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Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Greeley District 6 CASP Scores Are Out! Not Pretty.

Unbelievable. If you have a kid in a public school in Colorado I strongly urge parents to make both the State and Districts accountable for fully publishing these scores. It appears the State, at least, are playing them down. Too close to elections.
It looks like they have changed the display of the scoring system so results don't look so dismal. 4th grade Math D6 has moved from 33% proficiency to 40% proficiency while 25% are "partially proficient". Hah! That will get those kids a job all right in our future economy--Walmart Stockboy. It looks like they have broken out the Spanish Speaker scores. Anyway you look at it there are still 60% of 4th graders failing full proficiency in Math.
I just took a look at the Colorado State Education site. Oddly, I don't remember it being this difficult to find the CSAP scores last year when I reported on them. Most incompetent school board, District 6, and administrative staff I have ever encountered. And the community of Greeley is doing relatively nothing about it. Both Ms. Lang, Superintendent and Mr. Eads are still raking in the dough with Mr. Eads having extraordinary power for his known qualifications. It was Mr. Eads, if Greeley remembers, who put up the strange figures for the proposed 16 million dollar budget loss--that wasn't really a 16 million dollar budget loss after all but helped the Board sweep through personnel and the Teacher's Union with a wide brush and strike fear into classified personnel. After having spent, in the previous year or two, the District's reserves on software instead of saving it for an emergency prudently!
Meanwhile the Teacher's Union has zero power after the Board forced it to role over while claiming budget woes and drastic cuts that turned out not to be quite so drastic after all. After the District had shed a lot of teachers, undermined the hispanic community schools, consolidated all the violent offenders in with the low performers, and clearly refused to clean house at the Administrative level.
Yet few in Greeley seem to care. Why is that?

www.schoolview.org
Colorado's state assessment system includes three different types of assessments to measure student achievement. The main assessment used in the state is the CSAP, which assesses students in reading, writing and math state standards in grades 3 through 10. The CSAP science assessment is also given...

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Oh Where, Oh Where....

Jane has left the building for now. I'll be back.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Greeley School District 6 Cuts Government and World Culture Requirements

Greeley Colorado's infamous school district, District 6, has been busy putting the finishing touches on the mountain of financial cuts the Board has declared as needed. It began, if you recall, with a panicked forced contract on teachers to save money, grew into a dire 15% round of emergency cuts, and has ended with an actual 6% shortfall for next year. That shortfall as I stated earlier could have been almost covered with reserves had the reserves not been questionably spent earlier.

In addition to bullying the teacher's union, firing the District's Human Resource Director and replacing him with a her from the inside, the District has taken on the consolidation of "under-utilized" schools according to Mr. Wayne Eads--the janitor turned operations manager. One consolidation move places alternative students together under one roof at Jefferson. Hence forth parents will be happy to know that students who have a low performance academically will now be attending the same school as kids who have violent histories and have already been, or their next stop will likely be, Platte Correctional Center.

Additionally District 6 has removed Government and World Cultural Geography from graduation requirements and made them "electives". Whether or not the school will continue to fund teachers for these courses every term is also "elective". From this year forward students, our future community leaders and citizen voters, may actually be able to get out of high school without learning ANYTHING at all about government process and people from other parts of the world--formally. What a great plan.

In the meantime there is a lovely discussion going around the community that these cuts have been based on the "best guesses" of people like Mr. Eads and a few accounting studies on utilization rates. It has yet to be seen what Ms. Ranelle Lang, the Superintendent does to earn her pay (see earlier posts on Mr. Eads' inflated role in D6), and why educational outcome studies were not used to base the financial cuts upon. It is very easy to surmise without these studies being published, without Ms. Lang standing up in front of the public in an open question and answer forum or appearing in front of D6 teachers, that the whole hoopla this year, following the failed voter initiative, has been a timely recessional scare tactic for cleaning house at D6.

Only problem is the good old boys are still running the show. They just aren't being very transparent about what is happening. They'd do well I suspect in the corporate private world. It is too bad they've been given a public institution to play with.

But nonetheless the Good Old Boy Board and Administration have made some changes and are in the process of shedding thirty-five employees and putting even more propaganda out in favor of themselves and Ms. Lang within the community. No one is talking education outcomes.

And who'd ever guess by the gutting of World Cultural Geography that Ms. Lang had the wonderful relationship, as stated in her Nebraska job interview process, with the local Hispanic community and its leaders. Which leaders would that be Ms. Lang?

Ms. Lang's home town wouldn't take her back so she may well be around now when those educational scores start coming in during the next two years. Only the Greeley Tribune and the lack of community interest will be able to paint those numbers pretty.

Accountability for poor decision making doesn't fall just on the Board. The community willing to roll over and play intellectually dead while all this goes on around them has to take some hit too. This is what happens when politics and ideology are allowed to embed themselves into a community's public institutions. It doesn't matter what the politics are about or whose side they are on--it is deadly to the outcome.

In this case Greeley's kids will pay the price for a very long time and those in the senior community, with few options to leave, will be able to serve as witness as services dwindle away and the various crime rates rise as happens with communities without viable opportunities for their citizens to succeed.

And the crowning cherry on the top of this muddy mountain? The District is buying its textbooks from Texas.


Thursday, March 4, 2010

Should We Concentrate On Building Better Teachers in Greeley Colorado?

Greeley-Evans School District 6 is my idea of a good example. It is a "hiring" problem. But that's not all. The article below on Building Better Teachers shared from the New York Times talks about the problem in common terms we can all understand. Although that isn't the only reason it is a great article. The article looks at the complexity of the problem of measurement and attaching pay to that measurement. Very long but a worthy read for the profession, for parents, and for voters. It focuses the debate on change in a reasonable and identified target area.

