Seattle Schools Levy: Follow-up

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  • #597671

    DP
    Member

    Last October, right before we voted on another property tax levy for Seattle Schools, a discussion was held on this Forum under the heading of Seattle Schools Levy: For or Against.

    http://tinyurl.com/sps-levy-for-or-against

    It was a lively debate, with plenty of good, thought-provoking information and opinions on both sides.

    I was on the pro-levy side, but during the course of that debate I pledged to those folks who were critical of the School District that, after the levy vote, I would contact the school board members directly with some of the concerns that people had been raising about the District’s spending priorities.

    Below is the text of an e-mail that I have just sent out individually to all seven of the Seattle School Board members. As their responses come in, I’ll post those here. If I get no response from any particular Board member, I’ll make a note that as well.

    Text of my e-mail to Seattle School Board members is below. If you’d like a copy, get in touch with me at DP_editor at Comcast.net:

    ***********************************************************************************

    Dear Director [Name]:

    When the last Seattle Public Schools operating funds levy came up for a vote, I urged my friends and acquaintances to vote FOR it, even though many people I talked to had serious misgivings about handing the School District more money at this time.

    In the process of talking over the issue with people (primarily on the West Seattle Blog) I myself became concerned about some of the issues people raised. (See the Blog post at: https://westseattleblog.com/forum/topic/seattle-schools-levy-for-or-against)

    The main accusations against the District that concerned me were that:

    1) the District has been delaying maintenance costs for years ( someone claimed there was a $500 million maintenance backlog! ) and,

    2) there is a shortage of textbooks, such that, in some cases, students are no longer allowed to take textbooks home with them. Some textbooks are seriously out of date as well.

    Moreover, according to your critics, the District threw expensive retirement parties for employees, failed to cut central office staff as promised, and failed to freeze the travel budget, also as promised even as the maintenance backlog grew and textbook purchases fell behind.

    The critics on the Blog cited an auditor’s report for 2008-2009 to back up their claims.

    Let me point out that I don’t necessarily believe everything the critics said. If their claims are true, however, then clearly this is NOT an acceptable situation and it has to stop. The District needs to put maintenance and textbooks above frills like retirement parties and travel.

    I promised the critics that after the levy vote I’d write to you and the other School Board members to get your response to these charges and/or to find out what you personally are doing to remedy the problems.

    Please be aware that any response you give me (or lack of response) may be posted to the West Seattle Blog for all to see.

    I thank you in advance for your response to my questions.

    Sincerely,

    David Preston

    [Address & Contact info]

    ***************************************************************************************

    #714409

    datamuse
    Participant

    Good one, DP. I’m looking forward to seeing what responses you get.

    #714410

    WS
    Member

    I’m glad you are following up. I am wondering why you would not believe the audit information though. as far as maintenance and textbooks, ask any SPS parent. Look at the building ratings on SPS website, read this entry that review a Board work session on maintenance.

    http://saveseattleschools.blogspot.com/2010/09/work-session-on-maintenance.html

    #714411

    DP
    Member

    WS, please forgive me for wondering whether any information that comes from a Web site entitled “Save Seattle Schools,” might be a little um . . . how shall I put it?

         Skewed?

    And please bear in mind that the audit you refer to was done before the levy passed. If you’ll recall, the levy funds were requested, in part, to address the problems raised by that very audit. In any case, I’m not questioning the audit results. What I want to know is whether the District is using the levy funds for their intended purpose.

    Once we hear back from the Board, then perhaps you can raise some of your criticisms again. But right now, it’s the Board’s turn, and by God, I’m going to make sure they get one.

    (I’ve already gotten some good info back from one of the Directors, so watch this space.)

    –David

     

    #714412

    DP
    Member

    I talked to School Board Director Harium Martin-Morris for about 20 minutes yesterday. (He proposed a phone call in preference to a long and possibly convoluted e-mail response to my inquiry.)

    Director Martin-Morris seemed particularly knowledgeable on the issue of “maintenance backlogs.” He told me that this was one his specialty areas on the Board and he has a lot of experience with it.

    Below is a summary of our conversation:

    **************************************************************************************

    Background

    • School funding can be difficult to fathom, since school funds come out of many different buckets: First, there’s the money provided by the State, which is Constitutionally mandated to provide an adequate education for all students. Unfortunately, the State does not take upon itself to fund this education at 100%, instead, paying only a set amount each year (per school) for operating costs.

