Budget Deficit Revealed (Kinda)

I spoke at the School Board meeting on Wednesday.  One of my topics was the fact that in order to understand the raging budget deficit facing SPS, I was told to file a public disclosure request.  I pointed out to the Superintendent and Board that this was not transparency at its best and if they want support from the community, it might be useful to be open about the situation.

This information  is not some state secret and, in fact, the finance/budgeting folks probably all know the numbers by heart.  

To my surprise, I was sent this information by JoLynn Berge,Assistant Superintendent of Business and Finance. Great but, once again, not specific enough (but, of course, that's by design.) 

I'll first note the obvious for every single one of us adults - when creating a budget, you start with what money you DO have and what you owe/needed spending and THEN you see what is leftover for other things.  The district seemingly operates with what they WANT to do and then moves on to paying for needs. 

This is obvious when you consider the underspending on maintenance of the facilities, both new and old.  This is obvious when the Board votes a COLA for the Superintendent (after giving him a raise the previous year) and yet schools like Northgate don't have money for copy paper.  It's obvious when some Sped students don't get to come to school on a late start weather day because of transportation (I had no idea but this is happening.)

Most of all, when the Superintendent and staff, in the face of all operational problems, puts Strategic Plan initiatives ahead of a well-operating district.  This district will NOT ever move ahead for its students (especially those who are low-income and/or of color) if this district is not well-run.

I do not believe it is well-run and I have thought this for a very long time.
The Times has an editorial on this subject, Seattle School District should take responsibility for budget problems.  They say Nyland has "erroneously" put the full blame on the Legislature.  That was not my read of the letter but yes, the letter certainly laid no blame at the feet of the district.  But the Times goes right after the union, blaming the district for settling the teachers strike by giving them raises.  Amazingly they also call out the high salaries of administrators. 
About 37% of the Seattle School District's projected budget deficit is tied to salaries.  

Another 41% of the Seattle budget shortfall is tied to what government officials call the "levy cliff." 
I'll walk thru each item with comments.  I would hope what I ask out loud would be questions the Board would like to know.

Seattle Public Schools
2017-18 Financial Deficit Causes
December 7, 2016
1) Materials, Supplies, Operating Costs (MSOCS)                                     $  1.2 M 
(increase from expected enrollment and inflation)
My impression is that principals have some leeway with these dollars and those kind of Sophie's Choice decisions end up hurting schools like Northgate.

2) Operations Levy                                                                                      $  15.1M
 (increase from expected levy base growth)

- levy base authority, “ghosting”, and per pupil inflator                             $(30.9)M
(decrease from no change to current levy law and policy)

Again, please call the Governor's office and ask him to tell the Legislature to call a one-day session to push this off until 2019 to protect districts.  If not, then the Governor should make it clear he will sign nothing until this gets done.

3) 2016-17 budget balanced on one-time revenues and underspend          $(13.4)M
(We had projected a significant underspend in 2015-2016, some of which was used to balance 2016-2017.  One-time revenue was recapture of special ed money that had been withheld by the state.)

That "recapture" was the district's fault.   And when that underspend was being discussed, everyone had a wish list.  I credit Director Blanford for saying it should have all been kept in reserve for what was coming.  Staff KNEW many of these budget problems were coming and did not do the right thing fiscally.

4) State Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA) and Pension increases           $( 7.8)M
(Increase in budget projects based on updated CPI)

This one seems reasonable until you get to the bottom of this list.

5) K-3 class size reduction                                                                           $( 4.7)M
Cost to continue to lower K-3 class size, result of state underfunding

On this one, know what I would do? Ignore that mandate.  If the State is not going to help with these costs AND the levy cliff is here, I would hit the pause button.  What exactly is the State going to do if districts are not getting this done in a timely manner?  The Legislature certainly isn't getting its homework done on time.

6) Weighted Staffing Standard - 24 credit graduation                                  $( 7.1)M
Estimated cost to fully implement 24-credit state requirement

There has never been any detailed information on what the costs are because no one has explained how this would be enacted.   Is $7M accurate?  No way of knowing.

