In the direction of truth

It’s October, which is an absolutely beautiful time of year. Of course there are cooler nights, falling leaves and temperate days.

And for those of us who enjoy politics and government, it is the only time of year when our communities engage in truly open debate. For those of us who like to discuss the issues, this is our time. Because it’s not just a few of us wrestling with a budget or debating the day’s headlines. Our entire community becomes engaged.

The signs are showing up on busy intersections and along well-traveled routes. Our neighbors are talking a bit more about politics—it’s less taboo than at any other time of year.

But there’s a strange thing that also happens in October. As there is more communication on the election—there seems to be less information. There are more words, but they seem to say less. As we get closer and closer to November, there is less time to check the facts. There is much being said about Springboro Schools, but how much of it is true?

Here is the truth.

  • We have achieved a balanced, children-first budget

  • We have lowered fees

  • We have implemented efficiency plans that direct savings back into our schools

  • We have hired additional teachers and aides

  • We have opened the preschool / early learning center

  • We have expanded high school A/P courses

  • We are promoting dual credit and PSEO to allows student to gain full college credits in high school

  • We have a coordinated technology plan with wireless access for every building, new laptops to every teacher and more than 1,100 new computers throughout the district.

  • We are exploring the data to understand the “proficient” standard and to set a higher bar for achievement.

These facts are indisputable. Still, we may see the truth differently.  In math, we have proofs. In science, we have theories to test. But in our schools, we see the truth as it affects our kids in the classroom, our teachers and staff whom we hired, our traditions, and our personal expectations. It is personal.

In Plato’s Allegory of the Cave, the prisoners can only see shadows. It is the only reality they know. It is theirs. It is known, comfortable, understandable and real. But when the shadows are revealed and the prisoners are asked to embrace a new reality of the light that casts the shadows, they resist it. Their truth was in the shadows that they had known for so long. This is like our definition of “proficient.” We thought proficient was good, until we learned what the raw scores are.

When someone asks you to look at things in a new way—to entertain the idea that the truth is not what you thought it was—it is normal to fight it. That is why this board made transparency and debate a cornerstone of all we do.

While the Board of Education has made missteps in the past year and a half, we made them in a transparent fashion.  This transparency allowed the community to round out our actions to reflect their wishes and desires. When we work together and talk to each other about the issues, better solutions are developed.

So, here in the month of October, let’s keep the discussion going. Let’s talk about the record. Let’s talk about the standards. Let’s talk about the facts. Let’s move together in the direction of truth. The truth is not in the online video from Olentangy United. The truth is not in rumors. The truth is not in the shadows of the past.

The truth is that we are using data to improve upon what is already a strong school district. If we only look at the shadows on the wall, we limit our own perspective, and we also limit the possibilities for Springboro students.

 

In the direction of balance

Balance can be seen on scales, in sports and on spreadsheets. There are times when balance is easy to see and define. There are times when we have to work to achieve balance. For example, in our own homes we try to find a perfect balance between work and family. Although we can define the ideal, we rarely meet it.

With the Board of Education race in Springboro this fall, voters will look for balance. Some will argue balance means putting opposing sides together on the board. But the picture of balance needs to be bigger than that. Board of Education members are elected to represent the community in the school district.

The board is elected to balance the interests of students, parents, taxpayers, and employees.  Many school boards lack balance because they are comprised of people with more allegiance to maintaining a specific establishment than to the greater cause.

In Springboro, balance has been restored. With a new administrative team, the Springboro school district has adopted a mission to “accelerate student achievement and support qualified staff with a balanced budget.” These are not empty words: they summarize actions. Together, we have achieved a balanced budget. We are on the right course, but it has not been easy.

With Educate Springboro, we brought changes that forced many to rethink long-held beliefs. Anytime the status quo changes, there is resistance. Panicked petitions and hysterical headlines have made things feel” out of balance. So now, there is a slate of three candidates that want to return to the past – which “felt” balanced.

However, today we can see just how far out of balance we actually were under the previous leadership. Some of the imbalances of the past include:

  • Capping high school class sizes in the 20s, while other grades who most need teacher attention, had larger class sizes (often up to 30).
  • Teaching the majority to meet the proficient standard (proficient is a OAA test score in 8th grade >40), while our district receives a “D” in gifted education and a “C” for our more challenged, lowest 20%.
  • Ignoring the changing curriculum and testing standards for students.
  • Charging higher pay-to-play and school fees than were necessary.
  • Failing to plan for technology in our classrooms and then spending resources on wireless technology that was inadequate and required replacement.
  • Ignoring recommendations to improve the rigor of our high school academic programs by failing to promote college credit options for our students.
  • Reacting to circumstances and spending more than budgeted instead of planning to invest and keeping up our buildings, grounds and bus fleet.
  • Assuming the only solution was higher taxes and hoping for a new levy to pass.

