SOME GOOD NEWS TEMPERED WITH SOME UNCERTAINTY

4/30/19

by Scott Kee

GOOD NEWS

1.Comparing Notes.  As I have pointed out in prior blogs, the primary disconnect between TSD and TEA appears to be an inability to agree on some basic numbers(like actual revenue and expenses).  At the most recent meeting, Superintendent John Bash indicated that he and Jim Brittain met with WEA/TEA Leadership to compare notes.  John indicates they found some common ground.  As you might imagine, there were some clear points of disagreement.   TEA apparently provided some data, and TSD has promised to “answer” questions posed by TEA.  In my view, this is real progress.  

2.  Extension of deadline to notify staff of layoffs.  The TEA/TSD contract requires TSD to notify teachers by May 15, 2019 if they will not be offered employment during the 2019-20 school year.  TSD cannot accurately project the depth of cuts needed until digesting the state budget(which was passed on April 28th).  That process will likely take weeks.  TSD and TEA believe it would be detrimental to relations to provide notices to staff prior to actually determining whether the cuts will need to be made. Accordingly, TSD has asked TEA if it would agree to amend the agreement so that the layoff notices need not be provided until mid-June.  John said he received verbal interest from Tim Voie(TEA President).   TEA indicates it will get back to TSD with a formal answer.

3.  TSD Administrative work on the budget.   Having sat down on multiple occasions with John and Jim, it is clear to me that they are pulling out all the stops and exploring every avenue to try and minimize the effect of the cuts that will be made.  John has indicated multiple times that Jim has “scrubbed” the non-staff portions of the budget to the fullest extent possible.  Having walked through some of those cuts with Jim, I tend to believe there is virtually no fat left to cut when it comes to non-staff items.  In fact, coming from the private sector, I might argue that some of the non-staff cuts go too deep and am a little puzzled at the keep staff at all costs mentality.  

4. TSD agreed to provide a list of specific cuts to the Board.  Kim Reykdal once again asked John to provide a list of the non-staff cuts that will be proposed as a result of Jim’s “scrubbing” of the budget.  I am hopeful that list will provided in advance of the next meeting and the Board members work to get up to speed so that they can voice priorities of their constituents.  Further, I still believe the community should be involved in the process, and help determine the priorities, and preferences, with respect to cuts that have to be made.  

CONCERNS

1.TSD Administration(mainly Jim and John) are the ones who are deciding what will be cut.  Budgets reflect priorities.   Jim and John have priorities that may, or may not, be consistent with the priorities of the community and the Board.  I am unaware of any information provided to the community regarding proposed cuts.  Further, it appears the Board is also in the dark for the most part. 

John is good at what he does, and  touched on the ramifications of making information regarding cuts public. Lots of people will be upset, goodwill may be lost, and “drama” will occur. 

Of course, the downside of not publicizing the information is these decisions will likely need to be made very quickly, and there is no way the community, or the TSD Board, will be able to really understand the quantity and impact of specific line items that are cut.  Its pretty complicated, and I have found requires and extensive amount of work, to simply understand how to compare the F195/196 budget documents.  

TSD appears to have made the calculated determination that providing the information at present is not necessary, and the “drama” resulting from doing so outweighs the benefit of having  an informed Board and community.  I appreciate it is a tough call and, while I disagree, understand the rationale behind the decision.  

Making cuts requires comparisons.  What do I like more?  What do we need(subjective)?  This is hard to do in a vacuum, and very hard to do without understanding the entire budget.  The stakeholders need to be given a set of options, and then be allowed to go through those options, and work together to prioritize cuts.  In my view, TSD Admin making those calls is not the optimal route.  

As a side note, I have proposed on a number of occasions that a budget committee be formed to engage in a deliberate process.  I know it works because I just watched the boundary committee do great work, which involved (sometimes contentious) debate and an open and candid expression of opinions and priorities.  I am disappointed TSD has not engaged in a similar process surrounding the budget discussions.   

2.  Reluctance to cut any staff.  TSD’s insistence that everything else be cut to the bone before consideration of any staff cuts seems impractical.  Staff is the most important resource in the educational system.  However, personally, I could envision a scenario where, when faced with two undesirable options, I would choose to cut staff instead of necessary programs, materials, training, resources, etc. I also understand that the community, and the Board, may want to take a “cuts to staff only as a last resort” tactic.  However, I do not believe TSD, and specifically Jim and John, can reach that conclusion as the data is incomplete without input from the Board and community regarding specific cuts.      

The community is clearly interested.  A few months ago word got out that TSD was considering having Technology and Library Specialists reassigned to classroom teachers.  The result was a standing room only Board meeting with a dozen people voicing their opinions about what he/she thought should be a priority.  I would encourage the TSD Board to come up with a plan where priorities can actually be discussed in a public forum.    

3.  The Board’s lack of involvement in the budget process.  Based upon the questions asked at Board meetings, it is clear to me that the Board members do not, at present, understand the specific cuts Jim and John have in mind. Up until the last meeting, the Board had not demanded any real details.  As noted above, Kim Reykdal did ask, and John agreed to provide, a list of the items Jim has scrubbed.  Once again, this appears to have already been decided. I do not believe any of the Board members substantively assisted in the scrubbing process.  What does the Board want, or not want to scrub? I am hopeful they will educate themselves, and seek input from the community well in advance of any type of vote is taken.  


I would think the Budget is the most pressing issue facing TSD at present.  The breakdown in relationships last summer(which effect still lingers) was the direct result of TEA, TSD Admin, the TSD Board and the community not having the same understanding of basic principles regarding the budget.  TEA and TSD could not even agree on some simple items like income and expenses.    

The Board members spend a lot of time in the schools, and are involved in various activities within the school district.  They visit schools, talk with people, promote TSD in various ways and create a lot of goodwill in the community.  That being said, over the next few months, I would submit the most impactful decisions, and votes, to be considered by the Board will surround the budgeting issues.  I believe the Board members should spend the bulk of their time delving deeply into the budget, meeting with TEA and/or the community, jointly discussing(as a group) priorities with Jim and John and making sure that they have the time to carefully consider the difficult decisions on the horizon.   

As always, we welcome comments, questions or suggestions.   scottkee@citizensfortumwaterschools.com

Response to Superintendent Comments About Transfer Students

4/19/19

by Scott Kee

At the March 14, 2019 TSD Board meeting, I spoke about the budgeting impact of transfer students.  A couple blogs on the topic that contain a few of the points I made can be found here and here.         

At the March 28, 2019 meeting, Superintendent John Bash “addressed” some of my comments.  I was puzzled by John’s comments and am frustrated by TSD’s refusal to actually acknowledge basic facts.  Further, the Board members seem reluctant to follow up with questions.  As the comments made by John are now part of the School Board meeting minutes, and public record, I felt compelled to point out the inaccuracies/incompleteness of the comments.   

In this blog, the headline is my comment with which John took issue.   The inserted graphic contains John’s comments.   I stand by each of the comments and offer further explanation.

1.    BRINGING IN MORE STUDENTS INCREASES THE DEFICIT(Scott’s statement at 3/14/2018 meeting). 

The  Superintendent’s assessment that TSD receives about $1.5 million based upon the IDT students is accurate, but only a partial truth.  In reality, educating those students costs far more than the $1.5 million received, thus resulting in a greater deficit.   

As has been routinely voiced by TSD, the state is not providing enough money.  Given the funding model, it actually costs more to educate students than the state provides in funding, which was also outlined in a prior blog.    If you just take the number of students, and divide it by the total budget, TSD budgets about $12,500 per student, while the state is providing about $8500 per student.  I appreciate this analysis is much too simple to be precisely accurate, and the actual cost to educate each student is more likely in the $10,000-$11,000 range after factoring in some other variables.  However, the cost is still significantly more money than TSD is receiving on a per student basis.  Despite that fact, TSD erroneously continues to contend accepting IDT students is a financially prudent decision.  Based on TSD’s own assertions that they do not receive enough money from the state to provide basic education for TSD students, and assuming appropriate staffing levels, the more students TSD has, the greater the deficit. 

TSD has traditionally supplemented the budget with local levy money–which remains constant regardless of the number of students.  TSD does not collect any more local levy money when it accepts IDT students.  In fact, accepting those students results in the local levy money being spread thinner, leaving fewer resources for the resident students.    

I appreciate TSD accepts IDT students for non-financial reasons, which may be a noble course.  However, TSD should stop trying to justify its policy with the erroneous argument that accepting IDT students has a positive impact on the budget.      

The one caveat here is that I am presuming TSD will staff appropriately, and not just accept IDT students so they can be placed into already overcrowded classrooms. I would concede that accepting IDT students is a good financial move if TSD insists on maintaining the same amount staff, independent of enrollment–which in my opinion, seems illogical. 

