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Thursday, October 29, 2009

Is Greeley District Six School Board Going Union Busting?

A little excitement with your prairie coffee? There are disturbing things going on between the Greeley Colorado District 6 School Board and the Teacher's Union--Greeley Education Association. Could the District 6 School Board be working a strategy to bust the Teacher's Union? There are contracts being placed in teacher's school mailboxes and at least some teachers feel they are under pressure to sign or they will be fired. Both Trimberger and Broderius of the Greeley District 6 School Board have their stamped signature on the contract.

Please say it isn't so District 6.

The School Board has stated at its most recent meeting that it has adopted it's last contract offer to the Teacher's Union. Ninety percent of the GEA turned that contract offer down prior to this meeting. There is a statement posted to the District 6 School Board's website on the topic. The release is dated October 26, 2009. In it the school board cites that other staff will need to be laid off if the board honors what its previous promises and also grants current cost of living increases.

At its regular business meeting Monday evening, the District 6 Board of Education voted to render a final decision on the financial compensation items of the teachers union contract for the 2009-10 school year.
The Board approved the following compensation package for teachers for the 2009-10 school year:
• The district will pay the increased cost of contributions to the state retirement system (PERA)
• The district will pay the increased cost of health, dental and vision insurance
• The district will pay for educational advancement on the salary schedule for teachers (often
referred to as “lane” raises or “horizontal movement” raises)
• The district will increase the per-hour pay rate for teachers’ non-contract work to $25 per hour
(currently is $18)
The master agreement contract between District 6 and the Greeley Education Association calls for the Board of Education to make the final determination on matters that have not been resolved through the regular negotiations process or through meditation (Article 5-e-3). Mediation between the district and the union was held on Sept. 25, with the assistance of a federal mediator, but ended without an
agreement on salaries and benefits.
“This was a difficult decision to make, because we do care deeply about our teachers and hold them in high regard. But these are very difficult financial times for the district and also for our local communities and our state,” said Board President Bruce Broderius. “Financially, this is the best we can do. As disappointing as it is for all of us to be in the situation that we are, I truly hope we can still develop a partnership with the union to preserve jobs, to avoid layoffs, and to do what we can to lessen the fiscal crisis that will strike at the heart of our district in 2010.”
Salaries and wages for all of the district’s administrative and support staff employees were frozen at the beginning of the 2009-10 school year, remaining at last year’s levels.

The above statement tries to place the Board's decision into the context that it is acting under the current contract to make the final decision. I have not seen that current contract. It makes sense that some formal resolution in the case of an impasse to keep every one operating could be contained in the contract. And I certainly do not have the legal background to constructively comment that what the Board is doing is legally questionable. I think though from a humane perspective, from a public relations perspective they, the Board, just put the bus in a ditch.

However, currently, there is a contract being dispersed throughout the school district in teacher's mailboxes and some teachers are under the belief that if they do not sign this contract they will be fired. This document is dated October 19, 2009. Other teachers, I hear, are packing their bags, if not now, then at the end of this year.

Here is a link to the contract teachers found in their mailboxes this week. I've posted a photo copy of a contract with personal information removed.

If the Board is continuing to operate underneath the old contract then what is this "other" contract all about? Why does it come without clear instructions on intent to the teachers? It has at-will employment law clauses in the new contract and it labels a long-standing teacher as a non-probationary employee. This would be, my assumption, bad faith actions if it was handled while active mediation was ongoing. That is at a minimum. If negotiations have now formally ended, and if the current contract is null and void because there wasn't any consensus reached, then is the Board indicating that it will fire any teacher unwilling to sign this new document or is the Board just trying to edge out the Union by breaking off chunks of the membership and getting them to sign independent of the Union while things are in transition? Certainly newbie young teachers without anything to gain in experience ratings or salary increases might be tempted to sign this contract under the duress of losing their job.

Where is the District's highly-paid Superintendent in all these matters? Why hasn't the Superintendent addressed her staff and the public?

My hope is that the Union is seeking to call a meeting ASAP for the teachers. That meeting needs to give teachers the ability to ask Union lawyers some good questions. For example, what does it mean if I sign this contract with the School District (union teachers say they have not been asked to personally sign a contract in years--the Union negotiates their contracts for them). Does this mean I am bound to a contract without representation of my union? How can I be forced under duress of losing my job into signing a contract? Those are just beginners.

It seems a wonderful coincidence that the Board has danced this long with this Union until right up before the election cycle. Perhaps the Board has confidence that the Greeley public will not be supportive of the teachers considering the voters may turn away the Mill Levy Override. Even if the Mill Levy Override passes the District Board will be sitting pretty because they have strongly emphasized through out the Mill Levy Campaign that certified staff (teachers) will not receive any pay benefits from Measure 3A. So the District won't be needing to go back and revisit their current decision to abort negotiations and render a nonconsensual contract on their teachers.

A nice pickle to put the Union in. A nice pickle for the Union to get itself into.

A scenario: If the District 6 Board pushes teachers into a panic mode and gets several teachers to sign these contracts what does that mean to the Union and their representation of the teachers. Is the Board trying to alienate teachers from their Union with this dog and pony show?

That isn't the only benefit the Board might receive. If teachers get upset and walk off the job they can be replaced with newbies. If teachers sign the contract being shoved under their pen and then leave at the end of the year when public rancor has died down--the Board will get to hire "newbies".

It doesn't get more corporate than the above scenario folks. Public education is not a business for a reason. Making teachers into manipulated widgets does not build the type of experiential investment needed to produce the results necessary for Greeley kids to compete in the big world. All efforts should be made to retain experienced talent and to mix in new and rising talent along the way. It is all part of a good human resources personnel. Teachers are the productive asset in any education system.

With the Tribune trumpeting the Board's position and the District Superintendent Ms. Lang nowhere within the common public reach and Mr. Eads being allowed to be the district spokesperson it is going to be up to the teachers and the public to demand real answers to the budgetary questions. It is a very easy time frame in which to manipulate public opinion against the teachers.

Unfortunately there are a lot of other scenarios that could be at play here. Parties within negotiations and mediation often are tongue-tied for good reason. Contracts can have some funky clauses on "what happens next". Hence stories and rumors coming to the outside world can get very distorted. Both the Board and the GEA will need public support as this gets touchy. It would nice to think that one or the other group will play fair and openly with the community. Public relation manipulation is yesterday's game plan. Today it is all about being honest and transparent. It is only fair that the Board be allowed to clear up their actions by better informing, clearly and meaningfully, the strategic purpose of their plans.

