Sunday, January 11, 2009

Unpacking the January 2009 Evergreen Freedom Foundation Newsletter

Why do I have the EFF's newsletter, Living Liberty? Well, for one, it's available on their website; for another, I've actually given them money when I bought a copy of Flunked to watch, something which I actually haven't had a chance to do yet.

Anyhow, the EFF does a nice job with Living Liberty, but for a union guy like me there's plenty to comment on. Consider:

  • The front page, above-the-fold story is on the $1 million dollar fine against the WEA for using union dues for political purposes. That was a big victory for the EFF which was then made completely meaningless by legislative fiat shortly afterwords. Sure, they can insist the fight goes on:

    The state's stettlment with the WEA does not affect EFF's teacher class action lawsuit (Davenport) against the union.
    ....but the reality is that the issue is dead. If this is the best that they have to hang their hat on in the education field, then the battle has been lost and the war consigned to the books. The EFF dedicated an episode of their radio show to the topic, but again--is anyone else really talking about this?

  • Grammar fight! Below the fold on the front page there's an article from the usually reliable Amber Gunn on the Washington state budget, and consider this sentence about Governor Gregoire:

    Better late than never, though she won't be getting an "fiscal genius" award this year.
    I say it should be "a "fiscal genius" award", because the rule on a v. an is pretty well resolved: if the word immediately following begins with a hard consonant, then you use an. I could see a possible argument for "an" being the modifier for "award", which would be right--"an award"--but given the interference in between, methinks it should have been "a".

    That said, I teach first grade, so take it with a grain of salt.

  • The letter from Lynn Harsh points out that they've let 7 people go this year, which made me think of Sonya Jones, who made a big splash when she came in as director of their Labor Policy center and then disappeared. Looks like she was one of the seven. That was short.

  • They've got an opening for a volunteer school reform analyst. I'd be good at that, but that would be waaaaaaaaay to bipolar for my life to work well.

  • Let's end on the performance audits. The EFF loves 'em, for obvious, fiscal conservative reasons, but this is the sort of uncritical analysis that I find disappointing from a think tank (Brett Davis, p. 11 of the newsletter):

    Amazingly, performance audits have recommended $11 in savings for every $1 spent. Washington State can hardly afford--literally, in the context of the current economic situation--to axe a program that pays for itself 11 times over.
    But it doesn't. It doesn't even come close to doing that.

    Consider the September 2007 audit of the Educational Service Districts (ESDs) around the state. That one had 215 recommendations come out of it, which is more than 1/3 of all the recommendations they've made in the reports in the past two years (SAO 2008 Annual report; see page 2).

    And now go here and read the responses from the ESDs regarding the recommendations that the auditor made. The one from ESD 101 is especially fun; each of these is a response to a different recommendation:

    ESD 101 Response: Declined. ESD 101 does not have statutory authority to implement this recommendation. This statewide issue is being addressed in the Response to Global ESD System Performance Audit Report (Global Report) by AESD. ESD 101 supports the AESD position.

    ESD 101 Response: Declined. ESD 101 does not have statutory authority to implement this recommendation. This statewide issue is being addressed in the Response to Global ESD System Performance Audit Report (Global Report) by AESD. ESD 101 supports the AESD position.

    ESD 101 Response: Under Review. ESD 101 has a strategic planning process in place. ESD 101 will continue to research other available models and processes. ESD 101 disagrees with the Report’s claim that implementation of this recommendation can be achieved with existing resources.

    ESD 101 Response: Declined. As stated in the Global Report, the ESDs would like to embrace the concept, but with so little stable ESD funding (~3-4% core) this is not realistic. The vast majority of ESD revenue is received as the result of cooperatives, fee-for-service, or grants – each with specific requirements/expectations prerequisites to receipt of those funds. Tying these funds to ESD and school/school district performance measures or goals would, in many cases, result in exceptions to grant agreements and the possible loss of cooperative fees and fee revenue – and resultant services to school districts.

    ESD 101 Response: Declined. The ESD 101 board of directors has already adopted policies and staff has developed procedures related to bidding. In many, if not most, situations, the agency’s bidding policies and procedures are more stringent than this recommendation.
    ...and that's just in the first two pages of a five-page response. Whee!

    Another recent audit was on district travel practices; I wrote about it here, and it's similarly underwhelming. And here's a post from many moons ago where I wrote about the ESD audit.

    I'll freely admit that I haven't read the audits on roads and ferries, which is an area that the EFF has been spending a lot of energy on the last year or so. Maybe they're better than the ones on education spending. I certainly hope so.


Anonymous Amber Gunn said...


I wanted to address a couple of points you brought up that I have direct information about.

1) On my grammar error: The phrase should have read, "any fiscal genius award." Unfortunately I didn't catch my own mistake (which is why copy edits should always be done by another person). EFF is going through a major transition right now and we are still straightening out who is doing what. Hopefully we will have someone to do a copy edit of the entire issue in the future. Thanks for pointing out my mistake--you and my mom! :)

2) On performance audits: It is true that the quality and scope of performance audits in recent months have been lacking, to say the least. The K-12 district travel practices audit is an example, I think, of an audit that was so limited in scope, the value of the audit itself can rightly be called into question. If you look at the I-900 chart in that audit, SAO really only complied with 3 of the 9 required elements. That audit was basically a beefed up accountability audit. It was NOT an I-900 performance audit.

The difference between our criticisms of the audits and those of detractors is that ultimately the detractors seek to have performance audits eliminated altogether. We strive to see them improved, expanded and made even more useful to agencies and taxpayers. The problem for us is that we must tread lightly when criticizing performance audits lest we give ammunition to those seeking to destroy them altogether. We are working on this, and there is still much to be done. Performance audits, when done right, are an invaluable tool to improve government services for taxpayers.

On the ESD audit, it is true that there are a few recommendations that might be impractical for ESDs to implement; however, ESDs were out to discredit this audit from the beginning. Frankly, the audit made them look bad. Consider the main finding of that report: “…in general, the ESDs operational goals are not linked to budgets or strategic plans. In many cases no system is in place to track progress toward operational goals.” Ouch. Makes you wonder what kind of operation they are running. When it comes to the ESDs, providing economical and efficient support to schools in each district is their primary job, but the ESD audit makes it clear that no one knows if this is happening. It's tough to create clarity and alignment between objectives, deliverables and the budget, but it's a challenge that governing boards of each ESD must meet successfully. Instead, most of the ESDs put their energy toward discrediting the audit's findings. Here is more information on our perspective on the ESD audit:

I hope I addressed some of your concerns.

By the way, you should read the transportation audits. There is a lot of great stuff in those.

11:31 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"They've got an opening for a volunteer school reform analyst. I'd be good at that, but that would be waaaaaaaaay to bipolar for my life to work well."
= = = = =

I think you SHOULD find out if you can serve as a volunteer analyst on education reform.

Oh, and if we are picking at nits, it is "too" rather than "to" . . . plus I think you spelled "way" wrong.


1:58 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm a former ESD101 employee.

Of course they declined much of what was suggested, and got what they wanted in the audit report.

South Regal is one of the most insidious places when it comes to employees playing politics. The culture there is that if you don't have a degree in education, its shut your mouth, your opinions and ideas do not need to be voiced.

You notice the section about the ESD101 webmaster's position being funded from core. I watched him spend two months pestering the auditors over that and he does a half-arsed job at it. The gal who really did the bulk of the web work and did one hell of a job at it was laid off alongside CLN and television production. Wish I knew where she ended up.

9:14 PM  

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