Sunday, March 28, 2010

FWCS can't be fixed

If events over the last year or two haven't convinced you that FWCS is going down the same path as every other urban school district, you can read it into today's Karen Frisco's JG editorial. Karen laments all the failed reforms that have been attempted like vouchers, charter schools, accountability testing, ending social promotion, NCLB, etc. She even faults Bill and Melinda Gates for spending their billions trying to fix urban schools. Somehow that's undemocratic because it takes away the power of democratically elected school boards. As if these idiots (Mark Twain's observation) know better than Bill and Melinda. Stop wasting your money guys and just let taxpayers keep wasting their money.

Notice that nobody, including Karen and especially our school district, ever comes straight out and admits that urban public education doesn't work, can't be fixed and inevitably ends up in suburban flight. So there's no point in criticising or trying to push the schools into doing anything different. And we could accept that if they weren't spending half our state tax money and patting themselves on the back with one hand at board meetings while they're picking our pockets with the other. If we could be sure that FWCS wouldn't go out with a $2 billion dollar building flame out like Kansas City, we could just ignore them and let nature take its course. Better just to leave them alone, if they would leave our pocketbooks alone.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Elmhurst students to see "Magic" of failing schools

Last night the board OK'd the closing of Elmhurst and Pleasant Center schools. The decision to close them was actually made four years ago by Wendy's Yellow Ribbon Task Force. Elmhurst was only taken off the table to minimize signatures on blue petitions in the remonstrance. Pleasant Center would already be closed if the bond issue had succeeded. Nothing anyone said in the recent public meetings to keep the schools open would have made any difference. People just got to vent but if they believed anyone on the board was listening with an open mind they were sadly mistaken. Actually either school could have been closed at any time after FWCS lost the petition drive, saving the taxpayers $2 million/yr. But the budget cuts gave her the political cover she needed to actually proceed. Fiscal responsibility hinges on having a good story tell angry parents.

The district will lose 91 teaching positions as well because the teachers union was unwilling to make any salary or health benefit concessions (concessions the rest of us have had to make in the recession) that would have saved fellow teachers' jobs. Retirements and turnover may reduce actual layoffs but that won't help kids in the classrooms.

Contrary to the bluster from Wendy and a board president who talked about the same "Magic" in the three "LEAD" schools as at Elmhurst, this district is in deep trouble. If you want to get another perspective on their situation read retired FWCS teacher Anne Rickert's guest column in yesterday's Sentinel. Her assessment is right on the money.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Worse than being waterboarded.

OK, I've never been waterboarded but it can't be any worse that sitting through the FWCS public hearing on closing Elmhurst and Pleasant Center at the Grile Center last night. Admittedly the board had to listen to some inane questions and comments but the pontification they gave in their responses was almost unbearable. Like GiaQuinta and Corona explaining why they sent their kids to private school. Hey guys, I would have done the same thing if I were in your shoes but I wouldn't sit up there and bullshit my way around it like you did.

After Elmhurst closes there will be three failing public high schools south of Coliseum Boulevard. Academically they are in the bottom 5% of the high schools in the state. Wayne is ranked close to the high school in the Marion County jail (Corona's former Gary high school is worse that that.) Their teachers and administrators are being forced through a ritual of reapplying for their jobs and musical chairs to keep the state off their backs for another year or two. That won't improve anything. Those teachers are no different than the ones in the the other schools in the district.

Wendy's strategy for turning this around is to first remove the stigma of losers by calling them "LEAD" schools. Then to fix them with Freshmen Academies, "High School Reinvent" and best of all the "Balanced Scorecard". That's not going to fix them for the reason Wendy inadvertently gave last night. The middle class parents have deserted the south side of town. They will eventually desert the area north of Coliseum.

Hopefully the State will come in and take the South half of the system away from Wendy and her clueless puppets and turn it into a charter system. They've cost us the right to local control.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

No concessions from FWEA. And you thought it was about the kids.

The tentative teachers contract contains no salary concession and retains pay increases by seniority. FWEA representative Steve Brace said any sacrifice should "not be made on the backs of teachers. This is a community problem".