These are symptoms of the status quo controlling a school district that lost its balance.

If there was any balance at all in the past, it was an eye for an eye. As this community said no” to five new money levies, district leaders failed to find levy alternatives.  The status quo threatened the community with cuts. Thankfully, many of those leaders have left, but some now would like to return to sit on our school board. 

This year’s record is easy to defend because it consistently demonstrates investing in Children First. From replacing the District’s aging computers, buses, to implementing new curriculum and raising expectations with new standards, testing – we have progressed!

Why would we give control back to those who slowed this district’s progress? Those who inflated budget forecasts? Those who ignored the capital needs of the District? Most importantly, why would we elect the same people who neglected to put Children First in our schools?

The Children First budget is navigating us away from the repeated failures of the past. Now, working in open, public meetings, asking tough questions, hearing all voices, using performance data and striving to find a balance that supports teachers, our community is achieving the goal to put Children First in every decision.

Balance is about consistent, sustainable, forward-looking leadership. Educate Springboro sees the bigger picture and leads in the direction of balance for our children, schools and community.  We’ll continue to be the voice that stands up for parents and the community, examining past practices, and making tough decisions – whether it is providing technology, more services for gifted students, raises for employees, or even a tax rollback – To maintain balance for the benefit of everyone.

We hope you will share this good news with your friends and neighbors.

In the direction of leadership

The 2013 Board of Education campaign is taking shape in Springboro, and there is a clear theme emerging from three of the candidates. The opposition’s run for school board seems to be fueled by fear.  It is dark and angrypromising to bring calm to a storm.

The problem with their platform is that there is no storm.

If there is a sense of turbulence in our community, it has been manufactured by those who oppose change, wish to suffocate debates they would surely lose, and return to the days of endless levies, punitive actions against our citizens, and never ending financial emergencies within the district.

Why would our community want to do that?

An accurate look at the past reveals:

  • Five failed levies
  • Fees raised, busing cut, and staff reduced
  • Buses neglected compromising student safety
  • The district failed to purchase books, technology and buses
  • A technology plan that was an uncontrolled mixture of items that did not work together costing approx. $200,000 to fix
  • Waste of $170,000 in textbooks that were never distributed or used
  • Maintenance deferred to the detriment of district buildings, staff and children
  • The rigor of the high school program of studies was reduced (Education Service Center audit report)
  • Promotion of the failing euphemism “Proficient” as the standard to be attained by our children
  • Fewer students took advantage of AP and other early college credit opportunities
  • A “D” grade on gifted intervention from the state
  • A “C” grade on the lowest 20% in achievement from the state

Now, an accurate look at today reveals:

  • A balanced, children-first budget
  • Lower fees, busing restored, staff restored
  • “Efficiency” plans that directed resources to gifted and reading intervention for this year (before release of the state report card)
  • New curriculum designed to surpass state minimum standards
  • Additional teachers and aides hired
  • Opened preschool / early learning center
  • A/P courses expanded in areas that make sense
  • Dual Credit classes to be added at high school allowing students to gain college credit while in high school
  • New emphasis on PSEO program, which allows students to attend college while in high school for full college credit
  • Coordinated technology plan so everything works with one another
  • Wireless access for every building
  • New laptops to every teacher. More than 1,100 new computers throughout the district
  • Renewal levy set to a lower millage rate to give back more than $1.3 million per year to our community

Why would our community want to go back to the past?  We have sought to change the status quo, and that is difficult, but debate does not equal harm. The politically correct tenet that spirited discussion is harmful stifles new ideas.  When a blanket of suppression covers the conversation, the only sure losers will be our community and the children we serve.

Educate Springboro looks to the future–using the knowledge of the past, but with direction toward a goal. While the Board of Education has made missteps in the past year and a half, they were made in a public and transparent fashion.  This transparency allowed the community to engage and round out our actions to reflect their wishes and desires.  It produced better, more properly vetted ideas and actions, and our schools are better for it. When we work together and talk to each other about the issues, better solutions are developed.

Our leadership is navigating us away from the repeated failures of the past and toward a better future for our schools. We are leading with a goal to provide every Springboro child the opportunity to acquire all the knowledge and intellectual skills they possibly can.  It has been our desire to remove all barriers that might restrain them from their innate desire to inquire, explore, and absorb everything they can.  Looking to the past, copying failed policies, and fearing change does not remove barriers to improvement, it imposes them.