This Board appears to have little credibility based on past performance--perceived or actual. That image problem, in and of itself, regardless of the source which began the problem, has put the Board in a poor position on community leadership. Credibility is essential in your governmental systems and this Board's credibility is on the line. Will the Board obfuscate and make the situation worse? Or will they be forthcoming and transparent with their teachers and begin taking some steps toward healing. Poor press management and poor spokesperson choices is likely just to darken the skies ahead.

Certainly the Board, and the Board's employee Superintendent Lang, would have known for a while that by keeping experienced teachers around there would be step increases and other associated rise in labor costs. The bottleneck is a sign of long term poor planning. It can't all be about the economic downturn.

Previous Articles:


New Contract Offerred to Greeley District 6 Teachers

The following are scans of a contract document placed within a Greeley Colorado District 6 Schools envelope and placed in the mailbox of a long time Greeley Colorado District 6 teacher who is also a member of the Greeley Education Association Union. To enlarge these documents for viewing click on the document icon and it will expand into the window. I have referred to these documents in the next posting.


Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Negotiations: Greeley Colorado District 6 Teachers Get Thrown Under the Bus

Greeley Colorado District 6 school teachers got a parochial school lesson last evening from the District School Board when the Board basically decided on a package deal for the teachers. Teachers are howling and the Union is threatening action. It remains to be seen what can or can't be done. While it would be reasonable during an economic downturn to curtail cost of living increases it is a hard pill to swallow when federal stimulus funds are coming into the district and a recovery is well underway except in job creation. Top that off with the fact that the Consumer Price Index shows that what $1.00 bought in 2007 now costs $1.04 or a $50,000 salary in 2007 is worth 2,080.27 less than it was in 2007.

Of course the District is facing the same problem. It is going to have to spend $1.04 for every $1.00 spent previously and with property values sinking, the Tabor Act limiting tax increases not yet through the court system, and 3A swinging in the wind, I'd be sweating bullets too if I were on that School Board. Except that I suspect the State automatically adjusts the payments to the local schools for increases and, as I said previously, the state and local schools are eligible for stimulus funding. I've posted a couple of paragraphs on the federal money below taken from the Colorado Department of Education website. There are a few opportunities too, if I am reading the language on this page correctly, that District 6 should be applying for that could help with building attractive pay packages for high quality teachers and administrators in the future. Hope someone is on that and making it happen.

Overview

Congress designed the State Fiscal Stabilization Fund to prevent reductions in critical education and other services.

The Recovery Act allocates the following:

  1. A one-time appropriation of $53.6 billion for the overall State Fiscal Stabilization Fund
  2. $39.7 billion in Education State Grants for states to use first in restoring state support of primary, secondary, and higher education through 2011 to the greater of 2008 or 2009 levels, and $8.8 billion in Government Services Grants to support any public safety or other government services, including education
  3. At least $4.35 billion to fund Race to the Top State Grants, which includes $350 million in Standards and Assessments Grants
  4. Up to $650 million in competitive grants to LEAs or nonprofit organizations under the Investing in Innovation Fund

Funding

Colorado is expected to receive $760,242,539 in Recovery Act funding for its State Fiscal Stabilization Fund state allocation, which includes $621.9 million for its Education State Grant and $138.3 million for its Government Services Grant.

I'll write more on the negotiation topic when I get more information. I haven't posted too much on the topic as it is because to be honest it is difficult to tell facts from fiction and media hype. I've been in the middle of mediation before and it is not a whole lot of fun to have the media perpetuating panic points. For example, a mild one, I heard last week that the Board were secretly putting new contracts in front of some select teachers and telling them they should sign them and that the new contracts would allow the teachers to be fired at will once signed.

I sent that worried teacher back to dig for more details because it just sounded more than a little implausible that those details were correct. Every one is worried about the state of education in Greeley District 6. That much is obviously the truth.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

UNC Student Bloggers Are Hot Greeley Colorado Journalism Tamales

I really like being surprised in a positive way. I revisited the UNC site where The Cranky Copy Editor, Lynn Klyde-Silverstein, has rounded up a tussle of students in a journalism class and has them blogging on Greeley Colorado's City Council meetings. Of course, I already posted about this previously. I also added a link to the site in my blog list and am crossing my fingers she will turn a blind-eye to my own spelling and grammar errors. Possibly my headlines too. Today I went back and read through some of the postings on the site and loved it.

Positively.

To explain I have to get into the age thing and I really hate that but I'll do it anyway. It is kind of like having your teenager's friend bump into you while you are carrying your Lady Clairol Grey Coverage hair dye to the drugstore counter. Where is that instant rewind button when you need it? However I've spent a lot of years in college, around college, teaching, learning, and just hanging out in various art departments when I had the time. Our town was small and the teachers and professors always had open doors. My point is that the shared viewpoint you get from people on the beginning edge of life is better than any fine wine I have ever encountered and I've encountered a few. That blend of seeing the world through newer eyes and open minds and trying to pen it all with a wise brush tends to the freshest content imaginable. And, in general, genuine and honest.

I miss having this experience on a regular basis and it is nice to be able to find it here, on a blog, in such a refreshing and easy way. It opens up your world a bit to how the next generations are going to deal with some of our leftovers. Like poor policy choices and budget fiascoes.

Here, on this blog The Cranky Copy Editor, you can find several versions of what happened the other night when the City Council shot down the pot dispensaries. And you get to read it from a generational perspective that, I'm guessing, has grown up with more of a weed culture than someone, say, my age did. This particular topic is of interest to me because I have lived in a town where dispensaries were allowed and have seen the positives and negatives.

I'll paste below one passage from one student's blog for a sample. But I really recommend checking these out if you are inclined, as I am, to enjoy the diversity of opinions and life that sometimes can arrive in the most simplistic packages.

