School has begun, I have celebrated my becoming Biblical (three score and ten), and my virtual walk across the United States has ended at the Brooklyn Bridge (actually Canyon Glen Park in Provo Canyon, where I first met Mr. Wonderful on my birthday eighteen years ago). I began keeping track on paper the day I retired, and three years, three months and three thousand miles later, I made it!
I kind of gave myself permission to relax during the summer, but I need to review a couple of things that happened to keep you up to speed. As usual, I have put information in sub-heads so you can skim to what interests you, and I have summarized greatly. If you want more information on any of the items, shoot me an email and I will answer any questions (or direct you to a source, like Wendy Hart, who blogs much more extensively).
UTAH STATE CORE (COMMON CORE STATE STANDARDS)
By any other name, it smells (sorry, Will, I know I co-opted your “rose” quote and turned it on its head). I have discussed the issue in several items below (Budget, Legislators, Training) so be patient with me, but I am alarmed at our headlong rush into giving up our Utah State constitutional mandate to provide general control and supervision of public education and passing this off to a centralized control. You have elected me to represent you on educational policy, and that responsibility weighs on me. It is my job to sort out the issues, take a principle-based stand, speak out for the values I promised you, and report back. So here you go.
The bottom line is this is a moral issue, transferring our basic state responsibility for education to a national consortium, empowered to establish a one-size-fits-all agenda. No education issue can be neutral, all have some bias, from text books to assessment to the standards themselves—we ought to determine the bias we prefer, based on the principles we hold dear, and work determinedly to establish that voice.
The devil, of course, is in the details, and there are many bright red warning signs (see the page “Common Core” on the right sidebar). But for every alarm, there is a rebuttal, and I have a mental picture of Princes Leia wearing a white dress in Star Wars, walking through a slime pit working to not get dirty. I give credit to Lucas for his symbolism, but what the heck is Utah doing trying to dodge a socialist agenda and sift out the virtues of a national program developed for 90% of the United States? I see no checks and balances, no automatic feed-back, just assurances that Utah has a voice, that we can control this behemoth, that it isn’t all that bad. Rick Perry says Texas knows what’s best for Texans—so how come Utah, bursting with talented people with high standards and strong moral principles, has to rely on a national consortium with assessment funded by the Federal government and money flowing from Bill Gates? Americans have always distrusted centralized power, so what’s wrong with this picture?
A major item passed at the June meeting was the $400 million budget. We do have an amazing track record with fiscal responsibility—Jordan
teachers did not get full “step and lane”* last year and may not this year. Davis raised the property taxes for the second year in a row, $60 in 2010 and at least the same this year, and the newspaper says Granite is also raising taxes. We can be pleased that Alpine is solvent and able to meet its responsibilities, and for the current model does an amazing job. There can be discussion on altering the model, but for here and now, the numbers work.
However, the issue of Common Core was a flash point, as the Tentative 2011 Budget presented last year did not include Common Core, and the final budget presented this year had $860,000 for implementing CCSS—without a word about the addition, without discussion, and amazingly it was not passed until two days after teachers were already attending training classes for which they would be paid!
Wendy Hart asked for time to examine the issue, and proposed this amendment:
I move to amend the budget to hold in
abeyance the almost one million dollars earmarked for implementing the Common
Core State Standards until the Board can study our accepting the transferring
of local control and our sovereign State right and responsibility for the
education of our youth to a national consortia with no apparent mechanism for
input or modification to reflect our unique Utah County standards and values.
The amendment failed 5-2, Hart and Hill voting in favor. The actual budget was passed 5-1, Hart voting no, with Hill abstaining, and please let me explain my stand. I am doggedly against this move (see above) and raise my voice in opposition and warning. I also recognize we have an otherwise well-developed budget and I could not vote against it, but neither could I support it with the inclusion of the Common Core item without Board discussion and vote. Thus the abstention, which also gave me a public platform to state my case—again).
The opinions of the board members at the budget hearing has been the only public discussion, but it did bring enough attention to put the issue on the agenda for the annual all-day Board session for reviewing current policy (see “Board Retreat” below)
* step and lane is the automatic pay increases for teachers based on years—“step”—and class credits earned—“lane”; regardless of your opinion on this pay structure, it is what we have in place, teachers count on it, and we have the solvency to fund the formula.
The Board has voted to put the bond on the November ballot, asking the public for $210 million, about half for growth (a second Lehi high school, an Eagle Mt. middle school, and four new elementary schools, location undetermined but assuredly for District 1 (Lehi, Eagle Mt.,
Saratoga Springs), and half for maintenance (includes Lehi Jr. parking and drop-off). Lehi High School is not on the bond, but be assured that this grand old building will be kept up to par from the capital budget to accommodate the estimated numbers it will experience before the new school is built. The current list, on the ASD web site, does not include costs, as they fluctuate with building costs, etc. We are committing to projects, not dollars.
There will be a series of information meetings held, and I will post them as soon as I get the assignments. The first meeting will be at the Saratoga Springs Kiwanis Club on September 14, featuring yours truly and Supt. Henshaw.
There is some discussion as to the wisdom of bonding, with a push for pay-as-you-go. I am absolutely in that camp, and I expect everyone agrees, but how to get there is up for debate. ASD is currently attacking debt aggressively, with the total indebtedness at the END of the bon (the borrowing is layered in as needed) almost $100 million less than the total in 2008 ($384 million according the Utah Taxpayer’s Association). We have the lowest per pupil funding, and still manage to keep the student-to-administrative cost the lowest in the state, about 7% (some districts are 75%, and not just the small districts!)
