"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, August 26, 2011

The Bond Age

Let every man, every corporation, and especially let every village, town, and city, every county and State, get out of debt and keep out of debt. It is the debtor that is ruined by hard times.
--Rutherford B. Hayes

The board voted Aug. 16, 6-0, to approve putting the bond on the ballot for Nov. 8, with my reluctant support.  The bond projects are specified here.  I appreciate all those who attended and spoke about the bond.  Your participation really does have an impact.  We may have blogs, facebook, audio recordings, and minutes of meetings, but there is still something to be said for people taking the time to show up and comment.

In that vein, it appears the majority of people in our district are comfortable with the bond and our current process of going into debt to build and maintain our schools.  The bond survey indicated a 70% approval for this bond.  And, in the past 10 years, the bonds have passed with more than 60% support.  Additionally, during the public bond meetings this spring, with very few exceptions, the emphasis was on what projects would go into the bond, not how do we avoid debt or limit the amount of the bond.  In fact, over 700 people showed up to influence the inclusion of a new high school in Lehi at a single meeting.

I am opposed to continued debt.  So, why would I vote in favor of the bond? Have I been corrupted? Bought? Co-opted? Having voted for me, I'd be saying, "What could she have been THINKING?" To change the direction of government requires a massive manifestation of the will of the people. I want us to get out of debt, whether through austerity or a less-painful, calculated plan. I do not find the status quo acceptable. However, the only way the debt status quo will change is if the vast majority of people are willing to do the "hard thing". The only way to get a commitment of the people is through a bond election.

I see three main perspectives on the bond.  Which one are you?

Position 1.) I am comfortable with the way things are.  I may not like the idea of debt, but this is how it has always been done.  We need more schools, updated buildings, seismic fixes, and weight rooms.  The bond isn't for very much money, and I am happy with the status quo.

Position 2.) I would love to get out of debt.  However, there are certain things that are needed right now, e.g. schools for growth, seismic fixes.  We don't have a system in place to take care of the current needs without additional debt.  The bond is a necessary "evil", but a debt-reduction plan needs to be in place to stop the cycle right away.  I am willing to make difficult decisions over the long term, but the immediate needs require bonding.  I am inclined to vote for the bond, but will require the board to put a debt-reduction plan in place  prior to my vote.

Position 3.) Debt is a huge problem, and I am willing to make the extremely difficult decisions necessary to combat the debt.  Without drawing a line in the sand, I am afraid the cycle will never be broken.  I believe we have the necessary tools, creativity, and community-involvement to do whatever is necessary to educate our kids without adding the burden of debt onto their shoulders.

No matter where you fit on the spectrum, your voice needs to be heard in this discussion.  The district will be conducting multiple meetings about the bond throughout September and October to inform you (and, unofficially, encourage you) on the necessity of the bond.  Even though the bond is on the ballot, your attendance and your vocal opinion will have an impact in those meetings, as well as at the ballot box.  I have 3 requests. 1) Please commit to attend at least one meeting and comment.  2) Commit to bringing 2 neighbors with you.  3) Talk with at least 2 of your friends and neighbors about this issue.  (Shameless plug: have them sign up for my facebook page, blog, and/or email.) 

If the bond doesn't pass, would we find creative ways to educate our kids with these limitations?  Yes.  Necessity is the mother of invention.  Because of the layering of the debt, there is a point at which we could borrow money for projects without increasing taxes.  Would we be able to do all the projects we want?  No.  Would we be able to prioritize and pay for some of them?  Yes.  Could we get creative with double sessions, more online options, and giving kids credit for extra-curricular activities they are doing already?  Sure.  There is never just one option.  Are you, the people, willing to go through that difficult process with us so we don't need to go into debt?  I await your response on Nov. 8. 

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Bond Vote: Aug. 16, 2011 and Public Hearing

The Tuesday Board Meeting will include a public hearing on the bond.  I am unsure whether it will comprise part of the community comments or be given a separate hearing.  I would recommend you attend.  The meeting begins at 6:00 and your opinion should be heard.

Personally, I would like to see a paradigm shift from one of constant bonding (every 5 years) to one of a pay-as-you-go system.  I realize this will take many years to be able to save and get out from under our current debt.  However, if we don't start now, we will be that much further behind.  As a board, it is our role to provide the overall vision of the district.  I would also like to see smaller bonds, more frequently for one or two specific projects.  Lumping a bunch of projects together over a 5-year period is much easier on the board and the district, but it eliminates the in-depth discussion from the public.  If every project on the bond were to be debated and voted on by the public, it would provide for greater accountability and greater public input.

In short, there is not currently a comfortable way to accommodate the seismic needs, repairs, and growth without bonding. This is the system, right now, but we need to change the system.  We pay just under $50M/year in principal and interest on our debt.  A long time ago, we got into the habit of paying for buildings with debt.  If we had not, we would have nearly $250M over the next 5 years to cover all the planned bond projects with almost $40M left over in a rainy day fund.  We need to break this habit.

Money spent on interest is money that never reaches the classroom.  The principal provides for the brick and mortar, but the interest is only valued by investors. We are losing in interest what we should invest directly on our children's education. 