I really enjoyed the last line. Calling it like it is!
From Tori Gutt's blog page. After much public input, the Council discussed the possibilities before voting on the ordinance. Mayor Ed Clark definitively stated that he is against dispensaries and therefore in favor of the ordinance. Councilmember Feldhaus agreed, stating that despite the compelling arguments from the audience, and the compassion he said he feels for the patients, there are just too few regulations in place to safely allow dispensaries. Councilmember Martin was the only one on the other side of the fence. He argued that dispensaries are the only way to enforce and regulate medical marijuana rules. Martin was unable to convince the others to oppose the ordinance resulting in a 6-1 vote to adopt the ordinance. This means that medical marijuana dispensaries are not allowed within the city of Greeley, but patients still may grow marijuana for their own personal use and continue to use the substance. The community support was there, the Council just wasn’t budging.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

UNC Students Covering Greeley Colorado City Council Meetings

There's a new site in town for political junkies and concerned, and not-so-concerned, citizens to take a look at now and then. Well at least I think it is new. Maybe it reoccurs each semester. The focus is on more than just the City Council meetings as it is a journalism course but it sounds interesting. It is Lynn Klyde-Silverstein's Reporting Contemporary Issues class at UNC blogging on City Council Meetings. You can check out the new digs at http://uncoeditprof.blogspot.com/2009/10/students-blogging-city-council.html

This is a great idea. I'd love to see what is going on in the minds of the generation younger than me and at the same time not have to kill any Woolly Mammoths in order to keep my feet warm plodding out to meetings during the winter. I can read some of what I miss online from a fresh perspective.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Jane Thumbs Up On Greeley District Six Mill Levy Tax And Thumbs Down on School Board

People are emailing and ringing up and asking me what my final opinion is on the Greeley Colorado District 6 Schools Mill Levy Override. I've reposted the closing paragraphs near to the end of my last essay, Part III, on the topic for clarity.

Basically Jane is thumbs up on 3A and thumbs down on the District 6 Administration.

All told, the above suppositions and scenarios lead me to the last question: Is the performance problem a direct correlation to money?

Of course it is. It isn't the only problem but it is a fundamental one.

You get the quality of administration you pay for. If Greeley wants this situation resolved it needs to either clarify what Ms. Lang sees as the real problems in this district and demand a detailed plan and timeline for cleaning it up or replace her with someone who can build a better engine by distributing and using the parts given more effectively. This may also entail recalling and replacing the school board. If Greeley wants the students to perform more effectively against other districts then it is going to have to pay for higher quality administrators and probably better supplies and materials.

I'll also mention it is going to have to pay for high quality teachers as well but that argument is already being made by the Union.

The gist of my post here is that good effective systems are built and maintained and paid for by an involved community. If this community really wants to be fiscally conservative there is nothing bad about being sure money is spent in prudent ways to get effective results. But at the same time trying to micromanage systems after the damage has been done by gutting funding is extremist and dangerous. You have to pay to rebuild the engine and then make sure it is maintained once optimal function is reached. That is the time to get the fiscal conservatism argument in. Right now Greeley has to pay for the mechanics to fix the machine that crumbled while the electorate looked the other way.

Arguing, as some have done, that punishing administrators and making their jobs even harder is the way to get this administration to spend more wisely flies in the face everything this community has voted for and believed in for decades--smaller government is better and fiscal conservatism rules the day. The inflexibility of that ideology has built the system these administrators are now faced with changing and are being pummeled for creating. Even if guilty for continuing poor policies they certainly didn't get here all alone. They are elected.

... I still think that the Mill Levy Override has been poorly and misleadingly sold to a community looking desperately for an easy solution to the performance problems. Measure 3A won't fix what is wrong with the distribution of human resources. But not passing 3A will certainly do the students of D6 more harm than good as new priorities in funding would likely be made on par with ones suggested in the Greeley Tribune scare-tactic editorials. If the poor choices I pointed about above, do indeed exist, I hate to think of the impact of what a new round of cuts would mean. And the consequences of such damage in the long run is a bullet in the heart of this community that Greeley needs to avoid.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Part III: Greeley School District Six Admin Mill Levy Blues

Ballots are out in the mail. Hair is flying in and around beauty shops and barber stops over the Greeley District 6 Mill Levy Override. Northern Colorado pays attention it appears when someone wants to reach into their pockets for whatever reason. This blog has seen quite an uptick over the last week, even as I rambled across New Mexico on vacation instead of finishing up the series I promised, with people searching for election information. That can't be a bad sign can it?

So I will roll up my sleeves here and see if I can dig some more depth out of my research on the topic of the D6 Mill Levy Blues. For background, if you missed it, or fell asleep somewhere in the middle of my calculations, here are the first two installments of the series.


Now for the remaining questions:
  • Is the performance problem related to a lack of support materials?
  • Is the performance problem related to the transitory immigrant population?
  • Is the performance problem related to ineffective administration?
  • Is the performance problem related to wages and quality of people hired?
  • Is the performance problem a direct correlation to money?
I am going to eliminate addressing the second question above, in this third installment, because I believe I covered the immigration issue in Part II along with answering the question "Is it Us?".

Let's start here, with the opening paragraph to chapter five of an essay on A LEGISLATIVE AND LEGAL HISTORY OF PUBLIC EDUCATION FUNDING. A little light reading for bedtime and a statement on the quantitative changes in American public education. Couple this with the Colorado Tabor Act and the pickle local schools are in becomes much more chewy and sour. The entire paper can be purchased online if you are interested.

The past half century has witnessed more than a five-fold increase in the real value of resources devoted to public education. While the number of students has also risen over that period, real expenditures even when adjusted for the number of students have also risen steadily so that today per-pupil educational expenditures are now about four times as large as they were in the late 1950s. Interestingly, however, educational expenditures as a percentage of GDP, while higher than the late 1950s, have remained roughly the same (in the neighborhood of four percent) since 1970. Moreover, while the percentage of the federal government's budget devoted to public education is double the level it was in 1960, it still amounts to less than two percent of all federal government expenditures.

Now onto the first question: Is the performance problem related to a lack of support materials?

The support material question aims directly at the heart of the tax measure. The district has used the plight of the suffering impoverished student without a personal textbook or up to date computing equipment to tug at parental heartstrings in hopes of securing support for the tax increase (Measure 3A). Much of this measure is designed, as you can see on the Greeley District 6 web site, to cover the cost of new instructional assets (supplies and materials). White electronic boards and textbooks, to name a couple, are direct support materials for students. Buses, security equipment, and other miscellaneous items round out the list. Vague indications exist that support staff might be hired under 3A.

Can the absence of these items create a negative performance for students on test scores? My guess is probably, collectively, just like rain droplets will eventually create a full bucket of water, yes it can create a small performance issue. Here's a couple reasons why.

