Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Passions Flare as Fayette Schools Budget Fails to Gain Board Approval

For the first time in memory...a Fayette County schools superintendent failed to gain approval of a final proposed budget. 

A combination of factors seem to have contributed, not the least of which was the absence of Board Chair - and reliable YES vote - John Price who, I am told has had ongoing health issues. Price along with members Melissa Bacon and Daryl Love are usually sufficient to ignore or overcome any objections from Amanda Ferguson and Doug Barnett. But not today.

In a brief but tense exchange Ferguson continued to press Superintendent Tom Shelton to explain why the cuts were needed in the first place. Another of her concerns was also expressed by STEAM Academy PTSA President Sharon Mofield-Boswell regarding a $150,000 contract with NaviGo for college and career prep services in the midst of layoffs, if that contract was not funded through an outside grant. But Ferguson's major concern lies with cuts to music programs which Shelton had previously indicated would be spared. The superintendent had assured the board that the only band staff the district would lose would be through attrition but Ferguson told KSN&C that she knew of one person at SCAPA who had been cut and five others whose duties were being reduced.

Barnett spoke about his concerns over cuts special education programs and their likely impact on closing achievement gaps. The district is apparently receiving guidance from the District Management Council! Readers should be aware that this group is suspect. Former Broad Foundation Superintendent's Academy member Nathan Levenson (2004) is running the corporate school reform playbook which encourages school superintendents to increase class size and cut services for special education students as a way to manage tight budgets. Levenson claims such actions if done over time (like slowly boiling a frog in water) will lead to less spending and higher achievement. His myopic approach as employed in Arlington MA called for judgement based on results with the underlying assumption that all schools and children had an equal opportunity to succeed and if a school's test scores were insufficient it was time to fire people.

Special education parents have every right to be deeply concerned - and this revelation may go a long way toward explaining why so many parents have expressed concern over cuts to their children's services in recent years. 

Levenson resigned his position following a civil complaint filed in US federal court alleging that he had snooped on faculty email accounts, bullied a principal in an effort to get a resignation, and when that failed, suggested that she might become the subject of an untrue story about fondling a child if she did not agree to step down.

At a minimum it seems that Fayette County Schools are working with a vendor who has a record of making untrue statements.   

FCPS Meeting complete broadcast video here.

It's back to the drawing board for the superintendent and the Fayette County Board of Education. The board rejected the superintendent's budget proposal to fix a $20 million deficit. It included millions of dollars in cuts.

Board members talked about the budget during a meeting that turned tense at times. Now they're running out of time to reach an agreement.

No matter whether you support it, it was clear at Monday night's Fayette County school board meeting that handling the budget is not an easy task.

"We're all very grateful for what you've done," said one man in the audience. "You've done it fearlessly, not perfectly."

"The special education cuts are what we think might be a little bit disproportionate in cuts that are in the budge," said a woman attending the meeting.

"I understand it's very difficult, and I know no one would trade places with you," said another woman signed up to speak.

At one point, the school board meeting got very tense, specifically between two board members.

"I'm asking him (Superintendent Tom Shelton). I'm not asking you. I'm asking him," said Amanda Ferguson, a board member.

"You are out of order in speaking like that," said Melissa Bacon, the vice chair of the board.

"So much for open and honest," said Ferguson.

Two to two the motion didn't carry to pass Superintendent Tom Shelton's proposed budget plan for the next school year...

"We put the focus on trying to save as many jobs as we can," said Superintendent Tom Shelton. "We only actually had to reduce 60 positions."

"I can't support any budget which I feel will negatively impact those students falling within various achievement gaps because of socioeconomic status or disability," said Douglas Barnett, a board member.

While the board can't meet everyone's needs or make everyone happy, the superintendent is trying to stick to his proposed plan and feels it is what's best for the district.

"We believe this budget has met the priorities, but that's subject to the board approval obviously," said Supt. Shelton.

Now more meetings must be scheduled since the board of education is required by law to adopt a budget plan by May 30.

No one offered any specific solutions or changes that could be made to the budget at Monday night's meeting. The superintendent tells us he expects to have another school board meeting before the end of the week.

This from the Herald Leader:
Budget for Fayette County schools fails to get votes needed for approval
The Fayette County school board failed Monday to pass a $426.9 million budget for the 2014-15 school year.

The board is required by law to adopt a tentative budget by the end of the month.

