Wednesday, October 02, 2019

Two Videos of Note

The first is this one from NE Dad:
SPS in 2019 is where satire and reality meet


Again I gently say - public schools cannot be all things, even for children.  Just trying to provide SEL to all children is huge but when you have the number of students in our schools who are either in a low-income household and/or have experienced trauma in their lives, it becomes ever harder even as it is more urgent.

Doing feel-good stuff won't necessarily = better academic outcomes. That said, when children feel safe at school and learn to believe in themselves, it makes for better learning.

But it has to be kept in mind that whatever the home situation is, schools cannot fill in for all of it.

The second video is the one with Chief Financial Officer , JoLynn Berge, and Superintendent Juneau that seems to be about mitigating the recent missteps on high school enrollment and staffing.  

From a reader comment:
We have a 7 minute, professional and quite slick, scripted video, explaining why there is not problem with Juneau's first budget. Nobody uses district resources to produce a video, to declare "Keep calm. Move along. All is well." when in fact all is well. 
From the get go, there's this from the Superintendent, "Oh, this is how it is every year" and "This is just a natural part of our business."

Berge doesn't quite back that up because, while she says all districts have to look at their October numbers versus their projections, she does not say they ALL have such major swings as SPS consistently does.  And their excuse for that is SPS is the biggest district in the state.

They also claim principals say it is easier to add staff than reduce staff.  Looking at the upending of schedules for nearly every student at Garfield, I'm wondering if the principals were the ones to ask.

Berge also talks about "a pot of money" for mitigation and that's where use of the racial equity lens comes in.  I'm sure that's true but when Rainier Beach High School is complaining about the system, you have to wonder how much that mitigation really helps.

Berge also makes the point that Kellie LaRue does - high school enrollment is driven by the master schedule, not just who shows up.

The feeling I have right now in the district is that race and income and use of the racial equity lens is the ONLY issue being considered in decisions.  That is troubling because, of course, most issues are multi-faceted.

 I do understand and believe it is correct to use the racial equity lens FIRST but it should not be the ONLY concern nor should other concerns be brushed aside.

And I believe that it will become increasing hard for parents - no matter their income or race - to push back on decisions being made.

For all the talk about family engagement, this is one way to curtail that or force the discussion to bend a certain way.

That reminds me of another previous superintendent - Maria Goodloe Johnson.


Anonymous said...

As to the enrollment video, I'm not sure it's legal to be allocating dollars by race. Poverty, yes, but race?

Also, while Berge contends neighboring districts have the same situation, it seems they have better enrollment forecasting and mechanisms to follow up with families to confirm fall enrollment. Any reporters asking neighboring districts why they aren't in the same situation as Seattle? Might the district's "conservative" enrollment projections (which school leaders said did not match on-the-ground reality) be tied to the need to fund the new teacher contract?

School board candidate Eric Blumhagen has this explainer for SPS enrollment woes.


Concerned Parent

Anonymous said...

Juneau and Berge's video on SPS teacher budgeting and enrollment projections::

Berge: It's normal to fail. Failure is always an option.

At SPS, we fail because we are just too big to get things right.

Juneau: Thank you for explaining that failing at basic tasks is completely normal, and for doing such a great job.

Grateful Parents

Anonymous said...

"As to the enrollment video, I'm not sure it's legal to be allocating dollars by race. Poverty, yes, but race?"

Yes, but their strategic plan is not focused on poverty. It is focused only on African American males. That also leaves out most poor kids in our district as they are a minority of the overall population. More African American males might be disproportionately poor within their race as compared to other races, but the overall totals of non African American low income kids would be much higher. In addition, schools are not a monolith in regards to socioeconomic status. There are low income kids at every school, so when they decimate some schools by their allocation, they are also hurting low income kids at that school. There needs to be a "baseline" of equity defined for all PUBLIC schools. This is all done behind the scenes and we have no idea what they are doing with the money they took from schools.

Big picture

kellie said...

The theme of this videos is that "It's Normal!" We have an unprecedented seven minute video of the Superintendent of Seattle Public Schools interviewing the CFO of Seattle Public School to explain to all the lay people out that, "Staffing Adjustments" in October are "Normal."

This really needs a closer look in a few different ways.

