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.

 

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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 sustainability

In the direction of sustainability

Soon the long days of summer will evaporate into football games on Friday nights. In the stadium stands, we can see a basic truth: our schools and community are inextricably tied. In the sea of Panther blue and white, the preschooler and the alum from the 1970s, the cheerleader and the local business owner, the excited pee-wee player wearing his first jersey and the senior in the student section is almost indistinguishable. We are there for one purpose and we are all on the same side. 

Public schools serve the community. The community funds and supports public schools. The partnership between our schools and community can be described in many ways. It is a legislated relationship. It is a traditional bonding. It is symbiotic. It is real.

The Springboro school district stands in an almost unheard of position today. 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 millage rate to reduce taxes generated by that levy by nearly 15 percent.

With every step, we are proving that this district with its record of excellence is sustainable with an even lower tax burden. This is almost unheard of in school or local government today. The idea seems so foreign to some that there is even a call in our community to keep the renewal for the full amount.

There is an assumption that if we are cutting the taxes; we must be cutting back in our schools. This is simply FALSE.  The following needs are in the current budget through 2017:

         •        high school busing restored

•        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 (100% WiFi, 1,000 computers, 350 teacher laptops)

•        over $7.5 million for our staff in raises and benefit changes


These are met in the five-year forecast even with the lower renewal levy. This reduction of almost 15 percent millage is equal to $1,353,800 per year that we are giving back to our community.

How is this possible?

         •        The May 2013 five-year forecast included a surplus of    $7.55 million in 2017.

         •        After the approval of contracts with the teachers, classified and exempt staff, the five-year forecast still reveals a surplus of $7.2 million in 2017.

         •        Springboro Community City Schools will receive 6.5% more in 2013-2014 than in the previous year from the State of Ohio (approximately $828,000) as well as 10.5% more in 2014-2015 (approximately $1.2 million).

         •        Since 2012, 2013, the district has received $3.5 million per year as a result of a pipeline that has been completed.

         •        A second pipeline is possible; however, the district’s current forecast assumptions DO NOT include the additional funding it may bring to the district.

Not only have we proven that we can live within our means, but now every person in this district—our children and families, our staff and teachers, and the taxpayers–will benefit.

This is significant when placed in the context of five failed levies that sought to raise our taxes by up to $45,000,000. Our community sent a clear message again and again that there could be no new taxes. The board—elected by that same community—remembers that we are all on the same side in the pursuit of true educational attainment.  As it became clear through our due diligence into the finances of the district that we could meet our needs with less money, the board voted to request lower millage in the renewal levy in November.

If you budget $300 for a monthly car payment but you find the car you need with every option for $250, do you tell the dealer you’d still like to pay more? Of course not. We’re not selling a rundown clunker at the reduced price. We are meeting and exceeding state mandates as well as local expectations. We are building a technology backbone, investing in computers, curriculum, buses and buildings – we are putting children first.  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 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 common sense – Part I

In the direction of common sense.

“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.    

On the cusp of celebrating the independence of the United States of America, our Board of Education announced two summer courses on the Constitution. The timing is entirely a coincidence, but it perfectly frames the argument.

From the outside looking in, independently offered community education classes on the Constitution would use school district classrooms during the summer and after-school hours. This is wholly unremarkable. Similar courses are shared online, in hotel ballrooms and family living rooms across our country. But in Springboro, they engender headlines and panic, calls for Board members’ resignations and threats of legal action. Community education has been raised to scandal status.

Why?

Bringing classes like these onto our campus allows a unique opportunity to offer community education while also inviting families and taxpayers to review potential curriculum.

The hyperbolical efforts by a few to cancel these Constitution classes ironically seek to limit free speech and assembly. But as I work toward listening to all sides and representing the fullness of our school district, I examined the critics’ concerns.  I believe in the goal to teaching the principals of our constitution in a historically accurate manner.  To that end, I am unclear based on the controversy, if these programs can achieve that goal.

Our district’s recent debates over the Constitutional courses, controversial topics including creation and even negotiations point to a serious need for civil, reasoned dialogue and debate. It’s easy for us to look at the parchment of the Declaration of Independence or the Constitution and see only the final page in its ideal form. However, history is rich with stories of argument and angst as the founders of our nation came together to form this union of states.

It is time to read and revisit, discuss and debate our founding documents. In doing so, the only religion promoted is what Abraham Lincoln called the “political religion of the nation.” In his speech to the Young Men’s Lyceum of Springfield, Illinois in 1838, Lincoln said “As the patriots of seventy-six did to the support of the Declaration of Independence, so to the support of the Constitution and Laws, let every American pledge his life, his property, and his sacred honor; . . . Let reverence for laws, be breathed by every American mother, to the lisping babe, that prattles on her lap—let it be taught in schools, in seminaries, and in colleges;–let it preached from the pulpit, proclaimed in legislative halls, and enforced in courts of justice. And, in short, let it become the political religion of the nation; and let the old and the young, the rich and the poor, the grave and the gay, of all sexes and tongues, and colors and conditions, sacrifice unceasingly upon its altars.”

It is our common history. The founding documents transcend politics. As we celebrate Independence Day, let’s use their example to guide us in the direction of common sense.