7) Cost to open new schools (administrators, custodial, utilities)                $( 3.0)M
Does not include opening Cedar Park as an option school

I don't see furniture in here which makes me nervous/suspicious.

8) Boundary changes
-transportation for all amendments passed                                                   $( 0.6)

Again, the district never gives clear data on transportation costs so you have to take their word for it.   This figure seems about right but who knows for certain?

-open Cedar Park as option school                                                               $( 0.4)
Assumption is school opens underenrolled, which results in above model staffing.

I'm trying to think back - when was the last time an Option School opened underenrolled?  And, why is an Option School more expensive to open?

9) Labor cost increases                                                                                 $(23.4)M

This includes all staff (of this $20.5m is SEA related) 
What? So what does "labor cost increases" mean?  And if this category includes ALL staff, what's #4?  I would guess this one is raises and number four is COLAs but you see the vagueness here, no?

10) Items < $1.0M                                                                                              0.8

Don't understand what this is.

FY17-18 Current Budget Gap                                                                     $ (74.2)M



Anonymous said…
FYI - the inclement weather transportation thing is NOT NEW -it's been that way for years.

Yes, Someone, I always amazed at the new things I learn. I can't believe this is legal.
Anonymous said…
So the bulk of the deficit is attributed to the loss of about 16 million in levy money; an increase of about 31 million in staff pay raises, COLAs and pension payments; and close to 5 million toward class size reduction; plus whatever that 13.4 million is in #3. Can someone clarify that one? Why does money underspent in 2015/16 contribute to our 2016/17 deficit? Is it that our budget was balanced this year by using one-time money we didn't anticipate having next year, so we kind of new we'd be in a hole in subsequent years if we continued to fund all the same stuff? I'm sure they can find 13.4 million worth of fluff in the budget, so this shouldn't need to be included in the deficit. Scale back--focus on the essentials! Cancel all the special projects and inefficient initiatives, and get rid of all the ineffective and overpaid senior staff. That should do it.

If I'm understanding this all correctly, they approved over $30 million in raises and benefits at a time when they knew we already needed to borrow $13.4 million from past savings just to cover our current costs, and at a time when they knew class size reduction would further add to our costs, and when they knew the levy cliff was coming. I don't get how anyone thought this would work out. Blind faith? Wishful thinking? Denial?

Robert Cruikshank has advocated that we develop the budget based on assuming that we WILL still get the levy money, but I don't see how that does us much good. Apparently the gaps are so huge and our increased costs so great that we never really had a prayer that we'd be able to cover them. And we never had a PLAN to cover them, either...at least so it seems.



Madness, you hit the nail on the head.

Giving raises and COLAs without really have the money? Yes, blind faith, magical thinking or denial.

The levy cliff is problematic but is it really the only issue? No.
Lynn said…
2016-17 budgeted expenses exceeded budgeted revenue by $13.4M. The difference was made up by using unspent funds from the 2015-16 school year. Budgeted expenses for 2017-18 will have to be reduced by this amount because there's no offsetting revenue to cover them.

I will say that it seems there are unspent funds at the end of June every year and the budget for the next year is adjusted at the last minute to take the extra money into account.
Lynn said…
This feels like a manufactured crisis to me. The Superintendent and the board knew the funds wouldn't be available to pay the increased labor costs when they approved the SEA contract. The hope must be that news of the deficit will cause thousands of angry Seattle parents to descend on Olympia and force the legislature to fully fund education. (I don't know how that is supposed to convince the representatives from east of the Cascades.)
Yes, Lynn, I did point out to the Superintendent and the Board on Wednesday night that lack of transparency might cause fewer parents to rise up. I am mystified how staff thinks a statement like "the sky is falling" won't cause some questions to arise.
Anonymous said…
Why is the day still being extended? Part of our "raise" is payment for a longer day I thought.