The time spent organizing textbook sharing is a cost to the teacher. That time used is an opportunity cost. The teacher loses the opportunity to do other things that could better benefit the students such as preparing a lesson plan, consulting with an individual student, or doing some other task that will now be left undone. Students, in the meantime, have a great excuse, beyond the "printer ate my homework", by pointing out the unavailability of a textbook and their complete lack of fault for that circumstance. It's the adults' fault (every teenager's dream statement).

Now, of course, we all know that collaborative learning and organizational skills will benefit students as well. Most people also know that electronic textbooks will be on the retail shelf soon. But I am guessing we, at least parents and grandparents, also know that most students will still take advantage of the textbookless situation in the interim to do less work than expected. We did. Okay, at least I would have even if you won't admit it. I don't think students have changed that much and their arguments have even improved but I could be wrong.

So that is one drop in the bucket.

The District's Public Relations arm, AKA Greeley Tribune, has made sure the public is aware that taxpayer dollars will not go to teacher salaries. What they don't cover is that taxpayer dollars might go to administrative support or non credentialed teaching assistants to help lower the load on teachers and administrators. What they also are vague about is how much will go into these areas.

Do smaller class loads help performance? Depends. Spin the wheel and pick a study. There is some conclusive studies that students from lower income homes that also have parents with literacy issues tend to benefit from smaller class size. These students are most likely to be the beneficiaries of trained reading assistants potentially hired with A3 money if that is the plan. That would be my guess where the district will hire support. What that won't do is help signficantly with the District's poor math performance or the lack of science education, etc. Good math teachers and scientists are in higher demand and often draw higher salaries. Something that appears to be a situation the District seeks to avoid by putting general education teachers without enough specialized training into math and science courses and appeasing their regular workload by using non credentialed teachers in other areas. A questionable practice, especially if the objective is to raise performance, if I am correct in my assumptions.

Which all leads to the notion that should 3A not pass then performance issues will continue much as they already are with regards to classroom size. The exception would be that it could get worse if student populations are predicted to increase over the next few years.

A second drop in the bucket potentially.

The technology items like electronic white boards and better computers are an increase in efficiency within the classroom just like they are in our homes. It takes us less time to pay our bills if we can do it electronically. It takes us less time to argue with our spouses if we can Google-Up the fact that we are right... again. It takes less time to write an email than to hand write a letter, put it in an envelope, and lick it and stick it in the snail mail. These are all time savings so that we can, in theory, get more done (sans napping on the couch).

The same time-savings work for the students and teacher. More time to zip open those greedy little sponge minds and stuff new concepts inside helps considering there are a whole lot of new concepts to add on top of the ones we learned as young students.

That is three, maybe four, drops in the bucket.

As the bucket fills however it might be prudent to point out that the real underlying question is whether these students, when tested, are being tested against a standard performance measure where "standard" has been established by students in other districts who have more technology tools, textbooks, and other things. Boulder comes to mind. In other words are Greeley students worse off than their counterparts when it comes to materials and supplies yet expected to test out at the same levels.

I don't really have a specific answer to this question. But I doubt that these annual test scores are adjusted for material goods in the same way they are not adjusted for the annual income of the household of the student.

We do know that some levels of funding are less in Greeley than other parts of the State, and in the nation, but it really comes down to how each district spends the money they do have and what the priorities are in each district. Each Superintendent and School Board make active decisions on priorities especially when new demands on the budget exceed the current funding supply.

The situation reminds me of a small futile exercise in mechanics I once had during high school wherein we all learned a quick lesson that it isn't just the things you have to work with that count it is what you can make them do for you that counts.

In our high school we had several technical courses to participate in as freshmen and freshwomen. All of which I greatly benefited from over my adult life. Few of which still exist in public schools. One of these was agricultural science and I had to cut the horns off a cow. I still have a great appreciation for ranchers to this day. But I digress into my own unpleasant memory here (and some students think dissecting a frog is abuse). The pertinent class to this piece is auto shop.

We divided up into teams of three. We were given the pieces, parts, and other essential supplies to build a small engine. We were also given extra parts and pieces. Each team kit was a little bit different but all had minimal essentials for success included. All lumped together in a big scary box. We had three weeks to accomplish our task in. Needless to say at the end of three weeks there were seven small engines in the classroom. All started and ran for a couple of minutes before dying a death more tragic than anything Shakespeare could put on a written page. Except one. The one built by the kid with the local mechanic for a parent hummed along perfectly until it ran out of fuel.
This leads me to the next question to be addressed: Is the performance problem related to ineffective administration? I am going to combine this question with the next one as well: Is the performance problem related to wages and quality of people hired?

(Before I begin on this aspect I'd just like to say that the Administration of Greeley District 6 is a pretty easy fall guy to pick on. Mostly because those doing the picking don't have to do the hard work and deal with the very real hard problems our education system is facing. That includes me of course. I'm doing the picking here. If you've ever had the opportunity to be a public figure standing before a crowd of angry people who think that they could do a better job because they know that a jar of pickles should only cost $4.30 instead of $4.35 you know what I mean. And yes, that is a representative metaphor and not a specific example.)

In my previous post of the series I took a look at some comparative figures. I'll post the main two paragraphs below here so we have those figures in this post

Administratively District 6 with 24,809 students is running .0006 administrators per student while Poudre Valley with 35,630 students is running .0005 administrators per student. However District Administrative support inPoudre is higher at .0046 per student than Greeley's Administrative support which is at .0038. What entails District Administrator support can very widely between districts. One district might hire Vice Principal's for instance whose job duties are very isolated while others may hire for the same position and also assign teaching duties.

As investment examples, in 2005/06 Poudre paid out in salaries per student 24,185.00 Greeley paid out in salaries 17,547.5 per student. Greeley by comparison is running much lower in salary dollars spent per student.
Essentially Greeley District 6 has significantly fewer students and is running more administrative pay per student than Poudre. Poudre however puts more into administrative support than Greeley D6. In 05/06 Poudre paid out more dollars in salaries per student than D6.

So one conclusion could be that Poudre staff are higher paid on the average and perform more effectively with less administrators than Greeley D6.

Now there are problems with my conclusion here. First of all it is not known exactly whom and what job descriptions these salaries entail and obviously Poudre administrators have more funding to hire support staff. But I would assume since the figures are reported from the same governmental agency site that the job descriptions included are similar.

