The dish on consultants — adding up the spending

One of the major complaints I hear about SFUSD’s budget is the amount of money spent on “consultants.”  At Monday evening’s meeting of the Rules, Policy and Legislation Committee, Commissioners began the discussion on how we might give the public more clarity on the vast chunk of expenditures classified as “personal service contractors/consultants”  in our agenda.

When you read the Board agenda, routine (“consent”) expenditures to be voted on by the Board are generally concentrated in several types of resolutions — Ws, which are related to facilities and bond-related expenditures; Ks , which are classified as “Personal Service Contractors/Consultant” contracts and governed by Board Policy P3610; and B or C resolutions, which are expenditures related to district financial management (e.g., fund transfers) and core functions like transportation (there is probably a better way to define these expenditure categories but that’s the best I can do at the moment.). After the Ws — usually large amounts of money subject to additional oversight by the District’s Citizen’s Bond Oversight Committee — the K resolutions contain the largest expenditures, and they are the subject I will be covering here.

Anyway, at Monday’s meeting, Commissioners received a very interesting report on K resolution expenditures, which totaled $46.16 million for the period covering July 1, 2009 through April 13, 2010.  Of that $46.16 million:

  • $4.18 million was funded through unrestricted funds — funds that can be used for any purpose;
  • $41.98 million was funded through restricted funds — funds that must be used for a specific purpose.

Breaking this down another way:

  • $36.86 million was spent on direct services to students (e.g., instruction, classroom supplies, tutoring);
  • $9.3 million was spent on indirect services to students (e.g., teacher training).

Breaking down consultant expenditures yet another way (listing the 10 largest activities, services or functions):

  • The largest single category of consultant/personal service contract expenditures are fees paid for after-school tutoring  (required under No Child Left Behind because we are a Program Improvement district) and other after-school programming. Total: $14.56 million (31.5% of K resolution expenditures; entire expenditure comes from restricted funds except for $6,000);
  • A close second is tuition paid for students attending non-public schools. Generally these students have disabilities that cannot be adequately addressed in the public schools, either by mutual agreement between the district and families or court-ordered settlement: $14.42 million (31.2% of K resolution expenditures; entire expenditure comes from restricted funds);
  • The third largest category of K-resolution expenditures were for professional development: $4.23 million (9.16% of K resolution expenditures — about $4.05 million of those dollars came from restricted funds, and the remaining $172,000 came from unrestricted sources). The district has classified this entire group of expenditures as direct services to students, but I think this is debatable.
  • The fourth largest category of K-resolution expenditures are administrative, a category I think is best described by the blurry and somewhat suspect “consultants” label — essentially, professional development for central office staff, teacher recruitment and other miscellaneous services that indirectly benefit students. These payments totaled $3.67 million in the period covered by the report, with the single biggest payment (out of about 250 total) being $254,000 to The New Teacher Project, a group that is helping us recruit teachers in a way that is more targeted to our needs. Of the $3.67 million spent on admininstrative needs, $2.89 million came from restricted sources and about $775,000 from unrestricted sources. This entire expenditure category represents 7.94% of total spending on consultants and personal service contracts.
  • The fifth largest category of K resolution spending is legal services. These payments to outside legal firms (excluding the cost of maintaining our in-house counsel’s office) totaled $1.48 million, representing 3.2% of total spending on consultants and personal service contracts. The vast majority of these expenditures came from unrestricted funds ($1.08 million); with the balance coming from restricted sources (about $400,000).
  • The sixth-largest category of K resolution spending is visual and performing arts enrichment (otherwise known as the “A” in the  SLAM portion of the PEEF. Confused? SLAM stands for Sports, Libraries, Arts, and Music and it is a subset of the Public Education Enrichment Fund, or PEEF).  This category represents $1.15 million in the year to date, or 2.5% of total expenditures on personal services or consultant contracts. It’s mostly classified as coming from restricted sources– about $941,000 — with the remaining $213,000 classified as coming from unrestricted sources.
  • The seventh-largest category is spending on financial services, mostly consisting of payments to accountants and auditors providing outside oversight on district finances: $1.06 million, 2.29% of total spending. About $640,000 came from restricted funding sources, and $417,00 from unrestricted sources.
  • The eighth-largest category is spending on technology services: $1.02 million, 2.2% of total spending on personal services or consultant contracts, about evenly split between restricted and unrestricted sources.
  • The ninth-largest category is program evaluation (required under state law): $1.01 million, 2.19% of total spending on consultants/personal service contracts, entirely from restricted sources.
  • The tenth-largest category is supplemental student counseling, mostly representing community organizations which provide direct counseling services to students. These payments totaled $718,607 and represented 1.56% of total spending on consultants/personal service contracts, mostly from restricted sources (save $80,000).
  • The remaining 17 categories represent about $4 million (or about 6 percent) of total spending on consultants and personal services contracts — they include things like legislative advocacy, student athletics (the S in SLAM),  health education, teacher mentoring and many more activities.

3 responses to “The dish on consultants — adding up the spending

  1. Thank you for the post on “consultants”! I appreciate your efforts to keep us informed and your advocacy of behalf of our children.

  2. SFUSD should not use outside legal counsel, especially when it comes to special education disputes. Those people charge by the hour and it is in their best interest to drag out disputes, instead of putting out the fires and coming to agreements. And using a law firm from Los Angeles? Paying for the lawyers to fly up to attend meetings? This also causes big problems for parents, who must delay having meetings or hearings because of commuting problems the LA law firm’s lawyers have.
    For much less than 1.48 million, couldn’t SFUSD hire a few more lawyers to be on staff?

  3. Thank you for sharing this information in this way, Rachel. It helps to better understand where our money is going and I really like the breakdown by restricted and unrestricted funds. It helps to cut through the rhetoric that has been flying around about “so much $$ going to outside consultants” when we know who they are and why.

    One thing I want to point out about legal costs. A first thought would be that it’s for litigation, but I know a lot of it is to review things like contracts and documentation that is put out about procedures like the student assignment system to ensure it complies with legal restrictions. The many overlaying laws, regulations and mandates from the federal and state government makes this a necessary expense.