Letter to the Board

update: edited for better formatting (curse you WordPress!!)

Good evening,

I know each of you has been extremely busy with many different topics related to Unit 4; I thank you for serving on the board and fulfilling a much needed role.

I would like to take a moment and remind the three board members that were voted in during the April elections what you said you were going to do as a board member. The full list I culled together can be found here:
https://thecitizen4blog.wordpress.com/2013/04/13/another-look-at-the-school-board-candidates/

From that list, I would highlight a few things, especially as tensions rise around the topic of the CFT contract negotiations. The questions I ask below I ask out of respect and sincerity – I ask because I truly wish to learn.

Mr. MacAdam: You said you were committed to fiscal responsibility, especially given your background and experience with Busey Bank. One of your goals was to develop strategies so the school district can be financially sound. You also spoke about being transparent and speaking in public. What strategies have you developed in the past 6 months? How do you intend to communicate those strategies out to the community? How have your plans and efforts contributed to teachers feeling appreciated and valued?

Ms. Bonnett: Your campaign spoke significantly of engaging the community, earning trust, being transparent and having quality communications, among other things. I thank you that you have retained your facebook page as an effort to remind us of your goals and also to have an extra open door of communication. As the Board President, you are the voice of the Board. How have you striven to build, earn and keep trust and engender accountability with the community and among your colleagues on the board? How have you encouraged communication and aided community members in gathering and checking facts?

Ms. Stuckey: You have a goal specifically tailor for the CFT negotiations – one of your goals was to attempt to support budget talks with the CFT early in the process and to ease cooperation between the Board and the CFT. How did that go? You also spoke frequently of working to make sure that any budget cuts would have the least negative impact to children (or impacting the least number of children). You also spoke of motivating community members to get involved and (along with the other board members) board transparency. What work have you done to make sure children are impacted as little as possible? How much success has your efforts to increase community participation met with? Read the rest of this entry »

Ongoing saga of CFT contract negotiations

salaries_vs_cpi

I like graphs. I like information, facts and data. Unfortunately for me, it is hard to find hard data when I read through what the Board of Education (BOE) and the Champaign Federation of Teachers (CFT) are putting out in the public sphere in regards to the ongoing teacher contract negotiations.

According to a table generated by the CFT, teacher salaries have not kept up with the Consumer Price Index (CPI) since the 2nd half of 2005 (ie, the 2005-2006 school year). I do not yet have any figures that go back further – this is all I got.

You can download an excel spreadsheet I used to generate the graph by clicking on the graph above.

As noted by the recent press releases from both the BOE and the CFT (and also on the CFT Facebook page), there is significant confusion about what exactly a “raise” is. First there is the Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA); the BOE initially offered 0%, .5% and .5% for the next three years, but revised that to 1.3% each of the next three years, according to an informational session with the CFT (as shown in the graph). The BOE also offered 1.7% “step” raises (only for teachers with less than 22 years of experience) in their final offer which they perceive as further increasing the teacher’s salary for a total of 3% each year for three years (this information is NOT reflected in the graph above). The CFT is asking for a 3.65% base salary raise for one year, and a “step increase” (meaning that each teacher moves up one step).

Raise your hand if you are confused. Read the rest of this entry »

CFT negotiations

Both the CFT and the Unit 4 BOE have released their version of the story in regards to the ongoing contract negotiations as they attempt to get past yet another bottleneck. For your reading pleasure, here are the official releases:

Unit 4 BOE – Summary: http://www.champaignschools.org/news-room/article/6297

Unit 4 BOE 39-page monster: http://www.news-gazette.com/sites/all/files/pdf/2013/09/26/Champaign_school_district_proposal.pdf

CFT: http://www.news-gazette.com/sites/all/files/pdf/2013/09/26/CFT_contract_proposal.pdf

The first thing I noticed is what appears to be a glaring disparity between what the BOE said they offered (3%/year for 3 years) to the CFT in terms of Cost-of-Living Adjustments (COLA) and what the CFT said the BOE offered (1.3%/year for 3 years). Am I blind? Did I miss something obvious? Was it a misunderstanding?

