Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Deliberate Deafness

As our educational leaders plead for an alternative solution
- saying NO to this decision -
it appears that our voices are being ignored.

--15th District PTA President Myrdin Thompson

House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, told the Courier-Journal Friday that the House budget was still about $200 million short of being balanced. But it turns out the gap is actually about $405 million when all of the changes detailed by Stumbo and House budget committee Chairman Rick Rand are totaled.

Missed it by that much.

But that's OK. We haven't really counted on Stumbo's data since he and Senate President David Williams told Kentuckians that our kids could get by just fine by reducing the amount of schooling they receive. I'm glad they didn't try to balance the whole budget by reducing schools to a 150 day school year. Instead, they can rest assured that Kentucky children will be ready to meet the demands of the twentieth century.

Over at the Bluegrass Institute, Richard Innes observed that "...at the very same time the House leader says we can cut school days, the education committee under his jurisdiction says we need to add more.."

A UNESCO study of 43 countries showed that 33 of them have school years longer than 180 days and some go as many as 220 days per year. Our legislative leaders say these extra days don't matter - while an increasing number of foreign nations flash past America in the percentage of citizens ready for the 21st Century.

Stumbo presents no evidence, but continues to claim that the number of instructional hours required by six of our seven surrounding states is less than Kentucky. In fact, five of the seven surrounding states go to school more days than Kentucky. Enacting Stumbo's plan would lower Kentucky another notch. True, some neighboring state laws only require a "minimum" number of hours (an historical remnant as low as 3 hours in Mississippi) but students in those states actually attend longer days.

Teachers would pay for the Stumbo/Williams plan.

According to the Daily-Independent, by reducing the number of instructional days from 177 to 175, the state will save about $34 million and teachers – on average – will lose about $500. Another cost savings, however, may yet rile educators – state employees will likely pay more from their paychecks for pensions and for health insurance.

Stumbo and Williams' commitment to educational excellence seems soft and subject to more immediate concerns - like the next election and the dred fear of fallout from the tax reform they know we need.

Governor Steve Beshear's plan was much better than this.

According to Rep. Tim Firkins, D-Louisville, it may still be a little early to tell, but so far, he hasn't heard much from constituents about the plan to reduce the two school days and increase teachers' healthcare costs. Those days were added to the school year in 2006. Firkins told the Daily Independent that he didn't expect to start seeing “green slip” messages from constituents for another couple of days because the broad budget plan became public only late last Thursday."

But Firkins' message is being echoed by other legislators.

This from the Daily Independent:

No outcry thus far on reducing school days

Stumbo said budget document should be ready soon

Lawmakers returned to Frankfort on Monday after a weekend at home, but most said they didn’t hear much feed back on a state budget proposal that would shave two days off the school calendar.

Rep. Danny Ford, R-Mount Vernon, said he attended a legislative breakfast at home Monday morning and while the subject of the school days came up, he didn’t detect an uprising.“We had some people say we wish you didn’t have to do that, but it wasn’t bad,” Ford said.

House Education Committee Chairman Carl Rollins, D-Midway, concurred. He said he’d received some blowback from teachers and educators, “but not that much. I was kind of surprised really.”

House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, said he’d not heard much about the days while back in Floyd County this weekend. He said some members told him
they’d been asked about the days, but again, there was no indication of widespread shock or anger...
Are our legislators not hearing anything from educators...or not listening?

Kentucky’s education commissioner warned legislators Friday that their budget proposal to eliminate two days of public school “would move us backward,” shortening the school year at a time when many other states are trying to add days, the Courier-Journal reported.

“The national average is 180 days, and the international average is around 200 days,” said Terry [Holliday], who head[s] the state education department. “Kentucky is at 177 days.

“If people want to know why some of our schools aren’t doing so well on test scores, they need to look at the amount of time that is being spent on instruction and the length of our school calendar.”
This from the Enquirer:

NKY to Frankfort: Save our schools

Educators from across Northern Kentucky flocked Saturday to the Boone County High School gymnasium to deliver a collective message.

The state lawmakers that make up the Northern Kentucky Legislative Caucus listened to concerns from the public ...the dominant topic at the public meeting was the future of education in Kentucky.

"These are difficult times and we're going to have to make some difficult decisions," said Sen. John Schickel, R-Union. "Education is very important and I think all members of the General Assembly realize that and want to do everything they can to provide a quality education for our children."

The dozens of teachers, school administrators and staff, school board members and other education advocates who attended the meeting wore red as a show of solidarity. In two-minute increments, they stressed to the legislators the importance of a good education and addressed a House proposal that would cut two classroom days in public schools to help balance the state budget....

This afternoon, Council for Better Education President Tom Shelton reminded state education leaders that it is the General Assembly that is solely responsible for the schools.

