Thursday, February 27, 2014

Employment Projections

Employment by summary education and training assignment, 2012 and projected 2022
(numbers in thousands)

Who Is President in Your Textbook?

This from Brad Clark at Public Engagement and School Reform:
I teach 4th and 5th grade English/language arts and social studies at Simmons Elementary School in Woodford County. And we need resources to support education.

President George W. Bush
According to my 5th grade social studies textbooks, George W. Bush is in the first term of his presidency. I am not exaggerating when I say that the fourth grade textbook we use to teach Kentucky History in 2014 is the exact same textbook -- with a picture of Daniel Boone standing triumphantly on the front cover -- that I used when I was in 4th grade in 1991.

I am fortunate to work in a building that at one time was able to purchase short story anthologies, but that purchase three years ago amounts to a total of 10 short stories per grade level. I could cover one short story per week with the students in my class, and could realistically be finished with the anthologies by the end of October. I have enough copies of four novels that I can use with my students. I am thankful to have them, but the reality is I like only one of the novels for instructional purposes and all four novels are below the text complexity levels of my 5th graders.

However, I am in significantly better straits than the great majority of teachers across the Commonwealth.

Still, the situation is dire.

From my perspective, a more pressing issue that deeply impacts the continued achievement and growth of my students is my continued growth as an effective educator. Simply put, there is no money at the school level for professional development. I know exactly what I need to improve upon in order to meet the needs of my students. I have data that tells me where I need to grow. I have even designed and submitted a "Professional Growth Plan" that sits idle in a folder in an office in my building. Yet, I have no way of implementing my strategies for refining my craft. I do not blame my principal for this because he wants every student and teacher in his building to get better at what they do, but he lacks the necessary resources to make that happen.

It is time that we start viewing an immediate investment in education throughout this Commonwealth as a long-term commitment to economic growth. My students deserve better. Your children deserve better. All our students deserve better.

You would not ask a carpenter to build a house without materials or tools. If you did, you would not expect anything less than a shanty at the end of the work day.

You have the opportunity to build a Kentucky that is a shining example of what happens when all Kentucky citizens unite behind a singular focus on the future.

Invest in your schools.

Invest in your children.

Brad Clark is a 2013-14 Hope Street Group Fellow, a Center for Teacher Quality VCO and the Lead Gifted Teacher for Woodford County Public Schools.

Hope and anxiety: What do teachers think about the Common Core standards?

This from the Hechinger Report:
The more teachers get to know the controversial Common Core State Standards, the more they like them, according to a teacher survey published this week. And even as many states debate whether to stick with the standards, which lay out what students need to know in math and English based on requirements in other countries, the survey suggests that the Common Core is already being taught at most schools in the 45 states that adopted it.

The survey is one of two reports published this week that goes beyond the fights over whether to throw out or slow down Common Core to find out how local school districts and classroom teachers are dealing with the standards in their classrooms. The findings—both reports are published by staunch supporters of the Common Core—were largely positive.

ccgraphicBut the feedback from teachers and districts also uncovers anxiety about how classrooms and students will be affected by the tougher standards. Teachers are still worried about how to help struggling students keep up, while districts that adopted the standards early have resorted to coming up with their own curricula to meet the standards because they’ve found few off-the-shelf materials that do a good job of matching Common Core.

And training teachers to be able to handle the Common Core remains a major concern. As one teacher in Washington told researchers: “I feel that my ability to be the best teacher possible for my students is most critically affected by the lack of professional time to adjust the curriculum to the Common Core.”

The first report, published Tuesday by Scholastic and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (Gates is among Hechinger’s many funders), surveyed 20,000 American teachers last July about a range of topics, including the Common Core. The second report, published Wednesday by the right-leaning Fordham Institute, examines how four local school districts that launched Common Core early have fared and highlights best practices.