I am thinking about the content a lot. For me a hiring problem, like the one I have described underlying Greeley District 6's problems (these are performance problems prior to the fall back in State and Local Taxes), is a management problem. To say that hiring a good Human Resources Director is crucial kind of undermines our common dislike of such people. And most people I know are just happy to have a warm personality in the job. But this job is so very important to a large organization and developing a productive strategy and atmosphere we should get beyond the stereotypes. I've had to do this job and I've got to say there is a good reason the personality types tend to be cool and distant. It also clarified to me why Unions are a good thing to have around as a check and balance. It is not a fun job when all the human drama in an organization gets dumped on your lap and, personally, I didn't find many rewards in it except I was forced to learn an abundant amount of regulations which come in handy. Along with the various methods large organizations use to shed nonperforming employees, measure performance, and how to build a rubric for, and assess, candidates for new positions. Oh, and I know how to read 'ERISA' language and understand the 401k statements before I went to business school. That helped in a course or two.

There are three million teachers in the United States. Unless the merit pay (or similar) idea is used I don't see how education expects to only attract the cream of the crop. As I have said earlier in this blog--some of your teachers are bound to be average. In fact the bulk are likely to fall under the curve.

I'm not convinced either that really low performing districts shouldn't start with the management and the semi-skilled ideologues running the show. Train the human resources department at least. The Director can help train the Boards.

I get the measurement idea but the most effective teachers have something beyond mechanized skills in their pocket. They have spontaneous innovation and a vast breadth of learned material to draw upon. This could be addressed by better education of teachers. I stayed in a fifth and sixth year, before it was "cool", to do so in order to take the courses they didn't make the teachers take. I took the advanced math, genetics, chemistry (the professor thought I was nuts enrolling in bonehead course when I didn't have to), and later pursued upper level economic courses.

Still I remember clearly one of the questions on the teaching credential test. It isn't much of a math test certainly. "If Sue bought a car in 1973 and Bob purchased a car in 1978, how much older would Sue's car be than Bob's in 1980?"

But I digress. On to the article. I'll post a couple paragraphs below from the beginning. And spread it around please.

"But when it came to actual teaching, the daily task of getting students to learn, the school floundered. Students disobeyed teachers’ instructions, and class discussions veered away from the lesson plans. In one class Lemov observed, the teacher spent several minutes debating a student about why he didn’t have a pencil. Another divided her students into two groups to practice multiplication together, only to watch them turn to the more interesting work of chatting. A single quiet student soldiered on with the problems. As Lemov drove from Syracuse back to his home in Albany, he tried to figure out what he could do to help. He knew how to advise schools to adopt a better curriculum or raise standards or develop better communication channels between teachers and principals. But he realized that he had no clue how to advise schools about their main event: how to teach.

Around the country, education researchers were beginning to address similar questions. The testing mandates in No Child Left Behind had generated a sea of data, and researchers were now able to parse student achievement in ways they never had before. A new generation of economists devised statistical methods to measure the “value added” to a student’s performance by almost every factor imaginable: class size versus per-pupil funding versus curriculum. When researchers ran the numbers in dozens of different studies, every factor under a school’s control produced just a tiny impact, except for one: which teacher the student had been assigned to. Some teachers could regularly lift their students’ test scores above the average for children of the same race, class and ability level. Others’ students left with below-average results year after year. William Sanders, a statistician studying Tennessee teachers with a colleague, found that a student with a weak teacher for three straight years would score, on average, 50 percentile points behind a similar student with a strong teacher for those years. Teachers working in the same building, teaching the same grade, produced very different outcomes. And the gaps were huge. Eric Hanushek, a Stanford economist, found that while the top 5 percent of teachers were able to impart a year and a half’s worth of learning to students in one school year, as judged by standardized tests, the weakest 5 percent advanced their students only half a year of material each year."

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Charter Schools, Standardized Testing, and Conservative Ideology Under the Spotlight

Greeley Colorado District 6 has been championing expanding Charter Schools, as has, to be fair, the Obama Administration. For me Charter Schools are usually (not always) a political bone to throw to the predominantly wealthier classes to segregate their kids from those "not like us". Greeley's District 6 "dramatized" cuts are falling predominantly on the minority and poorer schools in Northern Colorado.

Let's face it the poor just don't vote or are easily misled to vote against their own interests. Greeley's School Board isn't the first to be swayed politically, whether consciously or unconsciously, and won't be the last.

But this article caught my eye this morning. A leopard changing spots? A product of conservative "balance the checkbook and ignore long term consequences" policy think tanks is learning from long term outcomes? If true it is a bright spot in a long dark tunnel. There is a reasonable place for both short and long term perspectives.

I don't think I was the only child who heard their grandmother experienced voice reflect, "Moderation in all things, Baby-doll."

Okay, maybe not the "Baby-doll" part. That's mine.

Yet we stake out our polar positions and hold on for dear life it seems even when we realize the crowd has passed us by and isolation and rot is creeping in. Here Dr. Ratvich, a 'leading' educational policy maker steps out of her mold. Politically well timed to be sure but there is obvious progress being made and that is just terrific from my viewpoint.

Schools belong to their communities. Public goods, like education, fail in the free market ideals of America and should not be thrown into the private sector like chump change. They are simply too important to be left to corporate America and the "you-get-what-you-can-pay-for" feudal ethos.

It is a great article. I encourage those on both sides of the Charter School article to read it. It will take a long time before the middle-classes let go of their indoctrination on testing and privatizing schools but it is a start. I've haven't posted general articles for a while but this one is really a bright spot to see coming forward.