       

      For example: the State pays for one half-day kindergarten class for each elementary school and pays for five periods (5 credits per year) for each high school student. However, what the State pays is not enough to do the whole job; elementary schools in Seattle have full-day kindergartens, and high-schoolers need 24 credits to get into a 4-year college.

      Compounding the shortfall problem is the fact that the State is proposing to cut the education budget 10% as a result of the budget shortfall. In any event, school districts themselves are required to make up the difference between what the State gives and what schools actually cost to run. And they do this through property tax levies and/or bonds.

    • There are two kinds of levy-funded expenditures:

      1) Building, Technology, and Academics (BTA) Levies

           http://tinyurl.com/SPD-BTAII (a PDF file) and

      2) Building Excellence (BEX) Levies

           http://bex.seattleschools.org/bexoverview.html

      BTA levies pay for things like textbooks, computer equipment, teacher support, and building updating.

      BEX levies have two parts: The Operations Levy and the Capital Project Levy (building renovations and building new schools.)

      Both kinds of levy proceeds (BTA and BEX) are allocated in phases that can be spread out over a multi-year period.

    • The “maintenance backlog” is not new. It’s something that’s been going on for decades, certainly before any of the present Board Directors were serving. Maintenance costs are what schools all over the country (not just Seattle) tend to defer when they run short of operating costs for whatever reason. A maintenance cost (like fixing a boiler, for example) is usually not an emergency relative to other things, but obviously it can become one if it is deferred too long.

     

    So what is the District doing about the maintenance backlog and textbook shortage problems raised in the audit?

    • There has been a freeze in hiring. Also, central office staff have been laid off (somewhere around 90). However, rather than talking about individual things have been done to cut costs, Director Martin-Morris felt that it was more important to focus on the amount of money that wouldn’t have to be spent as a result of these measures. And that amount, for this FY alone, is $6 million. Significantly, the new, lower spending amount will become the “baseline” budget for succeeding years. 

       

    • The BEX levy that just passed provided 100s of millions of dollars to fix the maintenance backlog, which will make a significant dent in it, although there will probably always be a backlog of some kind.
    • Textbooks are purchased on a 5- to 7-year cycle based on textbook subject. The District has already selected and purchased math textbooks along with textbooks for high-school language arts. Science textbooks are in the process of being selected. Foreign language textbooks for some languages are adopted and are being purchased.
    • Though this is not related to the recent levies, it’s important to note that formerly there was no line-item budget allotment for textbooks, which may have contributed to the reason the District was behind on textbooks. Also, formerly the District did not have a system of “centrally adopted texts” prior to our math text adoption. Now there is such a line item, so that should improve the textbook situation going into the future. 

     

    **********************************************************************************

    So that’s the scoop from Director Martin-Morris. To me, it sounded like the District is making a serious and long-term effort to address both the maintenance backlog and textbook issues.

    However, as Thomas Jefferson* said: “The price of freedom is eternal vigilance,” and the same thing can be said, I think, for the price of progress.

    The issue is probably worth revisiting a year from now, when the next audit will either confirm or deny that progress is being made.

    In any case, I’ll keep posting responses as I get them, though I might spare you some of the details I’ve already covered.

    Thanks again to Director Martin-Morris for his speedy and detailed responses to my questions.

    –David

     

     

    *or perhaps Thomas Paine, or maybe Abraham Lincoln, or possibly Yogi Berra

    #714413

    JanS
    Participant

    while I don’t have a child in public schools, this is great information. Thanks for doing this, David.

    #714414

    DP
    Member

    I had one child in the Highline School District and one in Seattle.

    Highline’s Child became a Rhodes Scholar. He’s now at the Gates Foundation, working on a cure for cancer.

    And Seattle’s Child?

    Career criminal. Whereabouts: unknown.

    (I keed! I keed!)

    In truth, Seattle’s Child hated school, while Highline’s Child loved it. But, to be fair, there were many other issues going on with Seattle’s Child at the time — not the least of which was assuredly my less than stellar parenting.