We’ve built a financial foundation on the principle of fiscal responsibility.  We’ll continue to make changes that make sense; for example, eliminating underutilized courses to fill needs in other areas.  We won’t propose new classes just to fill an employee’s schedule and avoid a difficult decision.  We won’t continue relationships with service providers that don’t provide the best value just because working with them has been past practice.  We’ll continue to demand integrity and ethics from everyone we work with from boosters to vendors, from students to administrators.

Common sense, ethics and sound financial decisions guide Educate Springboro.  Share this with your friends and neighbors.

The fear of change will not chase our community back into the darkness of previously failed practices.

Let’s stay on this new course and move in the direction of leadership for our children, schools and community.

Welcome Back to School!

Educate Springboro celebrates the first day of school and wishes students and families, teachers and staff a successful year ahead!

Learning is a treasure that will follow its owner everywhere.
 –Chinese Proverb

This is the time of year when families and communities reflect on the treasure in our schools. It is not in the bricks and mortar. It is in the people. The treasure is in the promise of our children learning and carrying those lessons with them as they grow.

While the kids focus on mastering that new locker combination and where their friends are located, parents are more focused on checking off the back-to-school supply list.  Those without children in school merely note their commute got longer because the buses are back.

Educate Springboro is focused on assuring the necessities are provided for learning and teaching.

Careful budgeting, data-driven decision making, and efficiency plans from our central office staff have made it possible for Springboro to afford its back-to-school list. We have found ways to afford the necessities required and give money back the taxpayer has more money is left in their wallet at the end of the day.

Springboro’s 2013 back-to-school list includes long overdue capital improvements to building interiors, roofs and parking lots; more resources for reading and gifted education in the elementary grades; new curriculum to align with state standards; and more than a $1.1 million upgrade to technology in each and every building.

In fact, the following needs are ACCOUNTED FOR in the current budget through the 2017 budget:

  • over $2 million in text books and new adoptions
  • over $2.1 million for new buses
  • over $3.7 million in capital needs and deferred maintenance
  • over $1.5 million in technology
  • over $7.5 million increase for our staff in raises.

Our community’s school supply list is significant. We have found that it is affordable when we put children first. Just as Springboro’s families have to find ways to finance the back-to-school list within their budgets, our district must do the same thing to accomplish our goals within a balanced budget.

Many new faces will appear at the door and in the classroom to welcome our children back this year.  But not to worry, over 80% of our school staff is returning to start another year.  While this is slightly lower than our normal 87%, the reasons are quite understandable.

As changes in the state retirement pension program became evident, it behooved some of our employees to take advantage of the current, more generous provisions available now.  The result for our employees would be thousands of dollars less in lifetime retirement pay if they were to delay their retirement until next year or the year after.

Secondly, our district offered not one, but two early retirement buy-out plans to assist our senior teachers and staff who were close to requirements, but needed a little assistance on our part to make it work out.  While this did aid many teachers and staff in realizing their dreams and aspirations, it also freed up precious salary money to redistribute throughout the district to other employees.

Thirdly, uncertainty on contract negotiations played a role. Although our Board of Education invited the unions to open negotiations In January, but that open invitation was declined by the unions. This pushed negotiations, and the associated uncertainty of what the future held financially for our teachers and staff, well into the summer.  As a result, we lost more teachers than we normally would have as some sought a financial stability in their income flow that was not threatened by union activity that they had little to no control over.

We welcome our new principals, teachers, staff, students and families as they join our school community. This is a new year—one full of new opportunities.  It remains our fervent desire to see that each child in our system excels past the point of state minimum requirements and receives a real education filled with knowledge and well earned achievement. 

Welcome back to school!

Thank you for your support of this blog and Educate Springboro. The blog’s readership and distribution have grown significantly in recent weeks. Please keep it growing!  Share this with your contact list. And, if you can, please click on the right to donate to our group. Your donation helps to share information on public education, budgeting, policy, taxation and more matters that impact our entire community.

Educate Springboro is an organization created to research and share information on issues that impact our community.  This message paid for by Educate Springboro, 8786 Wildwood Pl., Springboro, OH 40566.      

 

In the direction of opportunity

“A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity;
an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.”
–Winston Churchill

When we combine common sense spending with the strong performance of our schools, we can offer opportunities for everyone–our students, teachers, families and our community.