The conclusion I have drawn here leads me to one of the next questions: Is the performance problem related to wages and quality of people hired?

Relying on some behind the scenes information from Greeley D6 staff and teachers there have been some questionable hiring based on nepotism and "the good old boys" league. One with substance is a case where a prominent top administrative position has been given to someone with minimal academic qualifications but a long work history with D6--starting at one of the lowest non classified positions. Another is a case where potentially a firing was made, in part, to hire the relative of another employee.

I would like to be clear here that I have not seen any job descriptions in D6 nor is anyone else I talked to, about these specific cases, privy to that type of information. I fully respect the right of any employee's privacy and there will not be any names bandied about here. I've seen damage done unfairly before and what I am doing here is pointing out possible issues that are underlying performance problems. However nepotism and the political bedfellow problem is hardly new to Colorado and all Americans for that matter. And certainly academic credentials are not a substitute for experience but a compliment to experience and vice versa.

My question, based on the above speculation in combination with the administrative ratio, would be whether or not high-level staff are being appropriately screened and placed in positions where they have the skills and talent to be successful. Are the administrative applicants being selected based on a priority of high level skills, knowledge, and experience as compared to nepotist or ideological considerations.

I bring this question up because, contrary to some of the running commentators on various blogs, Greeley overall has a lower percentage of overall funding going to administrative pay if you don't break it down into the ratio of "per student" as I have done above. Basically the administration on paper, collectively, looks underpaid. If you are the type of person that simply reads headlines this looks good. But in reality the question is whether or not the students and community are getting the job done right for that amount of money. I'll leave each reader to their own conclusion on that regard.

I am more interested in the other implications of what these figures and comparisons could mean. It could indicate that fewer administrators in D6 are covering a broader scope of work duties and making higher wages per individual position. It also could imply that more administrators are covering smaller scope of work duties and drawing smaller salaries per individual. This smaller salary would be based on the individual's skill and educational background qualifications. So effectively there are more administrators covering the entire workload. (Note: that there are internal costs associated with each employee added to the payroll so smaller pay scales do not generally mean a cost savings to the district). Essentially this "More-4-Less" scenario could potentially mean that administrators with less skill and expertise are being hired to keep administrative pay lower. This is one scenario that would lead to the higher administrative ratio I earlier indicated.

Potentially this "More-4-Less" could also be a result of a trend that higher qualified candidates do not apply in D6. Certainly D6 performance has been lackluster and professionals might not care to be associated with the district. Quality of life issues in the surrounding community may also be in play in this scenario. Another scenario could be that the quality of screening by the human resources department is lacking due to work load or lack of appropriate competency. Perhaps the hiring process is corrupted by nepotism or ideological priorities at other levels being handed down to the Human Resources division. From the outside one can only speculate at the various causes.

Also, to be fair, none of the above could apply. But I'd certainly like to hear another explanation.

It seems to me, given the .0006 ratio in combination with the salary distribution for Greeley that the second scenario "More-4-Less" above is more likely than the first. Greeley is running more administrators than Poudre for a much smaller student body. This would lead me to suggest that the administrators in Greeley, other than Ms. Lang, are being paid less than their counterparts and perhaps, collectively, do not have a similarly rich combination of skills with theory to draw upon to solve the problems they have been handed. Over time experience could kick in for these administrators and the trial-and-error costs associated with lower skilled administrators will fade. I doubt though current Greeley students and residents really want to be the test guinea pig.

The public doesn't have access to the type of information to assess this situation more fully, and shouldn't, as the process Human Resources goes through in hiring is protected information unless challenged by the employee in court (to the best of my knowledge). But the Board certainly can gain access to what they need to check into this situation--and should have already. A really good governance plan would prevent this problem from developing, if it does exist, no matter whose watch created it.

That again brings up the issue of quality school board candidates in the local area. I've neglected to cover the current candidates well in my blog but I have posted on the issue of qualities needed.

My above scenarios also do not directly implicate Ms. Lang's competency of administration necessarily. Since Ms. Lang arrived belatedly in the position of Administrator to help correct a bad situation she certainly had to, for a while anyhow, work with the clay mold handed to her. It may have not been her oversight of human resource policy that has led to this situation, if it does indeed exist, or it may be a nuanced political pressure fostered by current Board policy. The question Ms. Lang does need to address, in my opinion, is whether or not she has identified human resource distribution on the administrative level as a problem and if hiring policies have been changed and a redistribution of administrators has been forth coming. And she needs to give specifics on the direction of the change and the steps taken to correct the situation.

Unfortunately the only evidence available to the public is not conclusive on whether new policies have been adopted. I can find no mention of it in past Board minutes. The two cases I have used to set up my thoughts on this performance issue are ongoing and recent.

But I have to return to the fact the Board and the Superintendent are the easy scape-goats to take aim at. Also complicit in the problem is that higher quality employees simply may not attracted to Greeley District 6 and the Human Resource department is left choosing from applicants with limited qualifications.

In that case the only solution available to the Human Resource Department and to Ms. Lang would be to offer more attractive salary packages to attract higher performers. I can already see that politically it would easier to elect a flaming liberal to the position of Mayor in Greeley than to get higher pay packages past the school board and local population. Most likely the problem underlying, if this nonapplication scenario is the reality, is quality of life issues for small town Greeley. And that is about the community as a whole not just the Board and their employee.

An informal survey by a local teacher concludes that a good many of her peers live in Fort Collins and commute to Greeley.

I'll leave the readers to assume why such a situation may exist.

All told, the above suppositions and scenarios lead me to the last question: Is the performance problem a direct correlation to money?

Of course it is. It isn't the only problem but it is a fundamental one.

You get the quality of administration you pay for. If Greeley wants this situation resolved it needs to either clarify what Ms. Lang sees as the real problems in this district and demand a detailed plan and timeline for cleaning it up or replace her with someone who can build a better engine by distributing and using the parts given more effectively. This may also entail recalling and replacing the school board. If Greeley wants the students to perform more effectively against other districts then it is going to have to pay for higher quality administrators and probably better supplies and materials.

I'll also mention it is going to have to pay for high quality teachers as well but that argument is already being made by the Union.

