Articles from August, 2004

Three finalists named for inaugural CUBE award

Boston Public Schools, Chula Vista (Calif.) Elementary School District, and Norfolk (Va.) Public Schools are the three finalists for the first ever Urban School Board Excellence Award from NSBA’s Council of Urban Boards of Education (CUBE). Read NSBA’s press statement about the award here. FAQs on the award here.

The award recognizes an urban school district that best demonstrates excellence in four core areas: board governance, closing the achievement gap, academic achievement and community engagement. The winning district will be announced Sept. 17 and will receive a $5,000 contribution to their student scholarship fund. The award will be presented in October at the CUBE Annual Conference in San Antonio. The award is sponsored by McGraw-Hill Education.

“Effective school board leadership is critical to raising student achievement, narrowing the achievement gap and bringing the community together in support of urban public schools,” said Katrina Kelley, director of CUBE.

Find out more about the Boston school board here and here. Also, meet the Chula Vista school board here. And check out the excellent information on the Norfolk school district’s website here and meet its school board.

Erin Walsh|August 31st, 2004|Categories: Governance, NSBA Opinions and Analysis|

School board bills feds for unfunded IDEA costs

No, you didn’t read that headline wrong. And no, it isn’t a joke. As BoardBuzz readers know, Congress committed 28 years ago to pay 40 percent of the costs of special education mandated under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). Today, its contribution is approaching… 20 percent.

Underfunded local school districts consequently end up in role of financial gatekeeper when trying to satisfy parents of students with disabilities, who understandably want the best for their children. The dissatisfied parents, armed with legal rights under IDEA, frequently bring lawsuits, driving costs up even higher. Check out this article from the Christian Science Monitor. Meanwhile, Congress makes some noise, whichever party is out of power at the time accuses the other of shortchanging 6.5 million children, and IDEA funding is increased here and there. But the one constant is that Congress never comes close to fulfilling its commitment.

So the Barrington (N.H.) School Board recently sent a bill to the U.S. Department of Education for $2 million for “services rendered.” The board also sent a sharp letter to its two U.S. senators about Congress’ decades long failure to fully fund special education. From NSBA’s Legal Clips, here’s a summary of a news article in Foster’s Daily Democrat, along with links to both the billing statement and the letter. The gutsy move also generated TV coverage.

Barrington Superintendent Michael Morgan tells BoardBuzz that the board took the same step two years ago. They never received a response from the department… let alone the money. And they don’t expect a response this year, either, although their elected officials are responding with the usual lame lines about “We’ve increased funding by _____.” As we will continue to point out, these increases are welcome, necessary, and commendable, but the convenient rhetoric completely misses the point about the remaining unfunded gap.

“Year after year, after year, local taxpayers are forced to compensate for the inadequacies of Congressional funding,” the school board wrote. “Year after year, politicians make promises and still do not properly fund these mandated services.” Clearly this is one school board and one superintendent who fully understand that Congress is not being “frugal” when it fails live up to its own funding commitments for its own education mandates. It is not being “fiscally conservative.” And it’s not “looking out for taxpayers.” Quite the contrary. It’s just passing along the Federal Education Tax to the local level.

The Senate recently failed to make federal funding of IDEA mandatory. And we’ll have to see whether Congress even shows any inclination to at least get the job done on reauthorizing IDEA and fixing some of the very problems that drive up local costs in the first place.

Barrington’s unique way of registering local dissatisfaction with Congressional failure strikes us as in the best cantankerous New England (especially New Hampshire) tradition. BoardBuzz thinks it’s an IDEA worth spreading to other communities.

A lot of other communities.

Erin Walsh|August 31st, 2004|Categories: Governance, NSBA Opinions and Analysis|

School construction boom update: How much debt is too much?

From the weekly Extra blog published by American School Board Journal: Borrowing to pay for school construction is contributing to big debt stress for local governments. One good example is in Cabarrus County, N.C., which has a $98 million school bond referendum on the November ballot. Add in a $57 million jail, which county commissioners voted in June to build, and the county’s debt level goes to 23 percent of its operating budget by 2007, County Manager John Day told the Charlotte Observer. By 2012, that debt could reach 30 percent. High debt loads can lead to lowered bond ratings, which can result in higher taxes or reduced services. Nearby Union County is facing a debt level of 26 percent in a few years, the newspaper reports. Cabarrus is aiming at one short-term solution to avoid a massive tax increase: an increase in the $1,008 per lot fee it charges developers for new homes to pay for school construction.

Erin Walsh|August 30th, 2004|Categories: Governance, NSBA Opinions and Analysis|

Hurricane Charley aftermath update: How much insurance does your school district have?

The national news media have long forgotten about Hurricane Charley. But its aftermath lingers painfully for the Charlotte County, Fla. school board. Last week, BoardBuzz linked to coverage of the extraordinary challenges facing the board as it seeks to get a school district up and running following multi-million dollar devastation. Seven area schools are closed, and the school districts’ double-shift scheduling arrangement has parents worried about long school days for their families.

