"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, December 20, 2013

Buy My Vote!

The Utah PTA supports Count My Vote. But the Utah PTA is a huge organization, with money, power and influence. Their vote will be counted. But will yours? 

Count My Vote is a petition drive to stop Utahns from choosing candidates through neighborhood elections. Utah PTA's support was based on the claim that the initiative 'supports the democratic process and encourages its membership to be active participants in the election of child/parent-friendly representatives'. It is assumed that a move away from Neighborhood Elections will result in 'child/parent-friendly representatives'. Fortunately, we have the benefit of history as well as experience in other states to show this idea of greater citizen participation is actually untrue. What experience does show us is how moving away from a grassroots-level of choosing candidates empowers organized, special interests over the unorganized electorate, in short, over the public interest.

When discussing politics, most of us despise the concept of money controlling candidates, organized special interests trumping the average person, and 'the political machine' providing one candidate after another without true input from 'the little guy'. We admire and embrace characters like Jimmy Stewart in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. American exceptionalism is seen through the view of the regular David going up against the establishment's Goliath and conquering based on truth and principle. In the end, we love and embrace the concept of 'Government of the people, by the people, and for the people.' Nowhere do we tout Government of the special interests, by the rich and powerful, for the well-connected.

What the well-connected have realized is that under the cover of democracy or the will of the people, you can dilute the power of the everyday person and transfer that power to organized, rich, and powerful institutions. Stop and think about how effectively you or your neighbors can take on an issue against a much more powerful, well-funded organization—whether a corporation or a non-profit foundation. Corporations and foundations have lawyers and funding, and people who are paid to devote their full time to a given set of issues. You and I have to fight them while juggling car pools, homework, and after-school activities, not to mention a 9-to-5 job. When it comes to the unorganized neighbors versus the organized special interests, the odds are not in our favor.

Count My Vote is supported by special interest organizations and people with large amounts of money. By contrast, the Utah Caucus is the only organization for the unorganized public—it allows everyone who wants in, to participate. The powerful special interests want to shift power away from you and your neighbors to them and their money. Your state legislator is more beholden to his or her neighbors than to the Utah Taxpayers Association, the Sierra Club, and the Utah PTA. In other states, your neighbors don't meet with the Governor or sitting US Senators. Elected officials don't deign to share a meal with Mr. Random Citizen without a significant campaign contribution. In Utah, your neighborhood delegates have met with, spoken to, queried, and grilled our Governor, our Senators, and every other elected representative. Candidates for every office are anxious to come to delegates' homes, answer questions, and respond to delegates' emails. This is the definition of government by the people.

What is the difference between you and a delegate? Nothing. Just come to your Neighborhood Caucus and get elected or elect someone who shares your principles. In the end, do you trust the people who are paid lobbyists for every major organization in the state (those you agree with as well as those you don't) to vett candidates and hold them accountable? Or do you trust, Joe, your neighbor? Do we really want a Mr. Smith to go to Washington, or do we want the guy who paid his dues by working for the organized special interests of this state? Should those making our laws establish common standards of right and wrong which apply to all, or should they grease the palms of those who put them in office? In the latter case, “Freedom itself ceases to be a right and becomes a gift, or the fruit of a corrupt bargain, because in such degraded regimes, those who are close to and connected with the ruling class have special privileges.” (Charles Kesler, Claremont Review of Books)

The Utah PTA supports Count My Vote because the Utah PTA will be able to get close to the ruling class and have special privileges. They believe the organization of the Utah PTA will make better decisions in selecting legislators than you will. We think of the PTA as parents and teachers working locally, in the classroom. However, Count My Vote will transform the Utah PTA into a much larger statewide, political player, along with every other organized special interest group that is willing to pay. And that greater influence will come at the expense of your neighborhood vote. If you believe those in special interest organizations will select better candidates than you and your neighbors, then you should support them, recognizing you support a government of the elite and well-connected. But, if you want your voice to really count, and your elected representatives to truly be accountable to you, you need to reject this petition. The Neighborhood Elections are your chance to maintain a 'government of the people, by the people, and for the people.' Don't let the Utah PTA Buy Your Vote!

Brian Halladay
Wendy Hart
Paula Hill

Thursday, October 24, 2013

What I'm Supposed to Say and What I'm Not Supposed to Say

What I'm Supposed to Say

On Oct. 8, the Will of the Board supported approving approximately 80 clubs in our Senior High Schools.  Each of the clubs had followed the rules outlined in our board policy.  The board policy on clubs was reviewed just this year (not by the full board, but by a committee).  Our job, as board members, is to make sure our policy is complied with.  The Board approved all the clubs.  It is not rubber-stamping to approve the paperwork of all clubs that complied with our policy. 

I can appreciate that you might have some concerns about some of the clubs or else the process, but the board has a policy, and it was followed.  The Will of the Board is that we go forward and we support these clubs and the decision of the Will of the Board.

How did I vote?  What's important is the Will of the Board has been made known.  We had vigorous discussions and then a vote was taken.  Now is the time to be supportive of the direction the Board has taken.  If we were to have well-known differences of opinion on issues, then we would not be a support to our district, and our employees would not be directed properly knowing there might be some differences of opinion.  As such, highly-effective boards debate and discuss, and then go forward in full support of the Will of the Board.

That is what I'm supposed to tell you.  That is what I have been trained and lectured to tell you. That is the acceptable thing to say.  And I should not elaborate further.  I certainly shouldn't put what I'm about to write on a blog or a facebook post.  If you felt the need to know more, you could check out the audio and the minutes of the past board meetings, if you knew they existed and where to find them.

What I'm NOT Supposed to Say

I voted against the clubs.  You may agree; you may disagree.  But, now you know.  I have lots of reasons why.  So, rather than tell you how we all need to support the Will of the Board, I will let you know what my main concern is: lack of representation. 

Most people believe their elected officials are elected to represent them.  Most people think that 'board approval' implies the board members looked at individual clubs and applications and thought, "Gee, that's a good idea.  Let's do that!"  That's what approval means.  Most people think there will be disagreements on a board, and that a majority will win.  As a result, the minority will lose.  But, to be transparent, even the Supreme Court issues majority and minority opinions.  Our Board is not supposed to do that. 

The reality is "board approval" means we rubber-stamped the paperwork required by our policy.  The students and faculty sponsor(s) jumped through the appropriate hoops, and we "approved" their hoop-jumping.  Our approval was not based on merit, debate, or community values.  Our approval was a foregone conclusion, a mere formality. 

I believe the Board is elected to represent you, the taxpayers of this community.  I also don't see a single, homogenous group of people with unified beliefs on every issue.  As such, you are better represented by a diversity of opinions, ideas, and issues.  It is assumed that anything voted on by the board requires community/public approval.  We are approving on your behalf.  If we just rubber-stamp, we only pretend there is "taxpayer" approval. 

As parents, you need to be aware that just because a club is "approved" for the school, you should not lower your guard on any level.  Please understand, the board has no role in vetting or whittling down applicants.  It doesn't matter if the reason is the threat of a lawsuit, questionable charter activities, or anything else.  If the board doesn't have the option to vett anything, we should not be voting on it, period. 