I appreciate TSD is reluctant to staff down.  However, reducing the number of IDT students, and cutting expenses back to meet actual income, appears to be exactly what TSD needs to do from a budgetary perspective. 

2.    CLASS SIZES ARE BEING INFLATED(Scott’s statement at 3/14/2018 meeting, although I think I said “increased” not inflated).

I am confused by this statement, which appears to contend that class sizes remain constant even with the addition of IDT students.  I really wish there was the opportunity for a back and forth discussion during the Board meetings, or that the Board members would conduct further inquiry when statements like this are made.  

TSD accurately contends managing class sizes is an imperfect science to a significant degree.  TSD must accept all resident students.  However,  TSD controls how many IDT students it accepts.  If TSD opted to do so, TSD could conduct a pretty precise count of resident students, which is really not accurate until early to mid-summer, and then opt to decide how many IDT students are accepted.  Instead, TSD’s practice is to make IDT determinations first, and then adjust to the resident student enrollment. 

In any event, class sizes increase with IDT students.  Some schools, THS in particular, have not managed this well. This has resulted in significant overcrowding in some grades,  for example, Seniors and Freshman at THS and Sophomores at BHHS have many core classes above impact numbers.  See Tami’s class size blog for details.  

The result is undeniable.  Some schools, especially THS, elect to accept too many IDT students which results is classrooms well beyond capacity.  I am disappointed the Board members have not pressed the Superintendent, or the principals, for details regarding why schools, especially THS, consistently accept IDT students at a rate far greater than any other school in the County, resulting in consistently overcrowded classes.  

3.    WHY ARE YOU ACCEPTING APPLICATIONS SO EARLY(Scott’s statement at 3/14/2018 meeting).

TSD RESPONSE

My contention was that TSD should wait, likely until at least June, to accept IDT students, and, pursuant to its own policy, should use capacity as the determining factor.   

TSD’s own 3141P policy dictates space is the primary consideration in determining whether or not to accept IDT students.   

TSD’s response has been that IDT students families need to plan.  I appreciate advance planning is desired.  However, in my view, providing additional planning time to IDT families at the expense of providing the best educational environment for residents students, runs contrary to where TSD should keep its focus.  Affording planning time to IDT families has resulted in resident students routinely being in overcrowded classes, and, in some instances, not having desks to sit in and/or commuting to other schools to find available space in the desired classes.  TSD may contend this was caused by unexpected summer enrollment.  Not to pick on THS too much, but the current Freshman class is a prime example. 

There are 285 students enrolled in Freshman Health, a class every Freshman is required to take.   TSD sets the maximum enrollment in Freshman Health at 27 students per class.  There are 243 available spots(9 classes) in Freshman Health, but THS enrolled 285 students in those 9 classes.  Every Health call is at or over impact.  I am confident that TSD accepted more than 42 Freshman IDT students(that is  about 14% and about 16% of students at TSD are IDT students).  Why wouldn’t TSD wait to see how many resident students will be enrolled in Freshman Health, leaving a reasonable buffer for move ins(maybe a dozen or so spots), before it even considers allow IDT students to enroll?  TSD’s response was that “IDT families need time to plan.” 

Once again, nobody is saying we should not accept IDT students.  However, with a few limited exceptions, and consistent with TSD’s own policy, they should only be accepted if there is space.  285 students filling 243 spots is indicative of TSD not having enough space.    An IDT family’s need to plan should be secondary to forcing resident students into overcrowded classrooms. 

4.   OUT OF DISTRICT FAMILIES ARE NOT PAYING LEVY DOLLARS(Scott’s statement at 3/14/2018 meeting).

TSD RESPONSE

TSD concedes it receives no local levy money as a result of accepting IDT students, and instead tries to minimize the effect. 

TSD receives around $8 million a year in levy funds.  That is about 10% of the budget, and a pretty large sum.  That number does not increase or decrease with enrollment.    

The  reference to Running Start is also illogical as TSD still receives the same amount of levy money, regardless of how many students are enrolled in Running Start.  TSD does lose out on state funding as a result of running start students.  Arguing that the Running Start program and local levy funds are unrelated and do not affect each other is inaccurate.  

TSD ignores the fact that accepting IDT student actually dilutes the impact of the levy money is.  TSD has roughly $8 million to spread around whether it has 4000 students or 7000 students.  In fact, I would make the contention that, if staffed appropriately(enough teachers to educate full, but not overcrowded, classrooms) the levy money might just fill the current deficit in the state funding model.  The levy money goes farther with fewer students–whether IDT or resident.  The difference is that TSD must educate resident students, and chooses to accept IDT students at a far greater pace than any other district in the county.   

5.    SEVERAL K-5 CLASSES ARE AT OR ABOVE IMPACT(Scott’s statement at 3/14/2018 meeting).

“Very few” is subjective.  However, based upon the most recent public records request, 21% of the K-5 classes in TSD are at, or over, impact numbers.  I would contend 21% is a significant amount.  Of that 21% there are 5 of the 47 classes with 3 or more students over impact.  I am not sure why this he considers this not significant, because the TEA contract, Article 37.D.2, specifically states once the class is over impact a paraprofessional will be added, and the teacher can elect to take impact pay in lieu of having a paraprofessional.  No amount over impact is mentioned and therefore, it is solely up to the teacher to elect which option they prefer, regardless of how many students over impact are enrolled.  Controlling enrollment is different at the elementary school level as the number of students for each grade is less than at the high school level.  Most elementary schools have 3-4 classes at each grade level(70-100 kids), while high school enrollment per grade is in the 200-280 student range.  Getting 3-4 move ins over a summer could easily result in a class or two being at impact at the elementary school level.  The number of students at the high school level is a little different and there is more wiggle room.  This potential for students moving in over the summer is a great example of why we should wait to approve the ITD students until later in the year, minimizing the likelihood of classrooms over impact.

The point being, I would take issue with any contention that “very few” K-5 classes are more than the current contract size.  

6.  TSD SHOULD RECONSIDER THE TRANSFER POLICY(Scott’s statement at 3/14/2018 meeting).

TSD RESPONSE

I agree it would be unfair, and unwise, to not give proper notice of a policy change.  However, TSD could follow its current policy.  I would suggest TSD should follow procedures consistent with its own policy, something that is not currently occurring. 

THS and BHHS commenced accepting applications on January 22, 2019.   TSD’s policy is that IDT applicants will be notified within 45 days of submitting an application. 

Applications submitted by the end of January, 2019 would have required a response by March 15, 2019.  Notably, North Thurston School District did not even start accepting applications for IDT students until March 4, 2019.  I spent a while on the Olympia School District site and could not find the Transfer request form or date which applications are accepted.  

Regardless, 3141P requires TSD to publish a list of available spots on its website.   The directive is to ensure ample space for resident students.  As noted above, TSD has not ensured ample space for resident students.  Notably, as of the writing of this blog, TSD has yet to publish a list of available spots for the middle and high schools.  Accordingly, TSD appears to be making IDT determinations without the publication of the requisite notice.      

In lieu of publishing any notice, TSD recently put a blanket statement on its website regarding transfers: 

apture

TSD changing its policy mid year would not be appropriate.  On the other hand, TSD not following its own policy, especially when the result is overcrowded classrooms, is also not appropriate.  

TSD should hold off on admitting IDT students until such time as it can assure resident students that there will be sufficient space in classrooms.  If TSD continues with current practices, TSD would need to add more teachers and classes in several of the grades where overcrowding is evident.  This would increase the expenses at a rate higher than the increase in funds from the state (by TSD’s own claims of inadequate funding).  This would then require more cuts to other areas, which in my opinion is not in the best interest of TSD students.  

CONCLUSION


I am certainly not calling for TSD to stop accepting any IDT students.  TSD is a great place to attend school, and TSD should welcome IDT students provided doing so does not negatively impact the experience of TSD’s resident students, to which TSD owes a primary obligation.  

TSD accepts transfer students at a much higher rate than its peers.  The number of IDT students coming into TSD negatively impacts the budget and results in overcrowded classrooms.  TSD should start following its own policy, accepting IDT students only if space is available and doing so does not negatively impact the budget.   

As always, we welcome comments, suggestions or guest blogs.  scottkee@citizensfortumwaterschools.com

High School Class Size Investigated 2018/19.

How is TSD doing on class size at the High School level? 

A previous blog discussed the class size in TSD elementary schools. For that information click here.  Unlike class size studies for elementary schools, there isn’t really much out there discussing recommended class sizes for a high school class.  This blog mainly addresses the seats available in the classroom(likely around 25-35) and the stated threshold capacity.  Some classes are more intensive, and take more time outside of the classroom, than other classes.  For instance a PE class is less likely than an English class to add a significant amount of time to a teacher with added students.  With not much outside TSD available, the contract between TEA and TSD is used as the baseline for class size in this discussion.

