Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Here comes the big hit

Last week, Sisters schools were looking at a $970,000 shortfall. Superintendent Elaine Drakulich told the board she could deliver a balanced budget on that number by not renewing temporary contracts, using up most of the district’s budget carryover and through savings from various efficiencies.

This week, the district is looking at a $1.5 million shortfall, thanks to a revised budget forecast from the state.

That means the district is going to have to look at cutting school days, freezing salaries and benefits, or cutting staff — or a combination of these moves and more.

This could open up some interesting questions for debate in the schools and community.

How many days can be cut before there is real damage done to students? (Hey, we’ll get the two week spring break back!)
Should cut in-service days to preserve as many teaching days as possible?

What about using merit rather than seniority as the criterion for a Reduction in Force (RIF)? Mike Morgan raised the question with the Budget Reduction Committee and with Board Chair Chris Jones. He tells me he’s planning to push the issue and he says he’s got a lot of folks in his corner.

“Merit” is a big sticky wicket in education. Everybody believes in rewarding merit, but nobody wants to implement “merit pay” or use it — at least not formally — to determine who stays and who goes in a RIF.

Undertstandably, there doesn’t seem to be much stomach for a RIF. Cutting staff could well mean cutting valuable programs and nobody wants that to happen.

We could cut days rather than staff, which both parents and staff seem to favor. That keeps class sizes smaller, but less time in the classroom can’t be considered a good deal. It’s not at all clear whether a salary/benefit freeze combined with other cuts would save enough money to stave off cuts.

It all comes down to finding another $530,000. Cutting days may seem like the easy route, but 10 days to two weeks is not compatible with quality education.

This crisis calls for creativity and courage. Day cuts? Pay cuts? Staff cuts? Program cuts? None of it is appetizing, but the district has to make the tough calls with one mission in mind: delivering the best quality education possible with the resources available.

Jim Cornelius, Editor


  1. Well reality finally hits home and we finally have to make some choices ? I still am a bit confused, I have been reading for weeks, if not months about Bend and Redmond and the millions they are going to have to cut. People, this should come as NO SURPRISE whatsoever and if it does you are in complete denial. No one likes to be on either end of a "RIF" but lets be honest with ourselves it appears it may be our only viable option.

  2. So what is Mike Morgan going to push that will have an impact on the immediate budget issue. I am willing to bet that any RIF would be governed by the contract with the Teachers Union. Mike is really good at raising questions, but not so good at providing answers. So it is a good thing to be engaged. If Mr Morgan has a concrete proposal to put on the table,then lets see it and debate it. But if it is just another round of his endless analysis and questions, then who cares - just more noise.

  3. I sent the following suggestion to the Nugget editor on March 14, 2009. A link to ORS 342.934, the Oregon statute regarding teacher reduction in staff, is at the end of this post.

    The bottom line is a reduction in teaching staff based on merit is specifically allowed by contract and state law. Why would we ever want to reduce the number of days our best teachers are at work? Why would we ever want to pass up an opportunity to improve the percentage of outstanding teachers in the district? Layoffs based on seniority are the easy way out, take no skill, and result in no accountability. Why pay a superintendent low six figures and principals almost as much if they are not accountable for building the best, most effective organization possible?


    I hope you cover the next Budget Reduction Committee meeting scheduled for Tuesday, March 17 from 6:00 to 8:00 pm.

    Part of my agenda has been to find a way to maximize the percentage of great teachers in the classroom by eliminating those that are not performing as well as others. I get many calls from parents and they all know who to keep and who to let go. The poor economy may give us a chance to do that.

    At our first meeting there was significant interest in using merit as a basis for a reduction in force as opposed to seniority regarding the certified teaching staff. However, there could be resistance by the union and some administrators to using merit to determine who goes and who stays. There is a lot of misinformation and confusion in the community regarding this issue.

    The current certified union contract at article 24, REDUCTION IN FORCE AND RECALL, reads in part: “The District shall determine when a reduction in staff is necessary and which programs will be affected. However, the District agrees that any layoffs will be implemented in accordance with ORS 342.934 (PROCEDURE FOR REDUCTION OF TEACHER STAFF DUE TO FUNDING OR ADMINISTRATIVE DECISION).”

    Attached is a copy of the referenced statute. Please note that merit is specifically allowed per subparagraph (4) and merit is loosely defined in subparagraph (9)(b) as one teacher being better than another. The plain language of this statute allows the Sisters School District discretion to use merit as a basis for determining who will be retained in a reduction of force.

    Part of the confusion comes from Bill Sizemore’s Measure 60 that was defeated last November. Had this been approved, use of merit would have become mandatory in a reduction of force. Because it was defeated the current discretionary language remains and districts may use that language as authority to make a reduction in force based on merit. This does not apply to classified personnel. Their contract specifically requires any reduction in force be based exclusively on seniority.

    I want better schools, better students, and a better educated work force. I don’t think we’re going to get there as a country unless a few good districts like ours, where most parents care and are involved with their kids, become willing to take on the public education establishment. The establishment will go to great length to keep the status quo.

