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local school board meetings
Old 03-12-2011, 03:45 PM   #1
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local school board meetings

Like most areas, we are seeing cuts in schools, teacher layoffs etc. Recently we had a budget school board meeting so I grabbed a friend and we went. It was fascinating. Our union contract is up this summer so there is a mass exodus from the schools here, as people are afraid if they don't retire now the health insurance issue will be much more costly.

Several people stood up and made very good suggestions to changes that would save the district money. I wasn't very impressed when the board talked about all the categories and upon questioning weren't very specific. Like for materials and supplies. One woman said it was for things like post-it notes and paper- and the budget per school is thousands. But our kids have a big list of stuff to bring in every year and through the year requests for more supplies. Some categories were other and misc. but there wasn't a big explanation. They spend almost 400,000 on textbooks but almost all of that is reimbursed by the state, which of course taxes us to get the money (what I love about state aid). They did freeze a bunch of categories. Several board members did bring some issues up, and emphasized that if we weren't required to pay for it and it did not directly impact education then it should be cut. I intend to start going to all the meetings and becoming much better informed. We have a graduating class of about 400, so our district is pretty big and there were about 25 of us in the audience.

I imagine these meetings are only going to get more interesting as time goes on and the request for more taxes while providing fewer services develops. I think it is a good thing to become and informed citizen, but when I was raising kids and working I had little time left. Now I can be the crabby old lady at the meetings asking questions.
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Old 03-13-2011, 01:17 PM   #2
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I think it is a good thing to become and informed citizen, but when I was raising kids and working I had little time left. Now I can be the crabby old lady at the meetings asking questions.
Just remember that as "the crabby old lady at the meetings asking questions" you're contributing little or nothing. It's good to go, listen and try to understand. But just being a challenging voice in the crowd does little to get problems solved.

It's relatively easy to be elected to a school board. It's an unpaid position involving lots of work if you want to promote change. Consider running and giving a few years of your time to make things better. Or, see if there is some volunteer work you could do with the board involving data collection, research, etc., to help them make good decisions.

If you're not commited enough to run for a school board seat or to volunteer some signifcant time and expertise, at least observe which school board members represent the values and outlooks towards education that reflect your own. Then at election time, inform you friends and neighbors of your findings so they can make intelligent decisions. Sadly though, many times school board positions have only a single, unchallenged candidate.

I do applaud you for attending the meetings. It's a start!
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Old 03-13-2011, 05:07 PM   #3
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youbet, you are 100% correct. I was kidding about the crabby part. I am even nice to the kids next door when their basketball rolls on my lawn.

There were several things I had questions on but felt it was wise to get a lay of the land before speaking up. I especially agree with your suggestion about spreading the good word about the board members who are dedicated to the education of the kids.

I don't think this is all about me, but about the kids and the future of our country. I think in this current financial crisis that cutting schools, police and fire are only going to lead to more problems. We need to fund our schools, but we need to be smart about it and not have an open checkbook with no questions asked.

We have a lot of choices. you can be uninvolved and complain about it, you can bring up important points or suggestions which may help, or you can actually learn enough about the school board to run.
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Old 03-13-2011, 08:12 PM   #4
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Maybe folks around the country are starting to wake up to what's going on at their local school districts.

When I started thinking about ER I knew that we would need health ins. so I did some research. I found that if someone worked at the local school dist in NY you could leave after 5 years and have medical in the form of a family plan for the life of the worker and only have to pay 10%. DW hadn't worked for 28 years while taking care of our family so we talked and off she went to take the test. Took a little while but she got the job, did the 5 years and now the school dist is paying or should I say the public is paying about 18K a year for our coverage. Crazy! but that's the rules.