I was told we couldn't look at each club individually, on the merits.  If we were to pick and choose, we could be sued for discrimination. I have been involved in situations where I was told one thing relative to legal counsel, and then found out, with greater research and citizen involvement, the reality was quite different.  Because of this experience, I requested legal counsel meet with the Board.  That request was denied, but the administration spoke with legal counsel instead. 

Who Is In Charge? 

This denial goes to the heart of the matter.  What is the role of the school board?  Is the Board there to represent the public's will to the district or does the board represent the district's policy to the public?  Of course, politicians would skirt the issue saying it's not a mutually-exclusive question.  A balance of the two approaches is helpful with an emphasis on one or the other, depending on circumstances.  But which method is most important and why?

I believe the board should represent the will of the people, even if that goes against the will of the government administrators. We create the system and direct government to work on our behalf.  I believe we should have a trust-but-verify relationship.  This is not to say that we don't hire good people.  We do.  But the role of the board is oversight, and verification of that trust.  To trust, without formal verification, is not the role of the Board.

In the example of approving clubs, I recognize our administrators have addressed similar issues in the past, and, with renewed conversations with attorneys, felt they had a good handle on things on their end.  My fellow Board members, apparently, felt their issues were resolved, based on district administration directives.  But for me, the verification issue comes with my ability to field the questions you, the public, might have.  The questions I would ask are not the same as those our administrators or even my fellow board members would ask.  You should be represented by the various questions and perspectives of the entire board, not just the majority. 

So, you must decide what the school board's role should be.  This is your school district.   How much representation do you want?  How much oversight should the Board exercise?  Yes, the district will function smoothly if the Board is supportive of everything the administrators do. But sometimes the best system comes with debate and resolution, give and take, and it isn't always smooth. I believe the best possible public education system is achieved when the foundation is built on involved, informed citizens, not smooth-operating government administration.

Without the benefit of legal counsel, I came to our meeting feeling we were being held hostage with the threat of a lawsuit.  In short, we must accept ANYTHING that is placed in front of us.  I still don't know if the board could have rejected some of the applications, based on state law, or requested amendments to them.  But, in the spirit of transparency, here were some of my additional concerns.

1) Should a board approve a club charter that states it will report school or district policy concerns to a third party, such as the ACLU?  Are we really comfortable approving a club that, by my read, may essentially be looking for ways to sue the school or the district?  I certainly want all legitimate issues brought to the appropriate parties on a school or district-level.  But are we legally obligated to empower a club to set us up for lawsuits?

2) I am concerned about approving a club that might pose harm or a health risk for some students.  In speaking with a First Responder in suicide cases as well as a medical doctor, I have been warned that some discussions of suicide lead to more harm than good.  It is a very difficult subject to tackle without the appropriate training.  Mentioning suicide in the club application requires a much more thorough vetting, in my opinion.  What will be discussed?  Who will be overseeing and directing the discussion?  What is their certification?  How much, if any, time will be devoted to this topic?  Even though, it's an important topic, I am not comfortable without greater assurances that we are following the Hippocratic Oath: "First, do no harm."  If I can't assume no harm will come to our students, I can't approve it. 

3) Breaking state law, by allowing students without a signed parental-consent form to attend club meetings, was another issue.  It was expressed that hopefully this discrepancy would be resolved by the club members. 

A system produces exactly what it's designed to produce.  If you don't like the idea of your elected "representatives" rubber stamping administrative decisions, you have the power to change it.  You need to ask the people who represent you to not be afraid to do so, no matter the consequences.  This is either representative government or it is a rubber stamp. Don't fall for political double talk about it being both. Ultimately every school board election is about who is in charge. If the people do not assert their rightful dominance with proactive, transparent representatives, the void is filled by well-meaning, smooth-operating government administrators.  You get to decide which it will be.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

How Do I Find the Truth? Follow the Money and Read the Grant Documents

I have had many people say, "I've heard so many conflicting stories about ________________.  How do I find out what is really the truth?"

When it comes to government, one of the best ways is to read the grant applications.  Common Core and the idea of 'Common Standards' has been involved in a handful of formal, legal documents, all tied to money from the Federal Government.  It stands to reason that IF you are receiving money for something, the best way to determine what will ACTUALLY happen, is to read what the money is supposed to be used for.

This is horribly boring reading, but many people involved in researching Common Core have spent the time looking at 1) The State Fiscal Stablization Fund (SFSF), 2) The Race to the Top Grant (RTTT), 3) The ESEA (No Child Left Behind or NCLB) Waiver, and 4) The Statewide Longitudinal Database System (SLDS).  All four contain four things:

1. Common Standards and Assessments
2. Improving Teacher Effectiveness (not really professional development, but tying teacher pay to the tests.  Teachers now have high-stakes testing, as well.)
3. Improving Low-performing schools (really shutting down neighborhood schools and turning them over to a 'higher-level' for management--without elected representation--a semblance of 'privatization')
4. Pre-K to College and Career Data Systems

Here is a MUST READ analysis of the Race to the Top Grant Application.  I don't care what side of this argument you are on, it is important to know WHAT we were, and are, committing our state to.  You may feel the merits outweigh the strings, but shouldn't we proceed with full knowledge of both?


This is where 'rigorous' and 'internationally benchmarked' come from.  They are the promises ("benefits") the Federal government is making to the states about what the Common Standards WILL BE.  Note what "state-led" really means in this application.  This is how we know WHAT we were being expected to do.  Even though Utah didn't win any money with Race to the Top, it outlines the details of what Utah was signing on to when it adopted Common Core and all the rest.  Because we have received money for the remaining 3 grants, listed above, we are still tied in to all those same requirements.  (See a nice graphical presentation here:

Since the RTTT Grant application was over 400 pages long, I doubt any of the State Board members read it, at the time.  They were placing trust in their staff and their administrations.  However, they were committing you and me to what they signed.  It, nicely, outlines who has really been in charge in this 'more rigorous standards' process. 

Friday, August 30, 2013

No Man Can Serve Two Masters: School Grading/Accountability

No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. (Matthew 6:24)

School Grading is touted as a way for parents to find out how well their school is doing. Obviously, we pay lip-service to parents being primarily responsible for their child's education, but we have higher levels of masters who take that power away from parents. If the teachers, schools, and student are graded based on how well the student does on a test, then everything is dependent on that test. I believe all those involved in setting standards, assessments, and school grading in this state are intending to have the best outcomes available for children. However, it is important to stop and look at the principles behind these issues and what the end results most likely will be. Who is the master we will serve?

A prime case in point is the presentation we received as a Board on Aug. 13 about the new school grading and teacher evaluation programs.   (A great overview can by found online, courtesy of the Alpine Parent Society.) These programs have been put into law by the legislature, but are also requirements of the Federal Waiver from No Child Left Behind. I could go into the mathematical flaws in the system, the necessary faith in the test creators, and the fact that testing drives what is taught in the classroom. However, the biggest issue I have is who will truly have the power to determine what our children learn. If you realize teacher evaluations, school grades and student grades are all tied to the new state SAGE (Common Core) tests, you realize whoever writes and grades those tests affects every aspect of education in this state. Say what you will about standards, the practical application of it will be in the tests.
Here's an example. Some people have heard recently of the Toni Morrison book, The Bluest Eye. I have never read it, but the excerpts I've read put it, in my opinion, in the category of pornography. (You may disagree, but bear with me for the sake of the argument.) I have an acquaintance back East whose children have read this repeatedly in her private, Catholic school, not because the teachers and administrators agree with the book, but because selections from the book appear on the AP English test. In this case, the AP test determines what is taught in the classroom, even if it is completely contrary to the values and mission of a particular school.