The gist of my post here is that good effective systems are built and maintained and paid for by an involved community. If this community really wants to be fiscally conservative there is nothing bad about being sure money is spent in prudent ways to get effective results. But at the same time trying to micromanage systems after the damage has been done by gutting funding is extremist and dangerous. You have to pay to rebuild the engine and then make sure it is maintained once optimal function is reached. That is the time to get the fiscal conservatism argument in. Right now Greeley has to pay for the mechanics to fix the machine that crumbled while the electorate looked the other way.

Arguing, as some have done, that punishing administrators and making their jobs even harder is the way to get this administration to spend more wisely flies in the face everything this community has voted for and believed in for decades--smaller government is better and fiscal conservatism rules the day. The inflexibility of that ideology has built the system these administrators are now faced with changing and are being pummeled for creating. Even if guilty for continuing poor policies they certainly didn't get here all alone. They are elected.

Jane steps on soapbox.

Education is an investment and it takes money to stay at the top of the heap. Being at the bottom of the heap has the type of consequences the community is now reaping. But, yes, it costs less money to be at the bottom of the heap than the top. In the name of fiscal conservatism and, in my opinion, probably racism, Greeley has accomplished its goals. It has gotten the least educational results for all the children in the community for the least dollars spent.

Greeley, together, has institutionalized and supported the dysfunctions that exist in the education system and in the end, Greeley citizens, need to pick up the bill and invest in the community's future prosperity by investing in its youth and help correct this mess.

And if some kid happens to get two pencils instead of one--great maybe they'll use them both.

Which brings me to my thoughts on Measure 3A--the Mill Levy Override for Greeley Colorado District 6. Greeley needs to pass Measure 3A. Plus Greeley needs to recall the board in order to replace the executive administration. That or Ms. Lang needs to go public, in person, with a workable detailed plan and timeline far beyond tacitly touting that Measure 3A is a magic bullet. It isn't.

I still think that the Mill Levy Override has been poorly and misleadingly sold to a community looking desperately for an easy solution to the performance problems. Measure 3A won't fix what is wrong with the distribution of human resources. But not passing 3A will certainly do the students of D6 more harm than good as new priorities in funding would likely be made on par with ones suggested in the Greeley Tribune scare-tactic editorials. If the poor choices I pointed about above, do indeed exist, I hate to think of the impact of what a new round of cuts would mean. And the consequences of such damage in the long run is a bullet in the heart of this community that Greeley needs to avoid.

So my Jane-conclusion, for now, on what the performance problems are in Greeley District 6 basically comes down to ineffective administration complicated by a rigidly ideological community promoting less efficient management policies.

But that is not the end of this series. I have one more to write on testing in the District. I have homework to do first.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Night 4 and Beyond: My Mother and Georgia O'Keefe

I remember once falling asleep in art history class. The older, almost Russian attaché appearing gent, a marvelous professor, didn't appreciate my closed-eye presence in the seat closest to the podium. I seem to remember we were somewhere between Monet's late work and Munch's Scream. It certainly wasn't a commentary on my interest but more so a commentary on the basement-cold massive cement theatre at 7 AM with no coffee in hand after a long night with a small child crouping. He tapped me on the foot with his cane, immediately successful in rousing me from my slumber and instigating a deep red flush across my face, and rewarded my new found alertness with a deserved glare I shall never forget.

I swore off the next period class in that room--American Modern. Hence my understanding of this period of art is less than what it could be. So, needless to say, when my traveling companion noted that Wednesday in Santa Fe was "all yours" and smiling through his mischevious depth of knowledge about my passions in life, informed me that the Georgia O'Keefe Museum was just around the corner from the hotel--my heart lept into my shoes and it was the first stop of the day in Santa Fe.

The building itself was Georgia, a soft vanilla brown adobe, with a simple line of trees outside. The special exhibition showing was a photo series of Georgia herself, many taken by her husband, Alfred Stieglitz.

After having spent previous hours at the adobe of of a very good friend of mine, powerfully spiritual in her own sense of womanhood, and her husband a local abstractionist staring at walls filled with symbolism I had rather a fixed idea that Georgia's works would focus on the obvious yoni and phallic icons that are commonly pointed out and spoken about in terms of representational painting. So while I was eager to make the journey into Georgia's world I did not anticipate being surprised or educated by the unexpected nor did I anticipate such a wonderful experience by being surprised and educated by the unexpected as did occur.

The paintings were arranged chronologically. Stepping into the white rooms, one after another, I felt my artist's soul touching another artist's soul long ago beating with the same passion for texture, color, and discovery of the world around her that I have recognized in myself as I age.

Had I walked this journey in my twenties I would have simply saw "pretty things". Now, in my late forties, I saw the fingertips of naivete turn into the wisdom of experience as a life passed time in a strange, wonderful, but constantly changing world.

The dance of a deeply orange-read feather-like plant across a white ridged shell. The background unimportant except for the color and simplicity of it all. The youthful playfulness with bringing the pulse of the rich life of a simple blue flower into reality by ignoring the intricate detail and simply fondling the arching, curving, essence of its beauty.

Gradually walking around the rooms I felt this woman's life unfold through each painting, each subject she choose, and the clarity with which she put it in front of the viewer. I felt as if I had looked through her eyes and asked the similar questions about what is and what could be. As Georgia aged so did her wild innocence. She painted tall buildings and physical constructions surreal in the way they cut through the natural world.

Then, in the last room, there she was, Georgia, in all her plain, weathered beauty, photographed by the man, and men, who loved the woman holding the brush and painting the world around them.

When my traveling companion peeked into the small movie clip on Georgia's life, I declined. After walking through her artistic world I felt almost protective of the bond I had felt while Georgia explored and painted her way through life, I felt something sweet, poignant, childlike, and personal. I couldn't explain it as well as I could feel it. It was there in the room with me as other people walked around the room milling about and talking quietly. I entered a space inside myself that was private. Georgia was learning what textures, colors, and lines mean to the world and sharing it so that you, and I can, as a person, extend the understanding that everything external to the human body also has a living soul. Everything has a life of its own. I did not want anyone else to interpret Georgia's work for me. I wanted to maintain the purity of that connection standing before her life's work.

Afterwards, in a slight rain, my companion and I took in coffee at a sidewalk cafe. As we chatted a local woman passed by and heard a political comment being expressed between us and turned to join in the conversation. This woman was delightful both in her passion and her sharing. But most importantly she steered us on a wonderful journey through the area Georgia chose, a bit north of Santa Fe, as home. "It is absolutely gorgeous. The desert at its best." she said. "You should go."

