Saturday, March 28, 2015

Closing Hoover: Cost far outweighs benefit

When the school board voted to close Hoover Elementary, the board members didn’t articulate a clear reason for the closure. To some extent that’s still true, but over time the reasons seemed to come down to two. First, closure advocates argued that the district needed to close an elementary school to save operational expenses. Second, they argued that City High needs the Hoover land. I don’t think either reason stands up to scrutiny; in this post, I’ll focus on operational expenses, and in another post I’ll talk about the City High argument.

Before we talk about the cost of keeping Hoover open, it’s important to understand that closing Hoover costs a lot of money. If the district tears down Hoover, which can hold over 300 students, it will have to build that many new seats somewhere else. For example, while closing Hoover, the district also plans to build 330 seats of new capacity on Horace Mann and Longfellow schools, which will apparently cost somewhere in the neighborhood of ten million dollars. That’s money we wouldn’t have to spend if we kept Hoover open.

But keeping Hoover open does mean that we’ll incur annual operating costs. By combining three schools into two—which is essentially what the district would be doing by closing Hoover while expanding Mann and Longfellow—we can achieve some savings in operating costs, since, for example, we might be able to pay only two principals instead of three. But you quickly run into limits on what you can save this way: the great majority of operating costs are to pay teachers, and the students will still need teachers. Currently, Hoover has two full classrooms in each grade; there’s no reason to think that we could cut the number of classroom teachers simply by moving all the students to other schools.

So how much could be saved annually in operating costs if Hoover closes? Michael Tilley looked closely at the numbers and arrived at an estimate of $191,000. If anything, the real number might be lower, since Tilley did not factor in any busing costs. (One small corner of Hoover’s attendance area is not within two miles of any other school, and thus would be entitled under state law to busing, though it’s not clear to what degree that would affect total busing costs, or whether there would be other busing costs in addition.) If you doubt Tilley’s estimate, take a look at this (only slightly out-of-date) chart and see how you can squeeze much more than $191,000 out of closing Hoover School. (See pages 19 and 20.)

That’s just over 0.1% of the district’s annual expenditures. Of course any amount of money is important, but $191,000 is strikingly small compared with the roughly ten million dollar cost of replacing Hoover’s capacity elsewhere. Yes, I know, construction costs come out of a different “pot” of money than operating costs do. But that doesn’t mean it’s smart to spend ten million in construction costs to reap an annual savings of $191,000.

By comparison: this week the board voted not to cut discretionary bus routes, even though it would have saved $849,000 in annual operating expenses. The board (reasonably) decided that discretionary busing is important. Keeping neighborhood schools open is important too—and, as it turns out, doesn’t cost much.

Moreover, even if $191,000 were worth closing an elementary school for, there would be no reason to single out Hoover for closure. Hoover is larger than several other schools (which means it would cost more to replace its lost capacity) and is relatively efficient in its operating costs. In fact, the additions that the district is building onto Twain and Shimek bring them up to roughly the capacity that Hoover has now, which must mean that the district sees that as a workable size. Lincoln and Hills will be smaller than Hoover even after they receive their additions. None of these schools need to close.

Closing a school is a big deal. You don’t do it just to shave a tenth of a percentage point off your annual expenses, especially if it means borrowing ten million dollars for new construction. And if the district can’t resist that small annual savings, why would it stop at one school? It could save comparable amounts (or more) by closing other elementaries, until we’re left with only big 500-kid schools. If you eat that chip, it’s going to be real hard not to eat the next one, and the one after that. Is that what anyone wants?


pooter said...

I think the only thing closing Hoover and similarly-sized schools serves is Murley's ambition to be superintendent at a larger school district with schools of that (or larger) size.

Chris said...

Pooter – Ha, maybe. Personally, I wouldn’t see experience in closing schools as a particularly appealing resume item. It certainly doesn’t seem to be helping Rahm Emanuel’s mayoral campaign.

pooter said...

I may not have made myself clear. I believe Murley's ambition is to preside over larger schools such as 500+ student elementary schools at the edge of communities. I see this kind of experience as a differentiator in a superintendent's career ladder. And the Superintendent of Schools has a different political contingency to answer to than a mayor in a system such as Chicago.

Chris said...

Pooter – I think you were clear and I just went on a tangent. I think you’re definitely describing something real about superintendents. I don’t entirely understand why it’s true, though, since superintendents are hired by school boards, which at least in theory ought to be somewhat constrained by public opinion. On the other hand, it’s true that in some places school boards are appointed rather than elected. And even when they’re elected, they may be more responsive to the few people who fund campaigns than to the broader public. That may at least partly explain why they often seem so insulated from community preferences?

