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Words from the Sup't

Some 'cheese and whine' about school budget

March 16, 2011 - Cheese:

My youngest daughter's name is Chelsey. She's 13 years old, has medium length, brownish hair, which she wears in a pony tail (often off to the right side, opposite of her bangs). She likes basketball and works hard at school, which comes fairly easily to her. She can entertain herself for hours on the computer, with toys and games (last week, she folded hundreds of paper boats for a class project), and she is quiet, yet confident. Her former basketball coach calls her Cheese, another coach calls her Rock, her older sister's friends call her Little Rock, and I call her Fired Up. I love her very much and feel blessed to know her.

The other day, after basketball practice (AAU), she was tired and frustrated. I asked her if she wanted to not play anymore, with so much going on in her life (e.g., band, church, school, family time). She said, "Once I start something, I don't quit."


The State Board of Education recently moved to change the passing scores of the Michigan Educational Assessment Program (MEAP, given in grades 3-9) and Michigan Merit Exam (MME, given in grade 11 and including the ACT) (http://www.mlive.com/news/grand-rapids/index.ssf/2011/02/state_board_approves_plan_to_b.html). The Board made this recommendation due to a study that shows that many of Michigan's high school graduates aren't college ready (e.g., hit certain targets on the ACT, which correlate with grades in college classes – http://www.act.org/news/data/10/benchmarks.html#benchmark).

Currently, about 95% of Michigan's third grade students score at the highest level on the MEAP math test and about 90% of Michigan's third grade students score at the highest level on the MEAP reading test (http://www.michigan.gov/mde/0,1607,7-140-22709_31168_40135---,00.html). If the proposed changes go into effect (the legislature must approve the State Board's recommendation), it is predicted that about 30% of Michigan's fourth grade students will perform at the highest levels in math and reading. This is a one-year reduction of 60%.

Without question, college readiness and academic achievement are vitally important. In fact, we're currently conducting our own investigation to find out the percentage of Clarkston graduates who start and complete college. My hypothesis is that college completion has as much to do with perseverance, goals, and hard work as it does with ACT scores. Further, Clarkston has very high standards for our students and we expect each of them not only to do well in school but to succeed in college – we're building leaders. Anything less is unacceptable.

The issue is that MEAP and MME scores determine a school and a school district's Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) status, which in turn determine a school's accreditation. If a school or district does not make consistent improvement from year to year, the school and district face consequences (http://www.michigan.gov/mde/0,1607,7-140-22709_22875---,00.html). Not only does the AYP equation include the achievement of all students in a grade level, it also is broken down according to subgroups, including gender, socioeconomic status, English language proficiency, special education, race, ethnicity, graduation rate, and percentage of students tested. If a school or district does not make AYP within one of these subgroups, the school or district suffers consequences. If the school or district does not make AYP for two consecutive years or more, additional consequences follow (e.g., notifying the public, giving students the option of attending a school that does make AYP, replacing the principal, closing the school, at etc.).

It's clear that these measures were put in place for chronically failing schools. Each of us would argue that all students deserve an excellent education and that low achievement is unacceptable. Some of us might argue that a one-size-fits-all system that is punitive in nature is not in the best interest of all schools. Just like we need to differentiate teaching and assessing according to students' individual needs (Chelsey, Cheese, Rock, Little Rock, Fired Up), an accreditation system should also differentiate according to a school or district's needs.

When Kent County superintendents criticized these proposed scoring changes, Dr. Mike Flanagan, Michigan's State Superintendent of Instruction, stated, "As usual, they're whining."



Last month, Governor Snyder put forth a budget proposal that is painful for most governmental agencies, including municipalities, colleges and universities, the road commission, counties, retirees, and school districts. The Governor proposed to remove about $300 million from the school aid fund and give it to community colleges. This is clearly a questionable application of Proposal A as stated in Article 9, Section 11 of Michigan's Constitution. At the same time, the Governor's proposal includes $470 per pupil reduction for public schools. For Clarkston, this amounts to about $3.8 million ($470 * 8,200 students = $3,854,000).

In a previous Clarkston News column, I shared with you that Clarkston Community Schools, in order to balance our budget over the next two years, must reduce our expenditures by $6.3 million. This is a result of declining revenues from property taxes, special education funding, federal funding (ARRA), and state funding. Additionally, Clarkston Community Schools in 2009-2010 reduced spending by about $6.2 million (http://www/clarkston.k12.mi.us/education/components/scrapbook/default.php?sectiondetailid=36340).

This three year reduction, including the Governor's proposed reduction of $3.8 million, amounts to $16.3 million, which is almost $2,000 per pupil, 20% of our 2009-2010 revenue ($82 million), and drops us back below our 2002-2003 revenue ($68 million). To top it off, when a school district's fund balance drops below 10%, banks hesitate to loan district money, which is necessary in maintaining cash flow due to the State's gap in payments to school districts. Hence, school districts have to borrow money at a higher interest rate, which costs more money to pay back, further reducing available funds for teaching and learning. This is really a Catch-22. Clarkston's fund balance is expected to drop to approximately $7.1 million this year, which is 8.8% of our 2010-2011 budget.

