Work Session on the 2017-2018 Budget

For this Work Session, all of the directors were present in person except for Director Blanford who was there via phone.  The Superintendent was there as were several senior staff members.

President Peters did seem to set a good tone for action when she stated, "We are going to have to make decisions tonight."

I actually don't want to do a complete detailing of the work session but I'll just summarize and give some highlights.  Also, some of the nitty-gritty of the details of what pots of reserves that are actually going to be used went over my head.  I felt like I must have miss that discussion somewhere.


1) There actually was only one decision made and that was whether to go with all the staff's recommendations as a package or not.  At the beginning, I absolutely did not think that this was how the Board would do it.  I thought they might eliminate or substitute items but as the session dragged on, it became clear it would be all or nothing.

Naturally, nothing really wasn't an option so the majority of the Board (except for President Peters and Director Patu) said yes (to varying degrees but frankly, once you say "yes," it's yes).

(Editor's note: in my first posting of this thread, I referred to Director Patu as Vice-President; the current VP of the Board is Director Leslie Harris.  My apologies.)

2) Keep in mind that because of how senior management works - mostly in secret and with less-than-optimum transparency in their decision-making - PLUS the factor that we really don't know what the final outcome will be from the Legislature (nor when), there truly are a lot of holes out there.

Hence, during the meeting, the Board and the staff regularly referred to "Restoration 2.0" and "Restoration 3.0."  So there will be on-going changes. 

I'll note that Director Harris did talk about the lack of ability for community to give feedback and the belief that Central Office may be bloated and it feels all very vague "and I understand why."  

For example, as you may know, the levy cliff bill was passed.  However, right now, it will only fill a $25M gap and not $30M because of the per pupil inflator (PPI).  The district may, in the end, get the entire $30M but it just not clear now.

3) I must praise (with some of it damning) the efforts of JoLynn Berge who performed quite well in her role as the main speaker for the district.  She was measured and careful in her wording but really didn't budge an inch.  But that was to her credit and there was not much pushback from the Board.

4) What put the Board in something of a hemmed in feeling was that staff would not say where Central staff cuts might happen because they hadn't told those people.  Well, it is possible to generally state - as they seem to have done quite easily for school staff - where departments cuts might come from for Central.  It was mentioned that there was an April 7th deadline for notifications.

- The Superintendent spoke of how they were able to restore two-thirds of possible cuts to staff at schools.  However, he spoke of a "small request to give a hint of hope to Central Office staff" that they would not bear the brunt of the cuts.

- One item that some on the Board particularly did not appreciate was one of the guiding questions from staff for restoration - "Are people more essential than other non-staff items in eliminating opportunity gaps?"  I agree.  I think that is something of emotional bait that is not helpful in making hard, cold budget decisions.  Director Burke called it "polarizing."

- Well, will you look at that? Staff using the Moss Adams report to back up what they want.  I find it quite amusing that after all that is in that report they pick out some quote about "balance in government" and "if they just cut enough.."  Berge's point was that Central staff does supply services to schools and there might not be enough staff to oversee functions.  I noted that word "oversee."

Except that we all know there could be cuts at Central Office.  Like Executive Directors (and that was not mentioned once).

To my surprise, Director Blanford also chimed in on Moss Adams saying it talked about "cuts that went too deep."  

So I will have to go back and reread Moss Adams to see where they got these phrases but I find it mighty lucky that BOTH Berge and Blanford had these quotes at their fingertips.

To note, Moss Adams was NOT about the problems of cuts at Central; it was about mismanagement at Central.  No revisionist history allowed at this blog.

- Most of the Board was concerned over possible cuts to the STAR mentors program (which supports new teachers at high-need schools) and were reassured when told that program would be sustained.

- Less impressive was Nyland talking about the opportunity gap and one program, My Brother's Keeper, saying there wasn't a lot of evidence but what little they do have says it's working.  So cross your fingers because apparently data is important for some things and not others.

- Very worrying is the belief that Title One may be changing (via the feds and our new Ed secretary, Betsy DeVos) and that there may be fewer dollars coming in.

At this point, Director Patu asked why, if they knew these changes were coming, why they had not planned for them earlier?  (I always love Director Patu for her ability to cut right to the chase.)

Berge said that their belief is that once MTSS is fully in place, it WILL support every child and lessen the need for Title One.  Deputy Superintendent Steve Nielsen said that their backup plan was the State fully-funding education.

Director Harris chimed in, talking about the need for communications on MTSS.  She said if the district is putting all it's eggs in the MTSS basket, parents need to really understand what it is and what it means.