Unfortunately we were heading South at the time and my heart felt rather bereft that I couldn't complete my enchanted experience. I have never been overly fond of the desert. Having been raised in the foothills of the Sierras and having lived in deeply wooded forests I have always seen the mountains, the green grass, and the long wise limbs of the trees as my totems, so to speak. This sudden deep affection for the desert was new and I felt the urge to explore it more fully.

My mother on the other hand, painted in her later life, and most frequently chose old barns, hay fields, and the desert for her fingers and mind to mingle together on canvas. I can remember watching her as a child. She explained to me, her child born in the middle of the desert, of the beauty she missed in her captive life as the wife of an alcoholic that she had experienced years later living in the desert. "You have to look beyond what you think it is. It is wonderfully beautiful. It has sunsets that are all red and orange. The ground blooms with color in the spring and fall. It is like no other place I've ever seen." It made me think, early on, about keeping my mind open to the idea that my idea of the world might not be mated to the actuality of the world itself.

My mother never told me what to do. She understood how headstrong I was and how much I liked the hands-on experiential approach. I could do everything myself in my mind. So she simply shared with me her wonderful humanity and compassion for the world around her with hope, no doubt, that it would guide me as I blundered through my childhood into a more rich experience as an adult. A more rich experience than what she encountered living with my father.

Indeed, inspired by my mother's brief sketches of faces, I took up a love of drawing the human form. Drawing my feelings on paper and canvas I had an escape from the harsh reality in my childhood home. I learned I could imagine anything and create it on paper. I could draw my dreams. I could draw my happiness. I could reach beyond what was at the moment and create anything I needed on the flat surface in front of me. Of course, eventually, we all, all of us in that home, went our separate ways, as our family fell apart like many homes do when torched with alcoholism. Yet I never left behind my art. Instead I reached throughout my young adulthood for the most perfect form and then only later in life found the joy of surrealism.

Yesterday, as we drove through the beautiful stunning yellow gold desert valley where Georgia O'Keefe lived and painted in her ranch home, I connected my mother's love for painting and the desert with her, my mother's, own need to paint her life on a canvas. Finally I felt the beauty of the world she was living in.

Nearby, we turned up a small dirt road and journeyed into an old abandoned pueblo with an adobe church standing in the middle of crumbled ruins. It seemed surreal to see such well tended aged beauty standing aside the weathered-torn bricks of abandonment all encircled by a dusty the narrow, well traveled, road.

People, many of them, had been here before. Now and then. But here today it stood still. Nothing but the wind moved. There wasn't another soul to be seen. It was not a scene of discovery but a scene of what had been.

We turned around in the courtyard and traveled back down the road onto the highway and looked over the valley and the cliffs that Georgia no doubt saw many days of her life. I realized that my mother had lived in her mind the same beauty that Georgia had found in the vivaciousness of her beloved desert. Only my mother never had the same opportunity to present it to the world. Instead she just gifted it to her children.

I will always love my mother for many things but especially for giving me the best of her world.

I received word Thursday my mother passed on. She left both worlds behind on Tuesday evening. The real world had faded steadily over the last ten years as she slipped into dementia but I always secretly hoped the world of the desert lived on for her someplace in her mind. We headed home immediately and went through Ghost Ranch, north of Abiquiu, Georgia's valley asI have described above on our way.

My mother, the last of ten McClendon children born to Estelle and Daniel McClendon, an eighth generation Californian, finished life in the beautiful desert of Colorado at the age of eighty-six.

She is and always will be the most beautiful woman in my entire world. On canvas and off.

I love you Mom. Sleep well. The desert will blossom again in the Spring.


Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Night 2 and 3: Jane and the Santa Fe Opera House

Tonight we sleep in Santa Fe New Mexico. A beautiful town for those who haven't visited before. I've never been a particular fan of certain Spanish style architecture, in particular Spanish tile roofing, but I love the adobe style of Santa Fe. We came in from the North, staying in Alamosa last evening, and got a bird's eye view of the entire valley by perching up in the parking lot of the Santa Fe Opera House.

The Santa Fe Opera House sits on a significant rise outside of town. A beautiful adobe architecture with a sweeping gull like white roof open on the backside to the beautiful summer night air. Their season runs rather short from July 4th to August 29th but the reputation of quality extends way beyond the borders of New Mexico. My companion, a Canadian and very knowledgeable fan, designated it as a must stop. And of course, being a true gentleman, then gave me a good historic overview of the operas coming up the next season. Puccini's Madam Butterfly, and Mozart's Magic Flute will begin the festival in repertoire next season and I am hoping for a return run south to catch it after being caught up in the magic. My companion has an entire year to fill me in on the story details so I can catch his enthusiasm because I certainly do not have his affinity for multi-languages.

We started out this morning back tracking a bit to the Great Sand Dunes north of Alamosa Colorado along with the San Luis Valley Reservoir. The desert plains are beautiful in their bareness and at this time of year the place is truly barren of the human life types. I made more than one wrong turn or two along the way however and now I am pretty sure I know at least one town off the track where the economy is truly a "green" economy.

We covered a lot of ground today across the dry plains and dropped into New Mexico about noonish. We stopped at the Rio Grande Gorge outside of Taos to look at the local vendors' polished stones and jewelry and to stand, queasy, looking off the bridge to the famed river below. Personally I prefer the Black Canyon Gorge outside of Paonia Colorado for raw beauty and majestic cuts in the Earth yet this Gorge is still impressive.

The architecture around Taos is simply outstanding. If there weren't more tourists than ants in the town I would have loved to just stop and stare at more than a few precious examples. Taos reminds me of home a bit. It is the first time I've seen tie-dye on a thirty-plus since I moved to Greeley.

We pushed through Taos and into the beautiful canyons of color on the way to Santa Fe. I snapped a few good shots below. I love the contrasts and the simplicity of the beauty.

Okay, to finish off, the latest foodie place worth mentioning would be the Thai Restaurant we happened upon last evening in Alamosa. In the middle of the old town, western style like most Colorado districts, it was an unexpected jewel. We were tired from driving and just looking for something tasty.

