What Price Victory?

Well it isn’t the X-Men, but there are definitely two sides to this story. Vote #4 was successfully won, and with a clear majority of the voters. We even had a huge turn out for this vote; at a level unheard of in our towns. So what could be wrong?

Our story begins with defeat of vote #3… How could this have happened? We passed the budget, including a $352K deficit payment on vote #3 last year! We had visited the towns before the budget was finalized; we had returned $24K in surplus to the taxpayer; we had a Image3 year contract with the teachers; we had reached out to the community with clever graphic ads in print and social media; we had involved the students in meetings and convened a panel to discuss their future; and yet with all of this, the budget was defeated and the no voters had gained support. So, what choices would be made, what cuts would be added, what teachers and students would be affected to appease the voters of our small school? 

Can you explain how the school is meeting the needs for our children? 25% SPED and more to come. Below ave. college prep, above ave teacher/pupil. Ave. in math and below ave. in reading. With a school rating of 0 this year. 58th last. We seem to be only meeting the financial needs of those employed at the school…The state ave. for SPED is 13%. I believe complacent teachers are using SPED for a dumping ground for a challenging student. Mr.Pike and the board has allowed this…I know, Only more money will fix this problem. Right? The 19 unqualified teachers aides have not been able to help…You as a board member Judy, should be concerned and be as well informed about what this program is for and should be run..I have done my homework.

Funny how they send postcards and newsletters in the mail but no factual information is on those, just propaganda. Just once, I’d like to see the facts written in black and white. How much of the budget is grant money? What happens if that grant money falls through? Are the voters on the hook? What is being done to ensure that the school doesn’t go over budget as it has repeatedly in the past (and we’re still paying on that last mess)? Frankly, I don’t care about senior projects or ice cream socials. I care about my tax bill that increases at an exorbitant rate year after year.

Doesn’t sound like our efforts made a damn bit of difference….

So, it is decided that no further cuts will be made because there are no further cuts that can be made which will not undermine the foundations of the education that the children of our small school will receive. Bold move, slap in the face or just reality? I guess it depends on your point of view. Now what to do? Voter resignations, informational meetings, budget freeze, extended deadlines for contracts, pull out all the stops to get this budget passed so there is some certainty for the 2014-2015 school year.

ATTENTION!!!!! VOTERS…THE SCHOOL BOARD AND ADMINISTRATION …HAVE DECIDED TO IGNORE YOUR 3RD. BUDGET NO VOTE…THEY DECIDED NOT TO MAKE ANY CUTS AND PUT THE SAME BUDGET OF $7,999,999.00 UP FOR A RE-VOTE…WHAT DO YOU THINK OF THIS BLATANT SLAP IN THE FACE???MAYBE THEY DIDN’T HEAR NO LOUD ENOUGH!!!! PLEASE BE SURE THEY HEAR YOUR VOICE LOUD ENOUGH THIS TIME.

Come on Amy … honest??? When the third budget got voted down, the school went on a DRIVE to sign up voters who previously had no interest in voting for anything instead of working on the budget. You can’t tell me that that is anyone’s definition of “honest”. It’s a slap in the face of all the voting taxpayers. And since I worked the polls today and showed the newly signed up voters how to vote, I know every single one … who had never voted before and how many of them don’t receive a property tax bill.

“[Our school] is important to us because of the future education of both our children. Our son loves [the school] and we as parents and taxpayer’s support our teachers and the budget for our children’s education!”

“As a judge of Senior Exit Projects for several years, I have witnessed firsthand how [the school] nurtures the abilities of its students and enables them to move on to productive futures. Believe me, it’s worth every penny!”

Well the voter registration efforts were successful, the reminders to voter to vote, the anger generated over divisive posts, the efforts of many parents, students, and community members got the budget passed.  

“Thank you to everyone who voted yes and to all who worked so hard to get that yes…[the school] ROCKS!!!”

“Thank the lord.”

You all got your way, now give these kids an 8 million dollar education.”