Truckloads of donated supplies are arriving regularly at the school district administration building. School districts from as far away as New York and New Hampshire have offered to “adopt” the Charlotte County school district, as has neighboring Manatee County Schools, providing needed supplies and support. “School construction experts said this week that even under the best-case scenario it will probably be three or four years before all of Charlotte County’s schools are up and running again,” reports the Sarasota Herald Tribune. “The district’s insurance coverage is expected to fall tens of millions of dollars short of what’s needed to rebuild the eight schools damaged or destroyed by Hurricane Charley.” Nearby schooll districts are facing similarly unpleasant realizations. Also, here is a useful piece from Susan Black in American School Board Journal focusing on how schools cope in the aftermath of natural disasters, such 1992’s Hurricane Andrew.

Erin Walsh|August 30th, 2004|Categories: Governance, NSBA Opinions and Analysis|

Ridiculous File returns with The Color Purple

Back by popular demand is the BoardBuzz Ridiculous File, which comments on education news and views we deem absurd. Maybe it’s because we live and work in the nation’s capital, but our well-tuned political ears saw the jokes spawned by this story coming from a mile away. It seems as though some teachers have been trending away from using red pens to mark up students’ papers, opting instead for the “friendlier” color purple. “If you see a whole paper of red, it looks pretty frightening,” one middle school teacher told the Boston Globe. “Purple stands out, but it doesn’t look as scary as red.”

Scary? Grammatical corrections are scary if they are in red? Not only does this sound ridiculous to BoardBuzz, but it is precisely the kind of mealy-mouthed bunk that drives some parents and educators mad. Teachers should be free to use whatever pens they want, but this kind of statement plays right into the hands of public school critics who say our schools are too focused on making kids “feel good” instead of educating them. Sure enough, major league blogger and syndicated columnist Michelle Malkin wasted no time doing just that. Okay, okay, we know it is every bit as ridiculous to try to turn this item into a sweeping indictment of public education, as if school boards were mandating this nonsense.

Fortunately, not all educators are buying into the alleged trend. California high school teacher Carol Jago, a 30-year veteran, told the Globe her students are not psychologically scarred by red pen marks on their papers. “We need to be honest and forthright with students. Red is honest, direct, and to the point. I’m sending the message, ‘I care about you enough to care how you present yourself to the outside world.'” Good for her.

Okay, you know the drill. Your comments are welcome. Is this not a ridiculous trend? You tell us by clicking here.

Erin Walsh|August 27th, 2004|Categories: Governance, NSBA Opinions and Analysis|

Innovations in student discipline

Today BoardBuzz relates a recent e-mail discussion among members of the NSBA Council of School Attorneys about student discipline techniques. Karen A. Haase of Harding, Shultz & Downs in Lincoln, Neb., asked for reactions to a client school district’s idea of equipping all of its school administrators with pepper spray. Evidently the superintendent had heard that other districts have implemented this strategy with positive results.

It is safe to say that the attorneys who responded were underwhelmed by the idea, other than perhaps for school security personnel. But a standout reaction came from Jim Davies, General Counsel of the Edmonton Public Schools in Alberta. Now Canada is, we solemnly note, a whole ‘nother country. This, of course, means they have a whole ‘nother set of school laws to consider. (Hmmm … No NCLB north of the border, eh?) Anyway, with due caveats about legal distinctiveness, we think Mr. Davies’ reflections on student “behaviour” and discipline are worth sharing:

This discussion raises the ghosts of the taser discussion several months ago. I thought that my suggestion then of using large icicles as clubs had found some favour among you, but of course I realize that not all of your jurisdictions are as favourably situated as mine in respect of these fine and natural behaviour-modification instruments, thus forcing those of you who live in the climate-challenged south to at least consider crass technological alternatives such as tasers or pepper spray.

Using pepper spray to enforce school rules is, of course, a brilliant idea that I am sure will soon spread throughout the civilized world and leave us wondering why we didn’t think of this 50 years ago. What salutary effects it might bring forth are at present unknown, but one can anticipate future research demonstrating that a pepper-sprayed child is a child who will return to school the next day bursting with a desire to do good, walk a straight line, and help the poor, full of zeal to study hard, much like we see here with those brain-addled subjects of icicle beatings, except that the pepper-sprayed child will no doubt beg the school nurse for eye-drops, whereas the icicle-beaten child routinely pleads for Tylenol and shows great alarm at the suggestion of an ice-pack.

Predictably, climate change here during summer school utterly confounds us. Basically it’s a free-for-all with errant children running amok.
Ms. Haase tells BoardBuzz that she shared this favourable appraisal with her client district, which nonetheless has decided against pursuing the innovation. Of course, her colleagues from some other states have had to figure out how to deal with even more ingenious ideas, like state laws that require schools to allow people—including teachers and staff—to carry concealed firearms in schools. No, seriously. Check out this item from NSBA’s Legal Clips. Another charming illustration of the advantages to be had when our sage state legislators deprive local school boards of discretion over local schools.

