Wednesday, July 27, 2011

'Abysmal' conditions finally addressed in Charleston Head Start

Apparently, while our esteemed decision-makers in Columbia were trying to decide how much of our treasury should be offered to corporate interests in the form of tax breaks, and while our governor was doing her part by vetoing funding for public education, the littlest children of Charleston were attending "abysmal" Head Start facilities.

And the vote by Charleston's city leaders to spend the money necessary to resolve the problems was a contested vote: One voted no, and two weren't present.

Second verse, same as the first.

Some Charleston County children in Head Start programs will be moved this year from "abysmal" facilities into clean, safe spaces after the school board agreed on Tuesday to spend up to $1.1 million to make that happen.

The board agreed in a 6-1 vote to use some money from a capital fund for major maintenance projects and spend it on the construction needed to ready school buildings for Head Start students. Board member Elizabeth Kandrac voted against the majority, and board members Chris Collins and Elizabeth Moffly weren't present during the telephonic board meeting.

The decision to transfer those funds means other district projects will be affected, such as reducing the scope of a proposed retention pond at Wando High School and delaying the installation of temperature controls in all schools. The district had been anticipating receiving $3.9 million in start-up funds from Head Start to improve its facilities, but local officials recently learned they only would be receiving $600,000. That money wasn't enough to do all the needed work, which prompted Tuesday's action. Officials plan to document the total cost and ask Head Start for reimbursement later.

"It's very disappointing," said Lerah Lee, executive director of early childhood education. "We followed up and we worked with our (Head Start) program specialist to develop the start-up budget. ... We saw the horrible conditions, so we really felt strongly that they were going to follow through with providing the funds."

The school district earlier this year won a $6.5 million grant to serve about 1,000 3- to 5-year-olds through Head Start, a federal program that offers comprehensive education, health, nutrition and parental involvement services to low-income children and their families. An interim group had been administering those services because the previous agency doing so misspent federal funds.

The previous group overseeing Head Start had been leasing spaces at more than a dozen sites in the county, and Charleston school leaders decided to review the physical conditions of each center.

They said the results were shocking. They found classrooms that didn't have emergency exits, bathrooms with multiple toilets and no partitions, and a building with a leaky roof, broken air conditioner and serious mold problems.

Chief Financial and Operations Officer Mike Bobby as well as Chief Operations Officer Bill Lewis used the word "abysmal" to describe some of the spaces.

"We discovered a lot of things that were not as they should be in terms of the standards for cleanliness and safety," said Superintendent Nancy McGinley. "This is really an improvement over the environment that previously existed for these youngsters."

The district plans to use only three of those leased sites next year. The majority of Head Start programs will be in district schools, which officials said will lower per-pupil costs at under-used schools and go a long way toward meeting the grant's requirement to contribute $1.7 million in in-kind services annually.

McGinley said it also will give families a chance to see the quality programs being offered in local schools and potentially boost their future enrollment.

And we wonder how we got to where we are.

Do you know an educator like this one?

This item was published last month in the Washington Post about a young principal who is leaving his job -- even leaving his profession -- and talking about why. It's significant not because what he says is outlandish, but because he's saying it.

Most people who leave a toxic environment don't talk about their reasons for fear of reprisals, or to avoid the accusations of sour grapes, or out of a genuine sense of disappointment. That helps no one, because the roots of the environment's toxicity remain unchecked.

By all accounts, this principal was a good one. Clearly, his principles were right. So, when a school leader like this one leaves because of conditions over which he has no control, what stops his successor from suffering the same conditions?

Bill Kerlina won a plum assignment when he was hired away from Montgomery County in July 2009 to become a principal in Northwest Washington. Phoebe Hearst Elementary was a small, high-performing school, right across the street from Sidwell Friends.

He grew to love its students, teachers and — for the most part — its parents. “If I could lift that school up and put it in a functional school system, it would be perfect,” he said. Instead, he said, the dysfunction he encountered in D.C. public schools led him to quit this month, fed up and burned out.

Principals in the District and other cities leave all the time, for a range of reasons. At least 20 of the District’s 123 public schools will have new leaders when classes begin in late August.The churn is especially heavy at low-performing schools. A 2010 study showed that nearly two-thirds of Chicago’s struggling schools had three or more principals in the past decade.

But Kerlina, a baby-faced 39, is leaving Hearst, not a struggling school in a poor neighborhood. He’s also leaving education altogether after 17 years — to go into the gourmet cupcake business.

Usually, resignations and firings unfold in silence, with officials citing privacy laws and educators reluctant to burn bridges. But a series of interviews with Kerlina offers a rare view of D.C. reform from an insider talking out of school.

He said he is quitting a system that evaluates teachers but doesn’t support their growth, that knuckles under to unreasonable demands from parents, and that focuses excessively on recruiting neighborhood families to a school where most students come from outside the attendance zone.

Kerlina said his two years left him with high blood pressure, extra pounds from a stress-induced diet of Armand’s and McDonald’s lunches, and a sense that life is too short. He is quick to acknowledge that he was far from the perfect principal and that his grievances may strike some as whiny or carping. He also acknowledges that money figured into his discontent: He said he was hired with the promise of making more than his $94,995 annual salary.

Other principals, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to avoid alienating school system leadership, said they understand Kerlina’s frustrations.

“He’s a loss,” said one veteran principal. “Bill was a tremendously bright guy.” But, the principal added, the District can be a shock to administrators from smooth-running suburban systems.

Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson said that she was surprised by Kerlina’s resignation and that it was the first she’d heard of his unhappiness. She also said she was disappointed that he didn’t air his grievances more fully before he made his decision. Working in the District, she acknowledged, poses challenges.