So, what price victory? I think a heavy one. But I think it was worth it. The school will be able to provide more educational opportunities to the children and we found a level of support for the school that we didn’t know existed at the darkest hours of this fight; and make no mistake, it was a fight. There is energy that we need to harness and relationships we need to cultivate. There are at least 444 people invested in the success of the school to educate the next generation of leaders. So, yeah, it was worth the price.Image

“The roots of education are bitter, but the fruit is sweet.” Aristotle

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The 64 thousand dollar question

Well vote # 3 failed. Now the question returns to Why? We (the royal We) have heard that people are voting no because the cuts have been too deep and they won’t support the budget. We have heard teachers make too much money and should not be allowed to have their family members on their insurance plans. We have heard it is a protest vote against the ever increasing tax burden for education funding in VT. We have heard the SPED population is too high and there are too many paraprofessionals in the school. We have heard that the test scores are terrible and the school is failing to reach Annual Yearly Progress. We have heard that the school has no right to spend money over that approved by the voters; even when it is mandated by the state and federal government that services must be provided regardless if these services are covered in the approved budget. We have heard that it is “us” vs. “them” and the school only reaches out to voters when they want money. We have heard that students are looking at other schools as programs are cut, schedules are limited, and  academic opportunities dwindle. Not the best atmosphere to pass a reasonable budget that respects the needs of the taxpayer while providing for the education of the children. So, what to do? That is the 64 thousand dollar question. All I can do at the moment is address each of these concerns as I see them:

  • Voters need to understand the correlation between a no vote and continued cutting of the budget. No=too much money, too high a tax rate, which results in the budget being cut further.
  • I was asked when did it become a bad thing to work hard and have a good job. A good question. There was a time in this country, not that long ago, that teaching was seen as an honorable profession. One that held the future of the country in its hands as it worked to educate the next generation. Teacher unions, the NEA and AFT, have become the target of heated debate and the teaching profession is under siege. Effective teachers are demonstrably the most important resource schools have for improving the academic success of their students (Hanushek and Rivkin 2006; Rice 2003).
  • In 2004 the Economic Policy Institute did a study that examined trends in the relative weekly earnings of elementary and secondary school teachers. They found that “the average weekly pay of teachers in 2003 was nearly 14% below that of workers with similar education and work experience, a gap only minimally offset by the better nonwage benefits in teaching. Teacher earnings have fallen below that of the average college graduate in recent decades, losing considerable ground during the late 1990s, as earnings of college graduates grew 11% relative to the much lower 0.8% growth in teacher earnings.” There are also analysis of 2010 Census Bureau data that show while Public school teachers do receive salaries 19.3% lower than similarly-educated private workers, teachers are well compensated when total benefit packages are include with salaries ( Biggs  and Richwine 2011). I would argue that yes we as tax payers do pay the total compensation package for our teachers, but benefits are not calculated in net pay that teachers bring home each week which brings us back to the 19.3% lower salary then similarly-educated private workers. Also, teachers are members of our tax base, so they are helping to support themselves.
  • Well, the protest vote that defeated 35 budget in VT did result in Montpelier lowering the tax rate 3 points. However, using a local school as a pawn in a much larger game does not sit well with me. I do not support the ends justifying the means. And as we are now moving into vote #4, I don’t think this is one of the main reasons the budget was defeated anymore.
  • SPED is federally mandated under the ADA. The federal government has lowered its support of their mandates to less that 20% of the total costs to the  schools. We are responsible for the difference. Public schools must educate all students and unlike private and Charter schools cannot decide which students they will or will not educate. There are students that are teetering on the edge and need a little extra support, but without availability of those mid-level supports they will end up on an IEP; increasing the overall costs to the school. That being said, more needs to be done to move kids off IEPs, including working with the classroom teachers on collaborative approaches in the best interest of the child.
  • Push back against standardized testing is happening all over the country. These tests are not truly diagnostic and are not the best measure of a student’s growth and learning. A combination of factors are the best the measures of a student’s progress. Teaching is more art than science and kids are more than a number.
  • Strong fiscal oversight and belt tightening have brought us from years of deficits to 2 years of surplus. But even the best financial management and oversight cannot predict a fire alarm system not working or the child with extraordinary needs moving into the district. This is why we have contingency funds and a pledge to alert the public of potential cost over runs before they occur.
  • Extraordinary effort has been put into reaching out to the public, providing information in multiple venues, asking for public input and participation in Board meetings and budget discussions. These efforts will continue to build trust and move the discussion from “us” vs. “them” to “we”.
  • Students have expressed concerns but they have also expressed their love of their school, the importance of the relationships they have with teachers and friends, and the support systems that a small school can provide. These are important to their success, but assuring that they are given the opportunities to excel academically is ultimately the goal of a school. Career or college ready is a great tag line, but students need the resources and choices to find their path to success.