The 2013 campaign for school board has begun, and some candidates are calling for a nostalgic turn back to “the way it was.” The status quo says they want to go in a different direction.  Here is a reminder of our past:

• Instead of facing our challenges, they seemingly would retreat back in time.
• Instead of looking for opportunities to improve and innovate, they chose the way they always operated – raise fees, cut busing, reduce support staff, and increase class size to leverage parents.
• Instead of reallocating resources in response to a changing financial environment, they chose not to buy books, technology, buses, or to make needed capital improvements.

This summer a worker fell 20 feet (blessedly survived with only a broken elbow) while fixing the Clearcreek Elementary roof because the roof decking had been neglected for so long. If regular maintenance is performed, how much less might this repair have cost?

We see the status quo woefully ill equipped to meet the challenges that our school district faces.

Opportunity reaches past the status quo. Jim Rigano and I have brought a realistic perspective to our schools. As we look at district operations and use student achievement data, we are creating opportunity and directing more resources to where students need them most. We are funneling more tools to teachers and administrators that can be deployed at the point of attack on the issues facing our children.

Opportunity to redefine excellence
Those who promote the status quo placed great emphasis on many awards on the school walls. As a result many assumed that all was well inside those walls. But the awards only measure the past, and the standards are changing. Our schools have indeed scored well by state standards, but the term “PROFICIENT” is misleading. For example, a student taking the Ohio Achievement Assessment test in math in the spring of 2013 only needs a raw score between 35% – 59% to be deemed “PROFICIENT” in eighth grade math.  Then, if enough students score over 35%, a school is deemed by the state to be “excellent.”

Proficient is not enough. The time is now to bring forward new ways of evaluating our children that no longer grade on a curve to get the desired results. Our goal should be that every Springboro student score 75% or better on these tests.  Tougher, realistic standards upset the status quo, but deflated standards masked by positive sounding words rob our children of true achievement, potential, and a future.

We see the opportunity to set the bar higher and deliver a more honest standard for our schools.

Opportunities for success after high school
Our goal is to send Springboro High School graduates off to college and career better equipped for success. The district has purchased an audit of our high school, and the High School That Works Program conducted repeated biannual audits. For years the status quo ignored the High School that Works audit findings. We are supporting and encouraging our administrators to use these facts to improve.

The Springboro High School (SHS) program audit from Warren County Educational Service Center (ESC) asserts the high school needs to “increase rigor, cut general education classes, and increase college preparatory courses, including Advanced Placement (AP)”.

The ESC audit and a report from the High Schools That Work program show that Springboro’s program of studies was neglected for years by the status quo. As new leadership is committed to rewrite the curriculum to offer a more rigorous, relevant course of study, we are encouraging our administration to improve college credit options to give greater opportunities for all students’ college and career plans by:

• Enhancing the ACT Preparation Class at SHS brought forth last year.
• Incentivizing college credit (while in high school) with more guidance towards Advanced Placement (AP), the Post Secondary Enrollment Option (PSEO), and dual credit. These options could accelerate students’ college study while simultaneously reducing the significant college cost for families.
• Exploring STEM initiatives and hands-on learning in cooperation with local businesses will be key for our college-bound students as well as for those who are focused on their career after high school.

We see these as opportunities to accelerate student achievement, reduce student’s college debt, help parents spend less on college, and turn Springboro towards a 21st century learning environment.

Opportunities for students
The Children First budgeting approach and the Springboro central office team’s efficiency plans are already yielding significant savings in the first year. These freed up dollars are being reinvested in our students and their day-to-day learning through:

• Purchasing new curriculum and new textbooks where needed;
• Increased reading intervention support;
• Increased gifted services;
• Increased technology – 100% Wi-Fi across all buildings and computer equipment upgrades;
• Creating early learning opportunities for children;
• Using facts to track student achievement to allow our teachers and parents to track learning three times a year to better refine our teaching efforts and focus on the child’s needs.
• Reduced pay-to-play fees in a time when many of those districts around us are raising theirs. The result of this reduction has been a 12% increase in participation in our sports and band programs.

Opportunities for teachers
Jim Rigano and I encouraged more professional development. We did not cut it. When the levies failed, the status quo cut professional development, staff, technology, busing, and curriculum. Critics assert that the Children First budget ignores teachers. This is simply FALSE. This budget approach is providing every teacher with a raise, a new laptop while also installing more than 1000 new computers in our schools for children.

Taking a Children’s First approach evaluates and reallocates resources in other areas, making investment plans, and transparent budgeting also allows support for our curriculum team. The teachers’ professional development is a vital part of the implementation plan of the new curriculum and is critical to the success of our efforts as we strive to meet new standards this year.

