Friday, May 13, 2011

Bad Data Leading to Bad Decisions?

At this past Monday's Facilities, Technology, and Transportation (FTT) meeting, the district was presenting their case to support a Buildings & Grounds budget that has come under a great deal of scrutiny of late. And for good reason.

Just when the spotlight is shining at its brightest, one would reasonably assume that the district's best foot would be positioned forward. In reality, the district shot itself in that particular foot in what turned out to be a culmination of a growing trend of providing bad (or at the very least, questionable) data.

The district marched out a survey they conducted regarding buildings & grounds budget costs of various school districts. The data seemed to suggest that Sun Prairie was providing its community with savings of over $1.25M over "average" districts. Unfortunately, the whole shebang came down like a house of cards when it was exposed that:

  • the "savings were based on an error where data for Verona was credited to Sun Prairie
  • the data were "censored": the district had a survey of 42 districts, but "cherry-picked" 10 from that list. We never got to see what was culled. Would they have made SPASD look bad? What the public saw gave no mention of the difference.
  • Some columns were totaled; others not. It is speculated that columns not totaled were avoided because the data did not reflect what the District wanted us to believe.
  • The survey indicated that SPASD has 75.5 FTE grounds workers---50% more than the nearest district. Then we're told the number of staff is only 65.5. No data to substantiate the "correction". RUFKM?
  • It was yet another apples-to-pineapples comparison. Some district data was based on last year; others this year.
  • An over-inflated Capital Projects budget (more on this to come)

To Err is Human...BUT...
To err may be human, but to err as frequently and as egregiously as this school district administration has is simply unacceptable. We've encountered so many errors, we've lost track. Frankly, it's become the expectation...and that's just plain wrong. Just off the top of our head, we had the 4K transportation cost errors (the number changed 3 times), the busing cost errors for the Wyndham Hills subdivision last summer, the failure to include the most critical attachment as part of a signed $10M transportation contract. And countless others. Tim Culver says he is accountable for the district...but when is he going to man up, take ownership of the problem, and FIX IT??! Oh...that's right...he's been busy negotiating sweet little tax shelters into his contract. Even Phil Frei was completely non-plussed when the errors were pointed out to him by board and committee members. He just simply said, "Oh, yeah, that's an error."

Now nobody on the board is going to declare "Bad Data!" know...with decorum and all....but you KNOW they have to see this and privately be fuming. We suspect, however, that there have been a lot of back room discussions of late regarding the lack of quality, reliable, accurate data coming out of the district.

Beware the Ides of October!
The sad part of all of this is that this district wants us to sign of on what will be at least $72M budget. We have John Whalen suggesting that a 4.5% mill rate increase is plenty good enough. And they base all their fancy projections on poor quality data such as what they have presented to date? Really? REALLY! How quickly the board seems to have forgotten the day the taxp-ayers had had enough of their spendaholic ways and voted to reduce the tax levy by $2M.