The heart of a community is its school. The quality of the school is a criteria people consider when choosing where to live. People moving into an area to have their children attend that school raises property values. Engaged students with choices of classes and electives remain in school and hopefully graduate with the skills and knowledge necessary to land that job or get into that college. We are all connected, we are all neighbors, we are all dependent upon the success of our community, what’s best for the community is a good school with a good reputation.

Will budget #4 pass? Only time will tell.

 

 

Drama and Noise

As a parent, School Board member, and adult educator I am intrigued by the “drama and noise” in the public discourse surrounding public education. As we often hear of the US’s low standing in the world and comparisons to Finland, China and Japan, I must wonder at the motivations. I recently saw a quote from Mr. Garrison Keillor on the state of public education, “When you wage war on the public schools, you’re attacking the mortar that holds the community together.  You’re not a conservative, you’re a vandal.”   Is this really about conservatism or the larger education reform movement in this country that has worked very hard to discredit public education and educators? If a community loses faith in their school because of policies outside of its control then I would argue that part of the American Dream is destroyed. Public education is being squeezed from many different quarters, which puts pressure on an already overburdened system and tax base. Couple that with poorly designed and graded standardized tests that are used to label and discourage young minds, resulting in poor test scores that are used to condemn schools and teachers – it makes for a powerful mix. Noting that private schools and Charter schools are not subject to the same policies and testing standards leads me to question the real motivations of the reform movement. So, I will continue the drama and the noise in support of the American Dream and the future of Public Education.

Damn Yankees…. No Damn Unions

Our small community is yet again in the midst of a contentious school budget vote. Vote number 3 is coming up next Wednesday 4.23.14. The debate has not changed much since last year: greedy teachers, lousy test scores, to much union influence, overburdened tax base, unfunded mandates, put the special ed kids in a room with 1 teacher and be done with it. Not much about the needs of the students, push of Common Core, role of standardized testing in taking time away from actual learning, impact of poverty, importance of education to success. These do not seem to be a priority here.So, since the conversation always seem to return to the role of the teacher and the teacher’s union, I would like to offer these thoughts.

ImageThe role of unions in protecting the health, welfare, safety and financial stability of their workforces has paved the way for the 40 hour work week, fair pay, and child labor laws that we all enjoy. The National Education Association has played a large role in standardizing teacher training and curriculum. The American Federation of Teachers has played a larger role on the ground, organizing teachers into a more ‘traditional’ union, based on the collective bargaining model. Although I do not always agree with their approach, I do find value in both of these unions’ goals and do not see them as the major contributor to today’s public education woes. Taking away Kansas teacher’s right to due process will not align the standardized test to the Common Core State Standards. Evaluating teachers on their student’s standardized test scores will not change the zip code the student is from, or if they had a good night’s sleep, or if they are a teenage mother, or if they give a hoot about yet another test that does not impact on their future. I agree that not all teachers are good, enthusiastic, or inspiring to their students, but rather there because removing them is not easy. However, the vast majority of teachers do come to each day with a hope that they can make a difference in a child’s life. They struggle against communities that blame them for this generation’s failings and the ever increasing costs of education. I would argue that we all play a role in the current state of education.