    I don’t know of any district in this state that has used merit in a reduction of force even though Oregon law clearly gives districts discretion to do so. It’s going to take considerable pressure from parents and the community to get it done here.

    I would like to suggest you do a piece on the blog titled: “MERIT VERSUS TENURE—HOW BEST TO DOWNSIZE THE SISTERS SCHOOL DISTRICT”. You will get lots of action and I won’t be driving it

    Mike Morgan

    For ORS 342.934 go to:


  4. We aren't the only ones. I was reading the Oregonian this morning and Tigard/Tualatin Schools are going to have to cut more than 11 million dollars, including 159 positions (teachers as well as administrators). Now they do have a 119 million dollar budget but still they have a 10% reduction to achieve.

  5. Come on folks, I know you’re out there; it’s time to speak up! You can’t complain about the result if you don’t tell management what you want.

    Once in awhile our state government gets it right. Research and the experience of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation suggests the single most important consideration for effective learning and successful schools is to put a great teacher in every classroom; it’s not class size. The Oregon Department of Education seems to agree. There is a statutory limitation to the minimum number of teaching days per school year but no similar limitation to maximum class size. It can be inferred that the experts at ODE believe reduced funding should result in larger class size and not fewer school days.

    I see only two meaningful alternatives due to the magnitude of the budget reduction. We can reduce the number of school days to the mandated minimum which hurts parents that provide day care and/or alternatives to keep kids productively occupied, hurts kids because they are exposed to less teaching days, hurts all teachers because they make less money, or we can slightly increase average class size and increase the percentage of great teachers by implementing a reduction in force based on merit consistent with the contract and state law. Anybody out there got anything better? Cutting programs probably won’t save enough and some like TAG and Special Ed. are mandated and most others are what make our schools special.

  6. Mr Morgan,

    There is a really obvious alternative to cutting the teaching staff and that is for the community - parents, business, teachers, police, chamber of commerce ..everyone... to rise up and insist that our elected officials fully fund education. We spend insane amounts of money to lock people up in jails (more than any other country, we have a higher percent of our population in jail than any 1st world country).

    We should redirect the money spent on prisons- where we send young people to learn how to be a criminal so the can graduate from pot smoker to violent offender under the tutelage of truly professional criminals.

    Everyone is so caught up in the "we must cut" mantra that they have ignored the real answer. We must invest more, not less, in our children's education, especially now. It is well documented that as the economy worsens and jobs are harder to come by, crime rates amoung young people will rise if they have no alternatives.

    We can combat this highly predictable out come by fully funding schools and providing our kids with a robust environment where they can participate in learning, sports , community and volunteerism. Now is the time to put an aggressive agenda for our kids into effect, not a time to do the exact things (cutting education) we know from history will drive kids, especially kids who are on the margins already into a world of chronic underachievement and increased criminality.

    RIF doesn't make sense and doesn't have to be inevitable. And there is no merit in reductions in there own right. We should be active in lobbying all levels of our government to fully fund our schools now!

    It starts with our local school district , goes to the state where we should work to regain local control of our schools that was lost when Ballot Measure 5 was passed in 1990, and then to the federal level - where if so called centrists had not gotten their way- the stimulus billed passed by congress would have contained funds for education to offset the state's short fall.

    I strongly urge all who care about education to change the whole discussion from: How do we cut, to - How do we invest in our schools.

    We will regret it for a generation if we let these circumstances reek this kind of havoc over things we can actually control.

  7. Great idea !! Lets just spend more money !! You do know, its all about the kids.

  8. Anonymous:

    Don’t you find it ironic that while we’re having this debate our local private school, the Christian Academy, is advertising in the Nugget for more students at the ridiculously low cost of $3,500 per year for the first child and $2,000 for the second? Are they producing juvenile delinquents, addicts, dropouts, and hardened criminals? How can they educate kids for approximately one-third the cost of the public system?

    A better solution is to get government out of education and give parents vouchers so they can send kids to schools that work and are cost effective. We’re not there yet so we’ve got to do the best we can given the constraints that currently exist.

    I promised to not dominate this blog but your rant demanded a response.

  9. Mr. Morgan,

    Rant? Is it possible for you to respond without the derogatory characterization. I don't believe I impugned your proposals in that way.

    But your response is interesting in that it seems clear that you do not support public education. Vouchers? what alternative do parents have in sisters that vouchers would fund, especially if one does not want a religion based education?

  10. Anonymous:

    I’m sorry you feel slighted. I referred to your post as a “rant” because it was unresponsive to the questions poised in the editors post. My “rant” about vouchers was equally unresponsive and I apologize. I’m a rabid supporter of public education and a realist. Right now we have to make the best decisions possible given the reality that currently exists. We’re no more likely to get the jails closed in time to divert those funds to cover next year’s budget shortfall than we are to get vouchers to provide more parental choice.

  11. Mr Morgan asked how the private school can educate students cheaper...I don't know for sure but I can guess that it has a lot to do with not having to provide special education, education to students that do not speak english, or any of the other mandates that our district has no choice regarding. I am sure Mr. Morgan has an opinion about such things but the reality is that our district must follow the laws. Maybe Mr. Morgan can turn his lawsuits to the federal government regarding these requirements and give our local legal bills a break.