Additionally, the federally-funded Common Core tests (SBAC and PARCC) are testing “process and communication skills over content knowledge”, according to one reviewer. Since our test-developer (AIR) is also developing the SBAC test, one wonders if our state tests will follow suit. If so, anyone who fails to teach the proper methodology, not just the facts, puts their students, their career, and their school in jeopardy. (An example of this from another state can be found here.) Testing is the way standards, curricula and teaching methods are enforced. 

Joseph Stalin is supposed to have said, “It doesn't matter who votes. It matters who counts the votes.” Similarly, “He who makes the tests, controls the education.” The Master of our Education is the test-maker/grader. 

Parents can want certain things taught. Our laws and constitution can say how parents are primarily involved in their child's education. We can speak till we're blue in the face about how parents and local control of education are so important. But as soon as we tie everything to the grade on a test--a test parents have ABSOLUTELY NO CONTROL over--we realize we have a different master. Instead, we must have complete faith in the test developers.  Have they created a fair, accurate system of measuring what we, as parents, want?  And if they do not, there is nothing we can do at a local level to change it. 

We think an end-of-year test will be testing fact, knowledge, and information. However, the emphasis of the SAGE (Common Core) testing is to test “higher-order thinking” over fact. Most parents want their kids to learn higher-order thinking. But what does higher-order thinking mean to the test developer? Benjamin Bloom, author of the well-respected Bloom's Taxonomy (used extensively in education) defines it this way,”...a student attains 'higher-order thinking' when he no longer believes in right or wrong.” (Major Categories in the Taxonomy of Educational Objectives, p. 185) This is completely inconsistent with my motto on education: Truth vanquishes darkness. 

You cannot serve two masters. 

Education cannot serve the parents if they can't control the test.  Higher-order thinking cannot lead to the discovery of truth if it also means no right or wrong.  

In the end, who is the master of education in Utah? The state tests, brought to you by American Institutes for Research. It's not you, and it's not me.

About 50% of the time, I agree with the Utah School Boards Association (USBA) on legislation. This is one of those times. We may not agree for all the same reasons, but we agree on the end result. Last session, the legislature passed SB271 on school grading. This is an update of a school grading bill from 2011. In response to the 2011 law, the State Office of Ed developed a process for grading schools, called UCAS. UCAS is mathematically flawed and, like every accountability measure emanating from the state, will take local control away. SB271 is opposed by the USBA because, while they must have some sort of school grading to get the No Child Left Behind waiver, they prefer the UCAS grading system. I think we need to get rid of it all. However, I will be at the press conference/rally the USBA is holding in opposition to the current version of school grading, SB271, on Tuesday, September 3, 2013 at 10:30 a.m. at the Utah School Boards Association (USBA) office at 860 E. 9085 South (East on 90th South, just east of 700 East and the Canyons School District ATC buildings).  I'd invite everyone who is opposed to the enforcement Common Core via testing, or to centralized control over education to attend.

Just remember, we can't serve two masters. Until we reassert our rightful position, as masters of our children's education, education in Utah will continue to be subject to a master set up by those who are willing to fill the void we have left.

Monday, August 19, 2013

How Can I Have an Impact on the Direction of our District? Answers Here!

As school starts, I want to inform you about 3 opportunities for you to get involved.  I have lots of people say they'd like to be more involved, but other than PTA, what can they do?  Also, you want to have an impact in your child's education, but how much time does it really require.  Well, here you go.

1) I am looking for one volunteer to serve on the District Community Council for the Ridgeline/Timberline/Westfield area.  The DCC is the public input arm of the district.  It will require you to attend about 80% of the School Community Council meetings from those 3 schools, and then attend a meeting at the District Office once every two months to report on any issues from those 3 schools.  Please let me know if you are interested.  This is a great opportunity to have input, to communicate the local issues, and to provide feedback.

2) The district would like 3 volunteers from the 'empty nest' crowd to participate in a single evening focus group in September.  The aim is to find a way to better communicate and involve our empty nesters in the direction and focus of the district.  Please let me know if you are interested in participating.

3) And finally, the Alpine Parent Society is in full swing.  A few enterprising mothers have started the society to attend and report on Board meetings and any other important doings of the district.  It is on a rotating basis, and you only need to commit to 2 times each year.  Each meeting will be about 1.5 hours.  So, this would be a total commitment of 3 hours each YEAR.  This helps to increase the transparency of the board, and to allow the local community to have an impact.  Also, just because Parent is in the name, it really means any taxpayer in the district.  So, just like the empty nest coalition, you needn't have kids in district schools to participate.  Here's the link: http://alpineparentsociety.wordpress.com/  We had great success with this in Highland City.  I think the goal is to have a couple of people attend each board meeting.  But for right now, they just want to get people in the swing of things.  Please sign up today!

Thanks for your support!


Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Aug. 6, 2013 @ 6pm: Hearing on Property Tax Increase!!!

Tuesday, Aug. 6, 6pm at the District Office, 575 N. 100 E., American Fork!!!!

Tonight is the final hearing and vote on the tax increase for the district.  While it is a minimal tax increase, scheduled to raise $1.5 M to replace the amount being sent to charter schools by the state, I believe that a tax increase is a measure of last resort.  While we can always find good things to do with that money, the question is whether or not we need that additional amount to fulfill our obligations.

As an example, during June's meeting, we purchased a piece of property from MATC for $1.4M.  This property may be used to move our Adult Services classes for those with disabilities from our Lindon facility to American Fork.  We could also use it to house our At-risk students' alternative High School.  In short, there are many potential uses, but nothing concrete at the moment.  So, do we need to now raise taxes from our patrons for the same amount?  Sure, we can raise taxes and replace carpets and make repairs.  But, we could also not purchase property and do the same thing.  For me, I would have preferred to wait on the property until we were more clear on its use before expending the money. 

Just because our district can use your tax money to do good things, just because it's not a lot of money, does that mean we have a moral imperative to take your money by force?  I think we are under a greater obligation to make sure this is the last possible course of action for educating the kids of our district before we come to you with our hand open.  Property taxes, as I've said before, are the most eggregious form of taxation.  You don't get more money as your property values increase, but you still have to pay the increased taxes.  This places a huge burden on people who are undergoing income difficulties.  There are waivers for the elderly and the disabled, but nothing for a young family that moved into their first home last year and then lost their full-time employment, or a military family affected by the sequester.  While I know we could use the money, I am not convinced that it meets the criteria of being the last, possible resort.  I think it is just simply a matter of wanting to get the amount back that the legislature sent to the charter schools.  I disagree with the legislature on this one, but I'm not comfortable making you pay for their mistake.  For me, showing up the legislature on the backs of our taxpayers isn't what good government means.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Policies: How did we change the district last week?

On July 16, we approved four policies for the district. I ended up voting against two of them, and I think I need to explain why.  To view the four policies go here and click on the 'Meeting Documents' link to download the file. The page numbers are listed below.  The Meeting Documents show the additional words in either red or underlined, with the exception of policy 4056, which has the new policy listed first, and the following page contains the previous policy.