Board members Doug Barnett and Amanda Ferguson voted against the budget proposed by Superintendent Tom Shelton; Daryl Love and Melissa Bacon voted for it. Chairman John Price was absent.

Barnett said in an impassioned speech that the cuts would have a detrimental effect on "kids with special education and socioeconomic achievement gaps."

"It is time for the board to declare to our teachers and classified staff that they matter. It's time to show our kids what we stand for," he said. "We still have some time to do this right."

Ferguson said band and orchestra programs, mostly at elementary schools, also would be affected negatively.

And she suggested that Shelton had not given a satisfactory reason for why the district ended up needing to make cuts. "We still don't have the full answer," she said.

This year's budget is $433.1 million. Cuts are necessary, Shelton has said, to keep the district from outspending its revenue. As part of developing the budget, Shelton initially proposed $19.1 million in cuts to positions and programs that represent expenditures in the district's general fund — its main spending account.

Parents, teachers, students and others were upset about the cuts, and in response district officials held forums to get feedback. Their suggestions helped generate the budget the board received.

Before the vote, several staff members and parents voiced concerns about the proposed budget.

Jessica Hiler, president of the Fayette County Education Association, said she worried about the effect on special education and classified personnel. "They provide the support that the teachers need every day," she said.

Christin Helmuth, parent of a Bryan Station High School student, said the school would be disproportionately affected by the budget as presented. "The whole process has somehow managed to target the neediest kids," she said.

Sharon Mofield-Boswell said she was "uncomfortable" with the amount budgeted for third-party consultants, voicing concern that budget cuts would set a precedent. "What's it going to be in three to five years?" she asked.

Shelton later addressed that, saying such cuts would not be needed again. "We fully believe that the cuts that have been made will restore our financial position," he said.

Several community leaders, including Urban League CEO P.G. Peeples, Commerce Lexington CEO Bob Quick and businessman Mike Scanlon, spoke in support of Shelton and the work done to gather community input.

"I'm very comfortable that we've done the right thing with this process," Peeples said.

Scanlon told the board: "The job you're doing right now is every board member's nightmare. ...You have done as good a job as could possibly be done."

Ferguson took Shelton to task over his initial handling of the situation, saying he should have told the board sooner that cuts were needed. "I don't like being put in this position," she said.

Love, however, said the board had been aware since last spring that changes would be needed.

Shelton said in an interview after the meeting that some of the board's concerns could have been addressed earlier if he had known about them. Shelton presented this version of the budget to the board May 5.

"We certainly could look at making changes to certain areas," he said. "We need to hear that from the board,"

Shelton said a work session would be scheduled, and then another meeting would be needed at which the board could vote. He said he was hopeful an agreement could be reached by May 31.

"I think we all want the same thing," he said. "It's just a matter of how we get there."


Anonymous said...

It's a YES for Amanda, Doug and Sharon. Sorry Tom it's a NO for you ( a vote of no confidence)!

Anonymous said...

Go Amanda! Go Doug!
Fight for all the teachers and students, not the chiefs who bring in the big salaries without even being in a classroom!

Anonymous said...

To me it seems like JCPS and FCPS would best be served by subdividing into smaller districts. Consoludation into larger and larger districts isn't getting us were we need to be in terms of student performance or tranparency. As a very small district, I can tell you that when you have less it is tougher but you are able and motivated to watch resources and processes much closer.

Anonymous said...

I read these varous stories about FCPS and those who post on this site - it seems like there is a tone of distrust and disenfranchisement among parents and teachers with FCPS leadership.

Some contemporary writers note how the consolidation of community schools into single county schools in rural areas were touted as providing better and more diverse services to those kids being bused in to the county seat. Conversely, smaller communities lost not just their school but the hub of their local social conntected and community identity - an institution of local cohesiveness. Involvement, ownership and pride which bolstered these small community schools was often lost to the homogonized big county school which came to be run by educational professionals who consolidated power among an even smaller group who were neither members or aligned with outlying communities' priorities, conditions or citizens (DeYoung, Ellis, Eller).

Ironically, I can't help wondering if what I have mentioned in a rural frame is actually occuring within the dimesions of a larger urban context.

Anonymous said...

I am disgusted by the actions of Melissa Bacon and Tom Shelton. Oh, wait, am I "out of order" in saying that?

Anonymous said...

So who is the District Management Council and how are they involved? Surprised the newspapers haven't dug into that angle.