Well we got it. My companion had a plate of crispy duck and I had a megalithic plate called Eight-Knight's Delight. It had every type of meat possible. Squid, Calamari, Crab, Oysters, Beef, Chicken, and a few things I have yet to identify. Along with fresh crunchy green beans, Chinese cabbage, carrots, and eggplant the meat was tossed into a nice spicy Thai sauce. It was wonderful.

But my favorite was a fresh crab spring roll stuffed with cilantro--yum. A wonderful treat totally unexpected in town that makes Greeley's economic development planning look stellar.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Night 1: Jane Sleeps in the Valley of the Gods

Tonight I sleep in Colorado Springs or Valley of the Gods depending on how good the map is you are looking at. We had an easy travel day. The only real stop we made, besides the 23 mini-stops to tie down the luggage in the back of the truck, was a short turn through the Air Force Academy.

Dads always seem to forget to teach girls how to tie a good knot. It's kind of like learning to throw a ball. If a guy doesn't teach you it just plain doesn't work the same. It's kind of like guys who rarely learn how to do their laundry--they get the general idea of throwing the clothes in the washer and keeping the cat out of the washer, but they never remember to take out the bugs, lizards, dirt, sticks, and spitballs before turning on the machine. Oh and BLEACH is different from DETERGENT.


Anyhow, it was quick. It was cold. And the dude at the gate will forever be known in my house as Mr. Personality. I've had more personable interactions with the California Highway Patrol while being written up for going 75 mph in a state park (Yosemite--the easterm side--only marmots were at serious risk).

I felt the eerie air of Homeland Security lurking about as the gate guard requested my license, scanned it, walked to the rear of the truck and scanned my license plate. What are they feeding those boys anyway--Jack's magic beans?

Beautiful facility though architecturally. It definitely blends into the mountain rather like a cubicle honeycomb presentation with sweeping cathedral spears looming like some European Medieval Harry Potteresque church in the background. I was happy to see it, happier to leave, and I'm sure I'm on some national list in some black basement somewhere forever now.

I thought only briefly about taking a picture. Then I remembered Mr. Poisonality at the gate and decided to forgo any minimalistic over-hyped potential risk of being thrown under a spotlight and questioned about my intentions of visiting the visiting center of the Air Force Academy.

Can you tell I was not raised in Colorado yet?

Well enough for the paranoia onto Pike's Peak. I haven't spotted it yet. The clouds are sitting rather low on the mountains. Our first stop tomorrow though is Goodyear. My three day old brand spanking new set of tires have picked up a screw. I'm not happy. I was less happy when I read the warranty: Does NOT cover road hazards.

Joy.

We did a mainstream dinner tonight (for the foodies in the group). Chipolte's. I had never been before. Okay salsa not great. I love green fresh salsa. Okay burrito, carnitas with black beans and a mild salsa, but I've had better. Since I have no desire for the normal fast food it beat out McDonald's or Carl's but on a 1 to 10 I'd give it a 5. The business model looks pretty sound though. They keep it simple with fewer toppings. That's important.

There is a salsa bar I went to last time I visited Santa Fe. My dinner tonight reminded me I'd like to visit it again.

More tomorrow.

Jane Finds Tasty Loveland Eatery Enjoyable

In response to my readers notes, I am working on the next in the series and will post as soon as I have the opportunity to finish up my research. In the meantime I am headed South to the Albuquerque Balloon Festival and will be blogging along the way. Stay tuned, I'll pick up the pace in a couple of days.

Another quick thought, I went to see the movie Julia & Julie last evening at Centerra Mall. A good movie. Meryl is brilliant in the character. But be sure to set aside the funds for a great dinner afterwards because you just can't do justice to Julia's memory at a hamburger joint. We went to Bonefish Grill in Loveland and it was wonderful. I indulged in Maryland crab cakes, thanks to a wonderfully personable bartender named Matt, and then a char-grilled spiced chicken breast wrapped in spinach with goat cheese and artichokes hearts, Jasmine rice, steamed veggies, and the House salad. I believe it was called "Lily's Chicken". Excellent, superb, wonderful dinner with good service capped off with a French Beaujolais 1997. (Yes, I mix my reds with chicken--sorry to those it makes queasy).

Beaujolais is very light, fruity, and easy to drink. It typically has aromas of pear, banana, and like smells. Because of its easy drinkability, there is a lot of cheap, jug wine - normally served in 46cl (note this is NOT 1.2 gallon as the Oxford Wine Guide says!) containers. On the other hand, the Crus produce fine quality, crafted wines. Beaujolais Nouveau is the first output from each harvest - ready exactly on the Third Thursday of November each year. It's a celebration across the world, as people gather to taste the first Beaujolais of the new season.

Matt enlightened us, after joining in a rousing reminiscence with my companion, a fellow east-coaster with an appreciation of crab houses, that the restaurant gets in soft-shelled crabs for a couple of weeks every year when they come into season. I plan on returning to try one. Even though I have lived extensively on the sea board I have not had this experience. It sounds like a great way to justify the specialty and expense by calling it a calcium laden dinner. I hear you eat the shell and all... yum--memories of Tom Hanks and Darryl Hannah were flashing through my mind.

If only I had a tail to swish.

I highly recommend the dining experience if you haven't been.

Also did the Egg and I for breakfast. Another wonderful localized treat. I hear they are in Greeley but we were in Fort Collins. Wonderful service, great atmosphere, and very good reasonably priced food. I had the goat cheese (yes this is a theme in my life) scramble.

What was really nice is the Egg and I appeared to employ the entire class of a local high school. The hostess looked thirteen and most the bus boys were later teens. Wonderful enthusiasm, politeness, and good service. It's nice to see that in the local youth and nice to see them employed on their Saturday mornings.

Good grief, I am beginning to sound like my Grandmother. I dearly loved my Grandmother so that is not all bad. But it is definitely interesting the change in the things I notice as I age. Twenty years ago I'd have been concentrating on the young men in their hiking gear congregating around the tables before venturing out on a weekend. Now I look at the various social groupings and basically people watch.

Oh well, off to Denver to do more of the same. I'll report back as soon as I can.


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Please come in. Have a seat. Let me show you around my rectangle. Feel free to put your feet up. Have a cup of coffee. Some tea. Crumpets?

Let's talk about what is, what has been, and what can be. What is a town made of? What is the meaning of quality of life? Where does the future lie? And where have all the flowers gone?

I like to explore things. I like to write. I like to think about possibilities and probabilities. Please join me. We'll have a merry-old time.

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