By Laurie H. Rogers
What’s the point of a school board?
- Is the role of a board director accountability and responsiveness to the district -- or to voters?
- Should directors work to support the superintendent and staff? Or, should they work to hold the district accountable for fiscal responsibility and academic outcomes?
- If the district and the voters disagree on what should happen with taxpayer money and our children, to whom should the board listen?
That’s why, on July 27, I asked Spokane board directors to allow the people to vote on whether the district should spend several million tax dollars on a proposed new data system, and on the new federal vision for public education. As directors contemplate these multi-million-dollar expenditures on (unproved) products – they're also contemplating cutting people and programs that parents actually want. So, at the July 27 board meeting, I asked the directors to put the proposed expenditures on a ballot. They were silent. They looked at each other. Then, they went on with their meeting.
Before the July 27 meeting, I gave the directors a copy of my blog article from July 16. That article shows clearly that, rather than engage in full public disclosure, the district tends to present selected slivers of pretend achievement – even as student data indicate serious declines in outcomes. On any measure of what a good district looks like – excellent academic outcomes, college and career readiness, financial and data transparency, administrative accountability – this district fails.
At the July 27 meeting, having received this article, the directors voted unanimously to renew or extend the superintendent’s contract. On what basis did they vote to do that? Astonishingly, they don’t have to say.
Here’s how administrative accountability works in District 81. The district considers the superintendent’s board evaluations to be exempt from public records requests. Staci Vesneske, head of Human Resources, assured me that there were “no discussions of specific incidents of misconduct in any of the evaluation documents” I had requested, and so therefore, the superintendent’s evaluation isn’t open to the public.
Few of the district’s rubrics for evaluating top administrators even contain academic outcomes as a criterion for evaluation. The rubric for the four administrators known as "school directors" (which aren't the same as "board directors") do contain this criterion: “…establishes an effective academic program.” Obviously, they fail in this area, yet there they are, each costing taxpayers more than $100,000 per year. I asked for copies of some past evaluations; when they arrived, they were so heavily redacted they’re actually funny. For example:
- This is what remains from a paragraph for Lorna Spear: “Lorna … She … She … her … she….”;
- From a paragraph for Jon Swett: “Jon … He … his … He…”;
- From a paragraph for Irene Gonzalez: “Irene … She … She …”;
- From an eight-line paragraph on Tammy Campbell: “Tammy. She … Her … her … She … Tammy … She … Tammy … her … her … her …”
We parents, business owners and taxpayers stare at expenditures of $11-12,000 per student, a budget that has NOT been cut since 2002 (despite what the superintendent keeps telling you), high dropout rates, high remedial rates, low levels of skills in math and grammar, ridiculously low levels of pass rates on basic tests, and a nearly complete lack of financial transparency or accountability. Yet, we have no way to know WHY we’re stuck with the same leadership for which we paid excessively last year.
Last week, I heard a business owner say we shouldn’t “throw Nancy Stowell under the bus.” Holding the superintendent accountable for student outcomes is NOT “throwing her under the bus.” She gets paid extremely well to run this district, and she should be held accountable for the results. Instead, the board directors gave her a raise last year, and on July 27, they renewed or extended her contract.
That’s just one reason why voters should vote for Sally Fullmer for the Spokane school board. Sally is a breath of fresh air – not beholden to the union or in sync with the district (as Deana Brower appears to be). Sally believes the board should be answerable to the voters and to parents. She is willing to be the "lone voice in the wilderness," voting against things that will not help our students academically. She intends to make special effort to inform parents and taxpayers about district policy and decision-making. (Board candidate Bob Griffing has said he is NOT intending to be that lone voice -- that once a majority of directors decide, he would support the decision and not speak out against it. But that's what we have now.)]
Our current board directors appear to have an unfortunate tendency to brush off concerns from parents as they cozy up to the superintendent. Board director Bob Douthitt has gone so far as to email administration about how to best present “our” message to the public. Current board relationships appear to be much too friendly to foster real accountability to the people. Having interviewed Deana repeatedly, and having listened to her speak in several public forums, I believe she will continue that trend. She tends to argue for and support the district’s point of view. I know she’s been endorsed by the union, the daily newspaper, and Stand for Children. Like I said, transparency and accountability are in short supply these days. Ask yourself why you don’t get this information elsewhere. Ask why Deana assures Republicans that she's a Republican -- as she is endorsed, trained, and supported by progressives who have the sole goal of electing progressives.
