Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Fix it or watch it die

Watching the nightmarish news from the Gulf of Mexico day in and day out, I am struck by how fitting a metaphor the massive oil spill is for the budgetary hemorrhage that is afflicting the Sisters School District and districts all across Oregon.

It’s abundantly clear by now that nobody really has any idea how to fix the problem in the gulf. Try this, try that, hope something works. Meanwhile, the oil keeps flowing and the worst-case scenario keeps getting worse.

I’m beginning to doubt that anybody knows how to fix public education funding, either — or at least there is no consensus and no will to do so. Meanwhile, we’re in the middle of our “rainy day,” we’ve already “fallen off the cliff” — whatever image you want to conjure to get across the point that things are bad and getting worse.

In the wake of the state economic forecast last month, the Sisters School District is faced with cutting something like $1.2 million from its budget for next year. That’s on top of about $600,000 in cuts that were made this year. And next year there will be more, to tune of another $1.5 million or so.

This year’s cuts probably should be even deeper than they are, if only to reduce the degree of next year’s cuts. But the point is sort of moot; we’re going to have to keep slashing away over the next two or three years. Mitigate the pain a little now, you’ll just feel it later.

Teachers still want to be well compensated for what they do — and believe me, they deserve it. I’ve spent enough time in classrooms to gladly doff my hat to their dedication and skill. I really don’t know how they manage their classrooms and keep their sanity, much less provide good education. I cringe at the thought of making them manage ever-larger classrooms.

So, yes, they deserve good compensation, good benefits. But where does the money come from to pay them? When the cost of labor keeps going up through raises and increased costs of benefits and revenue keeps going down, you’ve got yourself what they call an unsustainable situation.

So, you either freeze or cut compensation or you cut staff. (Cutting days is also a cut to compensation since labor agreements are based on contract days). In Sisters’ case (and everybody else’s) it’s going to end up being some combination of both.

The reality is that our kids will be getting less schooling next year and in the years following, with fewer teachers to teach them in larger classes. It’s going to be really hard to deliver “excellent” education under those conditions.
And nobody really knows what to do about it.

It’s tempting to think that this is a temporary situation that will get better when the economy turns around. But economic turnaround is expected to be slow and laborious and restoring cuts is a long and arduous process. Things aren’t going to look rosy for public schools for a long time — and maybe never, at least under the model we’ve got now.

And that’s where that helpless feeling we get from watching the endless spew from the oil well in the gulf kicks in.

We’ve got a mess and nobody has a fix — at least not one that has broad consensus and an impetus to move forward.

The fix will not lie in increased state funding. While an eventual return to prosperity will take some pressure off, the fundamental structure of education funding can’t get the job done. And there is no political or social will for significant tax increases to adequately fund K-College education. And it’s not clear that increased expenditures equate to better outcomes anyway.

What is needed is radical reform in the very nature of public education, redefining what it is and what it does.

Here are some basic and general ideas that I believe must be seriously considered:

• Public schools should focus on core competencies. Those must be narrowly and rigorously defined — not necessarily readin,’ writin’ and ’rithmatic, but some clearly laid out program of fundamentals that can be delivered in a cost-efficient manner.

• Public-private partnerships should be formed to deliver other high-value educational components, from sports to arts to career-related experience.

Schools are eventually going to have to offload sports into some sort of club structure that may affiliate in spirit with a school, but which carries its own infrastructure. Arts, drama, music and other programs might be delivered in school, but not by school-funded personnel. To be effective, this would require some means of allowing non-credentialed mentors/instructors to teach in fields of expertise.

By saying this, I am not downplaying the value of qualified teachers in these areas. Jody Henderson and Mike Baynes have to be at the top of any list of teachers who have touched students’ lives in profound ways. You have to keep people like these in play. The question is, how can you fund their positions? Perhaps they work for a foundation, not for a school district.

Non-profits with interest in development in the arts or in business or science and technology can access funding streams outside the state school funding matrix.

• Maximize the delivery of Web-based instruction. The failure of the Sisters Web Academy should not tarnish the image of Web-based education — the families who used the curriculum universally loved it. Home schooling and Web-based education has demonstrated that learning at a high level can be conducted with much greater efficiency through the use of technology.

• Merit pay. Nobody calls it that anymore because it’s such a hot button issue, but whatever you call it, you have to pay for quality, not seniority.

• I really don’t know how you efficiently manage special education and other special needs. Each situation is so individualized that it’s hard to generalize a “policy” for allocation of resources. My family was immersed in this issue for decades and there are no easy answers.

I believe that it is important to maximize the potential of every child, whether its a high-achieving high flier or a child who struggles to overcome disabilities or just an average kid. The question is, in a streamlined public education format that acknowledges limited resources, where are special needs children best served?

I don’t have that answer, but the question must be asked.

Change of any kind is scary and nobody wants their own ox gored. But it’s evident to me that public education is in a terminal crisis. We must either choose to be bold enough to change or watch public education bleed away like a dark cloud of oil flowing into the sea.

Jim Cornelius, Editor


  1. From yesterday's NYT:


    Jim Cornelius, Editor

  2. GReat Blog Jim! You are really bringing up a subject that is effecting our kids and every child in America. Just as we are witnessing the failure and breakdown of the 2-party system..(the divided state of America) we are also experiencing the failure of public schools. Your comments and ideas are well thought out. It seems like any thing the government is involved in,is wrong, corrupt,and bankrupting the working class.There are no easy answers but hey if you can "goggle"it you can always learn! The internet is the way of the future in education ..we can no longer afford expensive administration,union backed teachers salaries, wages and benefits, facility and land costs and keep dumping the inefficiency of boards,unions and government administration on the taxpayer Joe, who is already more than a little stressed about wages in central Oregon.Your alternative choices were good Shared administration,superintendents,and principals between schools and districts would be another suggestion.(Cut the Fat!)Thanks for letting me ramble!

  3. Jim, good blog post. However, it seems to have generated little interest. That's too bad as we can clearly do much better.

    The Newsweek 2010 list of the best US high schools has just been released. Oregon could only place 12 schools on the list of 1622 and they are:

    #5 Corbett, Corbett OR
    #665 Sheldon, Eugene OR
    #826 Alhoa, Beaverton OR
    #846 Lake Oswego, Lake Oswego OR
    #926 Wilsonville, Wilsonville OR
    #962 Beaverton, Beaverton OR
    #1221 West Linn, West Linn OR
    #1365 Churchill, Eugene OR
    #1425 Lincoln, Portland OR
    #1448 Lakeridge, Lake Oswego OR
    #1582 Southridge, Beaverton OR
    #1606 Corvallis, Corvallis OR

    Sisters High School did not make the list. The complete story can be found at: http://www.newsweek.com/feature/2010/americas-best-high-schools/list.html

  4. Dosen't anyone out there care about our schools? Why can't the editor get a dialog going on the most important issue facing children today? Is apathy that bad or are parents and teachers afraid to post even anonomous comments?

    I've spent considerable time in the last two weeks talking to everyone I know that's ever been a public school teacher, is married to one, or has a child that teaches. All who would talk were not from our school district so their input may not be relevent to our district but I suspect it is.

    When I asked why merit has never been advanced by a local teachers union in Oregon and elsewhere the answer was consistant; because the majority of teachers did not trust principals to do anything other than give raises to friends, favorites, and suck ups (their words, not mine); i.e., there was no confidence whatsoever that the administration would actually give raises based on a reasonably fair measure of merit.

    What a condemnation of management! If this is even remotely true the root of the problem and therefore the resistance to the use of merit can be placed directly on the shoulders of local school board members who are completely out of touch with what teachers, especially good teachers, believe to be significant managment problems.

    In a merit based system everybody from the janitor to the CEO to the board chair must be accountable to a high standard of performance. Because school districts, including our own, do not now base raises or make lay off decisions based on merit change must start at the top and be driven down. I challenge the SSD board of directors to do just that.

  5. "Dosen't (sic) anyone out there care about our schools? Why can't the editor get a dialog going on the most important issue facing children today?"

    The editor supports the people who are current board members.

    "When I asked why merit has never been advanced by a local teachers union in Oregon and elsewhere the answer was consistent; because the majority of teachers did not trust principals to do anything other than give raises to friends, favorites, and suck ups (their words, not mine); i.e., there was no confidence whatsoever that the administration would actually give raises based on a reasonably fair measure of merit."

    The school administration and board do not know how to conduct fair measures of merit. The previous Superintendents have not conducted quality evaluations of their principals, nor have the principals conducted quality evaluations of their teachers.

    "I challenge the SSD board of directors to do just that."

    The editor supported the two longstanding board members who are financially and managerially ignorant. They have never managed more than a single personal secretary. These two mismanaged the new high school funds, double spending the bond interest money while at the same time accelerating the construction schedule. It was on their watch that they claimed $1.2Million in illegal state school funds on behalf of private Christian school kids and they also overspent by hundreds of thousands of dollars on the District building remodel. They are ignorant of even basic financial accounting concepts. To expect them to understand basic performance evaluation techniques, much less teach those skills to others (school administrators) is quite unrealistic. The newer board members are not much better, in my observation, and they were also were supported by the editor.

    Sisters has the school administration that they have selected, supported by the editor and the community.

  6. This is a very sad debate. Once again we we want something for nothing. We are only reaping the benefits of the conservative movement begun under Ronald Reagan.

    The bill is finally coming due for the cut tax and spend any way crowd. It is not that we suddenly have a way more expensive school system compared to what we had in the past or that teaching arts and sciences become way more complicated than it used to be or that there is some magic management bullet - like merit pay- that will solve our problem. Our problem is that we have cut taxes in this country to the point that basic services like schools, police and fire protection cannot be provided. Our problem is simple: we want something for nothing. It is not a mystery why schools are running out of money: we stopped paying the bills but expected everything to stay the same.

    Our overall tax burden as individuals and businesses is the lowest it has been in a generation. And now we are surprised when the things taxes fund have run out of money. What a bunch of idiots we are.

    If you don't want to pay for schools then close them. Dont pretend that seniority of teachers is the issue, it is not. The issue is - there is not enough money to fund our school system. It is direct consequence of the tax and spend anyway philosophy and since we all voted for it we deserve its out come.

    Remember: you get what you pay for and we stopped paying for schools a long time ago. it is a miracle that we could hang on this long before it all came crashing down.

    You want good schools, you have to pay for them. You want cheap schools, well your gonna have to fire some people, doesn't really matter who , because the result is a crappy school no matter who you let go.

  7. If money equals better schools why did Sisters High School not make the Newsweek list of best high schools in the country? The local option makes the Sisters School District one of the best funded in the state yet it's high school was beat out by twelve other Oregon schools that did make the list.

    More money per student is not the solution, more quality and productivity per teacher is. People that continue to beat the more money drum are the people that will enable the death of quality education in this country. More money enables the establishment to resit change and keep the status quo. Do some research, the status quo in education is not doing very well compared to many of our foreign competitors. We need to embrace change in public education or as the Nugget Editor has said it will die.

  8. You can talk till you're blue in the face about how we've failed in the social contract — and all you'll get out of it is a blue face.

    Yes, we have curious priorities. We incarcerate a lot of people at huge expense, etc., etc.

    Yes, we SHOULD dedicate more of our resources to education — IF we can be assured that those resources are hitting the classroom and are being used to maximum efficiency to continually improve education, not to maintain a status quo in which we fall behind by many international measures.

    The fact remains that we are not going to see significant increases in resources in the foreseeable future, even if we work assiduously on the revenue end.

    So what are we going to do about it? Railing about the injustice and stupidity of it all isn't going to help.

    Sad or not, this is a discussion that MUST be undertaken.

    I do not see merit pay as a silver bullet. It is something that should be done because it creates incentive for innovation, creativity and excellence. I don't buy the "teachers don't trust principals to do anything other than give raises to friends, favorites, and suck ups" argument. That assumes a profound level of corruption and dishonor. If such exists in our schools, then there's a huge problem that needs to be rooted out.

    Of course such a scheme is open to abuse, but it isn't that hard to create safeguards. There is no perfect method of ensuring appropriate compensation. Don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good.

    The perceived threat of dire unfairness is a bogeyman that has been emphasized by unions that prefer to keep their bargaining unit a UNIT. It's about collective bargaining after all. This serves the union, but it is questionable whether it really serves the teachers.

    The Chalkboard Project is beginning to crack this tough nut, with considerable buy-in from teachers.

    This is important. The quest for public education reform must be a cooperative effort among communities, administration and teachers. If it degenerates into management-labor contention or worse yet another front in a red v. blue culture war, we'll be worse off than we are now.

    Critics like Mr. Morgan should be heard, but they, too, need to be held to account. What does it mean to say "More money per student is not the solution, more quality and productivity per teacher is."?

    What is "productivity" in this context?

    The fact that a teacher gets excellent performance (by whatever metric we choose to measure that performance) out of a class of 25 students doesn't mean she'll get the same level of performance out of a class of 50.

    It is not fair to demand more productivity out of teachers without defining what productivity means. Efficiency in education is an amorphous concept.

    But let's at least try to define these things. Set standards and demand accountability. Again, teachers must be partners, not adversaries, in setting those standards and modeling accountability.

    Above all, in my view, we must start thinking creatively about what to deliver and how to deliver it in ways that maximize the use of technological innovation, minimize cost and tap funding resources outside of the state funding matrix. This is already happening in Sisters schools; it needs to be ramped up significantly.

    Public education is going to change over the next decade. It is far from certain that we will be able to keep it from sinking even with our best efforts. But if we just stand to the side and say "this shouldn't be happening" it will sink for sure.

    Jim Cornelius, Editor

  9. Jim,
    My point is not that we should give the schools more money. Obviously that is not going to happen. My point is that arguing about Merit pay is like re arranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. It cant possibly make a material difference when the cuts that need to be made are this draconian. Just make the damn cuts and be done with it.

    There is no real possibility that a web page can take the place of a teacher who is part of the community.

    Teachers being funded by private foundations, that only shifts the burden of fund raising from taxes to grants.

    Institutions that are chronically under funded for their core mission won't innovate, they will die.

  10. • "My point is that arguing about Merit pay is like re arranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. It cant possibly make a material difference when the cuts that need to be made are this draconian."

    Merit pay isn't a funding solution — but it may be a means of increasing "bang for the buck."

    • "There is no real possibility that a web page can take the place of a teacher who is part of the community."

    But can it not increase that teacher's productivity, ie. allow her to effectively teach more students at a high level of quality? Are you suggesting that such work that is already underway is not worthwhile?

    • "Teachers being funded by private foundations, that only shifts the burden of fund raising from taxes to grants."

    And why is that a bad thing? You stipulate that more tax-based funding is not forthcoming, so what are we to do?

    Public-private partnerships can work. The Sisters Folk Festival's Americana Project provided a grant to the SSD to fund a teaching position, since absorbed into the school district budget. The SFF is also providing support to retain the high school guitar building program and expand that program into the middle school.

    Obviously, the model I propose would require ongoing nonprofit support, not just start-up, but that could be a doable thing.

    • "My point is not that we should give the schools more money. Obviously that is not going to happen... Institutions that are chronically under funded for their core mission won't innovate, they will die."

    I'm not seeing any suggestions for a course of action here. Are you suggesting we just accept inevitable decline and failure?

    Jim Cornelius, Editor

  11. Jim:

    You answered your question regarding my statement: “More money per student is not the solution, more quality and productivity per teacher is.” Our best teachers should be encouraged to use innovation and technology to produce better results in more students than can be accomplished by keeping class size down and sticking with traditional methods. The class size argument is a union mantra that results in more teachers, more union members, more money in union Pac's, and more influence in politics.

    In the not too distinct future it will be very hard to define class size because students will be doing more on line or using self paced learning programs. These changes will first be used to educate high school kids that are on the fast track to collage. Why hold these kids back by restricting them to a classroom that can only go as fast as kids below their academic ability? It makes no sense to force the old model of one teacher, one classroom, and twenty kids on public schools when technology gives us so many alternatives.

    While on a rant let me also say that the biggest scam fostered by the unions and those they control on public education has been the concept of full inclusion of disabled and challenged kids in every school district, school, and classroom. This just does not work. Last year during the budget process I learned there was a bubble in the fifth grade, there were so many kids that there needed to be three fifth grade classes. I asked if the classes were separated by ability and was told they were not, each class had good, average, and poor performers. Why? Any good teacher will tell you that they can be much more effective when kids in each class are at about the same level.

    This thinking that one size fits all may benefit the union agenda but it's destroying public education. Private schools don't have this problem nor would public education if vouchers were used. Parents and kids would select schools and programs that fit their needs, where the majority of other kids were on the same track, hoping to get the same good result. Why do we continue to force all kids to go to traditional schools for twelve years when some of those kids, for reasons often beyond their control, have no ability or desire to learn? You can lead a horse to water but you can't force it to drink. The same can be said about kids. Forcing kids into an environment that doesn't work for them causes the whole system to not work as well as it should. It's like the war on drugs, you can throw more billions at it and it's still not going to work because it's a flawed concept.

  12. Jim,

    I agree that Merit pay is a good thing and can be designed to work for teachers. It wont solve funding problem or increase "productivity". It will increase quality.

    I agree that teachers need new tools in that include options for distance learning. But guess what, distance learning (ie web based) still requires teachers to support the web based content and to provide guidance to students. This type of delivery is useful for students who are remote, or have a specific interest where the expertise is remote. But again it is not a funding solution and in fact has funding requirements of its own.

    There is nothing wrong with private corporations providing support for public schools. But relying on it for funding of core education means that every community will have to go hunting for corporate patrons to fund basic education, and will as a consequence become hostage to those same corporations. School boards spending time and money to attract corporate funding will quickly become an industry of its own and, in my opinion, not a desirable way to spend time and money.

    My proposed solution is that we stop kidding ourselves. Funding is the issue. Not productivity or quality (not that you should not address these as issues in their own right. You cannot teach kids without teachers.

    To Mike Morgan

    Vilifying teachers unions will not solve funding issues. In fact all it will do is promote conflict for its own sake. We need to work with our teachers to make our schools the best they can be.

    You seem to think that there is some magic innovation or technology that will teach our children better than a teacher in the class room. The part you don't get is that teaching is an interpersonal relationship between teacher and student. Not a manufacturing technique or technology.

  13. To Anonymous:

    I don't buy that the Sisters School District has a funding problem, the total budget is ~$20 million for ~1250 students. This equals ~$16,000 per kid in a seat. That's a lot of money!

    I don't blame unions for bankrupting General Motors, I blame management that rolled over year after year to unsustainable demands. That said, it's also clear that the unions shot themselves in the foot because their demands ultimately led to GM being uncompetitive in the marketplace. The bankruptcy court mitigated much of the unsustainable financial burden and GM is on a path to recovery.

    In California county grand juries are tasked to audit local government and that includes school districts. About a month ago the grand jury for Sacramento County issued a warning to the community regarding the thirteen school districts within the county. Of the thirteen, twelve are currently insolvent and will probably be forced into bankruptcy to restructure benefits promised to retired teachers. I think it's safe to say that in at least this community both the union and school district management has failed. My point is I'm an equal opportunity critic, I see problems on both sides.

    There is no magic bullet but if you can't do the simple things like a RIF based on merit how can we, the public, have any confidence at all that management and labor can work together to solve the bigger problems?

    I don't buy that all learning requires a classroom and a certified teacher. I ran a large field service organization many years ago and had my own training department. We used training techniques and tools that have yet to be fully implemented in public education. I strongly suggest doing some research to learn how the private sector educates employees. I guarantee its done at considerably less cost per student hour than can currently be done in public education.

    I also question your concept that teaching is all about an interpersonal relationship. That might be the case in the lower grades but there is nothing magical that happens to kids during the summer before collage. In June they're in a class of 20, they know their teacher intimately, and their learning just fine. In September they're in a lecture hall with 300 other kids, have an inexperienced graduate T/A they never get to know, and learn just fine.

    More funding is not likely to happen anytime soon. If we want our kids to have opportunities equal to what I had we need to explore new ways of getting things done at less cost per student. The education industry needs to get out of the last century and embrace change. The same ole' same ole' isn't working very well.

  14. I agree with Mike Morgan about the "interpersonal realationships" and teachers..my son has spent the last two years learning on-line with his teacher coming to help him every 2 weeks and a dailey on-line connection. I have witnessed "teachers" abusing,bullying and trouncing the joy of learning out of children along with the brown nosing of well placed individuals and their children in this town..after witnessing the "board" pointing fingers at the charter schools for fiscal mismanagement and destroying that option for those of us who no longer respect public schools it seems like the best choice as a town is to look at our existing board of volunteers and clean house! They have made such mind-boggling mistakes and choices and continue to do so! You and me would have been fired on the spot! Just call me "blue in the face"!

  15. Mr. Morgan.

    Glad you brought up California schools. Her is the fun they have experienced.

    1950-1980: California boasts the best public school system in the country as measured by literacy, drop out rates, graduation rates test scores and rate of attendance at 4 year colleges.

    1978: Proposition 13 Guts funding for schools state wide. ( No wonder districts go bankrupt)

    1980 - present: California school system enters long period of decline to achieve the ranking as one of the worst school systems in the country. As measured by these same criteria.

    The have had 30 years to innovate their way out of that mess to no avail.

    There are a lot of things we can learn from the California Public Schools.

  16. Anonymous:

    The lessen to be learned from California is not to stick our heads in the sand for 30 years before innovating improvements to public education. You can bemoan Prop. 13 all you want but the facts are all public entities have to comply with the will of the people. The percentage of people that don't think they're getting a good bang for their taxpayer buck is much higher today than 10 years ago. Oregon is on the same track as California but a year or two behind. The task at hand is to figure out how to educate more kids per taxpayer dollar. Anybody in public education not on board with that objective is hurting our kids and needs to get out of the way.

  17. Innovation is a lie. When you de-fund schools they turn to crap. Its pretty simple. You get what you pay for.

    It is an old song: if just run schools like a business.... yada yada yada

    quality education means quality teachers in sufficient quantity to teach the student population. since the time of Socrates the fundamentals of teaching have not changed. That is not because "the education industry" does not want to embrace change, it is because the way humans learn has not changed, and the best methods for teaching don't depend on the internet or magic innovations.

    From the ancients to the best ideas in modern education, there is one thing that hasn't changed: if techers dont teach, students dont learn.

  18. Suggestion for a course of action:

    Put God back in!

  19. Anonymous:

    Innovation is a lie, the only thing that works is the same ole' same ole'? Well, good luck with that. I'm grateful that at least some folks in the education industry are willing innovate and incorporate new technology tools to improve quality and increase teacher productivity.

    Quality education means quality teachers? Does that mean you support merit over seniority? If you do we at least have that in common. Do you favor choice in public education? Do you support charter schools? Is the work of the Chalkboard Project and the Gates Foundation worthwhile?

    If quality teachers is the answer then we should be in good shape. Current estimates are 300,000 teachers will be pink slipped nationally this summer. Since most will be let go based on seniority it will be easy to replace our marginal performers with high quality younger talent that will work hard just to keep a job. This would be a good way to improve the local workforce consistent with your comments.

  20. Mr. Morgan,

    Schools require sufficient funding to succeed. And yet there are schools which are sufficiently funded that fail. Sisters Schools have been historically successful in delivering education to our kids. One of the keys (not the only one) to that success has been the provision of adequate funds.

    If you de-fund the schools, the ones which are successful will begin to fail and the ones which are already failing will continue to do so. This was the experience in California.

    Hiring and retaining teachers based on merit is fine, but when the community begrudges the teacher their income (see Matt Cyrus comments and latest letters to the editor) then merit will quickly fall to the wayside.

    If you have the background in business you claim then you know that $80k/yr fully loaded cost for a professional employee with a college degree and professional certification is incredibly cheap.

    If you want to institute private sector style Hiring and retention practices based on merit for teachers, then you will need to also affect a cultural change where teachers are regarded as respected professionals performing a valuable service as opposed to overpaid servants who are robbing us blind.

    The innovations you tout from private companies are not free or even cheap. Even web based delivery of corporate training is very expensive. The infrastructure required to manage and maintain that type of capability is extensive.

    Innovation: What killed innovation in the schools? Ballot Measure 5. How? By removing the source of funding from the community. He who controls the funds controls the policy. Who controls Critical amounts of money? The state. Now we have to follow their rules.

    What innovation we need is to return control of schools to the communitees they serve. This means innovation in finding reliable locally controlled funding and getting the state out of our class rooms.

    The role of Federal and state government should be restricted to ensuring that local communities do not exclude any of its members (as in brown v board of ed).

    Prop 13 and ballot measure 5 stole control of our schools and gave it to bureaucrats in the sate and federal government.

    Do you believe that every child is entitled to a first rate education no matter their socio-economic status? I do.

    the innovation schools need is to restore locally sourced reliable funding and therefore lcoal control.

  21. Anonymous:

    Wow, you've said a lot and I agree with a good part of it. However, some things you've said don't pass a reality check and some is conflicted.

    SSD teachers don't average $80K per year, it's ~$80K for 9 months of work. Matt Cyrus annualized the SSD average to create a reasonably accurate comparison to the private sector of ~$112K/yr. But even that number is low because for the most part the private sector funds their own retirement out of savings that they invest and they don't have taxpayer relief when their investments tank.

    I've gone to many SSD board meetings and teachers have always been treated professionally. That said, if they want to be treated even better they need to either let go of union membership or demand the union embrace merit, distance and self-paced learning, equal funding for charter schools, and eventually vouchers that give parents choice and puts competition into the system.

    How can you say every child has a right to a first rate education regardless of social-economic status and at the same time argue for a return to a system of local funding where rich districts do well and poor districts are crap and can't even provide a safe environment? The concept of state funding is predicated on the desire to reasonably level the playing field between the rich and poor. That's an honorable objective consistent with your stated belief that all kids deserve an equal opportunity to a good education..

    Too much bureaucracy at federal and state departments of education; I ABSOLUTELY AGREE. The public should demand they downsize to no more than 10% of current size. Way too much of what they do is make work projects to sustain the growth of the bureaucracy. I would also stop public entities from spending public money on lobbyist; their agenda is rarely in the best interest of the people who pay them.

  22. You want to hire and fire based on merit and cut pay at the same time. This is why unions form in the first place. To protect people from this kind of management abuse.

    It is very simple to fire the most senior highest paid teachers so that you can go for young cheap ones under the guise of Merit Pay.

    There are plenty of private sector retirement funds and programs that are very generous. Most fortune 500 companies provide very nice compensation packages that include very good retirement benefits in the form of matching 401k funds or retirement plans or both.

    As for leveling the playing field by providing funding from the state, that was not the intent of Ballot measure 5 or Prop 13. Letting corporate and large land owners off the hook for funding schools was the true intent. However, it did result in more equality...ie equally bad. Least common denominator effect.

    Solving the equality problem (between rich and poor districts) while retaining local control would be a true innovation.

    I have been a manager in private sector for many years and I have never seen anyone incented to excellence through pay cuts. If you want innovation then you need to view teachers as part of the solution, not as the problem or a necessary evil that, if we could just get rid of them, schools would be inexpensive innovative learning places.

    Bottom line: there are no Teacher Free schools adn no Free Teacher schools.

    Funding sufficient level of teachers to deliver education to the student population is table stakes: excellence and innovation comes after that.

  23. Anonymous

    Please don't misrepresent what I've said. I don't have an agenda to fire senior teachers and replace them with younger ones. I support a merit based system where the best employees can make considerably more than the average employee and marginal employes get replaced from time to time with better ones. I've always paid my employees better than my competition but I demand hard work, loyalty, and the pursuit of excellence.

    Teachers are part of the solution but they're somewhat constrained because under the current union contract they're all treated the same. How can excellence rise to the surface in that environment? There is no incentive for working harder than the next guy and no pay back for taking risks to increase quality or productivity. There is absolutely nothing to gain by being better than average.

    I know of NO private sector retirement plan for rank and file employees that is as good as PERS that includes taxpayer protection against a downturn in the markets.

    You're opinion that Measure 5 and Prop. 13 were sell outs to evil corporations and large land owners makes no sense; the last time I checked corporations and large land owners pay property taxes.

    Finally, I think ~$16K per kid in the seat is more than enough table stakes; it's time for the innovation and excellence to begin.

  24. I don't think I have misrepresented what you said. Lets connect the dots:

    You seem to support the idea that 80k per year is too much for a teacher based on the following post you made:

    "SSD teachers don't average $80K per year, it's ~$80K for 9 months of work. Matt Cyrus annualized the SSD average to create a reasonably accurate comparison to the private sector of ~$112K/yr."

    You seem to be making an argument that this is too much to pay a teacher.

    Couple that with your vociferous support for "Merit Pay" and it is not a very big leap to think that cost of the teacher would figure in your RIF criteria, hence rid our selves of these overpaid senior teachers in favor of younger cheaper ones, who are chosen on the pretext of Merit.

    My belief is that if you attack teachers for their compensation, you stand very little chance of changing the standing of the union, or their policy on RIF's. And therefore almost no chance of creating an environment where you can innovate.

  25. ... oh by the way, You keep saying that we have 16K per student like its money we can choose to spend any way we want, just innovate with those dollars. But that is not really the case. Of the 16k approx 6.5k is dedicated to uses that cannot be changed..like debt service on the bonds that we voted for. Yes the debt service is an expenditure for schools , but it cannot be redirected, it must go to pay back principle and interest on the bonds. The other money outside the general fund is likewise prescribed in its uses.