She also went on a bit of a tear, saying "if we don't do IB right, why do it?  If we aren't cleaning classrooms and restoring counselors, what are we doing?" 

- It was stated a couple of times that 2018-2019 could be worse for the budget than 2017-2018.

- Director Burke said that if they had no reserves left, the SMART goals money should be used if the district doesn't get the full PPI money.  He got some pushback from staff on that.

- One thing that struck me was that the Board was more interested/concerned about curriculum adoptions than staff.  The very basics of teaching and learning and yet, not so much interest from staff. 

- It then came to Ms. Berge who stated that this was the staff recommendation (see page 11 of the agenda) and that they wanted to move forward with it.

- The vote:  Geary said she was good with it as did Blanford.  He went on to say that it seemed like "we continue to act as though we don't have a huge crisis and spend on ELA adoption when we have to lay off teachers." 

Harris said yes but that she was "terrified."

Peters said no because of her concern over lack of reserves and loss of Title I/II funds.  She said she was glad for the funding for the ELA adoption but worried over the math adoption for middle schools.

Patu said no because of Title I/II and worry over equity funding for high needs schools.

Pinkham said it was a tough decision but "okay."

Burke said yes but that they needed to "fully fund ELA K-5."


Anonymous said…
Thank you so much for this. Does this mean the ELA adoption is moving forward just for K-3 or are the other funds mentioned in the slide covering grades 4 and 5? It was unclear. I agree, it was a terrifying vote, but I'm proud of our board members for recognizing how desperately an ELA adoption was needed in SPS.
kellie said…
If I am reading this correctly, this means that the WSS at high school was set at 30:1. If that is correct, this change is NOT going to restore high school.

The funding ratio at high school is both misleading and confusing. The funding ratio makes a lot of sense for grades k-8 because those grades are mostly homeroom based experiences. As such, you can reasonably expect that k-8 classrooms will be about the same as the funding ratio.

However, High School is based on a master schedule and therefore what really happens is every 30 students creates FIVE slots on the master schedule. Therefore, a change in funding ratio doesn't change the student : teacher ratio. There are many high school classes that are EXEMPT from the staffing ratio and advanced classes are often overloaded to 40 or more students.

Changes in the funding ratio, change the number of slots on the schedule and the number of classes beyond the MINIMUM graduation requirements that are offered. (3 years of math, 2 years of science, etc.)

This year the high school ratio was 29:1 and that made a huge difference in terms of capacity management and students being able to access the classes they need. At 30:1 we are going to see a reduction in advanced options and even more students pushed to running start as the only way to get the classes they need for their graduation pathway. (aka anything ABOVE the minimum requirements)

For the large comprehensive high schools, a change from 29:1 to 30:1 represents 2-3 teachers or 10-15 slots on the master schedule. This may or may not be directly felt. As most of the comprehensive schools are preparing for an additional 50-100 students next year, they may not lose any staff. However, they will need to teach 100 additional students with the staff they currently have.

I am very happy that Sue Peters and Betty Patu stood up for our students and teachers. They are both up for re-election and we should remember that they made the right decision here. But I'm honestly at a total loss for the others. They caved once again to staff's flawed recommendation. If you're "terrified" about the situation but don't make staff go back and do a better job, then I just don't know what to say at this point.

Parents across the district are scrambling to raise funds they shouldn't have to raise to prevent total meltdown in classrooms. Public health officials are appalled to hear that SPS cleans classrooms once a year. So on and so on. Yet the Central Office whines and moans about having to take cuts, even though their jobs are far less important than what goes on in the classroom. Even they know their position is indefensible. But they tried to jam it through the board and, yet again, the board caved.

Parents should be furious about this. We shouldn't accept it. Those five board members got it wrong, and they need to do a much better job managing our district's finances and looking out for our kids and teachers.

Being a school board member means owning your role and responsibility to be a decision-maker. It means having the courage to tell staff to do something they don't want to do - but is the right thing to do. It means saying "no" when staff present a bad idea or a flawed proposal to you. It also means making sure Central Office knows they serve the community and serve the people in the classrooms, young and old, and that service includes willingly sacrificing their own jobs if that's what it takes to serve the people in the classrooms.