Here are some of the main takeaways about how teachers are reacting to Common Core from the Scholastic and Gates survey:
  • Half of teachers in Common Core states say they are already teaching the standards in their schools. Only 6 percent say they haven’t begun.
  • While the majority of teachers, 57 percent, say Common Core will be positive for most students, a third don’t think it will make a difference. Eight percent say it will be negative. Elementary school teachers have a sunnier outlook on the standards than middle and high school teachers. Among high school teachers, just 41 percent think the new standards will have a positive effect.
  • The survey asked teachers about whether the standards will meet the goals set for them, including better preparing students for careers and to compete in a global economy. The views were mixed: An overwhelming majority of teachers say the standards will help with consistency and clarity about what students are expected to learn across states. But just half agreed that they’ll help students prepare for careers and to compete globally.
  • For teachers that have already started working on the standards, 62 percent say it’s going well while 20 percent say it’s not going well. At the same time, 75 percent of teachers say they feel prepared for the standards.
  • Forty percent of teachers say they worried about how students who are below grade level will keep up with the new standards, though, and more than a quarter worry about their special education students.
What to do about the lingering worries? The Fordham report highlighted best practices being used by the early adopters of the Common Core that might be helpful for others who are further behind. (The districts were Nashville, Tenn., District 54 in Shaumburg, Ill., in the Chicago suburbs, Kenton County School District in Northern Kentucky, and Washoe County School District in Nevada, which encompasses the Reno-Tahoe area.) Here are outtakes:
  • Two of the districts profiled by Fordham have pushed principals to spend more time in the classroom. In the two that hadn’t encouraged principals to focus more on teaching and less on administration, the report found that “teachers and principals alike report that insufficient principal training on the new standards is the biggest implementation challenge.”
  • Educators have been disappointed about the curriculum materials produced to match Common Core. The early-bird districts were adapting what they had in place previously or starting from scratch to create new curricula and lesson plans. According to the report, “All four expressed caution about spending limited dollars on materials that were not truly aligned to the Common Core and are delaying at least some of their purchases until they see products that demonstrate better alignment.”
  • And to address the big worry of how to train teachers? In the four districts profiled in the Fordham report, in-class coaching and joint planning time for teachers worked better than workshops. “Teachers in these districts use their time to focus relentlessly on instruction and the Common Core—not on administrative obligations,” the report said.
The four districts didn’t have all the answers for making the transition to Common Core a smooth one, though. As one Nashville educator put it, “All our teachers feel like they’re first-year teachers right now.”

Common Core in the Districts: An Early Look at Early Implementers

This from the Fordham Institute:
The Common Core State Standards are in place in forty-five states—and in many of those jurisdictions, educators are hard at work trying to bring them to life in their schools and classrooms.

But how is implementation going so far? That’s what this new study explores in four “early-implementer” school systems. Common Core in the Districts: An Early Look at Early Implementers provides an in-depth examination of real educators as they earnestly attempt to put higher standards into practice. This up-close look
at district-level, school-level, and classroom-level implementation yields several key findings:
  1. Teachers and principals are the primary faces and voices of the Common Core standards in their communities
  2. Implementation works best when district and school leaders lock onto the Common Core standards as the linchpin of instruction, professional learning, and accountability in their buildings
  3. In the absence of externally vetted, high-quality Common Core materials, districts are striving—with mixed success—to devise their own
  4. The scramble to deliver quality CCSS-aligned professional development to all who need it is as crucial and (so far) as patchy as the quest for suitable curriculum materials
  5. The lack of aligned assessments will make effective implementation of the Common Core challenging for another year
In short, districts are in the near-impossible situation of operationalizing new standards before high-quality curriculum and tests aligned to them are finished. Yet the clock is ticking, and the new tests and truly aligned textbooks are forthcoming. Today’s implementation is a bit like spring training, a time when focusing on the fundamentals, teamwork, and steady improvement is more important than the score.

The early implementers are:
The trailblazer. Kenton County School District, Kentucky—a mid-size bedroom community just outside Cincinnati with close to 15,000 students—is our earliest Common Core implementer. It has been working for more than three years on implementation, having started training its secondary teachers on learning and teaching to the standards shortly after the Common Core’s release in 2010. Educators there are just beginning to observe gains in their students’ performance.
The urban bellwether. Metro Nashville Public Schools, with nearly 80,000 students, is in the literal and figurative center of a leading reform state. Tennessee’s major education reforms of recent years include an “Expect More, Achieve More” campaign to raise academic standards, a first-round Race to the Top win, a first-in-the-nation revised system for statewide teacher evaluation, and nation-leading gains on the National Assessment of Educational Progress between 2011 and 2013. Metro Nashville’s leadership quickly and vigorously committed to the Common Core, introducing it in classrooms in 2011–2012, a full school year ahead of most Tennessee districts. Metro Nashville also maintains a close relationship with its state education agency, which has taken a strong role in Common Core implementation.

The high-performing suburb. Illinois’s District 54
, serving Schaumburg and surrounding municipalities, is a K–8 school district of about 14,000 students in the Chicago suburbs. It is a high-achieving, high-capacity suburban district located in an ethnically diverse and largely affluent community. With its enthusiastic embrace of the Common Core and extensive preparation during  2012–2013, District 54 illustrates what these standards may mean for high-flying districts wondering whether the Common Core is right for their kids, too.