"These and other experiences left her increasingly disaffected from the choice and accountability movements. Charter schools, she concluded, were proving to be no better on average than regular schools, but in many cities were bleeding resources from the public system. Testing had become not just a way to measure student learning, but an end in itself.

From the New York Times online.

"...“The new thinking saw the public school system as obsolete, because it is controlled by the government,” she writes. “I argued that certain managerial and structural changes — that is, choice, charters, merit pay and accountability — would help to reform our schools.”

In January 2001, Dr. Ravitch was at the White House to hear President George W. Bushoutline his vision for No Child Left Behind, which Congress approved with bipartisan majorities and which became law in 2002.

“It sounded terrific,” she recalled in the interview.

There were signs soon after, however, that her views were changing. She had endorsed mayoral control of New York City schools before Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg obtained it in 2002, but by 2004 she had emerged as a fierce critic. Some said she was nursing a grudge because close friends had lost jobs in the mayor’s shake-up of the schools’ bureaucracy.

In 2005, she said, a study she undertook of Pakistan’s weak and inequitable education system, dominated by private and religious institutions, convinced her that protecting the United States’ public schools was important to democracy.

She remembers another date, Nov. 30, 2006, when at a Washington conference she heard a dozen experts conclude that the No Child law was not raising student achievement.

These and other experiences left her increasingly disaffected from the choice and accountability movements. Charter schools, she concluded, were proving to be no better on average than regular schools, but in many cities were bleeding resources from the public system. Testing had become not just a way to measure student learning, but an end in itself."

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Greeley's Superintendent Ranelle Lang Interviews for Lincoln Schools Job

Ranelle Lang, Superintendent of Greeley-Evans School District 6 apparently had an interview this last Thursday for a new job in her native Nebraska. A couple of local papers have published some of her comments. I've posted a piece below and also provided the link to the entire article.

I've also heard back from the State on the comingling of Special Education funds. D6 is consolidating its Special Education programs. Special Education funds are often "restricted" funds and must be spent only to meet the specific needs given. Indeed both State and Federal funds must be spent on the intended purposes but they only cover 2/3 of the total expense. Local funds cover the remaining 1/3. Comingling funds then with general funds, to the extent of my knowledge, would likely then be difficult to trace and probably acceptable up to some degree such as funding the facilities. If anyone has anything additional on the topic, please feel free to call or post.

Here is the article on Ranelle Lang from Nebraska's Journal Star. Here is a second link to an earlier piece, looks like a public relations piece, on Lang interviewing in Nebraska.

"On recruiting a diverse staff

Lang said the Greeley district, which is more than 50 percent Hispanic, has worked hard to recruit a diverse staff. She's hired two principals whose native language is not English.

And, she said, the district has started a leadership group for non-Anglo teachers and those who speak two languages.

On creating minority partnerships

Lang said she meets regularly with members of the Hispanic community in Greeley, and the district has created alternative programs to work with a wide variety of students. The district also has opened a welcome center where families can go to get all their children enrolled in school.

"It's really important that every single student is welcome and accepted and they feel like school is a place for them."'


Tuesday, February 23, 2010

One Notch Higher for Greeley Colorado District Six Parents

My general opinion of the people living in Greeley Colorado's District 6 Schools jurisdiction just went up a notch last night after watching several adults and teens give the School Board of District 6, and Superintendent Renelle Lang, a common sense check on the true nature of their jobs: education. It is all about education of course. It is not about diminishing education so you can report to the State you've balanced your checkbook. But needless to say, following what was supposed to be organized as a "public hearing" the Board didn't flinch and went ahead with their intended plan to circumvent, anticipated, but as yet unkown, shortfalls in funding.

This Greeley District 6 School Board sat stonefaced last night in the middle of frigid Northern Colorado for about forty-five minutes while they heard brief commentaries from the public concerning the closure and realignment of different schools to help cover the implied 12% shortfall they will be facing in next year's budget. The shortfall may only be about 6% but it looks like the board has already decided and may have already begun spending the funds, according to some sources, to do a full house cleaning and realignment after years of poor decision making complicated by a recession. The budget crisis of course will cover their tracks with the general voter and parents and the new, lowered, graduation requirements will push off some of District 6 duties onto local community colleges and remedial programs thereby lowering District 6's future expenses.

Throughout the meeting, much of the board looked about as interested in what the speaker's had to say as a Kindergartner would be in reading Tolstoy.

One student, called to speak, got up and addressed the board and spoke about the process of her own enlightenment and growing up to overcome earlier mistakes and decisions made. Then she went on to explain, politely, to the Board how she conceived their actions on lowering graduation requirements. "...makes me feel like I'm not good enough."

Another student, Melissa from Central High School, presented the ice-pop board with a petition with 248 signatures on it which endorsed holding the current expectations in place. That is 248 teenagers telling the board "Don't lower the bar" we deserve and need better for our futures and to be competitive in finding jobs.

Board member Hinze looked several times, with his hand on his chin, like he would fall asleep out of having to endure the session.

Ranelle Lang, never having to, nor having had as far as I know, to face public scrutiny, the teacher's union, or general public questions sat on the far end with a strange pasted on smile and took notes once in a while to show she was engaged in what the students were mentioning.

The Face the World Exchange Student program put forth several exchange students currently enrolled who will face the prospect, now, of not being able to graduate. Their instructor/supervisor of the Exchange program was very polite and considerate of the board, as was everyone who spoke, but she pleaded with the board to at least allow the students to walk at graduation.

I kept thinking, in private business, this would be called a substantial breach of contract.