The two I supported were the Fund raising (5148) (pg. 519 of Meeting Documents, see above) and Bullying (5181) (pg. 521 Meeting Documents) policy. Fund-raising simply added a stipulation that if a high school was going to have more than two fund-raisers, it would require written permission from the principal. I think it's fine for the Board to set a district policy limiting the number of fund-raisers but then allow some latitude for individual circumstances in a given school. Also, the Bullying Policy just added parental notification procedures as required by a change in state law. These two, for me, were pretty basic. 

The first policy I opposed was a change to the Wellness Policy (5520) (pg. 523). So, lest anyone says, "You don't like wellness," here's what I really think. I do support wellness.  I want our schools to support parents by not contradicting healthy habits.  I'm glad we strive to have balanced meals served in our cafeterias.  However, I'm not a fan of referencing Federal Law in local policy unless absolutely necessary. 

In 2010, the US Congress passed the "Healthy, Hunger-free Kids Act". This is the law that requires schools to limit calories, based on age, and have every student take a fruit or vegetable, regardless of whether they want it or not. Of all the complaints we heard when school started last Fall, every one had to do with the new school lunch menus, all required by this new Federal law. Some of the consequences of this law have been an increase in cost for food, as well as disposal of all the food the kids aren't eating.   Additionally, kids complain about being hungry.  (Funny YouTube video: We Are Hungry.)  One of the concerns was that, for example, in Middle School, the 7th and 8th graders have a lower calorie allotment than the 9th graders. To handle this, you are given a particular tray color based on your grade. If you are in 9th grade, you can have a cookie. If you are in 7th or 8th grade, you cannot.  The idea that, in Middle School, caloric requirements can be determined by age is wrong.   At any rate, long-story-short, our proposed change to the Wellness Policy modified a few words and then referenced our compliance with the Federal Act. The question was raised whether the Act required us to change our policy or if we could just go along to get the Federal lunch subsidies without specifying the compliance in district policy. It was agreed that we were going to follow Federal Law because we are still taking the lunch subsidies. However, there is no reason why we need to enshrine Federal Law that comes with a large compliance price tag into district policy. For that reason, I voted against the changes to the Wellness Policy. Additionally, I requested that we see if there would be an easy way for parents to opt to pay full-price for their student's lunches should they so choose. Every student lunch is subsidized by both state and federal monies. I would be perfectly happy having my kids eat lunch at school from time to time, if I knew I was paying their way without any subsidy from any of my neighbors. I think this option should be allowed for those parents who feel the same.  I will follow up on this request and let you know. 

The second Policy was the Personnel Certified (Teachers) Goals and Objectives (pg. 527 Meeting Documents). The previous version of this policy was horrible (pg. 528), so the new version is a great improvement. However, there were two substitute motions to change a few of the words. The first was to state that updating the student grading system (currently Skyward) would be done regularly instead of weekly. This allows individual teachers and principals to manage large projects and individual circumstances with greater local control than at a large district level. I supported this change. I also supported a change to state that our educators accept, not support, the district Mission, Vision, Values, and Goals. Since there has been public concern with the Mission Statement that has not been addressed, I felt it would be inappropriate to ask our teachers to support something that a decent segment of our public doesn't support.   (I, personally, think we could find a Mission Statement with a much wider appeal to our constituents than our current one. I do not support our Mission Statement as it now stands. So, I don't feel comfortable having this 'support' as a basis for employment.) Board Member Paula Hill explained it this way. When visiting a country where head-scarves are appropriate/required for women, Mrs. Hill said she would graciously accept their custom and wear a head-scarf. However, she would not be willing to support the tradition. I agreed with this change, as well. However, because of the way the votes and the substitute motions came about, I ended up voting no on the final vote in order to state my support for the change from weekly updated to regularly updated. Even though, I would have liked the two changes, I find the new policy a great improvement over the old one and am okay with the compromise. But I still do not support the Mission Statement.

Finally, there will be a public hearing on the proposed tax increase on Aug. 6, 2013 at 6pm at the District Office (575 N. 100 E. AF). I hope you will come and express your opinion. Please see my previous blog as to why your opinion makes a difference, even if the outcome may not go your way.

Audio: Every board meeting is recorded.  The audio can be found at the bottom of the agenda under the + sign.  As I write, the Study Session audio is available.  The Board Meeting audio should be available shortly.  You can find it here.

Monday, July 15, 2013

What Did They Used to Say About Common Core? Just Listen!

This video contains actual audio from the beginning of the Common Core standards discussion in Utah. Having listened to these meetings, I wanted to make sure some key points were readily accessible and available to everyone.

As human beings, sometimes it's helpful to go back to original sources instead of listening to talking points.  This information on the Common Core process is invaluable in providing insight from those who were there at the time. What was their perspective, and what was their focus?

Please take a few minutes to watch and to understand what was being said about Common Core from the very beginning, not the least of which was the Utah State Board Agenda Item: "National Common Standards".  Contrast this to the Utah State Office of Ed flyer which states: "Fiction: Utah adopted nationalized education standards that come with federal strings attached."  Then ask these questions:
What was the overriding reason for Utah joining in with a group that was developing national, common standards?
Was there any federal involvement, real or implied, that motivated the jump into Common Core?
With all the public involvement, who do you know who was involved in vetting the Common Core standards?
The answers you get may be different from what you are being told.

Links to audio files featured in the video:
May 1, 2009 Utah School Board Meeting, Agenda Item: National Common Standards
June 17, 2009 Legislative Interim Education Committee Meeting
Quoted audio starts about 27:30
July 18, 2011 Alpine School Board Training, select the first audio file, quoted starts about 27:14

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

A Million Thank You's: Why Your Involvement in the Budget Approval Matters

Thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you!!  To all who came to the budget hearing, and to all who sent emails with your opinions.  I can't thank you enough for your comments and your participation. It makes a HUGE difference!

During the budget hearing on June 18, the Board Room was filled to capacity with people who wanted to comment on the budget and on Common Core.  My guess is around 100 people attended.  I also received many emails from those who were unable to come.  The meeting lasted a record 3.5 hours, with most of that time devoted to public comments.  (Incidentally, board meetings usually last about an hour.)

Although, the budget passed, as proposed, despite the objections of all commenters, I consider it a success, and I can't thank you enough.

I realize those of you who took so much time out of your lives, only to see the budget passed against your wishes feel your involvement wasn't beneficial.  However, I'd like to speak to you because it makes a difference in ways that are not readily apparent.  Please, bear with me, as I make this case.

First, it is important to understand that public officials are just the tip of the spear.  To give any of us leverage, we need the public behind us.  I have been told many times, "It's a good thing you're there."  But, if I don't receive emails supporting my position, if you aren't willing to speak in public hearings, then my opinion can be easily dismissed as just being out of the mainstream.  I can try to make my case, but, in the end, without your input, it is easy to out-vote me on many issues.  I have seen several instances where an email from a consituent changes opinions or buys more time to debate an issue.  And perhaps, more importantly, we are not experts in all areas.  Your particular area of expertise or experience may prove very beneficial in informing our debate.

