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 With my status as librarian in question my career self-interest superseded my attendance at the ITC meeting.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."

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

The Day After: GLHS Faculty Meeting

Today's faculty meeting is dedicated to recapping last evening's reorganization meeting. Principal Gabriel begins by examining the timeline:
  • Public comment and questions should be submitted before the December 14 Board meeting, since the recommendations will be acted upon at that date's meeting.
  • Director of Technology and Public Relations Director positions will be eliminated by March 1, 2010.
Other plans:
  • There are no plans to make cuts to any elective offerings. The building, at this point, should continue under the status quo.
  • The 75-100 students at Sawdon alternative school will be reabsorbed into Grand Ledge High School. A more traditional Sawdon 'school within a school' technique that runs concurrent with the normal school day is unlikely, due to the physical limitations of the building. Another choice would be to run the Sawdon students in a differentiated schedule, like from 3 to 8 P.M.
  • The Sawdon faculty have the ability to bump into the regular education teaching ranks due to their tenured status. But only the least senior, probationary, non-tenured teaching positions are threatened.
  • The numbers look to be 50-70 teachers that will be displaced, which will cause an unpredictable bumping process throughout all of the District's buildings.
  • Attrition will claim building principals Charlie Phillips and Mark Christman, who are retired and have been working on a contract basis.
  • Dr. Matthews is planning on visiting with the Grand Ledge High School faculty on November 10 to further iron out the details of the restructuring plan.
  • Grand Ledge Public Schools gained 43 students through a schools of choice program, but that was counteracted by the loss of over 100 students.
The difficult point is the 'waiting game' for the less-senior faculty members, where people are counting positions from the bottom up the seniority list and speculating about their potential for layoff or job retention. An example bumping scenario occurs with middle school physical education teachers being reduced and bumping into other phys ed positions, or their other certifications. The bumping scenario is not limited to teaching faculty, either, because, with all of the building closings, secretaries, custodians, food service personnel, and teaching assistants will all go through bumpings as well.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Special meeting of the Grand Ledge Public Schools Board of Education: District Restructuring Plans

This special meeting of the Grand Ledge Board of Education began at 6:02 P.M., to a tremendously full Grand Ledge High School Auditorium. The line of traffic on Jenne Street to turn left into the Neff and High School parking areas was lengthy and at a standstill, but thankfully I'm a bike commuter. Board President Don Symonds laid out the broad agenda and the protocol, and Dr. Steve Matthews took over with a presentation on the flaws of Michigan school funding, as published by the Washtenaw Intermediate School District; the presentation is supposed to take only 15 minutes, and public commentary is supposed to begin at 7 P.M., leaving a precious little 45 minutes for Dr. Matthews' recommendations. The slide show, among many points, articulates the many ways school districts have sought to save monies. One of the bulleted historical points is "Closing school libraries and computer labs."

Notes (per Dr. Matthews):
  • Opens the reorganization talk with the notice that the Grand Ledge Public Schools had invited all state legislators from the Eaton, Clinton, and Ionia Counties, along with Governor Granholm. Only Representative Rick Jones accepted the invitation, but Grand Ledge Mayor Kalmin Smith is also in attendance.
  • Had difficult conversations with two colleagues in central office (does this mean there are administrative layoffs?). Seeks to be as "transparent as possible."
  • The reality of managing costs is to reduce the number of employees, and that's his recommendation.
  • Neighborhood schools were important (my emphasis).
  • Eliminate 2 central office administrative positions by March 2010, and restructure another. Projected savings: $210,000.
  • Reduce the general fund contribution to athletics by $227,000, and raise the participation fee to $100 per sport.
  • High School transportation will be eliminated, for a savings of $500,000.
  • Unspecified targeted employee concessions: $538,000.
  • Neff: Early childhood/Kindergarten Center
  • Beagle, Delta Center, Wacousta, Willow Ridge will become grades 1-6.
  • Hayes will become a grade 7-8 building.
  • Holbrook, Greenwood, Sawdon will close.
  • Physical education, art, and music will continue at the elementary level.
  • 2.5 elementary counselors will be added at the elementary level.
  • Middle school athletics will continue, with some modifications.
  • Choir, band, and elective options will continue at Hayes.
  • All 7-12 students will move together.
  • Much attention paid to at-risk students.
  • Teacher reductions: 32
  • Building administrator reductions: 2
  • 5 secretarial reductions.
  • Rent or sell Greenwood and Holbrook (University/College Center, or YMCA?).
  • What if the state's financial picture changes, or our enrollment stabilizes? Transportation restructuring and athletics will be reconsidered, but not to administrative or building proposal changes.
  • A timeline of 6 weeks is being proposed for the GLPS Board decision.
Public Commentary
  • John Ellsworth spoke eloquently about "Save our schools, save our state."
  • Jeff Turner asks about Sawdon's future, considering the closing of the alternative school.
  • Pat O'Keefe says he spent 40 years working with the best folks around, bus drivers, custodians, and teachers alike. He recommends that Rick Jones set education funding as a top priority, and legislators should be docked 5% of their salary per day until the problem is solved. The most important jobs are clergy and medicine, for saving souls and lives. Next in priority is education, and young people need adults in their lives. Finally, Pat enthusiastically recommends using Grand Ledge folks as contractors for the work being conducted in Grand Ledge, to much applause.
  • Minda Schneider (the GLHS Library secretary) is a Grand Ledge High School graduate, who thought enough of the school district to relocate back here to raise her family. She worries about the potential for growth, if we close and lose buildings. Minda calls the audience to stand up and be counted, rather than blaming the Board or Rick Jones for the State's problems.
  • Due to the difficult decisions he faced, Bruce Dunn now "really respects" Dr. Matthews. Kim Mulvenna leads the Board's applause for the positive remarks about the tenor of the evening's comments.
  • Sarah Storm's school funding analogy, humorously, is to fashion: she aims to dress well, but rather she's attired on a TJ Maxx budget. If only she could outfit herself like the neighboring Waverly school district, which receives several thousand more dollars per year per student.
Aside: Dr. Matthews discusses a November 10 (10 A.M. to noon) SOS rally at the Capital, fighting for fair and equitable school funding. More information will be provided on the website about how we can communicate with our legislators.
  • Ruth Ann Jacquette recommends a thoroughly researched and conducted transition plan to protect students and the changes, due to the fiasco of the Mulliken Elementary closing.
Dr. Matthews conclusions:
  • We cannot reduce the length of the school year, we are mandated to be open 170 school days.
  • Sawdon's closure does not make fiscal sense, due to the wiring and cooling systems. Additionally, what of Sawdon if central office were relocated to Holbrook?
  • An FAQ will be placed on the webpage.
  • Steve Delaney suggested to Sawdon that GLPS run an advertisement in the Tennessee newspapers to attract those displaced workers to relocate to Grand Ledge.
  • Despite the building closings, the District still has the capacity to grow by 400 students.
Board conclusions:
  • Wacyk overwhelmed by audience response, thanks is provided.
  • Sara Clark Pierson proud to be a member of this district, because of the respect with which everything was communicated. Heart-wrenching decisions, because of the 53.5 jobs lost. Finally, Pierson recommends that we cease the charge for parking at the High School.
  • Curiously, Kim Mulvenna affirms that we charge for parking at the High School. This is the tough meeting, because this is when the cuts became real. Curiously again, she says this despite the fact that custodians and transportation already suffered serious concessions.
  • Jim Shell states that without a plan such as the one proposed tonight, Grand Ledge would risk entering into receivership, the terms of which would be dictated by Lansing bureaucrats, which would be much more onerous.
November 4 Postscript: Here's the District's restructuring page, the Lansing State Journal recap, and the video rundown from WILX.

