Thursday, February 3, 2011

Crappy! Chart! Thursday! Truthy SuperAnalysis vs. Urban Legends about Central Office Cuts!

District statement – okay. There are really TWO statements (so! exciting!) for Truthy SuperAnalysis™! here.

Despite the picture of Abelard attempting to eat my camera strap, neither statement is about goats. One is from the district, and one is from the president of the School Board. Let's remember to keep the comments clean, because… well, because. It’s polite? And clearly, my bitchy commentaries are all about Being A Polite Lady.

Speaking of Being A Lady – if you’re short on things to do this Saturday night, the hockey club I skate in, Seattle Women’s Hockey Club, is holding its annual fundraiser, for which there is hockey to be watched and beer to be bought.

I love the fact that there’s a club that gets adult women to try a team sport, and works to keep fees down and the culture friendly. I love that there are women willing to try hockey, often without knowing how to skate or anything about hockey. That the two can come together? With beer? Kinda awesome. Just sayin’.

Plus, watching is like the best episode ever of the Three Stooges. On Ice! With lipstick! And, okay, with chicks apologizing to one another for knocking each other over in a hockey game. And sure, that’s not very macho, but it’s one of the many things that makes me love chick hockey. There’ll be beer. There’ll be hockey. There may even be really, really good doughnuts. And you can heckle me to your heart's content.

So, you know, you could do worse things with your Saturday night than supporting women’s athletics (while drinking beer and eating doughnuts). Sadly, Don Cherry and his jackets will not be in attendance. But you yourself could come in a blazer that is a delicious homage to a Vegas showgirl crossed with a pattern from the Rejected Wallpaper Hall of Fame, and since a reasonable number of people who will be there do actually watch Hockey Night In Canada, they will probably get where you’re going with that, especially if you say "real old-time hockey" alot.

Right. I got waaaaaay off-track there from saying bitchy things about the Seattle Public Schools. Let's try again:

District Statement (this one’s from the 2010-11 budget page):

“We are attempting to keep budget cuts away from our schools and students. We have:

Enacted a Districtwide hiring and spending freeze to save an estimated $6.5 million.

Made plans to use $4.4 million in reserves.

Cut 85 positions in our central office to save $6.5 million”

And the current School Board president (from an email copied onto the West Seattle blog forums): “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”

Actual Factual Facts!

Well, at least the two statements are consistent with one another. With the facts? Not so much.

Let's talk breakdown. And introduce Crappy! Chart! Numba! One! (and here's the link to a larger presentation)

27.7 FTEs lost their jobs with SPS. FTEs are full time equivalents, which mean there were more individuals, but some were half time or three quarters time or somesuch, so FTE doesn't map precisely to number of people. Take a moment to consider that that had to have been dreadful for those people. Losing a job is wretched. I think Central Administration jobs do have to be cut to protect school budgets, but that is a very different thing than being glad that people were fired.

6 vacant budgeted positions got cut.

I couldn't verify 27.5 cuts. I requested the public records for cuts made in March in October, asking for the names and positions of people cut. For 27.5 FTEs, SPS didn’t provide names, only “by seniority.” Well, that’s great, and I get that with seniority, the person in the actual position may have moved to a position they had seniority for, booting someone else out, but… you can't tell me in November who ended up getting cut in March?

It's possible that some of these positions really got cut. It's also possible that some didn't. Based on the overall hit rate, I would guess those 27.5 are split pretty evenly.

21.7 FTEs in cut positions are still employed by the district. And look, I understand that people apply for open positions. Although… in the same department? With very similar job appearances? Reporting to the same boss? With the same or better pay? Uh, sure. Whatever. Keep in mind, though, that someone snagging an open spot also means that they don’t come off the books, and cost reductions didn’t really happen. Wow. That's alotta italics in one paragraph.

2 positions were simply filled by other people. There was within-position turnover, not a cut.

I'm going to use a small sample set, highly compensated employees (salaries over $90K), as a way to give a sense of how some of this ended up playing out.

The above Crappy! Chart! shows planned cuts and actual expense. You may want to hit the link to the slide presentation, because goodfreakingluck trying to read the chart here. The taller bar is the actual expense, and it's taller because (spoiler alert) the district didn't save money on this group of employees. They increased their expenses.

As for the positions:
The School Support director left. However, the position is still there, on the books. Someone else is now filling it. The new person is getting paid less than the old one, though.

Planned savings: minus $120K
Actual savings: minus $13K.

The old General Counsel left. And seriously, who are we kidding? Does anyone think the district’s going to say, “Actually, we don't need a general counsel anymore.” If you do, I have a great little... technology?, yeah, technology company to invest in, called Jimmy Choo Technologies. I’ll keep very careful track of those shiny red... er, those new investments for you. Call me!

So. New General Counsel comes in.

Planned savings: minus $161K

Actual savings: increase in pay. Plus $2K.

Title I Director became the Director of School Support, apparently managing, amongst other things… Title I. Apparently the person applied for an open, grant-funded position. In the same part of the organization. With many of the same apparent responsibilities. In a “lean” central organization. Um, okay. Let’s say I buy that. The employee is still an expense and, in fact, got an $18,000 raise. Please raise your hand if you would like to get fired like that. And now, everyone, please consider how silly you all look holding your hand up in front of your computer.

Planned savings: minus $114K

Actual savings: plus $18K.

