Thursday, October 6, 2011

Crappy! Chart! Thursday! Saddles Back Up with um… a Truthy SuperAnalysis™ Re-run?

I know it’s been a while, so you would think I have something brand new to share.


So, I’m recycling some old charts here. You may feel ripped off and ask for your money back, if you want (and good luck with that. To say I am not customer service-oriented would be an understatement).

District Statement (well, okay. Peter Maier’s statement in the recent Stranger candidate debate):

“Within the past two years the district [SPS] has reduced Central Administration by one third.”

Actual Factual Facts!

Hee. Central Administration is, officially, about one third less than it was. In 2009-10 it was listed at $52M, and in 2010-11 at $35M. So officially: lower.


You knew there was a “but” coming, right?

The one third “reduction” wasn’t completely through, well… “reductions.” It was through the re-classification of about 1/3 of Central Administration expenses to Teaching.

Which is kind of different than a spending reduction.

It’s not unlike Stumpy coming to me after realizing that my frivolous dress budget has ballooned in the past couple of years (dude. I wish), and me agreeing to trim it (sadly, it’s already been trimmed. Because my life is soooooooo harrrrrrrd. [silent tears of suffering]).

So let's say that after agreeing to reduce the frivolous dress budget, I realize that I don’t really want to trim it, because I love me some frivolous dresses (which, okay. I do).

Let’s imagine that I decide (through torturous and easy-to-argue-with reasoning) that because sometimes I think about walking into the back yard to pet my goat’s nose whilst wearing a fancy dress that really, approximately one third of my dress budget should qualify as goat maintenance, which is part of the larger home/yard/schtuff maintenance budget.

We will ignore the fact that there is a snowball’s chance in hell I would go anywhere near my goats while wearing one of my fancy dresses, because they like to confirm, by chewing, that my clothing is not a snack. And if they chewed on one of my fancy dresses I would host a rather sorrowful barbecue in which goat tacos were the main dish.

But that’s not the point.

So. Back to the point. Because there is one!

What I’m trying to say, not very wittily, is that reclassifying an expense is not the same as reducing it.

And while Central Administration did have some expense reduction, the bulk of “reductions” came through moving expenses to other parts of the SPS budget. Which expenses? Funny you should ask. I've got details! And charts!

In late 2009, it came to the district’s attention that Central Administration was well out of line with other districts in the area. District administration looked at the Central Administration budget, and one growth area really, really stuck out: professional development coaches (which were part of Supervision of Instruction). There were somewhere between 100-120 of them – numbers from senior district management at the time differ in different presentations.

After a little hemming and hawing, management said that PD coaches should be classified as teachers, and had been mis-classified to Central Administration.

And poof!

Like magic, some $10+M in coaching expenses were moved out of Central Administration and into Teaching, where they are much harder to see. And which, even more magically, brought Central Administration expenses back "in line" with other districts.

Also, in case you're wondering how fifty two milllllllion minus ten to twelve millllion equals thirty five millllllion? It doesn't. In addition to reclassifying the coaching expense, some ARRA funds and schtuff were also moved to Teaching (which... fine. Okay).

Whether you agree with the reclassification decision or not (I don't - Teaching should accurately reflect how much SPS spends on direct instruction of students) isn't relevant in this discussion. What's relevant here is that there was movement of an expense from one budget area to another. Movement and reduction are different.

Have there been reductions?

Yes, there have. But reductions have not been to the extent claimed. Which, actually... I'm fine with. When it's admitted. Because usually proposed reductions and actual reductions will differ. But SPS is touting the initial proposed reductions AS the actual reductions, which... not cool.

There have additional expenses offsetting reductions (like, say, raises and additional high-end hires). Have they totally offset reductions? I don't know. I doubt that expense increases have erased reductions, but I don't know.

There’s a not-entirely-clear amount of Central Administration expenses that may be buried in other expense segments. Consider: almost 30% of expenses in a $52M segment were "mis-classified." It does make one ask (well, it makes me ask), how much has been misclassified in a $338M segment, like Teaching?

If you want a meaningful understanding of changes to Central Administration expenditures, either consistently compare year to year Central Administration expenses with coaches, or consistently make year to year comparisons without coaches. Doing it one year with coaches and the next year without makes the comparison useless – an apples to oranges comparison, when we're all looking for apples to apples.

Super Truthy Analysis!

The district did reduce Central Administration expenses. However, SPS did not reduce Central Administration expenditures by one third through expense reduction; they reclassified a large portion of Central Administrative expenses and made some reductions.


Noam said...


That silver dress makes you look sweaty.

Noam said...

And how can I get those charts in "real" size?


Is it me?

Meg said...

sadly, the star trek cocktail party dress does not belong to me. I think it is crazy and awesome, but do not own it. It looks like it doesn't breathe so well, though, so it might just make a girl pretty sweaty.

As for having a closer look at the crappy charts... here's a link to a google doc with the whole slide pack on it (I'd been noodling over the results of the 2010 central office cuts). The slides used in this post are slides 4 and 5.

kprugman said...

We see something similar in our district and the one commonality between our two districts is professional development. We've got 9 indictments, yet no convictions. In another district north of Seattle we managed to get 4 resignations - no convictions. At the last minute, the Superintendent scared the community and floated a bond that prevented their district from defaulting on a land deal involving the City Finance Manager. The land is wetland and unsuitable for a school. This district owns more farmland than school property. Their crooked flood plan will land them all in deep water.

In the latest bamboozle (another state), our teachers protested the moving of adult bilingual funds, about $1.3 million, into the general fund for use by their defense lawyers. With so many of us present, the motion died on the floor. There were attorneys for the board members, the bond maker, and the city present. To start off the meeting, a member of the bond oversight committee warned the board that they had not yet hired a project manager to liason between the committee and the district - therefore who was responsible for acounting of the $50 million still left outstanding in the bond budget. I interviewed an architect who's calculations showed that one high school had cost the district about $580 per square foot. Who says school doesn't pay? Crooks, I mean.

kprugman said...

In another land scheme hatched by realtors and some school board officials, a Washington state school district purchased wet land that was needed for open space on the pretense that a school was going to built on the site - a soil inspection showed the property unsuitable for building on and the developers benefited by saving millions. Not cool. I was told in a not so polite way, that I shouldn't be looking for work in your state.

Unknown said...

Hello Meg,

I've been following your comments on Seattle Schools Community Forum about the discrepancies between SPS enrollment numbers and what has been reported to the state.

Last Friday, my daughter's school, Olympic View Elementary, was threatening with the loss of a teacher.

Luckily, the District backed down at the 11 hour, but I was left wondering if this situation wasn't related in some way to the fishy SPS enrollment numbers that have left other schools scrambling to keep teachers.

Any insight your could provide would be most appreciated.


Meg said...
This comment has been removed by the author.