If class sizes don't meet McClearly #s, SPS gets less money per student, right? If they increase class sizes, our budget problems will get worse. The target size is even smaller next year. The state won't pay for ADK if the K numbers are not met.

I'd give anything to teach half-day K again. I can teach them to read in 2 1/2 hours. Fingers crossed!

Joseph Rockne said…
During the teacher strike, was there a discussion that the proposed (and approved) salary increases would cause a future budget deficit? I don't remember that being discussed. So I question Lynn's premise. It might be true and it certainly should have been true.

Lynn said…
Look at page 26 of this presentation from October 7, 2015 - the day the board approved the SEA contract. The projected budget deficit for 2017-18 at that point was $65.9M. This crisis was anticipated.
Anonymous said…
Someone needs to look into all new staff hired (or promoted) at JSCEE as well as existing staff that are non-productive. Staff have clever little buckets to hide and distribute the costs - i.e. some of the chiefs and directors can hide in the "Instruction" related buckets if they are certificated so it lowers the overall cost for what is messaged to be central office. They need to pony up numbers of brand new positions at JSCEE and why they are hiring new FTE for every new initiative. For example, do we really need a Director of Gap Closing? Really? Thought that's what Brent Jones did. Why does he need such a big army? and still nothing gets done. Makes you think that all they do is sit around and pontificate without any strategy, data, or progress monitoring. The level of incompetence is dumbfounding. Who should be ultimately held accountable? Nyland and his WEAK leadership. Let's be real for a minute. The central office has bloated up to disgusting proportions. There are no cubes left for any new staff to sit in. You cannot find a parking space to save your life. This is very different from 3 years ago. We need a real leader to come in and clean house. It's so overdue. There are folks making six figure salaries who just show up and do NO REAL WORK. Nyland needs to demonstrate real leadership, roll up his sleeves, and clean out the John Stanford center.
Ed said…
Anonymous said…
I'm sorry, but I don't completely agree that it is a great idea to hire and fire superintendents every few years. SPS is a mess, and who would want to take the job? The District is too big and has many competing interests. The staff organizational structure is a beast and the culture seems toxic. The Board is better, but the PARENTS!!!! Good God! Who would want to deal with the parents.

Big mess
Who would want to take the job? Someone who wanted to make a real difference. Someone who wanted to live in a smart, booming city. Someone who could see this is an "urban" district but not LA or Chicago urban.

We need a sheriff and I think that person is out there.

The parents are the least of this district's problems.
NESeattleMom said…
Big mess, Parents don't get involved unless they have to advocate for their child. There are no do-overs during the crucial years of 5-18.
Anonymous said…
Things that make you go hmm...

On page 33 of the 2016-2017 Budget book (https://www.seattleschools.org/UserFiles/Servers/Server_543/File/District/Departments/Budget/Budget%20Development%202017/rbook17.pdf) there's a list of the number of FTEs by broad title, comparing the difference between the 2014/15 numbers & the 2016/17 numbers - a couple of those comparisons are pretty eye-opening!

For example - Under the heading "other district administrator" there were 34.0 in 2014/15 and 41.7 in 2016/17. "Professional" has 155.3 vs 173.2 and "Director/Supervisor" there were 87.4 in 2014/15 and 100.9in 2016/17.

And this Oct 2016 organizational chart is kind of insane when you start thinking about what kind of salaries are probably involved

Anonymous said…
" This district will NOT ever move ahead for its students (especially those who are low-income and/or of color) if this district is not well-run."


-NE Mom
Anonymous said…
Who would want the job of SPS superintendent? I think the last national search answered that question. You get people like Banda. This is not a highly desirable job, despite the attraction of "smart, booming city."

And I disagree that parents are the LEAST of the problem in this district. They are certainly not the biggest problem --- that would be shamefully large achievement gap between white/wealthy students and poor students of color --- but they are a BIG problem. The vastly disparate differences between what loud, influential north-end parents want and what powerless south-end parents need causes big problems from the classroom level up through JSCEE.

