Friday, May 29, 2009

The real consequences of misguided leadership.

There used to be a time when offering high salaries brought the best and brightest to your company. With all things being equal, the prospective candidate for a position within your organization could consider things like compensation as a determining factor. However, things have clearly gotten out of control.

The mentality of many public agencies is to automatically assume that higher pay means a higher set of qualifications being brought into service to advocate for an agency's priorities. Sadly, when everyone offers obscene wages to their leaders, while retaining a board that doesn't understand the work these "leaders" do, there is a disaster just waiting to happen. That disaster is now devouring us.

What happened to the days when a candidate for superintendent wanted to lead a school district and be a part of its community? What happened to developing a reputation as a great place to work and attracting stellar candidates that want to be involved in cutting edge work and the provision of exceptional services? What happened to developing leadership from within an organization and investing in our community resources, like employees? There doesn't appear to be any real concern for leaving a constructive and positive legacy. We recruit random outsiders that rave about the random success of their respective organizations... organizations they appear to be in a hurry to leave.

These days it is all too common for "leaders" to move between organizations and demand high salaries under the pretense of perceived success. As we survey the industrial and commercial landscape in search for a representative sample of what this strategy has created, one cannot help but take notice of the innumerable casualties and countless programs that have withered under the pressure of misguided leadership.

When a "leader" tells our community that no meaningful research exists to support the assertion that five half days of kindergarten each week is better than two full days and one half day and then protects half day programming at Madrona and Maplewood, what conclusions must this community draw?

Why slash half day programming everywhere else? If it works at Madrona and Maplewood, why doesn't it work everywhere else? If it doesn't make any difference everywhere else, why protect the programs at Madrona and Maplewood? Perhaps the answer has more to do with the inclination toward vocal dissent among those parents than any real educational objectives.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Edmonds School District just paves over problems.

The Herald published a very interesting article this morning about the contaminated site the Everett School District bought in 1986. Tainted soil costly for Everett district.

The Everett School District identified their site as necessary for acquisition in 1986, while the Edmonds School District had rejected their new administration site twice before.

The Everett School District knew their site was contaminated and they spent years developing a plan to remediate the existing consequences from known conditions, while the Edmonds School District still has no idea as to the extent of contamination at what was an informal dump site for decades.

The Everett School District determined that removing the contamination would be a far more effective solution to their problem, while the Edmonds School District elected to just pave over the problem.

The Everett School District is performing their clean-up voluntarily instead of in response to a directive from the State, while the Edmonds School District just decided to pretend that no such contamination exists and provided no meaningful information to the State.

The Everett School District held this property for years before developing the site, while the Edmonds School District rushed into their purchase and even rejected their own $3,300,000.00 appraisal in favor of the seller's $5,800,000.00 appraisal.

The Everett School District is paying approximately $450,000.00 to haul contaminated soil from the site, while the Edmonds School District spent $2,300,000.00 to grade and pave their site.

The Everett School District has administrative staff working in three old buildings (One is 40 years old, one hasn't been updated in more than 40 years and another is 97 years old), while the Edmonds School District has administrative staff working in one building constructed less than 20 years ago.

The Everett School District has increasing student enrollment, while the Edmonds School District is shrinking.

The Everett School District has one person managing Facilities and Capital Planning, while the Edmonds School District divides those tasks to prevent the departments from working together effectively.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Librarian issue offers a peek into district thinking.

At our "evening of community enlightenment", Marla and Nick offered a rather feeble explanation as to why librarians at smaller schools need to be cut. Marla appears to believe that smaller schools must be populated with smaller children with smaller brains. Perhaps she thinks they come from smaller families, eat smaller meals and have smaller feet. Her logic is flawed and here is why.

If a smaller school needs to have less than a full time librarian, why not have less than a full time principal? If there are fewer students wandering the halls and sitting in classrooms, why not reduce the number of hours a principal works at the school? It wouldn't be the first time in human history that a principal performed the duties of a site administrator at more than a single school. A single principal could be shared by two smaller schools. Mornings could be at one location and afternoons at another. They are smaller schools after all.