I regret I didn't get the first woman's name who spoke before the Thompson but her summary, polite and eloquent, ripped open the heart of the matter. These cuts are falling on the minority and impoverished populations. There haven't been any serious discussions of educational outcomes in a District already failing in education outcomes. Property values will plummet in the closed school areas. Students will be burdened with a sense of disruption, absent decent literary resources in the Districts that need them the most, and additional staffing aide cuts will likely ensure that new mammoth school with a lot of problem students thrown-in will turn into a cesspool. (Cesspool comment is mine, I am not as generous with the Board's job performance as the speakers were). And especially poignant was the woman's point that the communities being targeted were the least likely to speak out in defense of their own needs.

Another man, older, again I didn't get the name--I apologize, spoke about how the school Cameron had been targeted every time the District made cuts. Appears it isn't the first time the District 6 Board has carved more deeply into the poor and minority communities in Greeley. The speaker also noted that other solutions were available and had not been actively pursued.

But, by far, the best moment of the meeting was the eloquent delivery by the Thompson family coupled with these other adults during this "public hearing". The forty-five minutes designated turned into an actual reality of about 30. There is a wonderful irony here of the work the Board does on numbers--but I'll leave that alone for now.

Mr. Thompson stole the show for me. He spoke sandwiched between his eloquent daughter and wife. I'll paraphrase his words commenting about the changes to these specific neighborhood communities and the breaking up of his daughter's "family", "You, board members, have an ethical duty here to perform your job in a diligent manner and to listen, really listen, to what the public says here tonight and the impacts you are choosing to make on the education of the community--we elected you."

Indeed. Bravo Mr. Thompson. Can we get a member of your family to run for school board next year?

But listen they did not. In the regular school board session immediately following the vote was unanimous to give a green light to Mr. Eads, the ex-janitor turned operations supervisor's plan to consolidate schools. I've worked with many boards, served on many boards, and been in the audience listening to many boards--body language was clear, if polite, during the public session "The decision is done. Do we really have to sit here and listen to the public?" Not even the ill-famed Brett Reese made a peep during the session.

In total, several students of District 6 along with parents and one, brave, educator faced the board and each were allotted three whole minutes to speak about the effects of this change on the entire lives of the students the District serves. I declined to submit to the sign-up intimidation sheet to make my comments as I knew I could express my thoughts through this blog and with only thirty minutes allotted I thought it appropriate to give that time to the other community members and teachers present. They did a much better job.

About forty adults and teens filled the room. Two reporters were present. I handed the reporters a question about funding and had a short conversation with them. I am awaiting a formal response from the State on that same question but it hasn't come through yet. I'll publish when it does.

This is the first time, outside a regular board meeting, which I am aware of that the full board and Ms. Lang were in front of the public. But comments were restricted to those that had signed up. I learned of the meeting just a short time before it started and was told by a teacher that comments had been restricted to written ones presubmitted. That was not exactly the case. And when asked whether, considering it was a "public hearing", if the general public could comment at the meeting, a dour faced Board President said, "No" and held up the written comments shifting them around to put them in his proscribed order.

It was a pleasure to note that there were at least some more professional activity in the room. I was offered the opportunity to sign up to comment by, I am assuming, a staff member or assistant, who located me in the audience after my question. Also Ms. Trimberger came up to me at break and offered a kind and willing ear.

The humorous moment in the room came when the President of the Board, Bruce, fumbled the name of a District employee--the educator/librarian who lectured the board on depriving specific communities of very critical literacy sources. The woman eloquently and politely, with heavy undertones, reminded the Board President that she is important enough and been around long enough that he should be able to get her name correct.

The animosity between employee and employer was pretty clear if my take on her undertone was correct. I admire her for saying her peace. I know of other employees who felt too intimidated and are already in fear of losing their jobs through budget cuts to speak. Admittedly, I giggled. But I also felt just a moment of compassion. As someone who has managed hundreds of staff--and is horrible with name recall, I learned the lesson years ago that bobbling employees names is impolite at best.

Practice Bruce, practice. Your charm is loosing its appeal, and effect, rapidly in the outer community as well. It was my assumption, and pretty obvious that the Board was jumping hoops and had already likely made their decisions, if not, already spent funds towards this direction.

However to be fair the rest of the audience didn't seem to mind the time limits or the fact that the Board and Ms. Lang weren't taking questions or replying. This must be a new breed of public hearing. There were earlier sessions where the board broke up the public into four separate meetings spread across the town with one or two board members at each taking questions. I don't believe Ms. Lang has ever openly and professionally addressed the public. This is especially appalling to some given her salary and position that she leaves this responsibility to "others". For teachers, imagine having a "boss", unwilling to address you as a group.

It was an odd meeting for me. I have never seen a public meeting quite so civilized. It was like sitting in church. The audience didn't chat very lively and at first there wasn't any audience interaction after a speaker said their peace. There was only one pro-consolidation speaker. A student spoke positively about the consolidation. Certainly I wasn't looking for a tea party style meeting or town hall debacle but I have never seen anything so demure, controlled, and unconducive to bringing out public commentaries.

But still my respect for Greeley citizens rose a notch tonight. At least some are willing to step up to the plate and speak of the higher responsibilities of the community. Bravo. Kudos to everyone. Now if we can only get these community members on the board.

The Board has a tough job and a huge mess to clean up, mostly of their and previous Board's making. You have to hire the people with the appropriate skills and lose the buddy-buddy-hire-me-I'm-just-like-you system. Education should not be a political and special interest playground for any ideology. I hear, through teachers, the District canned the Human Resources Director. I don't know what the reason was they wrote on paper. Nor should I or the teachers be privy to that information--but good job. I am fairly sure his salary was high enough to tide him and his family over better than some in the community are doing. One ideologue down and a few more to go.

Of course it depends on their choices and process in finding a replacement whether or not this is the beginning of real change in the District or if it is just moving around the pea under new shells.