     

    #714415

    JanS
    Participant

    oh, that parenting thing…learn as you go, it seems, a lot, huh…

    #714416

    kootchman
    Member

    This is typical of Seattle governance. We, the taxpayer, paid for the schools and plant assets. They are collectively, part of the wealth of the taxpayer. This is right out of the Ron SIms play book. Ignore the deferred maintenance, declare an “emergency”, and threaten to cut or eliminate a park or two…never trim the budget to fit the reality. I will support no education levy until we meet the national average of educators to administration. Decertify WEA immediately and eliminate tenure. All the rest of us work at the pleasure of our employers, contingent upon doing a good job. Eliminate defined benefit plans and welcome to the the 401K world where you are no longer insulated from the economic dislocations you cause. The facts are Seattle’s middle class, long ago bid public schools adieu. We lead the nation in the number of white students eligible to attend public school, but won’t. It’s time to realize no longer are the private schools the domain of the wealthy…every middle class family that struggles to support two school systems is fed up with the hog trough of public education. It’s time for vouchers…the parochial school system (largest in WA state) should just close schools next fall….and throw the 120,000 or so students on the public system….say 7K per pop….840 million sound about right? To meet the state constitutional requirements to educate, all he private, parochial schools that are accredited can then charge the state 10 grand per student as an interim measure. Imagine the buidling levy for that new population. $$$$

    #714417

    metrognome
    Participant

    kootch — if you are implying that Ron, who was King County Executive and as such had nothing to do with the Seattle School District, was the one who created the concept of ‘deferred maintenance’ and the School Board just copied him, you need to do a little homework. Deferred maintenance is not a problem unique to ‘liberal’ Seattle — it is the American way of doing things; our entire infrastructure is falling apart. http://www.infrastructurereportcard.org/fact-sheet/schools

    DP — nice job on follow-up.

    #714418

    DP
    Member

    First reply (via e-mail) from Director Kay Smith-Blum:

    Thank you David, and more over we should be doing e-books not printd ones….appreciate your message. ksb

    I thanked her and reminded her that I had actually asked her some questions.

    Second e-mail reply from Director Kay Smith-Blum:

    If you watch the board comments from our meeting tonight – Sherry Carr, head of finance committee, gave a summary of our work around internal audits of just such problems as you cite below….in terms of what I am doing, in every way I can, I am holding the staff and the Supt. Accountable for ALL expenditures. This budget process is difficult, but I and at least two of my colleagues are being very adamant around fiscal controls especially of the Central Adm staff.

    I doubt you will see any more retirement parties…ksb

     

    #714419

    DP
    Member

    E-mail reply from Director Betty Patu:

    Dear Mr. Preston,

    I thank you very much for voting on the levy, because it is the students who will suffer in terms of receiving their equity and quality education. Yes, I do agree with you that things are not where we want them to be at the present, but I am hopeful that as we continued our collaboration with parents and communities, we can come up with better ways of making sure that educating our students in the highest lever, is a number one priority for the Seattle Public Schools. As you know, like any organizations it takes time to see great progress take place.

    We are in our 2nd year of our New Student Plan, although I voted against it in my first year, because I felt there was many issues that needed to be worked out, it passed anyway. Now, we are in our second year, and I still see issues concerning the Transition Plan but, hopefully, we can work through the various obstacles and continue to perfect the plan so, families can keep their children in the same schools and be able to volunteer when time permits.

    As I am serving into my second year as a boardmember, I feel very positive about the directions that we are going in terms of improving the way we do business in our district. Also, as a priority, I would like the Seattle School District to do a better job of being more transparent with our parents and community about the various issues and changes that are happening in our schools.

    I can honestly say, that I was not very happy with the State Audit. There were many items in that audit that did not make sense and I know that as a board member, I definitely have to do a better job of making sure that all funds must be spend equitably to directly serve to the needs of all our students.

    To my knowledge, It is the interest of this board that all our children will be served with an equity and quality education.

    Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.

    Have a blessed day!

    Betty Patu

    Seattle School Board, Dist. 7

     

    #714420

    maplesyrup
    Participant

    DP thanks for following up but I just want to say that I never agreed with the complaint about textbooks.

    By definition, a textbook is outdated but not necessarily because of the information. It’s an outdated way to deliver information.

    And I definitely don’t want my kids to be forced to lug heavy textbooks around school all day, let alone to and from the house.

