"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, February 7, 2011

USBA: Day on the Hill

I attended the USBA Day on the Hill at the Capitol building today (Jan. 28, 2011).  I had wanted to be able to meet with some Senators and Representatives, but it was quite difficult.  Note to self: Set up meeting times in advance.  Somehow, they are all busy during a 45-day session.  Go figure.

USBA has meetings every Friday during the legislative session, along with the Utah School Superintendents Association (USSA) and the Utah Association of School Business Officers (UASBO), to weigh in on current legislation.  Each organization selects delegates, and many months prior to the legislative session, they decide on a general direction for the bills they will and will not support.  Once the legislature is in session, these combined groups vote on the current bills.  It requires 2/3 majority to take a position on a bill.  Options are Support, Oppose, Hold (with comment sometimes), Local Control (oppose because this should be an issue of local control), Unnecessary. 

Prior to the voting, we were addressed by Lt. Gov. Greg Bell, Christine Kearl (Governor's Education Director), Sen. Lyle Hilyard, Rep. Mel Brown, and Rep. Bird. 

Lt. Gov. Bell
Lt. Gov. Bell discussed the compelling stories of both the Israelis and the Palestinians.  He said that both stories were compelling.  He suggested people have a tendency to tell their own story, and not listen to the other side.  He gave some information about the budget situation.  Last year, there was a 22% cut in every department of state, 16% cut in Higher Ed, and 12 % cut in Public Ed.  He also said the Governor recognizes you don't improve public ed by the legislature lobbing bills into education like bombs from a plane.  It won't work because there's no buy-in.  On the other hand, he asked us to recognize the new political and fiscal realities, bring concrete examples to the legislature to help them understand, and realize this is the new normal--it isn't going to be like it was.

Christine Kearl
Christine Kearl discussed the Governor's Education Committee.  Since I have reviewed this elsewhere, I will just give a brief synopsis with the budget amounts associated with each issue.

The main goal of this committee is to have 66% of Utahns (20 - 64) have a post-secondary certificate or degree by 2020.  This is based on a study showing what education will be required of our workforce to continue economic development in our state. 

Above all, the Governor is committed to funding growth in our public schools.  After that, there are 8 proposals (which passed unanimously) from the Ed Committee.

1.) Optional Extended-Day Kindergarten: $7.5M
2.) Reading Literacy: $2M to Utah State Office of Education (USOE) for this
3.) Common Core State Standards: $2M (USOE)
4.) Assessment Improvements: $1M (USOE)
5.) Mission-Based Funding: Fund higher ed, not on enrollment, but on outcomes, e.g. degrees and completion: $1M
6.) Internal Alignments: Better networking w/ Public, Applied Tech, and Higher Ed: $250K
7.)Utah Cluster Acceleration Program: Higher Ed collaborates with businesses, e.g Weber working with Aerospace Technology: $250K
8.) Online Early College: Concurrent enrollment for high school students to take GE courses:$500K

Gov's Budget:
$215M projected NEW money this year.  Governor wants to spend $50M for public education's growth and $13M as listed above.  There is a $315M structural imbalance (this means that the budget from last year had $315M more expenses than on-going revenue, e.g. Feds sent one-time money, rainy day funds).  Last year's motto was "Do More with Less".  This year's is "Do More with the Same".

Sen. Lyle Hilyard
Says there's support for Extended-Day Kindergarten, but discussed the budget figures.  The $315M 'structural imbalance' means if we do nothing with our budgets, we are down $315M.  Two years ago it was $550M, so the legislature brought it down quite a bit last year.  The goal this year is to get it to $0 (from the legislature's perspective.  The Gov. wants to use rainy day funds to leave a $200M imbalance going forward.)  The $315M imbalance is 7% of the total budget.  Each legislative chair is to cut 7% from his/her budget.  This doesn't mean that everyone will end up with a 7% cut, but everyone is expected to bring 7% to the table.  He also mentioned that education was 50% of the state's budget.  If education does not get cut at all, every other entity must double their cuts.  He said he receives people in his office describing dire medical situations, e.g. people on life support, who will be cut off without on-going aid from the state.  It's a difficult place to be in.  He asked that we understand this situation. 

Rep. Mel Brown
Discussed the 7% budget cuts across the board, and said the legislature would like to fund growth in education just like the Governor.

Rep. Bird
Discussed the bill to allow school boards to sell bus space for advertisers.  There are limitations on where the ads go (e.g. not on the back), and the content (no alcohol, suggestive content, street signs, etc).

Bill Status
HB50: School Termination Procedure
SB115: School Performance Reporting
HB195: Debt Service Obligations of a Divided District
HB199: Advertisements on School Buses
SB38: K-3 Reading

HB65: Public School Funding
HB72: Taxes and related school funding
SJR1: Joint Resolution on State Board of Education
SJR9: Governance and Public Ed

Local issue/unnecessary:
HB220: Civics Education
HJR3: Joint Resolution promoting healthy and energy efficient schools
HB218: Clubs in Public Schools

SB21: Tax Revisions--concerned with loss of revenue
SB119: School District Superintendent Amendment--Ask Sen. Stephenson to propose amending the current language which already allows local districts to hire Superintendent's without an Administrative Education License but not allow the USOE to veto that process.  The USOE can still run background checks and provide information to the local board, but can't derail the hiring. Currently, the USOE 'may grant' approval to the school board.  If the bill just says 'shall grant' it will accomplish the same things as Sen. Stephenson's bill.

My Take: Bills
I have not found an official link to the list of bills supported, etc.  When I do, I will pass it along.  I found the process interesting. 

I partially disagreed with the vote on SB119.  The bill seemed fine to me as written.  In fact, the difference is 'as written' the superintendent is not granted a license by the USOE, but may still be hired by the local board.  The suggestion by the USBA was to continue to have the USOE grant an admistrative license but withdraw the USOE's veto power in this instance. 

HB220 didn't pass because it was deemed unnecessary for local control, mirroring the comments in the committee hearing.  I didn't understand from the discussion that this was simply adding a few lines to the existing law, discussing civics education.  It was mostly a clarification, and I would definitely support it.  Since I am not a delegate, I was unable to vote. 

One interesting note, Deputy Supt. Menlove of the USOE said they had difficulty providing a 7% budget cut to the legislature.  They decided to suggest a cut to the FlexWPU which is an amount the state provides to local districts to offset their social security and retirement costs (required by law).  The unofficial consensus from those of us at ASD was this would have been the last thing we would have suggested.  Instead, we would cut specific programs.  That's what we do as individuals.

Also, there is a petition to oppose partisan state and local school board elections.

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