Saturday, July 03, 2010

Teachers need a fair shake, even on a sinking ship.

Hi everyone,


A couple of bits were left out of this week's column, but the only one that mattered was the idea that local teachers have been taking the hit for our lousy state funding formula. If we're going down anyway, something that could happen in the near future, let's give teachers their due.

In the meantime, Saturday's column.



QEO bad for school districts



I was going to write something about the recently opened – and completely stupendous – new dog park in West Bend (just south of Highway 45 along 18th Avenue) but this week my dog has been even more interested in recent news stories about the inbound iceberg of state-funding-formula-disaster than he is in his new pals, Snowflake and Buddy.

As the school district fiddles with its navigation and replots its course to avoid the titanic iceberg promising to sink our fiscal solvency, local teachers have been a primary target. A significant percentage of district expenses is salary and benefits and so salary and benefits – even those negotiated in previous years – seem a likely place to start.

One recent suggestion has been to reinstate collective bargaining to reduce costs, a comment valuable only because it sheds light on yet one more grid in the toxic soduku of the state funding formula: the relationship between district solvency and the Qualified Economic Offer.

The QEO was instituted in 1993 as a way to limit annual increases in spending and specifically as a way to choke off big increases in teacher salary and benefits. It allowed school districts to unilaterally limit increases in teacher salaries and benefits to 3.8 percent.

At first glance this looks like one way to keep increases under control, but it has had a couple of entirely contrary consequences. Contrary consequence number one: the QEO, essentially, built a 3.8 percent increase into every school district statewide, increasing the pressure on districts to squeeze other programmatic functions (band, art, extra curricular sports) to stay afloat under the weight of their state mandated revenue caps. Revenue caps for West Bend, the reader will recall, have made it impossible for us to keep up with expenses over which we have no control. The QEO actually acts as an unfunded mandate which, since 1993, has slowly ticked away like a time bomb adding 3.8 percent to costs on a regular basis.

So back to that suggestion that we restore collective bargaining in order to climb out from under the tyranny of these regular, state-imposed, 3.8-percent increases. Here's what will happen if we do, and this is contrary consequence number two:

The teachers union has watched their salaries stagnate since 1993 – that's 17 years. During that time, much of that 3.8 percent has been eaten away by health care cost increases. The union will, quite naturally, negotiate for the best possible package of salaries and benefits. The district, up against the wall financially, will offer even less than before. The two sides, now at loggerheads, will go to binding arbitration where, in the interests of fairness, there is every good reason to suspect the arbitrator will award the teachers union even more than 3.8 percent. Suddenly, the process of collective bargaining will put the district even more deeply into the red, even closer to the iceberg that will, by 2012 or so, sink them.

The idea that collective bargaining will help us avoid the inbound iceberg is simply rearranging deck chairs while steering toward the iceberg and increasing the speed.

On the other hand, if we're going to sink anyway, there's no reason to be chintzy with the dinner rolls. Pass 'em out. So I suggest we remove the QEO and let the real market price for teachers settle at whatever rate can be negotiated or, barring that, arbitrated. Cutting salaries or, especially, going after already negotiated retirement benefits may only buy us another year anyway. But there is another reason to give our teachers the opportunity to negotiate a new contract.

West Bend will be one of the first districts to go into insolvency sometime in the relatively near future and, right now, there is not a lick of legislative will to do anything about it. Other districts in the state understand this full well. They're in the same boat we are, but they know that nothing will be done by our legislators until a big and academically successful district, like ours, sinks. They're waiting, hoping and praying, for that to happen. Only catastrophes seem to get the attention of legislators anymore and once the West Bend school district is dissolved, and parceled out to neighboring districts, enough people will be angry enough to vote out the rascals who occasionally radio'ed in from their lifeboats in Madison and watched us go down.

There's no reason to put it off. If the senate and assembly won't do anything to stop this disaster, let's precipitate one. Maybe school districts can get bailouts just like corporations do.



hiho
Mp

29 comments:

Mr. Becker said...

Dog parks are so much more easy on the mind then imminent fiscal disasters. Stick to the dog parks so we can be ignorant and surprised when Lil Johnny comes home and tells us "Gosh Ma, Pa, you're home skoolin me now, cause we kan't afford skools no more."