The creative implementer. Washoe County School District
, Nevada’s second-largest with nearly 65,000 students, encompasses the Reno-Tahoe area and most of the state’s northwest corner. Unlike districts that have received multiple federal or private grants, Washoe has instead grappled with consecutive years of budget cuts. But instead of decrying the Common Core as an unfunded mandate, Washoe built upon a new, teacher-created professional development model and reallocated resources to support standards implementation starting in 2011–12.
Progress in Kenton County has been spurred by several factors: Kentucky’s adoption of reform legislation related to its college- and career-ready standards (i.e., CCSS); the state commissioner of education’s outspoken public support of the Common Core; the development and administration of the state’s aligned summative assessment; and revamped district- and school-level report cards.

Senate Bill 1, passed in 2009, required the Kentucky Department of Education and districts throughout the state to revise academic standards to better reflect college- and career-readiness expectations for students (leading to Kentucky’s early, first-in-the-nation adoption of the Common Core) and to create and implement a more rigorous system of assessments and accountability structures.

Still, district leaders report that they often find themselves leading discussions within state-sponsored networks of districts, rather than learning new Common Core content or practices themselves.

The Kenton County school district offers an encouraging look into the future for many districts embarking on the Common Core path: now in their fourth year of implementing the standards, teachers in the district describe the new standards as the basis for all their instruction. They are both supported in and held accountable for delivering instruction that reflects the Common Core shifts through significant investment in coaching, instructional leadership, and classroom observation tools. Even four years in, however, Kenton County is still contending with knotty implementation challenges. These include balancing new teacher evaluation requirements with formative feedback on instruction  and ensuring that all teachers—especially those in the elementary grades—have sufficient access to a Common Core-aligned curriculum.

These four districts differ in many important ways, but what they share are thoughtful and encouraging approaches to Common Core implementation, bridging the sizable distance from state policy to actual classroom practice. In each, smart accountability practices and targeted professional development have increased teacher ownership of standards implementation and helped educators to align their instruction and curricular materials with the Common Core.

Fayette superintendent Shelton to recommend 5 percent cut in his salary

This from the Herald-Leader:
Amid concerns from the community over a proposed $20 million budget cut, Fayette County Public Schools Superintendent Tom Shelton said Wednesday he would recommend that his salary be cut by 5 percent.
Superintendent Tom Shelton and Board member Amanda Ferguson

Shelton, who was paid $254,610 in 2013, according to figures released by school officials last fall, has been responding to criticism after announcements that the 2014-2015 budget would need to be trimmed by $20 million and that positions would be cut.

Fayette School Board Chairman John Price said late Wednesday afternoon that Shelton discussed with him the decision to cut his own pay before proposing it. The pay cut requires the board's approval.

"I support him in that," Price said. "For him to volunteer to take a cut in pay without reducing the number of days worked is good leadership on his part."

Shelton's proposal would reduce his annual salary to $241, 879.50 — a difference of $12,730.50, school district spokeswoman Lisa Deffendall said.

Deffendall said Shelton would not comment on the matter.

"Dr. Shelton said he didn't do this to seek any publicity," she told the Herald-Leader. "Tom said this was a personal decision and that he just felt like it was the right thing to do."

Shelton's contract with Fayette County Public Schools started in Sept. 1. 2011 and continues to June 30, 2015. Shelton was paid $240,000 when he was hired in 2011. Stu Silberman, Shelton's predecessor, made about $244,000 before he left the district in 2011.

Wednesday's email from Shelton follows a flurry of interest and public outcry about the budget.
In the last week, Shelton has made attempts to respond to parents, teachers and others, including board member Amanda Ferguson, who have been vocal about concerns over impending cuts and what they perceived as a lack of information provided by Shelton.

On Monday, Shelton, citing "distrust and paranoia" of a proposed staffing formula for schools crafted by district officials, pulled a discussion of that policy from the board's agenda that night. He pledged to get public input at a March 6 forum before taking further action.

Parents and teachers have been up in arms over rumors that music, band, orchestra, arts and gifted and talented programs could take the biggest hits. Shelton has said those reports were unfounded, and has said those programs would not be eliminated.

During Monday's school board meeting, Shelton said that public response over the proposed cuts has showed him that people were passionate about what happens in Fayette County Public Schools.
Shelton said that he received more than 1,000 emails over the weekend. Some emails were about the budget. Others were staffing related. Still others were words of encouragement.

"Many were supportive of the direction and focus of the district," he said. "I receive over 400 daily during an average work week. Normally this slows substantially over the weekend but did not last weekend."

Shelton, in an email message to staff provided to the Herald-Leader on Wednesday, said, "We know that we must attempt to absorb as much as possible of the reductions in areas that do not directly affect our schools."