This district will not function effectively if the board is not able to tell the staff how it is going to be. Two of the seven board members - Peters and Patu - clearly understand that. The other five...well, they have some explaining to do.
Leslie said…
Mr. Cruickshank,

Thank you for your assistance in Olympia on the Levy Cliff and McCleary. I do find, however, your overwrought admonitions to those of us that are not willing to clear-cut administrative staff, to be semi-amusing; especially given that you have not chosen to show up for any of the many many budget sessions these past few months to hear the thoughtful conversations, reams of paperwork and spreadsheets, trade-offs and reasoning behind many of the choices made in these fluxing times. You, of all people, having worked diligently for Mayor McGinn, know that the devil is in the details and collaboration and cooperation are critical to keeping systems working for an almost billion dollar budget. Your seemingly polarized viewpoints - Just Say No to budget cuts when there is not a legal basis for that option is frankly irresponsible. Your "get rid of the Executive Directors" my way or the highway tact, is interesting as well. Do I think we have the best structure - no, not necessarily and I think we may see some changes on how the District is organized - especially now that budget cuts are in the offing. But, pray tell, without EDs - who do you propose to evaluate and assist the principal corp in SPS? Do you think it acceptable to be so very disparaging to hard working public servants? My mamma told me you get more bees with honey. I value each of my hard-working colleagues and can assure you they are making thoughtful decisions. Soundbite accusations and pronouncements don't get us to where we need to be. And, folks I disagree with are not the enemy and ought not be treated as such. My offer for a cup of coffee or a beer remains open.

Last, this is Restoration 2.0 - there are more chapters to follow.

Thanks, Leslie
Anonymous said…
Ok, then get rid of half the EDs.

Anonymous said…
Thanks, Leslie. I'll say again that I don't support a witch hunt directed at ED's. I prefer a more thoughtful evaluation to roles and individuals and District org charts. I would aim my target at C&I's bloated organization, and start looking for a more visionary and inspiring leader for the top job.

My 2cents
Thanks said…
Thumps up for Leslie's comments.
Anonymous said…
I think the EDs are masters of "make work". Leslie's comments confirm that.


Anonymous said…
I'm an SPS teacher. I support getting rid of the Executive Directors. I know teachers is many parts of the city. I hear lots of comments about how unhelpful ED are for principals. I don't think it is a witch hunt to say get rid of them. I them it is a reasoned, logical step for maximizing an efficient, cost-effective system.
Cut EDs
Anonymous said…
With about 100 schools, it doesn't seem unreasonable--on the face of it--to have 5 EDs responsible for overseeing principals. The catch, however, is that they need to actually oversee the principals. When principals seem to have the power to do whatever the heck they want, it's not clear that there's a meaningful role for EDs. There COULD be, but there doesn't seem to be in practice. They could serve an important role in ensuring program fidelity, alignment and consistency across sites. They could ensure principals act with transparency and appropriate community engagement before making big decisions that impact schools and families. They could ensure that principals are clear about the curricula they are using in their schools, and how they will meet the needs of all the different populations. They could ensure that school-developed (and principal approved) CSIPs are sufficiently detailed to serve as a true plan of action with reasonable goals. They could monitor schools' progress in reaching those goals.

Is there any evidence to suggest they do any of that? How much time do they actually spend on site at schools, attempting to understand how well their principals are really doing? How much time do they spend talking to families and teachers at those schools? If their primary job is to oversee the principals in their region, shouldn't they be pretty close to the action and the community both? Or do they spend most of their time down at the central office, in meetings or ?

If people see the value of these EDs--if we feel like they are having a positive impact on our schools, our experiences, etc.--people will stop complaining about the EDs. Instead, we see all sorts of areas in which it SEEMS like an ED should step in and quash a particular action or plan, yet that doesn't happen. If they are just there to hire and evaluate principals, without actually influencing the work of those principals, we don't need em. Contract it out or something. Heck, I'll offer to evaluate all the principals in the district myself for the cost of one ED's annual salary.


PS - Just because principals don't find them useful isn't enough to go on to say they don't--potentially--play a valuable role. Principals may not find them that useful now because (a) principals can do whatever the heck they want, so don't need to check in with anyone, and (b) who enjoys being evaluated? It would be great if principals did see EDs as a valuable resource, but I'm also fine with them not--if it's because the EDs are the enforcers, the QA assurance crew, etc.
Anonymous said…
Dear Leslie-

In the handful of cost-cutting reorgs I have been in for the private sector, middle management was heavily gutted. Yes, there were some growing pains as other people learned to pick up the slack. But the companies kept running with the customers feeling very little impact as a result of the cuts.

Unfortunately next year the customers, that is the kids, will be the ones suffering the most due to these cuts. It currently looks like my 1st grader will be in a class of almost 30 kids, and there is a good chance my oldest will end up in a split-level class because we are loosing a few teachers.

I don't think we should be protecting Central Admin. I think we should be protecting the kids.