Lincoln Nebraska School District, Ranelle Lang's home territory, in search of a new public schools administrator, keeps hitting this website looking for Ranelle Lang's contract. Hopefully to make her an offer she can't resist. Personally I think the Greeley Colorado District 6 should send a copy to them with blessings on their new hire.


Monday, January 25, 2010

Financial Crisis or House Cleaning for Greeley District 6 Schools

Cutting budgets is never easy. Particularly when you are talking about cutting out two hundred jobs in an already economically ravaged town. Yet, there are better approaches and poorer approaches. It isn't clear yet just what approach Greeley District 6 is applying but it already doesn't look pristine. What is certain is that the School Board and Superintendent Lang of Greeley Schools District 6 are facing a serious financial reworking of the District or they are being cagey about cleaning house (restructuring/downsizing).

Maybe a little of both, eh? An interesting question isn't it.

After having read through the school district's audited financials report and the budget for the upcoming year, as posted on the District's website, I've been crunching some figures and noting some things that leave me with a lot more questions about the approach the long troubled District has taken.

(Before you keep reading, for those of you who like to skip the pertinent informational numbers--the conclusion is in the bottom three to four paragraphs. So is the District Administrative Organizational Chart.)

First of all I'd like to note that only 39.1 percent of students in this district tested proficient last year in math. 39.1 percent, grades 3-10 from the CASP scores according to an October 2009 budget presentation that Mr. Wayne Eads prepared for the board (it is available on the D6 website). I'll come back to Mr. Eads, Chief Operations Manager, later on in the article but for now let's concentrate on the numbers. This leaves a bit over 60 percent of the students as nonproficient.

Writing: 45.4 percent tested at or above proficiency. Well if we use the bell curve it doesn't seem too bad but I don't recall the theory behind education stating that more than 50% of students will not need to be proficient.

No doubt there are those that will blame the writing and reading issues on immigrant children. That argument is a whole bucket of water complete with holes. If true then the proficiency rate trend would hold similar in all districts with nonnative language speakers. ESL learners tend to be convenient political scapegoats. But we will give D6 administrators the benefit of the doubt on reading and writing simply because they have enough problems without that one.

But math? Math? The universal language. Come on people. There are more than just financial problems in the District.

Okay, let's move on to the next area. Ms. Lang cites up to $16 million in cuts may be needed in her letter delivered to staff last week through email. Shocking isn't it. No, not that Ms. Lang didn't have Mr. Eads write the letter, but that $16 million is a whole lot of money to most folks.

But that $16 million it isn't so big when you put it up against the total budget (revenues in the audited financials in 2009: $162,618,011) and examine the other budget figures for District 6 as prepared by, not the Finance Officer, not the Superintendent, but Mr. Wayne Eads, Chief Operations Manager. If you take a quick peak at the organizational chart at the bottom you'll see finance, oddly, falls under his dominion.

In 2009 budgeted reserves are $3,443,442. That is down from 2006 when reserves for general purposes (restricted reserves can not be used for general purposes) was $11,232,259 *Mr. Eads notes "We have been spending our reserves on instructional tools." The State of Anti-Education Colorado isn't too happy about the "state" of the reserves. Mr. Eads declares "This is a clear warning from the state that we are spending more than we are getting in revenue."

Or would that be that the District is making poor spending choices? Flip-a-coin.

The District is actually seeing a 2.97% revenue increase this year after restrictions the School Finance Act puts on the money reducing the overall increase. Student growth needs have already been calculated into the budget, again, according to Mr. Eads, the custodian turned Operations Director turned District Teacher Contract Negotiator turned Budget Analyst turned District Spokesperson turned School Board Advisor.

What does Ms. Lang do for her $180,000 + salary+ perks besides manage a grouping of Principals?

Mr. Eads total revenue column lists $134.3 million (this comes from Mr. Eads presentation on the current budget rounds not the audited financials quoted above from 2009). This is an increase of $5.9 million from the previous year. The audited statement, of 2009, if I am reading it correctly has a total of $165 million as actual revenues received by the District. I have no explanation for the difference. I imagine a possibility is unanticipated revenue that came in during the year (a windfall), increase in federal funding for that year, Mr. Eads is eliminating restricted funding, or the State cut that amount from the District. Take your pick or make up your own reasoning.

The district maintains eight different governmental funds. The major funds are the General Fund, the Capital Reserve Fund, Designated Special purpose Grants Fund, and the Bond Redemption Debt Service Fund. (p. 14 of the Annual Audited Financial Statement for 2009)

Mr. Eads goes on in the slide presentation to list new funding items expected in the upcoming year to cost $1.65 million. He then goes on, in October, to talk about hearing about a 10% shorfall and ponders, "What are the consequences of an actual 10% reduction in the District's budget?"

Now it starts getting more interesting, well at least for me, as Mr. Eads 'brilliantly' reduces a grossly complex budget into two simplistic categories so, I am assuming, the Board, made up of common Greeley folk, can grasp it better. Expenditures are 87% People (note Ms. Lang changes this in her letter to employees as PERSONNEL COSTS) and 13% All non-salary items which are listed as Utilities, Fuel, Textbooks, Computers, Office Supplies.

Okay so where are all the other expenses such as insurance, consultant fees (who are not personnel), maintenance, grounds keeping, etc? Did Mr. Eads leave these out or figure they were just too complex for the Board to grasp things other than certain types of expenditures? Are they in restricted funds (which would maybe explain the above referenced thirty million dollar change in revenues)?

Mr. Eads then goes on to advise the Board, "If a 10% reduction were imposed among all employee groups we would have to lay off at least 200 employees. Class sizes would increase. Programs and services would be reduced." He goes on to give slight scenario examples, advise to the board on broader economic consequences to employees and the community, and lays out criteria and a timeline for how to proceed.

