Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Another state budget, more questions . . .

The House presented their budget today. The cuts in this budget are not as deep as those in the Senate budget. That is the good news. The not so good news is that because they are so far apart it will likely take longer in conference committee to reach a compromise budget that the Governor will not veto. It could take until late April before we will have the final budget. Even with these differences, however, we are in a better position today than we were prior to the announcement of these budget bills. We at least know the worst case scenario for cuts, the Senate budget.

What we learned today, however, again demonstrates just how difficult this work is given the time constraints and complexity of the task. Late this afternoon Lori Cloud came back from a meeting with disturbing news. Basically, we were advised to not use the data given to us on the Senate’s spread sheet because they have not included all of the cuts in their calculations. In addition, there are far too many unanswered questions to know if the stimulus funds can be used in the way the Senate has included them in their budget. One step forward and two steps back. Oh well, onward we go.

I was going to share the differences in the level of cuts for the three budgets, but I will wait until we better understand the net impact of the cuts. I say this because though the House level of cuts is smaller the net impact may be greater because they do not back fill with as much revenue from the stimulus package. So, we find ourselves in the continuing position of waiting to learn the impact on our system. That will emerge over the next days and weeks. Meanwhile, we will continue to move forward with April 13th the date for the recommended budget adjustments to be shared publicly and May 5th the date when the board makes the final decisions.

Monday, March 30, 2009

The bad, the good, and the not so good . . .

First, the bad news:

As promised, the Senate released their budget this morning. Listening to the news conference I found myself wondering how are we going to make this work with the depth and breadth of cuts. The cuts included the following main areas.
· I-728 – 93% cut of approximately $2,700,000. The Governor proposed a cut in December of 23% or approximately $680,000.
· Levy Equalization – 75% cut of approximately $250,000. The Governor’s proposed cut was about $120,000.
· K-4 Enhancement, revenue that allows for lowering class size in grades K-4, 100% cut. This was a complete surprise as it was not in the Governor’s budget and could have meant the loss of up to 15+ teachers in these grade levels.

Second, the good news:

Senator Pflug sent us a copy of the excel document that showed the impact of the cuts on each school district. In this document we saw for the first time the stimulus funding used to partially offset the proposed cuts. The Senate basically tried to equalize the cuts to each district at 3.5% by using the stimulus funds to back into this percent. They also funded the reduction of grandfathered districts related to the Federal Way lawsuit. Together, these two new pots put approximately $2,000,000 of the cuts back into our system next year. This was definitely good

It seemed odd, however, to be celebrating additional cuts to our state revenue. We are learning through this process that emotions change with new information and tomorrow’s House budget will, I’m sure, provide another opportunity for a roller coaster ride.

Third, the not so good news:

We are still processing the Senate budget to see how some of the other changes will impact our revenue for next year. We know that the net effect will be an increase over what the Governor proposed, but we will not know how much until we have more detailed information. What is also problematic is the use of the stimulus funds. It eases the issue for next year, but it does not eliminate it in the long term as these funds are only available for the next two years. After that, we will be forced to revisit the need for additional adjustments unless basic education funding undergoes a significant overhaul at the state level.

Forgot this one additional item - LID days were cut.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

A truly crucial conversation . . .

Once again Ethan’s comment has created a wonderful context for continuing the discussion on budget adjustments. The meeting that he shares taking place tomorrow is an opportunity for interested staff to share their private thoughts and to influence the direction that the Association chooses to take. I don’t know how or why the meeting was called, but it is good to see that something positive has emerged from the sharing.

My experience tells me that it will be important for all attending to truly examine their ladders and be aware of the assumptions that drive those ladders. When we engage in emotional conversations, as this one will be, it is more difficult to stay in our rational brains; where this one needs to be. It is also important to remember that there are valid reasons for people to hold differing views on how to proceed. These differing views do not make people good or bad because of the view that they hold so it will be critical to balance advocacy with inquiry. Trying to understand each other at a deep level through inquiry can keep us in our rational brains as opposed to simply advocating for a preferred outcome.

If a safe environment is not created and maintained it will be easy for a meeting such as this one to quickly slip into a debate. People go to fight or flight when it does not feel safe to engage. Facilitating meetings where people are emotionally invested in an issue is very difficult. I do not envy the task in front of the Association leadership. I can imagine that they are under extreme pressure from WEA to not engage in problem solving this issue and are being told that it is the district’s responsibility. Calling for a meeting under the current circumstances shows leadership and a desire to place a priority on the needs of the local association.

