Tuesday, March 29, 2011

"Cash strapped" dismal district votes $355K for PR consultant

Last night the board voted to let Wendy spend $355,000 for a Virginia "communications consultant". According to the Sentinel's Sarah Janssen, the company will first evaluate the effectiveness of the district's current surveys. Say what? Mark GiaQuinta said the contract related to the importance of board's number 2 goal, "engage the community". He didn't explain how that squared with their other goal "fiscal responsibility', which is apparently much farther down their list. This isn't quite as bad as the $450K of taxpayer money they pissed away on Schmidt & Associates to do a sales job on taxpayers for their failed $500mm bond issue. Although $50K of that did go to a friendly city councilman to benefit the local economy (and him). Make no mistake. This money is being spent to do a better sales job on us "stakeholders" the next time.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Here we go again

Kathy Friend and Krista Stockman were on WBOI today parroting the company line about the dire and dismal buildings. Kathy lamented the loss of money in the capital fund because of the tax caps. She failed to mention that most of the hit to the fund has been to pay for the failed "racial balance" program, which is Wendy's sacred cow. They haven't learned that transparency and honesty might be the best way to approach this issue. They still think spin works better.

Then Krista chimes in and says we need air conditioning because more of the kids come from air conditioned homes and can't adjust to non air conditioned schools. What I see in the statistics is more kids in FWCS on free lunch, living in poverty and homelessness every year. But at the same time more of them have air conditioning? Come on . They think we're idiots.

This is going to end up as a ballot referendum. Taxpayers will vote their pocketbooks. If FWCS overshoots the acceptable number they will get nothing, just like last time.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Let's try this again

Writing a blog the other day after reading Sarah Janssen's article about Wendy sobbing about her "dismal" buildings, was not a good idea. Better to try be objective.

Twenty or so years ago the district agreed to spend additional money for a "racial balance" fund to improve the educational fortunes of the district's black kids. That spending had to be "tax neutral" (no property tax increase) so they took it from the capital fund which was used to fix, upgrade, remodel the buildings. Over the years roughly $150 MM was diverted from the buildings about 2/3 of it to hire more teachers. The results were predictable. The buildings suffered, although it's hard to say how much, and the money did nothing to lower the achievement gap.

Four years ago the district tried to get $500 MM do "fix" the building. Why $500 MM you ask? Well why not? "This is not a wish list". Pick a number and as long as you have a pretense maybe taxpayers will fall for it. Well they didn't, Wendy got nothing and the buildings are still (supposedly) a problem. We'll just have to take their and Karen Frisco's word for that word for it. So now, in the new age of ballot referendums (instead of remonstrances) a housing collapse and enormous government debt they're revisiting the topic.

I have no clue what they're going to ask for. Whatever it is, the problem will resurface again as long as money is being diverted from capital projects to keep more teachers employed for "racial balance". I don't necessarily have a problem with the extra teachers even though they have totally failed in their original objective. But what they're doing is not "tax neutral". Sooner or later we will get another tab for building repairs. If you want to keep those teachers, then ask for that on another referendum like SAC did. And when you do that let's air out the "racial balance" issue. That discussion is long overdue.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Stanford U says Indiana charters better than government schools

The Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) at Stanford University just released a comparison of academic performance for Indiana charter schools versus traditional government schools. The statistical comparison concluded that in Indiana, charter schools performed "dramatically" better than traditional schools. In reading all the charters but two were better, while in math all were better.

The comparisons were presented in terms of standard deviations, a statistical comparison which makes it hard to translate the data to differences in actual passing rates. This is the same measure CREDO used to do a national comparison, which called charter performance a mixed bag. But the national study, which did not include Indiana, was used by the JG's Karen Frisco to discredit charters schools across the board. We will, no doubt, see a follow up from Ms. Frisco, now that we have the Indiana data.

Charter schools are obviously not a panacea, but can be a viable option to failing government schools, depending on circumstances. In Indiana, they provide a comparable or better education for less cost to the taxpayer. The challenge for the charter advocates is to close down the ones that don't work academically. That's something that doesn't happen at all in government schools, as the closing of Elmhurst vividly demonstrated here.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

I can't believe they (the NS) printed the whole thing

Thanks to the News Sentinel for printing my letter in its entirety. I can't say it's the best thing I ever wrote but at least it makes more sense than the abridged version that came out in the JG.

My biggest disappointment with the situation at FWCS is in the teachers. They know what they're doing isn't working but they don't want to change. They've unionized to prevent change. They can't afford to tell the public what's really going inside their classrooms, so they maintain a conspiracy of silence. They know the system will eventually look like Gary and Indianapolis but they seem to think by that time "I'll be gone, you'll be gone". They're probably right in that respect as long as they can keep strangling reforms.