Gee, and I thought the Superintendent did all this work with the support staff. Guess not. So an Operations Manager is left to decide or recommend the cuts to the budget which will threaten learning outcomes for 19,300 students? Why are we paying Ms. Lang again? Public Relations? Fundraising? Oversight of the Teacher's Union? Um, I don't see any evidence of activity in these areas. She has the equivalent of a CFO, an Operations Manager, a Public and Community Relations Manager, a Human Resources Person, a Security Advisor, and an Assistant Superintendent plus more.

I'd like to see Ead's resume and both Mr. Eads and Ms. Lang's job description please... thank you very much.

Let's visit the number relationships now. $16 million, the maximum predicted shortfall of revenue is, rounding numbers, right at 12 percent of Mr. Eads $134 million dollar budget. It is about 10 percent if you use the $165 million dollar budget figure (rounded up) from the audited return mentioned above (available on the D6 website).

So here are my thoughts. Do with them as you wish. I am not an accountant and there is certainly room for reasonable explanations in rebuttal here. If we could only get Ms. Lang present to answer questions.

The 10% figure does not sound as significant as $16 million dollars when put in the context of the whole budget. Although I can understand why they would put the shortfall out in concrete terms rather than a percentage. After all math proficiency in the District isn't great. If all areas of the budget receive a universal 10% reduction what would the effects be?

Why not go to the public and ask for specific help in raising funds to save specific favored programs? Why not make cuts in the "upper-crust" schools as deeply?

Here is another radical idea, if 87% of the costs are personnel based then why not encourage those able to do it to take a 10% reduction in compensation for a period of one year. Hence saving a little over $14 million with 100% participation and saving 200 jobs (according to Mr. Eads). It is a radical idea and rather a pushy one. Those making $180,000 a year, like Superintendent-What-Does-She-Do Ms. Lang would be sacrificing $18 thousand while a custodian like Eads-Used-To-Be, probably paid $18,000 a year or so would be sacrificing $1,800. On the flip side of the argument, the $1,800 would probably bite into essentials a lot more for the custodian than the $18,000 that wouldn't go into Ms. Lang's savings account. Alternative or future year benefits could be promised if better solutions develop. Although the Board's "promises" haven't proven to worth squat in contract negotiations.

So, why all the hoopla about consolidating schools, closing off buildings, selling buildings, and major changes? Hoopla is easy to create when there are other economic crisis in play throughout the State of Colorado and the Nation. Sometimes people have the tendency to overreact. Of course if you are one of the two hundred employees who have now been told job cuts are on the way a big reaction should be on the table. The sky is falling, the sky is falling, said Chicken Little.

But what if it's not. What if the crisis is only a 10% crisis, as compared to say a "huge" crisis. Let's put Chicken Little away for a moment and play out another scenario.

Greeley has a school district which has had some very hard times and made some very poor financial decisions in the past. In my own personal view the main issue in the district is poor hiring choices (see my prior posts on the topic) that have left the district riddled with semi-skilled ideologues and a "good old boy" network. They've made some improvements in the last couple of years with some minor administration changes and new Board members. But more changes are needed.

So I have to ask myself if I am a board member and have spent a couple years researching the problems and have identified the need to drastic changes to correct previous errors of judgment, how would one do that? Politely ask people to leave so you could replace them with more qualified staff and downsize the facilities? Somehow I don't think that would go over well.

The problem becomes clearer. How do you make the needed changes when faced with 87% of your costs in personnel and most of that backed by a Union--where you have to have a substantial and documented objective reason for firing someone? Laying someone off due to economics is an easier route. Additionally firing classified staff gets even easier if the Union has been substantially weakened through failed contract negotiations and faces little public sympathy in an era of recession in a working-class town. In fact, considering the District has forced contracts onto the teachers that are only one year in duration, for this current school year, it might be substantially easier. So easy that teachers may have almost no recourse at all. Political enemies are next on the list.

And then, finally, the house is clean and ready for a fresh start and the people mainly responsible for the problems in the first place get another turn at another go at fixing things without direct accountability or consequences for the initial errors.

Okay, I am not an attorney. I wish I had stayed awake during my fund accounting courses. The above is a conspiracy scenario and a rather scary one to consider. I have been through a restructuring myself and I have also been in charge of restructuring a couple of smaller corporations. I know how the strategies in management can be played out. It doesn't mean, they are playing out. But appropriate questions should be asked of the Board and their employee, Ms. Lang. Or perhaps Mr. Eads is the one to be questioned. I also know that there are presentations I haven't seen and documents I haven't read. I do not have any experience at management levels in a government supported organization. I also don't know the true legal ramifications of the contractual failures. And, truly, the Board is in a very difficult place any way you look at the situation.

Fixing both past and present errors in judgment and shortfalls with an open and forthright agenda would be the humane approach. Well, maybe not for the Board but certainly for the employees and community. Hiring highly skilled people to complete the downsizing would be sensible.

Establishing a written criteria for selecting people to be laid off based on a combination of actual performance, tenure, job duties, etc., would go a long way towards ensuring that the above scenario has not one bite of reality in it. A preliminary plan for educational quality recovery might be the next best comforting thing. How does the District go forward after the debacle.