    Seems like Kay Smith-Blum agrees.

    One last thing- I think a lot of us remember the recent fuss about who gets to decide what goes into many textbooks based on the location of where they’re printed. Could it be…hmmmmm….TEXAS? If they’re going to rewrite history to fit their political views they can keep their textbooks.

    #714421

    DP
    Member

    E-mail reply from Director Steve Sundquist:

    David: Thank you for your message. I appreciate the fact that you encouraged your friends to support the district’s Supplemental Levy in November, and that you have identified your concerns for me to respond to. My thoughts are as follows:

    (1) The district does indeed have a sizable maintenance backlog. To some degree this is to be expected given the size and age distribution of the district’s portfolio of schools, but it is also a consequence of long-term funding challenges and internal resource allocation decisions. With regard to resource allocation, maintenance projects (excluding major renovations) compete with academic- and operations-related expenditures in the general fund. For many years the district favored

    the academic- and operations-related expenditures over maintenance, and the backlog grew. That remains the case today, but we have moved to increase the impact of district spending on maintenance by moving to a zone-crew approach across the district. Early feedback on this change

    is promising.

    (2) The district also has textbook shortages in some subjects. Like maintenance, textbooks are funded from the general fund, and internal competition for those dollars is intense. Many districts try to maintain a 7 year cycle for textbook adoptions and acquisitions, but at some point Seattle abandoned that cycle. We are trying to get back onto it, but are playing catch-up. We have worked through multiple textbook

    adoptions in my years on the board, and have a number coming up soon. We also committed that this would be one of our priorities for Supplemental Levy dollars.

    (3) Expensive retirement parties: I have no problem with the district hosting a retirement party to recognize the service of long-serving staff. In fact, the Superintendent is authorized to sponsor such employee recognition events under long-standing district policy. As with many things, the question is the size and appropriateness of the related expense. A close reading of the audit finding on this point was not the fact that there was a retirement party per se, but rather that the processes around the Superintendent’s signing authority for related expenses were too casual. The policy itself was not criticized.

    (4) Central staff cut: this particular question seems to have become an urban legend for some. The district did in fact cut approximately 85 positions from central office as it promised, and is now close to the averages of other Puget Sound districts in a number of central office expense metrics. More central office cuts are a certainty to meet the budget targets of this next fiscal year.

    (5) Travel budget: I am not aware of a travel budget freeze, although I can assure you that there was an overall expense freeze last year as there is this year. Much discretionary travel has disappeared, but there are times when travel is required to achieve the district’s objectives, and it has not been banned.

    I hope you find this response helpful, and I thank you again for sharing your concerns with me.

    Best wishes,

    Steve Sundquist

    Seattle School Board, District 6

     

    #714422

    charliemas
    Member

    DP, I’m not sure that you were listening closely to the concerns of those who opposed the levy. It wasn’t about retirement parties or travel nearly as much as it was about the District’s budget priorities that put new, expensive Strategic Plan initiatives ahead of basic education.

    While the District was cutting teachers and counselors, increasing class sizes and reducing services to Special Education students, they were spending $700,000 on upgrading their web site, $750,000 on consultants to help select novels for high school students to read, $800,000 on software to support Project-Based Instruction at STEM, $1,000,000 for brand new Dell laptop computers for every student at STEM, hundreds of thousands on a computer-based formative assessment that took away three weeks of instruction time a year and yielded a result that teachers could neither use nor understand, and more. Cuts were made in classrooms while spending on new pet projects for the central office continued without any apparent limits or budgetary constraints. On top of this the District spent about $50 million to close seven schools then spent another $50 million re-open five schools – including three that they had just closed. The District claimed all kinds of their spending outside of classrooms saved money, but they never were able to produce any reports that showed that money was saved. A big change in Transportation was supposed to save $2 million but the spending on buses went UP by $140,000 the following year.

    And, yes, there was and is a maintenance backlog of about $500 million.

    You will notice that few, if any, of the Board Directors actually responded to the real concern – the District’s budget priorities that put central projects ahead of classrooms.

    The District said that the money from the levy would be used to pay for a few textbooks (they discussed deferring this spending at their last budget workshop), to pay for the new teacher contract, and the rest, they said, would be used to offset cuts in state support.

