A View from LaRue
Kellie LaRue is a parent in Seattle Schools and, in my opinion, a brilliant thinker on issues about budget and facilities. This is her professional work and when she weighs in on issues at SPS, I listen. Here's her take on what to do with the "extra" $11M for next year's budget. (She sent these thoughts to Linda Sebring in Budgeting and to the Board.)
Kellie's thoughts (red bold mine:)
Kellie's thoughts (red bold mine:)
I have been following budget and capacity issues since 2002 and I have a incredibly simple and utterly boring recommendation, that would provide an immediate benefit to every corner of Seattle Public Schools - use the $11M as budget reserve to realign the building level staffing and budget cycle.Strategic Staffing Budget ReserveThis budget reserve would be used to Guarantee for Every School that they will maintain their staffing level for the following school year. In other words, the budget cycle would guarantee that schools would either stay the same OR receive additional staff for the subsequent school year. This would remove the current practice of reducing staff in the Spring, only to re-hire in the Fall.History of the Budget Cycle - WSF to WSSThe current budget cycle was created by needs and constraints that do not reflect the needs and constraints of a GROWING school district with capacity challenges. IMHO, using these funds in a strategic budget reserve can realign the budget cycle with the current needs of the district.The primary reason for the change from the old Weighted Student Formula to the current Weighted Staffing Formula was to create STABILITY for a handful of schools who routinely gained and lost staff under the old Choice Assignment. Under that old model, there were “popular” schools with long wait lists, who had a incredible confidence in their enrollment and budget and were therefore able to make multiyear plans. These schools were confident that their wait lists meant that they would ALWAYS have enough students to support the budget.The downside of this system was that the annual enrollment uncertainty was focused on a small handful of schools, who did NOT have a wait list. These schools with NO wait list were virtually guaranteed instability as their enrollment shrank when waitlists moved. This situation was exasperated by OVERALL district enrollment declines and the corresponding budget reductions.The problems of annual budget and staffing uncertaintyThe intention of the WSS was to provide staffing stability to these schools without a waitlist so they could more effectively retain staff and attract students and families. However, the result has been to create budget uncertainty at every school in the district.Many schools are now routinely losing a staff member in the Spring, only to have to replace a staff member in the Fall. This (very reasonable) conservative budget tool has the unintended consequence of creating staffing instability in every corner of the district. In some cases, this instability creates unnecessary staffing challenges.
For example, Spanish teachers are routinely removed from the budget at the middle and high school level in the Spring, with the idea that it would be easier to hire a Spanish teacher than a math or science teacher. However, this year, Garfield released a Spanish teacher in the Spring and was unable to find even a long term substitute until after Thanksgiving.A strategic budget reserve would remove this uncertainty from EVERY SINGLE SCHOOL.Bottom LineA strategic budget reserve would operate in a manner that is so simple, it is easy to underestimate its dramatic power to create stability.
- As the state funding formula is based on a three-year enrollment average, this model would more closely align with actual state funding.
- It would empower schools to make longer term hiring decisions. In the event of actual enrollment decline, there would be ample time to make adjustments at the building level.
- This could potentially eradicate the damaging practice of October staffing removals. By guaranteeing and ACTUAL staffing floor, school communities will have greater clarity about which staffing positions are tentative.
- Middle and High Schools will be able to build more robust and strategic master schedules.
- Elementary schools will be able to make more strategic hiring decisions to start the year with either a long term sub or a new hire, depending on the level of certainty about enrollment increases.Thank you for considering this recommendation.