By Gale Courey Toensing
The opinion piece called “Taking Resources from Students and Giving them to Administrators” was published in the Lakeville Journal on April 11, 2013. I’ve asked Marshall to post it here because I’d like to urge Region 1 taxpayers to vote on the Region 1 Board of Education’s proposed budget for 2013-2014 at the referendum May 7. Also, on further reflection after writing the opinion piece that was in the Journal, I realized that the idea of giving the superintendent and assistant superintendent three-year contracts with two percent salary increases each year is even worse idea than I first thought.
First, it locks taxpayers into paying high salaries and benefits to these two individuals regardless of their job performances. The Region 1 Board of Education chairman boasted at the board meeting following the April 3 public hearing (view at http://tinyurl.com/cctbf8o) about the ABC Committee’s wonderful “new” job evaluation document for the superintendent (meet the new evaluation document, same as the old evaluation document only longer). But job evaluations become meaningless in the face of three-year contracts for these administrators, In the superintendent’s case, there are no job performance indicators regarding the high school since the superintendent has no goals for the high school. She insists that the ABC Committee has total control of her job evaluation and goal-setting – and the board majority goes along with her regardless of statues that clearly say the Board of Education is responsible for evaluating the superintendent and setting goals mutually acceptable goals for her. (The board is also supposed to set annual goals for the students, but that’s a whole other story.) The ABC Committee goals for the superintendent for 2012-2013 are included here. Of the five goals set for 2012-2013, three of them are part of her job, the fourth is a self-serving goal to find a mentor to teach her to respond (presumably to critiques) more “appropriately and assertively” and the fifth is “To be more visible in the community of Kent, by attending community functions.” How will her fourth and fifth goals help improve students’ learning and achievement at the high school?
Second, why should taxpayers support long contracts for the administrators who insist they had to cut faculty because of decreasing student enrollment? As I mention in the Lakeville Journal piece, if we have to cut teachers because of fewer students, we also need to cut administrators: We need to do a thorough study of the administration structure (which the board didn’t do regarding the teacher cuts) to see where we can eliminate one or more positions.
Third, three-year contracts make no sense in the face of the still unresolved issues that were uncovered and documented in the independent investigation report known as the Pingpank Report, which was published at the end of 2010 (send requests for copies to email@example.com). The Pingpank Report referenced intimidation, retaliation, collusion and cronyism emanating from the “central office.” The board majority has allowed this $10,000 investigative report to gather dust on the shelf while demanding no accountability from the top administrators. The board chairman even boasts that everything is wonderful at the school and mocks anyone who dares to suggest otherwise. While there are many great things happening at our high school, the core issues uncovered in the Pingpank Report have not gone away; they’ve only gone underground.
A third “central office” administrator is the business manager, and personally, I have no problem giving our business manager a three-year contract because he has been in his position for 15 years and has a proven track record of excellence.
Finally, the superintendent, the assistant superintendent and the board chairman are under the illusion that the three-year contracts with annual two percent increases are set in stone because the board majority voted to approve them (see the video linked above). That’s not true. Here is what one of my town leaders, Lou Timolat, former first selectman and long time board of finance member, says about that canard: “If a public agency, a political subdivision of the state, makes an obligation to disburse money that isn’t there because the public hasn’t approved the expenditure or appropriated the funds, it’s akin to writing a check on insufficient funds, which is to say, it’s akin to criminal fraud. Minus the criminal intent, it may not be criminal fraud but it’s still fraud.” So, ultimately it’s the taxpayers/voters who decide on all expenditures – including contracts and raises. I’ll be voting no on the proposed budget at the May 7 referendum because I don’t agree with cutting teachers (as described in the Lakeville Journal piece) or giving the superintendent and the assistant superintendent three-year contracts with annual two percent raises. If taxpayers feel the same way the budget will be defeated, but then it will be important to tell the Region 1 Board of Education majority exactly why it was voted down.
Taking resources from students and giving them to administrators
(Published in the Lakeville Journal on Thursday, April 11, 2013.)
By Gale Courey Toensing
Lowell Milken, the co-founder and chairman of the Milken Family Foundation, a leader in education reform, has said, “Good teachers are to education what education is to all other professions – the indispensable element, the sunlight and oxygen, the foundation on which everything else is built.”
That’s a beautiful way of saying that teachers are crucial, that education takes place between teachers and students in the classroom, on field trips, in meetings, in random encounters in school halls and lunchrooms. But the Region 1 Board of Education majority has proposed a budget that “saves” around $220,000 by cutting high school teachers in Art, Science, Math, English and Social Studies while adding around $156,000 to the administrators’ proposal for more administrators and support staff.
The superintendent said that firing teachers will “right size” the faculty because of projected decreases in the student population. The student population is projected to be a little more than 300 by the end of the decade. But right now it’s around 420 and is expected to drop by only a few students in the next two years. At the same time, the administrators have told us for two years how burdensome state-mandated changes in curriculum and teacher evaluations will be over the next two years. I’m not against decreasing teaching positions as the number of students drops, but this is not the time for such draconian cuts when we’ll need all the teachers we have to implement the mandated changes in the next two years.
This is also not the way to make such drastic cuts. The proposed cuts were dropped on the board on March 20 – weeks after reports in the media implied that the proposed budget was finalized. And even though the principal clearly said the proposed teacher cuts would be bad for students, the board majority voted to accept the plan in less than half an hour without studying the impact this might have on student learning or even reviewing the budget to see if cuts could be made elsewhere if, indeed, cuts were needed. Instead of cutting teachers now when we need them, the board should take the next two years and carefully plan the faculty reduction, including a survey of how many teachers may retire before the student population drops to its lowest projected level.
But if the plan is to “right size” the faculty because of projected decreases in student enrollment surely we must also “right size” the administration. Instead, the superintendent and her assistant who are paid approximately $170,000 and $150,000, respectively, including annuities and benefits have lobbied for – and the board approved – proposed three-year contracts with 2 percent increases each year. This would be blatantly greedy in the face of cutting five teaching positions, but it is outrageous in the face of lackluster student achievement as demonstrated in the flat Connecticut Academic Achievement Test results and the numbers of students in all four grades who have failed one or more classes in the first and second marking periods. The top administrators’ job is to lead student learning and student achievement to a high level of accomplishment. This has not happened over a collective 12 years. I think we should honor the superintendent’s and assistant superintendent’s contracts that are in place, which expire June 30, 2014, and begin the search now for new administrators with fresh ideas and enthusiasm that will spark inspiration and engagement in both students and teachers. During that process we should analyze the structure of the administrative staff to adjust to the projected drop in enrollment. For example, why is the board proposing to spend an additional $90,000 of hard earned taxpayer money in the proposed budget for curriculum and instruction when that is the main job description of the assistant superintendent position? Would a director of curriculum and instruction get the job done more efficiently and at a much lower cost?
If taxpayers disagree with taking resources away from students and giving them to administrators, the only option is to vote no to the budget on May 7. That’s the only way to send a message that the board and administrators might hear about how we want our tax dollars spent on education.