And if you think that the word hasn't spread around AASA that Sue Peters, et al aren't a nightmare, you're naive at best and willfully ignorant at worst. No quality superintendent wants to work for an activist board led by Sue Peters and others like her.

--- wistful
Lynn said…
What do powerless south end parents need from the district that they're not getting?
Anonymous said…
@ wistful, I'm curious as to how things would be better in this district if all parents--your obnoxious north end ones and your helpless south end ones as well--were to completely stay out of SPS business. Would the achievement gap suddenly disappear? Would racial poverty levels equalize? Would all students--even those of white and wealthy parents--receive better educations?

I'm not seeing how parents are the problem here.

Anonymous said…
It's true. Supes don't want to work for hands-on board members. They want to be left alone. I say that as a fan of the current board. They are doing necessary work and working hard. But any executive making north of $250K does not want to be micromanaged and yes this district does have that reputation. Don't get me wrong I fully support a hands on board right now given the last 20 years, but the downside is finding a Supe willing to play in the arena. Nyland is better than Banda and not willfully personally and policywise destructive like Goodloe-Johnson so things could be worse. But they could also be far better. A confidential understanding of when Nyland intends to step down and preparing for that day would be a good project for the board to work through outside of our public eyes. Have to believe he'll be gone within 3 years and half of that time needs to be spent on building initial relationships with possible candidates.

And some of these comments take me back to my initial premise - the district is not functioning well operationally.

I think any smart administrator could/would look at the big picture and shake their head. BUT, breaking it down, I think it is possible to see that much of the upset in the district is due to three key things; operations, communications and transparency in vision/work.

A good administrator would know how to come in and take hold of operations and nail that down. That would quiet down a LOT of dissent and certainly much of the criticism that the Board may have.

You forget that a successful superintendent would mean fewer problems and fewer headaches.

It's not just having "failing" superintendents; it's having mediocre superintendents that hurts as well.
I do know someone who had been interested in the job who knows the district, knows how to run a big operation, with great interpersonal skills and yet, has never been a superintendent.

But this district will just continue to spend money and spin its wheels.
Lynn said…

I believe he'll be leaving on June 30, 2018. The following language was in the BAR attached to the agenda for last week's board meeting:

The Superintendent has also agreed to an optional extension of his contract of up to six months, should it be necessary or requested, in order to make the transition to the new Superintendent as smooth as possible for the District and its students. The Board has the sole discretion to determine whether an extension will be sought and agrees to provide notice of its intent to exercise the option no later than April 30, 2018.
b. Alternatives: Not provide a COLA, or provide a raise above the COLA. Not providing the COLA is not recommended as the Board wants to keep its compensation package competitive now and for future superintendents, and the Board recognizes the Superintendent’s service to the District. This notwithstanding, with the budgetary situation currently facing the District, any raise above COLA would be unwise and cut into the vital work that the District is performing for students.
Automatically extend the Superintendent’s contract beyond the June 30, 2018 end date. The Superintendent has served the District for four years, and the end of his term coincides with the completion of the District’s Strategic Plan. This is a natural transition point for the District, and the Board would like to take advantage of that fact.
Katie and Brian said…
This comment has been removed by the author.
Watching said…
reader 47,

At one point the district benched marked other districts and found that they were providing less teacher support than any other district. Perhaps you are pointing to increased expenditures to provide teacher support that is in-line with other districts.
Meg said…
DoSomething and reader47 raise some really interesting points.

"Other admin" grew by appx 23% in one year.
"Professional" grew by appx 11% in one year.
"Director/supervisor" grew by appx 15% in one year.

Enrollment? Grew by about 1.5% in that same year.

And yet the cuts administrators at JSCEE are talking about are to schools? If we cut the 7 administrators, 13 supervisors and 18 professionals made over the last budget cycle, we would save only around (at MINIMUM) $4M. But $4M that's not to schools is an important start. And the org chart is terrifying when one considers that the majority of the salaries on it are likely over $150K... which means the budget cost of those people is much higher.