I saw my wife's boss retire on a 165K yearly pension and the next day he was sitting in the same chair at $1200 a day and collecting his pension.
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Old 03-13-2011, 08:38 PM   #5
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The fight over public schools has already started in my city. Our school system is $20M in the hole. Predictably, people with kids in public schools and public school teachers complain about proposed budget cuts and ask for an increase in property or sales taxes to cover the shortfall - "kids will suffer from budget cuts". People without kids in public schools complain about proposed tax increases and ask for budget cuts to cover the shortfall - "people on fixed income will suffer from tax increases". So far, the latter group has successfully imposed its views. Two weeks ago, the school system laid off about 200 people with more probably on the way before too long.
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Old 03-13-2011, 09:47 PM   #6
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What I don't understand is that it seems that enrollment is declining but budgets are increasing, class sizes are smaller but learning (at least as measured by testing scores) is declining. Things are backa**wards.

There is this warped sense that the way to improve education is to spend more, yet we are spending more than we have in the past and education is declining rather than improving. I attended parochial school my first 5 years and I know the amount spent on education was less than the public schools but the quality was much better - when I went to public school I spent a year treading water rehashing in 6th grade what I learned in 5th grade from the nuns.

I don't know what the answer is but I know it is not the current path.
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Old 03-13-2011, 10:56 PM   #7
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What I don't understand is that it seems that enrollment is declining but budgets are increasing, class sizes are smaller
Is this some sort of national average? Or the schools in your community? Here, our enrollments are up and much of the increase is students requiring bilingual accomodations, which are expensive. With the teacher layoffs last spring plus higher enrollment, class sizes are up.

I suppose it varies from place to place. Are you speaking of an urban, suburban or rural area? You're in Vermont, so I'm guessing rural.
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Old 03-13-2011, 11:38 PM   #8
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I saw my wife's boss retire on a 165K yearly pension and the next day he was sitting in the same chair at $1200 a day and collecting his pension.
Here in Illinois, school dist superintendents negotiating "spiking" agreements with school boards as part of their compensation package in the 3 yrs prior to retirement was a fairly common arrangement. Thankfully the rules have been changed now making the maximum raise that can be counted in the final years used to calculate pension benefits 6%. It still exists but is somewhat tone down.

Allowing things like spiking to happen is just another example of why politicians are not good guardians of taxpayer money.

Here in the Chicago suburbs, a superintendent might be making $300k and will retire on a not much smaller amount. Yet in downstate Illinois, you'll find school districts trying to hire a highschool math teacher who can also coach a sport on a budget of $40k/yr and not getting any takers. It's really a mess of poorly managed resources.

Politicians, at least here in Illinois, don't seem to be very good managers.
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Old 03-14-2011, 06:50 AM   #9
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Is this some sort of national average? Or the schools in your community? Here, our enrollments are up and much of the increase is students requiring bilingual accomodations, which are expensive. With the teacher layoffs last spring plus higher enrollment, class sizes are up.

I suppose it varies from place to place. Are you speaking of an urban, suburban or rural area? You're in Vermont, so I'm guessing rural.
In our area, enrollments are declining. Rural is somewhat relative, but population of our community is a bit over 15,000.

Our community was a melting pot of Italian, Spanish, French Canadian, Scottish and other immigrants. If you wanted to live here, you learned to speak and read English and spoke your native language at home or with family. No bilingual accomodations back then to my knowledge.
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Old 03-14-2011, 08:46 AM   #10
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Youbet, I agree that politicians are not good managers of our money. They don't have to be, it's not their money. If they were running a business with their own money you'd see how much better they would be.
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Old 03-14-2011, 09:27 AM   #11
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Is this some sort of national average? Or the schools in your community? Here, our enrollments are up and much of the increase is students requiring bilingual accomodations, which are expensive. With the teacher layoffs last spring plus higher enrollment, class sizes are up.
God bless my mom, a 30+ year public school teacher. She pooh-poohs the smaller class size mandates and says that today's teachers are too whily. She started teaching at a large metro Milwaukee school district in the 60's, and said they regularly had 30-32 kids in each class, with no teachers aide or helpers. test scores have gone down for 20+ years, and class sizes are smaller....maybe its the teacher??