Article 37.E.5 of the TEA contracts states as follows:

“Secondary Class Size and Targeted Average.
 The employee workload in secondary classrooms (except band, choir, orchestra, and PE) shall average no more than 27 students per period, with a class size of 30 for impact. These calculations shall exclude student assistants or peer tutors. If an individual class exceeds the impact level (30), overload compensation will apply. If the overall targeted average of 27 is exceeded, overload compensation will apply. Employees will only receive overload compensation for one of the two provisions, whichever provides the greater compensation.”

So what does that mean?   Classes averaging more than 27 students throughout the day, or a single class over 30 students were agreed by TEA and TSD as the threshold for impact.  From this one can conclude that 27 is the desired maximum in a class.  From a budget perspective, this means that any class over 30 students automatically qualifies for “overload compensation”, and any teacher who has an average of more than 27 students throughout the day qualifies for “overload compensation”.  

A recent public records request revealed that most of the high school classes set 27 as the maximum number of students in a classroom, even though that number is frequently exceeded. 

What classes at BHHS and THS would be considered “overloaded” based on the 27 student maximum? 

Both high schools have several classes that are over the threshold of 27 students, with many over the 30 student threshold too. (Band, Choir, Orchestra and PE were not included in this investigation).

English, Math, Science, and Social Studies, are, on average, more overloaded than non-core classes.  The following chart was compiled from the data showing the size of English classes at both high schools:

THS clearly has many more Freshman than it has room for in the English classes, while BHHS is well under the threshold.  The average Freshman English class size at BHHS sits at 25.6, and at THS it is 28.1.  The Freshman Honors English classes have a more significant difference between the schools.  BHHS does not have any Freshman Honors English classes over 27, with an average class size of 23.  In contrast,  every Freshman Honors English class at THS is over 27, and 50% have more than 30 students, for an average of 30.3 students per class.   

BHHS clearly has more Sophomores than it has room for in English classes, while THS is just under the threshold.  70% of the Sophomore English classes at BHHS are over 27, with an average of 27.9 students.  The Sophomore Honors English classes average 23.8 students.  BHHS clearly has more Sophomores than it has room for in English classes. Although THS is not over the 27 threshold for Sophomore and Junior English classes, THS is approaching the threshold in both Sophomore Honors English(26.3) and Junior English(26.5).  

Notably, 50% of the Senior English classes at THS have more than 27 students and 25% have more than 30 with an average of 28.5 students.  

The same approach with the math classes is as follows:

With Math classes, both schools seem to be similar until you look at the more advanced math classes.  For instance, at both BHHS and THS the Accelerated Math III is significantly overloaded, with both schools having an average class size over 30.  However, Pre-Calculus and Calculus classes at THS (31.5) are significantly more overloaded than similar classes at BHHS(15.8).   Unlike English classes, the students not generally segregated by grade.  It is clear that the early Integrated Math classes have much lower class sizes,  while the more advanced classes are more likely to be overloaded, and in some cases do not have enough desks in the classroom for the students.  For instance, some students in the THS Calculus class to travel to BHHS since THS is so overloaded.  

The same approach for Social Studies classes at both high schools is as follows:

With Social Studies classes, the data seems to follow the English data for both BHHS and THS.  Meaning, the courses for each grade are overloaded if the English classes for that grade are overloaded.  

For example, at BHHS 40% of the World History classes(typically taken by Sophomores), are over the 27 students threshold.  As stated earlier, the Sophomore English classes at BHHS are overloaded. This shows there are more Sophomore students at BHHS than class spots available in both English and Social Studies.

In comparison, THS has 56% of Social Studies Classes typically taken by Seniors over the 27 threshold.  Therefore it can be concluded, like English classes, there are more Seniors at THS than class spots available in Social Study classes.

The same approach for Science classes at both high schools is follows:

For the most part, science classes are below the threshold, with many well below the threshold of 27 students.  The Accelerated Physical Science at THS had 80% of classes over 27 and an average of 27.1 students.  21% of Physical Science classes at BHHS are over the 27 student threshold, with an average of 24.4 students.  Further, 11% of the Biology classes at BHHS are over 27, with an average of 23.1 students.  Physical Science is typically a Freshman course, therefore, like Freshman English classes, there are more Freshman at THS than spots available in the Accelerated Physical Science classes.

From the data above it is clear there are more Freshman and Seniors at THS than spots available in most of the core classes.  Similarly, there are more Sophomores than spots available at BHHS in the core classed.  

In looking at other classes typically taken by Freshman and Seniors there is a clear overcrowding of these particular classes.

This conclusion is highlighted when looking at the Health classes at THS(which are typically taken by Freshman):

BHHS has 33% of Health classes over 27 students and 13% over 30 students with an average of 27.1 students per class.  In contrast, THS has 90% of its Health classes over 27 students, and 50% over 30 students, with an average of 31.2 students per class.  Both schools have more students, likely Freshman, than they have spots in Health. 

Another class typically taken by Freshman at THS is the Tech Theater.  THS has 4 Tech Theater Classes, all of which are  over 27 students, with an average of 31.6 students per class.  

BHHS also has 50% of Spanish I classes over the 27 students with an average of 26 students per class.  BHHS has 67% of Spanish II classes over the 27 student threshold with an average of 27.5 students per class. 

The variables that effect overcrowding are the number of teachers and the number of students, both of which TSD controls. 

The number of incoming residents students is fairly predictable, and TSD can control the number of transfer students approved.  It would seem logical for the decision on transfer students to be made in the summer(after most “move ins” have occurred), when enrollment is more predictable and TSD knows how many resident students will be in the classes.  Our understanding is that this is not the current practice.  Letting the transfer students in before the spaces available have been determined, does not make sense, unless TSD decides to add more classes/teachers. The other option is to allow less Inter-district students to attend THS and BHHS.  

Conclusion.

The TEA contract allows for classes to be overloaded as long as the teachers are compensated, which may not be a bad option at the HS level.  However, similar to elementary classes, when class sizes increase in a high school class, this can create class management difficulties and increase the work load of the teacher.  Limited desk space may also pose a challenge if the class sizes are large enough.  It would appear that either a misappropriation of classes/teachers has occurred or a miscalculation on the number of students attending the high schools. 

The miscalculation is evident with the Freshman and Senior classes at TSD and Sophomore class at BHHS.

For example THS has several typically Freshman classes that are overloaded, as well as several typically Senior classes overloaded.  BHHS seems to have areas of overcrowding generally in the Sophomore classes.  Most of the classes at each schools are not overcrowded, but the core classes are typically the classes that are over crowded.  At BHHS, 84% of the over crowed classes are core classes.  At THS, 70% of the over crowed classes are core classes.  Most of the remaining classes over the threshold at THS are classes typically taken by Freshman students.  TSD needs to either add more teachers/classes or lower the number of students if TSD wants to keep classes below the agreed upon threshold. 

The raw data from our records report can be found on our documents page, here.

As always Scott and I welcome comments and questions.  Please email us at Scottkee@citizensfortumwaterschools.com

Elementary Class Size investigated 2018/19

4/02/19

With every new Blog entry we have been learning more and more about the ins and outs of how TSD is running.  There are many moving parts and each one is working with, or has an effect on, something else.  One of those moving parts is class size.  Last summer the community heard a lot of concerns, and reduction of class sizes was negotiated at length.  This entry looks at elementary class size in TSD.  

CLASS SIZE CLEARLY EFFECTS STUDENT SUCCESS

There have been many studies on how class size effects student learning.  You can find studies like STAR that show smaller class size results in an increase in academic performance.   The STAR study used 13-17 students or 22-26 students with a full-time teaching aide as a “small class” and 22-26 students as a regular size class.  SAGE was a multi year study that followed students from K-12,  and also found smaller class size increases academic performance, decreased in high school dropouts and resulted in greater retention of teachers.  An interest sidenote is that both studies showed the increases in academic achievement were larger with minority and lower income students.  

Some main points from an article on the STAR study by Jayne Boyd-Zaharias: 

“The state of Tennessee took seriously the findings about the benefit of small classes for low-income and minority children. In 1989, it established Project Challenge, which provided funds to the sixteen poorest counties (based on per-capita income) for reduced class sizes in kindergarten through third grade. This project was not an experiment like STAR; it was a policy application of the STAR findings, and it got excellent results. Charles Achilles, a member of the consortium that created the original STAR design, followed student achievement in these counties (1997)6 and found that “on average , the Challenge systems that started the 1:15 treatment in 1989 ranked well below the state average.  By 1995 they ranked near or above the state average .”

