Thursday, June 26, 2008

More USD 259 Deception


Today I happened to stumble across a nice little chart that is titled "2007 Mill Levy Comparison" on the USD 259 website. Looking at the chart, one would immediately surmise that the mill levy for Wichita Schools is lower than surrounding districts. In fact, the chart contains this little blurb "Adding 3.5 mills would still keep Wichita the lowest in the area".

Well how about that? Wichita has the lowest mill levy rate in the area! As you might expect, the USD 259 PR department isn't on the level. In fact, they are being purposely deceptive and their claim is patently false.

Lets take a look at three sets of numbers for local school districts...

+++++++++++Bonds++++Rec Com+++Total Mill Levy++++Total to Dist
Wichita ------5.88(9.38) ----0.00--------53.23 (56.73) --------53.23 (56.73)
Derby --------5.78------------6.89---------51.39------------------44.5
Valley Cen---14.96-----------4.42---------57.73------------------53.31
(not SG County)

A bit of explanation before we dive in: These numbers are from the Kansas Department of Education website from 2007. The "Bonds" column represents total mills to cover the cost of Bonds and Interest. The "Rec Dept" is the mill levy for local recreation departments. "Total Mill Levy" is all categories, including those not on this chart. The final category is the total amount that the school district actually receives.

Under Kansas law, cities or school districts can bear the responsibility for collecting the property tax for a local recreation commission. It is essentially a pass through and the schools districts do not keep those tax revenues. Why does it matter? It doesn't. However, if the USD 259 PR folks had not added the total irrelevant Recreation Commission numbers into their calculations, USD 259 would not show the lowest mill levy as they claimed.

In fact, Wichita is 8th of the 10 Sedgwick County districts, and would jump to 6th in overall mill levy with an additional 3.5 mills to cover the bond issue.

It's interesting that the 259 officials would bring up the Recreation Commission revenues. In the last column, I subtracted the Rec Com mills to get a figure of the mill levy amount that is actually going to the school district. Currently, Wichita ranks 6th of 10 school districts. With an additional 3.5 mills, 259 would jump up to 4th.

Here's the rub, besides the dishonesty of the 259 leadership in putting this together, the proposed school bond will drive the total mill levy in USD 259 higher than Maize. In real terms, USD 259 would even receive a higher mill levy than Andover Schools.

If the Wichita School Board is complaining about families moving out of the district now, wait until the raise the mill levy higher than the 'rich' districts while still not improving the 76% graduation rate.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Wichita School Board Abdicates

Few truly believed that the members of the USD 259 school board were ever, really, in charge of what has been happening in the district. Yet, the decision of the school board to publicly abdicate their responsibilities still comes as something of a surprise.

The story in Sunday's Wichita Eagle seems to indicate that CARE will be making the decisions regarding the size and shape of the bond plan.

Citizens Alliance for Responsible Education (CARE), a group of volunteers who support the bond issue, will hold a series of public forums in coming weeks to gather input from voters.

The hope, said co-coordinator Sarah Olson, is "to engage the community, and also to find out what people's concerns are."

"Depending on what the community tells us... we may have to reformulate (the plan)," she said.

Really? Sarah Olson and CARE are going to reformulate the plan? I don't recall seeing Sarah Olson's name on a ballot.

Joe Johnson, senior vice president for Schaefer Johnson Cox Frey, said it's too early to say whether the bond proposal will change because it may have strong support now.

But "it never hurts to get public input," he said. "And if there are compelling reasons (to reduce the bond), then CARE needs to take a look at that, and they will."

CARE leaders plan to collect feedback from the forums, as well as from a recent telephone survey, and present recommendations to the school board July 28. The board would have to vote by mid-August to put the issue on the Nov. 4 ballot.

After the decidedly negative public response to having a $350 million shoved down our collective throats, it's nice that we have permission from Joe Johnson to give public input, as opposed to the 79 hand selected members of the 'advisory group'. But there is still hope that the public will rise up and demand higher taxes and a $350 million bond plan.

Interim superintendent Martin Libhart hopes the upcoming public forums -- one for each quadrant of the district -- will show rousing support for the bond issue plan.

