"But if it is believed that these elementary schools will be better managed by...any other general authority of the government, than by the parents within each ward [district], it is a belief against all experience." --Thomas Jefferson

Monday, January 3, 2011

Dec. 14, 2010 Work Session, Part II: School Grades, SCC Mission Statement, Bond

Work Session, Continued

In this post, I will discuss the remaining items from the work session on Dec. 14, 2010:

  1. Proposed Idea of Grading Schools 
  2. School Community Council (SCC) discussion on the Mission, Vision, Values, and Goals and Bond
  3. More information on the proposed bond
Grading Schools

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.

My Take: SCC Meetings on MVVG and Bond

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


  1. Actually, because of your candidacy, I think you had the responsibility to stand up and comment.

    If a debate is held, votes taken, does it end there? Or do we still go about making accusations of teachers trying to lead kids in ASD down a socialistic path?

    Or if you're a Principal who doesn't set his hair on fire when a parent demands he do so immediately (he instead wants to talk with ALL members involved first) do we quit referring to his 'not caring' because it is all part of a secret "plan to indoctrinate the children at his school?"

    I just read today that Benjamin Bloom the author of Bloom's Taxonomy was a socialist. He is now in a certain group's cross hairs. And you know how that plays out....

    If it was said by a socialist it must therefore be evil. If teachers were taught Bloom's Taxonomy they have been indoctrinated themselves, but of course were simply too stupid to recognize this.

    So what do we do? No longer teach using it? Rename it? Come up with our own version?

    But that won't work. Because it is still associated with a socialist.

    Look up Bloom's Taxonomy. It lists six ways to assess learning. You know, to make sure a kid is learning. (gasp!)

    The six levels? Evaluation, Snythesis, Analysis, Application, Understanding, Knowledge.

    I'd be willing to bet that you use a form of Blooms Taxonomy with your kids without even realizing it.

    Does that make you a socialist?

    There are those that say it would.

    And they'll even share scriptures to prove it.

  2. @ParkerMama:

    Since this was an official meeting for the district to present their information on the MVVG and the bond, it wasn't the forum for my opponent (who was there in her official capacity) and me to debate this issue. We will have to disagree on this point.

    I don't think the teachers are socialists.

    My concern is the methodology of the entire process (whether or not you agree with the mission statement). As an example, my kids' school is having a parent meeting one evening this week. I have received multiple emails over the past month, some with information, and some just as reminders. My kids have brought home flyers. This evening, I received a robo-call to remind me again. At the meeting, there will be response forms to fill out for a valid tally of the opinions. I am very grateful to this principal and his staff for the way they are handling this. It is a great example of how to involve parents in important meetings. If these SCC meetings were truly supposed to elicit input from the community, it needed to be done in a much more effective manner.

  3. Thanks Wendy, for all you are doing for our schools. I am looking forward to reading more of your insight into the workings of the school board.

    I am concerned, however with the comments about SCCs. It sounds like there are some SCC issues at your school. As a three year member of the SCC at Cedar Ridge, we have published ALL of our meetings online, via signs at the school, and most of them are listed in the handbook from the beginning of the year. My understanding is that advanced notice of these meetings is required by the state. We have occasionally held an extra meeting, but they are all published ahead of time, and we have NEVER turned anyone away. As of this year, we are also recording all of our meetings. We have, three times, published articles about what the SCC does. All of our elections are publicized via school website, emails, school newsletter, signs at the school, and various other means. The candidate's names are published, as well as a statement from them. If these types of efforts are not happening at your school, you may need to contact the District SCC rep over your school with your concerns.

    As an attendee of the last three years worth of these meetings, I can tell you that the MVVG have been discussed, in depth, with a board representative, AT our school, during our normal meeting times, at least once each year. While we did not "debate" this year, per se, I have found that the board members were willing and able to answer any questions posed to them about the MVVG. I was also present, with several of our SCC members, at one of the "What Counts" meetings two years ago that helped define these statements. So, I would not find it surprising that SCC members, in general, would not find the MVVG to be controversial. We've had the opportunity to participate in the process that created them, and the chance to have board members answer questions about them.

    As to how to let more people know about SCCs and their purpose, I am at a complete loss. Even when we have had a major issue and are doing everything we can to get parents to attend our meetings (including robo-calls, emails, signs at the school, online notice on the website and notice in the school newsletter), we have difficulty getting very many to come. And, even though we are heavily advertising them, very few parents vote in our SCC elections. This in a school that has a HUGE amount of parent involvement.

    The more I'm there the more I realize that you can show the horse the water, have it bottled and delivered to his home, but you can't make him drink it. The problem is what to do when he complains that he's thirsty and you aren't helping him.

