"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

Friday, July 22, 2011

3 Elementary Schools Planned for Rebuild in Orem with the Bond

The Bond
On July 19, the Board met to discuss, mostly for the last time before the bond vote, the individual projects scheduled for the bond monies.  The board will vote on Aug. 16, whether or not to put the bond to the voters at the November election.

The biggest change in bond projects was the recommendation to rebuild 3 elementary schools in Orem.  All three have seismic issues and are quite old (around 50 years or so).  They are: Cherry Hill, Westmore, and Grovecrest.  Geneva also needs to be rebuilt, but, due to its proximity to Suncrest, the board might want to think about building one school in between Geneva and Suncrest. Then, we could combine their student populations.  In doing this, the cost of the 3 schools went from an estimate of $11.6M to $23.4M.  This means other projects scheduled for the bond will be pushed out, and some will be taken care of with Capital funds. The business office put together criteria for determining which projects made sense to rebuild, and which should just be fixed.  The criteria were based on dollars, years of useful life left (50 years being the useful life limit), seismic prioritization, and whether or not the dollar amount was too high to realistically be handled with on-going capital funds.  In general, anything over $2M warranted a rebuild. 

The board, while concerned for those schools that were pushed out, was overwhelmingly supportive of the idea of rebuilding the older schools.  The Superintendent noted that the Orem City Council were also very supportive of the rebuild idea.  I asked for more information on student population and capacity, as well as projected growth.  I was told that we could, indeed, be more economically prudent by closing neighborhood schools in some cases, but the immeasurable cost to the individual communities would be devastating.  The idea of having neighborhood schools is something that previous boards have been supportive of, and most people in a community are supportive of, as well.  My fellow board members were pleased with the idea of starting from scratch instead of using a 'band aid' on these schools.  I still wanted to know the opportunity cost for this, but was clearly in the minority.  I understand the possible concerns related to closing schools.  However, I think it is only fiscally responsible to know what the costs actually are before making a decision.  I agree that there are non-monetary costs that come into play.  However, we should at least explore the possibilities before making those decisions.  Again, I was in the minority with that mind-set.

As the Board President went around the room to assess our thoughts on the bond projects, most were basically supportive.  I offered only 2 comments.  1) I am uncomfortable with going into debt to fund weight room expansions at Lone Peak and Timpanogos.  It is based on the principle that we shouldn't be going into debt, and we, if necessary, could pay for this with capital funds at some point in the future--if the priority is sufficient.  It is readily acknowledged that there do need to be projects in all the areas of the district to gain widespread support for the bond.  The weight room addition is the only bond project in North Orem and only the second bond project in the Northeast (Highland, Alpine, etc).  2) We had discussed the desirability of getting out of debt and going to a "pay as you go" plan for capital costs at our retreat on Monday.  I suggested that a bond would be better accepted by the fiscally-concerned should we have a plan to get out of debt, even if it were saving just a small amount of money every year.  The downside to this: Whatever we save for future needs, we aren't able to spend now on existing needs.  The overall philosophy of the board was suggested to be that getting out of debt is important and something we want to strive for.  However, due to the current economics, it isn't something that is feasible now.  Someday, it will be. 

The seismic projects still on the bond are as follows:
  • Alpine Elementary (seismic only): $1.845M
  • Orem Jr (addition and seismic): $5.5M
  • Sego Lily (seismic only): $825,000
It is important to note, the remaining seismic projects are still projected for, under our 5-year capital plan.  As the board gets capital funds every year, they will prioritize which projects should be undertaken and when.  However, it does depend on funding and priorities, every year.  Right now, the seismic retrofittings will take until 2020 to complete throughout the district. To download the seismic priority list, click here.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Why I Voted Against the Budget

Board Meeting: Budget Approval--June 21
The Board Meeting was held on June 21, and included approval of the final budget for 2010-11 and the tentative budget for 2011-12.  The formal budget was available online as of June 1, and I received a hard copy about that same time.  We had 3 weeks to review the budget.  Throughout the year, different items are brought up that impact the budget, and the board more or less approves them at the time.  Also, there are a few budget committee meetings that narrow down and prioritize items to be addressed in the budget, e.g. building maintenance requirements.  However, I would like to see a shift to allow the board and the public more time to address issues in the budget and see revisions, much before the June 22 approval date, as required by law.  Ideally, the proposed budget would be made public near the beginning of May.  The May board meeting would allow the board to discuss different options. I'd, also, suggest having  a public input meeting to take place in May.  Then any changes or suggestions could be incorporated in a revised budget, available June 1.  (Highland City followed this procedure and had a public Open House in May, just before a City Council meeting where the budget was discussed.  I commend them for this step and borrowed liberally from their process.)

My main issue, besides the overall budget schedule, was $860,000 for Common Core implementation.  As you've read previously, I am concerned with the lack of local control that will come with Common Core.  The way it works is the State Office of Education has decided all Utah Schools (district and charter) will adopt the Common Core (including the out-sourced, US Dept of Ed-financed assessments).  What is tested, determines the curriculum.  At the time of the budget adoption, the Board had never discussed Common Core.  We were allocating funds because the State Office said as much.  They dictate, we fund.  The Common Core training began the day before the budget was approved, and about $70,000 was put into the budget to be spent (post-July 1) to pay those teachers participating in the week-long training.  Because this is a fundamental shift of educational responsibility, I felt the board needed to at least address Common Core before allocating funds.  I asked that the $860,000 be "held in abeyance" until the board could discuss Common Core.  I was outvoted on setting that money aside.  As such, I felt I wasn't doing my due diligence in approving the $860,000, even if it was only 1/400 of the budget.  It represents such a large potential change, it didn't seem right for me to approve something that hadn't even been discussed.  I was the only "Nay" vote.  My fellow board member, Paula Hill, voted to abstain, with a comment that she was doing so because of the nearly $1M for Common Core implementation. 