Many school districts are ahead of us in identifying budget adjustments and have already sent out non-renewal letters to staff. I have not read or heard of an association in these situations being open to engage at the table. For me, tomorrow’s meeting is affirmation that the culture we are creating in our system is based on collaboration and respect. Regardless of the outcome of the meeting, I am proud that people stepped forward and requested an opportunity to be heard and that the leadership has created that opportunity. You are to be commended for your actions.

I encourage you to take this opportunity to actively engage in this conversation. In my time at Tahoma there has been no other conversation with as much potential to influence who we are in both the short and long term. I eagerly await the outcome.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

At last, hope for a target . . .

The Senate will be releasing their budget on Monday followed on Tuesday by the House budget. If the two budgets are similar, we could see a final version before the scheduled last day of the session in late April. If not, it will make it more difficult for us to identify the target and the session could drag into May.

With this information, we can make an estimate of what will emerge from the conference committee that will likely be necessary to reconcile differences in the two versions. The only other variable that could have a significant influence on this target is the stimulus package and how the Governor chooses to use it. If she backfills some of the cuts that were in her original budget and next week’s versions the target could be less. We can only hope that this happens in a manner that supports our system and that this information also becomes available early next week.

Not knowing continues to cause stress and anxiety for all of us. Having these two budgets doesn’t replace this anxiety, but it will at last begin the process of closure for us.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

No news is not good news . . .

We were hopeful that we would have at least one of the budgets posted by today from Olympia. Unfortunately, we are now told that the Senate budget will not be unveiled until sometime next week followed by the House version. This is disturbing, is increasing our anxiety, and is supporting the perception that it will be worse than we are expecting. No news in this case is not good news.

Today, I had occasion to speak to a Republican member of the House. When I asked about the budget timeline he responded with next week and reinforced the fear that it will be bad by saying that he believes the Democrats may make extensive cuts to education and health care in an effort to put a tax increase measure to a vote. Something like if you want to support these two programs here is your chance. If this were to be done with little backfill from the stimulus package I would be very upset. The likelihood of any tax measure being approved in this economic climate I believe is not very great. Holding the work we do and the needs of young people hostage is not what I expect of my elected officials. Unfortunately, by bad he meant the elimination of all of I-728. This would be approximately another $1.4 million hit to our budget that would make an already very difficult situation unbelievable to me.

The cultures that we have created are in jeopardy as we struggle with a potential $3.35 million deficit. Adding to this amount will make it even more difficult to emerge from this crisis preserving the essence of who we are. Already we are seeing chips form in the solid foundation we have built through consensus decision making, on the needs of students being our first priority, with a focus on collaborative problem solving, and the need for a system viewpoint. Decisions are being questioned, inaccurate information is being shared, individuals and groups are forming around different beliefs about how to proceed, and trust and credibility are being lost. These losses will be very difficult to rebuild, but are essential if we are to continue our PLC journey when this crisis is behind us.

Is it possible, given the current conditions, to influence what we are reading on some of the latest posts to the district’s discussion board and on today’s e-mail exchanges? What should we be doing that could replace the need for these exchanges that result in potentially divisive behaviors or are they perhaps, the beginning of a healthy exchange that may result in positive changes? My leadership beliefs suggest that the conversations need to take place, but not through debate on e-mails. Dialogue and skillful conversations are what this situation demands, with all participants using SPACE, balancing inquiry with advocacy, and being willing to be influenced. Given where we are, I don’t believe that it is my decision to make on how to move forward, but I believe that it must be made. Any suggestions?

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Tahoma High School

On Friday I had the opportunity to listen to Ray McNulty speak to our high school and junior high staff about the work of the Successful Practices Network. He was here because our high school is one of five in the state that was invited to participate in this national program. They received this honor for the programs that were in place at the time, student achievement, and the potential for continued growth. Also in attendance were representatives from three other state high schools in the program.

Mr. McNulty shared data gathered over the last four years from survey’s given to students and staff in the participating high schools. His message was basically that students are bored and that there is a significant disparity between what students and staff report about their school experiences. If given the chance, I wonder what our high school staff would tell Mr. McNulty about our school in comparison to this national data? Though I know there is some data that is similar, much of what he shared I do not perceive as prevalent in the high school’s culture.