"To that end, we will attempt to share the responsibility for any cuts so that as few employees as possible would lose employment," he said.

Shelton reiterated that he thought the majority of any staffing changes would be handled through attrition. He told reporters on Monday that 300 to 400 employees leave the district voluntarily every year.

Shelton's email Wednesday to the staff said the district will work to reduce "hours and/or days worked for any affected employees before we would eliminate positions."

"To that end, I will personally recommend to our board that my contract salary be lowered by 5 percent effective July 1," Shelton said. "We will still have 95 percent of the resources we have had in the past but will be more efficient and effective in the use of these resources as we work toward equity for all students."

Shelton repeated in the email that he would develop a budget proposal for the school board in May that would minimize any possible negative impact on student services and achievement.

School board member Daryl Love was among those who praised Shelton's voluntary decision to reduce his salary.

"For him, it's leading by example," said Love. "Everybody's going to have to kind of share in the cuts."

Read more here:

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Anti-Common Core Case On Appeal

Case: 2014-CA-000267 – an appeal of 13-CI-01316
Appellant: David Adams
Appellee: Commonwealth of Kentucky
We should be within a couple of weeks now. David Adams’ has promised an appeal of his anti-Common Core case, which was thoroughly pummeled by Franklin County Circuit Court Judge Phillip Shepherd. What brilliant strategy could Adams find at this late date which might persuade the Court of Appeals to take up his case? And if the Court accedes, how on Earth could Adams win?

The Court of Appeals is not a guaranteed avenue of redress in all situations. Every court has its own job to do. For example, the lower court must ask itself: If the facts alleged in the complaint can be proved, would the plaintiff be entitled to relief? Further, a court cannot decide speculative rights or duties, which may or may not arise in the future, but only rights and duties about which there is a present actual controversy presented by adversary parties, and in which a binding judgment concluding the controversy may be entered.” See: Veith v. City of Louisville, 355 S.W.2d 295, 297 (Ky. 1962).

I’m having trouble imagining how the court in this case might direct the, governor, or legislature, or any of their subordinate agencies to change what our duly elected representatives chose to do when deciding curriculum for the state’s schools. Even if they could, I don’t see how David Adams is harmed by Common Core, which is necessary for him to establish standing before the court. The almighty tax payer argument has proven to be insufficient. And worse for him, he provided no evidence in the lower court that might sustain him now.

Adams might not even be invited to appear. According to the Appellate Practice Handbook motion practice before the Court of Appeals is different from similar practice before the circuit court in that the parties do not appear at a set motion hour. It is therefore extremely important that the written motion and objections be carefully prepared to present the parties’ positions. Only in rare cases does the motion panel hear oral presentations on motions. See: CR 76.34(5).

In his Motion to Reconsider in the circuit court Adams struggled to come up with any new arguments. His motion was no more than a restatement of the arguments the court had already rejected, and the court rejected them again.  

Motions requesting any type of substantive relief are assigned to three-judge panels of the Court. In appropriate cases, a party can request an oral argument before the panel on a substantive motion, although such requests are rarely granted. Any document submitted to the Court of Appeals must be served on all other parties to the appeal – something Adams had trouble with in the circuit court. Courts have rules. Adams doesn’t seem to like rules.

In general, a lower court judgment is considered final and appealable only if that judgment disposes of all of the claims presented in a circuit court lawsuit. The circuit judge must also find that there is no just reason to delay enforcement of the judgment. Both findings are required to make the judgment final and the failure to adequately recite both findings will prevent the Court of Appeals from acquiring jurisdiction. Peters v. Hardin County Board of Education, 378 S.W.2d 638 (Ky. 1984).

Court records show that Adams’ notice of appeal was received along with his $175 fee on February 13th. His Facebook records show that he asked his supporters for $200, so I gets he gets to keep the extra 25 bucks.

A prehearing conference procedure was inserted into Kentucky’s appellate procedure to give the Court of Appeals an opportunity to bring the parties to a discussion in the hope of settling or simplifying some appeals. Since the procedure was begun, the conferences conducted by attorneys employed by the Court have resulted in the settlement of about 37 percent of the cases in which conferences were held. Evidence suggests that having an on-going case against Common Core is more important to Adams than actually winning the case. It’s hard to see how a prehearing conference will resolve anything here.

In the end, the Court of Appeals may dispose of a case by affirming or reversing the entirety of the judgment or it may affirm as to some issues and reverse as to others. The Court of Appeals may vacate the circuit court decision if the circuit court omitted some essential step in reaching its decision. The Court of Appeals may also remand the case to the circuit court for further proceedings if necessary.