“I guess that we all know everything ain’t for everybody,” Henderson said. “DCPS is a work in progress. Not everybody is willing to lead under the circumstances we ask them to lead under, in a developing urban school district. It is much different than a place where things are completed and fully successful.”

Hearst parents and teachers said they were disappointed. PTA President Jen Wilcox said Kerlina’s open-door policy, his efforts to upgrade classroom technology and his easy, energetic manner with kids made him “a breath of fresh air.”

He cared about children, and he was a hard-working principal,” veteran teacher Bill Rope said. “He didn’t leave because he wanted to make cupcakes.”
There was no real tipping point, Kerlina said, just an accumulation of frustrations. He said his last goodbyes Monday afternoon, after the final half-day of classes. Around 4, he walked the halls one more time, turning off lights and shutting doors. As he drove away, he said later, he realized that he had heard nothing from any D.C. school official in two weeks. A minor slight, but telling, in his view.

Do you know anyone like this?

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Budget cuts have classroom consequences

August is just around the corner, which means two things: classroom educators are down to counting the days and hours, and parents are down to counting their nickels and pennies. In other states, classrooms will be stocked with school supplies when teachers and student return; not here in South Carolina.

Here, among the smiling faces and beautiful places, teachers and children are on their own, already foraging for the least costly school supplies they can find, and asking for help where they can get it.

FLORENCE- Teachers across the state are feeling the impacts of budget cuts, most notably those that directly impact their ability to outfit their classrooms with necessary materials and supplies. Those effects are being felt on teachers in the Pee Dee as well, looking into their own pockets to help supply the essentials needed to start off the school year.

In addition, those teachers and school districts are reaching out to parents to help pick up the slack where the state budget has left off.

For many years, the state alloted $275 per teacher to spend on materials over an annual basis. Recently though, budget cuts have forced many districts to either use a portion or the entire amount of that funding to instead save positions that were at risk or cut down on teacher furloughs.
Because of the losses in funding, some districts have added "wish lists" to the bottom of school supply lists with items such as hand sanitizer, kleenex and dry erase markers, that can benefit both the teacher and the entire class as well.

"We ask parents to try to send some of those things with their kids the first day because we don't get as much money as we used to get, the funding has been cut," said third and fourth grade teacher, Lakisha Timmons.
In an effort to help teachers through the tough times, Teacher's Tools of Florence held a raffle event Friday, handing out free supplies to winning teachers in elementary, middle and high schools. Store owners said they felt it was especially important to give back to teachers during a time when the budget crunch is being felt on every level across the state.

Budget crunch. We can afford to give millions of dollars in tax breaks to large corporations, but we can't afford to give teachers $275 each to supply their classrooms anymore. When there's a budget crunch, it's funny how it's always working people and their children -- and the unemployed -- getting crunched. We never hear of big businesses getting crunched by state government budget cuts.

With less than a month until the start of school in Greenwood and Abbeville counties, the local United Way wants to bring school supplies to those needing them the most.

The newly created "Stuff the Bus" campaign is seeking school supplies like notebooks, pencils, loose-leaf paper, scissors, crayons and markers, as well as classroom supplies like tissue paper towers and hand sanitizer.

Donations will be retained in the communities giving them - the United Christian Ministries of Abbeville County and the Abbeville School District will distribute the Abbeville donations, and Greenwood District 50 will determine where in its schools the items should go.

"We would rather do it through people like guidance counselors who see the need," Denise Manley, local United Way president, said.

The drop-off sites will enlist the help of students, such as cheerleaders from Brewer Middle School on hand for the Walmart site Aug. 5 and Emerald High School cheerleaders there the next day.

Other groups will join in as well, including the Greenwood Area Chamber of Commerce's Connect Young Professionals for Live After Five on Aug. 11, and such groups as the Abbeville Area Medical Center and Elliott Davis.

The United Way has also been promoting the similar school supply drive in Ninety Six led by Fred Geier and Cathy Smith.

As much support as Wal-Mart gets from Governor Nikki Haley and the legislature, perhaps Wal-Mart could donate the equivalent of $275 in school supplies to each classroom in the state, as a thank-you for the state's protection from competition. With Wal-Mart's profit margin, it likely wouldn't feel the loss of revenue at all, and it would get another huge tax write-off.

Foster leaves Department of Education for Beaufort

The Island Packet reported the news yesterday that Jim Foster, the veteran public information officer for the state Department of Education, will become the new director of school and community services for Beaufort County's school system.

Two reactions crowd the mind.

First, this is great news for Beaufort County's schools, children and parents, and especially for Superintendent Valerie Truesdale. Foster brings a long and respected awareness of the inside game of the state's news media, the legislature, and particularly of public education. However large and broad is the network of education experts in South Carolina, Foster has kept himself at the center of it, keeping on speed dial the most knowledgeable minds in the field.

As he told the newspaper that announced his move, "Everything that's come out of this agency in terms of news for the past 19 years has been on my watch." Which means that he served superintendents Barbara Nielsen, Inez Tenenbaum and Jim Rex, three chief executives of very different political stripes, capably and well.

Second, what a terrible waste on the part of Mick Zais. And if Foster was, indeed, purged from his position at the state department for a lack of political purity, for holding or defending principled positions in support of the department's mission, or -- worst -- as retribution from the partisan political hack that occupies the position of, rather than serves as, a deputy superintendent, then Zais is guilty of far more than poor judgment.

Foster is emblematic in one of two ways: If he chose freely to leave the Department, it suggests that the atmosphere that Zais and Ragley are creating is a toxic environment, and many others are suffering too. If he was purged, then no one who has served South Carolina's public schoolchildren for any length of time from the Rutledge Building is safe.