Marla furthered her argument by suggesting it would be inequitable for a full time librarian to work at a small school because the time spent per student at a small school would be higher than at schools having more than 500 students. Applying this manner of reasoning would suggest it would also be unfair for a small school to have a full time principal because the time spent per student would be greater than at a larger school.

Can the same thinking be applied to maintenance and custodial staff? Would it make sense to reduce the number of hours spent at a facility because enrollment happens to be lower? Assuming the District still had a fully-staffed Grounds crew, would they mow a smaller portion of the field? Would a custodian clean a smaller portion of the school?

Of course, there are those of us that work in facilities that would call such a tactic "deferred maintenance". It could make sense to just limp along until enrollment increases and funds come rolling in from the State. The facility may suffer in the short run and the costs involved in making needed improvements may be significantly higher when performed at a later stage, but can the same tactic be used when educating our children? Have we adopted a philosophy of "deferred intelligence"?

This tactic smells a lot like the one year suspension of swimming. While it may improve the look of your budget to have the additional $20,000.00, it does absolutely nothing for those swimmers relying upon their involvement on the swim team to build a future. Whether we deprive a student of a pool or a librarian, there are core issues that directly improve the academic potential of students. While the District may see simple cuts as nothing more than a few dollars in the General Fund, their obsession with attacking children in the short run to garner long-term sympathy from voters is sad, disruptive and academically irresponsible.

As for the District's lawsuit against the State of Washington, are they suing for money that doesn't exist or suing to encourage change in the way government manages resources. I am a firm believer in the latter and the District lacks the capacity to know such a thing when they see it.

Blog: Today is a furlough day - part of a strategy used by some public agencies to apply an equitable distribution of financial consequences in dealing with the effects of budget reductions.

Wearing a kilt doesn't make you a Scotsman.

Nick Brossoit has decided to make a shift in how many pigs eat from the same golden trough. For some reason, several years ago, it was decided that Marla Miller and Debby Carter should become assistant superintendents. Someone must have asked these two employees if they deserved more money and then believed their explanation. Worse still is that such a decision was made while the District already had too many assistant superintendents.

Knowing the District the way I do, I would be willing to bet my collection of smurfs that Marla and Debby will have their titles changed but retain their swollen salaries. They each earn slightly less than the Governor of the State of Washington at $140,000.00 a year plus an additional third for benefits. Keeping in mind that these salary figures are from a records request in 2008 and they have likely received a number of upward adjustments since that time.

Question 1: How is it a budget reduction to move unchanged salaries around? Sure, we might count the reduction in the Superintendent's Staff column, but what are the real impacts to wherever these salaries are moving?

Question 2: If salaries have changed downward, why did the District feel the need to pay more than the positions required? The Board allowed these adjustments to occur and there must have been a compelling argument made to dazzle away the public wallet.

Question 3: Would this be a theft of public funds by the employee or a gift of public funds from the Board? The job of Executive Director never changed in the last several years but somehow the Board managed to approve this ridiculous shift in public resources in a direction that was never warranted. Only when hard times come around does the party, at the public expense, come to an end.

Question 4: How does this differ from the practice of hiring friends and family members into positions for which they are utterly unqualified? The blog has already received countless complaints of shameful hiring practices and we have relayed many of them on the blog. Debby Carter seems to be hiring staff with the same disregard for public resources as Marla Miller has for student enrollment projections.

Since the arrival of challenging budget years are inevitable, the District decided to hire anyone and everyone as temporary placeholders. When times get tough, they have a long list of potential cuts, all of whom have varying degrees of personal relationships with management. If they have to be cut, it was good while it lasted. Zero accountability and free money until economic conditions change.

The same can be said for enrollment forecasting. While the Board has been adopting Capital Facilities Plans since 2002 that show nothing but shrinking enrollment, they still allowed staffing to swell and programs to grow when they really should have been contracting. That is the purpose of a Capital Facilities Plan. Time and energy go into the production of the document and the Board merely glances through it while looking to Marla Miller for a recommendation.

