In this post, I will discuss the remaining items from the work session on Dec. 14, 2010:
- Proposed Idea of Grading Schools
- School Community Council (SCC) discussion on the Mission, Vision, Values, and Goals and Bond
- More information on the proposed bond
The legislature is considering a proposal to give public schools a grade, e.g. A-F. In light of that information, the Utah State Office of Education (USOE) is proposing their own grading system. Some of the items they would like to include for grading would be attendance, graduation rates, ACT participation/performance rates, students reading on grade level, # of credits that a student is prepared for in Jr. High to High School, safe school data, course taking information, enrollment demographics, subgroup performances. (I assume by subgroup, it is demographics, advanced placement, etc. but I will get clarification on this.) The USOE’s proposal contains a broad spectrum of criteria for grading (and it may be that each school will be given multiple grades, one for each area, instead of just a single, overall grade. The superintendent would prefer the broader, more comprehensive grading system.
My Take: Grading Schools
I think this is a popular idea. Parents want to know how their kids’ schools compare, where they are strong and where they are weak. However, like all things, the devil is in the details. The difficulty in all of this is assigning a grading system based on reliable criteria. In our lives, we grade our vendors every day, by patronizing their establishments. If the plumber does a good job for me, I call him back again, I pay him a tip, and I recommend him to my neighbors. If he doesn’t, I don’t call him again, and he may go out of business. With a government entity, like schools, we haven’t found a way to determine the best way of rating schools. They get the same number of dollars whether we approve or disapprove. While it is difficult to do, I think it still has merit. I would welcome everyone’s comments on how best to do this. Along those lines, I have heard (not during this work session), that ASD is looking at doing some sort of merit pay for teachers as well. Again, please let me know how you would go about determining teacher performance as well as school performance.
SCC Meetings on MVVG (Mission, Vision, Values, and Goals)
In order to consolidate all the data collected from the meetings throughout the district, the PR Committee instructed the staff to summarize the notes from each meeting. In doing so, the result was a chart of those who supported the mission statement, those who would like to see it “tweaked” or changed, and those who would like to drop it entirely and start all over. There were a few comments listed to the side in the summary. It was stated that there were 614 participants across the district, 30 who wanted to change the mission statement in some way, and only 9 who wanted it completely dropped. 8 of the 9 were at one meeting (Mountain View). The documentation was emailed to me the day after the work session.
While I find it commendable to get community feedback, especially on an issue generating quite a bit of discussion, I am concerned with the way this was done. In the interest of full disclosure, I am opposed to the mission statement: “Educating all children to ensure the future of our democracy”. See my comments here and here. Let me share my concerns with this process, and make a few recommendations.
First, the School Community Council meetings seem to make sense for a local, community-input, kind of meeting. However, most people in the community are not aware of the SCC’s or of their role in ASD of being a ‘sounding board’ for district issues. Until I started running for school board, I had a vague notion of the SCC’s, and did attend one (and tried to attend another but was turned away) when we were discussing the math program (to replace Investigations). I was not aware of their use on a district level for feedback and input. In addition, SCC elections are not well publicized. The candidates are listed with only their name (no platform, no website, no information), and many people I spoke with during the campaign had never heard of them. So, while the SCC is valuable in getting feedback from those on the council, it is not representative of the parents at the school, and certainly not of the community at large.
Second, these particular SCC meetings, at least at my school, were held outside the normally scheduled time. I received a note from one of my consituents letting me know that he attends all the SCC meetings for our school, and the MVVG was never discussed. Well, anyone who regularly attended the SCC meetings could have easily missed this meeting. The district scheduled these meetings, and, it's quite possible, the SCC was given this information after their previous meeting. It was also held, at least in my case, at 10am, which doesn't bode well for attendance--especially from working parents. To my school's credit, I received an email about it perhaps 4 or 5 days in advance. Because of these things, I would have to say that the deck was stacked against the average parent attending those meetings. Further, how would someone without kids at the school find out about the meeting?
Third, it is common knowledge that how you ask a question, oftentimes, dictates the response. To correctly interpret polls, one must know both the statistical results and how the questions where asked (the methodology). From my SCC experience, we were told that the meeting was there for the district representatives to be able to explain their position on the mission statement. We were told that it was not a forum for debate. Given this, there aren't many people who are going to see this as a real opportunity for input. You are there to respectfully listen.
Fourth, how does one determine how many people wanted to change or drop the mission statement without explicitly asking? Most people, if their concerns are appropriately expressed, will not reiterate them. So, if one person stated concerns that were shared by those in the audience, how do we know which audience members also agreed, since they didn't speak up? Also, because of my candidacy, my husband and I felt it wouldn't be appropriate for us to comment. As such, our silence was counted as support. The summary sheet, in addition to the school name, shows three tally columns and a comments field. The columns are: # attending, change mission statement, and drop mission statement. In seeing this, I had a hard time understanding the distinction between changing and dropping the mission statement. However, the numbers in those columns were subjectively derived from the comments noted by the administrators at those meetings. Here is a sample comment: "I want our children to learn reading, writing, arithmetic and history. No vision of our society..." Is this a change (tweak) comment or a drop comment? What are the criteria? The only accurate way to tally this information would be to take a vote at some point in the meeting, clearly defining what is meant by change or drop. To imply otherwise is completely inaccurate and not the least bit factual.