Considering the Governor's proposed reductions and those required to balance our budget over the next two years ($3.8 million + $6.3 million = $10.1 million), Clarkston Community Schools would have to reduce our teaching staff by 155 teachers ($10.1 million / $65,000 per teacher = 155.38 teachers) to balance the budget. This amounts to 14 teachers per building (11 buildings – 7 elementary and 4 secondary).

Can you imagine the devastating effect of such cuts?


I've commented many times to you that we must move education forward. The world is changing fast – Watson won on Jeopardy, Egypt is in the process of a peaceful social revolution, China's middle class is growing every day, gas prices continue to rise, and our children must develop creative minds to compete in a global society.

When we think about Egypt and China, we think about numbers, voices on the radio, or faces on television. We do not know these people by name, what they care about, how they're smart, their hopes or dreams for the future, the state of their health, or the kindness in their hearts.

Similarly, when our State Department of Education thinks about raising passing scores on tests and our Governor proposes huge reductions in educational funding, they do not consider our children by name, what they care about, how they're smart, their hopes or dreams for the future, the state of their health, or the kindness in their hearts. They don't know Chelsey (Cheese, Rock, Little Rock, or Fired Up), how she wears her hair, what she likes or dislikes, how she learns, the names of her friends, how she spends her time, or that she won't quit – no matter how hard it is. Instead, they refer to us as whiners when we mention the names of our children, suggest the impact of arbitrarily changing passing scores on tests that determine punishments for schools, or talk about the effects on children of a reduction of 155 teachers – can you imagine?

Does it make sense to you to substantially cut funding for schools as the world evolves and other countries invest in their children's future? Can Clarkston Community Schools delay the purchase of computers, put off professionally learning for teachers, cut programs, lay off support staff, and increase class sizes? Is this the very best we can do for our kids? Is this what you want for your child – Chelsey, Cheese, Rock, Little Rock, or Fired Up?

As I listen to our State Representatives and Senators talk about the Governor's proposed budget, I hear them saying that this is a done deal. They say that everyone must share the pain and that such cuts will lead to creative solutions, consolidation, and sharing across districts. No where in their comments do I hear them talk about investing in our children's future.

Yes, we can improve our efficiency, and we're working to do so. Yes, we can share services with other school districts, and we are working to do so (we already share our Building and Grounds Director with Lake Orion). Yes, we can reduce redundancy, and we're working to do so.

I feel for other agencies. I sense the pain of communities that must reduce fire and police services, the stress of the road commission as they struggle to deice the roads and fix potholes with fewer resources. I understand the stress felt by our colleagues at Oakland University as they contemplate another reduction from the state.

Yet, I'm a public school educator. I represent and advocate for 8,200 students, each of whom has a name, cares deeply about something, is uniquely smart, has dreams and hopes for the future, has health needs, and is kind hearted. I represent over 500 teachers, each of whom wants the very best for every student. I serve over 600 support personnel, each of whom plays a vital role in educating every child, every day.

Therefore, I implore my elected representatives to fight for the rights and the futures of each child we serve. Don't accept this. Don't tell me there's nothing we can do. Stand up. Shout. Clap your hands. Refuse to quit – no matter how hard it is. Nothing less will do.

So, if these numbers bother you and if you're as passionate as I am about creating the best educational experience for every Clarkston student, please contact your state Senator and Representative, every day, and let him or her know how you feel. Send a letter to our Governor, and let him know the name of your child or grandchild, what he/she cares about, how she/he's smart, his/her dreams or hopes for the future, the state of her/his health, and the kindness in his/her heart. Recommend an alternative, such as a fair reduction according to the amount of money a school district receives, a phased in reduction process, or taxes on services.

(Please follow this link to talking points from the Michigan PTA and the Tri-County Alliance: http://www.clarkston.k12.mi.us/education/components/scrapbook/default.php?sectiondetailid=36567&&PHPSESSID=3e19db69a93341706dd049cc3699322b)

No matter what happens with budgets and test scores, I'm deeply committed to moving education forward for every Clarkston child. I will not recommend or allow for the reduction of 155 teachers (this is not even plausible). I'm investing my time and energy in a strategic thinking and planning process focusing on the areas of buildings and grounds; teaching, learning and data; partnerships; and technology. Next month, I will report to you on our progress.

On Another Note:

I extend my congratulations to our boys' and girls' basketball teams, the Sashabaw Middle School Destination Imagination team, our bowling teams, our boys' swim team, our wrestlers, our hockey team, our ski teams, our cheerleaders, our dance teams, Team RUSH, the coaches and the volunteers on excellent achievements this winter. In every case, these students represent Clarkton with the utmost character and sportsmanship. Go Wolves!

As always, please contact me at rdrock@clarkston.k12.mi.us if you have questions, suggestions or feedback.

For Every Child Every Day,


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