    The district leadership have certainly done a good job of convincing people that the school district budget has been cut and cut, but, in fact, the school district budget has grown and grown. The 2008-2009 general fund budget was for $556 million. The 2009-2010 general fund budget was for $558 million. The 2010-2011 general fund budget was for $566.8 million. During these three years the District was spending millions on new projects while laying off teachers and closing schools.

    #714423

    charliemas
    Member

    Oh, and Director Sundquist is right, “Central staff cut: this particular question seems to have become an urban legend for some. The district did in fact cut approximately 85 positions from central office as it promised.” There were not 85 positions cut from the central office. Most of those positions were just re-classified so they no longer appeared as central office expenses but as school expenses. The people are still there, they are still doing the same work for the same pay, the District just assigned the expense of their salaries and benefits to a school.

    #714424

    JanS
    Participant

    charliemas…are you on the inside, so you know this for a fact? Could you possibly give us a few numbers, some links to show that this is true, that these 85 people were in fact not cut? I mean…what make YOU so knowledgeable? Your profile says that you’re an “investment advisor”…how are the two connected?

    #714425

    DP
    Member

    Critics of the School District:

    You’re right to keep your eyes peeled for wasteful spending and poor performance. I applaud you for doing that. But please try to remember that whenever you approach someone about a problem, and you come across like: Everything you’re doing is wrong! — it tends to make the person want to disengage from you.

    Frankly, the impression I’m starting to get is that some of you are simply impossible to please and that no answer from the District will ever satisfy you.

    You raise an issue about a maintenance backlog, and when the District speaks directly to that, you say, But what about the Strategic Plan? You ask for staff cuts, and when the District responds with cuts, you claim that they were just moving the numbers around.

    My advice to you would be to join forces (I suspect you’re already there) — choose your battles — and start engaging a little more constructively with the District.

    Ask yourselves: What’s the most important thing to us as parents and taxpayers?

    Is it:

    — Poor academic performance from students?

    — Expensive Web sites?

    — Too many office staff?

    — Outdated textbooks?

    — Maintenance backlog?

    Concentrate on one or two issues, and when you see progress from the District, acknowledge it. Whenever one of your issues is resolved, throw yourselves a party, take a week off, and then proceed to the next issue.

    If you’re having trouble getting the District (or the public) interested in a particular issue, then it might be time to re-evaluate the general importance of that issue.

    ***********************************************************************************

    As for me, I’m still waiting to hear back from three directors . . . It’s been nearly a week, and if I don’t get something back from them by Thursday, I’ll be sending them a friendly reminder.

    –David

    #714426

    tk
    Participant

    Jan S,

    The links to the SPS documents you are asking for are posted on the SaveSeattleSchools blog posting yesterday (see the comments section for the Reform discussion)

    https://www.blogger.com/comment.g?blogID=28765366&postID=8841720443911911246

    #714427

    MegD
    Member

    JanS- I’m not on the inside, but I followed the “cuts” pretty closely.

    Director Sundquist’s absurd and inaccurate dismissal of questions about the 89 “cuts” is intensely frustrating because a productive discussion of the most effective ways to reduce central administration cannot be had with misleading information. Staff has not been straightforward (the whole “central office” term is a load of nonsense, with only the meaning the user decides to attribute to it), and the board has not then held them accountable.

    There was recently some clarification by district staff to the board.

    I wish I had a link to the recent explanation (by SPS finance staff) of the fact that there weren’t 89 cuts, but I don’t. I do have the handout in front of me.

    Initially, SPS said it made 89 cuts. 5 were ed directors, all of whom are paid comfortably over $100k. Their positions were being reorganized and rehired. That brought things down to about 85.

    6 positions were vacant – which means those positions had no actual cost associated with them. Those cuts were a budget planning reduction, not a cost reduction. 79.

    1 attorney – the general counsel, at over $100k a year – was “cut.” Only, it wasn’t. SPS listed that position as “restored” on their recent explanation of cuts. 78.

    18.35 professional development coaches were cut. However, SPS said in November 2009 that professional development coaches are teachers, not central administrators, and would no longer be classified as central administrators. PD Coaches should not be listed as part of central cuts, especially since PD coaches that do work in schools are part of the school budget. 60.

    1 Title I program director, also paid over $100k. He got either a promotion or lateral move to an “open position” that is virtually identical to his “cut” position. 59.