Sally Fullmer agrees that district transparency is a problem. But Deana Brower said during the July 26 Greater Spokane Inc. forum that she’s “very proud” of administrators for supposedly “opening the books” during talks about raising graduation rates. She said administrators engaged in “full disclosure” and “honest conversation.” She said the graduation rate has “increased up to 10%” at one of the high schools, and that “more attention” is being given to extra programs.
(I was eating a muffin at the time and nearly choked. Oh, please. Do read about the district’s actual presentation of graduation rates. We don’t need to be “proud” of full disclosure; full disclosure should be expected. And some of the extra expenditures Deana mentioned wouldn’t be necessary if the district just taught the students properly in the first place.)
Sally Fullmer questions the district’s presentation of student outcomes, whereas Deana praises the district in exactly the same way the district praises itself. Sally questions expenditures, asking if the money is going to the right place. Deana says the state isn’t “fully funding” education (not mentioning that the district now spends several thousand dollars more per student than it did a few years ago, and that the budget has increased by $60 million since 2002). Last year, the local levy paid for administrative salary increases. The public was not told that – not then and not now. Deana’s position is that inflation has been a problem and that the district needs more taxpayer money in order to be successful. But inflation doesn’t account for a $60 million increase on a $250 million budget – especially when student enrollment has dropped by thousands of students (net).
I thought about comments from Deana Brower and Bob Griffing on July 27 as the board talked about the proposed data system -- right before they continued discussing cutting instructional assistants. The district’s torturously long presentation assured the board directors that this new (untested, unfunded, unproved, unnecessary) multi-million-dollar data system – to be preceded by a preliminary expenditure of $500,000 – would somehow improve student outcomes, reduce dropout rates, and increase graduation rates. You can see the presentation: click on the PDF for the July 27, 2011, Board Book. Read it and weep.
After the district's presentation, no board director said, “Uh … where is the proof this system works? How can we possibly spend taxpayer money on this data system when we just cut remedial programs, we’ve whined to the public about possibly cutting teachers, programs, or after-school activities, and now we’re talking about cutting instructional staff?”
Dear board directors: Repeat after me: Data does not teach a child – not even snazzy data that slices and dices the students 17 ways from Sunday. Administrators will ignore this new flood of data just as they ignore the flood of student data they already have. Nancy Stowell and her administrators will do what they’re doing now, which is to imply that they’re fabulously successful and it’s just the teachers, parents, students and, well, the entire community that are flawed.
After viewing the district presentation for the data system, you can scroll down in that same July 27, 2011, Board Book to the budget presentation. See how the district also plans to set aside a few million dollars for an (untested, unfunded, unproved, unfinished) nationalized K-8 math curriculum (AKA the Common Core initiatives). The district isn’t telling you – but I know – that the federal government has indicated plans to have nationalized standards, tests, and curricula in ALL subjects. Nationalized science standards already are in the works. District expenditures for this federal plan will be massive and ongoing. The time to say no is now. But our district administrators support it. The board so far has supported it. Deana’s comments indicate that she supports it. Sally Fullmer, however, does not support it.
Do you see that the trend is to push for ever-more money for non-academic expenditures? Deana Brower says the district needs more money and that the superintendent’s salary is not excessive. Sally Fullmer says the Spokane superintendent's salary is excessive but that the larger issue is: Is she getting the job done?
We need someone who will question the district and advocate for the people. I believe that Sally Fullmer "gets it," and I believe she will hold the district accountable. Please vote for Sally and give her a chance to advocate for you.
Please note: The information in this post is copyrighted. The proper citation is:
Rogers, L. (July 2011). "District wants data system and more money. Taxpayers want academics and accountability. Vote for Sally." Retrieved (date) from the Betrayed Web site: http://betrayed-whyeducationisfailing.blogspot.com/