Sure, it's possible that Foster has long yearned to relocate to Beaufort, to abandon the hustle and bustle of Columbia and to get back to the ground floor of public information work in the Low Country. If that's the case, good for him, and congratulations to him. His commitment to serve the demands of great leaders kept him trapped in the capital long enough, and he's earned his reward at Mink Point Boulevard in Beaufort.

I just don't see it.

The Beaufort County School District has hired a veteran of the S.C. Department of Education as its new director of school and community services.

For nearly two decades, Jim Foster has directed department communications, supervised the release of standardized test scores and answered questions from newspaper reporters.
District superintendent Valerie Truesdale said that when Foster starts in August, he will bring deep experience in education policy.

"He'll have to learn Beaufort, and he'll have to learn our local issues, but his job knowledge is strong," she said.

Foster is a South Carolina native and was an editor at The (Columbia) State newspaper before joining the Education Department.

In Beaufort County, he will manage both internal and external communication for the district and will work to help taxpayers and residents understand the difficulties facing educators, Truesdale said.

"How does one convey complex issues such as school closures?" Truesdale asked. "How do we help folks understand the challenges of raising student achievement in the era of diminished resources?"

Foster said that after many years of working in education policy in Columbia, he's excited to be moving closer to teachers and students.

"That's one of the aspects of this opportunity that intrigues me the most, is working more closely with educators in their day-to-day jobs," he said.

The test of my suspicion will be proven when Zais and Ragley announce Foster's successor at the department -- if they announce one. Will Foster be succeeded by someone with long ties to public education in the state, a deep knowledge of the field and its experts, or experience as a district public information officer?

Or will they install another partisan political operative to serve their ideological interests?

Let's wait and see.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Problem: Education is rooted in industrial thinking

If you enjoyed Daniel Pink's presentation to RSA Animate, you'll love this one too. Author and social theorist Sir Ken Robinson delivered a lecture to the same group on education and changing the paradigms by which education in America is formulated and delivered.

What a terrific summary. You can thank me later; just forward this link to the smartest people in your email address book -- including every teacher you know, and every principal you know, and every superintendent you know, and every lawmaker you know...

Autonomy, mastery, purpose -- not performance pay

Interested in knowing what studies show about performance pay schemes when they're implemented among professionals?

The folks at RSA Animate invited social theorist Daniel Pink, author of "Drive," to speak to them some months ago. A fascinating 10-minute version of Pink's lecture is available online, in a format that educators will love.

Share this with the ones you love.

'Teach for A While' makes a mint from philanthropists

Speaking of Teach for America -- or, as I call it, Teach for A While -- Washington Post education reporter Valerie Strauss highlights a study from the University of Georgia in today's edition. The study looked at where the big billionaire foundations funding so-called education reform spent their money during the past fiscal year.

Guess who collected the most?

One organization was the big winner in the money giveaway, according to the University of Georgia researchers who did the analysis, and given all the attention it has received from school reformers, including Education Secretary Arne Duncan, it should come as no surprise.

Teach for America, the nonprofit organization that recruits newly graduated college students to commit to teach for two years in high-needs schools, was tops on the list of recipients, with $213,444,431, or 31 percent of the total. This doesn’t include at least $150 million it received from foundations and the U.S. government in the past year, which is outside the scope of the report.

The direction of the donations underscores the current trend in school reform to bring teachers into schools through alternative certification models that bypass traditional years-long teaching programs, with the 20-year-old Teach for America leading the charge.

The organization’s model is controversial: It gives its recruits five weeks of summer training and then places them in urban and rural schools that are often the most troubled in the country.

Critics say that five weeks is hardly enough to train a truly qualified teacher, and that the program, which initially only accepted recruits from the Ivy League but now has greatly expanded its pool, has higher attrition rates than the already high attrition rates of traditionally trained teachers. While many traditional teacher prep programs are indeed inadequate, critics say that Teach for America is the wrong solution.

Like a kid with a sweet tooth trick-or-treating on Halloween in a cul-de-sac full of childless senior citizens, Teach for A While made out like the original gangster, didn't it? It collected $213 million from charitable foundations, plus $150 million from federal tax dollars and other private sources, for a grand total of $363 million.

Wonder how TFA spends its money? Perhaps it might invest a bit more in training its recruits in Atlanta not to cheat on standardized tests to inflate test scores...

With that kind of money, South Carolina could afford to fully fund its Education Finance Act.

Strauss offered an insight that tells me the full University of Georgia report may be worth reading:

The focus on teachers is hardly a new one; foundations have been investing in improving teaching and developing teachers for decades.

In fact, some of the same strategies being pursued by foundations today are the same as those supported in the 1950s, including strengthening teacher training with clinical experience and institution performance pay (which was never seen as especially successful).

The authors of the report don’t say it — and in fact seem supportive of the reform movement — but the fact that reformers keep trying strategies that have failed in the past raises questions about just how smart some of these investments really are.

Sumter group collects school supplies for needy children

If you live in or near Sumter and can help out, please do.

A Sumter group is kicking off its annual effort to collect school supplies for children in need.

The Item of Sumter reports that United Ministries of Sumter is starting to collect items including book bags, glue sticks and binders on Monday.

The group says it hopes to pack 1,800 book bags full of supplies for kids in need this week and next week. Monetary donations are also accepted.

Last year, the group created more than 1,800 school kits and donated an additional 355 book bags to Sumter's two school districts.

Volunteers are sorting and stuffing the bags later this month. The school district picks up the filled bags Aug. 5.

Foolish law harms some, helps others in Dorchester 2

This article from the Summerville Journal Scene tells the story, but the root of the problem is asinine. Bottom line: If you've never taught in Dorchester District 2 and you want to teach there, now's the time to apply.

Dorchester District 2 is facing the challenge of finding and hiring up to 25 high school teachers by the time school starts in mid August.