Second, like it or not, our governmental structure was not designed to work quickly.  Changing the direction of any governmental agency is like moving the Titanic. We are also not designed to be a democracy, where the majority vote of the people wins.  The reason for this is the need to protect inalienable rights with checks and balances, as well as to have time to deliberate.  Dr. Larry Arne of Hillsdale College says,

Representative government places ultimate authority outside the government, which restrains both the government and the governed.  In such a system, citizens have endless opportunity to talk, but they may act only on certain occasions....The same restraints operate inside the government to encourage statesmen and citizens to the same habits [thinking, talking, and deliberating before acting].  (The Founders' Key)

Your participation and comments showed our board there are concerns with tax increases, the budget, and Common Core, not just from a few people or from a few elected representatives.  As people become more aware and informed, they will require more input and accountability from their elected officials.

Third, there is a definite difference in the feeling of a meeting when the public is present--not just in theory, but in practice.  Even though every meeting is recorded, there is something different about actually seeing faces, sensing reactions, and hearing comments.  As a representative, I feel more responsible to fulfill my duty to those who elected me.  I might choose my words more carefully.  And I certainly appreciate the time and effort it takes for those who come.  It is one thing for me to set aside time to attend board meetings.  It's quite another for you to do it.  I am obligated.  You are not.  So, if you are willing to come, it must mean it's important.  I need to pay close attention to that. 

Finally, power abhors a vacuum.  In almost all instances, we have no one attend Board Meetings.  We get no emails or communications about our dealings.  In effect, the lack of public comment, attendance, and involvement says, "Go ahead.  Do what you're doing.  We are okay with it."  So, one meeting will not make a difference when compared with every other meeting or issue.  Also, it is common knowledge that people might get involved for the short-term, but very rarely does anyone stay involved over a long period of time.  There's a reason for that.  We want to have lives. 

So, what's the answer?  How do we hold our elected officials accountable without giving up our entire lives?  Many hands make light work. 

A few years ago, some neighbors of mine decided to start going to City Council meetings.  We had about 12 people who were involved, initially.  We realized, we needed to attend only two meetings every year.  A few hours on two days out of every 365.  If there were a budget hearing or some other major issue, then those few people could be available to comment, write emails, and contact their neighbors.  It was just a little more involvement that paid huge dividends, in fiscal responsibility, in community involvement, in accountability.  (It was pretty easy deciding who to re-elect and who to vote out.)

Interestingly enough, about a month ago, I received an email that pointed me to this website to form the Alpine Parent Societyhttp://alpineparentsociety.wordpress.com/  I would encourage you to sign up.  Managing a group like this doesn't take a lot of time, especially in this day and age with internet groups, mass emails, and blogs.  Is one or two evenings a year too much to ask for you to get back in charge of your government?

In the end, education is supposed to be about each parent deciding what is best for his or her child.  Our district is there to support you in your decisions.  As board members, we can only reflect your wishes if:
a) you know what we are wrestling with and
b) we know what you would like us to do on your behalf. 

Too many top-down education initiatives have been put in place because parents have been told to trust the system.  It is our duty, as parents and taxpayers, to not abdicate that responsibility.  You shouldn't abdicate it to me or to anyone else.

For those who came on June 18, I say, "Thank you!"  For you and for everyone else, I say, "Please come.  Please email.  Please take your role as the ultimate authority for our district seriously, and weigh in."  Board members, parents, and taxpayers can do more together than we, as a Board, ever could without you.

Monday, June 17, 2013

June 18, 2013: The Most Important Meeting for YOU to attend this year

How do you decide whether to raise property taxes or not?

Please take time to come to our Board Meeting next Tuesday, June 18, 2013.  We will be approving the annual budget for 2013-14, which is more than a Half Billion Dollars: $500,000,000!!!

The budget can be found here.

Budget Hearing and Property Tax Rate Increase
The meeting is at 6pm at the District Office (575N 100E, American Fork).  The required budget hearing (which is an open forum for all budget-related comments) begins shortly thereafter, maybe around 6:15 or 6:30pm.  In my previous two years, I have not seen anyone speak during the formal budget hearing.  I have been told that this is consistent over the past decade.  I will give my opinion, of course, but it will mean more coming from you.

Part of the budget will be a property tax-rate increase.  A Truth in Taxation hearing will occur on August 6, but, if you want to have an impact, you need to speak up PRIOR to the budget being adopted--that means June 18.  (Don't complain to me; complain to the legislature.  This is how they've set it up.)  The fiscal year starts on July 1.  So, a full month of expenses will have occurred prior to the Truth in Taxation hearing in August.  The reasons for the tax-rate increase are: 'to raise an additional $1.5 million to provide additional "pay as you go" resources, allow less future debt and recover the charter school offset.'  I'll go into each of these reasons in a moment.  The estimated cost on a $250,000 home will be in the range of $12-$15/year.  Business or rental property will be almost double that amount.

The study session begins at 4pm.  We will discuss the Common Core trainings that occurred last week with approximately 2000 employees attending.  We will also get an overview of the budget.

The formal Board Meeting/Budget Hearing will begin around 6pm.  It will also include: a) Approval of Association Contracts for Teachers (Certified), Classified (e.g. Nurses, Bus Drivers, Secretaries, Custodians, etc), and Administrators, b) Approval of Trustlands Plans, c) Four additional Board Policies, d) Property Purchase, e) 2015 Calendar.

Pay As You Go
The Board has indicated a desire to get out of the bonding cycle and begin using existing funds to purchase and maintain property, etc.  Our last bond was for $210 million for projects over five years.  Our principal and interest payments are about $45 million/year.  So, if we were able to stop bonding, we could hold on to that $45 million and use it to pay for the bonded expenses, and still have about $15 million left over after the five years.  This is a great idea, and the less indebtedness that we can incur, the better, in my opinion.  However, I am unsure that levying a property tax increase to garner an additional $1.5 million is the best option. 

Allow Less Future Debt
This is really the same thing as Pay As You Go.  If you spend more cash and less on credit, then you reduce your debt later on.

Charter School Offset
Essentially, when charter schools were created, all funding came through income tax.  Several years ago, the law was changed to allow for an additional "offset" for charter schools, based on property tax amounts in each district.  (See below for the math*.)

When the law was first passed, it amounted to less than $500,000.  Now it's about $1.4 million.  As we increase property taxes and as charter school enrollment increases, that "offset" amount increases.  Most school districts increased their tax rates right after the law went into affect.  However, since Alpine was looking at bonding, it was decided the timing wasn't right.  Essentially, the legislature didn't want to raise income taxes, so they left it to the local districts to raise property taxes to help pay for the additional amounts going to charter schools.

So, the question is whether or not you want your property taxes increased.  And if not, why not?  If so, why?

What Else is in the Budget?
Some other things you may be interested in.  The following were included in the budget prior to any discussion of a tax-rate increase.
  • Additional 10 teachers (FTE's) to help reduce class size.  This is in addition to those teachers being hired due to approximately 2500 additional students coming to ASD in the fall.
  • 1% permanent salary increase for teachers and staff: ASD has a salary schedule that pays you based on years of service and education level.  This is referred to as "Step and Lane". 
  • One-time 1% bonus for employees to be paid in November.
  • $25,000 for membership in the BYU-Public School Partnership
  • Dues and fees paid for association membership for the School Board, Administrators, Accountants, and other 'specialty' fields.  Association fees are not being paid by taxpayers for teachers. 
Additionally, the budget includes:
  • An increase of $1000 for board salaries, from $215,335 to $224,788 for the Superintendent and, from $174,526 to $189,998 for the Business Administrator.
It's important to note that an increase in salaries increases the amount in benefits, specifically the retirement benefits.

