Board agenda tonight and Coffee with the Superintendent (not tonight)

For the Coffee with the Superintendent – from the Champaign County Chamber of Commerce:

http://champaigncounty.org/events/eventdetail.aspx?EventID=853


Date: 9/30/2014
Time: 8:00 AM TO 9:00 AM

Champaign County Chamber of Commerce
303 W. Kirby Ave.
Champaign, IL 61820

Event Description:
The Champaign Unit 4 School Board recently voted to ask voters for $149 million to remodel Centennial High School and build a new Central High School. As part of our efforts to provide the most up-to-date information to our members about issues in the community, the Champaign County Chamber of Commerce is hosting a coffee with Unit 4 School Superintendent Judy Wiegand. This is your chance to have your questions about building a new Central High School and remodeling Centennial High School answered.

This event is complimentary to all Chamber members.

Please contact Caryn Isenhower at caryni@champaigncounty.org or call 217.359.1791 to register.


 

I mention this because I had a great (but brief) email chat with President & CEO Laura Weis; I was very impressed with the approach the Chamber is taking towards collecting data/information about the upcoming November referendum and their strident desire to listen to the concerns of Chamber members. If you are a Chamber member, I encourage you to take advantage of this opportunity.

 

Slightly interesting round up of topics for tonight’s board meeting – under New Topics:
A. Enterprise Zone Recertification: Tom Lockman
B. Presentation of Tentative FY15 Budget: Matt Foster
C. Administrator & Teacher Salaries Reporting: Ken Kleber
D. April 2015 School Board Election – Calendar of Events: Tom Lockman
E. Master Facility Plan: Matt Foster

 

Only item #C has an attachment, and about 15 pages to flip through. I recompiled the attachment into a one-sheet spreadsheet which is much more friendly. I’ll post that tomorrow.

 

This morning I seent a note to the board and administration about item #A – from what I have read and researched of Enterprise Zones and Tax Increment Financining, there is an absurd lack of accountability in these programs. Even the US Government’s own Office of Accountability is unable to conclude if these programs are truly effective at spurring growth (http://www.gao.gov/assets/100/96577.pdf). My email urged the board and administration to be very careful and if they decide to move forward with this partnership, to do so with the insistence on proof of economic growth, and with a long (20-year) view in mind.

 

I have looked over the budget (item #B) from previous board meetings, and I am still trying to wrap my head around it. Mr. Foster suggested I read “Essentials of School Finance“, which I am trying to work my way through. In the back of my mind, I still wonder how we are going to work in the CFT-negotiated salaries from last year, not to mention the “in kind” administrator raises. I am also trying to understand our Debt obligation – the most recent FAQ mentions the Debt Service and how the district can sustain a bit more debt with no worries. But…. is that wise? I just do not yet grasp the bigger picture in this context.

 

I don’t have my spreadsheet in front of me (#C), but I believe the average teacher salary was about $47k and the average administrator salary was about $85k. Plus, I was surprised to see that we have over 20 “Assistant Principals”, but only 18 schools (counting IP and Novak).

 

Who is running for the board in April? (#D) 🙂

 

For #E, I am looking to see if the Master Facility Plan has changed much from the last time they presented it (July 28th). Strange that they did not put it (the new one) up on boarddocs by now.

 

In the Consent Agenda, one and only one item. 🙂 David Hohman has attached a zip file with an Application for Recognition – for all elementary schools. Two apparently do not have paraprofessionals, but that was the only difference I could find. Not sure what that means, either.