The parents are making their voice heard in support of the CFT and the teachers in general. It is starting to look like it is the administration and the BOE on one side, and the CFT, teachers and parents on the other side. This division concerns me greatly! Specifically, as someone who has put in an application for a board member and helped another to run for the Board, it pains me to see the BOE lined up across the line from the parents. At least, this is the perception I have of how this is shaking out.

Having said that, I do have other issues with the offer the CFT has made public. For instance, I personally am very much against vague “Step increases” – I do not believe people should receive “longevity rewards.” I MUCH RATHER pay more money to a REALLY GOOD teacher who has only been teaching for two years than a REALLY BAD teacher who has been teaching for 30 years. And therein lies the core issue – how do you know if a teacher is really good or really bad? How do you get rid of a bad teacher once that determination has been made? And under the current system, how in the world do you reward a really good teacher? We could listen to Michelle Rhee’s suggestions for how to grade teacher performance, that is one possibility. There are a few others out there that sound very similar (ie, peer grading, student/parent grading, etc). That could use some more discussion. But as it is now, I do not like “Step increases” at all!

Another issue with the CFT public proposal; while acknowledging the many good things in the Unit 4 financial landscape (and using that to say Unit 4 would have no problem affording the proposed salary increases), the CFT has not accounted for the problematic future of less federal/state funding and pension reform. Perhaps even more significant, the CFT has not publicly identified how exactly the budget can be shuffled in order to accommodate their requests. It is almost like robbing Peter to pay Mary, except that in this case, we all know Mary and we have no idea who Peter is. Would the CFT propose cutting…. High School band? Special Ed? What goes on the chopping block to make room for higher teacher salaries? Oh, you say administrator salaries…. now that would be an interesting discussion….. But herein lies yet another root issue – who really understands the budget? On September 23rd there was a so-called “public hearing” on the 2014 budget. I did not see any discourse; no questions, no outrage, no encouragement, no real explanation. Yes, a bunch of slides, but it painted a very high-level picture and I got lost while trying to wrap my head around it. The public cannot possibly hope to suggest, with confidence, that the budget can or cannot be shuffled one dollar in or out simply because we just do not understand it. How much does the CFT really understand it? And if they do, maybe they can provide some alternative budgets.

This is not to say that the Unit 4 BOE proposal is without fault. The 39-page detailed offer is a double-edged sword, as it is extremely thick and intimidating while at the same time, very thorough and comprehensive. It is a totally different read from the CFT proposal. I do like that they offer a bevy of explanations and rationale. On the issue of teachers being limited to 20 minutes of non-instructional time, I felt that the Unit 4 BOE proposal was exceedingly over the top. $1.7 million for 22 so-called “aides” to help ensure a “safe and secure school environment” comes out to a whopping $79,800 per person!! Crikey! So, my take-away is that the district rather spend money on people who do police work rather than people who do education. Interesting….

CORRECTION: the $1.7 million is to be spread over three years, bringing the aide salary down to $26,600/year.

In regards to salary, the BOE is offering (they say) 3% raises for the next three years, totaling 9%. They estimate that this will cost $3.5 million. I do not really understand how this fits into the budget. We are told that times are tight, the future is uncertain, that the school districts needs a certain amount of money in reserve, etc. Where is the $3.5 million coming from? And why is the CFT painting a picture that the BOE is being stingy? I must have missed something.

Also, why is the CFT only wanting a one-year contract, and the BOE offering a three-year contract? Contract negotiation is painful and expensive – why would the CFT only want one year contracts? For that matter, do we really need them? I know, I am asking the stupid question here. But look, teachers are teaching and getting paid with no contract currently. What if we just didn’t have contracts?

In conclusion, I believe there are two core issues we all need to tackle:

  1. how to assess and reward or improve educators (including principals)
  2. how to understand the budget

These are two very big issues, and I fear that the BOE nor the CFT nor the expensive Mediators are going to help us progress on those topics at all. And thus, we are setting ourselves up for yet another repeat next Fall. Oh joy.

