Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Talking Past the Problems

Here is a headline that bears some discussion.

Howard county school board says early retirement incentive could save 9M

The truth: the school board knew absolutely nothing about this until it was presented to them as a fait accompli by the Superintendent/Central Office Staff. So, if we wanted to have an informed, in-depth conversation about where this is coming from, it would need to be with them, not the Board of Education.

Here are some questions I would ask:

  • Who is Educators Preferred Corporation, the consulting firm hired to handle this by Central Office?
  • How much money is this costing?
  • By what process were they selected?

And, more important:

  • Why was there no communication with HCEA in developing this incentive?
  • Why did the BOE know absolutely nothing about this until it was presented for a vote?

Our community is seeing a troubling pattern of behavior play out from our school system. Initiatives are developed in secret without significant involvement from stakeholders, then announced as a done deal. For example, when the HCEA annual survey found widespread dissatisfaction amongst Howard County teachers, rather than work with the union and the teachers directly to address their concerns, HCPSS hired Gallup to give an entirely different sort of assessment and then declared the HCEA survey results to be invalid. (How much is our contract with Gallup costing?)

A similar "penny wise, pound foolish" decision was made when the in-house legal team was liquidated in favor of contracting with independent legal counsel. Sold as a money-saving move, instead the system has incurred thousands (hundreds of thousands?) of dollars in private attorneys fees, most often while fighting the parents of special needs children, rather than find ways to work directly with them to resolve outstanding disputes.

I would love to be wrong on this, but it seems that the current working philosophy driving decisions from the school system is that it is essential to eliminate any voices from the community which could interfere with the things they want to accomplish. Over the last year we have seen attempts to silence teachers who had concerns about facets of the Model Schools Initiative, we have seen the creation of a PTA Portal just for PTA Presidents and accompanying meetings which exclude membership and leaders of the PTA Council of Howard County, we have seen the school website and other media outlets used to discredit teachers and the teachers union during contract negotiations. And let's not forget the elimination of the Budget Review Committee, which was the only avenue by which stakeholders could have any oversight/input into the school system budget. Poof! Gone.

Tom Coale wrote yesterday in "A Peculiar Payout" that encouraging teachers to take a buyout after fifteen years shows an underlying lack of respect for the work that they do.

So that's what's peculiar about this "solution". Not only what our public school system loses when we entice our most experienced teachers into retirement, but also what we tell all of our teachers in doing so - "you can make a career out of this if you have to, but we would rather you check out after you start making any semblance of a salary commensurate with your experience." Said otherwise - you are a widget. Widgets that cost X may stay, widgets that cost >X should go (if you would be so kind).

Teachers are not widgets. But neither are parents, or students. Members of our community should not be seen or treated as obstacles to be cleared out of the way, or merely collateral damage necessitated by the demands of pushing through a new initiative.

I might add, in case no one has thought of this, that Board members aren't widgets either. Imagine what amazing things could happen if our Board of Education decided to engage collaboratively with the community, rather than maintaining a policy of talking past them.

Engagement. Perhaps we could ask Gallup about that.


Hint Number Two for Friday's Giveaway Announcement: this giveaway has a connection to a place that has recently been in the news.




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