Opportunity to rebuild trust in our community
The community’s call for more responsible spending echoes in our actions. We’ve built a realistic financial foundation. We asked for honest input from teachers, administrators, and support staff regarding spending and investment plans. We budget every item with a purpose to enhance our children’s educational prospects and explain it in public as well as in our financial forecasts.

Our budgeting is deliberate and thoughtful. With each dollar saved, we cheered—knowing we could now reinvest it in other opportunities within our Springboro schools. We are not spending less when it comes to your children’s education; we are spending more on our core mission with a focused approach that centers on advancing our children’s education.

But it cannot be all about money.  It should always be about ways to create more opportunity.  Opportunity for our new pre-school, for our elementary schools, for SI, for our junior high, for our high school, for our graduates, for our students – from struggling to average to gifted, for our teachers, and even for our standard of excellence.

In the direction of restoring confidence

In the direction of restoring confidence

con·fi·dence

noun: 1. full trust; belief in powers, trustworthiness, or reliability of a person or thing. . . .

Synonyms 
1. faith, reliance, dependence. See trust. . .

 Antonyms 
1. mistrust.

The opposite of confidence is mistrust. The central goal of the concerned citizens in Educate Springboro is to rebuild eroding trust in our community and schools. With each new money levy defeat in Springboro, frustrated levy proponents have searched for blame rather than answers.

As Educate Springboro sought to add its voice to our district’s board of education, we campaigned for confidence. More than that, we campaigned for the confidence for all stakeholders—the newly married couple in a starter home and farmer in Clearcreek Township; the parents who would to give everything for their child and the grandparents who watched their savings evaporate in the stock market; the employed and the unemployed; the alumni and the new resident; and so many others.

The idea of confidence is so simple, it was one of three promises Jim Rigano and I pledged during our campaign for school board in 2011:

Children First:  Budget for educational and support services for children first.  No holding parents hostage over things like busing and classroom fees.  Reduced pay to participate fees so more families can afford to pursue extra curricular activities.

                  PROMISE KEPT!

Rebuild Confidence:  Worked to make sure the strife and waste caused by 5 unnecessary levy attempts does not have to occur again by doing our committee and board work in a public and transparent fashion.  We turned the TV cameras back on so you can hold us accountable and see for yourself the workings of the board.

                  PROMISE KEPT!

Control Spending: While our opponents were focusing on the unnecessary pursuit of new taxes, we analyzed the budget presenting 12 concrete budget saving steps worth over $30mm.  The result: a $6mm surplus, lower P2P fees, restored services for children, and raises for all the staff.  All done without the necessity of new tax revenues or the contentious levy campaigns that accompany those requests.

                  PROMISE KEPT!

“When change is not happening at the top, a revolution begins at the bottom.” (Quote cite below).  Two years ago the community sent its recommendation to the board for its future and direction.  Two new board members were elected against a wall of opposition, both overt and covert, began the task of transforming a purported financially troubled district into one that is the envy of others.  With an administration that was transformed from moribund to an innovative and outstanding central office staff, we are employing efficiency plans. These plans are allowing us to reallocate resources and meet district needs, including an unprecedented investment in technology and curriculum to create a 21st century learning environment for students and teachers. We call these strategies and plans, levy alternatives!

Zero-based budgets and efficiency plans are not controversial – its just good business for the benefit of our children, their teachers, and the taxpayers who fund our program.  Updated technology and curriculum are not controversial – they are just good for our children’s future, their teachers, and the taxpayers who fund our program.  Buses that run and roofs that don’t leak are not controversial – they are just good common sense.  Putting children first is reasonable, rational, and the responsible thing to do.  It is quite simply the right thing to do.

So, where’s the controversy?

Do you ever hear anyone arguing against a balanced budget?  Anyone come out and say improving our technologic base is a bad idea?  Has someone really made a case against transparency in school governance?  Is it really a choice between paying our teachers more and our children’s transportation safety? 

The manufactured cries of anguish create false frenzy, carried over from earlier malicious political school board campaigns.  Already, we stand on the cusp of the next political campaign. Our voters will decide on a renewal levy that asks for LESS money.  They also will vote in November on three places on our board of education.

While our local newspapers write stories about school districts continually fighting for more new money, emotionally blackmailing & bullying parents by threatening to cut services, raise pay to participate fees, as well as a host of other onerous threats, we in Springboro enjoy FINANCIAL STABILITY in our budgets, LOWER FEES for families, LOWER TAXES for our taxpayers, and an education platform PRIMED TO EXCEL.  

There will be a call to change direction. Our recent blog posts have looked at direction we have proposed. Here is a quick reminder of the direction we have traveled together since January 1, 2012.