I hear it all the time from younger teachers, how "the old days" were better, because teachers controlled their classrooms, and parents and administrators backed the teachers. While its true parenting skills are on the decline, either you make your classes interesting, or you don't. The 5th grade teacher in my youngest son's school is somewhat of a "rock star". He takes the kids to a local park with a metal detector looking for buried treasure for science class and brought in a Green Bay Packer to talk to his class about teamwork and leadership. He gets 80-100 "requests" from parents who want their kid in his class..............

There is hope.........
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Old 03-14-2011, 09:29 AM   #12
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When I started thinking about ER I knew that we would need health ins. so I did some research. I found that if someone worked at the local school dist in NY you could leave after 5 years and have medical in the form of a family plan for the life of the worker and only have to pay 10%. DW hadn't worked for 28 years while taking care of our family so we talked and off she went to take the test. Took a little while but she got the job, did the 5 years and now the school dist is paying or should I say the public is paying about 18K a year for our coverage. Crazy! but that's the rules.
Hey, as long as the rules are in force, might as well take advantage of them. However, stuff like that is why Wisconsin moved to get rid of collective bargaining. A medical plan like that would only get put in the contract with collective bargaining..........
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Old 03-14-2011, 01:53 PM   #13
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The fight over public schools has already started in my city. Our school system is $20M in the hole. Predictably, people with kids in public schools and public school teachers complain about proposed budget cuts and ask for an increase in property or sales taxes to cover the shortfall - "kids will suffer from budget cuts". People without kids in public schools complain about proposed tax increases and ask for budget cuts to cover the shortfall - "people on fixed income will suffer from tax increases". So far, the latter group has successfully imposed its views. Two weeks ago, the school system laid off about 200 people with more probably on the way before too long.
Guilty as charged.
I used to be half of a 2 income household, zero children. When my household income was more than halved in late 2004 (widowed), I called the local school tax assessor to see if I could get a tax break due to the reality of a much lower household income. That reality was something beyond my control. The lady was very sympathetic, but there was nothing she could do for me.
I continued w*rking of course, but I was only 46 and had a high paying j*b. I actually had to plan for higher school taxes (which happened and continues to happen) and do some "look ahead" income investing.
Imagine what would happen if I had been say 20 years older, without a high paying job, and only had SS to rely on. I would no longer be living here.
Let's do some moral math here.
To me, trimming the fat first is the logical step for school districts to take. If there are extra-curricular activities that a small percentage of students benefit from but the entire district has to fund, it ain't rocket science to find that solution.
Go ahead and throw the tomatoes.
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Old 03-14-2011, 02:02 PM   #14
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Guilty as charged.
I used to be half of a 2 income household, zero children. When my household income was more than halved in late 2004 (widowed), I called the local school tax assessor to see if I could get a tax break due to the reality of a much lower household income. That reality was something beyond my control. The lady was very sympathetic, but there was nothing she could do for me.
Well your change in situation was not the school district's fault? FUnding for schools is typically done by property tax collections, and that has nothing to do with household income. Sucks, but that's the rules.......

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To me, trimming the fat first is the logical step for school districts to take. If there are extra-curricular activities that a small percentage of students benefit from but the entire district has to fund, it ain't rocket science to find that solution.
Go ahead and throw the tomatoes.
Until its YOUR kid that's the best volleyball player in the state, and the school drops the program.......

There is fat in ALL school districts, ALL. For instance, there are THREE fulltime custodians in the elementary school my youngest goes to, and that is too many..........
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Old 03-14-2011, 02:36 PM   #15
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I hear it all the time from younger teachers, how "the old days" were better, because teachers controlled their classrooms, and parents and administrators backed the teachers.

I think there is a lot of truth to what the younger teachers are saying. I think today's society creates an environment that is more difficult for teachers. The issue is, however, since we're probably not going to be able to change the economy and the resulting societal structure (2 income households with no stay at home parent, single parent families, rich vs poor stratification, multi-cultural students, etc., etc.), what are we going to do to have a more successful educational system going forward?

Sadly, the ridiculous polarization resulting in all the "it's the teacher's fault" vs. "it's the parents-students-administration's fault" isn't getting us anywhere.