Eagle Mountain Middle School Property
The board approved the purchase of a property for the proposed Middle School in Eagle Mountain.  The decision was between two different pieces of property.  The board weighed the overall costs, necessary improvements, transportation, power, etc. in making this decision.  It was not a decision made lightly, and there was a lot of community input.  In short, when all the different factors were laid out, the SITLA property was the best deal.  One nice thing is that our agreement includes the improvements to be made on the property.  They will make the improvements to our specifications and with our approval prior to closing on escrow.  And the overall price came in lower than the other option. 

Collective Bargaining and Trust Lands Funds
Also approved were the various agreements with the associations: Administrators, Teachers, and Education Support Services.  One of the biggest issues was the healthcare cost increase, due to the "ObamaCare" mandates.  It amounted to about $4M for the year.  The other issue was the board approved a 2% increase for teachers who were not due an increase due to 'step and lane'.  Essentially, the district pay schedule has different lanes that teachers are on, depending on education level.  For example, a teacher with a Bachelor's degree is on a particular lane.  Another teacher with a Master's Degree is on a different lane.  Both start at step 1, if they are brand new.  But the lane for the Bachelor's degree pays less for Step 1, than does the Master's Degree lane.  After so many years, they advance to Step 2, and so forth.  If you are somewhere between Step 1 and Step 2, for example, this year, you will get a one time 2% bonus (probably in November). 

The individual school's submitted their trustlands plans, and the board approved them.

Meeting with Lt. Governor
On July 5, various teachers, employees, administrators, board members, and legislators met with Lt. Gov. Greg Bell and the Governor's education advisor, Christine Kearl.  Different members of the administration outlined some of the things Alpine is doing well:
  • Modified Extended Day schedules:  Many of our elementary schools are set up with AM and PM students.  The AM students come at 8 and leave at 2:15; the PM kids come at 9:15 and leave at 3:30.  This allows each teacher to have smaller class sizes for 150 min each day.
  • Productivity: Teachers who teach more students in a class--whether through modified extended day, or more classes/day--are paid 14 - 23 % more
  • Extended Day Kindergarten (OEK): Kindergarten students who score below a certain level are given the option of attending full day kindergarten.  The class size is an average of 16 students, as compared with 24 or so in the regular kindergarten classes.  Students in OEK out-perform their peers in the regular Kindergarten classes. 
Sen. Howard Stephenson commented on how well ASD does with its finances, as recognized by the Utah Taxpayers' Association.  Board members comments ranged from putting the 'flexible WPU' as an 'above the line' item in the budget (reimburse the districts for what they actually spend on SS and Medicare with state monies, and not just lump that amount into a 'discretionary' category when SS/Medicare are anything but discretionary), experimentation with technology, recognition that ASD does a great job with large classes and a growing population, but it would be better to have smaller class sizes, and my comment: more local control--do not legislate and dictate what the local boards can/should do.  Either we want local control or we don't, but let's not pay lip service to local control.

Agenda for Board Training on July 18--Timberline Middle School
Twice a year, the board has a retreat/training for most of a day.  This is the second one I will be participating in.  Since this meeting constitutes a quorum of the board, it is an open, public meeting.  As a board, we have been asked to submit our comments/suggestions for the Boardmanship discussion, as well as the afternoon discussion items.  You may want to check out the links from the district website for more information on the Code of Conduct and the Board, itself.  Also, if you haven't had a chance to review the Common Core FAQ's, please do so...see especially the final question about Federal involvement.   I welcome your comments and feedback both prior to and after the training.
8:30 – 9:00 a.m. Common Core Review & Discussion: Syd Dickson, USOE

9:00 – 10:00 Discussion of Board Issues: Debbie

10:00 – 10:15 Break

10:15 – 11:15 Continue Discussion of Board Issues

11:15 – 12:00 Review History of District Mission, Vision, Values, Goals: Vern / Debbie

12:00 – 12:45 p.m. Lunch

12:45 – 2:00 Boardsmanship: Debbie

2:00 – 2:15 Break

2:15 – 3:30 Board Training – Discussion of Leadership by Sully: Barry Graff
Board Meeting Agenda: July 19--District Office

4:00 P.M.

The purpose of the study session will be to (1) review details for the November 2011 bond, (2) for Board inservice and (3) to discuss other current issues.


6:00 P.M.

PLEDGE OF ALLEGIANCE: Debbie TaylorPresident




CLAIMS FOR JUNE :Vernon Henshaw, Superintendent


1. Budget Report: Vernon Henshaw, Superintendent

2. Personnel Reports

3. Alpine Foundation Report

4. Resolution 2011-011 – Contract with Orem City for Law Enforcement Officers

5. Resolution 2011-012 – Easement Agreement with UDOT for Property Adjacent to Vineyard Elem.


1. 2013-2014 School Calendar: Vernon Henshaw, Superintendent