Saturday, July 24, 2010
I read an American Thinker posting today and realized poor spending decisions are being made by school boards across the nation, not just here in Missouri. We blogged a couple of days ago about the two bond proposals the Kirkwood School District will place before voters in November and you can find here:
The basic arguments against these proposals are: we don't need them (especially in a time of a severe recession and high unemployment) and the Board should have exercised its duty to protect the financial health of the district, not bow to special interests. If you watched the video with the original blog, you probably will have noted the members believed these proposals will provide educational importance.
Let's read what's happening in the LA school system:
This school district looks like the Kirkwood School District on steroids. Three newly constructed schools are facing cost overruns for a total cost of $578,000,000.00. For three schools with a population of just less than Kirkwood District, it is no wonder citizens may not be pleased with the fiduciary decisions of this Board.
The Kirkwood School District does not have the same problems as the LA district, which has a high poverty rate and high teacher turnover. The question germane to both districts is "what is the wise use of taxpayer funds"? The argument raised by the author is the money in LA should be spent on teachers:
"So what is most important in the education of our children? The LA times writes: ...a building doesn't drive academic progress. New campuses are sprouting like weeds in parts of Los Angeles where student test scores are still stuck in the mud. It's no secret that the most important factor in student success is an excellent teacher."
Even the LA Times doesn't buy the argument students need the finest physical environment for optimum learning. The author continues:
"And talk to the kids who beat the odds, who rise from tough circumstances and head to college. They won't thank the skylights or the curving stair walls or the pricey garage. They'll tell you about the teachers who turned them on to poetry, demystified geometry, made history come alive."
I agree. In Kirkwood District's case, the students won't care about an aquatic center, astroturfed sports fields, or the fact they may not have attended kindergarten at their home elementary school. They will thank their teachers, who, according to our district, are some of the finest in the area. They are highly paid, as they received 4.5% raises each year over the last two years in this recession. I expect the district will ask for a higher operating levy to raise their salaries again this year. Combine that with the need to also raise taxes to pay for the maintenance and staffing for the new additions, and we'll be in a financial nightmare. This is occurring in the era of approximately 10% unemployment, with financial experts believing the real unemployment numbers are closer to 17%.
Don't spend of millions of taxpayer dollars that will not impact the test scores of our students. We don't need to be a miniature version of the LA school debacle. Watch your own district to be sure it doesn't follow LA's lead. Steer your district away from the drinking parties and tell them to sober up.
Friday, July 23, 2010
I am dedicating this song to the Department of Education and Arne Duncan: "I hear you knocking, but you can't come in...I hear you knocking, go back where you've been...."
If you have been following the postings on this site, you are aware we are not in favor of common core standards. We are opposed not so much to the idea of standards, we are opposed to national standards. You may ask, why would we be opposed to the Federal government controlling every aspect of our schools?
If we study the facts, when a governmental agency becomes too large, it becomes ineffective. We read about the inefficiencies, corruption, lack of attention, and accountability in the VA Hospital services, Fannie and Freddie, Social Security, just to name a few agencies not known for their wise use of taxpayer money. Cash for Clunkers was a failure and the stimulus funding has been a waste of a tremendous amount of taxpayer money. Perhaps it has helped the government sector in terms of jobs, but the private sector continues to languish.
Let's look at what's been happening in the educational realm. The Federal government has tremendously increased its educational spending over the last 40 years. Here is a previous Missouri Education Watchdog posting with the numbers and graphs illustrating the enormous amount of money we (the taxpayers) have spent on education:
What have we received for these millions and millions and millions of dollars? Apparently not a whole lot as it relates to student achievement. Student scores on the SAT/ACT have been flat for forty years. Does anyone else think something is not working by throwing money at the problem? Does anyone else think this money and control being asked for is not really for the children, but for bureaucrats and unions?
By passing these common core standards in Missouri, the State Board of Education apparently thinks the Federal Government has some great ideas for our kids to succeed. Passing the common core standards is necessary for states to be eligible for Race to the Top funding. What are some of those ideas in Race to the Top?