We can use all those unused school buses to drop the wee ones off at the capital in Madison to get some real world learning.

Love the politics... we can be at war but we can't be intelligent about our children and futures. At what point do we figure out that we can't be the worlds mercenary army any longer? I'm still waiting for congress to have bake sales to fund the war efforts. A few less weapon systems and we could fund education and health care.

Lets start thinking ahead, lest the cliff we drive off is too close to avoid.

Mpeterson said...

And a big editorial whoops. Governor Doyle, of course, signed a budget that repealed the QEO last year. I had originally written something like "remove the QEO from future alternatives" but got giddy when I started cutting. I'm also a bit surprised my usually alert conscience and fact checker at the News let this through.

Thus, mea culpa.

Distance Relative said...

"Gosh Ma, Pa, you're home skoolin me now, cause we kan't afford skools no more."

Becker, the only times in my life I have run into the supposed unwashed masses that you decry is in the public school system.

do you think this, and your attitude to the hoi-poli, is a coincidence?
just what we need...more rascist, sexist, classist bitter teachers.

By all means people, give them the money so we can rid ourselves of these glorified hall monitor gangster-teachers with their un-fire-ability and their insensitive and bitter drivel.

Stop "teaching" the kids because they don't learn anything until college, anyway.

oh and i forgot...the ENTITLEMENT!
must feel PowerFULL and omniscient to be a bigot, to have such arrogance, such condescension, and so much vacation time.

(and Mark, I am not talking to you; yes, you have tenure, but you also get paid better. Why is that?)

Distance Relative said...

"Gosh Ma, Pa, you're home skoolin me now, cause we kan't afford skools no more."

Becker, the only times in my life I have run into the supposed unwashed masses that you decry is in the public school system.

do you think this, and your attitude to the hoi-poli, is a coincidence?
just what we need...more rascist, sexist, classist bitter teachers.

By all means people, give them the money so we can rid ourselves of these glorified hall monitor gangster-teachers with their un-fire-ability and their insensitive and bitter drivel.

Stop "teaching" the kids because they don't learn anything until college, anyway.

oh and i forgot...the ENTITLEMENT!
must feel PowerFULL and omniscient to be a bigot, to have such arrogance, such condescension, and SO much vacation time.

(and Mark, I am not talking to you; yes, you have tenure, but you also get paid better. Why is that?)

Mpeterson said...

I believe Mr. Becker was being sarcastic about what happens when you don't fund education properly.

As for my pay scale, there are a number of teachers and media specialists in the district who are paid a lot more than I am, in fact. Something easy enough to check via the UW System "Red Book". You'll have to remember, they pay UW College's faculty so much less than the rest of UW system that we almost look like statistical artifacts.

Distance Relative said...

okay, okay. me and Mr. Becker, if he is who i think the is, have had "issues." however, as a graduate of West/East, I can tell you he is the exception to the rule up there-and to be fair I was a terrible person in high-school.

as for you, i meant that we should ask why you (i thought, i think, it should be) are often the first critical thinker these kids are exposed to.i certainly hope your dire predictions don't hold true-ANYWHERE.

(BTW also my aunt is an elementary school teacher, has been for over 30 years, my mom taught in high school and middle-school, and one of my family's closest friend was a highly-decorated math teacher in Brookfield, all three in PUBLIC schools. I apolgise to Mr. Becker.)

and i will admit that I am predjudiced in favor of college professors ;>

anyways, this madness has to stop-and I WAS under the wrong impression about how much you make-it surprises me, because many of you live WELL, not nessecarily wealthily, if you know what I mean. i am obviously not immune to the phony idea that "weal-th" equals well-th."

again, my apoligies to Mr. Becker.

Distance Relative said...

i meant to say "I HOPE your dire predictions don't come true. but they already have. i appreciate your socialist/Marxist idea about evolution through breakdown, though.

Mr. Becker said...

Indeed “Distant Relative” sarcasm seems to get lost in this medium... I had just watched a Ma & Pa Kettle movie (Where they win a new home thanks to Pa's tobacco slogan) and thought a dialect may fit into the perceptions of what happens when we don't take care of our education system. Although Ma & Pa Kettle valued education and did all they could to assure their children were prepared for it and did their best.