The district learned it would receive an additional $1.3 million for its operating budget after the State Legislature and Dorchester County Council passed their final budgets well into June.

The trouble is that state law requires existing certified employees to renew their annual contract by May 15 if they want to remain employed in the same district, school officials said.

Only teachers new to DD2 can be hired at this point.

See the asinine part? Teachers who believed they wouldn't have a job in August obviously didn't renew their contracts. (What contracts? Who are we kidding? It's a letter of intent, not a real contract.) Now, thanks to a foolish state law that protects school districts at the expense of giving individual educators their freedom, and thanks to lawmakers who couldn't get the job done in a reasonable time, those who didn't renew letters of intent for imaginary jobs are now shut out of employment.

I hope, oh, I hope they qualify for unemployment benefits and are being counted in the 10.5 percent unemployment that the Haley administration has racked up in seven short months.

The additional funding allows the district to hire 25 much-needed high school teachers if high quality candidates are available, Raynor said. The timing presents a challenge because so many teachers have already signed contracts, she said.

“If we don’t get teachers, we need to put money aside for the year after that,” Superintendent Joe Pye said. “It is now the middle of July. School starts in a month. There is a shortage of high school math and science teachers.

“We’re lucky if we can find one . . . let alone four or five English and social studies. We really need 10 of each. We’re only going to do half of those now.”

Pye said he hopes to have all 25 teachers hired by the end of the school year, but says 15 is a more realistic number. For now, Pye can hire recently certified teachers or teachers moving into the community.

Come on, recent college graduates. Dorchester's a pretty spot, and if you don't claim those jobs, Teach for America will see the place as a prime expansion opportunity.

Want to hear the worst part of this self-inflicted debacle?

To cope with severe federal and state funding cuts two years ago, the DD2 district office decided to reduce 60 high school teaching positions through attrition to save $2.8 million.

“That meant they had to teach 25 to 30 more children,” Pye said.

Teachers started teaching 180 students a day instead of 150 and were given six classes a day instead of five.

“We’re trying to bring back some of the things we cut,” Pye said.

The district added 13 teachers in its original budget, but needs another 47 before schedules can be changed to five classes per day, according to Pye.

Even if 25 teachers were miraculously hired before Aug. 15, another 23 would still be needed to restore cuts from two years ago.

“I am committed to putting the teachers there and I’m not going to stop until I get the 45 there. We just don’t have the teachers out there applying. We have an opening in math we’ve been trying to fill for one month and we finally got it filled. Now I’m going to need six or eight more math teachers for all the high schools.”

What the district can do is begin to reduce class size, Pye said.

“At the end of the day teachers will be teaching less students than they once did. Then we’ll drop teacher caseload average of 180 down to 150.”

Unnecessary budget cuts led to unnecessarily high class sizes. Now unnecessary delays in passing a budget have led to unnecessary delays in reducing those class sizes again.

Superintendent Joe Pye got this part dead right:

“It does effect our student achievement and graduation rate. It has a direct correlation. That’s why it’s so hard to cut stuff. You may never see it again. We have to bring this back.

“This has put quite a threat on students and teachers and everybody with these large numbers. It’s made it very impersonal. We’ve got to treat children as if they’re our own. Nobody wants their child to be one of 180.”

I'll start the campaign right here and now: Joe Pye for State House, Joe Pye for State Senate, Joe Pye for State Superintendent or -- best of all -- Joe Pye for Governor. A man with such common sense has no business withholding himself from a position of leadership.

Barkan on "the grand coalition against teachers"

Researcher Joanne Barkan has published a powerful and important new study, found in a recent edition of Dissent magazine, on the influences brought to bear on public education during the past generation and, specifically, the massive, well-funded and coordinated attack on America's education professionals.

In her own words, her study investigates

the fix-the-teachers campaign of today’s “education reformers.” It’s not their only project. They also want public schools run with the top-down, data-driven, accountability methods used in private businesses; they aim to replace as many regular public schools as possible with publicly funded, privately managed charter schools; some are trying to expand voucher programs to allow parents to take their per-child public-education funding to private schools. All this will reshape who controls the $540 billion that taxpayers spend on K-12 schools every year. It endangers the democratic nature of public education as well. But nothing affects children more directly in the classroom than what the reform movement is doing to teachers.

The attack on teachers, she states, is blatant, straightforward and purposeful:

In a nation as politically and ideologically riven as ours, it’s remarkable to see so broad an agreement on what ails public schools. It’s the teachers. Democrats from various wings of the party, virtually all Republicans, most think tanks that deal with education, progressive and conservative foundations, a proliferation of nonprofit advocacy organizations, right-wing anti-union groups, hedge fund managers, writers from right leftward, and editorialists in most mainstream media —- all concur that teachers, protected by their unions, deserve primary blame for the failure of 15.6 million poor children to excel academically. They also bear much responsibility for the decline of K-12 education overall (about 85 percent of all children attend public schools), to the point that the United States is floundering in the global economy.

In the last few years, attention to the role of public school teachers has escalated into a high-profile, well-financed, and seriously misguided campaign to transform the profession based on this reasoning: if we can place a great teacher in every classroom, the achievement gap between middle-class white students and poor and minority students will close; all students will be prepared to earn a four-year college degree, find a “twenty-first-century job” at a good salary, and help to restore U.S. preeminence in the world economy.

A synopsis of her lengthy article doesn't do it justice. But she focuses on the role of administrators in the assault:

Everyone who supports public education believes that only effective teachers should be in the classroom; ineffective teachers who can’t improve should lose their jobs. Accomplishing this requires a sound method for evaluating teachers and a fair process for firing. In the current system, school principals have the responsibility to assess teachers’ performance and dismiss ineffective ones. Making sure that principals do this well is the district superintendent’s responsibility (not the teachers’). The system works if administrators at all levels and school boards do their jobs.