Yes, October Staffing Adjustments are the "norm." This does happen in nearly every district. What is NOT being discussed is the MAGNITUDE and the IMPACT of this year's staffing adjustments.

Staffing adjustments are deeply disruptive. Most districts do everything they can to avoid a staffing adjustment. As such, most districts take a very proactive stance regarding enrollment and work hard to get as accurate information as possible. In other words, most district value ACCURATE enrollment data and do the hard work to secure that data.

The point of view that is inescapable in this video is the stance of utter victimhood. We have to just "wait and see" on enrollment in Seattle because it is just too hard ... and here is the kicker, "because families have choices."

So the reason we can't have accurate enrollment in Seattle is because families have choice. That is just ludicrous on its face. The official choice system is completely controlled by SPS and all of that data is readily available. Plus, families everywhere have choices and families everywhere move and change schools.

What this statement really means is that we can NOT trust families to communicate their choice to us and we can't be bothered to ask. Bellevue Schools asks every family to confirm their enrollment online and if the enrollment is not confirmed this is followed up with a phone call. Bellevue clearly takes a proactive stance to respect how important accurate enrollment information is to providing an education.

Anonymous said...

@Big picture

To be fair to the Strategic Plan, it says SPS has a "focus" on African-American males, but identifies several other racial/ethnic groups that are the district's "priority." I don't think that makes it better (or legal), but it's not *only* focused on African-American males.

NE Dad

kellie said...

There are also a few things noticeably absent in this video explanation.

At the budget and enrollment work session last Spring, the Board pushed back hard on extremely low enrollment projections that were going to trigger teacher RIFs in June. The official answer from staff was that staff needed to use "conservative enrollment projections." And that the teacher RIFs were necessary to protect the budget.

It is truly notable that "conservative enrollment projections" were not mentioned in this video. In an unprecedented move, Board Directors Mack and Pinkham abstained on the official budget due to profound concerns. But yet, that is normal too, right?

unprecedented = normal. Hmmmm ....

The simple fact is that the budget allocation can be conservative or generous. But enrollment is neutral. It is not conservative or aggressive. it is either accurate or inaccurate.

If you want to protect the budget, you give a smaller budget allocation. If it then turns out you have a lot more money than expected, you can give generous mitigation and discretionary dollars. Trying to manipulate the budget via the enrollment projection is not best practices. In the 20 years that I have followed the budget, this is the first and ONLY time, enrollment numbers were manipulated in order to protect the overall budget.

Juneau's First Budget essentially invented a new budget practice that is NOT the "NORM" for a school district and right now we are all dealing with unprecedented but yet somehow "normative" disruption.

kellie said...

Now we have to look at MAGNITUDE.

This year's staffing adjustments are greater than the staffing adjustments in any other year by an order of magnitude.

The ONLY data point we have is that SPS must hire an additional 45 teachers and that most of those hires are at middle and high school. But this is a NET number calculated after displacements in elementary schools. There were multiple elementary school that were over-staffed. So what is the total disruption? I can't even guess.

Enrollment projections have never resulted in the need to hire 45 teachers in October. And most critically, this was done after teacher RIFs last Spring.

Some staffing adjustments in October are indeed normal. However, extensive displacements and RIFs in the Spring followed by aggressive hiring in the Fall is not normal.

Another thing that was casually omitted is that while there are "some staffing adjustments in June," those adjustments happened AFTER RIF notices are required in May. Hmmmm ... anyone see a problem here???

The statement that the budget office is committed to making adjustments in June can be translated to .... "We have zero commitment to protect teachers." You need to make staffing adjustments in APRIL, immediately after post-open enrollment, in order to protect teachers.

kellie said...

There are so many more things to unpack in this video but I want to make a special call out on part time faculty.

CFO Berge, unironically, explained that it is much easier to add teachers in the Fall, in part because part-time staff will often add sections either for the year or until more staff can be hired, which protects students.

She failed to mentioned that a BUDGET DECISION virtually eliminated all part time staff last year. Last Spring the budget office unilaterally decided that school principals must pay for the health care benefits of part time staff out of their discretionary budget, without adding any extra money to that budget.

This put school leaders between a rock and hard place. There was no real budget to pay for part time staff at the school level. Principals were essentially asked to pick between a part time teacher and paper for the photocopier. This was not a real choice. As such, there were virtually no part time staff to protect students in this manner.

