Thursday, March 14, 2019

"Staffing Capacity" Explained

From our sage, Kellie LaRue:

Here is my best attempt to explain the mysterious "staffing capacity."

The New Student Assignment Plan (NSAP- 2010) migrated SPS from a 100% choice plan, to a "limited choice plan." Because SPS had been a 100% choice district, there was considerable effort inserted into the NSAP, to preserve choice wherever possible and to minimize disruption to families wherever possible.

The are multiple places in the NSAP where choice is protected on a "space available" basis. Now unfortunately, the document itself never defined "space available." This is because in the years 2004-2009 when the NSAP was being created, "space available" was a widely understood term. Every school in the district had a capacity number, and after that number of students were enrolled, a wait list was started.

The problem with widely understood terms is that institutional memory fades. While anyone can pull the 2007 or 2008 enrollment and can get a snapshot of that number, since that definition is not written in the document, "space available" was "re-defined" in 2017 as Staffing capacity.

In 2017, multiple new schools were to be opened with corresponding boundary changes. This was also the same year as the first levy cliff and budget staff were attempting to be "very conservative" with their spending.

Families at Whitman Middle School were promised that since there as not a capacity problem at Whitman, any family that wanted to stay at Whitman would be able to do so. This promise was posted on the SPS website as well as verbally repeated at community meetings for two years.

Then come post open enrollment, that promise was broken. The reason for the broken promise was there might be "physical capacity" but there was no "staffing capacity."

Staffing Capacity was then defined as the "initial staffing allocation given to a school BEFORE open enrollment."

While Whitman Middle School had more than enough physical capacity to accommodate 100% of the families on the waitlist, the "initial allocation" of teachers was not enough to meet the demand for families to remain at Whitman.

Historically, SPS did a small pre-open enrollment allocation, followed by a post-open-enrollment adjustment to match staff to the enrollment demand. But starting in 2017, SPS used the term "staffing capacity" to justify, not honoring that there was physical capacity.

It is important to note that this practice had already been employed at Cleveland and other schools but the term was first used to justify the broken promises to the Whitman community.


Eric B said...

To amplify what Kellie wrote above, the way "staffing capacity" was implemented was to hold waitlists if the waitlist move would affect staffing at either the sending or receiving school. Since high schools run on ~30 students/FTE and are budgeted by 0.2 FTE, a change of 6 students would change staffing. It also didn't matter if they were protecting currently occupied positions at the sending school (which would make sense) or if it was a position they would have to hire for.

That led to the sheer madness of schools like Stevens having a waitlist while still losing staff.

kellie said...

Thanks for the kind words, Mel. Thanks for the great insight Eric.

I tend to refer to staffing capacity as "mysterious and toxic."

It's mysterious because the number is quite opaque. It is set by the initial allocation by staff in the budget process. But I have no idea which staff have input and I also have no idea what the basis used for the formulation. It's a mystery. This is in stark contrast to the old "space available" number which was widely known and publicly available.

For many years, very few people even paid attention to the initial allocation. Historically, the initial allocation was just a stake in the ground, prior to open enrollment, because the real staffing adjustments were made shortly after open enrollment. But under this process, the "staffing capacity" drives open enrollment.

There are dozens of reasons, why I call this process toxic. Eric mentioned one.

IMHO, enrollment is best approached as a conversation between buildings, families and downtown. The enrollment process matters because this is the process by which families choose schools and then downtown allocates teachers to schools. Under this "staffing capacity" process, staff are allocated in a silo and that information then remains silo'ed from open enrollment.

This can become very nasty. Center School is a good example. Historically Center Schools enrollment was around 400. Center School then had an enrollment dip with a staffing cut and dropped to close to 200. Center School then did the right thing. They started an outreach program and recruited heavily for the next year's class.

However .... the following year, "staffing capacity" was set at 200. A significant number of students, who chose Center School, were then enrolled in very over-crowded schools, and waitlisted at Center. It made no sense.

Here is a school with space doing the hard work to attract and retain students with plenty of "space available." Rather than restore the staff that had been removed the prior year and enroll the students, who wanted to attend the school, those students were then enrolled in over-crowded schools.

Ironically, additional staff and portables needed to be added to those over-crowded schools but ... staff said "staffing capacity."

There are dozens of other examples as well as dozen's of other "unintended consequences" of this policy.

Number Cruncher said...

"Staffing capacity" seems to me to have been born from anti-racist hopes. I think the thinking goes like this: when white families choose schools, they make racist choices. Therefore blocking families from making choices promotes integration. I think it might be a myth in Seattle, though.