In the afternoon we heard from each of the high schools. After hearing the stories I left feeling even greater pride in what is being done at Tahoma High School. Terry set the stage by focusing on Classroom 10 and the supportive documents created by the Teaching and Learning Department. The wonderful work of Outdoor Academy was represented by Mike and Jamie. Chris then shared the rationale for closing Maple Valley High School and beginning a new program at Tahoma. The focus of his message was the support that students receive from the quality staff at his school. What is most impressive to me is that these three stories could have been replaced by any number of additional impressive stories in place at our high school. Great kids, great teachers, and supportive leadership results in quality learning every day, in every classroom, for every child.

Once again, one of our schools is given an opportunity to share and they steal the show. Our young people are fortunate to be in the culture created and nurtured by Terry, Tony, Julie, Will, and the teachers and support staff that make up Tahoma High School. Thank you!

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Today's state budget forecast . . .

More bad budget news; the economic forecast from this morning projects an increase in the projected shortfall of $522 million to an unprecedented $9 billion total. How this increase will impact our school system is not known, but it can't be a positive influence. We are, however, getting closer to learning the impact with the release next week of the Senate's budget. This budget followed by the House version are important documents as we try to identify the target of adjustments that we must make.

On Tuesday a coalition of representatives from our district's PTA, school board, TEA, and PSE met with three legislators (Senator Pflug, Representative Sullivan, Representative Maxwell) to share our story and to ask for information. The one piece of information we left with is the likelihood of the reduction in levy equalization in the Governor's budget being eliminated or reduced because of an effective lobby effort by property poor school districts. The problem for us, however, is that the increase in revenue in this area will be more than offset by what will probably be a larger decrease in I-728 funding. Once again, a negative impact on us.

If you haven't taken the opportunity yet to visit the budget information on our website please consider it. It includes a review of the process we are using to identify budget adjustments, a calendar of key meeting dates, and an opportunity to share your ideas with us.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

New twist in the road . . .

Well, an interesting twist to the conversation on national standards from a senior advisor to Duncan. Mike Smith provides arguments for and against implementation of what he calls common standards.

His biggest concern, he said, is that if common national standards are funded by the federal government, "you can't keep ideology or politics out of the ball game.”

He then goes on to say, however, in support of national standards.
“. . .is that the common standards could foster a common curriculum. The potential to develop a common curriculum is the "core reason" that he supports the advancement of common standards, he concluded.”

Wow, from common standards to a common curriculum – that is a huge shift in my mind. I am concerned about this interesting and troublesome possibility. Knowing the concern expressed by some to our core curriculum units, how would teachers respond to something of this scope? How would regional and local needs be integrated into the curriculum, or would they?

He also goes on to describe a potential development plan where groups of states would come together to prepare their list of preferred outcomes for consideration. These multiple options would then go through some process resulting in a national set of standards. Revenue from this work would come from grant requests to the Race to the Top funds under Duncan’s control. The wheels seem to keep turning with new twists in the road.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Basic Education legislation alive - Is it better?

It seems that there is still some momentum in Olympia to do something with the basic education legislation beyond the intent implied in the original replacement bills. Conversations are taking place and both the Senate and House have bills that have continued to survive the bill cutoff dates. The Senate bill is ESB 6048 and the House version is ESHB 2261. Below, is a link to a comparison between the current Senate bill and the original, SB 5444. The House bill is not yet at a stage where the comparison can be made.


From the comparison we can see that many of the more controversial components around the salary schedule and evaluation components are no longer in place. This bill or the House version may become one that WSSDA, WASA, WEA, PSE, and the League of Education Voters can get behind. So far it seems to be under the radar compared to the original versions.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Facebook Maybe - Dinner, BIG YES

Thanks for the comments from Scott, Crystal, and Christine I have some additional information to think about before I make a final decision on Facebook. I’m a little more concerned about the time consideration and getting caught up in one more place to visit based on their sharing, but I’ll still wait to make a final decision. Christine’s search of the Tahoma School District resulted in 284 hits. I’ll have to learn what this means to have a context before making any judgment about this number.