She draws attention to the language of the so-called education reformers and the several targets of their derision:

The ed reformers have a formula for producing an outstanding teaching force: identify and dismiss all bad teachers, replace them with excellent ones, keep the latter on staff by paying them more, and evaluate everyone regularly to make sure no teacher is slipping. Private schools have the freedom to do this. But public schools, according to the credo, are hamstrung by protections for teachers -— due process (imprecisely called tenure), seniority, and set salary scales -— which are written into state laws and union contracts.* Because of due process, the reformers claim, it’s too difficult to get rid of bad teachers; because of seniority, they aren’t necessarily the first laid off; because of salary scales, they get paid as much as better teachers. The reformers want the quality of teaching alone to determine if a public school teacher stays employed or gets a raise.

But how do you measure quality accurately? The reformers promote relying heavily on students’ standardized test scores: students who do well on these tests have clearly learned something, the argument goes. Therefore if you track the test scores of each teacher’s students every year, you can measure how much students have learned and use that number to make personnel decisions. The traditional protections can go, the unions will be weaker (a boon to reformers who consider them roadblocks to change), and, voilĂ , public schools will improve.

Due process, seniority, and salary scales predate unionization; they grew out of state and local civil service reforms in the early twentieth century when political machines thrived in large part by controlling jobs. Civil service laws protected teachers against the graft, cronyism, and favoritism that plagued public school systems under the thumb of political bosses and run by patronage. The laws benefited children by aiming for a meritocracy: teaching jobs would go to those who had training and skills. Since the 1960s when public employees in many states won the right to bargain collectively, teachers’ contracts have included the same protections.

The traditional protections are just that—protections against corruption and favoritism; they have nothing to do with evaluating teachers. Even if an ideal evaluation system existed, teachers would still need recourse when administrators and politicians ignored regulations. Yet the reformers have misleadingly conflated the two issues: we can’t get proper evaluations, they claim, without eliminating protections. Since state laws can be written to take precedence over teachers’ contracts, the most effective way to eliminate protections is to get state laws changed. This is what the reform campaign is doing around the country.

And she examines the role of billionaire ideologues and their charitable foundations in buying off the public debate in state legislatures:

For most ed reformers, better a train wreck than no reform. They want as much change as possible as fast as possible in order to take advantage of momentum and the favorable political climate. The rush to pass state laws has provided their greatest opportunity so far. In response, they’ve skillfully built state campaigns, spending millions on organizers who advise lawmakers and legislative staffs, generate grassroots support, and run ad campaigns. A pipeline of private money—most of it from large private foundations—funds their state operations just as it funds almost all the ed reform movement’s activities. Two groups in particular—Stand for Children [14](headquartered in Portland) and Democrats for Education Reform [15] (DFER, headquartered in New York City)—have played substantial roles by setting up branches in legislative battle states. Stand has a long list of contributors, including the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation [16], which donated $5.2 million between 2005 and 2010. DFER gets most of its money from financiers, especially hedge fund managers.

It’s difficult to overstate the role of the mega-rich private funders: look into any ed reform project—even those that appear to be individual or small local efforts—and you’ll likely come across the large foundations and financiers. This is typical: a small group of Indiana teachers campaigned successfully for their legislature to abolish seniority-based layoffs. They received media coverage but neglected to say that they had been recruited by Teach Plus, a Cambridge, Massachusetts-based group that operates on a $4 million grant given to them in 2009 by the Gates Foundation (New York Times, May 21, 2011 [17]).

Finally, she addresses the negative impacts that these "reform" campaigns have had on the profession, particularly in dissuading young people from entering the profession.

With the zealots’ mix of certainty and fervor, ed reformers have made this a wretched time to be a public school teacher. Indeed, fewer and fewer people are interested in trying. In the last seven years, the number of Californians seeking to become teachers dropped 45 percent (California Watch [22], December 14, 2010 [22]). In 2011, due to declining interest, Yale ended both its undergraduate teacher preparation and certification program and its Urban Teaching Initiative, a tuition-free M.A. program for students committed to teaching in New Haven’s public schools. Teachers all over the country—in affluent districts as well as high-poverty schools—are dispirited. In New York City, 50 percent of all new hires leave after five years in the classroom.

Barkan's study is worth much more than the cursory summary I've offered here. Read the full text, and share with others, at Dissent's website.

Haley to college students, seasonal workers: Get a job

Irony: A woman who couldn't explain what, exactly, she did part-time for a consulting firm and a hospital, gets elected governor of a state whose chief industries are tourism and agriculture, and she quickly moves to block a policy that pays unemployment benefits to seasonal workers and college students when their tourist- and agricultural-season jobs come to an end. Seven months after taking office, her state is tied for fifth in the nation with 10.5 percent unemployment.

At least a few of these college students are South Carolina's future classroom educators, getting a head start on finding summertime jobs to augment the low salaries they'll collect once they find a coveted teaching job.

Chris Haire of the Charleston City Paper caught an item on Rupert Murdoch's Fox News Channel and wrote about it:

According to Gov. Nikki Haley, hordes of college students have been filing for unemployment benefits once their summer jobs have ended. Even worse, the state was actually playing along, paying them what I would imagine are millions and millions of dollars every year.

Thankfully, Gov. Haley put an end to this wasteful and shameful practice, according to the Fox News report. To which I have to say, bless you, Nikki, bless you.

However, in her interview with Fox News, Haley wasn't clear on exactly how many college students were receiving unemployment checks and how much money the state was paying out to them.

In order to get an answer, I sent an e-mail to Haley's ever-prompt spokesman Rob Godfrey. Below is the letter:

Hey Rob,

Chris Haire with the Charleston City Paper again.

