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Sunday, September 27, 2009

Part II: Greeley School District Latino Levy Blues

My "tour guides" tell me it is hopeless. Greeley Colorado has acted conservatively since the first domesticated cow dropped onto the farmer's fields decades ago. Greeley's local systems will remain bound financially and ideologically by voters dedicated to shredding government involvement in just about anything. The current debate over the Greeley District 6 Mill Levy Override is just another notch on the conservative belt.

My response to this mindset is that I don't want to deal with labels. What creates a reasonable and sensible outcome for the citizens of Greeley still makes sense whatever lick-it-and-stick-it label one wishes to categorize it under.

If private industry could handle effective education without the profit interest driving every decision I'd be fine with that. If private industry could create an effective transportation system, that could service everyone at an affordable price, I'd be fine with that too. If the essence of community needs like energy, health care, and other minimalistic survival needs could be handled in the same way I'd agree with that too.

But private industry doesn't work well in the delivery of public goods (utilities, education, transportation, and so on) most simply because demand outstrips supply. Every person requires some regardless of ability to pay. Did it work better in 1940? Yes it did--much better.

There were less people to service. Less diversity of needs. Less developed complexity of needs recognized. The spiderweb of need just keeps spinning bigger as the population expands and society finds new ways to examine the threads. Supply, earlier in the century, could meet reasonable demand without a company having to become a megalithic gigantic-titantic bureaucratic system.

The investment in assets was reasonable in earlier decades and the costs to start up within the means of several companies. Competition could and did flourish. If you could put together the investment capital and had the management expertise on your team a person(s) could build a company to compete and turn a profit without government subsidies. Now the costs to enter the market are so high that competition is very limited and left to the "big guns" and their ever soaring needs to return a higher ROI to their investors.

And when the "big guns" can't do they are enticed through big government subsidies. The ultimate marriage producing the ultimate opportunity for corruption and inflated costs.

My point is that those days are gone. A centrally organized system, like the government, has to be used to create public systems like education because they have gone beyond the reach of the common working man and woman. And the only entity we have that can serve all the people (well most the people), most the time, without making decisions based on profit but on the good the economy receives from the value invested, is the government. (I can hear the boo and hisses from here.)

Not the prudent option for everything but the prudent option in this case. The way I look at it is that I can check big government by being a pragmatic and well educated voter. I can't check big corporate interests without being a big investor or a very powerful politician. Essentially, as a working class stiff, I am shut out when education, transportation, and other public goods are in private hands. I need these goods, my children need these goods, and these are the ladder to success in America. I, with others, can create much more effective regulation and oversight than any politicized federal agency by rallying like-minded people suffering like-minded consequences to vote out elected public officials overseeing any public system. The true beauty of democratic principles in action--equality. In private hands our youths' educational options are doomed to the powers of capitalism and the market forces. Not a pretty sight in my opinion.

My point here is that conservative politics do not preclude building a good education system. Managing the expense of the system is just prudent reasoning not politics. A dollar invested by taxpayers should show a dollar's worth of value at the very least. A dollar + over the long run if we are good at it. Managing the expense of the education system to cut off its blood supply so that less value is returned because it is a government based program is dubious reasoning and political ideology at its worst. It is snipping off your community nose in spite of its face.

So now it is 2009 and we all want to decide how Greeley District 6 will spend its money and whether it really needs more money to create the return investment expected (value to the community) by increasing taxes. Well how many local citizens really know how to manage and run a system this complex and this big? I don't. And I have management background and training. But I do know that I expect elected officials to hire the most qualified people available to do the job and I expect voters to keep a watch over whether that job is being done well or not.
The outcome is the pudding proof. And our pudding is on fire only it is not called a flambe.

In other words, so far the outcome is seriously lacking. The returns on the community investment, the value we are getting, are dubious at best.

Looking at the Greeley Mill Levy Override brings this issue square about in the face of Greeley citizens and taxpayers. If the objective is to create the most education value for the dollars invested then Greeley citizens and taxpayers certainly have every obligation to uncover why D6 performance continues to be sub par and that the plan being put forth by the Administration will remedy these issues just as fast as possible.

According to the Greeley Tribune this week Greeley District 6 School Board President Bruce Broderius infers that Greeley's low performance is due to specific low performers he'd like to be able to cut out of the test score statistics. I hope he intends to clarify this statement.

My response is that Greeley District Six has an obligation to all students and not just choice cuts the District would like to make. Additionally I've decided to take a look at some of the potential causes of the sub par performance of District 6 from my own perspective. I published a list in my previous post in this series. I'll take on the first four items here. Mostly because the first four are the easiest to answer.