 

UPDATE: Here is the spreadsheet of salaries:

2014 EIS Salary Benefits Report 09-16-14

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More fact questing/checking

Sent the following questions to Matt Foster – poor guy. 🙂

 

  1. Current average number of students bussed daily?
  2. Current average number of buses in operation daily?
  3. In the budget presentation given by Mr. Foster, I see each fund has an estimated value from July 1, 2013 with a footnote. Why an estimate since it was September when the presentation was made, and what does the footnote say?
  4. The Highlight page says expenditures for Transportation was down. However page 23 shows $4.1 million on all expenditures, and the actual expenditure from 2012 was $4.0 million. How is that going down? Also, page 24 shows $4.8 million – where is that coming from?
  5. When “local sources” is listed in each fund, what exactly are those local sources? I assume property taxes, but perhaps there are other sources? The Sales Tax feeds only into the O&M fund? It would help to have a slide on the overall picture, ie, how much money comes in altogether and which fund it goes to and where it comes from, maybe in both a table format and a pie graph as you have for the individual funds.
  6. Curious why the Tort fund has $1.1 million surplus; we don’t see any of the historical information for this fund like we do the others.
  7. More interested in the Ed Fund, since that is by far the largest expense. Would love to see a more granular breakdown of where money goes. Slide 12 shows “Instructional” expenditures which totals very close to $60 million and are separate from Administrative “support” and staff, but slide 13 shows a little over $60 million for all salaries. How much is teacher vs admin vs staff vs subs?
  8. I have an idea, but would like to hear in your own words; what is the purpose of sharing the proposed budget via this presentation?
  9.  When I was told that Unit 4 did not intend to include any more details on teacher salaries augmented with step/lane information that I had requested earlier, I am curious why. Is there a law that prohibits sharing that information?
Pattsi reminded me about “participatory budgeting.” I think it is a fascinating idea, but I have a hard suggesting to Unit 4 how they should do it. One board member I talked to is intrigued by the concept but thinks it is extremely impractical. Especially now when they are all going crazy with long meetings and phone calls. 🙂 I want to keep this idea open, and to do so I really need concreate, actionable ideas.
In the meantime, I am participating by asking my questions and blogging about it.

On the quest for facts (context: CFT contract negotiations)

I am sharing out some of the documents I have received from both Unit 4 and CFT.

From CFT

  • The Members’ Perspective: This document forms the basis of the now-infamous chart from a previous blog post, “Ongoing saga“. True to the title, it also provides some perspectives and concessions on behalf of the members of the CFT
  • Champaign parents want you to know: A new document making the rounds as of Saturday; a flyer presenting a couple more (not new) viewpoints from the CFT and encouraging readers to “help us prevent a strike” and contact board members
  • CFT Responses: a word doc of an email from CFT President Cathy Mannen that responds to several of my questions

From Unit 4

  • Salary Schedule Explanation for Unit 4 Salary Schedules for 2013 and 2014 Proposed: an excel spreadsheet that shows last year’s salary schedule and the proposed salary schedule, with two examples of hypothetical teachers to help explain what the changes mean on Sheet 1. I added some rough analysis on Sheets 2 and 3 to show how Steps and Lanes change by percentage (again, that is stuff I added, not original to the document I received).
  • In regards to the 2012 teacher salaries, I asked that the report be augmented with Step and Lane information. Unit 4 responded by saying that they have supplied all the information they intend to. Which I took to be cryptic lawyer-speak for “no”.

Some other facts that bear repeating. Unit 4 holds that the $24 million in question is actually divided evenly between two funds; one is the Working Cash Bond fund and the other is a “rainy day/safety net” cash fund.

The Working Cash Fund is specifically for Operations, Maintenance and Capital Projects. The Education fund is for paying out money to teachers (among other things, but the teacher portion is by far the largest). While 105 ILCS 5/10-22.33 does provide for the option to transfer funds from the Operational Fund to the Education Fund, those loans must be paid back. In effect, the district cannot transfer money from the working cash bond fund to the education fund for the purposes of paying any kind of raise (since the money would effectively not be paid back to the working cash bond).

From talking with various board members, I have come to understand that the $12 million “rainy day” cash fund has slowly been built up over the years. During a Saturday afternoon phone call with Scott MacAdam, I further learned that this reserve cash also makes it possible to secure loans at lower interest rates, and if that reserve were to be diminished we would suffer from higher interest rate loans. I did not ask what the thresholds are (probably should have).

