privacy issue that Melissa seems to be tracking closely here in WA. There are examples of privacy laws in the states leading on this issue. Readers interested in privacy laws for student data should definitely read the article.

I also just noticed a post a few threads back on the arrival of Amplify in SPS. As that poster notes, Amplify is a Murdoch business. Anyone concerned with privacy will want to start asking hard questions quickly. As the other comment asks, how did Amplify make its way into Seattle? If parents are leery of Pearson and didn't like NWEA, they are likely to be exceedingly skeptical - some no doubt will be outraged - that Amplify is now here.


Melissa Westbrook said...

Katydid, thanks for that link. Our voters passed not only the F&E levy but nearly every single taxing levy/bond for school funding including facilities. I think those two items coupled together DO make Seattle unique in the country.

I need to have a thread on this new tech and biometrics. If this doesn't send a chill down your spine as a parent, I don't know what will.

Charlie Mas said...

The agenda for the Audit Committee has now been posted.

Anonymous said...

And over on the SPS facebook news feed: https://www.facebook.com/SeattlePublicSchools

Mayor Murray joined Google in a press event at Highland Park elementary today. Google has donated $300k+ to teachers who signed up on DonorsChoose.org in King, Pierce and Snohomish. $300k is about the amount that many schools have to raise above their budget amount each year just to provide needed basics, so really a drop in the bucket of what is actually needed, but a nice press event for the Mayor and Google.

Here's a thought: What if Google actually paid more of their fair share in taxes and we fully funded education?

And post from yesterday about the priorities of the board got one comment about capacity, and SPS replied,

"capacity continues to be a focus, absolutely. This list are the things the board chose at a governance level to focus their attention this year. Rest assured, our enrollment planning staff are working hard on current and future capacity projections then preparing for those students. We are hopeful new models will significantly reduce the gap between projections and actual enrollments."

Um... the goal is now to actually have better enrollment projections? And then what? Just continue to point and stare?


Charlie Mas said...

Interesting notes from the Audit Committee agenda.

The minutes of the previous committee meeting are interesting because they include this statement:

"Directors stated their frustration with IEP procedures." I don't know if I have ever seen anything like that in meeting minutes before.

In the audit response update from Human Resources, however, there was no mention of any board impatience or frustration with the progress on various Title IX issues. In fact, they weren't even mentioned in the minutes.

"Directors asked about the Civil Rights open items and Mr. Corrigan confirmed managers make
strong efforts every year to run compliance checks, but this year was a full review rather than a
select review year.
" No board impatience reflected here.

The internal audit priorities do not include anything to do with Title IX, so no interest reflected there either.

I notice that the agenda no longer includes the audit response follow up tool. That keeps people like me (and the board) from knowing what has been and what remains to be done.

There is a Title IX checklist update from Ron English but I don't know that the general counsel should be the person taking charge here. Shouldn't it be the Title IX Coordinator, Pegi McEvoy?

Melissa Westbrook said...

Charlie, Ron gave that log at the last A&F meeting but I agree - if McEvoy is the coordinator, she should give it.

Anonymous said...

Thank you is fellow posters. SPS is paying for a News Corporation product? What? I knew that name rang a bell. but the summer haze had gotten me.

I can't believe Amplify will be OK with my fellow Seattleites.I certainly do not want my tax dollars supporting News Corp.

Does anyone know who brought the company in? Is there a way to protest? Is there any way to get rid of it before it gets embedded here? Is this year's testing a sample trial or meant to be permanent? Sorry to raise a bunch of questions, but this blog is always the place for me to find answers.



Charlie Mas said...

"Directors asked about corrective action for individuals and departments not in compliance."

But no word on the answer. That's because there was no corrective action.

"Directors spoke about the costs and roadblocks to implementing a PoS system to process credit cards."

Um, yeah. It's called Square.

Charlie Mas said...

Now we know. Now we know that at the June Audit Committee meeting, when the Board was advised of the inaction around Title IX issues, they had nothing to say about it.

For all of their crocodile tears in the public and all of their talk about concern and high priority, when the time came they did nothing.

Charlie Mas said...

I also want to say that the audit finding that Garfield isn't following the volunteer and chaperone procedures to be particularly irritating and representative of a refusal to take the issues seriously.

dw said...

Melissa said (regarding Mathematica and data-driven instruction): I guess this is okay. (Good news; the student data privacy protections are actually much better than usual.)

Can you give more details on this? Or a link to specifics?

dw said...

I'm referring specifically to the privacy protections. It's rare that much of anything meaningful is in place, so "much better than usual" sounds interesting.

Melissa Westbrook said...

DW, it's in the Agenda link.

mosfet said...

To focus on a minor issue, what do people think of the geothermal pump at Adams Elementary? Woefully inefficient or a good investment? It sounds like a pretty interesting idea, if the budget overruns aren't too bad.

Might be a cool opportunity for science class field trips, after it's installed.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Mosfet, they have done this at a couple of schools (I think Hamilton is one). The argument against this is that the savings is a long way off (because of the costs to install) but the district seems to believe this is the way to go.

Melissa Westbrook said...

So I had planned to go to the A&F mtg but the power went out on my block and I couldn't get my car out of the garage. Sigh.

mirmac1 said...

It was very interesting Melissa

Got lots of things on my plate but will try to pass along a few nuggets...

dw said...

Melissa, I found this snippet in the Briefing: Seattle Public Schools will control and apply proxy IDs to the data prior to disclosure, only providing what is needed and ensuring that the scope of the data was restricted to what is necessary.

I'm guessing this is what you're referring to? Anything else on other pages that I missed?

Depending on how it's done, this is exactly what needs to happen Every. Single. Time. ANY student data leaves the district. Proxy IDs need to be applied prior to disclosure; and no names, SPS IDs, WA state IDs or anything else that can marry the data back to an individual student should ever be allowed to leave the district.

Any idea who might have been responsible for making this happen? I see Heath and Tolley listed as Lead Staff, but I'm having a hard time imagining them taking the lead on student privacy. Did a Board member push for this? Superintendent? Perhaps it was Mathematica themselves. Ethical companies involved with student data would pay attention to this themselves, limiting their own liability of data leaks, breaches, etc., though I think few actually give it truly serious thought.

THIS IS THE MODEL WE NEED TO PUSH FOR DISTRICT-WIDE! (and even state-wide or nation-wide)

dw said...

Melissa said: So I had planned to go to the A&F mtg but the power went out on my block and I couldn't get my car out of the garage. Sigh.

Really? Unless you have a really unusual opener, go into your garage and look where the door connects to the opening mechanism. There should be a cord hanging down. Pull the cord down to release the connector and you can open and close the door manually. As long as it's properly balanced it should not be heavy - anyone should be able to open it. This is an emergency feature, so it's important that people know how to do this!

Please try it now, when there's no emergency, so you'll be prepared if a real emergency comes and you need to get out!

Melissa Westbrook said...

Oh yes I tried the pull but it didn't work - that I knew what to do but it wouldn't work. But you are right; I need to get it right for the future.

mirmac1 said...

dw, The board didn't even know about it until last week.

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