“The benefit of the SAGE program is especially strong for African-American students. In 1997-98, African-American students in SAGE classes increased their average total score by 52 points, compared with 33 points for African-American
students in control schools.These higher scores in SAGE schools narrowed the achievement gap between white and
African-American students;”

“Interviews of teachers and principals, classroom observations, and other qualitative comparisons of teachers in SAGE and regular schools suggest that SAGE teachers know each of their students better,spend less time managing their classes, have more time for instruction, and are more likely to individualize their instruction.”

You can read her full report here. The complete final SAGE study can be found here

Interestingly, class size impact is even more detrimental on lower income and/or minority students.  I found multiple articles on this topic.  While the general consensus is that students benefit from smaller class sizes, with lower income and minority students the benefit is increased significantly.   On the other hand, larger class sizes do not provide an ideal learning environment for students, and the negative impact is increased with lower income and minority students.

CLASS SIZE AND HOW IT AFFECTS THE BUDGET

Class size management is an important component of the budgeting process.  For example, the simplest way to reduce class sizes is to provide more teachers.  With budgeting, the “impact” number is also an important component.  Having classes at, or over, impact comes at a financial cost to TSD.    

Depending on grade level impact numbers at TSD are 22-27 for elementary age.  The following table is from the current TEA/TSD contract from this fall. This is the list of impact numbers at each grade level.  Once a class exceeds this number it is considered at impact.

The contract negotiated between TEA and TSD specifies an ideal maximum class sizes, which varies with grades/classes.  Once enrollment in a class is over impact, TSD is required to (1) provide a paraprofessional in the class for 2.75 hours of the day (it is unclear to me if this is a per student or a total regardless of how many students over impact this would make a significant difference in the cost), or (2)compensate the affected teacher with an “overload payment”(elementary: $22 per day per student over impact).  The wording in the contract appears to allow the teacher to choose which option he or she prefers.  

From contract Article 37.D.2:

“Impact Paraprofessional Time.
The District and the Association are committed to work toward class sizes that do not exceed the class size levels shown in the chart below. If a level is exceeded, elementary teachers shall be entitled to two and three quarter (2.75) hours of “impact paraprofessional” time, assigned to the individual classes that exceed the class size level, unless other creative solutions are /developed at the site. Teachers may elect to receive overload payment or other flexible options in lieu of paraprofessional time


As noted above, classes being at or over impact results in a less than ideal learning environment(unless a paraprofessional is also in the class).  As an example, test scores in the studies cited above increased with the smaller class sizes overall and a larger increase for low income and minority students.  

SO HOW IS TSD DOING ON ELEMENTARY CLASS SIZES? 

See the chart below, the red numbers indicate the class is over impact.  

22% of the classes at the elementary level are over impact and another 17% are at impact.  Some elementary schools have more classes at and over impact than others.  PGS, THE and LR have the highest numbers of classes at or over impact, where MTS, BL and EO have the fewest classes at or over impact. The chart below breaks down the percentage of classes at and over impact by school.

It should also be noted, that beginning next school year 2019-2020, TSD will be required to have K-3 classes at a maximum of 17 or forfeit significant funding.  Currently, only 8 of the 85  K-3 classes in TSD(11%) meet this criteria.  Accordingly, assuming enrollment and class size  are the same in 2018-19 as 2019-20, 89% of TSD classes in the K-3 grades would be over the 17 student maximum.  This topic came up at a recent Board meeting and there was some discussion about how many school districts are opting to forgo the funding as it is not financially prudent to make sure all K-3 classes meet the 17 student maximum.    

THERE ARE DIRECT FINANCIAL CONSEQUENCES WITH HAVING CLASSES OVER IMPACT.

At the time of our records request the elementary schools had a total of 27 classes over impact and a total of 47 students over impact.  So that is 27 classes that either have a paraprofessional or provide extra compensation to the teacher.  Providing the extra compensation to teachers pursuant to the contract is $22 per day, per student, which would result in a total of $186,120 for the school year.  If, instead, TSD paid 27 paraprofessionals the required 2.75 hours in each class the would cost somewhere between $213,000-$294,000.  Notably, these numbers do not factor in the cost of benefits, which is probably at least another 20% or so.   

In the scheme of a $85 million dollar budget, the financial cost is minimal, and probably requires little consideration.  However, the greater cost is to the students in each of those over-crowded classrooms, especially low income and minority students.  While the financial cost to pay a teacher impact fees would be less costly than assigning a paraprofessional in the classroom, from a student’s perspective, studies support the position that another professional in the classroom mitigates the negative impacts of overcrowded classrooms.  I was unable to find a study that investigated whether paying a teacher more to have a larger class also mitigates the impact.  With the current budget situation, TSD schools will likely be faced with some difficult decisions regarding which of these choices is best for the students in TSD.

Revisited-Why Change School Boundaries?

3/22/19

During the School Board Meeting  on 3/14/19, in the Superintendent Report, it was mentioned that we would likely need a new elementary school.  Since that meeting, I have spent some time looking at the data again trying to understand why it would be proposed that we would need another elementary school in the future. 

TSD spent a great deal of resources in hiring an outside firm to analyze the area and it’s potential future growth.  From that firm’s projections, it could be argued that building a new elementary is not the most financially prudent plan.  A new school would cost tens of millions of dollars and much of the burden would fall on the Tumwater School District residents.  The enrollment projections through 2040 (3800-4000) are well within the capacities of our schools (4225) as presently used. 

Holding off on building a new school would likely result in continued use of portables, in addition to some boundary changes.   While it can be argued that the use of portables is not ideal, that would need to be balanced with the best use of the funds that would be required to build a new school. 

The growth peaks at around the year 2030 and then starts to decline.  This could be interpreted to mean that the use of portables use would be temporary while TSD gets through the peak in enrollment, thus saving the taxpayers millions of dollars and avoiding having to close, or at the very least under utilize, schools in the future due to low enrollment. 

See the excerpt below from my previous blog on the topic:

Click here for the full Blog on the boundary changes 

Projected Enrollment:

“At the peak of the graph (around 2030) the total elementary enrollment should be around 3775-4000.  Looking at the total capacity for TSD elementary schools(assuming no use of portables) capacity in elementary schools is 3050.  However, if portables were to be used capacity would be 4225.  Notably, enrollment is projected to peak around 2030, with a slight downward trend thereafter. “

“If TSD can operate within its capacity over the next decade, which may involve another boundary adjustment, a good argument could made that spending millions of dollars on a new elementary school is not necessary.  Another piece of the puzzle that was not discussed, was the number of interdistrict students(students not living in the TSD boundaries) TSD enrolls.  From the numbers the committee were given, our elementary schools have a total of 85 interdistrict students.  That number doesn’t seem to significantly change enrollment.  However, TSD may be put into a position of being very selective when deciding whether or not to accept interdistrict kids at the elementary school level.”

Building Capacities:

As always we welcome comments and suggestions.  Click here to email us.

BUDGET UPDATE WITH INFO FROM TEA AND TSD


I sat down with Elizabeth Collins, the UniServ WEA Chinook representative for TEA. Elizabeth was very cordial, provided some useful information and engaged in a candid discussion about TEA’s position on a couple issues. In addition, there were some budgetary topics discussed at the most recent Board meeting on March 14, 2019.  As promised, and with the hope of creating productive dialogue, I am updating the blog with some of the information I learned during the meetings.

The positions of TEA and TSD have not changed much over the last few months.  TSD contends that it will operate at a deficit of somewhere between $4 million and $6 million over the course of the next 12 months, with a similar deficit next year absent significant cuts.  TEA believes there will likely be no deficit, and any deficit will be of a size that could be absorbed by cuts to non-essential programs. 

I have tried to provide some perspective from both TEA and TSD, along with a little bit of commentary below:

1.TEA believes TSD routinely builds in extra “budget capacity” and overplays a “the sky is falling” message. TEA’s argument is that TSD’s contention regarding a significant deficit is overstated, and likely wholly inaccurate. To support this claim, Elizabeth pointed me to the F195 and F196 documents on the OSPI website.

The F195 is a projected budget that TSD, like all other districts, provides to OSPI each year. The F196 is a report produced by OSPI which shows the actual income received, and expenses paid, during the fiscal year. Think of the F195 as TSD’s forecast of what the future holds, while the F196 is the reconciliation of TSD’s checkbook ledger at the end of the year. In simple terms, TEA thinks TSD is forecasting expenses it will not incur, thus implying that the financial peril is overstated by TSD.

TSD’s fiscal year tracks the school year(September to August). So, I pulled the F195 and F196 for the 2016/17 and 2017/18 school years to compare the budgeted(F195) and actual(196) expenditures.   Here are the links.  The documents are long(about 70 pages or so, but the pertinent information is summarized in the first 10 pages or so).  