Other things on my mind, where is Ms. Lang when the community needs to hear her professional assessment of the state of education in Greeley? Is direct oversight of the Principles and Associate Principles a good use of her time and skills during this crisis? Why is Mr. Eads signature on the cover letter of the Audited Financials in lieu of Ms. Lang's? Did Ms. Lang purposely not sign the audit? Is there another signature somewhere? Why is Mr. Eads, on the organizational chart, the supervisor of the finance officers in lieu of the Planning and Accountability Manager supervising this department? Maybe an ex-custodian has the qualifications, experience, and skills required to be in this position over a $134 million dollar budget. Maybe not. Personally, I'd feel a whole lot better if the information was coming out of Ms. Lang's mouth and not Mr. Eads'. At least I'd have a more complete picture of whether she has a handle on this mess.

There are 19,300+ students counting on us to get it right.

The District 6 Organizational Chart--from the Audited Financial Report
(If you double click on the chart it might open up into a bigger window. If not the chart can be found inside the audited financials on the District 6 website linked above.)


Saturday, January 23, 2010

Greeley Colorado District 6 School Superintendent: Up to $16 Million in Cuts

Ranelle Lang, Superintendent of Greeley Colorado District 6 School system, has proposed that all department heads produce multiple budget scenarios preparing for cuts of anywhere between eight, ten, to twelve percent or more according to a letter distributed by email (so much for Ms. Lang's personal touch and consideration) to District 6 employees.

Strength is what we need locally over the next several months and even years. We have significant challenges. The State of Colorado, reeling from the recession, must severely reduce the amount of money for K-12 education. These cuts will result in us having to pare $9 million to $16 million from our budget for the 2010-11 school year.

Have those department heads been given any guidance on what to trim? Is the least favorite employee to go? Do they not see the need for this program or that? Out it goes. Who is Captain of this ship anyhow? Where is the strategic planning for the budget cuts? Is the public going to be allowed to determine cuts? "Let's lose educating all those poor and brown people because they are, well, poor, and brown." What a recipe for disaster.

What Ms. Lang doesn't mention is any culpability on District 6's administrative watch. Relying on the fact that people assume all school districts are facing cuts is not quite the same as illustrating the depth of the problem and the history of the problem in D6 schools. Where are the reserves Ms. Lang? In economic good times reserves are created to be spent to soften the blows in economic downturns. Will you be voluntarily taking a twenty percent pay reduction for your own part? Will Mr. Eads, the custodial worker turned manager of operations turned administrative mouthpiece, be turning over his spacious and elegant official digs to save facility costs? Will the administrative offices be closed and the paper-pushers be given a seat in the back of an overcrowded classroom? Will the expansive payroll department be moved to a smaller, less costly, outside facility?

My beef isn't that Colorado is facing a downturn, although Ms. Lang would be well advised to understand the nature and trends in the recession before writing about it, it is that not once, in this letter or any other pseudo communication does the primary mission of the District rule the pages. All signs point to the fact that the Board and Administration in place do not have the skills to be managing a sinking ship. A fully floating ship might be fine under their direction but the 'Shari Lewis Lamb-Chop approach' to fixing this situation is really hard to stomach.

Education. It is about education. Education is the goal here folks. Money is the tool to achieve the goal but the goal must still be met.

Will jobs be lost and will that impact the surrounding economy? Of course it will. It doesn't take a college degree to figure that out. But it does take some intellect, some integrity, and a whole lot of spine to ensure that the cuts made impact the outcome of the educational integrity of the school district in the least intrusive way. And it takes even more character than that to admit that D6 has created, with poor management choices, a much bigger problem than any other school district faces. The voters of Greeley shouldn't escape being chastised either.

This is what Ms. Lang isn't discussing--educational outcomes. She is discussing people. She is discussing shared sacrifice between the adults and she is discussing ways for the community to help balance the checkbook. She isn't discussing educational impacts. She isn't discussing the fact that each student in this district is going to pay a price much bigger over time than any adult will be likely to pay.

District 6 already performs dismally. What is 20% less efficient than dismal?

Ms. Lang needs to be challenged to prove she is worth the money paid. Stand up to the crisis. Demand that educational value be delivered. Hold classes on the field if needed. Go camp on the doorstep of the legislators. Send the kids in who will be paying the price of these cuts for years if not decades. Let them march on Denver. Make them visible so they too can be counted.

Extend the school district into red tape and then let the State explain why it demands the board fire you when you are doing your job of educating the public--and defend yourself with that fact. Is the State really going to subsidize those oil & energy company interests when it has education bills to pay? It is extreme but then again so is the situation and the voters of Greeley just don't get it. They are looking at the checkbook online rather than the objective. They are mad because the checkbook doesn't balance!

Who cares about educational quality?

Meanwhile, behind the curtains, the job is simply not being done--seeing to the education of the youth in this district even when the tools to do the job are not being provided. Get a backbone and make EDUCATION the priority. Do something.

Do anything besides disappear from view and write comfort letters while the executioner runs the guillotine 24/7. Superintendent is a leadership position. The job is to see to the education of the youth and to communicate needs to the community in a way that is clear, concise, and delivers an accurate assessment of needs and brings home the bacon. The community and the State's job is to fund the means to make it happen. The Board's job is to see Superintendents have the tools to do their own job. Put the consequences where they belong on these groups and not upon the backs of the very students without resources in the first place to fight the political battles.

We can fund the military complex but not education? We can fund prisons but not education? We can fund Wal-Mart but not education? What is wrong with this picture? Leaders need to point to the failings of the system not be a jockey on the horse that dissembles the education system for the underclasses. And sometimes it takes a whole lot of courage to stand up and point to the real priorities.

And, by the way, it would also be nice if Ms. Lang attended to the job in person instead of distant, touchy-feeling letters of heart felt consideration as heads of your organization are about to cut off other heads with the axe. Be real. Look the people in the eye and tell them that education is the most important thing to provide when cuts come calling. Look them in the eye and tell them that you truly feel for them while you spend your own corporate salary and Mr. Eads gives operational management suggestions for cuts that will effectively slaughter what remains of the quality of education in this district.