I think DoSomething's comment is really, really worth looking at. JSCEE does indeed have a nasty habit of budgeting central staff to Teaching or Teaching Support, and has done so in a much more aggressive fashion for several years. The logic for budgeting administrators to teaching is that since they ARE certificated, they should be budgeted as teaching staff (I had this explained to me by a district administrator with the ability to make that budgeting decision). This kind of thinking (and budgeting) is a problem for the board, district administration AND the public - ultimately, nobody can tease out how much of the budget is actually being spent on direct instruction, the district's most important budget item.

A last note - no highly compensated person likes being micromanaged. I hear district administrators talk about business concepts - and yet in most businesses, the executive team is expected to take direction from the board, and to answer their questions clearly and completely. CEOs are highly compensated in part because they are supposed to be highly responsive and responsible to their boards. I don't have sympathy or patience for highly compensated administrators bleating about being micromanaged. Their work affects the lives of kids in our city. It SHOULD be closely scrutinized.
Ed said…
Watch "George Carlin The Best 3 Minutes of His Career The American Dream" on YouTube
Anonymous said…
The most recent public data on salaries with name/job title attached is for 2014/2015 but it's still pretty eye-opening

Detailed Table: Seattle Public Schools employees

This is the highest Management Salary Schedule as of Sept. 2016

Sure - getting rid of some of the admin positions wouldn't make a giant dent, but the less that has to come out of classroom budgets the better. I personally feel that teachers & kids should be the very last thing impacted by budget cuts. It is a school district after all, not a corporation.

Reader 47, good thoughts.
Watching said…
Thanks for the Management Salary Schedule, reader 47. Those high administrative step salaries are eye opening.. At one point, I believe I read that there are multiple administrators making over $200K.
Charlie Mas said…
Big mess is right on a lot of the facts.

SPS is a mess. The District is too big and has many competing interests. The staff organizational structure is a beast and the culture seems toxic. The Board is better, but the PARENTS!!!! Good God! Who would want to deal with the parents.

But I think that Big mess is wrong in the conclusion. That's exactly the sort of situation that a lot of professional administrators and managers would relish. There are a lot of folks who would want to establish a healthy culture, set clear principles, and clean house.

We don't need an educator, we need an administrator and a manager who knows how to manage a professional staff. The bulk of the rot in Seattle Public Schools is in the org chart space above the teachers and below the Board.

The entire principal job should be re-thought to allow the principal to focus on the work of instructional leadership - the work that the principals want to do and the work that everyone else wants the principals to do. The rest of the job should be assigned elsewhere.

The central office should be re-thought. What should the central office be doing and what shouldn't the central office be doing? Why do we need additional administrators for specific initiatives like MTSS and closing the gap? Why can't the current chain of command handle the task when the task is, essentially, to do their jobs correctly? Why do we have so many instructional coaches? Isn't that the principal's job?

The lines of accountability are all messed up. We have a Special Education department that's responsible for getting that work done, but who have no authority over the people who do the work.

We have never done any evaluation of the quality or efficacy of any programs. Who runs an organization like that?

Don't even get me started on the problems in HR or the culture of lawlessness.

I think there are a lot of great administrators and managers who would drool at the opportunity to work on fixing this disaster and who could do it. There's a lot of low hanging fruit that would allow a new "sheriff" to make progress immediately. A big part of the problem is that school district management positions are filled with people who are teachers by training and temperament when they should be filled with people who are administrators or managers by training and temperament.
Anonymous said…
"A big part of the problem is that school district management positions are filled with people who are teachers by training and temperament..."

I disagree. Real teachers, by and large, want to teach. I have met a few exceptions who thought they would have more impact in administration.

In my experience, many/most administrators (including principals) want to be in charge (and make more money) but wouldn't make it it the world of business.

As far as SPS goes, it's about as desirable as a root canal. That includes for teachers, too. Most I know who aren't near retirement have either gotten out
or are working on it ASAP.

Don't kid yourselves, "folks". This district is not a carrot.


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