My personal conclusion is that it's unlikely we're going to see significant resolution to public education issues for some time. DW, a retired teacher and past instructor in the ed dept of a local univ grad school, feels much the same. Therefore, she worked hard to help our kids choose school districts getting the best results. And she tutors the grandkids 4 days per week in additon to keeping in touch with their class room teachers, attending all parent-teacher conferences, etc. I help out under her direction. We also pay for the grand kids to attend some private programs whenever worthwhile ones pop up.

It is what it is and you have to deal with it to your kids/grand kids advantage.

Perhaps the situation in Wisconsin will turn out to be a good thing and the boil will pop and the mess cleaned up in a more straight forward way than the beating around the bush that's been going on for the past couple of decades.
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Old 03-14-2011, 02:47 PM   #16
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Well your change in situation was not the school district's fault? FUnding for schools is typically done by property tax collections, and that has nothing to do with household income. Sucks, but that's the rules.......

Until its YOUR kid that's the best volleyball player in the state, and the school drops the program.......

There is fat in ALL school districts, ALL. For instance, there are THREE fulltime custodians in the elementary school my youngest goes to, and that is too many..........
Of course not anyone's "fault". I used my situation as an illustration of a school district using property value, not household income (i.e. ability to pay), as a means to levy school taxes. No whining here. An older person on limited income wouldn't have the choices I had.
I played sports informally all my life and know the value of that as part of a solid upbringing. It would seem that extracurricular sports programs need to be self supporting in tough economic times. Many communities step up to the plate and do fundraisers and truly support their local sports. That is all good stuff.
Given a choice with limited funding, my opinion is kids need to pass state proficiency exams more than they need to know how to throw baseballs or kick soccer balls or throw footballs.
Once the basics of education are met for every child, then perhaps the extras for the smaller groups can follow IF AFFORDABLE.
More tomatoes, please...
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Old 03-14-2011, 03:07 PM   #17
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Given a choice with limited funding, my opinion is kids need to pass state proficiency exams more than they need to know how to throw baseballs or kick soccer balls or throw footballs.
Once the basics of education are met for every child, then perhaps the extras for the smaller groups can follow IF AFFORDABLE.
More tomatoes, please...
I'm not sure why you're elevating the issue of funding extracurricular activities. I think cutting those costs by eliminating the programs is fairly common already and is proceeding with little argument except perhaps from the few directly impacted.

One of the features we like about the school dist where the grand kids attend school is that it's fairly affluent (kids have a modest home in a fairly upscale area) and, so far, there seem to have been few program cuts at the elementary school level. For example, 3rd grader Catie attends math club after school on Wednesdays and no talk of that being cut as of yet. But this is an area of fairly upscale households and I don't think many would opt for cutting programs to save $100 - $200 - $300 per year on property taxes.

What does seem to be contentious in that community is the issue of how schools are funded in general. Those folks seem content to pay high property taxes and have top rated schools with plenty of programs. They beef when there is talk of changing the educational funding schemes so that their tax dollars would be shared with schools dist's of less means.


Those are the types of issues that will really drive where educational funding is going more so than whether there is an after school math club or not IMO.
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Old 03-14-2011, 03:55 PM   #18
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Here's an example of how communities handle when programs are cut. In our community, 5th and 6th grade basketball was dropped years ago. Voila, the local rec dept runs their league up through 6th grade. However, this program is for non-serious players, so the serious players join a team sponsored by a youth non-proft outside the school, and the parents pay to let their kids play. My son plays on one of these teams, very competitive, we had 23 teams in our division this year. great experience for those kids that want to play HS ball. And, there is always AAU, although those teams cost $700 or more + travel costs on your own dime..........
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Old 03-14-2011, 04:29 PM   #19
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My son plays on one of these teams, very competitive, we had 23 teams in our division this year. great experience for those kids that want to play HS ball..
The HS ball should definitely be cut! Why shovel money out the window for worthless activities when that same money could be refunded to tax payers?
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