TPS audit results releasedWritten by John P. McCartney | | firstname.lastname@example.org
Toledo Public Schools’ Board of Education (BOE) was told April 3 that it could save as much as $101 million during the next five years if it would adopt Evergreen Solutions’ performance audit in its entirety.
However, Linda Reico, president of Evergreen Solutions, said it is not reasonable to expect any school district to implement every recommendation her firm makes.
“A good success rate would be between 75 and 85 [percent],” Reico said. “But I’m not usually called back to monitor whether a district does one, two or three. But that’s been our general success rate.”
Reico also acknowledged that since 80 to 85 percent of costs a school system faces are salary and benefits, recommendations would focus on reduction in personnel.
“It’s got to come with people who are not being used effectively,” Reico said. “However, we recommended additional personnel in area where we though they needed it as well. So it just wasn’t a hatchet job, so to speak.”
Reico’s addressed the BOE for almost 90 minutes, highlighting what she considered some of the more significant 50 commendations and 169 recommendations contained in the performance audit. She also noted that 61 of the recommendations “carry a fiscal impact that will have to be addressed in union negotiations.”
Additional recommendations not previously mentioned at the March 13 Finance Committee meeting include:
* Board members need to top micromanaging district operations and creating special staff assignments.
* Close two elementary schools and one high school.
* Immediately close the Thurgood Marshall Building, even if it will require establishing a temporary central administration office for this summer.
* Restructure the cabinet, eliminating one assistant superintendent position and creating a chief of staff position.
* Eliminate a minimum of 15 assistant principal positions.
* Eliminate 15 elementary school and six high school clerical staff members.
* Negotiate instructional authority away from teachers and back to principals.
* Hire in-house legal counsel and a part-time paraprofessional to cut the cost of legal costs from $56.50 per pupil to the state average of $20.94 per pupil.
* Hire an additional communications office specialist. Reico told the board, “You’re underfunded and understaffed, and your PR is showing it.”
* Stop paying employees supplements for duties that are already a part of their job descriptions.
* Eliminate petty cash funds and replace them with a procurement card system.
* Increase the cost of a meal that students who do not qualify for free or reduced lunches pay to be in line with the federal reimbursement rate for meal prices.
* Sell 56 buses.
* Increase the numbers of students per bus from 22 to 30 to save $1.5 million a year.
* Implement standards for technology purchases of computer hardware and software.
* Disconnect 200 phone lines that are no longer in use.
* Create a cap on the number of photocopies made by a single employee.
Most controversial recommendations
“The presentation left the most controversial recommendations in the report,” said Steven Flagg, an education advocate who has followed TPS’s progress for the past 17 years. “Those of us that have been calling on the district to respond to the reality of Toledo feel like we’ve been vindicated.
“I got a kick out of all the compliments the board members gave Dr. Reico after her presentation. The more they said, the more they were digging their hole. Do they not see that they are going to have to actually do something now?
“Section 2 excoriates them. Section 3 rips the bargaining units apart. Section 3 is directly aimed at TFT (Toledo Federation of Teachers), and every single one of those recommendations requires a contract change. I find it interesting that Kevin Dalton (TFT president) was the only bargaining unit representative not at the presentation.
“Now comes the Implementation Committee. They won’t want to put critics like me on it, but we’re the most informed citizens out there. We have to make sure that we keep on them. They’re not going want to do it. They’re just now realizing what’s in the report and they’re going to have to finally do something.”
The compliments to which Flagg referred came from all five board members. Each member individually thanked Reico for the work the BOE paid Evergreen Solutions $120,000 to complete.
“It seems to me that in this current day, it’s hard to find a company that makes a commitment and sticks to it to the day, like you have,” said BOE member Bob Vasquez. “I hope that we all receive this in the right way and not become defensive because I will tell you that no way internally we could have done what you have done.