As I am sure you have heard, the House budget proposal calls for the reduction of the two days that were added to school calendars and teacher contracts four years ago. They have indicated that local districts could pay for these days from their contingency funds / fund balances. I know you realize this but even if a district can afford to pay the two days from their contingency / fund balance, they could not do this on a recurring basis and salaries are recurring costs. Fund balances / contingencies are one-time funds and a district should not obligate these funds for recurring costs. That is how districts become deficit.

Also, by the Constitution, it is the obligation of the General Assembly, not local districts, to provide an adequate public school system. Contingencies / fund balances are local funds, not state funds, and the General Assembly, has no authority to obligate these funds. Trying to say that it is optional at the local district creates equity issues across the state and flies in the face of KERA and the establishment of SEEK funding. We do not need systems of the haves and have nots.

The General Assembly continues to pass off their obligation to local school boards and communities. This is not just happening now during an economic recession but has been happening for 15 years. It is time for them to step up and modernize our state budget and system of revenues so that they do not continue to jeopardize the future of our state by inadequately funding education. I encourage you to consider my thoughts and if you agree, feel free to share with all of your constituencies.

Tom Shelton
Superintendent, Daviess County Public Schools

That drew a rather specific response from Tommy Floyd in Madison County that shows the bind local school districts are now in.

I must admit, I am troubled by the supposed legislative solutions:

Here we are in the latter half of the current session with somewhat of a false belief that school districts have not been good stewards. I wanted to state where my experience leaves me today:

1. We are planning on our 3rd draft budget at $3866.00 per child.

2. Almost every consumable has increased significantly in cost since the above rate has not changed.

3. Most of our local sources of revenue including investments are at the lowest point in recent memory. Our school board voted/approved the maximum local 4% increase in property tax.

4. Most of our layers of extra support have been reduced or eliminated from elementary, middle, and high schools with respect to personnel on our part.

5. We are still paying for a 1% raise from 09/10, and without additional funding, will continue to do so @$450,000+.

6. We are still payig for Infinite Campus.

7. Our Flex Focus funds have been significantly reduced affecting multiple layers of our district’s ability to serve the students that need it most.

8. Most of our state grant programs have all had reductions and have been adjusted accordingly while still delivering much needed services. (Remember - We had to show need in order to get them in the first place).

9. We have worked to find ways to run transportation and food service more efficiently and have reduced costs- and we should have.

10. We experienced record low attendance last fall due to H1N1. We disinfected our buildings/buses and immunized many of our students in an effort to stay open and are just now feeling some of the imminent impacts of this lowered ADA effect which will also be forthcoming in next year’s SEEK base.

11. We have accumulated a balance over the last ten years (~8%). This balance is largely due to the reliance on capital outlay funds or would not be where it is today.

12. The obligation to fund (2) days from General fund (Supposed surplus) would cost Madison County Schools an additional (~$400,000 - $450,000) in salaries alone.

I believe that we, as a district, are doing what we should be in response to what our state and nation are experiencing with the recession…..

What troubles me the most when talking about using local funds for recurring costs, is obviously the impact on students…..especially unsuccessful students.

Even as a young teacher, I knew that we must increase the number of successful students that reach graduation and obtain a diploma that means more than just a certificate of attendance. Currently fifteen percent of our Commonwealth’s kids do not even achieve that.

In a time where so many good things could happen for Kentucky’s unsuccessful students, we are definitely at a crossroads. There is no shortage of articles and suggestions on stepping out of the “box” to change how we educate our kids. The opportunity to reconsider Pre-K efforts, and to re-think our current High School model could pay huge dividends for our Commonwealth’s unsuccessful students.

That is, unless we choose the path of trading our kids future, for an easy fix.

I have thought many times as I drive away from one of our schools; our kids do not know anything about state education funding, budget deficits or contingencies. They just know that regardless of their current status, the world is waiting for them and they must be ready. The adults that work with them everyday know this too.

They are keenly aware that they are expected and continuing to do more with
less. If the conditions exist that Mr. Shelton describes below at the end of the session, we will have a lot of explaining to do someday to our students; especially our unsuccessful ones.

Tommy Floyd
Madison County Schools

This from the Daily News:

Bowling Green Independent Schools Superintendent Joe Tinius [is] scratching his head.

...Schools now get $3,866 for each student based on average daily attendance, not taking into account the number of instructional days, Tinius said.“So I don’t see how they can save that money without reducing the SEEK formula,” he said.

Rep. Jody Richards, D-Bowling Green, said when the state added the two additional days several years ago, it did so making it a budget line of $16 million for two days each year. The amount is now $17 million.“It wasn’t included in the SEEK calculations,” Richards said.

But Tinius said the funding did come to schools by way of an increase in SEEK funding.The only way to have any savings would be to reduce the SEEK base funding.Stumbo suggests that if districts want to pick up the tab for the additional days themselves, they could.“I just don’t see that happening,” Tinius said.