It's Just...
It's just $13.48 per year for the Board's proposed property tax increase.  It's just $7.11 per year the legislature has increased property taxes.  It's just $24.00 this year and a total of $36.00 per year next year for the bond.  It's just more for the Vineyard RDA from 2011. 

Every taxing entity justifies its tax increases with those words: "It's just".  Do I think ASD will be able to put the $1.4M to good use?  I do.  However, that really shouldn't be the question before us.  The questions every elected official should grapple with are:

"Is this the BEST use of that money?" 
"Is a tax increase the only way we can fulfill our obligation to the public?"

As many a wise person has said before me, "The power to tax is the power to destroy."  What we see (the good that ASD can do with the money) must be balanced against what we don't see (families struggling to stay in their homes, decreased revenues due to increased tax rates).  Property taxes are especially eggregious because property doesn't generate income unless you sell it.  Your home value is dependent on everyone else who is selling around you.  But you will not see a dime of that supposed increased value until you sell.  So, unlike income taxes, where the taxation is actually based on money you are earning, property tax is based on money other people are earning on their homes.  It is entirely possible to price people out of their homes with property taxes.

Another justification is the "fairness" of what we spend on ASD students vs. what the charter schools spend on theirs.  According to the Utah Taxpayers' Association, ASD receives the least amount per student of every district or charter school in Utah.  So, in order to be fair, this amount is being levied so we can bring our revenue up to that of the charters in our area.  The problem with that is, we are "balancing" this fairness out on the backs of our taxpayers.  If we don't like the way the legislation is written, we need to take it up with the Legislature, not use our power to tax to create "equality".  I, personally, look on our status as the lowest funded as a badge of honor.  Our students do well.  We have great teachers.  We are trying to do well by our teachers and staff.  And yet, we are trying to keep costs down.  Why must we seek to "Keep up with the Joneses?"

It is the job of our district administration to make recommendations to the Board.  It is the job of the Board to properly balance those recommendations with the burden it will place on our taxpayers and our obligation to educate the students in our district properly.  It is a very difficult task, and a solemn one, at that.  One, I do not take lightly.

While I can see the benefit of having an additional $1.5 million to make repairs and to save for the future, I am not convinced that our community and our students will be better served by that money being transferred from you to the district.  It is a balancing act.  And I am choosing to wait for a greater need.

It's just... 

It's just your money, and we shouldn't take it except as a last resort.

*[Here's the charter school offset math: If you take all the local property tax ASD receives and divide it by the total number of all district and charter school students, that is the property tax per student amount. Then you take the number of charter school students multiplied by that per student amount and then divide by 4 (25%).  That is the amount that ASD doesn't get from the state in income tax funds. Property Taxes / (charter + district students) * charter students*25% = amount ASD doesn't get from the state, but that the state sends to the charter schools in our area.] 

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Data on my kid? Who Cares? How Will They Get It?

First, you are invited to attend a meeting with Utah State Office of Education employees on Thursday, April 11, 2013 at 4pm at the Alpine District Offices (575 E. 100 N, American Fork).  They will be presenting information on the new testing (really called 'assessment') system for the state, provided by the American Institutes for Research (AIR).  If you never attend another meeting about relating to the schools, PLEASE come to this one!

A couple of pieces of information, I will link to the research on AIR that my fellow board member, Brian Halladay has done below.  AIR is a behavioral research organization not an academic assessment company.  Additionally, the legislature, at some point, created a law that allows testing companies to use "student behavior indicators in assessing student performance."  So, since AIR's mission isn't academics and the state is allowing them to use behavior indicators, why is this a problem?

This goes back to our board discussion on Feb. 26, and a follow-up presentation in our March 12 Meeting... in a word, DATA, your child's personally identifiable information (PII).

Our board reviewed a speech given by US Sec. of Education, Arne Duncan in 2009 hailing the use of "robust data" and how that applies to the new Common Core standards and the ARRA 2009 Stimulus money.  One board member identified that at one point in the speech, Sec. Duncan talks about needing to close and reopen schools and assess teacher performance, as well as student performance, and at another point he says they don't want to use it to fire teachers or to shut down schools.  Incidentally, the No Child Left Behind waiver that Utah received has language about the state taking control of "failing schools".   In short, no local control, but I digress.  The overall tone of the discussion was that we, as the representatives, needed to be on guard in protecting and doing all in our power to make sure our students' data is safe.

We also addressed two other issues, briefly.

1) The change in privacy regulations on a Federal level, known as FERPA (Federal Education Rights and Privacy Act).  These changes did not go through Congress, and they essentially allow any educational entity (schools, districts, state boards) to share personal student information with any other government entity or private organization that has an educational interest.  This is something that I would be very opposed to.

2) The 2009 Stimulus package also included grants for every state to develop a Statewide Longitudinal Database (SLDS) which means your child is tracked at the state level from Preschool (or as early as they have data) through age 20 or into Workforce Services.  As a condition of this grant, the database has to be able to share/include data from other state agencies, like Workforce Services or Dept of Health etc., and the database must be able to share data with other states' databases, as well.  Incidentally, in the Duncan speech, he praises Utah's database efforts as one of six states that had all the elements required by the Data Quality Campaign.  For more information on assessments, read my previous blog here.   

So, based on those items, the desire of the US Secretary of Education to have robust data collection, his change to the privacy regulations, and the State database that Utah has on all our publicly schooled children, the idea of what and how much can be collected and shared is an actual concern to the board. 

On March 12, our data services director, David Smith, presented on how Alpine uses data collection and what information is shared and with whom.  While I was very pleased to hear about a lot of the hoops that we use to make sure private information isn't shared, there is one weak link: the State.  Because of State Law, we are obligated to administer the state tests and to have that data analyzed and computed to both assess student performance and to grade our schools.  So, when a class, say Mrs. A's third grade, is supposed to take the state math test, then our district sends the state office a file of all the students in Mrs. A's third grade class.  This data includes the child's name, unique student id, birthdate, grade, Mrs. A's name, school, and some demographic info.  Then the child takes the tests, they are scored and compared with other students across the state and sent back to the school.  So, at a minimum, your child's name, id, birthdate, demographics and test scores are in the state database, ready to be shared with whomever they choose. 

So, go back to the link above about allowing behavioral indicators to be used in the tests.  So, aside from testing math and English, they can test behaviors. 

Having said all of this, I am concerned by this intrusion into my kids' personal information. 

I don't know if you will be allowed to ask questions at the April 11 meeting, but it makes a huge difference to show elected officials that you are concerned.    Please make sure you clear your calendar for 4pm on Thursday, April 11.  If you can't make it, there are other meetings being held around the state.  Click here for a schedule. 

Board Member Brian Halladay's research on AIR and the upcoming meeting

Next Thursday, April 11th, you are invited to participate in the SAGE assessment System presentation at 4pm at the Alpine School District Office Building.

SAGE is the acronym for the common core testing system that will be collecting data from our children.