  12. Anonymous:

    I agree that this district must follow the law but there is a history to the contrary: e.g., funding a Christian school, violating testing protocol, not keeping records of executive sessions, and the bond issue is far from over. If you were at the budget meeting this week then you know that the real cost to run the Sisters School District is north of $20 million dollars. This translates to more than $16 thousand dollars per year per kid in a seat. You can’t reasonably explain the difference in the cost of operating our local Christian school to the cost of operating our public school by citing special education, english as a second language, etc. The difference in operating costs is way beyond any simple explanation.

  13. Mike,there is a simple answer to your question about costs for the Christian school being low. The teachers don't get paid as much, the buildings are paid for, they don't have to run buses or a food program, (not to mention special education) and the whole operation is subsidized with donations. You are comparing apples with oranges and the result is that we are no closer to any answers than before. Sisters is a public school district and its budget is determined the same way that other public schools are determined.
    I think the reason people tend to respond to you the way they do is that you are not providing any reasonable ideas, arguments or solutions.
    The school is faced with limited choices:
    Cut days
    Freeze salaries and/or benefits
    Cut staff
    With things looking as bad as they do, it will end up being a combination of these things. That's reasonable. The remaining staff will work harder than ever, volunteers will step forward, and students will continue learning. Whether we like it or not, things won't be ideal. We have no choice. There will not be enough money to provide all the expertise, opportunities, and materials as normal. To be honest, it doesn't look like there is really that much to debate over.

  14. Anonymous:

    I’m not sure your analysis comparing the cost of public versus private means much. The bottom line is still the same; the private sector can do it cheaper.

    What’s left to debate is very important; do we retain teaching staff based on merit or seniority?
    Iv'e stated my preference, what's yours?

  15. mike,

    You state that the private sector can provide education cheaper than public schools as if that were an indisputable fact. I dispute that. There is no evidence that it is true, and there is plenty of evidence that it is not true. Do you know what the tuition is for a real private school (includes highschool not just k-8) that offers a real curriculum delivered in real facilities -- not out of a Quonset hut? It is astronomical. Here are some real samples from a big market ..Portland :

    Jesuit High $10,000 per year
    Oregon Episcopal: $22,000 per year
    Catlin Gable: $23000 per year
    Pacific Crest School: $9,700 Per year
    French American School (5th-8th grade only): $15,000 per year

    Here is what is available in In central oregon:

    Cascades academy (6- 12): $10,875/year

    So when you say the private sector can do it cheaper, that is demonstrably false. When you look at the per student cost of $9,151 per student at Sisters Schools this year, it looks like the exact opposite of your statement is true: public schools are cheaper than the private sector when you look at like for like comparison.

    So lets stop misleading people. The evidence is that the Sisters Schools are actually well managed and cost effective when compared to similar offerings in the private sector.

  16. You don't know the facts about public funding of education in Sisters. I've said this several times before but you must be conditioned to not listen. The total cost of operating the Sisters School District is approximately $20,000,000 per year. Your figure of $9151 per student does not include debt service. The real cost per student is about $16,000 per year per kid in the seat. Call the district office and get your facts straight.

    Your private school numbers mean very little without knowing class size, level of academic excellence, etc. How can public schools be cheaper and provide the same level of excellence when contructing facilities at prevailing wage; when there are mandates that result in 70 seat buses running around close to empty; when there are mandated food programs; and when PERS and insurance benifits far exceed the private sector? Given enough time I could think of many more reasons but this should be enough to give you pause to rethink your conclusion.

  17. Mike,

    My numbers are what it would really cost a parent to send a child to a private school.

    The calculation for annual average cost per student is simple = Annual expenditure/number of students. or approx $12.2m/1350 = 9,150/year.

    Your $20m and $16k are numbers you made up as far as I can tell.

    According to the district web site the
    Standard instructional operating expenditures per student is $7,501.

    The idea that there is a private education system out there that provides a comparable education to our Sisters public schools, at a similar or less cost per pupil, is easily contradicted by a simple survey of the private schools in the area.

  18. Anonymous:

    If you won't call the district office to get your facts straight then call Jim Cornelius. The numbers you are using for the Sisters School District are based on the operating budget which does not include several other budgets including the one for debt service, which is by far the biggest. At last night's meeting, Jim was there, all of this was explained. The total budget for this year was slightly more than $20M and will decrease to about $19M for next year. Also, your number of students includes some kids that are in the charter schools but your budget number excluds the money that pays for them. Current total cost per kid in the seat is more than $15K per year.

    I won't continue this dialog until you're willing to get educated.

  19. Let me translate your last comment: You won't continue the dialogue until I agree with you. Sorry not going to happen. Ok. pack your toys and go home, we will play another day.

  20. Anonymous,
    Good job!! We won't have to listen to Mike on this subject now, as he just stated he won't continue the dialog until we all get educated.

  21. Please have the common courtsy to be accurate when you quote me. I never said "...until we all get educated". My comment was directed exclusively to the person who hides behind rocks, won't divulge his name, launches personal attacks, throws out data that is wrong and won't contact the people with the correct information. People like that don't derserve my time.