The manner of management must change in Edmonds. It does nothing for anyone to have change forced upon us. The result is a few poorly structured "community input meetings" where no real input is wanted by any of the presenters. As was mentioned by a member of the audience at the last gathering, there are a lot of people in this community that have more education and intelligence than our current band of district managers and this community is entitled to at least a moderate degree of honesty from these public servants.

Imagine if Boeing built planes to the standards maintained by this school board. Worse still, imagine if such a company was denied the opportunity to fail and received an endless stream of revenue from the government.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

"...and we pay these people to do this to us."

There were a number of significant disappointments at last night's Community "Input" Meeting.

First, the manner in which kindergarten is being restructured to accommodate the need to reduce transportation costs just seems illogical. A rather astute member of the audience pointed out that the mind of a developing child performs best when they have five half days of instruction a week, rather than two full days and one half day with full day gaps in between. Nick Brossoit's response was that no valid or "objective" research shows this to be the case.

I will let others debate the strength of his statement but if we apply his logic, why not compress the academic week and eliminate days of instruction at all grade levels? We could save a bundle in transportation costs if we just divide five days of instruction over three. Instead of having classes from 8:00 am until 3:00 pm, Monday through Friday, we could shift the schedule to start at 7:00 am and end at 6:00 pm on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Perhaps we could try a four day week first.

Another fine point raised was the long-term impact upon our community when programs like music and athletics are cut from district programming. Music students tend to perform better academically (I am not saying that I agree, just relaying what was stated) and without athletic programming, students may wander the streets looking for ways to expend their pent up energy. It seems like a reasonable conclusion to draw that these students will drift from legitimate academic interests and start delving into areas that may not be in the best interest of our society.

Slashing transportation for students attending additional study sessions seems like a tough call to make. On the one hand, the District wants to leave the impression that they care about academic achievement, but on the other hand, they don't want to spend resources supporting the needs of a few students.

One significant blunder that surfaced last night was the total lack of real community input prior to compiling the presented list of program cuts. For instance, the District wants to increase rates for students that want to get involved in after school sports, but then they remove entire programs without considering the impact of their own proposed increase in fees. One activity in particular, which seems heavily weighted toward one specific gender, is the drill team. The District already contributes very little to support this activity and the various drill teams already raise a lot of money. Clearly, such programs are being targeted because their members will become outraged and just raise more money. Our community is being manipulated.

Take the swimming program, for instance. The District wants to "suspend" all swimming activities for one year. As a member of the audience pointed out, there are probably several students hoping to obtain an athletic scholarship for their swimming performance and "suspending" the program for one year would put next year's seniors at risk of losing an opportunity to reduce future tuition expenses. The benefit to the District would be a one time savings of $20,000.00 and yet a single student could receive much more than that amount in a single scholarship over their college career. Even a young man tapped as his school's swim captain next year chimed in.

One rather interesting development is the District's plan to revert their superintendent structure back to how it was before. While our community may be dazzled by the gesture, I would be willing to bet that, in typical district fashion, titles will change but rates of pay will not.

The District currently has seven superintendents. They are as follows:
Nick Brossoit, Ken Limon, Ellen Kahan, Sue Venable, Marla Miller, Debby Carter and Tony Byrd.

Each assistant is paid no less than $136,000.00 plus benefits and allowances. Their real impact upon the District's budget is probably closer to $180,000.00. The Superintendent is paid more than $208,000.00 and his real impact upon the budget is probably closer to $260,000.00. There is also a planned increase in pay of 7% which merely adds insult to financial injury.

I would be willing to bet that while these people may find themselves with different titles (along with the associated costs for changing stationery and business cards), their salaries will be untouched and, in fact, will likely continue on their obscene, upward trajectory.

Nick also mentioned a report generated by ESD189 suggesting that the Edmonds School District is understaffed in administration. Upon closer evaluation of the points they attempt to make, the assessment is entirely misleading and absolutely useless. One cannot determine the appropriate level of staffing based solely upon the total impact of administration salaries. Any grade school student would understand that you can continue to increase the salaries of assistant superintendents as long as there is a comparable decrease in the gross salaries of every other employee in administration. Essentially, the District is paying a select few number of employees an ever increasing salary, while expecting the remaining staff to battle over what remains. Of course, no actual battles will ensue because they are just far too busy doing all of the real work. If the District actually gets rid of a number of these highly-paid administrators, there would be enough to hire on additional staff to manage the real work that needs to be completed.