Times are changing. While there are many interesting aspects to the single-room schoolhouse of yesteryear (yestermillenium might be more accurate), we must adapt and change as does technology/pedagogy and most importantly, fight the unintended consequences of today’s corrosive norms (eg, “school to prison pipeline”, overly individualistic “American Dream” chasers, etc).

Around the district

Lot’s of significant things happening, of all stripes. Where to begin, where to begin…..

To start things off, it is interesting and noteworthy to observe how the district is reacting to various parental (and staff) concerns. However you feel about social media, at the very least it does deliver a certain perspective of opinion and thus information. For instance, notice the interactions reported by various individuals in these recent situations:

A Dangerous Prospect“: families and concerned Clark Park citizens discuss the obstacles and challenges about Prospect near John Street and South Side school. The latest post has some responses from Dr. Wiegand, and so far it is relatively well-received. More important (I think), the “ginormous” signs that popped up recently are sending a message (at least to some parents) that the district is listening and acting in some fashion.

Kenwood PTA: Likewise, the Kenwood PTA has raised some concerns about the status of their “balanced calendar” schedule when they are up for renovation and temporarily move to the Carrie Busey building on Kirby. My impression is that the floor has been opened for parent feedback (using tools like online and paper surveys) regarding what kind of schedule they want in the context of all the renovation being planned. So far, it seems like the Kenwood parents appreciate this gesture.

CP4T: Champaign Parents For Teachers: A new facebook page/group that desires to show teachers they are supported by parents and that the board takes them seriously. Apparently there will be some discussion tomorrow, a call for a show of support at the next board meeting (next Monday, the Town Hall meeting, 6pm, Mellon Center), and a hint that there may be an opportunity to interact with representatives of the Champaign Federation of Teachers (aka, CFT, “Teacher’s Union”) at some point in the near future. No official word from the district, yet.

Next up, I mentioned the Town Hall meeting next Monday. Did you all know the sites being considered? A map is posted on the futurefacilities website; if you zoom in, you will notice that only the Country Fair and the Clearlake sites are somewhat near the current major population density (I had not even heard of the latter – that must be recent?). I am asking that Chuck Jackson bring the two large-format GIS maps to the Town Hall meeting; I believe these maps, aside from being very tangible, give a great sense of scale and scope. The PDF on the U4 website is not very interactive, and in my opinion, the lack of detail and the ability to zoom in even more makes it harder for me to conceptualize the pros and cons of these sites.

 

I am particularly curious why parents support outlying sites. Yes, I understand the draw for “more land” for the school, which may translate into a more robust athletic offering. For me personally, I weight that against the significant costs of transportation (which we already struggle with). I also understand the argument for “more land” for future growth. I mean, we should have been thinking about the future 50 years ago, but at least we are thinking about it now. 🙂 Personally, I would rather us find a practical and valid plan that works for the next 20-30 years, one that does not include a $500+ million referendum (or two), and collaboratively plan out “future growth” with the City that may include a future high school later on.

Finally, on a totally different note, Stephanie Stuart recently gave us a couple pieces of “cool things” going on in U4 schools. One is the progress of the Industrial Technology class at Central (as showcased by a 15 second time-lapse video) and the other is a new focus at Kenwood called “Technology and Literacy for the Community.” The latter features the integration of eToys into the curriculum and the collaboration with the University of Illinois. I had a change to sit in on an eToys class last week, and I talked to Dr. Martin Wolske and Kerris Lee today about this program. On the surface, some people are really going to love the focus on computer programming and some are really going to hate it. I would suggest caution at forming a first impression, because there is so much more beneath the surface. According to Dr. Wolske, one of the implied goals is to bring community together to address and solve various problems. What I found very encouraging after talking to both men is that they have a passion to address “big issues” like poverty and illiteracy on a relatively small scale (Champaign) as a stepping stone to attacking it at a larger level (Chicago, other big cities, overseas). How? By giving kids an open platform for creativity, instilling employable skills (both the hard skills of logic and programming, and the softer skills of interpersonal relations and conflict resolution) and teaching kids not only how to read, but to talk, listen and write as well. Of course, there are pitfalls and obvious issues. For instance, we all know there is no silver bullet, no panacea that will address all the issues. When I was working with the kids on eToys, it was obvious to me that some kids really got it (I saw some VERY impressive graphic artists), and some kids really struggle with basic instructions. Parents will be the same way. I am not sure what to do with that.