2016-17 F195(budget).  http://www.k12.wa.us/safs/rep/fin/1617/34033195.pdf

2016-17F196(actual).  http://www.k12.wa.us/safs/rep/fin/1617/34033196.pdf

2017-18 F195(budget).   http://www.k12.wa.us/safs/rep/fin/1718/34033195.pdf

2017-18 F196(actual).  http://www.k12.wa.us/safs/rep/fin/1718/34033196.pdf


My general conclusion is that TSD does generally build in budget capacity.  The 17/18 projected expenses were about about $1.5 million greater than what was actually expended.  This is relatively consistent with the historical budgets TSD has presented.  With an $85 million dollar budget, the difference was about a 2% variance from the projections. While school district budgets are pretty predictable, which reduces the expected variance, TSD’s actual expenditures are pretty close to what it budgeted.

That being said, there are some large variances in specific categories. Notably, Regular Instruction and Support Services each had a variance of over $2 million—in opposite directions on a year to year basis. At that end of the day, the variances in those two categories pretty much offset each other, with the bottom line being a “wash.”   

It is possible there are some line items within the budget that could possibly be warrant further discussion. However, I deal with a lot of budgets, and rarely do I see a forecast budget fall within 5% of the actual year end income/expenses.  My conclusion is that there is some merit to TEA’s contention, but that TSD’s practice of building some capacity is not overly concerning in and of itself.  The pivot point on this topic is what is TSD doing with the money it budgets, but does not spend(see below).  

2.The TSD General Fund Balance has increased over the last few years.

As noted above, over the last 2 years TSD budgeted about $1-1.5 million more than it actually spent. Interestingly, TSD’s general fund balance(which is really just the savings account or rainy day fund) also increased about $1 million.  So, not surprisingly, TSD is saving some of the money, and spending some of the money.  A good analogy would be a household budget.  When unplanned income comes in the door, it is not uncommon to spend some of the money and save some of the money.  TSD is saving some of the money as the general fund balance has increased the last few years up until January, 2019. TSD is also spending some of the money.   

TSD’s contention(which I believe is correct) is that, as a result of the loss in levy funds, it will have to dip into savings to the tune of about $4 million over the next 6 months to meet the expenses in the 2018-19 budget.  TEA contends TSD will not have to do so. To date the levy payment have not changed.  However, the payments in 2019 will be significantly less.  I went through this in depth as part of a prior blog which can be reviewed by clicking here.   The truth is that we are all making educated guesses at this point and really will have no definitive answers until this summer.  

TEA contends the additional basic education funding makes up for the loss in local levy funds, and TSD has enough income to meet its expenses, and therefore should not need to access the general fund to meet budgeted items.  In the event TSD does not have sufficient funds to meet its budgeted items, TEA would point to the increased general fund balance and argue that TSD should use the funds it has saved to make up any shortfall.  TEA also points out that TSD generally finds money to cover unexpected or non-budgeted expenses.  

Interestingly, the amount, or lack thereof, of TSD’s deficit the next 6 months will be a pretty good indicator of the deficit likely to occur in 2019-20.  

3. 2018-19 is in the rear view mirror, so any corrections really involve the 2019-20 budget. 

At the most recent Board Meeting, Superintendent Bash indicated the Board has directed him to present a balanced budget, meaning the projected expenses can be no more than the projected income during 2019-20.  It is too late to take any substantive action for 2018-19(where TSD projects at least a $4 million deficit), so, due to the mandate to develop a balanced budget, TSD is looking at all options for 2019-20.

A complicating component is that it is possible the legislature will bridge the gap, and provide additional funding.  However, TSD is required as part of the collective bargaining agreement to notify affected employees of any cuts no later than May 15th.   It is quite possible that on May 15th we will not know if the legislature is going to provide relief.  Accordingly, TSD feels compelled to put together a “worst case” scenario(which assumes no additional funding) coupled with a restoration plan(in the event some additional funding comes to fruition.

Understandably, TEA is concerned about providing notice of cuts to staff absent an actual need to make the cuts.  Doing so certainly hurts morale.  In addition, staff who are unsure of their position with TSD may find another job over the course of the summer when TSD may actually end up having a spot available.  It is clear to me that TSD would much prefer not to provide notice of cuts unless the cuts actually have to be made, especially given the strained relations resulting from the events of last summer and fall. However, TSD is in somewhat of a “Catch 22” as the notices have to go out by May 15th.  If TSD fails to provide notice of the staff reductions, then those expenses will be part of the actual expenses in 2019-20, which would create a huge deficit if TSD’s projections are even close to what actually happens.    

4.How does the worst case scenario compare to the present?

It appears everything is up for discussion except Core Education(English, Math, etc), which is pretty much untouchable.  Among other steps, Superintendent Bash indicated that TSD is meeting with administrative staff to discuss possible reductions across the board(excluding Core Education), trying to come up with some prioritization, depending on how deep the cuts need to go.  

There have been very few details provided publicly about the cuts.  TSD has indicated that it projects significant administrative cuts, and has unequivocally stated that staff cuts will be necessary.   As noted in the most recent Board meeting, proposed position reductions will need to occur.  These will include administration, operations and school staff.  Once again, in most cases, notifications must be sent out by May 15th.    

Notably, the most recent Board meeting(3/14/2018–a recap of which can be linked here) was unusually well attended, primarily as a result of TSD recently notifying some library and technology certified specialist staff that they may be moved back to the classroom, with non certified staff filling the library and technology positions.   The Board meeting was standing room only, with several people showing up to provide public comment.   

At present, it is difficult to determine the cuts TSD intends to project.  My impression is that most of the “cuts” discussion has occurred at the TSD administration level, including principals and building representatives.  I imagine once word gets out about the proposed cuts, individuals in the community will then be able to really state their priorities.  In an ideal world, the stakeholders would meet together to discuss priorities, and potential cuts.  I suggested this concept at the most recent Board meeting, which appeared to be well received by the Board and community members.  However, when I have pitched the idea to TSD and TEA, for varying reasons, each appear unwilling to engage in such a discussion.  In any event, I am hopeful the TSD Board will allow for in depth community input after any proposals become known.  

5.Some good news, TSD and TEA actually are working hard to try and come up with some funding

TEA and TSD, along with many members of the community, have been actively involved in lobbying legislators to mitigate the fiscal problems to some degree.  There are a couple proposals before the legislature that would provide relief.  The “Levy Fix” would provide an additional $6-8 million to TSD without any additional cost to local taxpayers.  in addition, there were a couple proposals that would increase the basic education funding.  At last check the bills were having a tough time getting out of committee.  I would encourage individuals to contact legislators and have your voice heard.  

Lastly, the TSD Board is a volunteer group of leaders who serve our community, and devote countless hours each year to the Tumwater community.  The TSD Board is charged with the final say in budgetary decisions.  I know they want to hear from all those interested before undertaking the task of coming up with a budget, especially one that is likely to involve undesirable cuts.  If you want your voice heard, I would encourage you to contact the TSD School Board–emails below.  

khalia.davis@tumwater.k12.wa.us

melissa.beard@tumwater.k12.wa.us

jay.wood@tumwater.k12.wa.us

kim.reykdal@tumwater.k12.wa.us

rita.luce@tumwater.k12.wa.us

As always, we welcome comments and input from the community.  We are also looking for guest bloggers.  You can contact me at scottkee@citizensfortumwaterschools.com

Teacher Strike and 5 Snow Days-Now What?

**Update 3/11/19**

I put this update at the start since it seems we have at least somewhat of a resolution on the missed days.  See below for original post and previous updates.


Friday in the weekly District email the following was announced:

“Weather Make-Up Days Update: Thank you to all 2,540 who participated in the on-line survey giving your input regarding the make-up time for snow closure days. The results of the survey are as follows (#1 received the most votes, #5 received the least votes):

           #1 – Decrease the number of ACT early release Fridays

           #2 – No half-day early release for the last day of school

           #3 – Lengthen the school day by a few minutes each day

           #4 – Shorten Spring Break

           #5 – Saturday School for graduation seniors only

Our waiver application is prepared and requires School Board approval which will be considered at the March 14th Board meeting. After evaluating the hours needed to make up the lost instructional time, we found that we can recoup the time solely from ACT Fridays. In anticipation of the waiver being approved, we are cancelling ACT early release for Friday March 15th and March 22nd while we wait for a decision from OSPI. If the waiver is approved, we will then cancel the remaining ACT days that are scheduled for the 2018-19 school year.

As it stands, if the waiver is approved (and no more days are cancelled due to weather, power outages, etc.), the last day of school will be June 24th and will be a half-day early release for students.

The district is working with our employee groups to identify appropriate ways to make up lost staff time. We will keep you updated when we receive the waiver decision. “

If anything changes on March 14th at the Board Meeting, I will update again.