Anonymous said...

Schools well over projections also did not receive back all the staff they lost. Garfield for example lost 11+ and I believe got back 2.5 FTE? The bottom line IMO is this was an intentional way to manipulate budget in an underhand way and starve many schools of needed staff.

Big Picture

Anonymous said...

One of the interesting things about putting the benefits of staff onto the school discretionary budget is that that budget is voted upon by staff as part of the budget process. It's already a challenge to have the BLT full of staff determine dispassionately what needs to be trimmed but then to also have to vote on spending super scarce discretionary dollars on part time staff benefits? Many of these staff in my experience are part time due to child care or health issues. Do we then say to them that in order to protect scarce discretionary dollars they either go full time or go away? Or we try to protect staff filling overflow or niche roles and simply lose our scarce discretionary dollars.

Mr. Theo Moriarty

kellie said...

@ Concerned Parent.

I concur with your assessment of Eric Blumhagen's article. The bottom line is that we need a budget process that prioritizes students and teachers. This laissez-faire approach of we just need to "wait and see who shows up" is a central office centered process.

kellie said...

@ Big Picture,

I agree completely. The entire point of the Weighted Staffing Standards is to ensure a minimum amount of resources at every school. This is why this enrollment-work-around is so problematic. By deliberately crafting unrealistic enrollment projections, you manage to avoid providing that guaranteed floor.

As to Garfield (as well as all the other high schools), in the absence of hard public data, all we have are rumors and innuendo. At the moment, public data is hard to come by. You have to either request documents from the board office for the last several board committee meetings, or make public records requests. (as a side note, all of the notes, emails and the script for this lovely video are subject to public records requests - that would be an interesting batch of documents)

And much of the information that we do have is confusing and conflicting. It was reported that Garfield would receive 4.0 FTE allocation on the fourth day of school, because the shortfall at Garfield was so stunning. It was also reported that a part of that 4.0 FTE allocation would be mitigation dollars because Garfield would not have the enrollment to support that 4.0 FTE allocation.

Now, parents are reporting via the PTA that 2.4 FTE was added.

What's the truth? Who knows??? This video certainly doesn't tell us.

At some point in the near future, staff will need to submit something to the board that tabulates the staffing adjustments. This is because staffing adjustments are changes to the budget and part of the board purview. But when and how that will happen is a mystery.

kellie said...

@ Theo,

Thank you for the great insights to their budget process.

The theme of this video is "it's not the budget department's fault that schools are short staffed." I loved all the many references to how budget works with their community partners to ensure adequate staffing.

The State of Washington made a change in benefits last year, that ensured that all PT staff received health benefits. The Budget office decided on the accounting for this change in DISTRICT expenses. The Budget office decided that part time staff would need to compete for very limited and precious discretionary dollars. The budget office could also have just as easily decided that the health care for part time staff would be budgeted in the same manner as full time staff.

And now they want us to believe that this change was made in partnership with the school buildings. Seriously? Somebody volunteered to have teachers vote on the part time benefits for other teachers. That just stretches belief to the breaking point.

kellie said...

A really interesting question is ... Who is the intended audience for this video???

It certainly can't be teachers or SEA. Teachers and SEA understand the staffing adjustment process far better than either Superintendent Juneau or CFO Berge. SEA had strong objections to the entire budget process and strongly warned that schools were being dramatically short staffed.

It certainly can't be parents. Any parent who is going to take seven minutes to watch a tedious (and condescending) video, is most certainly a capacity hardened veteran. Many parents in this district have been fighting capacity related battles since Kindergarten and know full well that staffing adjustments, while painful, tend to be limited to about a dozen schools and usually involved just about 1.0 FTE.

So who's left. The media.

SPS has received a lot of unfavorable press coverage regarding the short staffing at Rainier Beach. If this video was truly intended to convince the press of the district's "equity focus on staffing," then the existence of this video is an insult.

The appropriate response should have been. "Wow. That was bumpy start of school. Thank you to all of the educators who worked tirelessly to start the year. Thank you to our students and families, for your patience and flexibility. And a very special thanks to our school counselors who have beautifully juggled the master schedules."

But rather than a "thank you" or any hint of accountability, SPS's official stance is "It's unfortunate that you think this is a problem ... This is normal."

kellie said...