    3 laborers. Really? Who’s been worried about all the custodians and laborers in HQ, bringing home the big bucks? You may disagree with me, but I call it padding the numbers, so we’ll say 56-59.

    And then there were 2 additional positions that SPS noted they restored, a program manager and an administrative assistant. 54-59.

    I have some opinions and questions about quite a few of the remaining cuts, but it would be fair to say that I am cross enough about the initial sleights-of-hand that for me it calls the veracity of every single claimed cut into question – it may not for everyone.

    So, cuts were made. If I sound peevish, it’s not with you or anyone else who asks if there were really cuts. I think people should challenge one another, and discuss the issue. We’re not all going to agree on what the solution will be – but it’s hard to have an informed discussion about solutions when the district isn’t forthcoming with accurate information to begin with. I think the sort of sleight-of-hand the district deployed about “central” cuts when cuts are being made to classrooms is gross, and it makes me really angry.

    #714428

    JoB
    Participant

    DP..

    “Frankly, the impression I’m starting to get is that some of you are simply impossible to please and that no answer from the District will ever satisfy you”

    Perhaps the problem isn’t people who will never be satisfied but politicians who present budget manipulation as cuts.

    #714429

    “And please bear in mind that the audit you refer to was done before the levy passed. If you’ll recall, the levy funds were requested, in part, to address the problems raised by that very audit. In any case, I’m not questioning the audit results. What I want to know is whether the District is using the levy funds for their intended purpose.”

    No, the levy funds were not for fixing audit issues. Where did you get that idea? Look at the levy resolution. The levy was for textbook adoption (which includes salaries of the central staff to choose the books and tell teachers how to teach them) but the bulk was simply for “reform work” ie, new spending. That turned out to mean a small raise for teachers and a new central office project to use student test scores to evaluate teacher performance. (While studies show this is unreliable method using even a three year rolling average, the district plans to come up with an algorithm using a two year rolling average that is valid, transparent and reliable. They will have to come to an agreement about this algorithm with the Union. Wanna guess what’s going to happen? Now the Principal’s Association contract has similar language, with a deadline of April 1st. That’s a lot of salary downtown we are spending to do the impossible, instead of doing anything remotely to help school budgets.)

    There actually is no discretionary money available from the supplemental levy (remember, it was supplemental, only 2% of the budget) for anything else. There is no money in the supplemental levy to restore cuts to classrooms. The reason for objecting to this levy — not school levies in general but specifically this supplemental levy — was that the district asked for it to expand central administration work and per the teachers contract tied the money specifically to this expansion. Saying no on the levy would have forced central administration to slow down central office work. It would not have changed anything about school budgets.

    Textbooks. As someone said before, the district just had their regular operating levy pass in February. Why didn’t they fund textbooks from that? This textbook adoption was the only thing on the list of the superintendent’s grand strategic plan that got delayed through lack of funds. Everything else, such as the new website at the cost of $700K was fully funded. At the same time class sizes went up as the money for school budgets was cut ten million dollars. That tells you where their priorities are.

    Yup, in the past few years, spending and revenue have been increasing each year, while the money for that goes directly to the classroom has gone down. Now we are in the budget from hell where some of the board directors still want to continue with the status quo, still want to protect the strategic initiatives downtown even though it will mean more cuts to schools. So those of us who are actively fighting the good fight for better schools, better governance and better accountability of funds are doing what we can to daylight the issues, daylight the actual figures (see Meg’s explanation of the job cuts above) and do our best to support the board directors who want to protect school budgets and sway the others.

    But do note that the supplemental levy has nothing to do with this. There isn’t a dime of that money available to put into schools. Not one dime.

    #714430

    Oh, and West Seattle may find it interesting to know that the 34th LD voters were much more conflicted on the supplemental levy than the city as a whole. As a whole, it passed with 63% approval, yet in the 34th, only 52% of the voters said yes. How much does this have to do with West Seattle voters historically not in favor of taxes and how much having to do with West Seattle schools getting the shaft from this school administration’s school closures and other policies.

    #714431

    westello
    Member

    I’m Melissa Westbrook and I’m a co-writer at Save Seattle Schools. I also worked on the campaign against the supplemental levy.