-NW Mom
Anonymous said…
I appreciate both Leslie & Robert's comments.

I would love to know #s about the % the overall SPS budget that is allocated to administrative staff vs. other mid-sized urban districts. Some basis of comparison seems useful. If it's more in SPS than in other similar districts, then more cuts are needed.

With regard to the EDs, and the question of who SPS principals report to, and who holds them accountable, from my experience, the EDs do not hold principals accountable. My son's school has a weak principal. I contacted the ED several times with my concerns. I never heard anything back. From my perspective, that $120,000 salary (or whatever it is) could be much better spent on teachers. I know principals have to report to someone, but, the current structure is not working, especially if communication with them, from concerned parents, is a total one way street. Where is their accountability to us, SPS parents? It's like their the Wizards of Oz, behind the green curtain, and we are never allowed to communicate directly with them. That rankles.

Eric B said…
Here's my pipe dream for JSCEE cuts. Put up the JSCEE org chart on a wall. Circle every name of a person who has not been in a school in the last week. For every circled name, justify that job's existence based on direct impact on students' success. For some, that's going to be pretty easy (prepares hot meals in central kitchen, manages accounts payable, handles all job postings for teaching staff, etc.), for some, it's probably a lot harder. For any person with a salary over $100K, the employee should write a one-page description of how they have directly impacted student success in the last year, with concrete examples. I suspect that many of those descriptions would fail a BS smell test.
Anonymous said…
SPS Mom's complaint is especially bothersome since the process for complaining about problems at your school starts with the teacher, then the principal, then the ED. If the ED doesn't do their job, the system doesn't work. What are we supposed to do, camp out in the JSCEE lobby?
Leslie, thanks for the reply - and I'll definitely take you up on the offer to meet in person. Getting to SoDo for board meetings is a significant challenge for me, as for many parents, given work schedules and child care pickup times. I did send a few messages about this to the board in advance of last night's meeting, so I've been trying to be proactive here.

I remember budget discussions well in City Hall. And while I was an outside advocate there, I also remember the awful budget meltdown in California in 2008-09. The approach I take here is the same I took there: fight for more funding, while also urging elected officials to make good choices with those funds. I know full well that these are challenging decisions, full of complications and tradeoffs. Nothing is an easy choice. But as I look at the comments above, at the option school thread, and so much more, it seems clear to be that the Central Office can and must take more reductions. I harp on the EDs primarily to try and be constructive about that - rather than suggesting a vague "cut the Central Office" statement that isn't helpful, my goal is to point to something specific. Perhaps there are other Central Office cuts to be made.

But as I hear from parents across this district, they're uneasy and unhappy. I think that's legitimate. I think the staff presented a bad set of options, and I look forward to helping find better ones. Thanks!
Anonymous said…
Eric B.: I could not agree with you more. It would be really helpful to know what everyone at JSCEE does, and how their role directly impacts student outcomes. If they don't then...

In many bureaucracies, and JSCEE is definitely its own bureaucracy, jobs, once created, justify themselves in perpetuity. And that is not ok when it comes to these jobs because there is a zero sum relationship between jobs @ JSCEE & jobs at the schools, especially when it is time to cut budgets.

Do others know data on the # of jobs at JSCEE and % of the total SPS budget that is allocated to those positions?

And yes, I think we should focus on the EDs. To whom are they accountable? Isn't is part of their job to respond to parental concerns? Who are we supposed to go to if they don't?

Watching said…
I'm standing with Director Harris, too. Frankly, I feel the public attack on Director Harris and others was not justified.

It would be really nice if some community members studied the budget, attended budget and finance meetings, and offered constructive criticism.

Administrative costs should run districts around 5%. Last check, Seattle Public School's administrative costs ran slightly above 5%. According to the budget (see page 13), Seattle Public Schools may reduce administrative costs to 4.7% (p.13). It does cost money to run the district.

The budget is in a state of flux. Seattle Public Schools will most probably work on the budget through-out the summer.

High school class ratios vary. Building Leadership Teams and principals often alter class size to accommodate elective classes etc,
Watching said…
Board meetings are taped, Robert. One does not need to drive downtown to watch board meetings.
For the last time, the district is in line with other area districts for central administration.

HOWEVER, they moved things around so that they have central administration AND central office. Combine those and you get about 16%. Keep that in mind.

As for the EDs, who evaluated the principals before we had them? It can be done. As well, the complaints from parents, who are instructed to GO to them if they cannot get satisfaction from their principal, who do not ever hear back is legion. So what DO the EDs do? No one seems to know.

