Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Cagematch Crappy! Chart! Thursday!: Irritating vs. Important

Okay. Technically, this is not a Crappy! Chart! Thursday! However, it's summer. The SPS's official response to the recent reports from the State Auditor are pretty much a phoned-in Charlie-Brown-grown-up wha-wah-wha-wah-excellence-wah-wha-accountability. I feel pretty okay about not including an actual chart.

Plus, I should admit: I loathe Powerpoint. Yes, I use it to illustrate nerdy crud, but... I really, really don't like it.

This summer, I've been thinking quite a bit about the difference between things that are important, and things that are intensely, maddeningly irritating. Sometimes, it's hard to tell the difference, but mostly? Not. As it happens, I've been getting my face rubbed in both this summer (and yet, it's still been a pretty good summer), so I've been given plenty of opportunity to make sure that I can differentiate.

Important? Curly had surgery last week. It was "routine" (an odd description of a patient experience of surgery if I ever heard one, no matter how workaday it is for the doctor), and went well, but I'm the kid's mom, and it sent me into orbit with anxiety. Which made some sense, considering that the kid has both asthma and multiple drug allergies, and thus, my anxiety about her reaction to anesthesia had at least a small amount of rational brain attached. It went well, and she's doing fine, which is lovely. That kid is one tough nut, and as it turns out, not shy about milking my anxiety for extra popsicles. In addition to Curly's surgery, I have a seriously ill relative, which puts a wholelotta stuff into perspective.

Irritating? Just after I wrote checks for ice hockey for the kids, the dryer and vacuum showed serious signs of being on their last legs. Really? You want to break right now, you stupid inanimate objects? I want to use that money to buy skates for my ever-growing children, not a goddamn new... vacuum. Who the hell ever wants to buy a new vacuum? Not me, that's for certain. Incredibly irritating. Why now? Why both? What the hell did I ever do to the dryer that it chooses now to give up and die an impressively squeaky death?

Important? The State Auditor calling out the School Board for ineffective oversight and district management for ineffective management, resulting in the worst auditor's report ev-uh (well. okay. for at least as long as they've posted them online - since 1997).

The auditor issued two reports this year that take place #1 and #2 for the highest number of adverse findings for SPS ev-uh (and when you say ev-uh, say it like it rhymes with leath-uh). In addition to being SPS's personal worsts, the two reports issued this year are the worst reports that the auditor has issued for any district in the state (let's go ahead and enunciate properly and say: EVER.).
In fact, it looks as if in the State Auditor Report School District Hall of Shame, Seattle not only has the gold, silver and bronze for the state, but has 50% of the top 10 worst spots. Ouch. That's not really the kind of "excellence" the Strategic Plan is aiming for.

Reports from the State Auditor like the two issued this year make one seriously question the ability of district management to effectively manage the district (and yes, saying this I mean: more seriously than before) and the board's ability to provide any kind of real oversight.

Irritating? The Superintendent's use of her district-issued credit card to pay for a catered retirement party. Do district employees who have devoted their careers to the district deserve some sincere recognition? Absolutely. But... in a year (2008-09 was what the audit covered) in which 5 schools were closed, teachers were RIF'd and school budgets cut, is a catered party paid for with public money appropriate? Methinks... not. With great respect to people who have given their professional lives over to serving the district and its students, I still say no. That the Superintendent used her district credit card to pay for the whole shebang? Should be fine. I mean, district staff has reassured the public that it's all okay, and traditional, and it's the same district staff that's assured us that nope, nope, Central Administration is not experiencing serious growth as schools are experiencing cuts (of course, that growth was "reduced" by counting somewhere in the neighborhood of $10 millllllion Central Administration expenses as "teaching," despite the fact that it's not teaching. Still. Nothing to see here. Move along).

Muddying the waters further is that in addition to a party being an unallowed expense on a district card (weird. Who's so uptight as to not authorize taxpayer money to par-tay?) is that it also appears the district violated the contract that the district negotiated with the unionized food services for the district. Uh, oops. It's more than a leeetle awkward when it's revealed that even district leadership is incapable of following their own rules and contracts.
Also awkward? That the auditor, whose reports usually take pains to find something nice to say about the district they're issuing a report about ("That Ken in HR makes a great cup of coffee. Too bad the department is in shambles."), publicly noted, sans compliments, that the "District's Board and Management have placed public resources at risk" is, well... actually, that's important to take note of in the middle of a bunch of irritating findings.
Still, I have enough perspective, despite being peevish, to say that: a) $3,800 is not a whole lot of money in a budget of over half a billlllllion bucks, and b) it is possible that there is a perfectly reasonable explanation for this audit finding (although... I might be willing to bet, say $3,800 that it's not probable).

So, okay. That's it for Irritating vs. Important. Not a chart in sight. I have, however, included a couple of pictures of my whacked-out goats. It's almost the same, right?


Anonymous said...

Well, actually the goats probably are a chart-worthy indicator of the school super's IQ level vis-a-vis responsible fiscal management of the district of which she's supposed to be in charge.
Just saying ... ;-)

Anonymous said...

Let's PART-UH, FOREV-UH on the District's credit card. Just let the monthly balance accrue and all late fees to be paid by staff lay-offs and/or levy.

It worked in Bell, CA, why not here!

ken berry

Charlie Mas said...

$3,800 for 70 people works out to $54 per person.

This is not a bunch of people standing under the flourescent lights of a school cafeteria awkwardly sipping fruit punch from dixie cups and sporking a two inch square of sheet cake off of paper plates. Here in Seattle when you spend over $50 a plate you are sitting down to a linen-covered table and eating a meal that has a sauce on the protein and another sauce on a side dish.

I'm having trouble envisioning this meal without wine.

Is this appropriate in a time of austerity?

And I wonder if $3,800 was the total cost of this gala event. Wasn't there a deposit paid before the event? Were there other charges that were paid separately?

Meg said...

Anon- my goats are pretty smart. Although perhaps I'm just saying that because they've outsmarted me a couple of times.

Ken Berry - watch out. That could end up being an introduction item, with Bell, CA cited as a best practice example. Did that sound bitchy? I hope so.

Charlie - It sure doesn't look like a costco cake, some balloons and punch, does it?