I think it’s important for all of us to know before the meeting what SAGE is and it’s implications for our children, our privacy, and our school district.
Student Assessment for Growth and Excellence (“SAGE (http://www.schools.utah.gov/assessment/Adaptive-Assessment-System.aspx) ”) is being developed for Utah by the American Institutes for Research (AIR (http://www.air.org/about/) ). SAGE is Utah’s comprehensive adaptive assessment system, or the testing mechanism that will replace the CRTs. It is designed to replace and expand UTIPS, and provides the test delivery and administration of the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium.

So, who is AIR? AIR is not an academic assessment company - it is a behavioral research organization. AIR has been around for over 60 years. Their founder, John Flanagan, a psychologist, started AIR by developing the “critical incident technique (http://www.apa.org/pubs/databases/psycinfo/cit-article.pdf) ” one of the most widely used behavioral methods that is even now used in assessment models today.

In 1960, AIR initiated “Project Talent (http://www.projecttalent.org/docs/Designing_the_Study_(1960).pdf) ,” a research project administered by John Flanagan and a group of other behavioral scientists involving 440,000 high school students, collecting information on “aptitudes, abilities, knowledge, interests, activities, and backgrounds” of each student. These questions included questions about “hobbies, organizational and club memberships, dating and work experiences. There were questions about students’ health and about their school and study habits. Students were asked about their fathers’ occupations, parents’ education, financial situations, etc.” One question asked was, “How many children do you expect to have after you marry?” and “How old were you when you first started dating?”

What is AIR doing today? AIR is currently working with multiple partners, including the Department of Education, United Nations (http://www.air.org/focus-area/international-development/) , the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and Open Society Institute (George Soros), (http://www.air.org/about/?fa=viewContent&content_id=351) to “conduct and apply the best behavioral and social science research evaluation towards improving peoples’ lives, with a special emphasis on the disadvantaged.” AIR prides itself on its "long history of contributing to evidence-based social change."

What does this mean for the Alpine School District, or even the State of Utah? In 2012 USOE developed the USOE Technology Standards 2012 (http://www.setda.org/c/document_library/get_file?folderId=169&name=DLFE-1560.pdf) . One of the standards is to have a network-enabled computing device capable of providing access to the school’s technology resources. A purpose of this is for the understanding “human, cultural, and societal issues related to technology and practice legal and ethical behavior.” I don’t think it’s a stretch to think that AIR will be heavily involved with this.

AIR will be developing these assessments, which will include behavioral questions. It’s what they do. One of their primary objectives is to use this data not only in collaboration with other states in relation to common core, but also in collaboration with the United Nations.

With the recent amendments to the FERPA laws, the question becomes what will we as parents do right now to protect the privacy of our children?

Come to the meeting next Thursday at 4pm at the Alpine School District Office Building and get informed!

Monday, February 25, 2013

Database: What Information is there on Your Child?

On Tuesday, Feb. 26, our board professional development will be on the use of data and how that relates to Common Core.  At 4pm at Mountain View High School, I will be leading the discussion, based on the 2009 speech from Secretary Arne Duncan.  You can read it here

You need to understand that as part of the 2009 ARRA Stimulus money, the Federal Department of Education created grants for each and every state to set up a Statewide Longitudinal Database (SLDS).  Essentially, this database allows each individual child to be tracked from preschool through work and every stage in between (that's what longitudinal means).  Utah's database was praised in this speech by Sec. Duncan, as follows:

The Data Quality Campaign, DQC, lists 10 elements of a good data system. Six states, Alabama, Arizona, Delaware, Florida, Louisiana, and Utah, have all 10 elements. Other states are also making progress. For example, Arkansas has a data warehouse that integrates school fiscal information, teacher credentials, and student coursework, assessments, and even extracurricular activities.[emphasis mine]

As part of the these grants, "[t]he system must facilitate and enable the exchange of data among agencies and institutions within the State and between States so that data may be used to inform policy and practice." (pp.4)

A few more pieces of information for those who are interested:

Effective, Jan. 3, 2012, the US Dept of Education modified its regulations dealing with the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA, originally enacted by Congress in 1974). If you like, you may read the changes from the Federal Register here: http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/FR-2011-12-02/html/2011-30683.htm.  Arguably, these changes violate Utah's version of the FERPA law, as well.

An organization called EPIC (Electronic Privacy Information Center) has filed a lawsuit against the US Government regarding these changes by the Dept of Ed. http://epic.org/apa/ferpa/default.html

The National Education Data Model has proposed the information contained at this site be included in any educational database: http://nces.sifinfo.org/datamodel/eiebrowser/techview.aspx?instance=studentPostsecondary Obviously, we can choose to populate the information or not, but it is important to know this is what is being suggested.

Finally, I just received a link from an out-of-state friend on this publication from the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education (wiche) of which Utah is a member.  It is entitled "Framework for a Multi-State Human Capital Development Data System".  (No, that Orwellian name really is the title of the paper.)  I am happy to know that our children are reduced to "the stock and flow of human capital".  The conclusion states, in part:

A multi-state data exchange – what we have chosen to call a human capital development data system – that enables policymakers to look comprehensively at the stock and flow of human capital has become essential for effective policymaking and planning in the globalized knowledge economy.

The security of our students' data and parental oversight in the sharing of this data is one of my highest priorities.  As those responsible for watching over our school district, it is our responsibility, as a board, to take great care to protect this information.  Since data protection was one of the issues from our board priority discussion that received high marks, I think it is appropriate for you to be aware of the concerns I have with this database.

Oak Canyon JH Boundary Changes
The only action item for the Board Meeting will be the proposed boundary changes to Oak Canyon Junior High in Pleasant Grove. 

Everyone is welcome to attend the study session at 4pm, as it is a public meeting.  No comments will be taken at this time.  Public comments are always welcome at the 6pm formal board meeting.


Thursday, January 24, 2013

What Should ASD Focus on This Year?

Board Priorities
On Wednesday, January 30, our Board will have our semi-annual retreat (open to the public: see below for agenda more information*).  At the retreat we will discuss and prioritize the priorities for the year.  This is the main opportunity for the Board to give direction to the District Administration.  As your representative, please let me know what you would like to see as the priorities for your school district.

Space Center
We received an update on the Space Center.  On February 11, the Space Center will re-open for field trips within the district.  Not all of the simulators will be available, but some of them will.  The committee is still meeting and discussing long-term options.  Of these, three were mentioned.
1) Build the Space Center on property right next to Central Elementary that ASD already owns.
2) Build the Space Center on the "Scow Property" that is near the water tower in PG. (I think we already own this property as well.)
3) Establish the Space Center at Thanksgiving Point.  They are very interested in working some sort of deal with us.  They are opening a "Museum of Natural Curiosity" with a specific STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) focus, including ecosystems, ancient ruins, climatology, etc.  They currently have 4000 sq ft in the Dinosaur Museum that we could use right now.  Thanksgiving Point is incentivized to partner with us because it will allow them to qualify for additional grants.  Right now, the Space Center costs us about $4.50/student.  Thanksgiving Point currently charges $2.60/student and for every 10 students, one teacher gets in free.

Lehi High School
We reviewed plans for rebuilding Lehi High School on the current site (by the Roller Mills).  It is proposed that the Board budget $1.3 M from our budget this coming year to pay for an 18-classroom satellite, and $4.5 M for the construction of a 3-story classroom wing of 12 -18 rooms.  The permanent classroom wing would be completed by Fall of 2014.  After that, it would cost about $40M and roughly 3 years of construction to rebuild the "old" parts of the school in phases, so we can still use the existing facilities as we build new ones.  The $40M would require a bond to accomplish, we were advised.