Also to come out of talks with board members is that the BOE offer of a 1.7% Step/Lane increase + 1.3 COLA will cost a little over $1 million over a three-year period (if I remember what I was told correctly). Apparently, the BOE is prepared to dip into the rainy day fund and shave off about 10% to help meet the requests of the CFT, in exchange for that three-year contract.  On the other hand, the CFT is saying that their request (3.65% COLA and 1.57% Step/Lane) would require less than 5% of $24 million, or by extension, less than 10% of the $12 million, over a one-year period.

It is probably important to mention that the contract negotiations are not solely about money and raises. I have been reminded many times by many folks (thanks, readers! *grin*) that among both the contested and the concession sections of the contract are topics like language nuances, expectations for related duties, etc, all of which are important and have quite a significance to the teachers.

To round off the “facts” I have so far, I have also requested (of both Unit 4 and the CFT) a historical snapshot of salaries that aggregates by total salary, COLA, Step and Lane raises. I am a little concerned by the “partial truths” I hear from each side. However, I made that request on Saturday, so I do not expect any kind of quick turn-around, given all the other activity going on. I have also requested, via Scott MacAdam, an analysis of how salary adjustments can effect the cash reserve for the next few years (holding still certain variables like property taxes, pension law, etc etc).

For some further opinions on this matter…..

There is a lot of drama and passionate feelings on both sides. I do not want to dive into that; dealing with the emotions, perceptions, agendas and politicking is not my cup of tea. I will say that they are very real for a lot of people. Yes, of course I have my own emotional response (essentially, RUN AWAY!! *grin*), but from where I sit, it seems like the emotions are adding an additional weight that is preventing, or at the very least obscuring, meaningful progress.

Obviously, nobody wants a teacher strike. Equally obvious (I hope), the individual board members do not hate on the teachers (I mean, think about it, that would be rather self-defeating, wouldn’t it?).

Here is what I hope to see happen at the big negotiator-less negotiation bash on Monday night; that both the BOE and the CFT work on cementing a positive relationship which basically says “Hey, we realize we do not see eye to eye on everything, but let’s do the best we can now and start planning, now, for how to do this better next time.” It bothers me that CFT negotiations are starting to become a procrastinated annual brouhaha that eats up many resources and time, like a mad dash at the end of a long race. And divides the community (which is poisonous). Hiring a negotiator is like having mom or dad referee who gets to go on the swing first. And, let us not forget that the other union (CESP) apparently has no major, earth-shattering issues during their negotiations. I realize that is a totally different ballgame, but there are similarities and I wonder where the differences lie. No matter how Monday ends, no matter if we do or do not have a strike in the next few weeks, I challenge Unit 4 and the CFT to work it out so we are not doing this whole thing all over again next year.

One last thing; I realize the budget is tight and more significantly, not well understood by most people. What would it take for the school district owners (you and I, the voters and tax-payers) to better understand how money comes in and goes out of their school district budget? Why is it that the one and only place to provide a raise for teachers is from the reserve cash balance?

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).

Agenda for the Sept 24th Board Meeting is up

I happened to notice that the next Board Meeting (Sept 24th) has been posted on BoardDocs. A few interesting things on the agenda, other than the Public Hearing on the Budget – here is the list for “New Business”:

A. Superintendent Book Study Report: Dr. Judy Wiegand/Lisa Monda-Amaya/A.J. Welton
B. High School Options/Facilities Update: Dr. Judy Wiegand
C. Summer Youth Employment Program (SYEP): Orlando Thomas
D. School Board Election – Calendar of Events: Sue Grey
E. Salary and Benefit Information for Administrators: Ken Kleber

Only B and E have attachments (so far). The High School update includes the addition of a new site under consideration; “this site is Atkins Mattis Avenue, located in the northwest area of Champaign”. Hmm… anything to do with the MAC? =) Didn’t see that one coming, did we?

For those that like to Read the rest of this entry »