While I would like to see a definite plan for solvency articulated more clearly, I support the bond. UDOT just had to bond to finish road projects in Utah County, even after the economy tanked, after our tax payers have paid for the other road throughout the state. They kept their word.
Eagle Mt/Sar Spr CITY MEETINGS
I was delighted that Eagle Mountain has begun regular meetings with ASD leadership, with the first meeting in June and another scheduled for September. Saratoga Springs had their first meeting with the Board in August and will schedule regular meetings. Early in my tenure I saw that Orem City meets regularly, and Lehi City meets as needed, and I encouraged our west-side cities to follow that informal format. Discussions are casual and kind of go all over the place, but it facilitates communication and understanding, and makes my job easier as liaison between the schools and the communities I represent. I appreciated watching Mayor Wilson of Lehi work with the district as I learned my job and urged our other cities to follow his lead.
HEADS UP, LEGISLATORS!
Back to CCSS—making every effort! I attended Jason Chaffetz’s town hall meeting in Saratoga Springs, and raised the question of Common Core from the floor. Chaffetz didn’t really grab hold of it, but I had a chance to point out that Rob Bishop was adamantly against the program, and knew he was as good a legislative representative for our district.
Lt. Gov. Bell and Education Sec. Chris Curl met with the Board and representatives of teachers, employees and legislators in a kind of get-to-know-the-districts session, and he pointed out the vast differences between the needs of say Beaver District and Alpine. I didn’t stand up and shout, “Then why are we all supposed to be ‘COMMON?’ ” It wasn’t the format, but it seemed he was making my argument.
But I did present the problem at a Legislative District 56 meeting at Representative Ken Sumsion’s home, with Senator Mark Madsen also in attendance. The issue is definitely on the radar, and frankly legislation would be the chance to stop Common Core, but it would be a tough fight. “This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine … “
We started with Sid Dixon from USOE explaining the Common Core, with questions afterward and Wendy Hart and I took full advantage. There was an answer for each problem we raised, but they were not answers that satisfied me. I finally closed with the fact that no matter
the program, I had philosophical differences and could never agree, and she respected that. John Dougal, legislative representative, was the only “public” at the meeting. We discussed board policies and procedures, and it’s a good schedule to have in place (we also meet in January for another full day session). It did highlight some differences among board members, which was good, as vigorous debate is good for any issue. Rob Smith says a disagreement is a chance to hear another point of view, and I try to listen and understand as well as speak up and stir up.
The month began with a three day administrative conference, with a 5K walk/run the first morning where I walked and a teeny-bit ran, just so I wouldn’t be last in. On my virtual walk across the United States, it was the day I finally arrived in New York, with only 59 miles to go to get to the Brooklyn Bridge by my birthday on the 29th. I was pretty excited, and then went on to the activity I chose, bowling, where I scored a 162! Feeling good!!
Teachers enjoyed a celebration at UVU on the 19th, with bands and cheer leaders and video clips to charge-up the teachers, who no doubt wanted to be in their classrooms working on bulletin boards, but had a good time to kick-off the new year.
As if I didn’t have enough Board meetings, I met with a conservative group opposed to Common Core, which gave me additional information and the comfort of numbers. I also met with a group investigating alternative educational ideas, giving me some interesting data. I like to listen to all input, and find some of the ideas off the beaten track have merit and should be considered. One of the failures of leadership is surrounding yourself only with like-minded supporters, so I try to absorb a wide variety of ideas. I welcome innovation in all forms, and some of these thoughts may re-surface in future discussions.
I attended the Utah School Board Association pre-delegate meetings, where members discussed priority issues to work for in the 2012 legislative session. USBA includes a strong emphasis on lobbying, and working for educational funds and prioritizing efforts is legitimate. Educating our legislators is uber-important, to help them in their roles as law-makers, as they need information to make well-informed decisions. Some of the legislation out there is quite bizarre when put in context, so it’s up to educators to make sure our representatives have the Big Picture.
My regular meetings include discussions with the superintendent, the board president (John Burton, vice president, has been standing in for Debbie Taylor, who has illness in her family), and one other member on a rotating schedule, with meetings held in various schools. Summer has had one board meeting a month, and often quite short, but we are into the full swing now of two a month. September board meetings will be the 13th and 27th.
I have recently attended legislative and curriculum meetings and am scheduled for building and grounds and bond meetings—lots of these! I also am on the MATC Board of Trustees, the technical college, meeting every other month (they have a culinary arts department that serves the
best food). It sounds busy, and it is, but I am on committees where my interests lie, and it is at least as interesting as it can be frustrating. Of course Mr. Wonderful is still my chauffeur (when he doesn’t have a tee time), reading his dozen books in lobbies and front offices everywhere I go, and that makes it very pleasant.
Rodney and I are charter members of the Saratoga Springs Kiwanis Club, a service organization that emphasizes education (they sponsor the high school Key Club and are heavily involved in creating a city library).
Sooo … the benefit is Saturday, September 10 at Westlake High, featuring the Joshua Creek Band, $20/family, $8/individual, $6/senior and student.
I have tickets—please! (801-358-2228)
FROM WENDY HART’S BLOG:
Also, on another subject, Common Core, which is rolling, full steam into Utah: http://www.cato-at-liberty.org/want-an-amateur-doing-your-splenectomy/ There is a lack of ‘hard core’ science and math in the science curriculum. Supposedly, Utah will not adopt the science standards, but that’s the decision for right now. I don’t have a lot of hope that with all the monetary incentives, we will hold the line. At the very least, we need to be prepared to prohibit further implementations of Common Core. From the article: “This is one of the utterly obvious problems with homogenizing educational standards at the national level: get them wrong, and you ruin education from sea to shining sea.” (wendy4asd.blogspot.com)