I also want to share pictures and thoughts from Thursday evening’s second annual recognition dinner for our classified staff held at the Junior High. It was a wonderful evening, planned by Barbara Roessler and jointly emceed by Barbara and PSE President Karen Erickson. Sheri Melewski did a great job planning and preparing the meal and some of us helped her serve and clean up. It is fun and rewarding to be a part of this event, to see the joy and happiness in the room as people win door prizes and are recognized, and to be able to show our appreciation for all that they do in our school system. Great people, great evening!

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Facebook - for me?

I must admit that I am fascinated by the growing popularity of Facebook, enough to visit their homepage and to add a site focused on it to my RSS links. I don’t need another link, I should be taking them off, but they continue to capture my interest. I think it is partly from reading about how they can’t seem to find a way to parlay this popularity into big dollars, though the numbers in this article $1.5 to $2+ billion impress me.

I also don’t have a Facebook page and don’t know that it is important to create one for myself. What do you think? Should a superintendent of a public school system have a Facebook identity? What value added would it bring to me and what are the potential pitfalls? I know that some firms and colleges are using these pages for reference checks, and that it has resulted in people not being hired because of the content on their site. Not a problem for me as I am not looking for work elsewhere, but it does create some dissonance.

I wonder how many staff in our school district have an active page? How many people in our community?

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Further budget adjustments . . .

As I write this I am watching it SNOW again. I can't believe tomorrow might be yet another day for THAT school closure call.

Snow or not, tomorrow we have another budget committee meeting to continue the process of exploring budget adjustments. We are going through each department and program to look for those places where we have some discretion in spending. We made the decision to look first in those areas where we have some discretion to assist in identifying the target amount for adjusting each department and program budget. We are making good progress in this review and in reaching our target of $3.35 million.

Since part of the budget problem is caused by a potential reduction in I-728 revenue we have also reviewed where we can make staffing adjustments proportional to what the governor has recommended in her original budget proposal. The 24% reduction is about $660,000 for our school district out of a total projected revenue of $3.17 million for next year. Though significant, it does not mean that we will adjust staffing by eliminating all those positions currently coded to I-728 as some have feared.

One of the most troubling aspects of this process is the unknowns that result in creating uncertainty and anxiety throughout our system. With the deepening economic crisis in our state we will not know what the budget will be until sometime in April when the Senate, House, and Governor’s budgets are known and compromise reached. Unfortunately, this timeline doesn’t meet ours. We need to make decisions before this. We have posted on our web site a budget section to share information on our timeline and process and to provide you with an opportunity to ask questions of us.

I feel badly that this situation is creating so much anxiety for our newer staff wondering the fate of their positions. I have heard stories that teachers with many years experience are also concerned, though they need not be unless the final budget requires much deeper cuts than those identified in the Governor’s original budget. Last week I witnessed after a presentation at Shadow Lake just how difficult this situation is for staff as they were meeting in small groups to share concerns and discuss their fate. I am saddened that this needs to happen and that we must wait a while longer before bringing closure to this process.

Please know that we are using a process focused on preserving the integrity and importance of positions in our system. Adjustments are the result of decisions based on the current reality of programs and departments and how best to proceed with reduced revenue, not on decisions made at the district level that a particular position or positions are not as important as those that experience little or no change.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Worth the effort?

Ethan’s comment on my last post made me think about who should be identifying standards that are intended as international benchmarks. Ethan makes the case that teachers should be a part of the process, but questions whether NEA is the appropriate vehicle for this. I wonder what role teachers should play or for that matter who the key players are in developing these standards. Just who should be at the table?

Secretary Duncan made the following comment in a February interview on C-SPAN
So what are we looking for?

We’re looking for states that will commit to common, very high, common standard, internationally benchmarked tests so that we’ll really know where our students are competing against the best in the world, so the students graduating from high school will be both college ready and career ready, again, and have international comparisons with that, international benchmarks.

If this is the goal should the standards then be determined by the international assessment(s) that is chosen to determine how well our students are doing? If that is the measure of success and what we will be measured against it seems logical that we would want the standards to support acquisition of the knowledge and skills tested. If not, it would not be fair to our young people or to the districts that will be ranked based upon scores against this international benchmark.

He went on to say:
What I want to do is I want to be the catalyst. I want to help to take all this hard work and really start to make it happen, and again, implement at scale. And so there’re just wonderful ideas, tremendous commitment out there. I want to be the one to help it come to fruition.