I'm with Eric - if Central adm is being protected, we need to know what everyone there does. Because you can go into schools and clearly see who does what.

Watching, Board meetings are taped but committee and work sessions where the real work is done? They are not.
HCC Parent said…
An Executive Director is leading and managing an $1M grant to high need middle schools.
Former Souper said…
The conversation over at Soup for Teachers is laughable, again. Some want to save money by cutting standardized tests. How do these individuals think the district and state will comply with federal regulations?

There are also calls for a better plan. How many federal dollars will be lost? Bueller?? Bueller?
Watching said…
The district may loose $1.5M in Title 1 and Title II funding. IDEA funding is at risk, too.
Anonymous said…
The MAP standardized test, administered multiple times a year in K-2, costs the district $500k per year and is not required by any law.

NW mom
To be clear, I wasn't attacking Leslie Harris or anyone else. I know board members are watching these comments and it can be useful to make public statements as well as send direct emails. This is no different than when progressive groups (including the one I work for) called out two of our closest allies, Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, in late January when they were voting for Trump nominees and making noise about working with him. We made public criticisms, but we also conveyed those same concerns directly, in private and in person. Now they and most other Senate Democrats don't vote to confirm Trump nominees anymore.

A month ago it looked like hardly any Senate Democrats would filibuster Trump's Supreme Court nominee. Now nearly all of them are, and that too is a product of both strong public pushback as well as private communication.

This is just how government and politics works. We'll help you get elected, help you do good things, hold your feet to the fire, and if all goes well, help you get elected again.

I get that the school board is a tough job. Low pay, long hours, no staff, stressful and challenging decisions. But part of the job involves hearing from community members who want you to do well but who will also speak up when bad decisions are made.

I say again: It's hard to read the threads about parents stunned by a sudden class size increase and then see SPS senior staff whine about not wanting to take deeper cuts. Why should a class size at an option school go up just to keep the Executive Directors employed?

If an ED is leading and managing a grant, then move them to a different job title and eliminate the ED positions anyway.

I know these things aren't easy. But these are specific ideas being offered in the spirit of focusing on the classroom.

I will try and get to the next board meeting so I can say these very same things in person, in public, that I've already been saying here, in email, on the phone, and so on.
Anonymous said…
Which ED, and what's the grant for? It sounds like a very expensive grant manager position! Is an ED really necessary, and how much of their time is spent on this other role? I'd love to see entails of the grant activities and outcomes, as well as the project budget. That should all be public info. Do you know where I can find it?

Disappointed said…
Robert has been publicly disparaging school board members. He does so on a facebook page with thousands of viewers. At one point, Robert criticized the board for working on two budgets.

Citizens can advocate, but they will never be responsible for the actions they propose.
Disappointed, anyone can criticize any elected official or body for anything anywhere. What's your point?

Yes, advocacy is something safer than running for office but we are the people who vote in those officials so yes, we have a right to say something. We don't elected them and then go away.

Lastly, advocacy - in the sign-your-name and make it into real work - can be nearly every bit as challenging as being in office. You have to be willing to take a lot of slings and arrows for speaking up.

Eric B said…
Sorry for missing this before, but Anonymous at 4/5 3:05 is me.
Anonymous said…
I feel like there is a lot of fuzzy math from the SPS communications using percentages not telling the whole story. Just to communicate what would be a fair cut for both Central Admin/Schools let me show what I did using the $50 million dollar reduction in budget. An equal cut is just the current percentage of budget time the $50 million loss. The actual cut is the $3.5 million they are writing about that they are cutting from their annual budget. If you divide that by $50 million, you get the Actual Cut(%).

So despite that they are operating at 16% of the total SPS budget, they are only absorbing 7% of the cuts. The schools, using 84% of the operating budget, are absorbing 93% of the cuts.

Place/ Total Budget(%)/ Equal Cut ($) /Actual Cut ($) /Actual Cut (%)
Central Admin&Service/16%/ $8 million /$3.5 million /7%
Schools/84%/$42 million/$46.5 million /93%

I am not opposed to Central Services. I know a lot of those services are very useful to the schools. But when they refuse to take their fair share of the cuts, then send out emails using fuzzy math to brag about how much of the cuts they are absorbing, it makes me very suspicious of their motives. I would really just like to see the kids put first.

-NW Mom
Anonymous said…
Let's unpack a few of these comments.

(1) EDs are paid high salaries mostly to be able to conduct performance reviews??? That ain't right or sustainable! If that is truly their primary function, you have to look long and hard at the review process you have in place and spend some time weighing priorities.

