"High Achievement always takes place in the framework of high expectation." - Charles Kettering

Saturday, May 19, 2012

LONG Board Meeting on May 14 Was a Breath of Fresh Air

Monday's board meeting was over three and a half hours in length and contained some very difficult but necessary conversations. The tone was respectful even in the face of disagreement. Hard conversations regarding the philosophy of the district and whether or not the budget cutting choices made reflected the philosophy of the community as a whole were finally opened under Board President Kathi Swanson's leadership. I applaud each and every board member's decision to finally  chime in on these challenging discussions. Bravo, board.

Another important aspect of the conversation revolved around the piecemeal approach to balancing the budget challenges with staffing needs. There was an elaborate plan made by administration to rescind lay-offs that on the surface seemed extremely well thought out. Upon delving into the situation, no final vision seems to be in place but rather several knee-jerk reactions seem to be occurring. It was very clear that plans that have been brought to the last few meetings and publicly posted on the school website were not thought through properly. The board as a whole made it clear that they were unwilling to act rashly in a knee-jerk fashion until the budget is balanced and a final "eagle eye view" district vision is provided by the administration. Administration has not done what they are paid the big bucks to do. Most egregious Example: The plan published on the website showed Mrs. Olenik (who is being laid off 50% of her GT position) as a 6th grade teacher when such a bump violated the teacher contract. Example 2: Budget cuts made that exceeded the deficit were announced a month ago. Open enrollment adjustments and retirement payouts in excess of those in the budget (how was THAT a surprise?) have increased that gap by some $300,000. So the explanation by the finance director that she was "within $100,000 of closing the deficit" floored me. Repeated requests for explanation and dogged determination of the board members to understand the impact of these expenditures was required and to their credit, the board members just kept asking the same questions over and over until they had a complete picture of how this came to be.  Again, bravo, board!

I hope the administration comes back to the meeting this Monday with their hackles down. The conversation revolving around the open enrollment figures (again seeing an increase in net students out of the district) was disturbing. The board has been asking for investigation into why the net number of students out has increased for the last five years and administration simply wrings their hands and brushes them off as if it were not anything they could do anything about. Never once have they surveyed families and on Monday, a draft of a survey to delve into just that problem was finally brought for board approval. The excuse that "45 of these students have never attended Evansville" no longer flies, even if they had to remind them of it again. As Nancy Hurley said, "If your numbers continue to increase, you have a problem. It's not the same people over and over again." When you bring spreadsheets that show 25 applying in and 75 applying out, you have a problem. The net loss is now 50 (if the data brought to the board is accurate), which represents in the range of $300,000 loss in revenue to the district. This is 5 teachers dammit. Or smart boards, supplies and other amenities which are virtually non-existent in our district now. "Should I send one of these surveys to every Open Enrollment Out family?" To their credit, the board did not yell "YES!" in unison, as they would have been completely in the right to do at that point. The good news is, they're finally doing it. The bad news is that it took so long. Now let's see if they actually use the data to lure families back to the district or simply take the parts that support their myopic view of the situation as proof they've been right all along and ignore the rest. I personally know of four families who have ditched the district because they are sick of beating their head against the wall in an attempt to work within the bureaucracy simply to get their child the education they need and deserve.

Too much was discussed on Monday to put into one post, so I'll end on this note. The board sent a message to administration that they need to involve the people affected by their plans to change Teaching Assistant benefits at the table. The best conversation I heard on this topic was started by Ms. Treuden at a meeting a few weeks back. She said that in pulling together comparables for this data, it was discovered that some districts simply don't offer any jobs in that category with enough hours to earn benefits. As a result, they can hire more aides and provide more student coverage. But that's a philosophical discussion that must be had with the ones affected by the decisions that appear to be being made in a vacuum. If that's the philosophy, how to implement and how to grandfather, etc. People are adults and only when you treat them like children with no voice will they respond like children with too much voice. Many of the motions planned for last Monday were tabled until either this Monday or the June (11) meeting; Again, BRAVO BOARD. They have steadily shown the administration that they aren't going to rubberstamp their plans and it's a mystery why administration continues to be surprised by the board insisting on a complete plan.

I'll address more regarding the budget after Monday's meeting. 

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