I've got a couple of questions about a statement that Nikki Haley made on Fox News this week regarding unemployment benefits for seasonal employees.

During the interview, which you can find here, the governor says that thanks to her efforts, the great state of South Carolina "stopped giving benefits to seasonal employees that were college students working for summer getting benefits."

This is the first that I have heard that the Palmetto State has a problem with college students bilking the state out of unemployment money. It's quite surprising that it has been allowed to go on all these years. Believe you me, I'm glad that Gov. Haley has put a stop to this practice. It is a travesty.

However, I need to get a few numbers and whatnot from you.

One, how many college students working seasonal jobs were collecting unemployment in 2010, 2009, and 2008? (I'm sure these figures are readily available.) And then can you give me figures concerning how much unemployment money was going to these particular college students for those years as well?

Two, the governor claimed on Fox News that benefits to seasonal employees have been stopped. However, reading over the law and other reports, it would seem that benefits haven't stopped; they've merely been changed or limited? In fact, seasonal employees who are laid off during the season can still collect unemployment.

Perhaps you and Haley are aware of another definition for "stopped" that I'm not privy to. I've spent the vast majority of my teen and adult years either drunk off my a** or high as a kite, so I easily could have missed any changes to the lexicon. If you can point me in the direction of an online dictionary with this definition, I would appreciate it.

Three, you know, I just can't stop thinking about all of those college students getting unemployment benefits, and, well, I don't know about you but I sure could have used a few extra bucks in college, and I'm just baffled that none of my friends told me about this. ... How did Haley first hear about this? Is this something Haley has firsthand knowledge of? Did she collected unemployment benefits while a student at Clemson? ...

Four, The Sun Times out of Myrtle Beach seems to indicate that the vast majority of seasonal employees in Horry County that collect unemployment benefits are not college students seeking summertime jobs, but the men and women, the husbands and wives, the fathers and mothers, who call Myrtle Beach home; they are the ones who work in the hotels, restaurants, bars, and other places of business serving the Grand Strand's seasonal tourists. Have you considered contacting The Sun Times seeking a retraction?

It bothers me to no end to think that the media has no regard for the facts and, in this case, would ignore the horrible truth that Haley uncovered: that South Carolina college students, particularly those in Myrtle Beach and, I would think, Charleston as well — gasp — have been filing unemployment claims when their summer jobs came to an end and not, well, adults who have families to support, mortgages to pay, and groceries to buy. (Fortunately for Haley, the latter vote but the former do not.)

Five, and please forgive me for asking this, but the naysayers out there, the negative ninnies, might say that Gov. Haley claims that college students were bilking the state out of vast sums of unemployment funds in order to make her accomplishment seem all that much more grandiose. I know that's a strange claim to make.

After all, Haley certainly accomplished quite a good deal by changing the rules regarding who does and who doesn't receive unemployment benefits, so it would make absolutely no sense for her to act as if college students were solely responsible for bilking the state out of what I would think would be millions of dollars by falsely filing unemployment claims.
Once again, Rob, I appreciate your help, and I look forward to your prompt reply.

Best Regards,


Orangeburg 4 buys food service software, cuts food service workers

To laugh, or to cry?

Children in Orangeburg District 4 may get healthier meals this year, thanks to the board's decision to purchase "new food service management software program that will enable food service managers to meet requirements set by the Healthy, Hunger-Free Child Act of 2010."

But because of the bad economy, they'll have fewer food service workers to prepare and serve their food.

The big winner? The software management company, which will collect $8,000 annually to "maintain" their software.

The OCSD 4 Board of Trustees voted unanimously at Tuesday's meeting to purchase the new program for $59,319. Assistant Superintendent Larry Wolfe said the old program, purchased 10 years ago, could not meet many of the new federal requirements. For example, the lunchroom service had to do a complete nutritional analysis of all the food served in the schools, something the old program could not do, Wolfe said.

The new program also has an inventory management menu planning component, he said. The inventory is uploaded into the system from the vendor, and it keeps up with the food on hand, he said. The manager can make purchases through the program, he said.

Wolfe noted that the district had to cut back on personnel because of the economic downturn, and the new program would cut staff work time.

In addition to the cost of the program, the district will pay about $8,000 annually for a maintenance contract with the company, Wolfe said.

I'm guessing here, but I suspect the initial cost of the software might fund at least three food service worker positions, and the annual maintenance cost might fund half a position per year. After all, we're talking about lunch ladies who work in public schools; thanks to the pittance they're paid, many qualify for public assistance while working full-time.

Other states' retirees are welcome, but not our own, in Horry

We've all heard that the road to hell is paved with good intentions.

That's what came to mind after reading an item in the Myrtle Beach Sun-News about a new policy to purge the Horry County School District's central office of its at-will employees. Maybe the intention is noble -- the superintendent says the move will open up advancement opportunities for others -- but something smells very bad about the policy's fine print.

To be clear, this only affects the Horry central office, according to the news report. And it only affects those at-will employees who have retired and returned to work.

At-will employees are those who are drawing retirement in South Carolina and have returned to work without the legal entitlement a contract gives for guaranteed employment. Most at the district office fall under the Teacher and Employee Retention Incentive, or TERI program.

Some see this as a way to prevent "double-dipping" -- in fact, the Sun-News said so in its headline.

Others say it's about saving money. Apparently, secretaries who have worked for 30 years at the central office make a ton of money.

Board Chairman Will Garland said most board members see the move as a cost savings, which could be 40 to 50 percent - paying someone substantially less than $100,000 a year. "It did not apply to at-will teachers or custodians or bus drivers - that's not the people we're concerned about," Garland said. "It's the ones at or approaching six-figure salaries, where we have some fairly high-paid executives."