(2) If you vote for a budget that you or your colleague calls "terrifying," you better be prepared to defend it and not pout when you're asked completely reasonable questions about it. And it's not ok to swing back at advocates by insinuating that advocates only get to share opinions if they show up to all the same meetings you do. We elected the board members, and they have a responsibility to engage with us.

(3) The admin costs for SPS are spread (as Melissa says above) between the "central administration" and "central office" costs. That combined figure is way more than 5%. Don't pretend it's not.

(4) School board directors have a tough job. I voted for you all (everyone I voted for won in the last election) because I believe in your ability to turn the ship. And, honestly, I don't see you doing enough of that. Please please please make some fundamental changes to SPS. This is the opportunity to look critically at everything. Make the tough decisions and refine where our limited resources go.

(5) I get it: making cuts to JSCEE must be hard because those are the people you see nearly daily. And there are some highly-qualified, dedicated, and effective public servants there. But, there is simply *too much* there. This is not an easy ask, but we need to see a scaled down JSCEE.

-Wanting Action
Anonymous said…
Replying here because the previous Option School/Class Size thread seems to have migrated to this one:

To be clear, the Option School communities I know - and I know quite a few of them - were fine taking larger class sizes (yes, some even actively advocated for them), as long as they also received the teacher funding that the neighborhood schools were getting through the SPS-enforced central budget process.

Theoretically, this meant a win for everyone: Taking enrollment pressure off neighborhood schools which by policy *must* take any student in their geographic draw area, even if they are full to the brim and plagued with portables. Option schools help smooth out enrollment problems. Or they would, if Downtown Enrollment would remember to ask families if they wish to enroll in Option Schools, and manage the wait list in a manner that would benefit both neighborhood and Option Schools. Which they most definitely do not.

The next thing we Option School parents knew, Central Administration tried to foist a bigger class size but NO additional resources on us, and that was just wrong. Now the budget people downtown have recanted, supplied funds, and Option Schools seem largely fine at this point.

Of course, this being SPS, they recanted "for one year only" so will Option Schools have to fight the good fight again next year on the same issue? No doubt. This district is exhausting.

Active parent
alex said…
Lots to think about in this thread.

I think it's fine to hold public officials' feet to the fire, especially in these times. I don't think any of Robert's posts have publicly disparaged school board members. He is being critical of a process. The current school board members promised to create change at SPS, and that's why a lot of us voted for them. When budget cuts disproportionately impact schools, and teachers, and not JSCEE, shouldn't we raise our voices about that? And, he uses his real name, so kudos to him, because as Melissa mentions, that's way more courageous & productive than using a pseudonym.

The jobs at JSCEE need more sunshine, or daylight, period. It's very, very hard for parents to feel like we can engage at that level. Who can & will help us do that if not our school board members? Central office & Central administration costs coming in at 16% of SPS' overall budget seems really high to me.

The role of ED seems to need more daylight, in particular. Who holds them accountable? What should parents do if we can't get them to talk to us? Who do we talk to then? I have sent many emails to Larry response. I get it, but who are we supposed to talk to about our concerns?

I also appreciate school board member Harris' comments and her willingness to participate in this forum. Their job is really hard, incredibly time consuming, and the pay is awful. I want to be mindful & appreciative of all of the work that board members do, and of their commitment to making this district better.

But, I agree with Active Parent, this district is exhausting. My son is in 2nd grade & each year has brought significant battles (a teacher cut in October, the strike, my son's teacher left in April, changes in bell times (again & again), testifying (or trying to do so) at school board meetings, and now budget cuts, etc...) and I am growing weary. We DO need more accountability. Parents need more of a way to make our voices heard.