Cutting art and music is cheating our students, says H-L's Copley

This from the Herald-Leader:
My Tuesday started at the LexArts Fund for the Arts campaign kickoff, where organizers emphasized the importance of arts education. The event included a performance by the Central Kentucky Youth Orchestras' MusicWorks program and a steady stream of community leaders extolling the virtues of arts education.

Rich Copley
"Many studies have shown that exposure to the arts and facilitating artistic expression help our children achieve more in school and develop skills like cooperation, decision making and perseverance, all of which are so critical to their success as adult workers in a knowledge-based economy," said campaign chairwoman L. Tracee Whitley, chief operating officer of Bingham McCutchen LLP, the global law firm that recently moved its operations center to Lexington.

"The kids who are exposed to the arts at an early age inevitably grow up to become more valuable, thoughtful and often more highly educated workers and citizens. ... Fundamentally, promotion of the arts stimulates a virtuous cycle within the life of our city."

Later that night, I found myself communicating with several friends who were distressed that Fayette County school officials, entrusted with major decisions in the education of most of our children, were targeting band and orchestra programs to cut $20 million from the 2014-15 budget.

Lowlights of a Tuesday afternoon board meeting to address possible cuts included a board member leaving out of frustration with Superintendent Tom Shelton, and Shelton, at best account, telling revered Lafayette High School band director Charles Smith that it was inappropriate for him to attend the public meeting.

Seriously? Does Shelton really want to pick a fight with the Lafayette band? Does he really think a highly respected educator trying to protect his program and his students is inappropriate?

That's the move of someone defending the indefensible. When you consider the mountains of evidence about the benefits of arts education, cutting arts programs is indefensible.

"Decades of research show strong and consistent links between high-quality arts education and a wide range of impressive educational outcomes," said a 2011 report from the President's Committee on the Arts and the Humanities.

In a reflection of the issue at hand, it said, "At the same time, due to budget constraints and emphasis on the subjects of high-stakes testing, arts instruction in schools is on a downward trend. Just when they need it most, the classroom tasks and tools that could best reach and inspire these students —— art, music, movement and performing —— are less available to them."

Shelton told the Herald-Leader, "The district will continue to have band and orchestra in every elementary, middle and high school. It will continue to be funded as a districtwide program." He gave additional endorsements in a letter to band and orchestra directors.

How much band and orchestra and other programs such as foreign language and special education will be affected remains to be seen. But it is easy to see why students, parents and teachers are up in arms over even the suggestion that music programs might be threatened. It' the oldest move in the school budget-cutting playbook.

I have read plenty of reports like that of the President's Committee about the benefits of arts education, and in the past few years, I have witnessed them firsthand as the parent of two orchestra students. It's not a coincidence that valedictorians seem to regularly come out of orchestras or that music programs have a concentration of top students in general.

But the arts don't just build academic success. Arts education is a key to teaching students expression, to channeling creativity and to building collaborative community.

I'm hard-pressed to think of another elective or extracurricular activity with that kind of track record.
So why do the arts always end up on the short list for cuts?

A 2007 National Endowment for the Arts report posited that arts are often not viewed as compatible with the testing focus that many schools have taken and, erroneously, are seen as strictly expressive and not cognitive fields.

Those are simplistic, ill-informed views that have no place in discussions by serious educators. Still, they prevail, and many school systems, including plenty in Kentucky, have radically reduced or eliminated arts education.

At the beginning of this month, we were at Kentucky's high school All-State Orchestra concerts in Louisville. Guest conductor Larry Livingston, who has led some of the best orchestras in the country, sang the praises of the students with whom he had been working for three days. He said it was clear that many of them — a majority from Fayette and Jefferson county schools — had received excellent training.

Another thing that's clear to an orchestra parent is that the teachers running the programs are stretched thin, organizing concerts, competitions and conferences in addition to grading classroom work for students. These are educators who need the added help and pay that appear to be in play as Fayette schools look to address this surprise $20 million budget shortfall (stop and contemplate those last five words).

Yes, with that much to cut, many areas will take a hit.

But arts and music always take a hit, or they never get the funding they need in the first place. As school officials contemplate how to handle this, we as parents have to implore them and Shelton to be more open-minded and creative in economizing than going into default mode.

Default mode is stupid, and it's getting really old.

Read more here:

Monday, February 24, 2014

Fayette schools chief delays staff changes; blaming 'paranoia' offends board member

This from the Herald-leader:
Responding to mounting public criticism, Fayette County Superintendent Tom Shelton has put cost-cutting staff changes on hold so he can involve more people in the conversation. But the wording of his first emails on the postponement offended a board member.