And of course, Marla and Nick were careful to point out that the comments and concerns expressed by attendees will not necessarily amount to any real adjustments to their grand scheme. The District didn't bother to legitimately engage the community before slashing vital programs, why would they ever start listening now?

Monday, May 18, 2009

"We know that leadership is very much related to change."

With all of the scrambling going on and the half-hearted attempts to explain what happened to our precious district, I cannot shake this nagging feeling that Nick will soon move to greener pastures. Call me crazy, but I just have a hunch.

Part of the complication in running a school district is when all of your real control and authority is handed off to others. When a leader hides behind someone maintaining the illusion of control, it is only a matter of time before people catch on and start demanding a more effective leader. The tide is changing and the best time to get out of town is before the locals realize they have been robbed.

Sure, I am speculating. One quickly wonders where another $200,000.00 job can be found in this current economic environment. The same environment that our superintendent cites as the sole reason for the hard times falling upon the district now. Like no one in district leadership is responsible for the questionable calls regarding pianos, property and slashing teachers and paraeducators. Things are bad and will likely get worse, with the current leadership model in place. The best thing for the District right now is to shake things up in administration and get back to the real reason for existing - like educating our children.

For far too long, this district of ours has been suffering from severely swollen management while the emaciated limbs continue to do without. The District needs a change and they need it now. We need to get back to basics and reinvent our organization from the grassroots up. In fact, we might be a lot better off if we just stop at the grassroots and remind management that they exist to serve our children. We don't need a superintendent that just tells voters what he thinks they want to hear. We need a leader that will tackle the real issues before the entire organization suffers from the consequences of poor choices.

It isn't the bad economy creating problems for the District, it is poor management and a general sense of confusion as to how to plan for a reduction in funding. Rather than whine and complain about the State's refusal to adequately fund education, why not pull together a plan that makes real sense and doesn't leave the fate of thousands hanging on the whims of the Legislature.

I expect an announcement to come before the end of the school year.

Friday, May 15, 2009

New web domains, for your convenience.

From time to time, people stop me on the street and ask why I am using such a complicated web domain. They wonder why I seem to think it is so easy to remember. One of the primary complaints has been, "What is that 15 and why does it follow ESD?" Well, to make matters a little easier, our web developer has registered two more domains to make finding us a little more straight forward.

From today, users can visit or for a direct connection to the blog. Please be careful when typing, since is registered to a real estate company and has traffic automatically forwarded to their website.

Thank you for your continued support of our effort to inform the public.

Friday, May 08, 2009

"Lots of folks confuse bad management with destiny."

Just like the discussions the District had with the community regarding the closure of Woodway and Evergreen, the "Reduced Educational Plan" seems to be following the same path. The District decides what positions and programs will be cut and then coordinates meetings to come up with ways to make cuts. The decision was already made. It would be nice if the illusion of community concern was at least sophisticated enough to happen before the cuts are announced.

If you haven't seen the 2009-2010 Reduced Educational Plan, you can see it by clicking here.

While I still find it troubling that the District is cutting staff and programs while giving another round of raises to administrators, that issue will be discussed in the coming days. For now, there are a number of items from the Reduced Educational Plan that give cause for concern.

1. The value of reducing or reorganizing district administration appears to be of a similar value to the entire fifth grade music program. Perhaps if district administration wasn't so bloated to begin with, it wouldn't be so costly to reorganize them. Perhaps if they double their efforts to reduce and reorganize they might save music.

2. It would appear that the guy the District hired to just sit at home waiting for the pager to go off is being eliminated. The position should have never happened in the first place and if greater minds had effectively pondered the issue years ago, they would have realized how insensitive it is to have people sitting idle, earning salary and benefits while paraeducators lose their jobs. Shame on the District for wasting this money in the first place. Congratulations on getting back to zero.