Julie VanDyke said...

Part 1: You may both be missing a few likely random puzzle pieces that may or may not be relevant. He has, as I understood it from him on the phone on the road there and/or back some time ago (certainly not speaking with him on the phone much for some time now though), done personal consulting work for the public schools in and/or around Chicago.

You might want to take a look at this too:

Or this from his publicly posted LinkedIn profile at one time:

Education Research and Development Institute
December 2008 – Present (3 years)
Serve on panels that provide a forum for dialogue between educational leaders and corporate partners to shape products, goods, and services that will inspire excellence in education and enrich the achievement of all learners"

Or this from his publicly posted LinkedIn profile more recently:

SFM Consulting LLC
September 2012 – Present (2 years)
Superintendent Mentor for new and early career superintendents including developing leadership skills
focused on leading learning, creating accountable learning-focused districts, working with boards of
education, managing change, leading and managing people, building relationships, managing resources,
and managing budgets.
Master Teacher and Mentor for year-long professional development programs designed to increase
leadership capacity and support the success of district leaders and principals in schools struggling to
make significant improvement in student academic achievement.
Serve on panels that provide a forum for dialogue between educational leaders and corporate partners
to shape products, goods, and services that will inspire excellence in education and enrich the
achievement of all learners.”

Julie VanDyke said...

Part 2:

One might NOT want to take a look at open record public documents, such as his current and past Superintendent contracts with the ICCSD...particularly in respect to any contract specifications that could possibly overlap the above consulting periods through current as to whom, i.e., current and/or past board presidents (some that might or might not still be on the ICCSD Board of Directors) that may possibly now have, or have had in the past, possibly sole district authority to approve consulting work (payment of which would be outside ICCSD budget I would think) and also possibly even sole authorization to approve specific days "off"? for that consulting work, whether any of those days or hours of work were approved before and/or after they occurred, whether other board directors were privy to those at any point whether officially or unofficially, and whether any consulting work overlapped ICCSD work while in or outside of the district and/or any possibly accidental overlapping of hours during which he was acting as the superintendent?

Lastly, and of curiosity to me since involved board president at the time and others on the board at that time might seem to potentially appear to have been shut out of so much board to district cross-talk and/or information other board directors after they were no longer board president or board vice-president, one might very want to consider all of the above as context after reading the FOIA/PRR emails publishes not long after he first started here in what I used to jokingly refer when talking with him as vacationgate = the emails between Mr. Murley and Patti Fields involving their discussion of his absence from the district and his duty hours…they may have been more significant than understood at the time based on his email responses in reply to them with his hours and the calendar he submitted in response to Patti’s emails and then also after his initial response about them…after observing communications with him over several years, it sometimes seems to me that when he would reply that quickly to something he likely may have wished he’d pondered a bit further first, his initial less-pondered answer might possibly sometimes be potentially indicative of something significant that he may or may not have tried to soften or clarify by a following rather different response that could possibly have been meant to temper the earlier one’s more fiery shot off the bow?

I know I'd prefer NOT to see anything anyone could possibly or have possibly done to explore any of those topics, who might be listed on business documents associated with such consulting or any LLC, nor whether any other district-associated individuals, sub-contractors, or consultants or employees of consultants, nor anyone involved with any business relationships overlapping anything whatsoever to do with the IASB might even potentially appear to intersect with any of it either.

Chris said...

Thanks, Julie. I didn't realize that our superintendent was doing outside consulting work. Here's the clickable link.

Julie VanDyke said...

Chris...take a look at the references to it in the last two employment contracts...then, ponder the intersections of controversy from an outside view...I have a feeling this begins to make so much more make sense...and, nope, no inside track AT ALL on guess, entirely a guess honestly, is that it explains a great many things.

Julie VanDyke said...

I believe we started the fall down the rabbit hole with them about here?

Julie VanDyke said...

WAYBAC/Wayback machine:

April 22, 2010

April 28, 2010

April 28, 2010

April 28, 2010

April 28, 2010****

July 8, 2011

November 30, 2012

December 4, 2012

December 14, 2012

December 15, 2012

August 2011-December 2012[]=540599

****Holly Hines is the current alleged reporter for the Press Citizen on the ICCSD and has been for some time now.

Julie VanDyke said...

CRUCIAL insight from someone I listen to very, very carefully (former Commissioner of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and also, (creating an almost shocking level of insight into this and well, well acquainted Carver Governance Model) as a former ICCSD Board Director himself, Nicholas Johnson. Read it and then consider carefully Murley's response which is rather enlightening: