Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Our turn with the Superintendent

This afternoon I have concurrent 3 P.M. meetings scheduled: the monthly Instructional Technology Council gathering and the breakdown meeting with the Superintendent of the proposed reorganization plan. With my status as librarian in question my career self-interest superseded my attendance at the ITC meeting.

Dr. Matthews begins the meeting with the reiteration of the 'reality' of school funding. The discussion continues with:
  • The Grand Ledge Public Schools has a current structural deficit of between $1.9 and $2 million dollars.
  • While the kindergarten numbers are the biggest in the elementary levels this year, that is explainable by the elimination of developmental kindergarten and the bubble that that situation created.
  • Neff Elementary was chosen as the early childhood/kindergarten center because every classroom has a bathroom, "which, I'm told, is important."
  • The academic benefits of clustering students in the elementary buildings is discussed.
  • "The reality is this is a pretty significant change to our school district."
After the presentation, we transitioned to a question and answer session:
  • Beyond the elimination of 32 teaching positions, where will the employee concessions come from? I don't want to negotiate in public, but we probably need to even go further than those levels, and this allows us to reach $4.1 million in cuts.
  • How will we look after we make all of these significant cuts? We will still be in a significant structural deficit.
  • A follow up question: Then why make all these significant cuts where neighborhood schools are removed? We have to make our choices now so that the State doesn't make them for us.
  • Another follow up question: Was the alternative plan presented by John Ellsworth ever considered? It wasn't considered because it wasn't presented to Dr. Matthews in advance, because it calls for untenable (my word) cuts to central office administrators. The Saline example isn't valid because their administrative costs are less, they have fewer buildings.
  • What is the soonest date for when teachers know who's staying and who's going? That's unclear, considering discussions need to take place with the union. But, it will occur as soon as possible. Statuses of being highly qualified, tenured or probationary, and seniority are all factors in the considerations.
  • Why isn't a retirement incentive being considered? It costs money, we've done 3 in the last 7 years, and some individuals may not even need the inducement to retire.
  • Isn't the notion that education will be better with the plans proposed by both Ellsworth and Matthews a little misleading? The proposal that we've made isn't perfect, but we also don't have the best test scores in the state. "We don't have a perfect system, we have to figure out how to have a positive impact on our children."
  • A follow up statement: The public would appreciate the notion that this plan isn't perfect, and that there needs to be fixes provided by the State.
  • The public doesn't want messiness in plans, let's proceed quickly with one so teachers and parents alike can progress with their lives.
  • How might it look with Sawdon intermingled here at the High School? The Sawdon plan is in progress, but a support system will be provided. Sawdon folks will not simply be deposited into 4 classrooms in the High School.
  • Highly qualified and special education? Dr. Matthews has to sign off on a federal audit for emergency certifications.
  • Will John's plan be examined? Yes, we are: Google Apps for Education.
  • "You owe it to the 32 teachers to examine alternative plans."
  • "The biggest cut comes from our back, and you want us to make additional wage concessions?"
  • "You are restructuring the instructional levels, how about considering restructuring central office, how about considering John's plan? How about compromises where only 16 teachers are laid off, but central office is considered."
  • "Do not send the message that we're status quo, we are in dire straights. The parents need that message, we shouldn't avoid our parents' anger."
  • Could Title 1 monies be used to pay for teacher's salaries? Title 1 is a federal program that is automatically allotted to school districts based on free and reduced lunch numbers, and we already receive Title 1 dollars. But, Title 1 isn't a grant that can be written for and used for specific teaching salaries.
  • Could we redistrict school boundaries to maximize Title 1 monies? Yes
  • With the assumptions of 32 teacher cuts, is there an idea of from where the cuts will come? The sooner the better, but it's based on elementary attendance figures: the first part of the year.
  • Are there means by which we can make money instead of cutting? Schools of choice, but raising revenue is very difficult.
  • It needs to be communicated to the Grand Ledge parents that the legislature is failing, not the schools. We're a success despite how schools are funded, despite the legislature.
  • I watched the movie Milk this weekend, and the phrase "You gotta give 'em hope" sticks. Could we examine both plans and cut twice the money? Let's be bold, let's be dramatic. Let's not cope, let's give 'em hope.
  • "John's plan will cause students to leave the district due to the cuts to athletics. I'm up 'till midnight every night trying to raise money for my sport." Teacher response: "Status quo."
  • Is there a plan for following up with parents and families about why students leave the district? Only anecdotally, nothing formal.
  • Jefferson quote: "Your nation is only as strong as your least-educated student. We can't afford dropouts."

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