From In the direction of common sense:

“For too long, the district appeared to work very well, but it lacked clear direction. With no plan for textbooks, technology, capital improvements, buses and more, there was no larger financial plan charted for our schools.  By ordering and categorizing our priorities we were able to support our common mission all while not having to ask the taxpayers for more new money.  This common sense approach does not strip the district of our collective traditions or diversity.  It does not ignore its accomplishments and honors.  It simply gives us a unifying direction that extends beyond any individual, building, or year.”

From In the direction of fair:

“A year ago, our district faced a sort of ‘perfect storm’ with needs for everything from buses and books to technology and staffing coming to the surface at the same time. Through good management and some good fortune, our once rudderless ship emerged from that storm with clear leadership and direction. We recognize that there are still challenges, some seen and some no one as yet even recognizes, but we are continually moving in the direction of putting Children First.”

From In the direction of unity:

“Even after plans to invest millions in technology, curriculum, buildings and buses, and even after providing every employee with raises, we are financially prepared to give something back to the taxpayer – to give back to those who give to us, by reducing their tax burden. The renewal levy on the ballot in November will be set at a lower mileage rate to reduce taxes generated by that levy by nearly 15 percent.”  UNPRECEDENTED IN PUBLIC EDUCATION!

From In the direction of sustainability:

“While we are meeting and exceeding state mandates, there remains much room for academic improvement across the board. In as much, we are building a technology backbone, investing in computers, curriculum, buses and buildings – we are putting children first to move them further along the academic path than they were yesterday.  Most important, we are being honest about what is needed through 2017. This is reform at the local level, and this is working together toward sustainability.”

In a relatively short time frame much has been accomplished, yet there is much more that remains to be done.  For the first time in years, our district has direction.

With the help of our community we can make the Springboro School District the one district that is much imitated, yet never quite duplicated.

Thank you for joining Educate Springboro and sharing our message with your friends and family as we enter this exciting, uncharted time in the history of Springboro Community City Schools.

Portions of definition of confidence from http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/confidence

Quote: “When change is not happening….” attributed to New York City Councilman Fernando Cabrera in World Magazine, August 10, 2013, p. 47 while addressing the upcoming city elections.

In the direction of unity….

In the direction of unity…..

With the first day of school upon us in late August, we enter into the comfortable routines of a new school year.  Each year begins with the hope and prayer of a fresh beginning on both sides of the fence, teachers praying for well-behaved students and children fervently praying for “nice” teachers.

The new year also brings with it new employment contracts with our support staff and our teachers. Combine that with the technology plan being assembled and implemented, new buses for our children’s safety, a sustainable facilities maintenance plan, a tax break for our taxpayers, and our district is in an entirely different situation from recent years when wave after wave of levy campaigns sought to raise taxes.

Circumstances may change; however, if we maintain our fiscal conservative spending patterns and husband our resources wisely, no new taxes are projected.

My place at the table is to represent the community—the taxpayer, the landowner, the voter. My fiduciary duty is also to this institution.  It is important to remember I represent the voice of those who pay for our local schools. Tonight, we step forward for our teachers and our community. In doing so, we are demonstrating that as our voices come together we can write a single, better, unified story. It is not a story of the past, always disregarding the needs of the district. It is not a story of teachers and staff holding out for more. It is not a story of higher taxes (in fact, just the opposite). This is a story where everyone wins.

Although we occasionally may disagree with the means to an end, the final goal is the same for all involved: a better education for our children.

Through Children First Budgeting, zero based budgets, sound leadership, plans that prioritize educational needs, infrastructure and our staff, it is possible and now proven that we can live within our means. These phrases imply debt or sacrifice, but that is not the case. Not only have we proven that we can live within our means, but now every stakeholder in this district—our students and families, our staff and teachers, and our taxpayers–will benefit from this board’s leadership.

First, our students benefit as we direct funds to textbooks, curriculum, new buses, technology, and we dedicate attention to supports for college and career—STEM, PSEO, AP courses and more.

I have stated in that past and it is worth repeating, that it is impossible to educate a child without skilled teachers and staff and without giving them the tools to be successful. With these new contract agreements, every teacher, every staff member, every employee, every custodian, and every bus driver of the Springboro Community City Schools will be paid more. They will be rewarded for their skills and commitment to our schools and our children.

In any negotiation, especially collective bargaining, each party must at least be willing to move forward knowing neither of us will get everything we want.  I am willing to make the commitment to pay our teachers as they requested and they are willing to take reformative steps in their salary schedule and health benefits that respect the values of our entire community.