Business Technology Manager. The person who was there isn't with the district. I don't know if he was fired or retired. As frustrated as the falsity of some of the claimed cuts makes me, I can't wish getting fired on people, so for his sake, I hope he found a job elsewhere. His position was not eliminated. There's currently an interim person filling it. When you bother to have an interim person in there, you’re not planning on taking the position off the books.

Planned savings: minus $112K.

Actual savings: minus $6K

We have 3 people who stayed, at the same pay: a program manager, a database manager and the former student discipline manager. Details about their titling may have changed in minor ways, but it doesn't look like much else did.
Planned savings: $283K

Actual savings: 0

We can chitty chat about the Education Directors, but the district did take them off the cuts list pretty quickly (although it is a leeeeetle hard not to ask why they ever were put on the list of cuts), so I won't fuss too much on it. SPS management somehow forgot to mention that comp for each position would be upped by an average of $9K, and it also slipped their minds to pass on that a new job would be created all special-like for one of the former Ed Directors.

Planned savings: 0

Actual savings: Plus $164K

In sum, $790K in expenses (excluding the Ed Directors) was planned to come off the books for these people.

And the total savings were: There weren't savings for the highly compensated employees reviewed. There was an expense increase of about $165K.

Truthy SuperAnalysis™ Says: Dudes. So not 85 cuts or 6 milllllllllllion in savings. SPS isn't even a in a believable “approximately” range of 85. Pants in the JSCEE are not completely, totally out-of-control ablaze here, but may be smoking heavily.

The only urban legend is tale SPS is telling about 85 cuts. There were not 85 FTEs cut from the “central office” and $6 milllllllllllllion in savings was not realized.

As much coverage as I just gave the details, the issue really isn't each individual cut or non-cut, no matter how galling some of those details may be. The issue is honesty, transparency and accuracy from the district to the board and public.

And the issue is also that I mentioned my goats, fancy shoes, hockey and bitched about the district in a single post. It's like a Gordie Howe hat trick, only, you know, with, um, 4 things.


Anonymous said...

Did you post this back on the West Seattle Bog forum? I think you should.

Did you send the poerpoint to the school board? I think they should see your analyisis too.

I missed your insightful posts! Glad to see your still at it.


Anonymous said...

Meg, have you seen inroads or indications of inroads in special education middle management? They have about 6 supervisors with 2-3 supervisees each and nobody can find out what their value added is in teh classrooms.

hschinske said...

My Daughter Who Knows Too Much About Literary History saw that you have a goat named Abelard, and asked, "Is he fixed?"

Helen Schinske

Meg said...

yumpears- I did go ahead and post it on the West Seattle blog forum and send it to the board - I trotted down to the Stanford center and spoke about it Wednesday night, as well.

Anon 8:18 - well, it did seem like there are a lot of consulting teachers and supervisors (here's a link to an assignment list for this year for some of them, which I don't think lists every single one, but a bunch). It's hard not to wonder if the district bills SpEd consulting teachers as teachers rather than central administration, given the reclassification of professional development coaches to teaching.

Do you know of districts that do SpEd and its administration well? What do their SpEd organizations look like? What makes them different from SPS? While an eyeball at the SpEd org makes me think it's gotten rather fat, I don't know what a healthy SpEd org should look like.

Helen - yep, he's fixed.

Paul said...

Take on HR, Meg.

Virtually everyone on the report I have is a "Manager" or a "Senior Manager". Some have absolutely no one to "manage". Others "supervise" one person. I'll wager all of these title changes came with sweet "reclassifications" as well in one of the many "reorganizations" they have had there in the last few years. Even the folks who answer the phone and file papers are "senior somethings" at unbelievable (to us "ordinary" taxpayers) salaries.

Maureen said...

Meg, is their justification that FTEs moved from general funding to grant funding? If so, is there any evidence that that grant money had to be spent on those positions instead of on classroom teachers or tutors for instance?

Meg said...

Paul - HR does look pretty populated. But a lot of departments do. It's easy for a bureaucracy to float upwards in size - in the same way that personal spending has a habit of rising to meet your income, new initiatives seem to have a way of popping up for a growing bureaucracy. Making real, sensible cuts downward to control costs is much harder, whatever department it'll be to. HR seems like it would be logical place to prune hard. Of course, overall, the high end salaries should be something that's looked at hard, but unless the board is willing to provide really granular supervision of this issue, I doubt it will happen.

Maureen- I think you've hit the justification for several positions, that they're now "grant-funded." However, the cuts were advertised as an overall reduction in expenditure - and that's what was needed, and in many cases simply didn't happen.

For the School Improvement Grant (which I believe the School Improvement director is being paid from), I am certain it can be used to help put resources in some of the district's most needy schools, since that's exactly what it was intended to do. But SPS has chosen to spend around 10% of the grant (despite having a grants manager) on administration of the grant.

To really know if a grant can be used to pay for something other than a central administrator, though, the district has to disclose which grant is paying for it, and so far, they haven't.

That the cuts came in lower than proposed isn't really that big of a deal - it's the complete lack of honesty about where cuts really landed. The board is using information like the "85 cuts" to make budget decisions for 2011-12 that will have an impact on schools.

Boy, I'm wordy with just one cup of coffee in me.

Anonymous said...

What do Ed/Executive Directors do, for their 120-140K salaries?
ken berry

Maureen said...

Ed Directors are now supposed to be academic leaders and resources for the principals. I suppose that in other Districts, principals report (more) directly to the Chief Academic Officer?

mirmac1 said...

Way to go Meg!