First of all, SPS is only 47.1% white. So when you prevent public school families from choosing, you're impacting more families of color than white families. And second of all, obviously families of color make informed, intentional, wise choices about where to live and where to send their children to school.

South Shore is an option school and is 46.5% Black/African American, 22.9% Asian, 9.3% Hispanic/Latino and 8.2% White. Cleveland is an option school and is 24.8% Black/African American, 50.3% Asian, 11.3% Hispanic/Latino and 7.8% White. Orca K-8 is an option school and is 20.7% Black/African American. The list goes on. Families of color are making choices within SPS.

Families of color are also making choices within Seattle but outside of SPS. For example, there are 4 charter schools in Seattle with a higher percentage of Black/African American students than SPS (Green Dot Rainier Valley, Summit Sierra, Rainier Prep Charter School, and Summit Atlas). Green Dot Rainier Valley is 76.6% Black, 2.8% Asian, .6% Hispanic/Latino and 10.3% White. That represents a lot of parents perfectly able to make choices about where to send their kids to school.

And for another example, in 2016-17 there were 1,364 African American students in private school in Seattle. 100 of them at Makkah Islamic School, 76 at Amazing Grace Christian School, hundreds at Catholic schools, 51 at Lakeside, 42 at UPrep, 27 at the Bush School, etc. All of these students represent families who made choices. The 17,951 other Seattle students that attended private schools that year also had families who were perfectly able to make choices.

Locking families into their neighborhood school does not fight segregation. Our neighborhoods are not as diverse as our city is. And I don't believe that limiting choice improves the lives of any students.

SPS should be sending the teachers wherever the students are. And they should be allowing students to go where they choose, as long as there's physical "space available."

Anonymous said...

I think the biggest issue here is that families feel burned over and over by the District's repeated nonadherence to (or nonsensical, Orwellian reinterpretation of) its own policies.

The Stevens community has been shaking its collective fist about this "staffing capacity" nonsense for three years running. The school was overcrowded with over 400 kids 5 or 6 years ago (the "physical capacity"--which used to just be called "capacity"--is 353). There was a boundary change to relieve overcrowding. The boundary was **intentionally made too small to fill the school** with the expectation and a Board member's promise that space was being intentionally left open at the school to fulfill sibling and other future choice requests.

Fast forward to 2016 when the district suddenly nearly eliminated choice assignments to Stevens. (Before this "staffing capacity" excuse, they articulated an "equity" rationale for the noncompliance with their own choice policy, as they said allowing choice assignments to Stevens would take kids out of the Madrona assignment area--which had formerly been the Stevens assignment area.) Many siblings were not allowed into Stevens, waitlists languished and then were dissolved with little or no movement--choice assignments to Stevens were severely curtailed. Stevens' enrollment is projected to be 215 next fall with a loss of two more teachers. It's half the school it was when the current 5th graders started.

On top of this, in at least one recent year (and maybe 2, I'm not sure), the district **intentionally** shorted Stevens a teacher that it was entitled to under the weighted staffing standards.

These slights from the district--families getting jerked around, teachers getting jerked around, district staff repeatedly blowing off the community's requests that they just follow their own policies, the Board repeatedly turning a blind eye--AFFECT EVERY STUDENT, CLASSROOM, AND FAMILY. It's no surprise that SPS is losing families.

--Stevens Parent

kellie said...

I am going to look back on the Nyland era as a time of "mythology". Mythology is story without any data to support it.

Nyland inherited a district that was swiftly growing and during his tenure, enrollment dropped sharply and at multiple schools with historically long wait lists and very solid reputations.

What caused such a sharp turn-around? Nyland applied zero curiosity to this question and just continued to push forward on a wide variety of initiatives that "sounded lovely" but without any rigorous examination of the impacts.

So now we have district that is shrinking and a shrinking district impact everyone, because that means less money for all projects.

Anonymous said...

@Number Cruncher Well that does not totally explain why they block enrolling kids who want to go to Franklin or Cleveland both schools are not majority white.


Anonymous said...

What if they were required to produce, in advance, a document that identified "target capacity" for each school--with a rationale for why. That rationale would need to address physical capacity, attendance trends, special programs, planned renovations/relocations/boundary changes, etc. That would also help identify where any specific outreach efforts or school/program improvements were needed to get to that target capacity. Target capacity could then be used as a guide for allocating staffing, and would also help with prioritizing waitlist moves after open enrollment. Any last minute adjustments would still be done after final enrollment was determined, but the changes would likely be more minimal. I can see the desire on the part of central staff to have some wiggle room beyond simple "physical capacity" (e.g., to account for other factors that might come into play), but having a "target capacity" document would allow them to explain their rationale and would make this all a much more transparent process.


kellie said...