The question becomes do you blame the teachers in our current fiscal difficulty (most of whom work darn hard and they only get paid for 10 months of work) So those vacations you're talking about are on their own time. Also in order to entice those teachers to work in the system they are in and in the situation they are in... it was decided to pay them later for work they do today by giving them health care and retirement benefits. They earned it they should keep it, if you want to change the rules then you'll have to compensate them, not just take things away that they have legally bargained for.

Throwing money blindly at the problem won't solve it either, there should be checks and balances, effort and consequences, but they should be intelligent and thoughtful in regards to whether it best for the education of our citizens.

No one really knows how exactly people learn, there are studies on going to try to derive the best methods. There are many ways that children learn and their teachers try to hit as many of them as possible to make sure the students can begin to grasp concepts and ideas.
I personally feel choice schools have harmed our public education system by taking brighter children with highly motivated parents out of the classroom that could help their struggling peers. When little Johnny wasn’t quite getting a method or idea… Bright Bobby or Barbie would lean over and say “try it like this, this is how I figure it out” Johnny would get a new solution option from someone who was close to him and move right along. Well Choice Schools have created our own brain drain in our public schools.

The point of the whole issue is HOW DO WE FIX IT? Not who can we blame. We as citizens have to fix this. Our politicians are non-effectual, our systems are non-effectual, our education system is becoming non-effectual. Throwing unlimited money at it would do something, but we don’t have that luxury or ability anymore. We have to take the rhetoric and hyperbole out of the equation and solve it and solve it soon.

In my own humble opinion.

Mr. B

Mr. Becker said...

Part 2
No one really knows how exactly people learn, there are studies on going to try to derive the best methods. There are many ways that children learn and their teachers try to hit as many of them as possible to make sure the students can begin to grasp concepts and ideas.
I personally feel choice schools have harmed our public education system by taking brighter children with highly motivated parents out of the classroom that could help their struggling peers. When little Johnny wasn’t quite getting a method or idea… Bright Bobby or Barbie would lean over and say “try it like this, this is how I figure it out” Johnny would get a new solution option from someone who was close to him and move right along. Well Choice Schools have created our own brain drain in our public schools.

The point of the whole issue is HOW DO WE FIX IT? Not who can we blame. We as citizens have to fix this. Our politicians are non-effectual, our systems are non-effectual, our education system is becoming no-effectual. Throwing unlimited money at it would do something, but we don’t have that luxury or ability anymore. We have to take the rhetoric and hyperbole out of the equation and solve it and solve it soon.

Mr. B

Mr. Becker said...

Indeed “Distant Relative” sarcasm seems to get lost in this medium... I had just watched a Ma & Pa Kettle movie (Where they win a new home thanks to Pa's tobacco slogan) and thought a dialect may fit into the perceptions of what happens when we don't take care of our education system. Although Ma & Pa Kettle valued education and did all they could to assure their children were prepared for it and did their best.

The question becomes do you blame the teachers in our current fiscal difficulty (most of whom work darn hard and they only get paid for 10 months of work) So those vacations you're talking about are on their own time. Also in order to entice those teachers to work in the system they are in and in the situation they are in... it was decided to pay them later for work they do today by giving them health care and retirement benefits. They earned it they should keep it, if you want to change the rules then you'll have to compensate them, not just take things away that they have legally bargained for.

Throwing money blindly at the problem won't solve it either, there should be checks and balances, effort and consequences, but they should be intelligent and thoughtful in regards to whether it best for the education of our citizens. Part 1 ends

Mr. B

JPenterman said...

“Does money well spent improve the performance of poorer students? In the late 1980s, the Los Angeles Unified School District implemented a ten schools program, which provided $1,000,000 more per year to each of the schools that were all black or Latino and had the district’s lowest state test scores. The additional money funded smaller class sizes, higher staff quality, intensive reading programs, and full time nurses (vs a weekly nurse visit as was norm). The LA average spending was $4,297 in 1995-1996; the injection brought spending up to $5,097 per student (The U.S. average at the time was $6,200. Improvements were dramatic: Comparing 1991-1994 with 1987-1990, reading scores at the 10 target schools jumped at ALL grade levels: up 50% amongst first graders and 24% amongst 5th graders. This occurred even with a growing Latino population with limited English proficiency entering those schools the years of the experiment. Unfortunately, 2/3rds of Californians believed that raising standards was a better tactic than increasing financial investment. Would adults apply the expectations of higher quality with less outlay to their own lives and businesses?” (348-349). There’s a reason the “liberal” media keeps this information and similiar stories under wraps: Taxes for schools hurt their companies’, their executives’, and their investors’ bottom line, for the moment.