“You have presented is great information. I look forward to reading it. I’m looking forward to working on it. I’m not defensive at all about it. But I do know that we’re going to have to balance your suggestions with the reality of the day-to-day operations of this school district. But I look forward to that opportunity.”
BOE member Lisa Sobecki focused her praise on the collaborative nature of the report.
“For all your hard work, you couldn’t have done it without everyone pitching in, in a timely fashion to allow you to create 500 pages or so,” Sobecki said. “I think the collaboration of our administration and our folks out there in the buildings is something fresh and different coming out of TPS. It’s different than what people have heard or perceived they heard in the past that we are not transparent.”
Reico told the BOE its presentation strategy is one of most transparent she has ever seen. Reico also said she would send the board a suggested implementation strategy tailored specifically to the issues TPS faces.
BOE member Larry Sykes mused that if the BOE had “done this three years ago, when it was first suggested, we’d be three years head of the game.”
‘Like any other school district’
Reico said TPS operations are “like any other school district. Some things are very efficient and effective and some things need to be improved upon.”
She said TPS will see savings increase after it completes the first year of implementation.
“First year [savings] will be less significant,” Reico said. “In order to generate cost savings, you have to [invest money], so there are greater costs the first year than years two through five.”
Reico also said Evergreen Solutions identified more cost savings per pupil in TPS than the typical district it evaluates.
TPS was “a little higher than typical,” she said. “Off the top of my head, [the typical district] might be half that [$101 million five-year projection].”
BOE President Brenda Hill was a little skeptical of Evergreen Solutions’ overall projection in savings.
“I’ve seen budget projections before, and a lot of times the number that they project and the reality is not quite the same,” Hill said. “But the fact is, they see ways that we can save some money.
“It’s just like I asked them about bussing. It’s just not practical to put a child on a bus for an hour just to fill the bus up. So there are things we have to look at.
“Things about staffing … maybe there’s an extra assistant principal and an extra secretary. There was a reason. So we have to look at the reasons in the way that children’s education and the quality of the service that we give them [relates] to the cost. We have to look at both of those. Both are important. But the bottom line is the education of the students.”
Hill said she agreed with Reico’s recommendation regarding the communications office.
“Our public relations needs to be increased. When we increase our PR, we will be able to do a much better job. That’s been my mantra for a long time too. So she just went right down the path I wanted to hear.
“It’s an investment. When you have better public relations and you can communicate with the community better, they understand what you’re about and it helps all the way around.”
Inaccurate staffing formula
Don Yates, president of the Toledo Association of Administrative Personnel (TAAP), questioned the relevance of the staffing formula Reico used to arrive at a few of her recommendations.
“I haven’t studied it closely enough to understand exactly what the impact would be on our membership, per say, other than to say the formula that she used to make her recommendation for assistant principals is, quite frankly, an outdated staffing formula,” Yates said. “We essentially negotiated it away the last negotiations so our assistant principals aren’t assigned by [the number of students] anymore.
“It’s done by district need. Essentially, the assistant superintendents, chief academic officer and myself have conversations about where was the greatest need for assistant principals.
“I see where she got her number. That may or may not be totally accurate as far as the need is for assistant principals. But it’s certainly worth looking at.
“And also remember that, that formula described in the current collective bargaining agreement is pre-K through 8 [school configuration]. That was the staffing formula used under the old configuration of the school district. So it’s certainly worth looking at again this time. We don’t object to looking at reallocating staff where they’re best needed.”
Yates said he was also encouraged to hear Reico’s recommendation that TPS negotiate instructional authority away from teachers and back to principals.
“There’s no doubt in my mind, nor is there any doubt in the minds of most experts you will see as you research education leadership, school principals are the second most influential individuals that impact the achievement of kids,” Yates said. “You have to have principals that have the authority to be instructional leaders in their buildings, not simply managers of the buildings.