"I am also certain about this: Together we will figure this out. We have no choice given the cards we have been dealt."

Really? From behind a desk you are going to develop camaraderie with those who will suffer? Have you talked to the kids that are about to be thrown into larger class sizes, lose their favorite teachers, or will be turned away by their college of choice because they need remedial coursework just to be accepted? Have you commiserated with those teachers who had a contract forced down their throats or did you send Mr. Eads to do the dirty work? Go to the Greeley Education Association meetings and face the music like a professional should and bring Mr. Eads.

Okay, I'm done with this rant. You asked for my input Ms. Lang and I have given it. In the same cold impersonal way you've delivered your messages. In writing.


Thursday, January 14, 2010

The Guillotine is Rolled Out For Greeley Schools District 6

Greeley's District 6 Administration and Board are in the process of organizing spring cleaning. Schools are being scheduled to be shut. Cameron will see its head roll. Jefferson is being merged. Just what that means I am not certain. It appears to mean that all the alternative students and "problems" will be stuffed into one school. Cuts are coming, to the best of my knowledge, to every area except the top run of administrators and to the middle-class white schools like Christa McAuliffe Elementary.

The kids who need the most attention, require specialized help, are lower performers in general, some from homes with fewer resources--rounded up and stuffed into one facility. What could go wrong? The newest teachers in, with the freshest skill set, may be the first out.

In the meantime it isn't clear how extensive operational cuts will be. The Operations Manager has been busy making recommendations and it appears the board is following his lead regardless of the impact on the quality of learning. Still no public appearance by Ms. Lang and her $200 thousand plus a year income.

Teachers have, or were, wearing black shirts to represent the day the Board enforced a contract upon them.
The local teachers union appears to be either overwhelmed or under performing. The mainstream media isn't covering it from a teacher's angle. The concept that the Union has been broken by the Board certainly is real from my own perspective. The public isn't likely to come to the side of the teachers when they have just dumped the plea for more public funds down the drain. And Greeley citizens as a whole do not seem willing to put pressure on the administration to make cuts across the board rather than to focus on some demographics that are not popular.

In general, it is pretty clear that the youth of Greeley are not a priority for the taxpayers. And, in my opinion, it is pretty clear that the Board, Ms. Lang, and Mr. Eads are using the opportunity to clean house. Heads on the chopping block will be the newly hired, political enemies, and any job where a highly skilled person is drawing a realistic salary and can be replaced by a common "Joe".

Of course the State is demanding cuts and probably demanding that a plan be developed and submitted to the State. Mr. Ritter, a pseudo-Democrat, is focused on the Republican agenda for the State budget even though he has decided not to be elected. We can only hope that someone will be reviewing this plan that has the guts to stand up for what is best for the education of the students.

You don't have to be a genius to figure out that if the State removes a million dollars or more from the local budget that it would serve to take out jobs which reduce incoming taxes even further which grows the problem instead of helping resolution. In the meantime while expenditures are being reduced the number of students requiring an education doesn't change. They are all still there at the doors waiting for their opportunity to enter the adult world workforce with a half-baked education and compete with other communities for real wage paying jobs.

All in all it is depressing. The future of Greeley has just been flushed down the toilet and the public doesn't seem too distressed or too informed. I think it is time to call in the State. It is time for parents to go sit outside the Governor's door. It is time to take the students along too and show them the political process and how it works when the government doesn't pay attention to the needs of the future and/or is willing to force certain segments of the population, without as much political power, to bare the brunt of poor ideology, planning, and the cuts that are the natural consequence thereof. The Greeley District 6 Administration and Board is obviously not up to the task, overwhelmed, and willing to make cuts not in the best interest of education but in the best interests of what an Operations Manager recommends. The top level administrator isn't willing to face the public or the bulk of the district's employees. The cuts have already been politicized and are likely to continue in that direction.

Just where is Ms. Lang the District Superintendent? Doesn't the public deserve to meet her face to face and have her explain her reasoning and position. After all Ms. Lang, so it seems, will be retaining her job and her contract. Shouldn't Ms. Lang have to look the teachers, staff, and operations people in the face and explain to them why they have been selected to have their careers pulled out from under them? Ms. Lang should earn those big bucks and take on the big responsibilities--regardless of how hard they may be.

The one advantage, in all this mess, possible is that the people, to the best of my knowledge, who have been hired in the past for low wages based on ideology without the appropriate skills for the job, advanced on the basis of politics rather than educational best interests, could be forced to leave. The "good-old-boy network" could be dissembled in mass firings and rehirings only, unfortunately, the "good-old-boys" are doing the firing and rehiring.

Hence the call for the State to step in.

So the picture I paint here isn't pretty. The subject isn't getting the media and public coverage it deserves. The local fish-wrap is just an extended arm of the public relations sector of the District. Of course to be fair there isn't a good solution to be had and times are tough. But the cuts and changes are being driven less by the best interests of education than by political interests and naive extremist chopping block-watch-the-heads-roll maneuvering. That, or it is being driven by sheer panic and a lack of consensus on what to do. These administrators are over their heads and don't have the skills to deal with the situation in a fair and objective way. Special hires need to be made who have the background skills and objectivity for educational purposes.

Hence the call for the State to step in, again.

Which all leads me back to the supposition, how many times can I say it, it is time for the State to come in and take over the management of Greeley Colorado's infamous District 6. For the sake of the students, the classes in Greeley without political power, the future of Greeley itself, and also for the sake of the taxpayers. Somebody needs to do the real job, the whole job, and do it with the least politics and the maximum professionalism.

And where is Ms. Lang?

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