**End update**

Tumwater School District got off to a later start than usual this year. Adjustments were made to Christmas break, Presidents weekend break and the end of school year to accommodate the lost instructional days originally scheduled in September.  Fast forward to February and we are hit with a giant snow storm.  The storm was more than this area typically is used to, prompting the Governor to declare a State of Emergency.  So, what does that mean to us?

Chris Reykdahl , OSPI Superintendent, released a statement explaining that because of the Governors Declaration, the school districts were allowed to apply for a waiver for those missed days of instruction. https://content.govdelivery.com/accounts/WAOSPI/bulletins/22f2490  Mr. Reykdal stated, “State law allows the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) to waive missed school days, and school districts will have the opportunity to apply to waive days that were missed while the state of emergency was in effect. However, there is no legal authority to waive the mandatory average of 1,027 hours of instruction for students.”  So what exactly does that mean?  In looking up the statute that makes this requirement, this is an average.  The requirement is actually 1080 hours for grades 9-12 and 1000 for grades 1-8,  https://apps.leg.wa.gov/RCW/default.aspx?cite=28A.150.220  . This brings up the question, what exactly is an instructional hour?  As defined by the Washington State Law:

“Instructional hours” means those hours students are provided the opportunity to engage in educational activity planned by and under the direction of school district staff, as directed by the administration and board of directors of the district, inclusive of intermissions for class changes, recess, and teacher/parent-guardian conferences that are planned and scheduled by the district for the purpose of discussing students’ educational needs or progress, and exclusive of time actually spent for meals. – RCW 28A.150.205 https://app.leg.wa.gov/RCW/default.aspx?cite=28A.150.205

Specifically meals are excluded, so a regular day of school is 6.5 hours long, taking lunch out leaves 6 hours each day.  So at 6 hours a day for 180 days is 1080.  I don’t know how the ACT days (1.25 hours less for 4.75 total hours), late starts (usually 2 hours), early release days and half days (not including teacher conference days as those are counted as a full day) are going to be accounted for, as that would be lost instructional hours and going far below the already required 1080 hours for grades 9-12.  Maybe they account for that with the younger students (grades 1-8) getting more than the 1000 required hours (approximately 167, six hour days) to make the 1027 hours average(approximately 171, six hour days).  Is that the spirit of the law or a loop hole? These are some of the questions we have posed to the TSD, and will update as we get answers. 

****Update 1*****

John Bash response (email 2/19/19):

“Yes, all districts are required to maintain a record showing how they meet the minimum basic education requirements required by law.  Tabitha Whiting (included here) works in our human resources division and is our point person for maintaining this data.  She can provide you a detailed summary and spreadsheet showing how we meet the requirement.  The requirements are separate for Kindergarten vs. grades 1-12 so we calculate these separately and use an averaging method for grades 1-12.  Again, Tabitha can explain how this is calculated and share our data with you.

Yes, we do plan to apply for a waiver for the days missed last week.  However, we won’t be doing that right away as the possibility of more winter weather still exists and changing the school calendar requires negotiation with our unions which is underway.  We also plan to gather input from parents will have a plan for this developed by the end of this week.  In lieu of making up days at the end of the school year (which is our current contract language with the teachers union), options include such things as eliminating early release Fridays, expanding our current school start/stop times, reducing scheduled vacation days, and/or eliminating any remaining ½ day early releases (like the last day of school).  These options are still being discussed and a plan must be agreed to between the district and our unions.  It’s not one side or the other that unilaterally determines this.  In addition to guaranteeing student instructional time, we also are working with our staff to plan and schedule work time for our 180 day employees that would need to be make up the hours not worked due to any approved waiver of school days.   This often includes professional development and/or other professional work related to their assigned duties and responsibilities.” The following spreadsheet was provided by TSD.  It was also explained, “ We report to the State Board of Education whether we meet the criteria or not as simple yes and no answers“, no data or proof is required to be sent.

This is a little confusing at first glance and there are a few minor errors, but the end average (1041 hours) is the TSD reported average if nothing were to change over the course of the year.  Apparently TSD is not required to update the information as time is lost during the years.  It was unclear if this form is ever updated or they look at those lost hours specifically.  The response was, “We maintain the document internally for record keeping purposes only after the fact”.  It was explained that the snow days that recently occurred are still not accounted for as they may be part of the waiver and that decision has not been made at this point.

Average means some students are not meeting the required minimum hours required:

TSD holds to the “average” as opposed to the differing requirements for grades 1-8 and 9-12.  Since this is allowed under the law some of the grades are well below the required minimum, while some are well above.  If you take TSDs numbers as reported, grades 9-12 are averaging about 998 hours of instruction, grades 1-5 average 1063, and 6-8 average 1062 for an overall average of 1041.  This would meet the requirement under the law.

What About Lunch?

TSD is allowing 20 minutes for lunch for each grade.  The bell schedules for the schools allow 30 minutes for lunch. The definition of instructional hours as stated above includes, intermission between classes, but excludes any time for meals.  TSD stated that they only count 20 minutes for lunch because “The passing time for lunch is considered 5 minutes before and after”. 

Interestingly enough, intermission for the HS is 4 minutes between classes and the middle school 3 minutes between classes, but TSD allows them a “passing time” of 5 minutes before and after lunch.  That brings up the question, does the passing time before lunch and after lunch count as intermittent time between classes or is it considered the same as the 5 minutes before school which is NOT allowed to be counted as instructional time? (A debate for another time maybe).  TSD considers it intermittent time and counts the 5 minutes before lunch and the 5 minutes after lunch as instructional time.

On the Washington State Board of Education FAQ site they discuss lunch time as follows:

8. Is there a standard time that should be reduced from the calculation of instructional hours for time spent for lunch?

There is no provision in basic education law setting guard rails around “time actually spent for meals”in the definition of instructional hours. Other law, however, may condition how districts make this determination.

RCW 28A.405.460, for example, provides that all certificated employees shall be allowed reasonable lunch period of not less than thirty continuous minutes during the regular school lunch periods and during which they shall have no assigned duties, unless they work out other arrangements by mutual consent. Children therefore cannot be under the supervision of certificated staff during those thirty minutes.

The Department of Labor & Industries requires by rule that an adult employee (public or private) must be allowed at least a 30-minute meal period starting no earlier than two hours and no later than five hours from the beginning of a shift. (WAC 296-126-092.)

Why does lunch time matter?

If you took the full 30 minute lunch for each grade, instructional hours for 1-5 would drop to 1033, grades 6-8 would drop to 1032 and grades 9-12 would drop to 945, the average instructional hours would drop to 1011 (well below the requirement).  As a reminder the law is 1000 instructional hours for grades 1-8 and 1080 for grades 9-12 or they can use an average of 1027.  Clearly our 9-12 grade students would fall well below the requirement if we did not employ the average. 

Will update later:  I have sent a question to the Washington State Board of Education to see if I can get clarification as to what they mean exactly by intermittent time and lunch times, and will update as I get more information.

What can you do?

Also, in the response from John Bash he discusses some interesting ideas for making up that time.

“We also plan to gather input from parents will have a plan for this developed by the end of this week.  In lieu of making up days at the end of the school year (which is our current contract language with the teachers union), options include such things as eliminating early release Fridays, expanding our current school start/stop times, reducing scheduled vacation days, and/or eliminating any remaining ½ day early releases (like the last day of school).  These options are still being discussed and a plan must be agreed to between the district and our unions.  It’s not one side or the other that unilaterally determines this.” 

TEA has stated that they will not take days away from Spring Break or have Saturday school, so my guess is these are off the table so to speak since TEA has to agree to any variances from the originally set schedule.  It looks like the only viable options we would have would be to get rid of ACT days, lengthen the school day and/or add days at the end of the year.  The state of emergency would only include 4 of the 5 snow days up to this point.  That means we at least have the one day added on at the end of the year so far.  But we are short 24 hours of instructional hours than originally planned, if TSDs accounting of the hours is correct. Fingers crossed that we don’t have anymore this year. 

Lastly, if you have any ideas, or suggestions about which option you would prefer for making up the lost instructional hours, I would encourage you to contact both TSD and TEA and let them know what you think.  

**Update 2**

Here is a link to the survey TSD put out to fill out a survey for your choice for options, one main problem was they didn’t leave the option to leave the days at the end of the year.   Click here to fill out the survey to vote for your choice on how to make up the instructional time.  Choices being: days off of Spring Break, remove half day on last day of school, Saturday school for seniors(not sure how that helps with the instructional hours if only seniors do this), remove ACT days, and lengthen all school days.  Also of note, in the response from John Bash he stated, “In addition to guaranteeing student instructional time, we also are working with our staff to plan and schedule work time for our 180 day employees that would need to be make up the hours not worked due to any approved waiver of school days.   This often includes professional development and/or other professional work related to their assigned duties and responsibilities.”   I am not exactly certain who falls in this category, but this could mean that employees (which may or may not include teachers) would still be required to work the “180 days”.  