- Instituting a longitudinal data system in every state, partially funded, that will share your student's academic and personal (family, emotional/physical health data)information with agencies (is anyone else concerned about family relationships and health information...physical and mental...being available to bureaucrats?);
- The redistribution of highly effective teachers and principals, meaning teachers will be reassigned to "poor performing" schools and those teachers not deemed to be highly effective will be transferred to higher scoring schools. Why live in a district with a good, solid reputation? Several of the teachers working in your district may be substandard, but, that's redistribution of wealth of talent, a stated goal of this program. If your state receives Race to the Top funding, it MUST follow this mandate.
- Relinquishing the control of district curriculum. If the national standards teach 2 + 2 =5 or the earth is flat, and you don't agree, too bad. The curriculum has been dictated by a board made up educators/professionals of several states, and you, as a parent and taxpayer, have no voice. Envision Pandora's box opening when sex educational standards are set, or history books undergo politically correct revisions.
Neal McCluskey of Cato raises some important points in this debate and the delusion of some state educators on what common core standards represent and how they will operate:
I agree with McCluskey, the states will NOT be in the driver's seat to make decisions. Educators go to college and receive degrees to become an educator. I also have a college degree. Why do I understand (and they don't) that Missouri will not be able to set its own standards if it doesn't agree with some of the national standards? Maybe it's because I've read the proposals which are very specific stating if states do not meet the requirements MANDATED by the Federal Government, the funding will be pulled....and it all falls down like a deck of cards. We will be left with a huge debt and huge mess. Even if we do follow the mandates, we are still left with debt...the state must find $150 Million to enact these mandates. As we need to cut $1 Billion from the state budget next year, does anyone want to guess where these unfunded mandates are to be found?
This is such a shell game...the Feds say, "We'll give you money"! The governors and state school boards say "yes"! They send us a check and we then have to pay more for the money the government just gave us. Is your head spinning yet? Oh, but wait! For that money, we also sign over our control to set standards; AND we are mandated from a centralized agency, so the money for which we've given up our state sovereignty can be pulled if Missouri doesn't fulfill the federal obligations to the Federal Government! Oh, one more "minor" detail, the states were given the authority by the Constitution to educate its citizens, not the Federal Government. But why pay attention to the Constitution? That document seems to be a bit inconvenient and inconsequential in crafting legislation today in Washington, DC.
Honestly, what has happened with people and state agencies wanting and pleading to give up their authority? I know I sound like a broken record...but it's OUR money and OUR kids!
This is what occurs when our officials sell the state's claim to sovereignty and take money to become more controlled by a centralized government. The total takeover of the schools is knocking on the doors of Missouri, and our State Board, Education Commissioner and governor are inviting them in....for control, more debt, and proven incompetence of the Department of Education.
Thursday, July 22, 2010
Many thanks to the American Thinker. Enjoy.
Tuesday, July 20, 2010
I attended a spirited Kirkwood School Board meeting Monday night, July 19. The school board was to decide on whether to place two bond proposals before the voters. The public was invited before the meeting began to make comments. The room was full, extra chairs were brought in, and citizens talked about their concerns and/or opinions about the proposals. Ten people spoke in opposition to both proposals, two people were in favor of these proposals, and one taxpayer was in support of one, but not the other.
You can access the bond language here:
One is a $33 Million bond for school additions and improvements, the other is for a $15 Million bond for an aquatic center and other athletic improvements. Note the language explaining the bond proposals: "The two ballot proposals address facility issues and are a response to the following immediate needs of the district's long-range facilities plan". What is so immediate about enormous expansions at elementary schools and a swimming pool for a district that projects a flat enrollment over the next few years?
