Opinion

Fire and water districts make the mark, city and schools do not | If I Were Czar

Matthew Jarvis - Contributed
Matthew Jarvis
— image credit: Contributed

My two daughters recently brought home their report cards from Sherwood Forest Elementary. After my recent opposition to the school district levy, I was relieved to see that their report cards were free of profanity.

Growing up, most of us had report cards that basically said, “Jimmy gets an A.” Today, Federal Way Public Schools (FWPS) report cards provide feedback in more than 35 areas or “Power Standards.”

Each area is rated on a scale of 1 to 4, which translates to “rarely, occasionally, frequently or consistently demonstrates an understanding of concepts, skills and processes.” This grading system shows students, parents, teachers and administrators where progress is being made and where additional efforts are needed.

As I was reviewing my daughters’ report cards, I started to wonder what it would take to institute a similar grading system for the school district itself, City Hall/police, South King Fire and Rescue and Lakehaven Utility District.

Just like my children’s academic progress, what if taxpayers could easily measure the performance of these various agencies?

As the old business cliché goes, you can only improve the things you are measuring.

In my perfect world, (which some may label as a delusion), every government agency would identify 10-15 areas or Power Standards where performance is critical for success. In addition to some kind of cost/benefit ratio, these Power Standards would also include things like number of arrests made for every 100 crimes reported, the number of classrooms showing consistent student improvement, the cost per 911 dispatch and rush hour traffic congestion.

However, simply measuring performance is not enough. For measurements to be useful, they have to be monitored, regularly reported and must serve as a guide for policy decisions.

In our community, Lakehaven Utility District does the best job of monitoring and reporting performance. In addition to a mind-numbing list of water quality measurements, Lakehaven regularly reports to the community how their rates compare to neighboring communities. However, their website contains none of this information. As such, Lakehaven receives a “B.”

Despite their shenanigans, South King Fire and Rescue also does a really good job of measuring and reporting their performance to the community.

Their website contains a great deal of information on emergency response times, types of emergency calls received and full sets of budget documents. For a perfect score, the fire district would need to report measurements, such as cost per response and ratio of capital reserves. For today, they too receive a “B.”

Moving on to City Hall, if you are willing to comb through hundreds of pages of budget documents, you will discover that we have one of the most efficient cities in the state. Unfortunately, the city does a poor job of communicating their success and few people understand just how good we have it.

Recently, our city was rated as one of the 20 least expensive cities for businesses in the entire country. The fact that this data point isn’t displayed in bold letters on the city’s website, earns them a “D.”

This leaves us with FWPS. I hesitate to criticize the district’s PR strategy as they were able to pass their levy with a large margin, despite having more black eyes than I have room to list. However, from a numbers standpoint, the school district’s website and public communications are the worst in our community.

Nowhere on their website or community reports can you find any kind of useful financial information or performance reports.

While one could make a case that all of their data is available on the Washington Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction website, the school board and district administration regularly discredit this data. So, in my book, it doesn’t count.

The district’s problems go beyond just reporting the data as only one of the school board’s goals or “ends” is even measurable. Their first goal or “end” states, “Each student will graduate with the skills and academic knowledge to succeed as a responsible, contributing member of a global society.”

Forget how you measure it, what the hell does that even mean? Until the school board is willing to measure itself and the district administration against a set of power standards, they get an “F.”

I will be the first person to acknowledge that my expectations for transparency and results are a bit extreme.

However, my expectations for local government are no different than the expectations I have for my business and personal life. As the owner of the 10th largest independent financial planning firm in the South Sound (as ranked by the Business Examiner), I live and die by performance reports and results. This relentless focus on results has allowed me to continually improve and grow my business.

A similar level of focus by our local government would quickly turn Federal Way into Freakin’ Awesome Way.

Contact Federal Way resident Matthew Jarvis at Matthew@jarvisfinancial.com.

 

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