Benjamin Leis said…
I'd take you up on the offer coffee or beer, if its a general invitation :)
Anonymous said…
With regard to central office cuts, it's senior leadership that is the problem. They should be prioritizing JSCEE reductions in order to save school staff. Instead they are protecting their empires that they've built up. A real leader would look for ways to make appropriate and necessary cuts in order to put schools first. There are at least a few incompetent staff in most central office departments that could be cut with no impact (and in some cases entire departments). Leadership has NOT done it's job on this and the board has allowed it to happen. If existing leadership doesn't have the stomach to do it, then the real question is about getting rid of top leadership and bringing real leaders in who can make the tough decisions.
Unknown said…
There seems to be a pretty full discussion on this, but I will chime in that while the article says Dir. Blanford and I were "good" with this budget, I think it important to clarify that NO ONE is good with this budget as a whole and that what we were being asked was simply whether we could give a nod to the proposal so SPS could move forward as a school district in terms of planning for 2017-18. We, the board, have spent many, many meetings going over the budget and the district has asked for public input. District staff has gone back over and over to rework their proposals based upon that input and the continually changing information coming out of Olympia. I was in agreement, because in the proposal I saw compromises were made to meet different individual requests by directors (including those that voted no), including my hope we could find more funds for the ELA adoption, for which we have already invested in a very thorough adoption process, and happily will be able to use capital funds (not staffing dollars) to start rolling out in our new schools. I see further adoption of this curriculum, that has been identified as culturally responsive and easy to use for teachers, as a move towards equity to serve schools where we have been unable to maintain consistency in staffing (typically lower income/higher need schools). These schools also have a much higher use of new and substitute teachers. For me this was not minimizing the value of teachers in any way, but recognition that for our low income students, the mobility of their own families and teachers leads to constant educational disruption that impacts their ability to close the achievement gap. A consistent curriculum across settings offers them an opportunity to stay on track in spite of the disruption - and I expect that until we see full funding of basic education, that is a disruption that will continue to happen.

I also note that Director Blanford has consistently, for months and months, said he would prefer we spend less, as we are facing even deeper cuts for the 2018-2019 SY. Keep in mind the $50 million shortfall is driven in great part by our absolute need to pay our teachers a fair salary and maintain fair class size ratios. A year and a half ago, teachers went on strike for fairer pay, and the then board settled it with higher salaries. I am unclear on how the district was to now plan its way around that settlement.

So, just to clarify, no, I am not "good" with the budget - a budget that is working around a $50 million shortfall driven in large part by our state's failure to fund its teachers' salaries - and my use of the word was only to signify that I was able to live with the proposal on the table and recognized, thankfully, that it was responsive to the different concerns that have been expressed by directors.

Thank you as always for your efforts to bring the board's work to our families, and giving me this opportunity to clarify. I will be more careful in expressing my concerns in the future so as not to appear glib when I take this work very seriously.
Anonymous said…
This is amazing to me:

Director Geary writes: "Keep in mind the $50 million shortfall is driven in great part by our absolute need to pay our teachers a fair salary and maintain fair class size ratios. A year and a half ago, teachers went on strike for fairer pay, and the then board settled it with higher salaries. I am unclear on how the district was to now plan its way around that settlement."

SPS, with the agreement of the school board, settled the SEA/WEA strike in 2015 by agreeing to higher teacher salaries without the budget to do so, ultimately leading to a $50 million shortfall. And Director Geary blames Olympia.


This comment has been removed by the author.
The strike was settled for higher salaries because SPS senior staff insisted on adding 20 minutes to the school day. There was no legal mandate for it and no groundswell of support from parents for it - who in fact were generally unhappy with the idea. But if that time was to be added, then teachers deserved to be compensated.

Most of the current board - such as Jill - weren't there when the extra 20 minute demand was made and agreed to. Looking back, it was unwise to have let SPS senior staff make such a demand before Olympia fully funded our schools. To me, this is further reason why Central Office should bear a much greater share of the cuts - they helped create this mess and they should not be allowed to make kids and teachers pay the price. There should be consequences for mistakes.

Of course, despite what Albert says, Jill is right to lay the ultimate blame at Olympia's feet. Even without the extra 20 minutes, SPS still does NOT have amply funded public schools. Even when the Executive Directors are finally fired, there will still be funding shortages in the classrooms that are entirely outside the board or SPS's control. The legislature believes its paramount duty is to keep taxes low for big businesses and rich people. It's not, and parents across the state are rising up to force the legislature to ignore the well-paid lobbyists and instead raise revenues to fully and amply fund our schools.

At the same time, it's obvious to everyone that more fundamental changes are needed at the JSCEE. You see comment after comment after comment here pleading for those changes. The mismanagement by senior staff shown in the way the 2015 contract negotiations should have been a final straw - and if you look at the election results that fall, it was. This board was elected with a mandate to deliver thorough changes at SPS, including a long-needed overhaul of the Central Office and administration. The public's patience is running out, and especially in a budget crisis, it's time for those changes to begin.

So I appreciate Jill's comment about her vote. At the same time, I think it's fair to respond by saying we expect more. It's not acceptable for central staff to whine about cuts while classrooms and schools still struggle to get by. The amount of cuts at the JSCEE is unacceptably low and must be increased at the soonest possible opportunity.

(deleted previous comment due to typos)
Former Souper said…
Seattle offers less instructional time than other districts. The district benchmarked this issue. Lengthening the school day was intended to provide additional lunch and recess.