Many taxpayers may think supporting this bond issue is a good idea as they might agree with the all day kindergarten concept. Kirkwood presently has room for 1/2 day kindergartners, but there is not adequate room for full day enrollment for all students. What these same taxpayers may not realize is this proposal is not just for constructing new kindergarten rooms. The first bond proposal expands ALL classroom grades and gymnasiums. Upon visual review of the proposed master plan drawing, three elementary schools appear to almost double in size. However, the population of school children in the Kirkwood School District is not increasing. (It has stayed at a 5,000 enrollment level for the last decade). Why do we need these large schools for an area that is landlocked and thoroughly developed?
We will be writing about the district over the next several months, asking questions about the proposals themselves and the bond language used. What is NOT in the language of the proposals is as important as what IS contained in the proposals. Today, however, I want to focus on the nature, responsibility and conduct of the Kirkwood School District Board.
What IS the function of a school board? The language from the district's site states: "As elected representatives of the citizens of the Kirkwood School District, the seven-member Board of Education serves as the governing body for the community's public school system. The school board sets district policies, selects the superintendent of schools, adopts the annual budget, and determines the tax rate". The board is in charge, as the governing body for the schools, to approve ballot language for bond proposals.
Why would some taxpayers raise objections with these current bond proposals set forth by the Kirkwood School Board? We can't afford them (this District has experienced doubled tax revenues and spending the last 10 years), and they are luxuries, not needs (the half day kindergarten requirement mandated by the state is currently being met and the swim team practices at the nearby junior college). After listening to the Board give its reasons to support these proposals, I believe in this instance, it did not made a sound business and educational decision.
The majority of the taxpayers who appeared to make comments were against both proposals. After public comment, the Board made its decision. The superintendent had a prepared speech, he thanked everyone for their comments, and informed us the Board was approving both proposals to be placed on the ballot. We were thanked for our opinions, emails, phone calls, etc., but the message was apparent: the decision to approval the proposals was predetermined. This was our only public venue to voice our opinion, and while we were welcomed, our words were inconsequential to the outcome.
You can access the video below of the members' statements and separate videos may be posted at a later date of citizens' remarks. (An aside, a video such as this will be the only accurate record of your participation in a Kirkwood school board meeting. While your name will be listed as making a comment in the minutes, the content of your remarks , whether pro or con on an issue, are not documented. Citizen comments are not documented as they are not part of the public record. The meeting has not been officially called to order, so it is not legally necessary to record what citizens say).
Reviewing what the members said about their decision raises some interesting thoughts and questions. One member stated that "significant people in the community have been asking" the Board to bring this to a vote. According to the members, there has been continuous work on the facilities plan over many, many years. According to the members, this has been an ongoing process and it would appear intense pressure has been placed on this board for all day kindergarten and a swimming pool.
One member stated, "We are responding to the needs of our kids and wants of some taxpayers...we all share the same financial concerns you have...we are not robber barons out there spending money we don't have or try to be irresponsible...we really try hard". I would like to point out some troubling facts on spending money we don't have: the district is currently deficit spending from the operating fund, of which 80% supports teacher salaries and benefits. Next comes the question of responsible governance: supporting and allowing a vote on a huge expansion in a recession with a stagnant pupil population; does that seem like a sound business decision?
One member stated that he "struggled to support Proposal 2". He believes the "timing is difficult" and the question arises, "why now"? He believes there are benefits from all day kindergarten, and the low financing we can receive today would mean it would be cheaper for present day construction. He supports these proposals because they are "long term benefits" in "short term" economic pains. He makes good points that construction would be cheaper in today's market; however, if we are dipping deeper into our reserves (which we are) to meet budget, why is the Board presenting proposals to the voters which will keep them in debt? How does this school member know we are in a short term poor economic situation? Viewing the latest economic reports, it seems the US will not emerge from this recession for several more years. Our national debt is now in the trillions and we will find it difficult in the years to come to settle THIS debt, much less another local debt.
I would also like to see the reports the district uses regarding the definitive benefits to all day kindergarten. Again, look on the Internet. You will find reports on the pros and cons of each viewpoint. Each side can make good arguments. But even, as stated above, if a taxpayer believes all day kindergarten is desirable, Bond Proposal 1 goes far beyond constructing new kindergarten space.