Monday, November 02, 2009

Conference Attendance: MAME 36

My annual MAME conference roundup, which also happens to be the means by which I now keep notes. The keynote speaker was Christopher Harris, a library leader from New York state at a level comparable to our ISDs or REMCs. Harris's talk, similar to David Warlick's themes, revolved around enhanced communication via the new digital methods, the keywords I took down include:
The irony of such talks is that, frequently, school librarians desire to be the place for innovation, the destination for digital nativity, the new means of reaching and teaching students, but are hindered by a variety of factors: infrastructure, policies, politics, sheer depth of schedule, and now, even job reductions. So, until we solve the obstacles within our organizations and our state through self-advocacy, we'll continue to only desire to be the innovators, rather than the actual change students can use.

Other sessions, in order, include:

Web 2.0: Judy Hauser, Oakland Schools
  • RedZ: Search engine that shows home pages in search results. Has potential, perhaps for special ed or visually-impaired students.
  • Wordle: Website for creating word clouds, seen it before and like the visual opportunities it provides.
  • Doodle: An online scheduling tool, but I'll stick with Evite for personal, or Google Calendar for organizational scheduling.
  • Big Huge Labs: Creative photo tool for creating badges, posters, etc., that can use Flickr or one's own photos.
  • Pics4Learning: A copyright-friendly image library for teachers and students.
  • Flickr Creative Commons: Freely-available photos, with attribution.
Information Literate: Inquiry Research Unit
Using Surveys to Find Out What Students Know: Using clickers to conduct student surveys.

Making a Difference in Your District: Barb Fardell
  • MMC digital content is coming soon from Florida Virtual High School, purchased in perpetuity for $850,000?
  • 24 two semester courses (Algebra I & II, Calculus, Geometry, American Government, American & World History, English I, II, III & IV, Biology, Chemistry, Physics, and Spanish & Latin, among others).
  • Much potential here, will plan to share this information with out curriculum director.
Media Center Coffee Shop

Other observations
  • In the old days when there were competing sessions that I wanted to attend, I would simply slip in to retrieve a handout, then fly off to the other concurrent presentation. Now, thankfully, to concentrate on the chat and keep from taking detailed notes, or to access sessions other than the ones attended, people's presentations are posted to the MAME website for later digestion.
  • Thursday night dinner was at the Mackinaw Brewing Company, an excellent Bleu Cheese Burger and an above average pint of Peninsula Pale Ale and a mediocre pint of Beadle's Best Bitter. A delicious Friday lunch, too, with my aunt and uncle at the Bayview Inn.
  • The weather was crummy, no other way to describe it: gray, low clouds, only short periods of non-rain. Unfortunately, this was my opportunity to take the opportunity to golf a resort-style course. Went for a run instead, and found the Grand Traverse area hilly.
  • Attendance seemed way down, as I looked around the keynote opening speech. Which leads me to my concluding thoughts...
Starting out for Traverse City on Thursday at 4 A.M. to drive the 200 or so miles before the conference start worked out well again, and saved me the money of a hotel room the night prior, which is important since my district doesn't reimburse for mileage, food, or lodging. But, the Traverse City location in the Lansing-Grand Rapids-Detroit-TC rota is notable, again, as it turns out that we're here for business purposes. It seems that MAME has been to Traverse City three times in the last 5 or 6 years, and it's curious that Lansing is no longer in the mix for the annual conference. (And, I've blogged about my thoughts on Traverse City already.) Apparently, MAME is settling some sort of debt for previous conferences, and MAME members are forced to trek all the way up north to make amends. I would like to take this opportunity to have it noted that as much as I enjoy the Traverse area, it's not only time to get more regular conferences downstate where the majority of the population lives, but a MAME Conference in Lansing is long overdue.