Elsberry contends that cost savings would be minimal because at the district level, salaries have to be competitive to attract the talent needed to run the state's third-largest school district, as opposed to teacher salaries, which are set by the state.

"I want somebody who is a proven entity, who can get the job done without a lot of training," Elsberry said of hires in administration.

So, either it is about saving money, or it isn't about saving money; this isn't very clear because Horry's leaders seem not to be speaking from the same talking points.

What is perfectly clear is that the policy is inherently unfair in one really glaring way: Employees who retired from North Carolina or some other state, moved to Horry County and have been hired at the central office are completely unaffected. In fact, once those employees have served in their position through the probationary period, they get a continuing contract and can negotiate a pretty hefty wage.

The district has hired employees who have retired from school districts in other states; after successfully completing one year of employment, S.C. law allows for those employees to be put on a continuing contract and given credit for their previous experience.

So let's play this out in two scenarios.

In scenario one, I retired in 2005 after working 30 years for the district office of Brunswick County, North Carolina, just across the border from Horry County. In fact, I still live in Brunswick County -- in a pretty little condo community in Carolina Shores -- and drive 45 minutes to work every day at the Horry County district office. After my first year of working here, Horry County gave me full credit for my 30 years in North Carolina, so I was able to collect a salary based on my three decades-plus experience. Truly, I live in the catbird's seat, drawing a very healthy retirement check from North Carolina -- because North Carolina's state lawmakers have always honored their commitment to keep a healthy retirement system -- and earning a nice salary in South Carolina while earning credit in its retirement system, too. This new policy adopted by the Horry school board doesn't affect me at all, and I get to continue working here for as long as I want.

In scenario two, I retired in 2005 after 30 years of working for the district office in Horry County. Then, I came right back to work as an at-will employee -- meaning that I have no contract and no rights because South Carolina has been a right-to-work-for-less state since 1954 -- and I've been toiling away, doing my part for the children of Horry County. As a result of the new policy adopted by the Horry school board, I'm now out of a job -- so much for loyalty and dedication -- and am dependent solely on my state retirement benefits, which are stingy and meager because South Carolina's lawmakers fight tooth-and-nail to avoid strengthening that system and, in fact, do all they can to weaken it.

The moral of the policy seems to be that if you retired elsewhere and came to work in Horry, you're a very valuable employee; but if you retired in South Carolina and wanted to continue working, you're a drag on the system and you're blocking others from climbing their career ladder.

Does this sound fair to you?

Are Annie McDaniels's questions inappropriate?

When I read that a school board member can't get questions answered -- questions about public information, about how public dollars are being spent, about public policy, about implementation of plans -- I worry about the professionalism of that board, and the health and well-being of the school district it governs.

This is the case in Fairfield County, as reported by the Herald Independent last week. Board member Annie McDaniel raised several questions that went unanswered, and even said she'd had to file Freedom of Information Act requests to find answers, still to no avail.

What is going on in Fairfield County? Is information being withheld from board members? For a district that advertises itself as "excellence created by example," what sort of example is this setting?

The newspaper's article indicated that some "heated" dialogue began between McDaniel and Board Chairman Ron Smith over a proposed new student conduct code. McDaniel asked seemingly harmless and entirely appropriate questions about parental involvement in the development of the code, and whether the board had allowed sufficient time for public review before approving the new document.

This apparently set Smith on edge.

Board member Annie McDaniel asked for more time to review the Code before the Board voted to approve the document. McDaniel also asked if parents had been involved in the revisions and if the revised document would be available for review by the public.

Danny Miller, Director of Transportation as well as head of school security, was involved, along with the Student Disciplinary Committee, in the revision of the Code of Conduct. He told McDaniel that parents had been involved in the process, although he could not give an exact number.

The Board found themselves under some pressure to approve the revised Code, as they face printing deadlines in order to have the new Code available to parents and students prior to the beginning of the 2011-2012 school year. Board member Henry Miller and Board Chairman Ron Smith suggested that the Code could be voted on now with changes or corrections to come through the committee and administration. Smith, after consulting with the District’s attorney, Ken Childs, suggested reserving July 19 for a Special Called meeting, if necessary, for the Board to vote on any changes. Board member Danielle Miller made a motion to that effect. Henry Miller offered the second.

McDaniel again asked how, under such a time line, the public would be apprised of changes to the Code. Smith then admonished McDaniel for not being prepared and for not having reviewed the Code, which he said had been posted to the District’s Web site last Thursday.

“Just because I asked the question, does not mean I am trying to attack or antagonize you in any way,” McDaniel said. “Why you always take it that way, I do not know. As the Chair, if do not want to answer my question, that’s fine. But you ask all the questions of the attorney like he’s a member of the Board, and he’s not.”

“I’ve asked for legal way to do things so we don’t have to re-do them,” Smith answered.

“The questions I asked were not legal,” McDaniel said.

“We’ve answered your questions,” Smith said. “We have a motion on the floor. We have a second. We’ll allow you time to bring your questions that you could have brought today. Bring your questions to the Committee, to Ms. Harrison. If you see any changes, we’ll have a special called Board meeting. I think that’s being very accommodating.”

“But my question was regarding the students,” McDaniel said, “the people that we serve, and the people that elected us to serve them.”

“And they elected us to serve them and make the decisions on these types of functions without having a community forum,” Smith said.

That wasn't the only issue causing heartburn. Apparently various entities have developed communications plans for the district, but none has been adopted. The board contracted with a public relations firm, Maxim Communications, which developed a communications plan that was scrapped -- without any further explanation -- when the contract with the firm was terminated. The board's own Safety Committee, chaired by board member Bobby Cunningham, has drafted a crisis communications plan to be incorporated into a comprehensive plan, but Cunningham's contribution has been ignored, too. Now, a new Communications Committee, which once was called the Student Recognition Committee, has been tasked with drafting another one. When McDaniel asked Smith to outline the new committee's responsibilities, and why the district is no longer using the plan that it paid Maxim Communications to develop, the answers she received were oddly unsatisfactory.