"Despite the best intentions of the people who have worked hard to develop the sound proposals put forth in the new staffing procedures, distrust and paranoia have unfortunately led to widespread speculation and false rumors that have upset our families, students, employees and community at large," Shelton said Monday in an email message to parents.

School board member Amanda Ferguson countered, "I would just say that I find it both offensive and insulting for the superintendent to imply that those of us — including board members, teachers, parents and students — who have questions and want answers about staffing changes are paranoid."

Shelton said he pulled a new staffing formula for schools from the school board's Monday night meeting agenda. In emails and a news release, he pledged to get public input before further action. The staffing proposal was part of plans to cut $20 million from the district's budget.

Parents and staff have expressed concern that little information has been released about school job reductions.

Although the new staffing formula has been pulled from the agenda, the board will be asked Monday night to change language in staffing policies to reflect state law.

Monday's news release said that 88 percent of the Fayette County school district's spending goes to salaries and benefits for the district's 5,815 employees.

"We cannot balance the budget without impacting our employees," Shelton said in the news release. "We face tight time lines and strict deadlines under state law. But we cannot move so quickly that we risk breaking faith with the people we serve.

"We will put the staffing changes on hold until we have time to bring more people into this conversation. We will be open to suggestions and questions and move forward in a way that allows for open and honest discourse."

Shelton also will host a public forum at 6 p.m. March 6 at the district's main offices, 701 East Main Street, to answer questions and gather input.

The district will establish a web page,, where officials will make information available throughout the process, Shelton said. Board chairman John Price said Monday that board members support Shelton's decision to hold off until he had more input from parents, staff and others.

"We want everybody to understand the situation we find ourselves in," Price said. With the public forum on March 6 and the website, "everybody should have ample opportunity to give us additional input he said."

Last week, board member Ferguson walked out during a specially called board meeting about the district's budget and proposed staff reductions. Ferguson said she walked out because she was frustrated and annoyed with Shelton's responses to questions.

Fayette schools spokeswoman Lisa Deffendall has said that all of the recommendations that were firm have been shared publicly. Shelton has not said how many positions will be cut. However, district officials have said that rumors about cuts to band, orchestra and arts programs are unfounded.

Shelton has said the district will have to trim $20 million, about 5 percent of the district's general fund spending, from its 2014-15 budget to present the school board with a balanced budget in May. The cuts will not compromise student achievement, according to Shelton's earlier comments.

In 2009-10, the fund balance or reserves in the general fund was $56.72 million; the fund balance is $36.5 million this school year, Shelton has said.

In the latest email to parents, Shelton said school districts around the state have had to cut their budgets drastically as national and state economies have struggled over the past several years.
Because Fayette had a reserve to cover state and federal cuts, the district was spared decisions about cutting teachers or eliminating programs. Officials knowingly dipped into the reserves in order to maintain innovative programs, Deffendall previously said.

While other school districts had significant layoffs, Fayette County raised employee salaries to recruit and retain the most talented staff to serve students, Shelton has said.

"It took seven years to get to this point," Shelton said in the email to parents. "We have weathered it for a long time. But as expenses have continued to increase, we are now in a position where our spending is outpacing our revenue."

"If we could absorb the entire cut at the district level, we would do that. But that is mathematically impossible. Even if we shut down the district office, it would not be enough to balance the budget.
"And there is no way that a district with 41,000 students, 66 schools and special programs, and 5,815 employees can function without an administrative staff to run payroll, pay the utility bills and assign subs when teachers are absent," Shelton said.

The superintendent has explained that each spring, schools receive an allocation that outlines the number of positions each school has earned based on projected student enrollment numbers.
School-based decision-making councils then determine how to staff each school, setting class sizes, schedules and course offerings.

A committee of principals, district leaders, and education association representatives has worked for the past several months to determine how the district can trim spending without affecting students.
The first task for that group was to look at the school council allocations, because under state law, the district has to make those changes by March 1.

The board does not have authority to determine changes in teacher-student ratios. District officials will share proposed formula changes with the board once the final decisions have been made, but determining the formulas is an administrative function that the board doesn't vote on.
more here:

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Fayette school officials address questions about proposed $20 million cut

This from the Herald-Leader:

Sharon Mofield-Boswell sent an email earlier this week to Fayette County Public Schools leaders expressing concern about the proposed $20 million cut to the 2014-15 budget.

"My concern is that these cuts will primarily impact our kids at the classroom and school based levels. Larger class sizes and fewer staff is a recipe for failure," Mofield-Boswell wrote to board members and upper administration. "I implore the board to consider an opportunity to hear student and parent voice before they pass a budget that all stakeholders have not seen or had a chance to review."