Extension of Superintendent contract: email to the Board

Here is an email I just sent to the Board and Dr. Wiegand:

 

Good evening,

Meg Dickinson reported in today’s newspaper that there is an agenda item to extend the superintendent’s contract from 2016 to 2017.
I am including Dr. Wiegand on this email because I think she has done a fantastic job; I have mentioned this publicly and privately on several occasions. I have absolutely no doubts that she is deserving and that her performance has been stellar.
However, allow me to remind you of two previous contract extensions, also covered by the News Gazette:
Granted, Culver wasn’t Wiegand. Totally different ball game. But look at what the board members at the time said:
“With the election six weeks off, and three board seats up, this was the wrong time to extend his contract,” he said. “The incoming board has lost any control. … It kind of negates the whole point of an election to a certain extent.”
 
“The three board members voting against the contract extension did so because they don’t agree with having a contract extended beyond three years, not because of any dissatisfaction with the superintendent’s performance, they said.”

I urge you to hold off on voting in favor of this contract extension. Again, this has more to do with giving freshly voted-in board members (next month) a chance to have some say and not “locking them in”. There is time to extend the superintendent contract after April – no need to do it now.
Finally, I have the highest respect for Dr. Wiegand. I think she is doing an awesome job and I am personally very glad we have her leading the team. My message this evening has absolutely nothing to do with her role as superintendent.

Alves Schedule One

At long last, “Schedule One” has been recovered.

https://thecitizen4blog.files.wordpress.com/2012/03/alves-schedule-one.doc

For those that are wondering why this is noteworthy, I refer you back to a post about Michael Alves’ contract; I had asked to see the contract that Unit 4 has with Michael Alves, an educational consultant based out of Massachusetts. At the time, the meager contract that was “on file” (itself another enigma) referenced “Schedule One” but we had no idea what was detailed. Now we do. Sorta.

And frankly, I am not very impressed. Essentially, Alves collects money for “providing technical assistance” with various things, things that are not very clearly spelled out but left quite open. Even more confusing, we are charged an hourly rate of $100 for Mr. Alves and an hourly rate of $75 for his firm Alves Educational Consulting Group, Ltd (AECG)? To the shame of the previous administration, Unit 4 has sure been one heck of a golden egg laying goose for Alves. Time for the egg laying to stop.

chat with Dr. Wiegand: Dr. Alves, and top priorities

I had an excellent, succinct and very informative phone call with Dr. Wiegand this morning. I continue to be blown away how much different the current administration is then what it was a year ago. I am really excited about this transitional period that Unit 4 is in.

Caution: this is a blog, and I am merely a parent. Just because I write something here, it should not be construed as being authoritative or have any legal binding whatsoever. I am just commenting, observing and giving my perspective.

The premise of our call was to chat about Dr. Alves’ contract. Unit 4 does not have “Schedule One”. Or at least, they cannot locate it. This just blew my mind – I even told Dr. Wiegand I was speechless (funny how “speechless” is an oxymoron in this sense). I’ll let the obvious lay there for you to contemplate. *grin* She mentioned that she is talking directly with Dr. Alves to get “Schedule One” from him. I made it quite clear in my emails that I am asking about Alves’ contract as a way to ascertain what services he provides exactly so as to relocate those services to Champaign; Judy acknowledged this and stated that she and Sue Grey have similar thoughts, and they are considering a new RFP to go out, possibly even as soon as late Spring.

I also asked about Read the rest of this entry »