  4. @Amber:

    Thanks so much for your comments. I am so glad to hear that you are doing such a great job informing parents at Cedar Ridge. Unfortunately, I am not surprised that the response is underwhelming. Still, I think it is our obligation to do as much as you are doing, and more, if we can find a way. And certainly, it must be done on a district level as well.

    There is a public meeting website: pmn.utah.gov that all public meetings should appear on, including SCC's, I believe. I didn't know about this till recently, but we need to spread the word.

    I think there are two separate issues here. The first, that you mention, is getting greater parental involvement. If I do nothing else in four years, I want to make it difficult for parents in ASD to say "I didn't know". It will never be perfect, but there shouldn't be excuses. I am open to hearing suggestions from everyone about how to get information out to, not only the parents, but to everyone who lives in our boundaries and pays taxes to support our schools.

    The second issue is how this particular set of SCC meetings was used to get public input on two specific topics, the MVVG and the bond. Both are important, but the bond was infinitely more so (in my view). From where I sit, the use of the SCC's for public input is insufficient. As you stated, there is not a lot of involvement, for whatever the reason. In addition, the average person without kids in the schools isn't going to be involved at all in the SCC's. So, as a district tool for gauging public input, it is a dismal failure. It is great to find out what the most involved parents think. But it's hardly fair to say that you've had public input.

    Thanks so much for your involvement and your example to the rest of us. I hope we will have the opportunity to meet in the future.

  5. I still think it is unfair to label the SCC process as ineffective, though it may not have been the right forum for this instance. I would invite you to learn more about how SCCs fuction at other schools before writing them off. (In fact, turning someone away from an SCC meeting is a serious breach of the guidelines as I understand them- and not following the guidelines could potentially cause a school to lose it's Trustlands funds.)

    It looks like these meetings were handled differently at every school, so attending one school's meeting about the subject may have not given an accurate picture of what happened at each meeting. Our bond meeting was NOT part of an SCC meeting, though we were asked as part of our SCC duties to attend (not all members did). All of the methods I referenced in my earlier comment were employed to announce it, as well as notice on the school's marquee, notes sent home with students and emails to all PTA member households via the PTA. I personally announced the meeting on a city forum, and in emails to everyone I know who is in the area. We had a very low turnout (indeed, all those who came were members of the SCC or the PTA board), which clearly shocked our principal and, in truth, me, too. There was clear support for the bond (most people agreed that it is a no-brainer), and most of the meeting was spent with those in attendance asking non-related questions of the district representative and board member.

    I would love to see even better communication from the school board to parents. I just don't know how to get the word out any better than we already are or how to improve turnout. I would love to hear some ideas.

  6. @Amber: Thanks so much for this. I want to be clear that I don't have any problem with SCC's. I think they are great. I just think we need to make sure every school is functioning like Cedar Ridge is as far as communicating with parents.

    I agree my experience is just that, mine. What I can say is as I talked to others during the campaign, I was met with a general lack of understanding or knowledge of SCC's. So, as you said in your first comment, we may be doing everything we can, and people still don't know.

    Having said that, it is still not accurate for the district to say we received public input on something when we only consulted the SCC's or the DCC. As you mentioned, the SCC's, most likely, vary from school to school. I think the district can say we consulted school patrons, but that's a different thing from the public, especially where, by law, many of our population are excluded from membership on the SCC's (and justifiably so).

    I think we need to increase involvement from the parents at each school in the SCC's, as you have indicated. The issue, I think, is not that people don't care about their schools, but they are filtering everything and trying to do so many things. People get involved when they are interested and when they feel they have a chance to make a difference. Just telling people there's an SCC meeting isn't sufficient. There needs to be a reason for them to come. If there's a way to have the communication emphasize the issue(s) in a way that elicits interest, then there will be greater involvement. Please keep in touch and let me know of ways I can help from the district perspective.

  7. I am against the bond. I believe that people should be free from the coercion and restraint of others. I would never walk up to my neighbor and force him to provide for my child’s education or anything else that my child lacked. So why would I use the government to accomplish this same crime for me? We cannot confiscate private property, even in $15 increments, without incrementally diminishing freedom. It is a mistake of astronomical proportions to use our children to justify this means. It is our children who will bear the burden of our bondage. It is our children who will inherit the debt we have accrued in their behalf. And it is our children who will pay the consequences of our lie—that one can be dependent and still be free.

    It has been my experience that my voice will either be silenced or ignored at community meetings. And I feel that these meetings are "community” in name only. I am not inclined to attend them anymore. However, I appreciate your blog and the consistent transparency. I hope you can affect some positive change in ASD.