  22. Once again the conversation degenerates to blah blah blah.....

    Mike, if you have information that supports your position, why don't you just share it, instead of taking offense.

  23. Blah blah blah yourself.

    Please look at previous posts. You can get confirmation that the Sisters School District costs taxpayers approximetely $20,000,000 per year to educate approximetely 1300 kids from Jim Cournelius, Elaine Drakulich, any board or budget committee member or by calling ODE. You can't run this school district without paying for the facilities and those costs are not in the $12,200,000 used in a previous post by someone who hides behind anonimity to launch personal attacks.

    I think it's wrong for the blog manager to continue to allow people to demonize and ridicule when he knows the numbers being thrown around to do so are false.

  24. Mr. Morgan, it is actually getting amusing reading your "logic" on these school matters.
    Without going on and on (blah blah blah) would you mind stating in simple terms your philosophy about funding schools. You go on and on about the district spending too much money and argue (poorly) that private schools can "do it cheaper".
    So, state your philosophy and some straightforward solutions to the problem if you have any. Comparing a public school system to a very small private Christian school has no bearing in the discussion

  25. I'm done!

    Private schools can educate kids cheaper as evidenced by the "facts" I've posted on this blog. Until you address the disparity between the cost to operate the local private alternative and our public system at $20 Million per 1300 students,
    we can't communicate because you don't know enough relevent information to carry on a meaninful discussion or debate.

    Our public system should be able because of economy of scale to do it cheaper on a per student basis but they don't. I'm not saying that there are not some valid reasons for a disparity, but the disparity is so large it defies any simple explanation.

    It's not about logic, argument, or philosophy, it's about facts! Comparing the two alternatives should at least cause us to ask why one can do it so much cheaper than the other. Thinking about such things might cause us to find ways to do things more efficiently which is relevent to the questions asked by the Nugget editor in the original post.

    Mr. Cornelius asked for community input on budget reductions. I've stated my preference, again I ask, what's yours?

  26. Mike,

    With tuition to a COMPARABLE private institution being more than $20,000/year, and with that not actually covering the entire cost of the education (most private schools get significant finding from other donations -like alumni), even at $20m/yr for 1300 students is still much cheaper than the private sector ($15,385 per student):

    You must compare like for like: Similar facilities, similar curriculum, similar services, similar staff qualifications, similar student achievement. No one who has ever investigated sending their child to a private school would tell it is a cheaper alternative.

  27. I'm supposed to take your word for what's comparable? Not a chance.

    You don't even know what the real cost to taxpayers for public education is; first you said SSD cost $12.2 million, now you seem to agree it's closer to $20 million, but that cost does not include the Federal and State costs of running huge Departments of Education. I don't even know what the real total cost is!

    Explain to me, in some detail, why our local alternative does a good job at a much lower cost? Be careful, you might insult some very nice people if you infer that their kids don't get as good or better education as those at the more expensive public school.

    Your last sentence explains your logic. Public schools are free to parents so that's cheaper than the costs of sending their kids to a private school.

    Give me a break; you just don't get it!!!

  28. Mike,

    Here is the detail you are missing: There IS NO LOCAL ALTERNATIVE THAT PROVIDES A COMPLETE KINDERGARTEN to HIGH-SCHOOL EDUCATION. What the local alternative provides is NOT THE SAME THING!

    With all due respect, I think you may be the one who isn't getting it.

  29. I’ll try one more time to communicate with you.

    You’re exactly right!! The local private alternative and the public system are not the same. That’s exactly my point!!

    If the two alternatives were exactly the same, provided exactly the same services, did everything in exactly the same way, paid employees the exact same wages and benefits, had exactly the same class size, had exactly the same mandates to meet, had exactly the same number, distribution and quality of students that achieved the exact same test results then we would expect the cost per student to be exactly the same. Don’t you agree?

    The fact is they are not the same. One costs taxpayers more than $15,000 per year per student versus the other that costs parents a maximum of $3500 per year per student. Don’t you think it might be useful to understand what the differences are and why there is such a big disparity in apparent cost per year per student?

    Put down your bias and look at the facts, the two alternatives are very different. It's understanding the differences that might provide insight to making public education more affordable.

  30. Mike, if you're nothing else, you're predictable. It must just drive you nuts if you don't get in the last word.

  31. OK. Let's try one more time:

    Sisters Schools: k-12 education, In real buildings.

    Local religion School: k-8 in a Quonset Hut.

    Sigh. Not too hard to see why the religion school is cheaper.

  32. ..oh by the way, the 1.2 million dollars that was illegally transferred from our public schools to the the religion school would also help keeping there tuition low.

    What does that work out to per student?

  33. You people have said nothing for some time, won't answer any questions, won't engage in any meaningful discussion and hide behind rocks. I hope you're proud of yourselves.

  34. Mike,

    It seems discussions are only meaningful to you when people agree with you. Just because I don't agree with you doesn't make my point invalid or not meaningful.