This agreement with our teachers must be more than a promise that sits on the shelf. The agreement to establish a merit / performance pay committee and diligently work with the health care committee, will dictate actions that demonstrate accountability by both sides. We all must strive with our best intentions to make sustainability the priority—to work within our current revenue rather than insist we need more.

The community can see after just 18 months that Children First Budgeting works. It is transparent and inclusive, and it drives our attention and resources toward investments in facilities, technology and teachers. It is most evident in the new contracts.

But what will be most evident to the taxpayer is lower taxes. Even after plans to invest millions in technology, curriculum, buildings and buses, and even after providing every employee with raises, we are financially prepared to give something back to the taxpayer – to give back to our community by reducing their tax burden. The renewal levy on the ballot in November will be set at a lower mileage rate to reduce taxes generated by that levy by nearly 15 percent.

This reduction of almost 15 percent is equal to $1,353,800 per year ($6,769,000 over 5 years) that we are giving back to our community. That’s right, every homeowner in the Springboro Community City School District will receive a raise just like our staff!  Children First Budgeting makes sense and today everyone wins.

Steven Covey says that, “What you do has far greater impact than what you say.” So now we put the words—spun in social media, exclaimed in online petitions, threatening as well as entreating, angry as well as earnest—behind us. We’ve emerged stronger than before.

Congratulations to our board, to our central office staff, to our teachers and students, and to our community. All sides were heard – and the outcome is fair to all sides. All have gained ground. And that success can only continue if we act in good faith to work together to put Children First.

 

In the direction of “fair”!

In the direction of “fair”

An online petition is circulating that demands our Board of Education “settle a fair contract with our teachers now!” I could not agree more. In January 2013, our school board requested that we open negotiations early, but the Ohio Education Association and Springboro Education Association refused stating there would be plenty of time. With the first day of school (August 26) waiting on the horizon, I only wish the teachers’ union had allowed us to open negotiations earlier. Indeed, the petition’s request is spot on, but the drama—the implication that school board members do not want to reach a fair contract–sadly continues to divide our community.

It all hinges on that word “fair.” We’ve received a lot of email appealing for “fairness,” but not one attempted to describe what is fair.  Fair is not one-sided.  It implies there are two competing interests, not just one.

If “fair” could be defined in concrete terms, years of debating funding formulas for Ohio’s schools would have been avoided.

What’s fair?

For example, the proposed re-instituted step salary schedule amounts to between 3% and 4.75% automatic pay increases per year for most teachers. Are step raises—automatic pay increases tied to nothing more than the calendar—fair? The idea of rewarding service and commitment over time sounds fair for some, while others would like to know why raises are not tied to student achievement? Is a salary schedule “fair” when successful  teachers are paid exactly on par with the unsuccessful? Who suffers most under this system that incentivizes mediocrity, our children and their education.

Is it fair that our teachers received a minimum increase of 1.5% per year for the last three years, but still called that raise a pay freeze? How can pay go up when it is frozen? Furthermore, during the recession, no teacher lost his or her job.  As a matter of fact, the Full Time Equivalents (FTE) in our district increased, while the rest of the economy decreased.  Would it have been fairerto pay our teachers in sync with our community when many in our community lost their jobs, received no raise at all, or made salary concessions to keep their employer in business and keep their job?

When the wealth of a community measured by residential property values decreases by 10% over the last five years, what is a fair salary increase for that school district’s employees?

When community members see health insurance costs skyrocket, is it fair that public employees maystrike to keep up paying only 15% for medical insurance? According to surveys from the Kaiser Family Foundation as well as the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, average private-sector employees with single coverage contribute 21 to 25% of health insurance premiums, and the average employee with family coverage pays 27%.   The average means that some pay less while others pay much more.

Is it fair to even have this conversation without mentioning our children?  Was it fair to them when previous administrations scuttled plans for textbooks, technology, major building repairs and replacements,  buses and more? While the district appeared to be sailing well, in reality it was drifting without clear direction. A year ago, our district faced a sort of “perfect storm” with needs for everything from buses and books to technology and staffing coming to the surface at the same time. Through good management and some good fortune, our once rudderless ship emerged from that storm with clear leadership and direction. Clearly there are still challenges, but we are moving in the direction of putting Children First.

At the core of Children First budgeting is our staff–making sure we have sufficient staff, that our staff have the materials and training they need to excel, and that they are fairly compensated.

Some assume we’re making catastrophic cuts while others assume we will need more taxes. Neither is true. There are dark rumor clouds swirling through Springboro that cuts will come through our current contract negotiations; rather we have offered every employee a raise.  Some would say that is not only fair, but generous given the fact our economy is still struggling in many sectors. A story in the Dayton Daily News notes that the second largest employer in the country behind Wal-Mart is now a temporary employment agency.