Mofield-Boswell is among the parents and school staff who are worried that the district is looking at cutting positions at schools. In addition, speculation has surfaced about the district possibly eliminating arts, band and orchestra or its gifted and talented programs.
District officials have tried to quash those concerns, saying they are unfounded.

FCPS Superintendent Tom Shelton
Still, school officials have been peppered with emails and messages on the district's Facebook page. Parents want more answers about the proposed cuts.

The concerns stem from the fact that the district has not publicly provided many details about proposed cuts.

Superintendent Tom Shelton has said that the district will have to trim $20 million from its 2014-15 budget, which is about 5 percent of the district's general fund spending, in order to present the school board with a balanced budget in May. He said that will happen without compromising student achievement.

On Tuesday, Amanda Ferguson, a school board member, walked out during a specially called board meeting about the district's budget and proposed staff position cuts. Ferguson said she walked out because she was frustrated and annoyed with Shelton's responses.

Earlier this week, Shelton told the Herald-Leader that district officials have not finished developing the recommended reductions. A tentative budget won't be presented to the board until May.
Some proposed cuts were given earlier this month to school administrators, but Shelton said those numbers are no longer accurate and continue to change.

The superintendent has said that everything is under consideration as the district looks to balance its budget. However, Shelton said in an email Wednesday to several community leaders that he was troubled by speculation that the district intends to eliminate band and orchestra or the arts.
"We stand firm in our commitment to have band and orchestra programs at every elementary, middle and high school in Fayette County," he wrote.

Shelton said district officials intend to continue band and orchestra as district-wide programs, meaning they cannot be changed at the school-level.

"We will continue to have band and orchestra at every school, but we may be able to do so with some savings in staffing that would not impact band and orchestra teachers with job rights," he said.
While those programs appear to be safe, Shelton said there is "no way to trim $20 million without affecting our employees."

Losing positions

Shelton said 89 percent of the total budget is devoted to staff salaries and benefits for the district's 5,815 employees. That cost is based on the number of employees, the number of hours and days worked, and the amount of pay earned. The district is looking at each of those variables in order to reduce the budget, he said.

Shelton said the district does not have a number for the positions that will be cut.

If the district could absorb all of the cuts at the Central Office level, Shelton said they would.
"But that is simply impossible," Shelton said.

Less than 10 percent of the total district operating budget is dedicated to district-wide services, which includes school buses and diesel fuel, bus drivers and monitors, utilities and maintenance. That also includes central administrative functions like payroll, accounts payable, human resources and support for teaching and learning, Shelton said.

The superintendent explained that each spring, schools receive an allocation that outlines the number of positions each school has earned based on projected student enrollment numbers. School-based decision making councils then determine how to staff each school, setting class sizes, schedules and course offerings.

A committee of principals, district leaders, and education association representatives has worked for the past several months to determine how the district can trim spending while not impacting students.
The first task for that group was to look at the school council allocations, because under state law the district has to make those determinations before March 1.

Shelton said the staffing change would likely increase the staff-to-student ratios by 1 student and change the way teacher aides are allocated. High schools also would get one librarian instead of two, said district spokeswoman Lisa Deffendall. And there is a recommendation to reduce the number of contract days for librarians. They currently are paid to work 20 days longer than the instructional school year; the proposal would take them to 10 additional days.

Although no changes have been decided in special education, Shelton said, district officials might look at the number of special education aides. They also could reduce staff who do not provide direct service to children, Deffendall said.

Shelton's email said district officials think they can absorb the staff reductions through normal voluntary attrition and "would not expect any reduction in force to occur." He said district officials don't expect to cut groups of employees who have been with the district long enough to earn tenure or job rights.

Sources of revenue

With the Herald-Leader, Shelton addressed two questions that repeatedly came up this week: How did the district get to the point where it needed to cut $20 million and how can the district discuss staff and program cuts and still find money to build a new high school.

In December, the board approved the purchase of land for Fayette County's sixth traditional public high school. The $75.8 million school is proposed for a 49-acre site at 1970 Winchester Road near Patchen Wilkes Drive.

Construction of the 1,800-student high school, which officials say is needed as a result of enrollment growth, could begin in July 2015 and would continue through June 2017.

Shelton said the district's money for staff and construction comes from "two completely separate funding sources that cannot be interchanged."

"In other words, we have dedicated funds for buildings and debt service that cannot be used for operating expenses," he said.

As for why the cuts are necessary, Shelton said that as national and state economies have struggled over the past several years, the school district has lost significant state and federal funding. When federal grants have been cut, the district has picked up the cost of those positions and programs.
While other school districts have had significant layoffs, he said the district raised employee salaries in order to recruit and retain talented staff members. The district is on solid financial ground, Shelton said, but expenses have continued to increase and spending is outpacing revenue.