  • Is the performance problem related to the notion that Greeley is a unique district?
  • Is the performance problem related to the collective IQ of the students?
  • Is the performance problem related to the collective IQ of the parents?
  • Is the performance problem related to the collective IQ of the community?
Really this is just one question. "Is it us?"

I'll just cut to the chase here and address the racism inherent in this discussion and one which many, including authority figures and media figures, are want to use to distract from the real problem at hand. Other districts in Colorado also have high minority populations and immigrant populations without the same performance issues. Additionally Greeley already receives more funding than other local districts, like Poudre, that show a 14% Latino population in their school district. Greeley has a 44% identified Latino population.

Greeley Federal Funds in 05/06 Per Student $845.
Poudre Federal Funds in 05/06 Per Student $562.

Greeley Local Funds in 05/06 Per Student $2,826.
Poudre Local Funds in 05/06 Per Student $5,274.

Greeley State Funds in 05/06 Per Student $4,376.
Poudre State Funds in 05/06 Per Student $3,257.
Okay, close your eyes. Let's take a closer look at what's happening in relationship to these funding dollars. Here come the numbers.

This section will look at a comparison between the Greeley District Six costs and that of the Poudre District. I use ratios to examine the numerical relationship below because Poudre had about thirty five thousand students in 05/06 while Geeley had a bit over twenty-four thousand. We have to compare apples to apples as much as possible and not oranges to apples.

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 in Poudre 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.

Essentially the above ratios are one indicator that Poudre School District is performing more efficiently, in general, than Greeley District Six. What it does suggest is that Poudre is doing more per dollar and returning more value per taxpayer dollar spent based on testing results.

In this regard it is understandable that the District Six Board and Administrators would want to defend its performance achievement by claiming the district has additional burdens of low performing students. In response I'd ask if the additional resources, both Federal and State, which have been received (see above) are meant to provide for this difference, in part or in whole--if the special need indeed exists. With these numbers it would be possible to construct a similar ratio for special instructional services and would give an idea how these monies are being used. If the additional revenue sources have been provided and special services are not being provided I'd imagine that would be a big issue. If there are additional monies and they've been allotted accordingly then there should be no reason to use the "underperforming" populations as a scape goat for general poor performance.

At present I do not have these statistics on LEP and/or IEP learners. If anyone wants to provide them I'd be grateful.

Personally I have no issue with seeing the variety of performance issues related with LEP students or second-language students as a subsection of performance. Unfortunately though these figures are not being reported by either Greeley District Six or Poudre to the National Statistics site or the NCES site is withholding this information. However Greeley District Six, according to the NCES site for 2005/2006, as I stated above, had about forty-four percent of students identified as being of Latino origin to Poudre's 14%.

It is a thin line between inferring that all Latino students are low performers and saying that students with second-language development issues are performance issues. That 44% percent figure means very little without accurate figures on which students are nonnative citizens or first generation immigrants. Racism is not something this District wants to actively promote anymore than it does tacitly already through exclusion of programs directed specifically at migrant and low performance students.

I don't see how anyone can live in Greeley and not be painfully aware of the racial stigma and divides which exist in this city. Programs that have racial implications, probably in the average Greeley citizen's mindset, have been banned, disingenuously dismissed, renamed, and a host of other politically opportunistic political tactics used to avoid creating the very programs that would hopefully address some of the nonperformance issues.

But you will be happy to know the school board is aiming to produce more charter schools which ultimately tend to serve the top performers.

The School Board isn't the only entity at fault here. The citizens of Greeley create this environment and, I'll argue a bit wildly, through their elected officials have institutionalized the scape goat mentality in order to give free reign to arguments keeping government and taxation minimalistic.

Guess what Greeley--It doesn't work in education. Education is an investment. The more you invest the more harvest this community will reap.

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.

Greeley looks on paper like it is the prudent investor but in reality the job just is not getting done. So which administration/community is the wiser investor?

It indeed may very well be that "we" are the problem. At least in part. But not in the way expedient local mindsets may think. While we probably don't suffer from lower intelligence quotients in general we do suffer from political ideologies applied with two wide a brush stroke. The problem may be the fact that the collective culture of Greeley is being harvested by our youth. And the harvest has turned out to be only "middlin' pickins".

I'll continue this conversation in Part III of this series. if you've got a beef with a statistic--let me know. It wasn't my favorite course.

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