**Update from the 2/28 Board Meeting**

During John Bash’s Superintendent report he stated that they were planning on applying for a waiver, but they were not going to apply until the end of March.  He stated they were waiting because they were waiting until the “snow” season was over.  He also stated we had LOTS of responses from the survey and they were going to look at that as they tried to work with TEA to make a decision about how to make up the hours.

For more information from the Washington State Board of Education you can visit these sites:

https://www.sbe.wa.gov/faqs/instructional_hours#4.%20What%20is%20the%20definition%20of%20instructional%20hours?

https://www.sbe.wa.gov/our-work/waivers

We are always looking for feedback, suggested topics or guest articles.  Feel free to email me at contactus@citizensfortumwaterschools.com

Can TEA and TSD agree on a budget?–No chance until they can agree on enrollment.

On February 19, 2019, TEA held a members only meeting led by their budget analyst.  The TEA Facebook page billed this meeting as a chance to explain “the budget crisis through the Association’s lens.”  I offered to attend the meeting on behalf of the TSD community budget audit committee, but my offer was politely declined. 

I have obtained some of the slides from the presentation, which were very informative.  As I will note below, TEA raises some valid points, while also using, in my view, unsubstantiated projections to try and convey an untenable position.  I have observed TSD engage in a similar practice.  That is not to say either of them is being deceptive, but each of them are assuming enrollment to suit their respective positions.  I have some commentary on the effect of this posturing, and have proposed a solution, at the end of this blog. 

In this blog, I am simply going to go through a set of slides that were presented at the TEA meeting and offer my take on the validity of the contentions, with some analysis of the data.    

TEA contends that TSD will not have a $6.5 million deficit in 2019/20.  I think TEA’s logic is correct, but the validity of the assertion is unknown until we know enrollment for 2019/20. 

The data on the slide is pulled from a 4 year forecast as provided by TSD to OSPI on 11/2/2018.  The report provides 2 key data points—student enrollment and employees.  http://www.k12.wa.us/safs/rep/fin/1819/34033f195f.pdf

In the forecast, TSD reported actual current enrollment of around 6670(which is about 200 less than the prior year).  As part of the forecast, TSD projected a significant decrease in enrollment, down to 6215 in 2019/20, 6360 in 2020/21, and 6460 in 2021/22.   Funding is tied directly to enrollment, and, if TSD’s projections are correct, the forecasted decrease is pretty accurate. 

TEA contends it is likely enrollment will more closely resemble the past few years(around 6700), and this year is just an anomaly.  This is the first year TSD has experienced a decline in enrollment for quite some time.  If TEA is correct, and enrollment stays roughly the same, TSD will not experience a large revenue decrease. 

Notably, as a variable, TSD controls enrollment to some degree as it decides how many out of district student to accept(as will be discussed in a future blog, state money follows the student while local levy money is the same regardless of enrollment). 

The most interesting component in this analysis is that TSD projects the exact same amount of certified staff(473), regardless of enrollment.  I am not sure if this is required for reporting.  However, it is illogical to presume that TSD would employ the same amount of staff if enrollment was down 400 students. If enrollment is down, the amount of employees would also decrease, resulting in a decrease of expenses. 

Enrollment is an unknown in part, and the parties are making very disparate assumptions.  So, both TEA and TSD are correct.  If enrollment is up, TEA’s projections are more accurate.  If enrollment is down, TSD’s projections are more accurate.  

TEA makes two contentions in this slide.  First, the probability of enrollment decreasing by 600 students over a 2 year period is very low. TEA is probably correct, but only time will tell.  Second, TSD currently employs 36 fewer teachers than the number for which it has budgeted.  TEA’s contention with respect to employees is inaccurate, at least according to most recent OSPI information.  

As noted above, TSD previously forecasted 473 certificated FTEs.  TSD currently reports that it actually has 490 certificated FTEs, which is 17 more than what was budgeted.  That is problematic in and of itself from a budgeting standpoint.

However, TEA doesn’t use either of those numbers and instead pulls the 437 FTE number from the staffing analysis(which is below).  The staffing analysis represents what the state is funding based upon TSD’s actual enrollment, and does not represent how many employees TSD actually has on staff.  TSD is not employing 36 fewer teachers when compared with the budget. 

Regardless of what the State funds, TSD appears to employ about 480 FTEs.  I find no evidence to support TEA’s statement that TSD currently employs only 437 FTEs.   

TEA accurately summarizes the effect of the McCleary fix.  However, TEA’s contention about state funding is overly optimistic, and to date unrealized, speculation as it is premised on enrollment being between 7000 and 7380 students. 

TEA makes an $18.7 million increased funding contention based upon an OSPI report which can be found at  http://www.k12.wa.us/safs/ins/2242/2242.asp.    You can either take my word for it or check out the data.   Click the Multi-Year Budget Comparison tool, which will take you to a spreadsheet.  The relevant information is on the District Detail Summary tab and the Enrollment tab. 

For those of you who like to get to the point quickly, here is the short version.  OSPI projects that TSD enrollment will be between 7000 and 7400 over the next 3 years, if that occurs the TEA is correct.  To the extent it does not, TEA’s contention is without merit.   

For those of you that like data and an explanation, here is the long version.  On the District Detail Summary tab, scroll down to Tumwater(line 283).  You will see that OSPI is predicting TSD will receive $84,520,546 million for 2017/18, with the amount increasing to $85,981,087 by 2020/21.  These numbers are based on a per student funding method. 

The flaw in the OSPI predictions is that they are based on unlikely enrollments which have not been, and are unlikely to be, achieved. If you click on the enrollment tab you will find that, in order to receive those funds, the enrollment in TSD would have to be 7000 students in 2018/19, increasing to 7380 students in 2020/21.  I am not sure how OSPI arrived at the enrollment projections, but they are extremely optimistic.   In fact, we know that actual enrollment in 2018/19 is 6600(400 less than what OSPI predicted), which, under the OSPI funding model, reduces the revenue by approximately $5,000,000. 

Once again, TEA makes an assumption that TSD will get more money.  The assumption is predicated on enrollment numbers that seem unrealistic.  Unless we get about 400 new kids moving into the district, TEA’s contention is extremely flawed.   

The “Fiction” statement on this one is a little confusing to me.  I am unaware of TSD, or anyone else, contending that TSD has to give local levy dollars to other districts.  That is not the case, and is actually contrary to the law.  As TEA points out, TSD must keep that money local and it must be used for the designated purpose, which generally does not include funding basic education. 

The confusion may be from the legislature capping the local levy collection amount at 1.5% of assessed value, even though voters approved more than 3%.  See my prior blog for a discussion on this one.  In any event, whatever is collected over 1.5% goes back to the State coffers, and is doled out under the new state funding model. 

point that is inaccurate.  TEA does not offer any of its own sources, and appears to rely solely on TSD information, but piece meals the information to try and conclude that TSD budgeted $4 million more for FTE salaries than it actually pays. I see no evidence that is the case.  Candidly, I cannot even trace the sources and follow the logic.  Without confirmation of the source, and a linear explanation, I would disregard this one. 

average teacher in Tumwater is paid a salary of around $81,000.  The state is funding our teacher spots at about $65,000.  A similar disparity exists for almost all other FTE positions. 

TEA’s contention that Tumwater is getting an increase of $13 million is based on OSPI’s prediction that Tumwater will have between 7000 and 7300 students over the next couple years.  Even assuming TEA is correct, and those students do show up, Tumwater would need to hire many more employees, which would come at a cost that would quickly eat up the alleged surplus of money.  In fact, one could argue(which I plan on doing in a later blog) that more students coming in to the District could negatively impact the budget as the state funding is inadequate. 

CONCLUSION

What I have learned through this process, similar to the strike discussions, is that the parties cannot even agree on how much money is available, which is really just agreeing on how many kids will be(or are) enrolled at TSD.  TEA and TSD are each putting forth projections, yet failing to jointly discuss the reality of those projections.  I see no benefit to a presentation of “TSD’s view” at a TSD Board meeting.  Similarly, I see no benefit with TEA bringing its members together to put forth the “TEA view.”   The parties’ inability to agree on current and future enrollment numbers is disappointing.   

PROPOSED SOLUTION

The labor contracts are in place so the fixed expenses are pretty predictable, and revenue is almost wholly dependent on enrollment.   The budget variable is the number of kids.  In simple terms, TSD and TEA just need to get together and figure out what to do if “X”(or “X”+200, or “X”+400) kids show up. 