While many wish to cast a negative light on our school district and its leadership, I hope everyone can celebrate the agreement reached between the Springboro Board of Education and the Springboro Classified Employees Association (SCEA), the union representing bus drivers, cafeteria workers and other non-teaching staff.  These are the support staff that makes our district go and many of these people literally have not had a raise in five years.

Highlights of that agreement include:

•           Step raises for three years. (Step raises are automatic pay increases built into an existing salary schedule generally to compensate for the effects of inflation.)

•           $1,000 annual stipend for three years for those who are not on steps.

             •           Employees will pay 20% for healthcare insurance; the district will pay 80% of the premium.

Now, I hope we find a balance that compensates our teachers in conjunction with the important investments to be made in our buildings and facilities, technology and curriculum. This is not an either or situation, both must be done with our given revenue stream to ensure a healthy district into the future.

To learn more for yourself, the contract proposals are online at http://www.Springboro.org. Click on negotiations updates.

In the direction of common sense, continued

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.”

–Thomas Jefferson, The Declaration of Independence

When the Declaration of Independence was written and signed in the summer of 1776, the population of our nation is estimated to have been about 2.5 million people. Today, the United States population is more than 315 million people. The Declaration has grown with our nation to symbolize individual and national liberty throughout the world.

Jefferson stated that, “This was the object of the Declaration of Independence. Not to find out new principles, or new arguments, never before thought of, not merely to say things which had never been said before; but to place before mankind the common sense of the subject, in terms so plain and form as to command their assent, and to justify ourselves in the independent stand we are compelled to take.”

–Thomas Jefferson.    

At one time, it was both grand, and also common sense. With the Declaration, the founding fathers unified the 13 colonies in a single direction. Though we see perfection in it today, we know that Jefferson’s early draft was heavily critiqued and edited. Even though it was common sense, it changed the status quo. It changed the course and gave entirely new direction to the colonies, as they became an emerging and sovereign nation.

Events throughout history and even locally today bear some resemblance. What is simply stated common sense may appear to be the most radical. As we’ve sought to improve communications, transparency and budgeting in Springboro schools, we’ve seemed radical to some. But in fact, its common sense to put kids first, to form plans for purchasing textbooks and technology, and to attend to the basics such as roofs and buses. For too long, the district appeared to work very well, but it lacked clear direction. With no plan for textbooks, technology, capital improvements, buses and more, there was no larger course charted for our schools.

This common sense approach does not strip the district of its traditions or diversity. It does not ignore it accomplishments and honors, including “Excellent with Distinction.” It simply gives us a unifying direction that extends beyond any individual building or year.

Look for future blog posts to articulate how I believe we are leading the district toward success.

In the direction of common sense, Part II

In response to “In the direction of common sense” entry, a reader named School District Voter noted that, “Of almost equal moment to the Declaration of Independence was the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, drafted by Jefferson in 1779. The statute established the separation of church and state and the principle of religious toleration: “Almighty God hath created the mind free… all attempts to influence it by temporal punishments or burthens, or by civil incapacitations, tend only to beget habits of hypocrisy and meanness and are a departure from the plan of the Holy author of our religion, who being Lord both of body and mind, yet chose not to propagate it by coercions on either, as it was in his Almighty power to do …the impious presumption of legislators and rulers, civil as well as ecclesiastical, who being themselves but fallible and uninspired men, have assumed dominion over the faith of others, setting up their own opinions and modes of thinking as the only true and infallible, and as such endeavoring to impose them on others, hath established and maintained false religions over the greatest part of the world, and through all time…”

While it’s not economical to include it here in its entirety, it is important to note that the statute ends with this action. “Be it enacted by the General assembly, that no man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever, nor shall be enforced, restrained, molested, or burthened in his body or goods, not shall otherwise suffer on account of his religious opinions or belief; but that all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinion in matters of religion, and that the same shall in no wise diminish, enlarge, or affect their civil capacities. Indeed, “All men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinion in matters of religion, and that the same shall in no wise diminish, enlarge, or affect their civil capacities.”

History tells us that the founding fathers held diverse views. Instead of allowing differences to divide and defeat them, they found common ground. They found common sense within the harmonies of their arguments. Today, “argue” carries a negative connotation like fight or struggle. But argue simply means to support your point of view with evidence.

As parents, as educators, as a community invested in its youth, it is our responsibility to share the tools and skills for argument. We are free to profess and argue our beliefs. Are we preparing the next generation to exercise that freedom, to know the fullness of history, to profess their individual beliefs and to argue for them?