    My assumption is that people of sisters want a robust k-12 education for their children taught in modern facilities. That they want these facilities has been proven through elections authorized funding them. The fact that the local religion school does not provide facilities like that, and that they do not provide what is the most costly stage of education - High School - IS the explanation of why their service is cheaper: because it is less than, and not adequate to, what our community wants.

    Your claim that there is some interesting formula they have for providing an education at low cost is very misleading: their formula is very simple- don't provide the education at all for high school, and don't provide facilities.

    I don't think that gets us anywhere in trying to understand how to improve Sisters Public Schools.

    Here is an interesting point: the local religion school claims an average class size of 10 students. What would it cost Sisters Public Schools to adopt that class size? Is there anyway that could be done with sending costs through the roof?

    Some times you can do things far cheaper on a small scale because it is a small scale. When you don't have to deal with Large scale issues like maintenance of a large building to house the classes, the need to track a large number of students and staff, the need to provide for security and safety on a large scale.

    When you look at private institutions that have these issues to deal with, like private schools with a similar number of students and staff, similar campus and buildings (which I remind you our community has expressed their desire for these facilities at the ballot box).. then the costs to run those private schools are usually more than what we spend at Sisters Schools. So your assertion that there is some secret formula that private schools can provide is not accurate. The reality is that quality education is not cheap. The further reality is that if you want to cut funding to education, you are more than likely cutting the education itself, not some un seen waste that we have never been able to identify before.

    This is not to say that there are not schools that are poorly run and waste money.. there are. I just think that the evidence is that the Sisters Schools has done well on that score, and especially in the last two years. Your assertions that there are people doing wrong things that waste our money are not well founded.

    Finally, you might find people are more receptive to your ideas if you present them in the spirit of community and with some humility (let me start.. I will admit to not always being correct .. eg you were correct about he $20m/ budget). Suing people is usually not the best way to persuade or make your point.Listening to others views helps. You don't have to agree to listen. If you listen, you might be surprised at how much more effectively you can communicate your own view afterwords.

  35. Nothing you have said explains a difference of $3500 per student versus $15,000 per student. The facilities have little effect on student performance as long as they are safe, clean, lighted, and warm. Public Schools pay prevailing wage for construction, private schools do not. Your suggestion that high school is the most costely is counter to the prevailing wisdom that k-6 should have the smallest class size.

    I have never sued anyone without going to great length to avoid it.
    Since I have not sued you, please don't slander me in a public forum when you have absolutely no knowledge of my efforts to resolve the dispute prior to litigation.

    People are listening to me. I got over 30% of the vote when I ran for the school board in the face of organized opposition, people in the community are talking about merit in a reduction of force, and board members are now communicating with me on a regular basis.

    To suggest I don't listen is a joke and confirms your bias and misinformation. I've spent more time in school board meetings the last three years than anyone else in this community other than the board members and key administrators.

    Finaly, I've never said the district is poorly managed. What I've said is I believe they can do better on the same or less money. Give any public entity as much money as they ask for all of the time results in little effort to control costs. That's human nature, they are not bad people. If I got evry raise I ever asked for I would not have worked as hard as I did.

  36. Sigh... You wore me out. I give up. you're right... I'm wrong. The cost of k-8 education for a small number of students from a Quonset hut Should be our guide for what it should cost to run a School for 1500 students with an elementary, middle and high school.

    Makes complete sense. and what is better we will get a real quality education for kids out of that.

    And on top of all that you actually have proven to be the smartest person in this debate. I wish I was that smart too.

  37. To clarify, contrary to your inference, I have never compared the total cost of operating the public schools versus the total cost of operating the private alternative because I have no idea what the total cost of the altrnative is; all of my comparisions have been based on student cost per budget actuals for the public schools and advertised cost to parents for the alternative. I don't even know total enrollment for the alternative but public schools, everything else being equal, should have economy of scale working to its advantage which should result in lower cost per student but that does not seem to be the case.

    Talk to parents about the education their kids receive in the Quonset hut before implying bad things about it, they believe it is as good or better than the public alternative. Public schools are free to parents, they pay no more than a taxpayer like me that has no kids in school. The parents of private school kids pay the same taxes and also the tuition for the private school. Not many parents would do that if they didn't perceive a benifit.

    I too am worn out.

  38. Ok I cant resist. I guess I am not done:

    By your logic... Home Schooling is far cheaper than any alternative because there is no tuition at all.

    So best solution is to dis-band the district and tell parents to home school their children. It is way more efficient than any organized school.

    The point I am trying to make is... They can be cheap because it is small scale.. there methods cannot be scaled up to accomodate the entire Sisters school District at a reasonable cost. Onse you start to scale up what they are doing.. to accomodate the number and diversity of students and families.. it changes everything.

    You seem to be a technical kind of guy: The Sisters Christian Academy is cheap because they are small. They have what is know as a non-scalable solution, ie it only works on a small scale. Just like Home schooling only works on a small scale.

  39. First time I've ever heard that you can't scale something up, increase production, make more widgets, and not reduce the cost per widget. That's what I've done my whole adult life.