Incidentally, it occurs to us that Mr. Davies and his compatriots might like to consider our earlier posting concerning spelling reform. Meanwhile, we wish him fortitude as his district endures the unruly warmth until the welcome return of winter to Edmonton, next week or so.

Erin Walsh|August 27th, 2004|Categories: Governance, NSBA Opinions and Analysis|

More reason to push Congress

These two items are still more evidence in support of NSBA’s push for the Congress to increase Title I and IDEA funding and get on with finishing its work on reauthorizing IDEA. Every dollar Congress falls short of paying for its mandates is a dollar increase in your Federal Education Tax.

Erin Walsh|August 26th, 2004|Categories: Governance, NSBA Opinions and Analysis|

Another funding surprise: States and districts losing Title I money

Meanwhile, the Center on Education Policy (CEP) has issued a report detailing how more than half of school districts nationwide will receive less Title I funding for 2004-2005 than they did last year. Even though Title I funding has increased overall, Census changes and allocation formula quirks like that described above mean that 56 percent of school districts will experience Title I cuts, unless Congress takes action to maintain their allotments at last year’s level. Ten states will lose up to 10 percent of their Title I funding in the coming school year, according to the report: Kansas, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, New Hampshire, New Jersey, North Dakota, and Pennsylvania.

One big problem with all this, according to CEP, is that all school districts are being asked to do so much more under NCLB. “By asking for more from all while giving less to most, the federal government is undermining support for the law and challenging the ability of states and districts to comply with the law’s demand for improved student performance,” says Jack Jennings, CEP’s director, in a press statement. As we’ve said before, the overall Title I increases are welcome, but touting them simply does not address the gap between federal mandates and their real costs.

Erin Walsh|August 26th, 2004|Categories: Governance, NSBA Opinions and Analysis|

New definitions threaten some rural school district funding

Bill Williams, a school board member in Washington and a member of NSBA’s Board of Directors, alerted us to this story about how the U.S. Department of Education is applying census data in a way that results in reductions to federal aid to rural schools. “A hundred miles northeast of busy, congested Seattle is the tiny hamlet of Stehekin, tucked into the evergreen heart of the Cascade mountains at the north end of Lake Chelan, unreachable by road or by phone,” AP reports. “Welcome to the ‘urban fringe,’ as defined by the Education Department’s National Center for Education Statistics.

“It’s only a joke for the 100 year-round residents of relatively affluent Stehekin, accessible only by float plane, by boat, on a horse or mule, or on foot. But for the communities of Manson and Chelan, at the south end of the 55-mile-long lake, the new label has walled off federal money for the rural poor. ‘It’s very weird to me,’ said Cheryl Koenig, state and federal programs director for the Manson district, which has about 650 students, 80 percent of them poor enough to qualify for free or reduced lunches.” Bottom line: New Office of Management and Budget definitions of “urban fringe” could cost the Manson school district plenty of important dollars, though the district is scrambling to appeal that definition and to apply for other funds to make up the difference.

“Drawing lines on a map inside the beltway sometimes leads to ridiculous results,” Mr. Williams observes. For an overview of NCLB’s likely impacts specifically on rural school districts, check out this joint NCLB Guide for Small and Rural Districts by the American Association of School Administrators (AASA) and the National Association of State Boards of Education (NASBE). NASBE recently issued a new compliance manual to help rural schools. Details in this press release.

Erin Walsh|August 26th, 2004|Categories: Governance, NSBA Opinions and Analysis|

Hurricane-affected school districts face tough challenges

Speaking of Florida: The school board in Charlotte County, where Hurricane Charley came ashore, has had to make some hard decisions. Tuesday night, the board announced that start times will go from very early to very late: 6:30 a.m. start for Port Charlotte High School (which will be shared by two high schools) to 7:10 p.m. final bell for Murdock Middle School.

“We’re going to have to live with something we don’t care to live with for a while,” superintendent David Gayler told the Charlotte Sun. Because seven area schools are too damaged to reopen, district officials were forced into a major morning/afternoon school sharing operation. The state Department of Education found 25 school districts were affected by Hurricane Charley, causing “far more damage” to schools than did the devastating Hurricane Andrew in 1992.

But many of those schools reopening are far from being completely repaired. Students at Central Florida’s Poinciana High School returned to classes Monday for the first time since Hurricane Charley to find their gym and cafeteria roofless and a giant tent outside serving free breakfast and lunch. “Everybody is calling it lunch under the Big Top,” Osceola County school spokeswoman Dana Schafer told AP.

Schools in six Florida counties reopened Monday, while schools in three others are not expected to resume classes for another week, AP reports. Students had returned from summer vacation just over a week before the storm struck Aug. 13. Officials faced a mountain of obstacles to get schools ready for thousands of students to return. People who used the schools as temporary shelters had to be moved out. Torn-up portable classrooms and damaged school buses had to be repaired. Cafeteria food that had spoiled had to be disposed of and restocked.

Erin Walsh|August 25th, 2004|Categories: Governance, NSBA Opinions and Analysis|
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