What I think is going on too much now, and I always try to be very candid and honest about this, in too many states, we have 50 different bars, 50 different goalposts. It’s been a race to the bottom. We’re talking about how it being a race to the top. And what happens is due to political pressure. You have districts lowering, districts in states lowering standards. And what most concerns me is that when you tell a child that they are you know meeting whatever bar it is, meeting state standards, whatever it might be, if I was a parent, if my child is meeting those states’ standards, I would think that they’re going to be on track to be successful, to graduate from high school, to go on to college.

Unfortunately, in too many places, I think we’re lying to children. While we’re telling them they are meeting state standards, they are absolutely ill-equipped, not just to graduate from high school, but to begin to think about going on to college. I think we do children and families a great disservice when we do that. And so the more we can be transparent, the more we can talk about the good, the bad, and the ugly, and be able to look our children and parents in the eye and say, yes, and say, you are really are on track to graduate from college. And by the way, we’re going to help you compete for jobs, not down the block or around the corner, or compete for jobs with children from India and China, because that’s the reality of our economy today. That’s what I want to do.

So it’s going to take some hard work, but again there’s tremendous leadership at the state level, at the district level, at the school chief level, to make this happen, against (ph) real, real significant investment from the non-profit community and philanthropic community. This is the right thing to do for children.

If I were to be transparent I would need to say that for success Duncan will need to be more than a catalyst. This is a monumental departure from historical practice in standard setting. In our state, the determination of standards that drive practice have been the responsibility of local districts until the Basic Education Act of 1993 that resulted in development of the EARL’s, the equivalent of our current state standards. Over the years these standards have gone through numerous revisions with new mathematics standards being introduced again this year. Why the many changes? Partly, it is because of the influence of so many constituencies in the process and, as Duncan says, concern with too few students meeting standard.

In developing the original EALR’s the stake holders included teachers, college content experts, business roundtable, community, and government representatives. This many groups with often times diverse needs makes consensus difficult that can result in revisiting when these needs are not realized. How would this process work at the national level? Who gets to decide? Is the teacher voice the most critical voice in the room in developing standards because they are the people who will be held accountable for the learning? Is it business because we are preparing young people for work and business knows best what knowledge and skills they need for success? Is it elected officials who want our scores to be number one in the world and will be providing the revenue for this process to unfold?

Can this movement result in meaningful standards that will be embraced across our country?
Is international benchmarking using an existing assessment where we should be allocating scarce resources?

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Is NEA the missing piece?

I had to share this latest development involving the NEA in the movement towards national standards, though in this article they are referred to as voluntary state standards. It is a very interesting development as NEA is not usually aligned with the work of Achieve, the Business Roundtable, State Boards of Education, and the Governor’s Association.

I wonder what additional leverage this will provide the movement and how Duncan might take advantage of it. What are your thoughts? Will the inclusion of NEA make a significant difference in this initiative? Will the partnership be able to sustain over the time period required for something of this magnitude?

Sunday, March 1, 2009

A remarkable young man . . .

This afternoon I attended a “Celebration of Life” for Tyler Johnson, a very young man who passed away last month. The multiple purpose room at Tahoma Junior High was standing room only, 500-600 people, as family and friends came to honor his life and share their love with his wife, his daughter who was born a week before his death, his family, and each other.

It was clear from the number of people present and from what those close to him shared with us that did not know him as well, that this was a young man who touched the hearts of many people. In his all too short life he accomplished much and leaves it a better place because of the love and friendship he gave to so many.

Tyler is the son of Craig and Vonnie Johnson, two people who are a part of our Tahoma family. Vonnie teaches at Rock Creek and Craig is the dean of students at the Junior High. What also became clear today in both words and pictures is the love they have for their sons and that the brothers share for each other. Craig and Vonnie are to be commended for the foundation that they built for Tyler that resulted in what we witnessed today, the celebration of a young man that was truly loved and respected by many.

Steve Bodwell challenged us to intentionally share our love with each other, especially the men in attendance who do not often share feelings with other males. He showed us through the words of others that Tyler did that and that today was a testimony to what results from that sharing; hundreds of people reciprocating those feelings and celebrating their relationship with a remarkable young man.