JPenterman said...

Senator Glenn Grothman quoted in the West Bend Daily News today, June 26,2010:

"Many districts want to change the school funding formula. It is very a dangerous game to change the funding formula because under performing districts like Milwaukee, Racine and Beloit feel they need more money and small rural districts feel they need more money. It is entirely possible that a new funding formula would cause West Bend to lose money."

Neither the paper nor Glenn mentions that Glenn's 20th district covers Kewaskum, Campbellsport, Northern Ozaukee, Port Washington, Saukville, Cedarburg, Grafton, and a few other school districts. The paper does not mention that these districts' taxpayers would not necessarily be happy to see less of their property tax dollars coming back home and going to West Bend or Milwaukee.

Is Glenn implying that he will not initiate any attempts to change the funding formula? Glenn, Why does school funding have to based on property taxes, why not sales taxes whereby the older residents, the frugal, and the farmers do not have to pay in and write offs exists? Sorry, no discussion.

Consolidation with Kewaskum, Campbellsport, Port Washington, Saukville, Cedarburg, Grafton or...???; less voice in education; higher taxes = the future (if no discussion takes place.

Mpeterson said...

The things he says sometimes are just hair raising. But the "liberal" media never tracks down any of his gaffs or holds him accountable.

Why is that?

Rich said...

One only need look locally to Milwaukee to refute the "keep throwing money at education" argument. They keep getting more and more money with no results to show for it. The best part is when I brought that up in a financial meeting here, I was told that we don't even talk about Milwaukee anymore as they are in their own class. I guess if they don't back up the argument, take them out of the group...

I was hoping that this was a sarcastic column this week as it is so fiscally irresponsible, I didn't think it was real. Jason, your discussion talks about smaller class sizes, better quality teaching, etc. which is not something the QEO hinders.

I guess my solution would be to have teachers be handled like administrators - no union, each teacher on their own like most other professionals. Quality educators with proven results getting what they deserve, lesser performing teachers what they deserve. Payroll funds available would be based off of what the district can afford within the confines of mandates, infrastructure needs and what the community can or is willing to afford.

Mpeterson said...

Frankly Rich, I thought for a moment that Glenn was only being sarcastic... but the truth is, getting rid of the QEO will be great for teachers, but a fiscal mess for the district -- a mess which is NOT the teachers' fault, but which follows directly from the spending formula itself.

-- something you should know perfectly well.

JPenterman said...

Rich,
Administrators ...

1) keep staff going in the same direction - They wield that power.
2) They have the power to evaluate, recommend renew and non-renew or put a teacher on or off of an improvement plan (which can lead to (non)renew. These particular powers are different in other states (Illinois).
3) They handle investigations of students and staff (They have the training, job description, and legal support)
4) They watch the budgets.
5) They discipline staff and students
6) They keep the schedule(s) running on time (Extremely important)
7) They handle staff teaming, evaluate programs, and recommend adopting programs or discarding them.
8) They are the communicators between the district and parents and media during celebrations and crisis.

I am always interested in discussing pay per performance; however, such a discussion has never been brought to the table. The reason has to do with all the X-factors related to the fact that students are not wood, metal or farm animals (no sarcasm intended) and the number of goals and objectives a school is trying to reach with the students, parents and community. Try drafting an evaluation plan- it's a can of worms: Unless one bases success on just state test scores. Consider if a social worker was evaluated for the number of students evaluated, diagnosed and "fixed" - How could this type of performance pay go south? Does one fix that problem with more over$ight?

Schools are successful without piecework / performance pay.

Payroll funds available would be based off of what the district can afford within the confines of mandates, infrastructure needs and what the community can or is willing to afford: Well, I've seen Russian teachers paid with potatoes and sacks of sugar and planting gardens in the summer to stock the school cafeteria.

good discussion but I gotta go for now - date night with my wife.

Rich said...