    First, David, I would be happy to sit down with you and lay out all the evidence of what was presented during the campaign.

    Two, do understand that we are entering the election season and that includes 4 of the Board members (including Steve Sundquist). It is very important that they position themselves carefully. I will talk with Steve about the 85 “cuts” but we can show that all those cuts did not happen (or, is the case, some were cut, renamed and rehired).

    Three, you’ll note that none of them denied the maintenance backlog. It is indeed nearly (and I did use the word nearly) $500M. I invite you to call Bill Martin in Facilities; he’s the one who told the Board in the Fall “it’s going to get worse before it gets better.” He will confirm that figure. And yes, Director Martin-Morris is correct – we didn’t get here overnight. BUT the fact that Board after Board has allowed this to carry on (including this Board) is no excuse. That we rebuild some buildings that are not the worst condition while ignoring others compounds the problem. (Here I am referring to rebuilding South Shore K-8 – complete with a rotunda – versus having rebuilt Pathfinder. Pathfinder’s building was a wreck and all their middle school in portables. If the district had rebuilt them, Cooper would have never closed and your northern elementaries would not have the overcrowding you see today. Everything has a link in this district.)

    Levy funds. The key thing to understand about levy and bond money is that once the levy or bond passes, the district can use the money for anything it wants. For example, it wasn’t advertised but some of the BEX III levy is going to pay off the debt service on the headquarters. We were told consolidating all the district offices would save us money. It hasn’t and indeed, is costing us millions. Again, ask any of the Directors on the Audit and Finance Committee.

    You erred on your write-up on the BEX levies. It doesn’t have two parts. What is the case is that every 3 years the district comes to the voters with two levies. One is always the Operations levy which is nearly 25% of our budget and which I always support. The other is either the BTA or BEX levy which alternate every 6 years.

    Deferred maintenance costs us more. By waiting and waiting, things get worse (ask any homeowner). And, when you are talking about buildings 40,50,60 years old, you really have problems.

    “The BEX levy that just passed provided 100s of millions of dollars to fix the maintenance backlog, which will make a significant dent in it, although there will probably always be a backlog of some kind.”

    Actually, no, it was the BTA levy that just passed. And no, it’s not hundreds of millions because we have to spend money (at least $50M) on the reopened buildings. So all the other buildings in use will not have as many of their needs addressed because of the money now going out the door to addressed the needs of the reopened buildings.

    “I have no problem with the district hosting a retirement party to recognize the service of long-serving staff. In fact, the Superintendent is authorized to sponsor such employee recognition events under long-standing district policy. As with many things, the question is the size and appropriateness of the related expense. A close reading of the audit finding on this point was not the fact that there was a retirement party per se, but rather that the processes around the Superintendent’s signing authority for related expenses were too casual. The policy itself was not criticized.”

    I, too, have no problem with a retirement party. I, too, have an issue with “size and appropriateness.” But in hard times our district can afford a nearly $7K party for 75 people with a carving station, live music, and $100 gift certificates? (Yes, I prove all this as well. I have the documentation from the district.) In hard times, you have a sheet cake and punch from Safeway and the Superintendent there to shake everyone’s hand and say thank you. By the way, this was a special party for certain people. The regular retirement party put on by the employees retirement group at the Elk’s Club in Lake City? The Superintendent couldn’t be bothered to attend that one.

    And too casual on the signing authority? The Super signed a document that stated her spending limits on her district credit card. She went way over the limit to sign for this party. She knew very well what she was doing.

    Again, I will be happy to schedule a meeting in West Seattle, show you the documentation and explain to you how I am certain of what I presented during the levy campaign.

    Don’t shoot the messenger.

    #714432

    Rod Clark
    Member

    Tk’s link is to comments on a Seattle Schools Community Blog post about a speech here in Seattle by Baltimore’s school superintendent, Andres Alonso. Almost all the comments seem to be budget debates. But in the Crosscut article cited there, Judy Lightfoot’s review of Dr. Alonso’s speech is about a lot more than the budget. I got the impression that the budget priorities followed from his values about how to teach.

    What can we learn from the struggles of Baltimore public schools? by Judy Lightfoot

    The Washington Policy Center, which invited Dr. Alonso to speak, has his presentation slides online.

    http://washingtonpolicy.org/research/education/

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