Bond Projects--Proposal
  • High School: Lehi Area--$59M (2013-16)
  • Middle School: Eagle Mountain--$31.5M (2012-14)
  • Elementary Schools (4): Locations to be determined by growth--$12-14M ea. (2013, 2014, 2015, 2016)
  • AFHS: New classrooms/gyms/parking--$19.5M (2012-13)
  • PGHS: New athletic facility/gym/dance--$6.75M (2014-15)
  • Lone Peak HS: Weight/cardio classrooms--$575K (2016)
  • Timp HS: Weight/cardio classrooms--$450K (2016)
  • AFJH: 14-16 classrooms--$4.3M (2013-14)
  • Lehi JH: parking and drop off--$575K (2013)
  • Orem JH: New gym/seismic--$5.6M (2014-15)
  • Cherry Hill: Partial reconstruction (seismic)--$8.25M (2012-13)
  • Scera Park: parking/drop off--$575K (2016)
  • Westmore: Reconstruction (seismic)--$8.575M (2012-13)
  • Sego Lily: Seismic--$825K (2012-13)
  • Grovecrest: Partial reconstruction (seismic)--$6.75M (2016)
  • Alpine: Seismic--$1.845M (2012-13)

Here is the agenda for Aug. 16, 2011.

575 NORTH 100 EAST

4:00 P.M.
The purpose of the study session will be for (1) professional development for the Board, (2) to
review bond projects and the resolution for the November 8 bond election, and (3) to discuss
other current issues.

6:00 P.M.


1. Budget Report
2. Personnel Reports
3. Alpine Foundation Report
4. Resolution 2011-013 - Agreement with Lehi City for Street Improvements Adjacent to LHS

1. Resolution for Bond Election on November 8, 2011


Thursday, August 4, 2011

Does the End Justify the Means?

On July 18, the board had a retreat. The main discussion items were 1) Common Core, 2) Mission, Vision, Values, and Goals (MVVG), 3) Code of Conduct, and 4) Individual Board Member Comments.

Part 1: Common Core

This is going to be a topic of on-going discussions for the foreseeable future. Over the next year, our district will be training teachers, and getting ready to implement the State Board's decision to adopt the Common Core standards, along with the Smarter Balance Consortium's (SBCC) federally-funded assessments (by 2014). We were privileged to have Syd Dickson from the State Office of Education (USOE) present on the Common Core. Oneof the things I appreciated hearing was that, even though the Common Core organization is going to be creating standards for more subjects than just Language Arts and Math, the State Board has decided NOT to adopt anything else, especially in the realm of Social Studies or Science.

My concern is Language Arts, with the emphasis on 'informational texts' is sufficient for allowing things into our curriculum that local parents may not be comfortable with. I would submit that all writing is done from a particular point of view. Presenting informational articles to our children will come with its own agenda. One of the reasons for local control is to make sure the 'slant' is representative of what our parents are comfortable having presented to their children. And rather than presenting things via literature, which is admittedly fictional, information text comes with its own brand of authority. Children, supposedly, should be taught to analyze these texts, but at what age are they capable of deep, cognitive thinking? Certainly not in Kindergarten when 'research' writing begins with Common Core.

Ms. Dickson also said being part of the SBCC assessment group and Common Core, in general, will give us greater ability to impact textbook and resource creation. One concern a teacher in our district had was the integrated math (algebra, geometry, etc integrated at all grade-levels) was being used only by Utah and no other states. How important will we be in that process, if we are the only state using this approach? Her response was we are the only state implementing it across the board. However, there are quite a few individual districts choosing to implement the integrated process. This leads me to wonder how much leeway districts in other states have in their implementation, and why should we not have that leeway, as well?

Ms. Dickson wanted to make sure we understood that Common Core is NOT a federal or national standards program and that this was a big myth out there. We clarified that the US Dept. of Ed. is funding the assessment piece, and she said they were. However, there is supposed to be a database of questions for the assessments the USOE will use to create Utah's assessments. These assessments will be formative (chapter tests, etc. during the year), summative (end of the year assessments), as well as computer-adaptive. One concern some of the board members share is the ability of the computer-adaptive tests to actually work. The idea is that, based on the answer to any given question, the assessment program will generate a more in-depth question to test deeper understanding. I would be curious to see this in practice. As a programmer, I know, first-hand, the options in a program are only as good as the author(s) are able to predict and account for them. Also, how accurate will writing assessments be, when done by computer?

Finally, we were told the Common Core was not done outside of public scrutiny. Quite a few of the professional associations both inside and outside the state were involved. A few of us commented that we were unaware of Common Core, and its existence isn't widely known among parents. There was a lot of parental input on the standards, Ms. Dickson said. When I asked who was involved locally, I was told that if it had just been a Utah project, a lot more local people would have been involved. However, since it was comprised of 45 or so states, there wasn't much Utah public input.

Rep. John Dougall (R-Highland) attended the presentation as well, and was asked by Board Member, Mark Clement, for his comments. Roughly, Rep. Dougall stated that standards don't guarantee outcomes, and that good standards are always watered down by committees over time. As an engineer, he suggested benchmarking. Benchmarking is where you find who is doing the best job, say, in math. Then you compare your results against theirs. It was suggested that having common assessments would make that easier. However, our district could simply adopt the math assessments used by the benchmark district. There is no reason we couldn't do such a thing right now. I appreciated Rep. Dougall's perspective.

As long as your child is achieving on a national test, are you comfortable giving control of their education to some group of 'experts' you will never meet and have no influence over?  Local control has always ensured local responsibility and accountability. Common Core changes that. Are you comfortable with the change?

If you would like to regain local control and challenge the concept that outside experts know more about your children's education than you do, click "like" on this Facebook link and maybe even go so far as to click "share". "Like" helps me know where people stand on a specific issue and who might participate in advancing the perspective. "Share" means you believe in the perspective so much, you would like to share the perspective with others. Either is appreciated.
Note: The audio of all board meetings is available by law--often (after a period of time) on the ASD website (under board meetings), and always, by request, from the district office.