    Home schooling would be very cheap, no facilities or transportation costs, no teacher salaries, etc. Innovation and creativity is what drives costs down. How about a combination of the two, use the web for most academic classes at home, brick and morter facilities for music, band, drama, art, sports, vocational programs, etc.

    This is the future of public education. There is not enough money in our economy to continue the rapid increases in the cost of public education.

    The voters said no in a huge way in Crook County and California this past Tuesday, I'm certain that this was repeated in many communities accross this country.

    It won't be long before the public education industry is forced to innovate new models that better educate kids at less cost to taxpayers. Do some research and you will find that home schooling is rapidily increasing in popularity, as are private and charter schools.

    I'm a strong supporter of public education but I know the way it will look twenty years from now will be very different from the way it looks today.

    Think about higher education. There are programs now that are entirely web based. This technology will ultimately come to high schools, (it's all ready started), and into the lower grades as it is further refined.

    Much of the innovation to date has come from private and charter schools. What they learn will eventually come to the public system; it already has started.

    Everything can be cost reduced. There are no exceptions. Why do you have a laptop with as much computing power as a ten-year old mainframe? Because very talented, dedicated, hard working people made it happen. We can do the same with education. The more of us that believe it, that challenge the status quo, the sooner it will happen.

    Bill Gates is dedicating the rest of his life to this and similar endevours. I trust he will succeed.

  40. Mike,

    Ok, I guess i still have some fight left....

    You may be surprised to find out a few things:

    Children are not widgets or laptop computers. The principals of manufacturing that apply to the mass production of these in-animate objects have nothing what so ever to do with educating children;

    Home schooling is not an option for most people (hence it is not scalable to the whole community) - because of one or more factors like: both parents work, Parents themselves are not qualified or motivated to teach.

    Innovation does not come from cost cutting. The very technology you are referring to was the product of massive investments in R & D that brought the innovation you are talking about. Yes, innovation can lead to new cheaper ways to do many things, but the cost reduction only came after the investment, not before.

    Our children are not widgets, their education is a lot more like R & D than manufacturing.

    Now back to the small private schools that you are so impressed with: I challenge you to demonstrate a single concept that they employ, that can be applied to the entire sisters school district, that would save the school district a substantial amount of money or even anything above 1%. Some concrete examples would go a long way to further your argument.

  41. This is my last response to you. I’m a can do guy, you’re not. I believe we can do better, much better, in terms of reducing the cost per student while also improving quality. We, as a country, spend more per student than any other country in the world yet the performance of our students versus the rest of the world is not good; we are not even in the top 20. I think that’s pathetic.

    Every suggestion I make, every opportunity to learn, every comparison to other countries, every alternative I explore, you dismiss as impossible. You’re going to have a very rough time in the next few years. Read the front-page story in today’s Bulletin. Funding is going down, way down. Sisters might be the best school district in the country with the best students but if we can’t do better with less our kids will grow up and become adults in a third world country. Being the best educated in a poor country with little future is not the country I grew up in. Is this what you want for today’s kids?

    If our economy gets bad enough and schools continue to decline, home schooling will become ever more popular. How do you think kids were educated 150 years ago? Home schooling and one-room public schools. This model was scaled up into what we have now so don’t tell me scaling up is not possible. That absurd. That’s what engineers do.

    Ultimately, there must be choice and competition. Having the money follow the student (vouchers) has worked very well in Europe. It can work here too. The longer we do nothing; fight to keep the status quo, the bigger the train wreak is going to be. Do some research and see how bad it is in California. School districts are facing massive cuts. If they can’t do better with less we’re screwed. Innovation and technology out of California has been the engine of our economy for many years. What’s going to replace it?

    You’re right, children are not widgets but you are absolutely wrong that innovation, creativity, technology and very hard working and talented people can’t use the same engineering principles to figure out ways to educate more kids for less cost than we are doing now. This will happen in spite of naysayers like you!

  42. Mike,

    I do not understand why you always have to reort to insults. How do you know whether or not I am a "can do" guy.

    What I know about you is this: You make assertions that Sisters schools can be run at a lower cost with better out comes, but that is it. You have yet to provide one concrete example of how that might be accomplished.

    You make comparisons to things that are irrelevant and claim that justifies your view.
    I dispute that you are a supporter of public education. Most of what you have said is the same old stuff that enemies of Public education have been espousing for years:

    !) treat children like a widget to be manufactured

    2) privatize it becuase private ed is more efficient than public ed.

    3) run it "like a business"

    Nothing new just the same old stuff.

  43. Talk about insults!!! You need to look in the mirror.

    Read every post on this blog and you will see many suggestions that I have made consistant with Jim Cornelius' question; do we cut days, staff, wages and benifits, or do something else.

    I've answered his question many times in many different ways; i.e., do a RIF based on merit, cut transportation costs, offer more web based programs, foster competition and choice, revoke prevailing wage laws, etc, etc, etc.

    You have never addressed Jim's question nor have you even been willing to discuss any of mine. All you have done is spew venom.

    I repeat, education will change through innovation, creativity, technology and the application of proven engineering principles to improve quality and reduce cost in spite of naysayers like you. If you think that's insulting; so be it!!

  44. Mike Mike mike,

    You get so worked up. I guess that means you care.