The teachers went on strike. If teachers left the district due to high cost of living- the board would be blamed, too. Robert claims the district mismanaged the settlement, yet, SEA was asking for $170M.

People that supported the strike now blame the district for shortfalls. The district has a lot of new teachers, especially at low income schools. These teachers need support.

Some complain about the cost of Executive Directors, but the district has a fair amount of new principals that need support. Should the district eliminate Executive Directors and principals failed- the board would get blamed.

When benchmarked, the district was providing Seattle's teachers with less support. For this reason, you will see enhancements to administrative costs.

The same people that supported the strike are on this thread complaining. There is just no winning with some people.
Former Souper said…
How do you know principals don't want the support of Executive Directors, Robert?
Former Souper said…
" There should be consequences for mistakes."

Good one, Robert. The district is responsible for compliance.
Lynn said…
Former Souper,

The message from the district has been consistent - the additional time is to be used for instruction in the core curriculum - not recess or lunch. This means more seat time for elementary school students.
Anonymous said…
Robert, while the blame might "ultimately" lay with the state legislature and governor, the SPS board is comprised of elected officials with fiduciary responsibility for SPS. They signed off on a collective bargaining agreement with SEA they had no budget to actually support and now they have a $50 million shortfall. They failed their fiduciary responsibility and thus their elected duty. Laying that blame elsewhere is a political statement to deflect the failing of the SPS administration that bargained the agreement and the board that signed off on it.


Anonymous said…
In addition - there's a grand total of 20 minutes per week additional time. Disregarding the weekly early dismissal (what's a little more logistical chaos for parents anyway) that means huge 4 minutes more per day on average even if you wanted to use it on lunch or recess or perhaps split it between the two.


A "nod" to a proposal was a vote. I don't think that anyone was happy with the current fiscal situation but the work session was a fairly passive discussion with Ms. Berge doing most of the talking.

I'm glad Director Geary recognizes what senior management did in their gamble on teachers salaries. We are in this hole because of that gamble. BUT yes, the real problem is in Olympia.

And again, you could support the strike WITHOUT having known that the district didn't have the money to support those raises. I certainly didn't know they were waiting on funding from Olympia. I still would have support the strike but been tempered by the fact there was no (or little) money.

Anonymous said…
@ Logistics, it's 20 extra min per day, not per week. Minus the early release, of course. I think that works out to 40 additional min per week.

Watching said…
Hindsight is always 20/20. There was no reason for the board not to expect funding from Olympia because the state is under a court order to do so.

The state is failing to pay for teacher compensation (25%) and special education. Currently, the state caps special education costs at 12.7%. Seattle's special education population exceeds 12.7%. The district is not compensated. It seems to me if the district were to pay teacher compensation and special education costs, there would not be a shortfall.

Who could have guessed that SEA was asking for $170M?

Director Geary is a enormously thoughtful. Geary brings a keen legal eye and extraordinary knowledge to the district. Her passion for Seattle's most vulnerable is commendable. She is steadfast in her efforts and has successfully worked to make systemic changes for Seattle's youngest special education students.

Director Harris has worked for decades to support vulnerable populations.No one can accuse her of not caring being caring or working in the best interest of students. Her work ethic is commendable. Thanks for stopping by.

The budget, compliance issues and competing needs are truly complicated.

Anonymous said…
Your analysis is a bit off on the cap in special education. It's popular to make special education the whipping boy of a the district, you know, the hogs at the trough. The next logical inference is to cut special ed, after vilifying the hogs. But there's not a lot of supporting evidence for this case. True. The state caps funding at 12.7%. But it funds disabled preschoolers at 100%. The district always includes the preschoolers in the count when it laments the the 12.7 cap, even though the preschoolers are fully funded by the state (unlike the freebies in SPP). Last time families actually got the data, it was unclear that any students with disabilities at all were "unfunded". And certainly it would be a tiny fraction of a percent of unfunded students, if there is any at all. The district is highly motivated to identify exactly 12.7% of k-12 students with disabilities to maximize the special ed funding it can receive. It is disincentivized to identify even a single student more. Those incentives actually do work to maximize district funding. Of course there's also safety net funds available for high cost students with disabilities.

Anonymous said…
I am going to go back to what Robert said. The district wanted to add more hours to the day. The teachers did not. Most parents I talked to did not. The district insisted. The teachers would not agree unless we were paid for that time. I assume most people would have said the same thing. If the district had not insisted on adding these extra hours per week, we would not be in the hole so much with teacher pay.
Teacher and here's the sad thing - I'm not sure you could get a truly transparent answer on the contract from either the SEA or senior management.

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