Saturday, February 12, 2011

Crappy! Chart! Thursday! How Not to Cut the Administrative Burden!

Note: I decided that this is really two posts (which I had earlier crammed into one reaaaaaaallllly loooooong post). I'm not sure that it makes it more coherent, but I'm not super-coherent right now: Curly has an ear infection and has been up in the middle of the night with pain. Which means I've been up in the middle of the night crooning to and tending to a sick kid. My brain is mush.

Anyway. This is going to come as not even a little bit of a shock: I have more bad things to say about SPS Central Administration.

Central Administration in 2010-11, as an expense segment, comes in around $17 milllllllllion less than it did in 2009-10. So, yay, right? It shrank!

But the problem is, SPS moved an expense segment - professional development staff (coaches) - from Central Administration to Teaching. They didn't "dramatically" reduce spending. They redistributed it.

Apparently, professional development staff aren't the only central administrators billed to Teaching - Special Education Consulting Teachers, who make placement and administrative decisions, are billed there as well.

Which means: SPS spends millions less than it says it does on Teaching (and they already spend less on Teaching compared to other districts in the state). Swell.

You could say I'm being nit-picky (which maybe I am. Being up with a sick kid does not put me in a forgiving kind of mood), and it's harrrrrd to show people all that super-uber-complicated tricksy information and how it breaks out. Let's look at Spokane's budget pie chart, shall we? Wait a minute. Spokane is openly admitting to anyone who reads their budget pie chart that they have a significant amount of administration spending that is billed to teaching. That's right - Spokane is (on purpose and everything!) making their administrative burden clear to anyone who looks at just at the most basic budget overview. They are acknowledging that they have administrative expense billed to other categories, and they add it up as part of their total administration burden.

Seattle? Um, not so much. Seriously - how many different numbers have we heard about professional development staff? The admitted numbers range from 80 to over 115, usually with a CYA comment of "most of them are in schools" (to be fair, most appear to be), and some hazy comments about spending requirements for Title I (SPS gets around $14M in Title I funds and must spend 10% of that money on professional development. Coaches fulfill that requirement - so around 16 coaches would fulfill Title I PD spending requirements). About 29 professional development coaches have an assignment to the Stanford center (coaches who work in schools are assigned to specific schools).

But, again, I digress. Reading SPS's budget, it looks like Central Administration shrank. Except... SPS moved administrative categories elsewhere and got coy about precise dollar amounts and this crazy thing many public organizations do with spending of public money called "clarity."

Which bring me to the "central office" cuts of this past week. Because the discussion was apparently about "non-grant non-school based FTEs" every single custodian, gardener and maintenance worker got thrown in (wait... aren't custodians mostly school-based?), but fully 1/3 of Central Administration employees did not, apparently because they're "grant-funded." Um... wha? 1/3 of Central Administration FTEs are grant-funded?

Not-so-quick-note: in previous budget cycles, administrative positions were "shifted to grant" not because it was the best use of the money, but to reduce the burden on baseline money from the state.

Let's take a quick look at how the $12M cut scenario recently presented to the board plays out, shall we?

Hard to read, I know. Here's the link to a larger view. It is, I admit, an exceptionally crappy chart, even for Crappy! Chart! Thursday! I have not done a great job of clearly distilling my thoughts. The cuts "recommended" came in even more depressingly: a 6% total cut to Central Administration, and a 12% cut to Other Support, mostly to custodians and maintenance workers - although with quite a few to DoTS (listed by OSPI as "Information Systems"). 63% of the total recommended cuts were to Other Support, and only 16% to Central Administration, even though the point of the exercise was supposedly to consider a drastically reduced Central Administration.

If you're wondering, I have a point.

I think.

And it is: SPS's Central Administration cannot be effectively reduced and restructured, as it needs to be, without the entire organization on the table.

For that to happen, staff cannot simply whimsically say "oh, we'll include everyone assigned to JSCEE" or "we'll only put in people billed to Central Administration" or "we're going to include every other person who walked into the Stanford center on Tuesday, February 1st, except the ones who came in while we were getting coffee," or "we just want to talk about people funded by certain types of revenue."

Staff needs to break out the org chart, the whole thing, and be honest. And maybe even do something wacky, like explain why there's a divide in how much transportation bills as administration, and how much is really a district-wide cost.

Anyone read Anchorage's budget? It is broken out in really quite spectacular (and okay, dull) detail. It's almost as if... Anchorage's administration wants people to be able to understand how district money is spent. You can see, if you want, how overall teacher staffing has changed for each grade. You can see how much the Superintendent spent on meals billed to the district ($1,200 in 2009-10, with $600 budgeted for 2010-11). You can see how much is spent by each department on contract services. Is everything perfect in Anchorage? I doubt it, but their budget makes a real attempt to present public information clearly - you can look at the overview and drill down to extremely granular details.

Administrative spending, and transparency surrounding it, is a serious issue in Seattle, and one that is hurting Seattle's schools. The current budget climate is an opportunity - a difficult and unpleasant one, but still an opportunity - to restructure Central Administration and reduce the administrative burden so that as many people as possible are where they should be: in schools, helping students.

Instead? SPS is firing maintenance workers, groundskeepers and custodians for the bulk of "central cuts."

Yeah, we were all reeeeeaaaaaalllllly worried about the gazillion overpaid custodians and gardeners running around downtown.


Anonymous said...


The special education part of this is a real difficult one for families and school board directors. At the school level, consulting teachers and special education supervisors give NO instructional support. They're gatekeepers, and they operate wtihout any accountability to anyone. Families have asked for an audit of these functions for years now.

You know, some of these supervisor supervise just a few consulting teachers. No other District in the country has such a special education middle management. It is very frustrating that the school board does not appear to be able to effectively get questions about this asked and answered.

Melissa Westbrook said...

You slay me. Those people in Anchorage being all transparent. What are they thinking?

However, I do believe people outside the district are starting to listen.

Stay tuned.

Meg said...

Anon- what do other districts do to embed accountability in their Special Education administration? I know there's not really a simple answer, but what would a lean and effective Special Education administration look like?

Melissa- I know. Silly Alaskans. At least they're keeping their weirdo transparency out of the continental US. I sure hope people are starting to listen.

Anonymous said...

Re special education, it is my understanding that no other district in the country has TWO directors for special education. Half the time, the consulting teachers are saying something completely different from the executive director anyway. Your question is one that Susan Enfield ought to have at her fingertips. Why doesn't she? I don't know how she plans to improve teaching and learning for kids with disabilities if she doesn't have anything to tell us about how they do things more efficiently and effectively elsewhere.