*Board Retreat Information: Priorities for the District

Jan. 30, 2013
Mountainland Applied Technology College, Room 230-N
2301 W. Ashton Blvd.
Lehi, UT

PUBLIC MEETING, but no public comments

8:30 - 9:00 Continental Breakfast
9:00 - 9:30 Past Basket Items Report (Priorities)
9:30 - 10:30 Current Basket Items Conversation/Suggestions
10:30 - 10:45 Break
10:45 - 12:00 Current Basket Items/Rating/Ranking to Prioritize
12:00 - 12:30 Lunch
12:30 - 2:30 Question: "How do we unite and move forward as a Board to make sure these priorities are realized?"

We used to discuss the Code of Conduct.  It appears, we will address only the question listed at the end of the agenda.  However, that is the "stickiest" point for me in the Code of Conduct.

I welcome your input and your attendance.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Transparency, New Leadership, Code of Conduct, USBA

Welcome to 2013!  For two years, I have had the privilege of serving you on the Alpine School Board.  I want to thank you for your trust, your input, and your involvement.  I have never believed I had all the answers, but I believe you can help guide us and direct us to become even better than we currently are.

I would like to give you some information on a few things for the start of the New Year and ask for your feedback. 

State School Board
As part of my desire to be "information-rich", I plan on keeping you updated on the actions of the State School Board, since they have considerable power and most of us aren't aware of what they even do.  (I know I wasn't.)  In short, they dictate the minimum standards, graduation requirements, and number of school days/hours required by every public school in the state.  They maintain a committee to review/approve educational materials for use in the schools.  This year, the State School Board will be addressing standards for Social Studies and Science, as well as working through any new state testing issues in preparation for the new Common Core tests in 2014-15.  The State Board holds public board meetings on the first Friday of every month.  The meetings are live-streamed on their website: http://www.schools.utah.gov/board/Meetings.aspx  The audio of all their meetings, as well as their minutes, are available a few days after the meetings take place.  I have found the minutes and the audio to be quite informative. 

Code of Conduct
On Jan. 30, the Board will be discussing our Code of Conduct.  When I first came onto the Board, I was told the most important thing for me to learn and follow was this Code of Conduct.  The Board hasn't formally voted on it, but every year in January, we review it and make changes.  At one of the first Utah School Boards Association (USBA) meetings I attended, drawing up a Code of Conduct was discussed and encouraged.  One of the board members (not on our board) suggested a Code of Conduct would be important, "since there are now infiltrators among us."  I found that comment very insightful.  To my knowledge every board member in this state has been elected or appointed consistent with state law.  So, the concept of an "infiltrator" is more of an ideological infiltrator and not an actual infiltrator.  I want to make sure that our Code of Conduct is consistent with allowing the disparate voices in our community to be heard and represented on the board.  I want to make sure you are well-informed and able to see the workings of your School Board.  Since you are the ones who are, ultimately, supposed to be in control of public education in this district, I would appreciate your feedback on our Code of Conduct.  

New Leadership and Transparency
"You have to be prepared to make those decisions in view of the public ... and while it may be uncomfortable for certain members and maybe it would be easier to do it in a secret session, expediency and comfort are not the prime values served by the Open Meetings Act. Transparency and accountability are." --Salt Lake City Attorney Jeff Hunt

The above quote comes from a Salt Lake Tribune article about the Utah State School Board's recent Leadership election. They used secret ballots in a Open Public Meeting that may have violated Utah law (the Open Meetings Act). I found it interesting for two reasons, and I'd like to share them with you.

First, on Tuesday, Jan. 8, 2013, our board will also elect new Board Leadership.  The President and Vice-President have no more voting authority, but they do set the agendas, preside at the meetings, sign all legal documents, maintain our Code of Conduct (see above) and represent the Board to the media. 

Our Alpine School Board Handbook says the "Board President:
  • Represents the Board of Education
  • Facilitates and protects Board processes
  • Responsible [sic] for Board professional development
  • Understand [sic], support, promote and teach the MVVG [Mission, Vision, Values, and Goals] of the District"
Our process for selecting our leadership began last month in a Closed Meeting.  Because character and competency of personnel are legal topics for Closed Meetings, we discussed, as per our Board Handbook, the character and competence of those board members who were interested in serving as President and Vice-President for the next two years.  It is assumed this process might involve sensitive issues.  All things allowed in a Closed Meeting, legally, can be discussed in an Open Meeting, but, in some situations, like personnel or security devices, it would be wise if they were not made public.  Closed Meetings are not required by law, but they are permitted.  On the 8th, motions will be made for President and Vice-President, discussion will ensue, and votes will be taken.  Our process, unlike the State School Board, will be done by voice vote, and every board member will be accountable for his or her vote.

Second, the Trib article spends considerable space discussing transparency.  Everyone talks about transparency, but it is something you have to constantly emphasize.  The article says, "voting by secret ballot can help members vote more freely without fear of hurting fellow board members."  While I can appreciate the desire to spare fellow board members hurt feelings, it is important for public officials to conduct as much business out in the open as possible.  The more we are in the public view, the greater the opportunity for the public to feel comfortable that things really are what they seem.  If there is a tendency to go "behind closed doors", it shuts out the public and creates a level of mistrust, whether justified or not.  Every year, each board member must take a class on the Open Meetings Act and be accountable for it.  We are responsible for following that law and allowing you into our proceedings.  If we truly believe this is "a government of the people, by the people, and for the people", we must not shut "the people" out of the process.  I hope the State School Board will redo their vote, despite the potential hurt feelings, to be fully transparent and accountable to the people they serve.  I am glad that our board vote will be Open and Transparent, and I invite you to attend.

USBA Convention
Finally, Jan. 10 -12, I will attend the Utah School Boards Association Annual Convention in Salt Lake City.  Our membership dues and expenses for the conference are paid for by the taxpayers.  For the third year, I will not be staying on-site, but will commute to the conference daily.  (Board Policy allows for one in-state conference and one out-of-state conference/year for all board members.)  Since this is funded by taxpayer money, I will be reporting on the information received.  USBA leadership will be elected at the Convention, and our board will elect a delegate for the purposes of determining positions on upcoming legislation and the overall direction of the USBA.  The USBA, along with the Utah Business Administrators' Association and the Utah Superintendents' Association collaborate on education-related bills before the Utah Legislature and vote on whether to support, stay neutral, or oppose legislation.  This vote takes place weekly during the legislative session.  Only delegates are able to vote; although, any board member may participate in the discussion.  I will send you links to the education bills as I receive them.  The Legislature meets for 45 days from mid-January till the beginning of March.

AGENDA: Jan. 8, 2013
6:00 pm (NOTE: No Study Session will be held)










1. Budget Report

2. Personnel Reports

3. Alpine Foundation Report

4. Student Releases – BA, BA, MA, HB, JC, SF, MH, JH, JJ, BR, CS, NT, BW

5. Student Expulsion – AW
6. Investment Report


1. Proposed Name for the New Middle School in Eagle Mountain


1. Membership Report