That variable cannot be solved right now, but TSD and TEA could agree upon what to do once the variable is known.   How about TEA and TSD come up with a joint plan, hopefully with the help of the community, that changes when enrollment changes?  Get around the same table and come up with a plan if there are 6400 kids, then come up with a plan if there are 6600 kids, then come up with a plan if there 6800 kids, and so on and so on.  

We are always looking for feedback, suggested topics or guest articles.  Feel free to email me at contactus@citizensfortumwaterschools.com

Is TSD in a Budget Crisis?

Well that depends on your definition of crisis.  Under current law, Districts are required to provide a rolling 4 year budget forecast.  As with all forecasts, the 4 year budget is based upon projections, the biggest one of which is enrollment. Here is a recent 4 year forecast produced by TSD:

TSD projections moving forward are bleak.  In each year, with the current budget and projected enrollments, TSD is projecting expenditures that greatly exceed expected revenue, on average about $5 million per year.  This model is obviously not sustainable.  It is possible the legislature will provide more revenue, and enrollment numbers will certainly change to some degree, which will affect revenue and expenses.  

If the enrollment projections TSD is using are correct, the 4 year forecast is likely the reality we are facing. 

WHAT DID MCCLEARY DO?

The McCleary lawsuit was all about the source of the funding, not the quantum of money.  Past practice was to allow local communities broad discretion to determine how much money was needed for funding education.  If the taxpayers were up for supplementing basic education funds, so be it.  As part of the McCleary decision, the Supreme Court found this was inequitable.  The primary effect of the McCleary decision is that the State is now required to fully fund basic education from state coffers, and cannot shift the burden to the local communities.  Of some concern, the McCleary court decision did not dictate, or even offer much guidance, as to how this was to be done.  That task was left to the legislature. 

WHERE DOES TSD REVENUE COME FROM UNDER THE NEW FUNDING MODEL?

School District budgets are complicated.  However, they are also relatively predictable.  The vast majority of the revenue for TSD comes from two sources: (1)State Money for basic education; and (2) Local Money for voter approved enhancements not falling within the basic education realm. 

The State money is based, almost exclusively, on enrollment, and makes up about 72% of the total TSD revenue.  The Local Money comes from voter approved levies and makes up about 10% of the total TSD revenue.  The remaining revenue comes from various sources that are, for the most part, pretty consistent and really do not create large variances in the budget. 

State Money.  Under current enrollment numbers, Tumwater receives about $58 million per year from the State to fund basic education.  The legislature has determined how much it should cost to fund basic education, and now divides up the money pretty much equally across the state.  The theory being that it should cost the same to educate a kid in Tumwater, as it does in Omak, as it does in Bellingham.  The money is actually allocated per staff “needed” which is determined by the number of kids enrolled.  For example, the State might say there should be 20 kids in a 4th grade class.  Therefore, if a District has 20 4th graders, it gets money for 1 teacher.  If the District has 30 4th graders, it gets money for 1.5 teachers—regardless of whether the District employs 1 or 2 teachers educating the 30 kids.  The same type of funding model is used for principals, counselors, nurses, janitor, etc.  How many a District needs is dependent on enrollment. 

  For what it is worth, TSD enrollment is down about 250 students this school year.  In very general terms, 250 fewer students probably equates to at least a $2 million revenue reduction.    

Local Money.  A few years ago, our voters approved a levy that allows TSD to collect roughly $16 million (roughly 3% of assessed property values) in property taxes per year from citizens that live within TSD boundaries.  However, with the new funding model, the legislature reduced the ability for local jurisdictions to tax citizens and supplement education funding, effectively capping the amount Tumwater can collect at 1.5% of assessed value.  The result is that TSD is set to receive an estimated $7 million less each year than the voters decided to give to TSD.  In addition, there are some pretty strict parameters as to how the levy money collected can be used.  See charts below. 

Many education leaders, including Tumwater’s own Chris Reykdal(Superintendent of Public Instruction), are putting forth creative “fixes” to allow districts to collect a larger share.    http://www.k12.wa.us/Communications/PressReleases2018/ProposedLegislation.aspx.  To date, I am unaware of any significant legislative changes to the funding model so we are stuck with the above reality for the forseeable future.   

WERE ALL DISTRICTS NEGATIVELY IMPACTED?

No, for some the new funding model provides more revenue.  Tumwater fell into a little bit of a perfect storm that was caused by two primary factors, and was among the hardest hit.

First, from a historical perspective, Tumwater citizens have been generous, and routinely supported education levies and bonds.  The new funding model is designed to prohibit local communities from funding basic education to any degree.  Thus, Tumwater is precluded from collecting money to fund basic education even if its citizens want to be generous or think doing so is worthwhile.   

Secondarily, the funding model provided some “make up” money based upon cost of living and teacher experience in certain districts. 

Unfortunately, at least on this go around, TSD missed the numerical thresholds in each category and is not receiving any of that money.  Notably, our neighbors in North Thurston and Olympia are each receiving extra funds.

IS THE STATE GIVING TSD ENOUGH MONEY TO FULLY FUND BASIC EDUCATION?

The answer is a clear and definitive “no,” at least not at the level Tumwater citizens have grown accustomed to in the past.  One of the most illustrative examples lies with the gaps in the funding model for employee costs.  Remember that the State has essentially prohibited the local collection of revenue for employee costs.  All money for employee costs is supposed to come from the State. 

According to TSD, the average teacher in Tumwater makes about $81,727 a year.  However, the state has allocated about $65,216 per teacher.  In TSD, principals earn, on average, about $118,000 per year.  The legislature is funding about $96,000 per principal.  The same type of deficiency is present for virtually every other category of employees as the chart below shows. 

It is true that TSD’s revenue increased under McCleary, probably in an amount that is pretty comparable to the increased expenses that were a byproduct of the new contracts for employees.  However, the State has now prohibited TSD’s practice of supplementing its expenses with money from the local levies. If TSD were able to collect local money, the budget, like most years, would have likely fallen into place, even with the increased employee costs.       

This practice is not unique to TSD and many districts are facing a similar situation.  For more information see https://www.esd112.org/schoolfunding/.

DOES TSD HAVE A RAINY DAY FUND?

Yes.  TSD maintains a “General Fund”—which is really a savings account.  Think of it as a cushion.  Charged with certain fiscal responsibilities, TSD cannot live paycheck to paycheck, spending what it has each month.  Thus, a rainy day fund is maintained.  The balance in the account fluctuates, but the average general fund balance over the past few years has been around $9 million.  The largest deposits occur in October and April. Notably, at a recent Board Meeting TSD elected to reduce the amount of funds required to be maintained in the general fund, and use some of the rainy day funds to make up the budget deficit this year.  This was a “band aid” to bridge the deficit for the 2018-19 school year.  With the reduced limit, the ongoing minimum general fund balance will likely be reduced to around $4 million.   

WHAT IS THE PLAN?

Just to be clear, the budget dilemma we are now facing was not caused solely by TSD and its employees reaching new contracts.  That being said, like many organizations, employee costs are one of the largest expenditures for TSD.  Accordingly, it would be disingenuous to argue that paying people more has not contributed to the budget dilemma. 

It is unfair for TEA(or WEA) to say that TSD has plenty of money.  It is also unfair for TSD, or anyone else, to blame the budget dilemma on the employees for negotiating labor agreements.  TSD and the labor unions entered into the agreements, and should have had a pretty good understanding at the time of the consequences.  The upside is that we can recruit and retain higher quality staff.  The downside is that, until a revised funding stream appears, we are going to have to cut some corners, be  creative, and figure out a way to use the limited resources we have to provide the best environment we can for our students.

It is a matter of priorities.  TSD’s revenue is limited, and insufficient to fully fund what we have historically funded.  We need to prioritize how we want to spend money.  Paying staff a fair and negotiated wage is a noble objective, as is having small class sizes, as is having up to date technology, as is having great extra-curricular activities, and so on and so on.  TSD needs to come together as a community, and make some pretty difficult decisions, at least in the short term. 

At recent meetings, the TSD Board has discussed proposed cuts, and some of the decisions will need to be made within the next 60-90 days.   Meeting minutes can be located here.  https://www.tumwater.k12.wa.us/Page/8625

We are hopeful TSD, TEA and the rest of the Tumwater community will work together and engage in thought provoking brainstorming sessions where an exchange of ideas can occur to reach a solution that works best for the Tumwater community.   We would love to hear your questions and/comments.  We will continue our investigative work and update periodically. 

The information appearing in this blog was primarily compiled from the following sources: (1) TSD presentations at Board Meetings; (2)OSPI; and (3) knowledge gleaned during my tenure on the TSD budget committee.   

We are always looking for feedback, suggested topics or guest articles.  Feel free to email me at contactus@citizensfortumwaterschools.com