3. I misspoke in an earlier entry. While Custodial Services is taking a cut of 6.5 FTE, those positions were intentionally left vacant so the District wouldn't have to actually cut people. Unfortunately, these positions were probably very necessary to keep our schools clean, safe and free from the heightened possibility of disease transmission. There may have been a cut of zero people, but since these positions will now go unfilled, the costs will be borne by the schools and the other custodians that will have to pick up the slack.

4. The Planning and Property Management Specialist, which was already downgraded from a professional position when Marla hired her friend, affectionately called Twinkle Toes, has been scaled back to Office Personnel. Clearly, after two years of woefully inadequate service, it is more than apparent that the position no longer needs to exist. Of course, in cases like these, the District would invite the current occupant of the position to be involved in the reclassification process and stay on to serve in this newly defined capacity. The only time that doesn't happen is when the person is so unqualified their days become numbered. Perhaps my use of the term "clericalist" was just far too generous.

5. The cuts to Grounds seem a little brutal. These employees serve a far greater function than district management understands. I fault George Marschall and Brian Harding for failing to understand the role these employees perform and failing to effectively advocate for this portion of the work under Facilities Operations. There were other reductions that could have been made first, but of course, these relatively simple minds must believe that back-filling grounds positions would be a simple matter. After all, they just mow lawns, right?

6. The District is actually creating a job in facilities management and funding it with the revenue derived from renting out schools. While this move will take some pressure off of office staff - staff that was just reduced through budget cuts - why centralize facility use under these conditions? If schools were responsible for renting out their own space and told that their salaries depend upon the revenue generated, wouldn't it stand to reason that increased earnings could be realized? Will the new employee be provided with the same incentive? If you are funding the position from rental revenues, would you cut the position if they are unable to generate revenue? Will the rentals of athletic facilities move to this same position? You might just need more than one person.

7. Community Relations is taking a cut of $20,000 in their newsletter costs and $25,000 in reception support. While I could see an argument for doing away with the newsletter entirely, since I have never met anyone that ever read one, I fail to see how the reception desk can be unstaffed. Wouldn't this just be a cost shifting effort? Someone will have to cover the front desk. It looks as though the District will be drawing upon all of the free time that some of their other employees have. Will receptionists or secretaries in other departments be expected to sacrifice their staff and departmental productivity by having them cover longer periods of time? Is this fair to staff? Is it accurate to call this a reduction?

8. Under Human Resources there is a peculiar topic; "Seek collective bargaining changes". This is essentially a description of the District's interest in renegotiating labor agreements with staff. What upsets me is the blatant lack of equity. While the District pins their financial hopes on labor's willingness to reverse an agreement signed last August, they make no real effort to reciprocate in management. The union has even gone as far as to encourage their members to accept such a proposal because it will save jobs. What happened to management? Why are they not taking the same cut? Why are they not in jeopardy of losing their jobs? Why aren't cuts being made across the board?

It has been said many times before but why wouldn't the District institute furlough days to save money? There are already plenty of "in service" days where teachers come to work and students get a day off. Why not identify a number of set days in the coming year that will have the rest of district staff stay away? If there is a concern about having too many people gone at the same time, why not give different labor groups different floating furlough days, including management? Imagine the savings that can be realized if the District's herd of superintendents were required to take one unpaid day off each month.

Of course, the elimination of librarians is back on the table. It is terribly tragic when an organization that serves no other function than education feels it is acceptable to get rid of librarians. For the price of a single assistant superintendent you could save most of them, and it would have to be more than just moving Sue Venable to Teaching and Learning, unless she intends to become a volunteer. Clearly, the District intends to use the loss of librarians as a motivating force for those among us that believe that reading is fundamental. Instill a love for reading in a child and they will be richly rewarded with all that literature has to offer. Such children would also be far more likely to care about education and far less likely to allow poor district management to destroy our community from the inside out.

To the District's lawyers: I have been given the day off for all of the heavy hours I have been working because of H1N1.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Encouraging parents to take their children elsewhere.