Shelton confirmed for the Herald-Leader that in 2009-10, the fund balance or reserves in the general fund was $56.72 million; the fund balance is $36.5 million this school year.

Maintaining a healthy fund balance is how the district has escaped cuts in the past and officials knowingly dipped in the reserves in order to maintain innovative programs, Deffendall said.

Meanwhile, district officials have told the board that there are other issues that could affect the 2014-15 budget, including whether state lawmakers restore funding cuts to education.

Additionally, Shelton said he will ask the board in August to approve tax rates on real and personal property that will generate a 4 percent increase in revenue. District officials will have to wait until late July or early August to receive the total property valuation for Fayette County and determine what the actual rate change would be, Deffendall said.

The district's budget would be built on a 4 percent increase in revenue in order to cover increasing costs of energy, utilities, and employee benefits. The revenue will not be directly allocated to cover construction, but taking a 4 percent increase will positively impact the district's ability to bond projects, such as the new high school and the new elementary schools.

Whatever decisions are made in the coming months, Shelton said students will be at the forefront.
"In the Fayette County Public Schools we believe in educating the whole child, which means we embrace the importance of art, world language and music in a full and rich curriculum," Shelton said in his email. "We will not sacrifice those priorities for our children or our community."

Read more here:

Friday, February 21, 2014

Louisiana judge again rules Jindal teacher tenure law unconstitutional

This from the Times Picayune:
Parts of Gov. Bobby Jindal's controversial teacher tenure law passed in 2012 are unconstitutional, a Monroe judge ruled Friday (Feb. 21). Fourth Judicial District Judge Benjamin Jones upheld a decision he made in August that said the law violates the constitutional rights of teachers facing dismissal.
"It is clear that (the law) does not provide for a full and fair or 'elaborate' post-termination due process hearing before a credible, objective, independent, hearing body," according to Judge Jones' ruling in the case of the Monroe City School Board vs. DeAnne Williams.
Jindal said in a statement late Friday the ruling would be appealed, adding, "it is important to note that this opinion only impacts the tenure review process. It does not impact the rest of (the law)."

In the original lawsuit, Williams said she received notice she was facing possible dismissal. The notice said Williams could be fired without a hearing, and after she would be able to appeal this decision to a three-person panel. Two members of the panel would be chosen by the school superintendent and principal, who likely recommended her dismissal.
This fire/appeal process was the result of changes included in the 2012 law, known as Act 1.
"(Act 1) gives the superintendent the opportunity to influence selection of two of the panel members," read Jones' ruling. "That's just not a fair procedure."
Jones was forced to re-visit his August decision, after the state Supreme Court vacated it in January, saying state Attorney General Buddy Caldwell didn't have the opportunity to properly participate in the case.
Jones' ruling is the latest blow against Act 1, which deals with school control and teacher tenure, pay for performance and evaluation and amended multiple laws pertaining to superintendent and school board duties, layoffs, contracts, teacher salaries, teacher hiring/firing and tenure.
In an unrelated case, Judge R. Michael Caldwell of the 19th Judicial District in Baton Rouge has also twice ruled aspects of the law unconstitutional.
His initial ruling, made in late 2012, said the law was unconstitutional because it violated the Constitution's "single object" clause that bars bundling too many disparate issues in one piece of legislation. The state Supreme Court vacated his ruling, sending it back because there was new case law.
Like Jones, Caldwell upheld his original ruling in January, siding again with the teachers union that filed the lawsuit against the state. The state quickly appealed Caldwell's ruling back to the Supreme Court.

Debbie Meaux, president of the Louisiana Association of Teachers, said her organization would continue to support their member Williams as the case goes through the appeal process.
"LAE is happy that Judge Jones has examined the law and upheld the rights of a teacher to a 'full and fair due process hearing,'" Meaux said. "We will stand up for and defend our member" going forward.

Scott Richard, executive director of the Louisiana School Board Association, said he was satisfied with Jones' ruling: "The flaws in the law actually impairs the ability of school boards to operate efficiently regarding dismissals."
"Unfortunately, dollars that should flow to classrooms continue to be redirected to expenses associated with litigation as the courts continue to declare parts or all of Act 1 unconstitutional."
The LSBA is not directly involved in either of the Act 1 court cases, but won an earlier case in which the Supreme Court ruled unconstitutional the funding mechanism for Act 2, which expanded the New Orleans school vouchers statewide.
Jindal said the administration would continue to work with all interested parties "to make sure that the law lives up to its intent, such as ensuring due process before the superintendent makes a decision and that the review of the superintendent's decision is fair and timely."