    OK first i never said we couldn't improve education through innovation.

    What I mean to say is you don't get innovation merely by cutting funding. In fact,innovation requires investment.

    You did give one concrete example:Web based learning. But I think you will find that it requires an investment of $$ money $$ and staff time and infrastructure to make it happen.

    You keep saying that you can apply engineering principals to education: I am not trying to be a naysayer I really want you to tell me how that works: What exactly are you talking about? Mechanical engineering? Process engineering? Electrical Engineering? Principals common to all types of engineering?

    Engineering is something that applies to mechanisms, automata and structures: what do these things have in common with children? HOW do these principals apply to education?

    Like I said before -- examples really help me to understand what you mean.

    And I will repeat something from an earlier blog entry... Vouchers for what? What choice is there in the sisters community? especially for High school?

    Look, I agree that you have proposed ways to cut. But lets not confuse that with innovation. RIF based on merit is not an innovation. It is a way to limit damage.

    And how exactly do you propose to "Foster competition" with out actually diverting funds from the schools core curriculum... ie without making an investment?

    My problem is that you say these things like they will appear out of the air for free at no cost and provide instant benefits to our childrens' education.

    If you want to talk your Web Based learning example,

    Are you thinking we should sell the school buildings (in part or in total) because we wont need class rooms? That might be an example? If so lets debate that, not platitudes about innovation.

    If any of the above constitutes "spewing venom", I apologize.

  45. Thank you for the apology. I really am getting worn out. However, engineering is not exclusive to materials, structures, electronics, mechanics, etc. as you suggest. Every product or service that you use has in one way or another been improved and cost reduced using the principles employed by industrial engineers. Please go to the following web link:


    Every manufacturing company, farming operation, service organization, airline or trucking company, law enforcement, fire or disaster relief agency, military operation, financial institution, hospital, media company, the education industry and more can be improved and cost reduced using industrial engineering practices.

    The Chalkboard Project and the Gates Foundation are using industrial engineering principles; computer modeling, test and evaluation methodology, game theory, behavior theory, queuing theory, hypothesis testing, etc. to identify improvements that can be made in education. We need to embrace the changes they propose. We can’t afford the status quo.

    Web based programs will allow class sizes to increase, improve student performance, and reduce costs. However, you must know that there are forces in the education industry that want to kill web based learning, charter schools, and any other innovation that will reduce cost. They are adverse to methods and practices that better educate kids for less than we are doing now. They have self-serving interests rooted in job security, high wages, and great benefits. Putting learning and kids first does not necessarily mean more money and more teachers. Improving the quality of the workforce and the methods they use to inspire kids to learn can have the same or better result.

    It’s not about having more teachers; it’s about having the best teachers using the best practices.

  46. Mike,

    You almost had me on your side until your attack on unnamed "forces in the education industry" who "... have self-serving interests rooted in job security, high wages, and great benefits." But then you go on to say, "..it’s about having the best teachers using the best practices".

    I don't know if you know any of the teachers in our schools, Maybe you do, but my experience has been that they are no more self serving than you or I when it comes to Job Security, High Wages and Great benefits.

    As a business man who does hiring of professionals, including engineers, I can tell you that you will not attract "the best teachers using the best practices" without financial incentives to match.

    Teachers are not the enemy and it is a big mistake to make them the enemy. I don't know if that is your personal view of teachers, but maybe you can see how I might get that idea.

    The one thing that you need to bear in mind about how education differs from Manufacturing/engineering in a very fundamental way: if you make a mistake in the process of making a widget that produces a flawed widget, you can throw out your flawed widgets, refine your process and just make some new better widgets. You don't have that luxury with children. For the most part , children only get one shot at their education experience. That is especially true of the K-8 level. So you necessarily have to be very certain that the innovation you are introducing is well proven (this is the investment part) because you only get one chance for it to succeed on any individual child. If you look at the results we get for our children in the Sisters School district. Our current student achievement metrics are very good, so changes -innovations- that we introduce should meet a very high standard of proven results before we introduce them.

  47. I absolutely agree with your last sentence. However, I also believe we both agree that keeping and motivating the best teachers is critical to he effectiviness of the school district. We are not doing that; the district recently advised some number of teachers that they would not be employed next year without regard to their qualifications or effectivness; i.e., merit.

    This was done even though the current contract and Oregon law give the district discretion to use merit in any reduction of force deemed necessary by the district. The contract and Oregon law are binding on the district and all certified employees; union and non-union covered by a one-year individual contract or the collective bargining agreement.

    The problem is not the good teachers, it is the not so good teachers and the unions, administrators, and school boards that protect them.

    I'm not anti-union. It was not the unions that did in the airlines and car companies, it was management that rolled over year after year to demands that could not be sustained. Shareholders were apathetic until it was too late. The same is true regarding public service unions. It's elected officials and public apathy that has allowed contract terms that are not sustainable nor in the best interest of the public.

    Lets agree to work hard to get the district to use merit in the next force reduction; lets keep the best teachers regardless of time in service. Since the budget committee will pass next week a budget based on receiving considerably more money from the state next year as was received this year (a fantasy!), it won't be long before we are again looking at layoffs.