We can certainly disagree if the teachers bear any responsibility for the mess -- the legistlature has the majority of the responsibility but WEAC has some as well.

Your solution is like adding water to a grease fire - definitely not a solution!

Something you should know perfectly well.

Mpeterson said...

So you don't believe employees should be allowed to negotiate for wages? Or form unions to negotiate for wages?

OR if you do, then how is any of this WEAC's fault?

Rich said...

Mark, in my perfect world, there would be no unions. I generally find, however, that professionals shy away from unions since they work hard and try to distance themselves from non performers. Continuing to accept very costly health care benefits outside the realm of the real world along with unrealistic retirement benefits when programming is being cut and districts are going bankrupt is a problem. WEAC lobbies against some educational improvements. Yes, WEAC shoulders some of the responsibility.

Jason, I will never agree with the argument that teachers have a unique set of circumstances or different product. As an IT professional, I need to gather requirements from users, think like them to desing intuitive user interfaces and train them. Each one brings their own circumstances and personalities. If I fail, they may lose their job, the company may lose a lot of money and/or the company may not succeed. Their well being is equally as important as students' education. My bosses do the same as your administrators and we are evaluated similarly...

Mpeterson said...

I have this same conflict about the need for unions... but cutting wages and benefits are precisely the route most likely to confirm the need for unions among those affected. We're about to begin that conversation at the University.

Health care isn't just a problem you can single out for teachers... they've traded salary for benefits for some years now and those benefits could have been provided at a better cost to the district... but that's the fault of the district, not the teachers.

Finally, I'm unable to think of a single "educational improvement" WEAC has lobbied against. What sort of thing do you mean?

JPenterman said...

We both train people to learn a skill with the most relevant tech. Our teaching is challenging, relevant, clear, concise, and content rich. We observe schedules; we return calls and emails within 24hrs. We tweak lesson plans and provide remediation, modification, and enrichment. Trainees with special needs: We attend their meetings and adapt our training. We hold and are held to deadlines. We grade and are graded. We collaborate with peers.

IT tech training involves academic skills and self reflection. How about social skills? Is there counseling and mentoring outside the skill/career set? Discipline similarities? If a trainee hates your required class and complains, does the burden fall on you to prove you did your best? Do you contact trainees' parents and meet them at conferences prepared with a report? Do lesson plans require multiple approaches and do "new" approaches comes every 3-5 years? Is your class area relevantly decorated? Your license expires every 5 years? 6 credits every 5yrs for license renew? Can the license cross state borders? Do you have a professional development plan on a 3yr cycle? Do you tip your trainees well when they serve you at the restaurant? If you are sharing a table with strangers on their weekend night out, do they grimace when they find out your profession?

Rich said...

Jason - we are still very close based on the questions you pose:

How about social skills? Many classes on requirements gathering from all levels of users.

Is there counseling and mentoring outside the skill/career set? Yes, we mentor newer developers. As for counseling, once you are listed as an IT person, you are called on to help with every personal, non-business computer issue whether it is within your specialty or not.

Discipline similarities? If a trainee hates your required class and complains, does the burden fall on you to prove you did your best? Absolutely - every code review with the client, every bug found in code, every item the client signed off on, but still hates comes back to us and we better have good answers as to why we did what we did.

Do you contact trainees' parents and meet them at conferences prepared with a report? Not parents but the user's Project Manager or boss. Scrutinized status reports and time reports every week.

Do lesson plans require multiple approaches and do "new" approaches comes every 3-5 years? Our Software Requirement Specifications many times do have multiple approaches to deal with ever changing but identified project risks and our development pieces change every year or two - depending on Microsoft. Not only that, but if we hit a technical obstacle, we may need to redesign and start over.

Is your class area relevantly decorated? You have me on that one.

Your license expires every 5 years? 6 credits every 5yrs for license renew? Can the license cross state borders? Certifications, although not required but in some cases recommended, last until the next version comes out. My lawyer friends, however, have this same issue.

Do you have a professional development plan on a 3yr cycle?
I wish it was on a 3 year cycle - mine is currently on a 1 year cycle.

Do you tip your trainees well when they serve you at the restaurant? If you are sharing a table with strangers on their weekend night out, do they grimace when they find out your profession? n/a to the discussion.

Not all IT projects are like the state ones you read about - black holes of money - as you can see we are not that far apart on our "products".