Richards said he’s against the idea of dropping the two instructional days because it goes against the trend of other states that have added instructional days.

At WFPL 15th District PTA President Myrdin Thompson objected:

When I have to balance my personal budget I do not sacrifice my children and their needs. I make sure that they are clothed, sheltered, fed, and EDUCATED, first and foremost. As adults, we often go without so that our children will not.

We have educational initiatives such as increasing the drop out age from 16 to 18 (supported by First Lady Beshear and her Drop Out Prevention Summits), and just initiated Core Standards as well as announcing SB1.

Kentucky has only 177 instructional days, compared to a national average of 186.

How can we expect our students to achieve greatness when we devalue their educational experience? How can we ask them to go on to higher educational experiences and become solid 21st century citizens when we then say that two days of instructional time won’t make a difference. Those two days could be all the difference in a child’s life. This is unacceptable.

As our educational leaders plead for an alternative solution, saying NO to this decision, it appears that our voices are being ignored.

My children are not statistics. They have hopes, dreams, goals, and aspirations. Through the Dream Out Loud Challenge they are being ecouraged to look ahead to what they will do after College graduation. Today, I want our elected leaders to understand how many will not graduate to Dream Out Loud if this action is taken. We cannot sacrifice our children in order to balance a budget.

This from H-L:

Give at the office

If the General Assembly follows through on the House proposal to cut two instructional days from the school year and school districts are unable to fund the two days locally, Kentucky teachers could face the equivalent of a small pay cut.

That doesn't seem to concern Senate President David Williams, who downplayed that prospect at a Friday news conference.

"If there were slight pay decreases — a percent or a percent and a half — it would pale in comparison to what's happening in the private sector," Williams said.

True enough.

But teachers, particularly those with post-graduate degrees, arguably don't earn as much as comparably educated people in the private sector. So, even a small pay cut might have a disproportionate effect on them.

Besides, if Williams' empathy for private sector employees is so strong that he thinks teachers also should take a hit, then he needs to step up and feel the pain as well...

If legislative leaders can't hear, they're just not listening.


Anonymous said...

As an educator, I'm beaten. What I do isn't good enough for Stu or Jack Hayes. Yesterday we were told we should not be using novels in teh middle school. Kids should only be reading non-fiction! I don't remember the rationale that was offered. Frankly, I don't care.

I'll let Greg Stmbo take my two days. It will mean I spend less time hearing what I'm doing wrong from Jack Hayes and Stu Silberman....I used to love my job in Fayette County Schools. No longer.

Richard Innes said...


You imply that legislators have a hearing/listening issue.

I don't think that is the case at all.

While decay in the economy impacts just about every area of society, the education world keeps presenting a picture to everyone else that education believes it must/can/deserves to be insulated, and even further financed.

I don't think that is very smart.

It also isn't very sensitive to the fact that legislators hear from everyone such as: business men having real trouble making payrolls, auto dealers who have lost their francises, retirees who must pay more for medicare without getting a cost of living increase in social security, the one in ten who are totally out of work, etc., etc.

Right now, sadly, it's educators who are not listening to what is actually happening out there.

Please open your eyes and ears. The country is really suffering.

But, education continues creating the impression that its hand is still out, demanding still more.

Is that really what the readers of this blog want?

Richard Day said...


Non-fiction only?! Why?

I can only guess that it's somebody's idea of maximizing content. But at what sacrifice?


Well, it's true, I'm not very smart. But there are few things I enjoy more than being reminded how tough things are by a proponent of the unregulated free-market that got us into this mess to begin with.

But to your point, of course things are tough and lots of folks are suffering. Many of them have chosen this time to go back to school and get retrained. I am told this is a common thing during downturns of the economy. In fact, I had a chat on this topic with one of my own kids recently as the small business she works for dangles by a thread and the owner struggles to find a small business loan.

This isn't about schools deserving anything. This is about preparing Kentucky to be OK into the future - after the economy recovers. Will we compete internationally? Or are we comfortable watching other states pass us by - again.

Of course, we haven't needed a bad economy to hear BIPPS argue against public school funding. We get that in good times as well as bad.

Chalk my tone up to Stumbo and William's comment that school days don't matter. Of course they do.

And chalk it up to their refusal to implement the reforms we need as a state. We will know our legislators are listening when they stop perpetuating the problem; when they quit pushing their own structural imbalances down to school districts; when they actually begin to fix the problems they know exist and have been ignoring for years.

When they actually tackle the problem they're going to catch hell. I'll be a lot more sensitive to their needs at that time - because they will have deserved it.

If my readers are not supportive of a strong system of public schools there are other places to go for information. Bipps.org perhaps.


Anonymous said...

Amen, Mr Day!

Anonymous said...

Ask Jack Hays about non-fiction. Oh, and Stu wants only one goal posted on the chalknord during a lesson.

Being back Walton, bring back Dr. Potts!