@ wondering,

Unfortunately, Number Cruncher's explanation does explain the situation at Franklin and Cleveland. This is one of the reasons why I call staffing capacity, "toxic."

Both Cleveland (80% FRL) and Franklin (60% FRL) are majority minority schools with high FRL. It is reasonable to presume that the waitlists for those schools are similar to the demographics of the school.

As high schools are budgeted by .2 FTE, this means a change of 6 students will cause a change in staffing. SPS has refused to move the waitlist, when the student is from Rainier Beach High School (90% FRL), because to move the list might result in reduced staff at Rainier Beach. They have done this, even when Rainier Beach has been allocated new staff each year.

I simply do not have words that accurately convey how terrible this policy really is. Students choose high schools for all kinds of reasons. To move a waitlist when the student is from over-crowded Garfield but to not move a waitlist when the student is from Rainier Beach is ... I don't have blog appropriate words.

The Rainier Beach attendance area is majority minority and high poverty. This policy, that pretends to protect schools like Beach, is highly discriminatory. Staff's response to inquires like this has been to state that we just need to end all choice, in order to protect schools like Beach.

But blanket statements like that are so completely isolated from the current reality that a substantial number of the 800 students, currently enrolled in public charter schools, were most likely on the waitlist at Franklin and Cleveland.

The tragic irony here is that "because of reduced enrollment" all of the money for IB has been trimmed from the budget. So this policy that has CAUSED reduced enrollment, to protect Beach is now also the cause of Beach losing their IB money.

But most importantly, I think the message this sends to the Rainier Beach community is the most toxic of all. it sends the message that they only way students will attend Rainier Beach is if they are "given no other option." It also lets staff off the hook of doing any of the hard work of giving Rainier Beach the resources it needs to best serve its community so that families want to attend Rainier Beach.

IMHO, the entire scenario is lose-lose.

Anonymous said...

Wondering, enrollment is capped/waitlists do not move at Franklin or Cleveland to keep people from being able to choice enroll away from Rainier Beach. I don't think it has ever actually helped RBHS(people leave the district instead of taking the forced placement), but it has certainly caused pain to Franklin and Cleveland.

SE parent

Melissa Westbrook said...

Stevens Parent, fyi, at this week's Board meeting this week, I called out how the district let good schools like Lowell and Washington and yes, Stevens, twist in the wind and go downhill. For no other reason than district policies.

Eric B said...

HF, having a target enrollment for every school would be great. It would be even better if it was a range for each grade. What I found when looking at the high school waitlists was that you could move something like 2/3 of the 500 students on waitlists and not change enrollment at any school by more than ~25 students, well within the margin of error of the projections. The remainder were on waitlists for schools that were overcrowded anyway and probably couldn't take more students as it was. The range could be set to try to keep all of the current teachers at a school, and go upwards to allow growth. Waitlists could then be moved to keep as many schools as possible inside their target ranges. If they did that, I think ~80% of the waitlist problems would go away.

I don't actually think that the staffing capacity system was dreamed up as a racial equity issue, though some people have attached that label. I think it was dreamed up in the budget and hiring offices by people who were frustrated by the moves at the beginning of the year and who wanted the system locked down earlier. Budget wanted that so they could have a better estimate of what the year would look like, and hiring wanted to get a jump on hiring teachers.

The problem is that nobody thought about the real-world consequences and the fact that students don't necessarily stay where you put them. When those consequences were pointed out to them, they doubled down.

kellie said...

Thanks Eric,

I think you summarized everything brilliantly. "The problem is that nobody thought about the real-world consequences and the fact that students don't necessarily stay where you put them. When those consequences were pointed out to them, they doubled down."

It really doesn't matter where or why the policy started. The real world consequences are serious, now that Charters are expanding in Seattle. The more staff doubles down on this plan, the more new charter students we can expect. That is not good for anyone.

I concur with your waitlist analysis. Before this policy, it was just called "swirl" as the lists moved, students would start a game of musical chairs as one moved to this school and then another moved.

Sandy said...

The failure to move the waitlists also means that students who live in neighborhoods with crowded ("desirable") schools have a choice. They are entitled to attend their crowded school by virtue of their address, or they could opt into a less crowded school. There was basically no waitlist last year at Rainier View, Roxhill, Sanislo, West Seattle, Northgate, Laurelhurst, Sandpoint, B.F. Day, Lafayette, Queen Anne, Madrona, Kimball, Whittier, Aki Kurose, Denny, Washington, Whitman, Sealth, Hale, Rainier Beach. So, if you live in the Franklin zone and want to attend Rainier Beach, how much do you want to bet you could? Meanwhile, if you live in the zones for one of the no-waitlist schools, you have far fewer realistic choices. So, this loosely translates to saying that even within the public schools, richer neighborhood kids get more choices than poorer neighborhood kids thanks to the system of not moving waitlists to protect poorer neighborhood kids. It impacts students more the less money their families have.

kellie said...