“That’s not just from TAAP. That’s national research about effective schools vetted out over and over again. (Ohio Department of Education’s ‘Beginning Principal Mentoring Program’, September, 2012)
“Principals that have the authority in their schools to bring in teachers that want be there, are willing and able to do the job and fit in with the culture of the building, and are willing to be team players and work with the principals, they get a heck of a lot more done than those that don’t have the authority to manage their staffs.
“I think the Race to the Top format is an excellent model for the district to implement because it gives decision-making authority at the building level. And when you have decision-making authority at the building level that includes principals and teacher leaders, you get the decisions, you get people that are committed to the building, and they do a better job.”
Yates said TPS has already taken the initial steps for principals to regain the administrative authority the district negotiated away in the 1970s.
“I think we’ve done that with the school improvement grant with six schools and with the Race to the Top schools. And I think the Transformation Plan has empowered people to start looking at what the needs are in their building.
“It’s a small step, and there’s a lot more to be done, but I’m a firm believer in putting the authority at the school level with people at the schools that have the authority to make the decisions. And they’re not waylaid by the central office, teacher unions or administrator unions.”
A conservative perspective
John McAvoy, a Northwest Ohio Conservative Coalition board member who has pushed for local performance audits, said he was “really happy” with what he had seen in a quick review of the executive summary.
“It looks like these guys did a very good job looking at pretty much all the aspects,” McAvoy said. “I’m looking very much forward to the board pulling together and involving the community in some of these things.
“For instance, one of the things I like that they recognized is giving more authority to the principals. The example I give is we’re getting ready to spend $160,000 to hire a superintendent, but quite often his hand are tied because of contracts. When he wants to do something, he has to go back to a contract and look and make sure it’s OK.
“So we’re looking for perhaps maybe some give on the upcoming labor negotiations on giving some if those things back and put those back into the authority of the superintendent and the principals and people who make decisions on running the schools.”
McAvoy questioned why the district should even hire a superintendent is she or he does not have decision-making authority.
“Just hire a contract negotiator for $30,000 a year,” McAvoy said. “We hire a superintendent to run this business. And if his hands are tied because of contracts, then let’s negotiate some of those hand-tying things out of there.
“Have they been there for 40 years? I don’t care if they were there for 140 years. If it’s something that’s tying our hands, then we need to say, ‘Look, we need to untie the hands of the people who are hired to do a job.’ And if we’re going to continue to keep their hands tied, then we’re going to continue to get what we got.”
‘Coming to the table with an open mind’
David Blythe Jr., an American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) representative, said he is concerned that McAvoy “comes to the table with an agenda that I think reflects absolutely no new taxes, all government is wasteful and we need to say no to everything.
“He’s waiting in the wings to be at the helm of the ‘right to work’ movement if it makes it to the ballot. I just have a different viewpoint on the working individual.
McAvoy is serving as state coordinator for the potential Ohio’s Workplace Freedom Amendment, similar to Michigan’s right-to-work law.
Blythe added, “[McAvoy’s] affiliated with the group that went to Findlay and wanted to tamp down a fire levy. So he doesn’t come to TPS with an open mind. He comes with an agenda that ‘We have to do everything we can to tamp down taxes.’ And my thinking is, ‘The Greatest Generation came back after WWII, and they may not have liked it, but they paid their taxes.’ ”
Blythe said he also objects to McAvoy’s discussion of education as a business. Blythe said the in 300-year history of education in the U.S., the concept that education is a business isn’t even 20 years old. Blythe believes education is a social service.
“Whenever somebody says education should be run like a business, they don’t know what they’re talking about,” Blythe said. “It just doesn’t work that way. A business can make a decision based on dollars and cents only. Government cannot. They’re so many conflicting constituencies out there.
“If you ran this as a business, you’d have a huge divide between haves and have-nots.”
Blythe also said he believes the school choice movement “is a detriment to society. I think we lose that commonality, and I think we lose that ‘We’re all in this together’ kind of thing. Before you know it, nobody has a common reference.”