    The real amount that is available for instruction/innovation is more like 9.5K per student.

  26. Anonymous:

    You're absolutely right about the $16K; however, regardless of restrictions this is the approximate cost per student per year in the Sisters School District. Everything else you've said in your last post is wrong. There is no need for you to connect dots or to speculate about what I say. What you are now doing is attacking me personally by misrepresenting what I've said because you can't justify your position that more money is the answer and the only answer. You are conflicted, you want better schools yet you won't support any improvements that could be implemented now because you're holding out for the holy grail which is more money. Good luck with that; you're going to be blue in the face screaming about the injustice of not enough money while our schools tank. We can do more with less if nay sayers like you get out of the way. I'm done with this debate unless somebody with a more positive attitude joins in.

  27. A) Wanting to stop cuts is not the same as as asking for more money.

    B) I am not conflicted at all. What I want is for people to realize that the reason schools don't have enough money is not because they became expensive, it is because we cut funding.We cut funding because a generation of Cut taxes and Spend anyway policies has finally caught up to us. Ballot Measure 5 with the shift to state funding for schools is our home grown example. Bush tax cuts and the continued profigate spending are the national version.

    C) A return to adequate funding is not a pipe dream, the people have shown some will to bite the bullet and pay for what they need: e.g. passage of ballot measure 66 & 67, Gas tax in Sisters.

    D) Pointing out the logic implied in your statements is not a personal attack. It's debate.

  28. Anonymous:

    More money is a pipe dream. See the front page story in the Bulletin on Saturday June 26th titled: MUCH MUST BE REDONE TO FIX STATE; I quote: “Governor Kulongoski on Friday said bleak fiscal projections in the coming decade demand an overhaul of state government, ranging from tying teacher pay to student performance and other educational reforms, to new sentencing laws and curbs on state employee benefits...because lost jobs won't be returning soon...he called for among other things...making teacher pay the subject of statewide contract negotiations...and, requiring health insurance co-pays for state employees...”

    If this were a Republican Governor making these observations I would agree that more money in the foreseeable future was a possibility; but it's not. If a state controlled by the Democratic party can't get more money for public education then it's not going to happen. The sooner you and others get this figured out and get on board with reforms that can help the better off our kids will be. Waiting for the holy grail is certain to result in the further decline of public schools.

  29. Mr Morgan:

    Reforms are fine, but when the discussion starts with Teachers are Overpaid, then the genuineness of the of the intention is suspect.

    Merit pay should be about rewarding excellence, not a euphemism for cutting teacher pay or increasing class room sizes or both.

    The fact of the matter is that this all boils down to paying less for fewer teachers. And the degree to which you are going to cut teaching payroll over the next decade is going to tell how badly education will suffer.

    Excellence in education is not cheap. Pretending it is cheap is a delusion. Pretending that teacher payroll cuts is "Merit Pay" is a delusion.

    I believe you when you say that there will be big cuts in funding. And that we will have to change the way we do things. The best we can hope for in that case is to limit the damage to our schools.

    It isn't reform, it is damage control.

  30. Anonymous:

    I don't care what you call it, we need to get better results at less cost per student. I don't equate merit pay with cost reduction. It's purpose, as you said, is to reward excellence. However, properly applied it also encourages marginal performers to improve to avoid being on the bubble during downsizing.

    A merit based system could actually result in a higher average cost per teacher but the average productivity per teacher should offset any increase. I'd gladly pay 20% more per employee to get a 30% increase in productivity.

    My focus is on getting things done now that we can do now; waiting for politicians in Salem or Washington to do anything useful could take a very long time.

    I've enjoyed the back and forth with you but I'm off to a remote camp in Alaska for some Salmon fishing so this is really my last post. I also want to thank Jim and the Nugget for bringing up this issue that's so very important to the future of our country. If our dialog gets one more person past their apathy then our effort has been worthwhile.

  31. Mike:

    Things you can do now: RIF teachers to increase the students per teacher and reduce cost per student. Cut teacher pay by reducing the days kids are in school.

    Things Local Politics (not Salem or Washington) wont let you do: Pay teachers more for excellence.

    And finally something I challenge you personally to do: let someone else have the last word.