  • Parents that blame teachers for a child’s behavior and attack the school for not “fixing” the problem. Schools are in loco parentis for 7 hrs 5 days a week and are tasked with teaching ALL of the children regardless of their learning ability or desire to be there.
  • The state and federal governments for instituting scripted curriculum that removes a teacher’s creativity and ability to differentiate lessons.
  • The state and federal government for instituting unfunded mandates that local school districts must provide and finance. The US government’s minimal reimbursement related to the ADA has been reduced yet again with state and local taxes covering >80% of these costs.
  • The media for perpetuating a narrative of reformers who are benefiting financially (to the tune of billions of dollars) from the privatization of public education, proliferation of testing, testing materials, and testing technology.
  • The schools for not educating the local community on the complexities of public education. It is not a business; you cannot cut overhead by cutting necessary assets and expect exceptional outcomes. Running lean at a school is much different from running lean in a manufacturing or farming environment. Children are not commodities; they come in all shapes, sizes, abilities and socioeconomic strata that affect the outcome of the process. None of which are controlled by the school or the teacher.

Good Grief! Teachers Get High Marks on New Evaluations

Well, does this mean that the profession of teaching will catch a break? Will the powers that be step back and consider listening to the educators that know how to teach? Will this give teachers a seat at the table in policy discussions? One can only hope. Of course this would mean that the last 10 years of teacher bashing and high stakes testing would need to be re-evaluated too. hmmmm…..

Good Grief! Teachers Get High Marks on New Evaluations.

Looking for stories to share

HI folks! I am in search of stories to share about teachers, teaching, education, education reforms, CCSS, anything and everything Public Ed. This is an open invitation to put your story in the comments section of this post. I will take your stories and add them to our “See What People Are Saying” section.

Thanks for you help!

Thank you Teacher Ken

I just read Ken Bernstein’s open letter to College Professors and have to agree (http://mynorthwest.com/646/2227382/Sorry-Colleges). We have paid a terrible price for NCLB. What may have been a wonderful idea and aspiration, to leave no child behind in our educational system, has grown into a billion dollar business and changed the focus from the student to the teacher. I love this cartoon because it speaks so clearly to the current state of parent/student/teacher relations. Oh brave new world.

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I am constantly amazed at the open hostility shown to teachers, even if they are our neighbors, friends or family. Firing hard working professionals, which work for much less than they would make at a private school or in the private sector, is seen as the solution to all our educational problems. Why do you need teachers when you have online courses? What value is a teacher when standardized test results are sub-par? Who cares that teachers have to teach to the test? When are they going to pay their fair share (neglecting the fact that many teachers have taken pay cuts, cuts in benefits, and also provide school supplies from their own monies, but then that is their choice after all I’ve been told)? How come not every student has individualized attention and falls through the cracks? Why do teachers and administrations have to meet unfunded mandates? Why do you need so many teachers – just increase the class size. I could go on, but you get the gist.

These questions are important in the fiscally challenged world we currently live in, but they are not the only questions we should be asking. Asking our children what their educational experience is today and comparing that to our own experiences is very important.  Do they see the value of education in their future success? Is school a place they want to go every day? If not, why not?  Do they respect their teachers?  By respect I mean do they see their teacher(s) as professional, as valuable, and/or as someone dedicated to helping them succeed? Why do they think students are organizing demonstrations in support of their teachers and against standardize testing around the country? I would love to know what kids have to say about these and other issues related to their education.

I am not quite naive enough to think that all teachers are wonderful and if we just have respect for these professionals all the educational challenges we face would be solved.  But I am optimistic that we can make a difference in the current debate by letting our legislators, state and national, know that teachers and teaching are deserving of our respect, that involving educators in curriculum and assessment design is fundamental to the success of our children’s education, and that involving educators in policy making is fundamental to the success of our education system. Blaming teachers is easy, but it isn’t right.