Mark, the WEAC vs. WIVA lawsuit that has resulted in the ridiculous and arbitrary virtual cap comes to mind off the top of my head. I am sure I could google and find others.

Mpeterson said...

"Virtual education" is not an "improvement" in any meaningful sense. It doesn't require fewer instructors and it doesn't make learning easier or better for most course areas... so, I'm not sure that counts as an example. Apparently the courts weren't impressed either.

As for "arbitrary caps" what's well known to everyone who works in the content and pedagogy side of distance ed is that it takes more effort on the part of the instructor than face to face classes, all the while costing the tax payer and end users 100s of millions of dollars in infrastructure for no appreciable return -- as I've been hollering for over 10 years now.

Oh, and the lawsuit didn't establish whether virtual education was an improvement, only that WIVA was in violation of state statutes -- and the fact that the higher court accepted WEAC's arguments is not a condemnation of WEAC.

Do you have another example?

JPenterman said...

The Federal Communications Commission has propositioned a 10-year national broadband plan. The goals are to efficiently provide dependable, high-speed broadband service to government buildings, hospitals, and schools and create and provide digital literacy educations programs for all youth and adults. WI just received $25mil. in federal funding from the U.S. Dept of Ag. Broadband Initiatives Program to bring high-speed Internet services to 3 rural counties: Adams, Marquette and Sauk. People there are spread out, thus raising Internet carriers' expenses. Sen. Herb Kohl said the funding "will help those communities get wider access to job, business and education opportunities" ("State gets $25M for Internet upgrades" July 3, 2010) and I agree it's a worse option to let them get behind. Schools and libraries can host high-speed broadband service and provide Internet and technology literacy and become sites for virtual education.

Virtual education will bring benefits to rural areas young people and adults - but virtual is only for the right audience. For example, if the wrong student registers for 3 virtual classes out of 5 in a semester, and fails (despite teacher/admin intervention) the child/district/taxpayers is out 3 classes. Virtual will work for more people when it employs a Skype like system for face to face contact and regular meeting times. Virtual educ and technology will not reduce staff costs in all curriculum areas until more quality control issues are addressed, ex: Diploma factories. Eventually, virtual education will be outsourced to China, Korea and India - then all staff costs will be affected in many areas in an outside (public) education.

good discussion.

Rich said...

Improvement may have been too strong of a word - a better word would be enhancement. An enhancement that many, some of our friends and neighbors included, have seen good results with.

Jason, I agree that it is only for the right audiences - just like the current system is. The 3 out of 5 can be applied to standard, brick and mortar classes as well.

I guess to get back on topic - what you called for in the column is fiscally irresponsible. If we throw recurring money into a sinking ship, it is money that will need to be factored into a fix.

Mpeterson said...

Justin is right that virtual education requires the right audience... and I've seen no indication they've done so in K-12.

But as for my suggestion that we go ahead and, by giving teachers a fairer wage, bring about the scuttling the school district even sooner -- well, of course it's irresponsible to the school district.. but your sense of irritability is displaced here. I didn't put the boat on this course, I'm simply recommending songs for the orchestra to play as we head toward the iceberg.

The rest of this scrambling is just enabling the politicians, both of ours included, to keep some safe distance from the coming crash. They're already looking for someone to blame that doesn't have an office in Madison... any local fix is like asking for a Band-aid when surgery is required.

Let me ask you though Rich. Do you believe public education should be got rid of ... that all of it should be turned over to charter and private schools? If so, then here's a chance to make that happen sooner. Just do the right thing and give the teachers a raise.

Rich said...

Nope, not for abolishing public education - just want it funded and run properly. Giving the teachers raises in this economy and under the dire straits the state is in especially when it comes to budgeting and with the problems schools are facing for funding is not only not the right thing to do, but laughable.

Mpeterson said...

I'd like to see that too and, in fact, that's what we have right now -- as every single financial analysis of how the district is run indicates.

What's laughable is blaming anything except the central cause of our funding crisis.

JPenterman said...

Are Teachers’ Unions Hurting American Education? A State-by-State Analysis of the Impact of Collective Bargaining Among Teachers on Student Performance

NO!

http://www.wisconsinsfuture.org/publications_pdfs/education/unions.pdf