That's right Steve, the sacrifice will be made on the backs of the taxpayers and the kids. And the younger teachers who will be laid off first. Sounds like Ron Gettlefinger of the UAW talking. Why don't you guys just drop that FW"Education"A charade and have the UAW negotiate for you. Then FWCS and the Big Three can go out of business together. Kansas City, Detroit, Fort Wayne here we come.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Time for a charter high school

Thursday night parents from Elmhurst will get another shot at talking to Wendy's brick wall at the Grile Center. With limited seating capacity in the board room, Wendy has at least limited the number of people who can get in and vent their frustration. You can't fault parents if they don't like the options facing their kids if Elmhurst closes. Wayne, with a 35% passing rate on the ISTEP is an academic disaster. South Side and North Side with passing rates around 45% are "LEAD" schools with virtually no chance of improving. Why should they be happy about sending their kids to South Side when school board president Mark GiaQuinta and their District 1 school board representative Steve Corona decided it wasn't good enough for their kids?

But the parents should consider that if Elmhurst stays open it will still be run and staffed from Clinton Street by an inept administration overseen by an incompetent board. FWCS has clearly shown a lack of imagination and flexibility. They're unable to adapt to the realities of their demographics and in all probability will continue to short change Elmhurst as the system's stepchild high school.

In the long run parents would be better off to organize with the goal of establishing a charter high school in the Southwest part of the district. Whether that school should occupy the existing Elmhurst building is an open question. It's an old building but still quite suitable. The reports about its deterioration were greatly exaggerated to justify closing it three years ago . Although not air conditioned, the building is still viable. Saving the building would save FWCS the demolition costs ($500,000 if I remember right from the bond issue) and provide a return from either a sale or a rental to the charter organization.

It may take some time to get the enrollment up to capacity but considering the alternatives south of Coliseum boulevard there is little doubt it could be done. With guidance from the city's existing charter school organization, a determined group of parents could make it happen. They've offered to work with the administration to find a way to keep it open, but if that doesn't work, cut the cord.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Like talking to a yawning brick wall

Like District 1 board member Steve Corona, the one who represents the interest of Elmhurst, I skipped the public hearing at Elmhurst last night. It sounded like most of the appeals were emotional, which will hold no sway with Wendy or the board. A parent might have said he didn't want his kids to go to Wayne because it's one of the twenty worst high schools in the state or to South Side, because it wasn't good enough for GiaQuinta's or Corona's kids. But there's no use getting pissed at Wendy, because she's still pissed that she didn't get to close the school three years ago. Corona was going to let her close it then but the board took it off the table because they thought it would make it easier to pass the bond issue. And besides that she has a five year no cut contract thanks to the brick wall you were talking to last night, a brick wall she and the teachers' union built.

You might have made some suggestions to cut costs. Why do they need four assistant principals, or half a dozen guidance counselors, or conflict mediators or teaching coaches, or armed police officers in a school with 900 kids.? How about dropping football (they don't have football at Canterbury do they?) or other sports or extra curricular activities. You might have even suggested a modest bond issue to fix what's really broken in the building (and it's not the foundation, the roof or the boilers). Sorry guys, but you're going to have to do better than you did last night, if you want to buy some time for your school.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

JG should blame Becky Hill instead of Imagine Master

Now Karen Frisco is blaming Imagine Academy for FWCS financial problems. It seems Imagine rents the Wells Street campus from a for profit company using taxpayer money which Wendy then can't get her hands on. I didn't know that taxpayer money going to any for profit company was a problem but apparently in this case it is because Wendy, Karen and the JG are pissed at Don Willis.

Now, charter schools are not given money for buildings. Unlike FWCS, for example, they can't propose building a "Steve Corona High Tech Career Center" (see the details on the failed FWCS bond issue) and float a $35 million bond paid back with interest by the taxpayers. A charter school has to buy a building, like the former Wells Street YWCA, on the cheap and then spend a few million to make it suitable for a school, like Imagine Academy. The only way they have to recoup that money is with a lease back arrangement, like Imagine is using. Its no different than FWCS leasing a fleet of cars instead of buying them. If it's cheaper that way to get cars or buildings or anything else for that matter, that's the way FWCS should do it. If the overall cost to the taxpayers of an equivalent education at Imagine is less than at FWCS, and I believe it is, then what's the problem Karen?

And how, you might ask, did Imagine get that lovely campus on Wells Street? They got it thanks to school board member Becky Hill. That campus was formerly the YWCA, nurtured and supported by many prominent Fort Wayne citizens, and (mis)managed into insolvency by Becky Hill. She tried to get Wendy, who said she needed it to hold the "overflow" at the Grile Center to buy it, but the board said no. So Willis bought it and made it into a charter school. Then two years later Becky pops up as a school board candidate and gets elected with money from the teachers union and the endorsement of the JG. Someone who can't manage a YWCA is now voting on a $300 annual school budget. Is that an inspiring story or what?

But you didn't hear that from Karen Frisco.