I understand groups placing pressure on boards for their wishes and desires. I realize certain groups hold sway because of financial support they provide the district. However, the Board should remember its fiduciary responsibility for all Kirkwood taxpayers. This "group" the board kept referring to apparently kept asking for improvements and additions. One member stated that "this proposal that's coming before us tonight didn't originate with the School Board. The proposal originated with a group of community members and parents and school district leadership. This district has a long-term facility plan; this Board is responsible to update and try to fund...the pool has never been on the ballot...it is time to decide." The Board wants to put it to rest, "thumbs up, thumbs down" once and for all.
Does the Board represent a certain group or does it represent what is in the best interest of ALL the citizens? I appreciate the political process and a group wanting to place an issue on the ballot. However, in this economic turmoil and no student growth, these issues should never have been brought to the voters. Who is this "group" the Board keeps referring to in its statements?
The Board wants us to believe it is protecting democratic process by letting the voters decide this issue once and for all. Could the exasperation the members demonstrated be designed to lead us to believe they are being fair? I am certain the members are exasperated. But that is not the issue at hand. The board is washing its hands of the decision making process it is charged to perform as a governmental body. It is financially irresponsible for this board to place these proposals on the ballot at this time. What has not been said by the Board is...when big money is behind a ballot initiative, it is difficult to defeat. The taxpayers AT LARGE depend on their elected officials to make reasoned and sound decisions, NOT decisions made to appease those who have become impatient because long term wants (not needs) have not become realities.
The Kirkwood School board members should be reformers, NOT facilitators. We are facing turbulent times in uncharted waters and we need reformers who will protect the interest of ALL taxpayers, instead of facilitating the wishes for a certain segment of the population.
Monday, July 19, 2010
This article was sent to me this morning:
While it is factual, it doesn't tell you "the rest of the story". It tells you the basics but you need to go to the source to understand exactly what is transpiring between DC and the states. And where can you find the source? Of course! At the MO DESE website! I found this link Friday:
This is an approximately 40 minute conference call between several reporters and the following government officials:
- Arne Duncan, Education Secretary
- Melody Barnes, White House Director of the Domestic Policy Council
- Christina Romer, White House Chair of the Council of Economic Advisers
- Eric Smith, Commissioner of Education (FL)
- Chris Nicastro, Commissioner of Education (MO)
The call was orchestrated by the Department of Education so it could explain to the various reporters why even more millions of federal dollars are necessary to save teaching jobs. The department is hoping the reporters will jump on the funding bandwagon and report to readers why we just have to have more money and more reform. The common theme of the officials is jobs, jobs, jobs (teacher union jobs) and reform, reform, reform (the Federal version of reform).
The recession is an inconvenient truth. It doesn't make any difference to these officials. They want their vision to come to fruition, and it is immaterial the economy cannot financially support these mandates.
Over the next few days, we'll chronicle the conference call, document the double talk, the incorrect facts, and the inability of these officials to grapple with the realization we are out of money to reach the federal government's goals.
Take time to listen to the call and we'll talk more tomorrow. I'll leave you with a snippet from Christina Romer at the 6:30 mark: "the headwinds we face to a robust recovery, one of the biggest is the dire situation of the state budgets". But, she adds at around the 8:00 mark: the government has "made incredible progress on the economy from losing more than 750,000 jobs a month to consistently adding jobs; added 600,000 to the private sector since the start of the year. We all realize we have a long way to go. We all realize we're still 7.5 million jobs down since the start of the recession. Anything we can do to help accelerate the rate of growth and job creation is going to be very helpful and our estimates are that the money that is given to state governments for things like keeping teachers employed is some of the most effective spending(?) for the overall recovery and that is why this is a very sensible policy."
That's the gist of Romer's argument. Spend money to subsidize state education budgets. Where in the world is that money coming from? And what is the ultimate cost down the road?
Check back as we analyze this interesting conference call. It's clear what the ultimate goal is in this discussion. You just have to listen.