In the midst of all of this rant, I want to give a huge shout out to our school counselors. Best practices recommend that school counselors are staffed at a 1:250 ratio. IIRC, SPS uses a ratio of 1:400.

That means our counselors already have large work loads and the "normal staffing adjustments' have greatly increased their work load. Thank you!

Outsider said...

Despite her much touted listening tour, it's becoming clear that Supt. Juneau considers actual public engagement to be the worst sort of nuisance. Her real management style seems to be flipping the table and then releasing a video. Not being snarky ... that's literally what she just did. And then she said, in front of a camera, with a straight face, that it's normal. So you have to assume that's her MO.

The purpose of the high school staffing debacle can probably be found in a careful audit of the before and after -- which individual teachers, classes, and programs were eliminated in the whipsaw action and never restored; and where permanent reallocation of funds occurred. Whatever the changes turn out to be, they are more important to Juneau than the short-term experience of students. This whole process and management style also seem to have support of both a Board majority and the teachers' union. And none of that seems likely to change, so get used to the new normal.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Outsider, and she does it with a smile.

I sometimes think of her as the smiling face of no.

Anonymous said...

I think the whole point of the listening tour was to size up the enemy.

- smiling super

Anonymous said...

I agree with Outsider, but I would add to the audit the race of teachers let go & new hires as well as the demographics of the classes dropped vs. added. It’s the legal workaround the illegal.


Anonymous said...

She does seem like the only superintendent in memory whose first instinct is not to throw teachers under the bus. That's not the face of no.

I believe she's well aware that the staffing mess was a total debacle but she is maintaining a united front and is dealing with it without public shaming.

Like it or not, she is highly savvy.

Fresh Air

SpsIntegrityProject said...

The real implication of the enrollment video is that parents should expect similar disruptions each year going forward, because “this is the new normal.”

A FOICA request has been submitted to the district by the Seattle Public Schools Integrity Project using MuckRock asking Kellie’s questions above regarding the video. Disclosed documents will be posted on MuckRock once they are available.

The Seattle Public Schools Integrity Project is a group of parents committed to excellence for all students through accountability.

With regards to enrollment, we are also in the process of filing FOICA requests to Bellevue, Shoreline, and Northshore, so that we can better understand what is in fact “normal” related to staffing and fall disruptions.

If you have questions you feel should be asked, post them here or send them to spsintegrityproject@protonmail.com and we will work to FOICA the district and post discovered documents online at MuckRock so that they are publicly available.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Well, good for you folks, Seattle Public Schools Integrity Project. I wish you luck.

Anonymous said...

Today was the last day for GHS's schedule shuffle. I hope that everyone ended up better than they started.

I echo Kellie's shout out to the counselors. They really worked overtime during this whole month.

I hope SPSIP is successful in shedding light about what's going on with the district. A week after school started, Ms Berge told one of Garfield's parents that there were 1769 students enrolled in GHS, yet in an email I received from her (saying how unpredictable enrollment can be and how clse to the estimates they were), the figure quoted for September 10th was 1542. Where did more than 200 students go after school started? Did they leave to Buffalo, NY, one of the most affordable cities in the US? I doubt it. Did they enroll in Running Start to avoid the mess that the district is actively promoting? Sounds more likely. I don't have an answer, but the answer to that question is one that should be of interest to the district. If for no other reason, to have more accurate projections in the future.

The video was a follow up to mass emailing people like me, letting us know that indeed this IS the (new) normal.

I had also emailed and called regarding the food shortages and I received the same type of response: everything is fine.

They are not just creating a new normal, they are creating alternative facts.


kellie said...

@ TyRed,

Those numbers are pretty shocking. Garfield's Day 1 (Sept 4) number was 1812. That is a drop of 270 students.

It is lovely that downtown now gets to claim that the staffing estimate was really close, after 270 students depart. However, you really need look at cause and effect here.

What happened to 270 students? Is there a massive counting error on Day 1? Are there truly hundreds of students who register for Garfield that couldn't be bothered to tell the district that they changed their mind?

Or is it possible that when the master schedule is unable to provide college readiness courses, that families with choice, exercise those choices.

The lack of curiosity is what really gets my attention. 270 students is about $3M in the budget. I'm confident that the counselors that needed to manage this process, know what is happening. A few quick phone calls the mystery would be solved.