For those of you playing at home, please take notice of the cuts that are being made at the Edmonds School District. Management is on verge of cutting Transportation by 25%. This ultimately will mean that children will be walking if they live within an ever-increasing distance from their designated school. It wouldn't be such a bad thing, since a little fresh air would be a great thing for young minds on their way to school, except there is no one on staff equipped to evaluate the safety of walking routes. As darkness returns in the fall, the number of accidents will increase.

One response would be the obvious increase in parents dropping their children off at school. This will put more cars in school parking lots and ultimately result in more accidents and congestion. While there is no doubt that cuts must be made, why target children? It almost seems as though war has been declared on our offspring. Cutting teachers while keeping throngs of assistant superintendents seems like warfare. Cutting Transportation seems like an undeniable declaration of war.

It seems that while the District is slashing music programs and stripping away the reasons why parents keep their children in this district, they are making the choice a little easier for parents. Why take them to school in our district? As long as our children are already in our cars, why not explore more options and other school districts that are between our homes and our places of work?

It also seems that parents that have the resources to consider other options will do so. Parents that care a little bit more about educating their children might start shopping around for better facilities, teachers and schools. Parents that have the means to seek out other opportunities will do so. Where does that leave the rest of us?

As for the slashing of four employees from Grounds, while there are only 11 employees looking after so many sites, it's only a matter of time before our schools start to look a little shabby and vandals move in. Keep in mind that these employees don't just mow lawns, they perform a long list of tasks that range from landscaping and site work to rodent and moss control. As the point was made at the Board meeting last night, with a new high school coming on line in the fall, it won't take long before that site looks shabby as well.

Stay tuned for the news about drastic cuts to Custodial Services. They already refuse to tell you about all of the MRSA cases in our schools, just what will happen when a serious public health crisis occurs?

Blog: Ever wonder what it feels like when middle management doesn't advocate effectively for the work you perform? And are you still wondering why Marla is actively dumbing down these positions and hiring people that will never oppose her?

Saturday, May 02, 2009

Too many employees, not enough parking stalls?

It has been said many times before that some of the budget cuts should impact staff at the ESC. After all, the District is supposed to be dedicated to the educational needs of our students and yet the bulk of budget cuts in previous rounds always seem to target the classroom. The time has come to lose a few assistant superintendents, and I don't mean just change their titles while keeping them at their current, swollen salaries.

If a few of these extra bodies were removed from the ESC, perhaps there would be enough parking stalls for everyone to find a place to park.

There really shouldn't be a need to have anyone sitting outside monitoring the parking lots. One sign, well placed, warning students that the District will tow unauthorized vehicles should be more than adequate. Unless the signs are posted in an obvious location, the District has no legitimate right to have any car towed - unless of course Paulson's Towing is one of management's "special friends". Spot checks should be good enough. A written warning under the wiper blade would also be a friendly approach.

No one with a bad back should be made to monitor a parking lot. There have been times in the past when students have been known to be confrontational. There might even be a slightly elevated chance of a fracas. Why would the District willingly place an injured member of staff in a position that might result in personal harm? Also, the lot monitor would have no way of knowing the driver's status as a college visitor until they left their vehicle and started walking toward the College. Is the lot monitor supposed to chase the offender and confront them? Perhaps district lot monitors have been trained to tackle students safely. Maybe they throw lawn darts or use pepper spray. The mind boggles.

I suspect there is probably a lot of interest in assigning light duty workers to Property Management. While the department has more than enough bodies to do their work, adding a lot more minds certainly couldn't hurt. The blog has been informed, on more than a few occasions, that one employee has been attending rudimentary classes, on district time, to learn how to use basic software applications. I wonder if she parks at the College on those days when most of her time is spent over there.

Better still, as long as the District is going to employ parking lot attendants, why not charge for parking? The District could sell monthly passes, they could validate ticket stubs for visitors and they could shackle large, yellow barrels to the tires of parking offenders. The practice would have the added advantage of generating a little extra revenue and encouraging staff to carpool, ride the bus or walk. Even better, the attendants could be provided with stylish uniforms that give the illusion of a highly-organized and financially-savvy enterprise.

The time has come to assemble another committee and we can call it the Citizens Parking Committee.