In short, this issue needs to be laid to rest, not by force of will, but by having an open debate. As we were told, the SCC meetings were not a forum for a debate. But why shouldn't there be one? Additionally, we need to find a good method of communicating to everyone in the community about public meetings, and inviting all comers, not just those who have kids at the district schools, to comment on broad, directional things, like the district's mission statement. For all the talk about democracy, this report shows that the district does not want to hear the voice of all the people on this issue. If they do, they need to find a more effective way.
I was told the new board will be addressing the mission statement. I am unsure as to when. If we can't agree on a mission statement that will be acceptable to all, then we need to have a well-publicized, open hearing to actually have the debate on this issue. If we want to go so far as to have a vote, then so be it. But, I feel we are getting caught up in this issue, and it is distracting us from our main goal of educating our children for whatever purpose they (and their families), not the district, choose.
There are 3 corners of the triangle that are used in determining whether to bond and the amount. They are Growth (# of students to be served), Capital (amount of capital expenditures required), Tax Rates (how the bond will affect you and me). The bond committee will reconvene in January to make recommendations. The work session was to look at alternatives to bonding. Obviously, if there is no debt, the tax rate goes down. If the bond is for $150 million, the tax rate should stay flat. (The reason for this is that a previous bond is expiring, so this bond would just take its place.) If the bond is for $240 million, there would be a significant impact to the taxpayers. The district is proposing around $200 million, which would be a slight increase. In January (this month), the principals and maintenance people will meet to determine a list of capital projects (major projects where the 'useful life' is greater than one year) that are needed.
Here are some proposed options.
1.) Don't bond now, but delay a year. This is possible. It would require buying more portables and satellites with restrooms for the additional student populations. The challenge would be the junior high. We could delay the bond a year, and build the junior high with current reserve funds.
Here's what that would look like.
There is currently $18 Million in the Capital Fund. We usually get $10 - 11 Million in Capital funds each year. So, if a junior high costs roughly $53 Million, we could take $7 Million from the Capital fund every year for the next 5 years ($35M + $18M reserves). We would start with $25M ($18M in reserves plus $7M of the $10 or 11 we will receive the first year), and build over 2 years. However, in the last 2 years, we have only received $4M/year, and it takes $3M/year for our technology and transporation costs. So, depending on the capital budget we receive from the state, may not be an option. Also, we would then have no reserve funds.
2.) Wait more than a year for the bond. The concern is the central facilities (gyms, hallways, cafeterias, science, business, and CTE labs) at Vista Heights, Hidden Hollow and Westlake may not be able to accommodate the growth. With 1400-1500 kids at Hidden Hollow and 2300-2500 at Vista Heights, it's do-able for a year or so, but you do need a plan to divide that many.
At the conclusion of this presentation, each current and prospective board member was asked to comment. Here are some of the comments that I noted.
Concern for where a satellite could be located at Hidden Hollow. It was stated that the citizens of Eagle Mountain and Saratoga Springs are very supportive of the bond.
With the concern over the central facilities and over-crowding, it may require doing a double-session. (I understood this to mean, 2 sessions of students, one morning and one afternoon.) A couple of board members said that a double-session isn't in the best interest of kids--one from personal experience growing up.
In the A2 area (Alpine, Highland, Cedar Hills, and parts of Lehi), there is not a lot of call for capital expenditures. The only capital concerns were the seismic ones at Alpine Elementary.
My comment was that I didn't have enough information to make a statement on the bond. Everyone else, seemed to indicate support for the bond.
My Take: Bond
Based on the numbers given to me, the bond seems like a no-brainer. The projected student population is expected to be in the neighborhood of 78,000 in the next 5 years. (Currently, we have 66,000.) There are 4 schools that are 50 years old and require capital improvements (suggested repair amount $100M). Also, according to the last work session, the bond should increase property taxes on the average home ($230,000) $15/year. One bond is being retired at the same time this new bond would be "coming online". Taking on new debt (200 million) as we retire old debt adds a total of 50 million to the overall number. I don't like new debt. But the numbers, as presented, indicate a need for the investment.
However, where it is the district's role to suggest to the board what they would recommend, it is the board's job to get all the information from multiple sources, filter through it, and give the direction to the district. At this point, I have not done any independent research or analysis, and I am still learning about the way our property tax system works in Utah. I have received a few comments from you, the taxpayers, but would like to receive more. Most especially, how would you propose to handle roughly 10,000 additional students in the next 5 years and the costs associated with maintaining 50-year-old buildings?
Up Next (only 1 more post to get through Dec. 14, 2010):
The actual Board Meeting