    I did everything possible to get them to appriciate the risk of going forward with an overly optomistic revenue forecast.

    Christine Jones was concerned that they have a plan that allows them to do a RIF mid-year if the revenue goes down as it did this year. She does not want to be locked in to eliminating teaching days. All except Mike Gould said it was just too hard to do further reductions now.

    If it's too hard to do a RIF now it will be infinitely harder mid-year. If Salem cuts funding mid-year again (as they did three times this year) then the number of people required to be let go to balance the budget for the remaining half year will be twice what it needs to be now to reach the same dollar reduction. This will be so hard to do that eliminating teaching days will be the only option. This is what happened in Crook County this year. Eliminating days avoids the merit issue which is the union's number one priority despite the negative impact on learning. And, regardless of public retoric to the contray, most administrators favor a RIF based on seniority because it is easy and there is no accountability.

    All of my other suggesstions can't be implemented in the next twelve months but dowsizing the district while keeping the best of the best can; lets put our efforts behind the use of merit.

    By the way, the Chalkboard Project and the Gates Foundation spend a lot of time and money insuring that their proposals will yield the anticipated results. Nobody's perfect but they at least make a strong effort.

    Lets give Jim a rest and end this dialog on something positive that we both agree with.

  48. Mike,

    You talk about teachers in a very odd way: black and white, good - not so good, as if there is some magic merit-o-meter that you can just touch to their forehead and get an accurate reading. If the dial registers "not-so-good" you RIF them, and if the dial reads "Good" you keep them.

    Of course the issue isn't anyway that simple. First question is how do you measure Merit? Which teacher is better - the one who has a class full of "A" students, who get will get "A"'s no matter who teaches them - Not that unusual for TAG students- or the teacher who keeps a kid from dropping out of highschool by motivating an interest in a specific topic.. even though the student is a "C" student. Maybe schools have come up with a formula that lets you evaluate these type of issues objectively.

    Assume that they have. What if you have 2 good teachers John and Jane. Jane is objectively better than John, yet John is still a very effective teacher that the students respect and admire. Jane has been teaching for 3 years is new to the community and is just getting started. John has been teaching for 20 years, has roots in
    community. Who do you keep?

    My point is that once you eliminate the small percentage under performers, ie the clearly incompetent, what u you have left is a whole bunch of gray area. My point isn't that schools shouldn't start to use merit as a basis for promotion and retention, my point is that the benefit of doing it will only be realized over a long term. Given that our sisters schools have good outcomes for our kids already, the Idea that there are a lot of teachers in our Schools who are "no so good", so many that we can achieve budget goals by getting rid of them, is probably not accurate.

    The truth is probably closer to the Gray area I describe in my hypothetical above.

    In the immediate crisis we should maybe be thinking farther out of the box. Example: how many students Does the football stadium actually benefit? How many students Benefit from the High school foot ball program? 45 high school boys/year out the 1500 or so students in the district. Is that worth the expense of the program. Should we not sell or re purpose the real estate and facilities associated with that program? Should we not ask our High School Principal to devote 110% of his energy addressing this funding crisis as opposed to coaching 45 High school boys?

    Yes we should evaluate all district employees on merit, but that process is evolutionary by nature and not something that has a short term benefit. In the short term, Seniority is probably the only way a RIF can realistically be done quickly.

    All of your suggestions may have merit as things which we need to consider to improve education in Sisters over the long term. In the short term, Funding cuts contemplated will hurt education. Cutting funding to schools is a bad thing and not a good thing.

    I will close on a note of agreement: You are obviously closer to the budgeting process than I am, but I would agree that if revenue reductions from the state of likely and predictable, then our budget assumptions should take that into account now. Not to do so is the worst kind of denial.to

  49. Final thoughts; each school principal should already know who their stars are and those that are not. Why pay a school superintendent low six figures and principles almost as much and not hold them accountable for keeping and developing the best and most effective teachers? Isn't that what good managers do?

    There are many intangibles when evaluating who to keep and who to let go when downsizing. You have to give managers considerable discretion to make the right decision and hold them accountable if they don't.

    Defining criteria and methods of measurement can be counterproductive. Right now the district has complete discretion to rank one teacher better than another based on merit. Merit is defined simply as one being better than another. This means any legal challenge must meet a discretionary standard; i.e., fraud, bad faith, or failure to exercise honest judgment.

    Defining process, proceedure, criteria, measurement, etc. will change that standard and make it almost impossible to make lawsuits go away by a cheap and simple Motion to Dismiss. The more pages written to define merit the easier it will be to challenge any RIF decision. The district must keep the discretionary standard it now has or risk losing any reasonable expectation of ever using merit to downsize.

    I don't want to debate the merit of the sports programs other than to say they are too expensive and as a whole they take kids out of the classroom too much and most programs, except football, get back from compititions too late for the kids to get enough sleep for the next days classes. The best teachers in the world can't educate kids that are asleep or not in the classroom.

    It's been a good discussion. Thank you.

  50. Mike,

    I will agree that we have said enough.

    Good day. Good luck.