Sandy's description is very accurate.

I first became aware of the situation at Cleveland when Bruce Harrell provided public testimony at a school board meeting. I can not emphasize enough how rare it is for an elected public official to provide official public testimony at another entity's meetings. Typically constituent complaints are handled in a less formal setting.

Bruce Harrell testified that he had received multiple constituent complaints regarding admission into Clevelend. When Cleveland was made into an option school, a big deal was made out of the "300 student cohort" for the freshman classes. That was the plan. It was a well known number. Then suddenly less than 300 were being admitted for "unspecified reasons".

Eric's summary applies again. "The problem is that nobody thought about the real-world consequences and the fact that students don't necessarily stay where you put them. When those consequences were pointed out to them, they doubled down."

Harrell directly told the district they were depriving his constituents of school choice and that they were unlikely to stay and would vote with their feet. The district was unmovable. Nyland publicly stated that the change was made to support Rainier Beach and that they would not change course.

David Westberg said...


Two words for why Lowell has gone downhill: Principal Stumpf

Culture of Lawlessness

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Kellie.

A few follow-up questions here.

Who is responsible for creating and instituting this change to "staffing capacity" in 2017? Is this something budget and enrollment staff just decided on by themselves one day? Is there no protocol for such a far-reaching change as this impacts schools across the district and is essentially artificially starving some and undermining the intent of NSAP?

More importantly, does the school board have the authority to demand that the system go back to capacity meaning the number of student bodies that can be safely educated in that physical space? If not the school board, then who?

This all seems utterly ridiculous. The real work should be helping Rainier Beach create a robust program that kids and families WANT to attend. Not artificially propping up a school at the expense of other schools that has proven demand from kids and families.

Concerned parent

Anonymous said...

David Westberg - yes, principal Stump was terrible! That's why she was fired a year ago. The new principal, Dr. Sarah Talbot, is much better.

The enrollment number for Lowell is dropping by 80 students next, per the district. There is some truth to this, primarily because most of the students from Mary's Place moved to their Burien location last year, although 80 students seems like a high estimate. However, Mary's Place is opening a new permanent shelter in early 2020, in the Amazon building at 7th & Blanchard, which is in the Lowell assignment area, so there will most likely be a significant number of students arriving mid-way through the year.

Since this is common knowledge, the district should be working with Mary's Place to try and get a reasonable estimate of the number of school age children that will be arriving midway through the year, and take that into account when they allocate staff. A school that starts with all classrooms full to capacity is not going to be able to absorb potentially 5-10 kids per grade halfway though the year. Adding teachers at that point would be difficult (long-term subs?) and very disruptive.

Mom of 4

kellie said...

@ Concerned parent,

I do not have the answers to your questions. I really have little insight and no confirmed information into the "how" of staffing capacity. All I can report on is what was said during a few board meetings.

In general, these capacity issues get very little attention, outside of the immediate school. That is how these problems fester, because they happen one school at a time and each case is isolated from each other. That is why this blog matters, it helps with the sharing of information across schools.

The capacity issue at Whitman got a lot of attention, because it was part of boundary changes that impacted about 50% of the city. Because of that, there was a lot of public testimony and the board made multiple official comments from the dias about the need to move the waitlist and for clarity about "space available."

You need to remember that the Whitman situation was truly egregious because there was a written promise on the district website and there were many screen shots of that promise in circulation, and the schools enrollment was just recently about about 1,000 students. This made it very easy for the board to ask questions and push hard and publicly that these promises needed to be kept.

Eric B created a beautiful analysis of wait list moves district wide that showed that keeping this promise would be budget neutral. I testified that this was most likely to cause an enrollment decline, which would cause further budget woes and submitted details to back this up.

Simply put, staff was unconvinced. Staff's official answer to the board questions was "staffing capacity." The ENTIRE reason we got "staffing capacity" as an answer, rather than "don't wanna, don't have to, can't make me" was because the board pushed for transparency and accountability.

Superintendent Nyland backed up "staffing capacity." He was quite vocal that this was the right thing to do.

We have a new superintendent, new CAO and new COO. It is possible that the new leadership might embrace the old transparency.

However, this is my 8th Superintendent. What I have noticed over the years is that by the time we get new leadership, things the community might consider "egregious," are just the "new-normal."

It is notable that "staffing capacity" was NOT one of the items that Superintendent Juneau reported back from her "listening tour."