Then again with a headline like this "Low turnout for bond issue meeting" and fewer than 40 attendees at the first public meeting, mostly CARE members and USD259 employees, it seems unlikely.

Friday, June 13, 2008

The Wisdom of Betty Arnold

Wichita School Board Member Betty Arnold should be saluted for her clear statement on what she sees as a lack of clear goals in the evaluation process of a former assistant principal.

Board member Betty Arnold said her main concern was what she saw as "a lack of objective, measurable goals" in the evaluation process.

"You need to have goals in place that you can quantify, that are not subjective," she said. "That did not seem to be the case here, and that's a problem."

It sounds like Betty "gets it". To measure success, there must be some clearly defined goal, and a way to measure progress towards that goal.

For instance, a goal for the district could be something like "reduce the drop out rate from 24% to 10% within the next five years," or "improve the pass rate of 10th grade students on state math tests from 42% to 60% by 2012."

Let's take a peek at the USD 259 Strategic Plan:

1. We will deliver an aligned curriculum based on challenging standards, measure achievement, and ensure all students meet the standards.

2.We will recruit, develop, support and retain a high-quality, diverse teaching, administrative and support staff to improve staff performance and enhance student achievement.

3. We will provide educational programs from pre-kindergarten through post-secondary that promote life-long learning to enhance the quality of life for all students.

4. We will have safe, positive, disciplined and drug-free schools.

5. We will build and maintain strong relationships with parents, families, the community and businesses.

6. We will develop, implement and maintain a scheduled plan to upgrade district technology.

7. We will design and implement a plan that lifts the burden of desegregation from any one segment of our community, and removes the effects of racial isolation, and increases programs of choice.

8. We will upgrade and maintain district facilities to support and enhance student achievement.

9. We will ensure sound financial stewardship throughout the system.

10. District leadership will continuously evaluate the performance of the district in reaching district goals.

Well, do you thing the board is doing on meeting those goals?

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Wichita School Board - "Go Along to Get Along"

The Wichita Eagle caught my attention yesterday with this lead that bears a remarkable resemblance to honest debate and sound stewardship of district resources.

The Wichita school district doesn't need another highly paid administrator to oversee racial equity and accountability, a board member said Monday.

"I'm still not happy with the idea that we're creating a special position that we don't need," said board member Jeff Davis.

Sadly, my hopes for a school board member willing to make a real difference and stand up to the USD 259 bureaucracy were dashed in the very next paragraph...

His comments came during discussion of a proposed job description for the new director of equity and accountability, a job officials hope to advertise within the district later this month. Board members -- including Davis -- voted unanimously to create the position earlier this year.

Now let's see what 'Going Along to Get Along" get's us....

The Eagle goes on to explain how the district will budget $300,000 for a 'Director of Equity and Accountability". That's $100k for a DC consultant to work up a job description of what a 'Director of Equity and Accountability' would actually do. Then another $200k for the new director's salary, the salary of a clerical assistant, and office supplies.

Allegedly, a 'Director of Equity and Accountability' would oversee the district's transition away from busing for integration, analyze data, establish diversity goals and serve on committees dealing with school boundaries and student assignments.

Of course, we can't know for sure what the 'Director of Equity and Accountability' will be doing until the $100,000 consultant comes up with a job. It seems that with a Superintendent, Interim Superintendent, 5 Assistant Superintendents, 4 Chiefs, and an even dozen department Directors, that someone in USD 259 headquarters could either figure out what job entails, or do the job entirely.

The 'Executive Director of Quality Improvement Services' can't spare some time to serve on a committee? The 'Transportation Manager' and not one of his three assistants is capable of analyzing data? However, the 'Facilities Division Director' and 'Facilities Design and Construction Director' are probably too busy figuring out their own job descriptions to help with a new position.

At the end of the day, Kevass Harding summed things up as best he could:

Board member Kevass Harding said the new administrator should ease residents' concerns over the busing change.

"One of the concerns from the community was, 'OK, when we do this, are we going to go backwards?' That was their fear," Harding said. "That really enforced to me that there's a need to have a person that's going to deal with... this whole piece on diversity, on busing."

Wait a second! Isn't changing public perception the job of the 'Marketing and Communication Division Director'?