The beginning of February has put me in mind of this humbling piece of advice: “Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.” I am proud, as always, that when big, impactful events disrupt our daily lives, the Tukwila community knows when to stand together—rallying around our immigrants and refugees—and when to sit together—on a sled, zooming across 2-foot snow drifts. Life is full of obstacles; how and when we choose to gnash and push back makes all the difference. Courage and serenity.
Let me tell you about one area in the Tukwila School District where we have been pushing back mightily. This has been a massive effort. Huge! Though largely behind the scenes, we have moved systemic mountains to put our schools on solid financial footing.
When I arrived as superintendent in 2013, the Tukwila School District had been on a high-scrutiny annual audit cycle for many years (the typical audit cycle is every five years). The state discovered more than 60 findings my first year, putting us in real jeopardy of losing our federal funding for schools.
Well, at the end of January 2017 we received a clean audit—with commendations!—from the state Superintendent of Public Instruction. We were moved off the yearly audit cycle to the normal five-year cycle. In fact, the auditors even praised our progress and wrapped up their site visit early. WOW! WOW! (It’s worth repeating.)
The audit is called the Comprehensive Program Review (CPR). It’s a rigorous examination of the district’s management and accounting practices in the federally-funded programs for student achievement, highly-capable education, teacher and principal quality, civil rights, career and technical education, and family involvement, among other areas. Auditors demand evidence of best practices and strict oversight.
During last month’s CPR, auditors commended Tukwila for its responsiveness and significant improvement in the past three years in general, as well as “efforts to build the McKinney-Vento program and support the needs of homeless students in the district,” according to the exit report.
Why is this such a big deal? Our clean audit report should give our community assurance that we are using public resources in an accountable, transparent, student-centered manner, aligned with legal and best practices. Beyond that, we are channeling funding to classrooms and programs meant to serve all levels of learners, especially those most in need.
To move from more than 60 audit findings to a clean review in a few short years took nothing more than a spectacular, smart, dogged effort by our Business and Teaching & Learning staff. They examined our existing systems, developed new efficiencies, aligned efforts and people, and reworked the foundations of how we do business. They took a long-term look at our financial viability and scaled back the budget accordingly. It hasn’t been easy, neither the untangling nor introduction of change; but it has been entirely necessary as the basis for supporting classrooms and student learning.
I would be absolutely remiss if I ended this message with anything other than a hale and heartfelt THANK YOU to every staff member who contributed to the clean audit. Many of you have not seen an unencumbered weekend or break for a long time (including Deputy Superintendent Judy Berry who cancelled her flight to be with family over the holidays). These exceptional times have called for exceptional commitment, and it’s our intention to now normalize this “clean” way of operating.