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 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.