“I’ve never seen a PR plan,” Smith said, “other than the PR agency (Maxim Communications), which we terminated the contract with. It saved the District a lot of money.”

McDaniel asked why a plan that was paid for by the District was being thrown out. Dr. Patrice Robinson, Superintendent, told the Board that there was no comprehensive PR plan for the District and that the Committee was working on one. Board member Bobby Cunningham said the Safety Committee, which he chairs, had developed a crisis communication plan to be part of the overall communication plan, but that it had been shelved.

“My people worked very hard on what we did on that committee and it got shelved right quick,” Cunningham said. “I’m through with it.”

Is there a reason why the Fairfield School District paid for a public relations and communications plan, then threw it out when the contract with its developer was ended?

Is there a reason why the crisis communications plan developed by the board's own Safety Committee isn't being included in the newest version of a communications plan?

Are some board members' right and privileges being taken more seriously than others'?

And why are the fees paid to the school district's attorney not considered public information? Is the district's attorney being paid with public dollars? Aren't board members themselves the ones who contract with, and approve the expenditures paid to, its board attorney? If these things are so, then why can't board members be given information about the attorney's fees?

McDaniel then, as she has done in several previous meetings, asked for an itemized accounting of the District’s attorney’s fees. McDaniel said she has even gone as far as submitting a request for the fees under the S.C. Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), but has yet to see them.

Dr. Robinson said McDaniel had been supplied with the legal fees, but that McDaniel was asking for details to which, under advice from the attorney, she was not privileged. Childs said some of the details of his activities are protected by attorney-client privilege and that they belong to the entire Board, not to one member of the Board.

“The same man whose information we’re asking to see is making the decision as to whether or not we can see it?” McDaniel asked. “I want that on the record.”

Something about this answer does not compute. McDaniel has asked for details of an attorney's expenses, which are paid for by the school board. The attorney's answer is that the details of his expenses "belong to the entire Board" but apparently cannot be given to "one member of the Board."

Then why not make those details available for review by the entire board?

What is going on in Fairfield County?

Haley's "less talk, more jobs" platform abandoned

A year ago, we all saw the signs. "Less talk, more jobs," read then-Rep. Nikki Haley's campaign signs.

Last week, our unemployment rate bounced back up to 10.5 percent. The Spartanburg Herald-Journal's headline called it the "highest increase in the nation."

So, at what point do we get to officially declare the Haley jobs agenda a bust?

For public employees, anyway, that moment is upon us.

Public employees have taken the biggest hit in job losses over the past year, as the number of government workers plunged by more than 16,500 jobs since June 2010 and fell by 4,500 positions since May.

Public employees: That's teachers and other school district personnel, policemen and other law enforcement personnel, firefighters and other public safety personnel, social workers and other public services personnel.

If memory serves, the Associated Press reported in the middle of June -- when the Haley-era unemployment rate achieved double-digit status at 10 percent -- that "[G]overnment jobs posted a loss of 1,900 jobs over the last month, with that sector losing 24,000 jobs in the past year. Education jobs, up 3,100 since May 2010, showed losses of 2,400 from April to May, as schools began letting out for the summer months."

That's a spectacular dive.

A month ago, South Carolina was in seventh place nationally in unemployment. Clearly, Haley's administration believes that seventh place is unacceptable and has initiated a campaign to be first in the nation; in a month, South Carolina has jumped two places to tie for fifth with Michigan.

South Carolina's jobless numbers have consistently outpaced the national rate, which was 9.2 percent in June. The state's unemployment was tied with Michigan for the country's fifth-highest rate in June, ranking behind Nevada (12.4), California (11.8), Rhode Island (10.8) and Florida (10.6).

Watch out, Nevada: Luck is a lady, and your governor is not.

“There's really very little positive spin you can put on this,” said Frank Hefner, an economist at the College of Charleston. “Just because there are a lot of other people having a more difficult time doesn't really make our situation any better.”

With sustained high unemployment, Hefner said the nation's economic picture is becoming more grim than after previous recessions. In 1992, after a recession two years earlier, the nation's unemployment had rebounded from 8 percent to 5.5. More than two years after the end of the recession that began in December 2007, Hefner said he's concerned that double-digit employment could mean the country is now in for a much longer recovery than in times past.

“Is a 10 percent unemployment rate going to be considered normal? It should not be considered normal, but say we go into a third year of lackluster job growth,” Hefner said. “We've had jobless recoveries, but this is worse than a jobless recovery.”

State government leaders have been bracing for the impact of a threatened Aug. 2 federal government default unless President Barack Obama and congressional leaders reach a deal on the debt limit.

This week, Moody's Investors Services also warned that it would likely lower the credit rating for South Carolina and four other states if it downgrades the U.S. government's credit rating.

A spokesman for Gov. Nikki Haley, who on Thursday said a door-making company was investing $14 million to create 150 new jobs in Bamberg County, where unemployment is 16 percent, said the Republican is determined to bring new jobs to the state.

“The Haley administration is working daily on the business climate — recruitment of new companies and to support expansions of existing businesses,” spokesman Rob Godfrey said. “During this tough time in our country and with these unemployment numbers, it only strengthens our commitment to bring more jobs to South Carolina.”

This is precisely what worries me. Haley's man Godfrey says she's been "working daily on the business climate." And the result of her "working daily" is that we're rapidly putting people out of work. Perhaps, in order to reverse the damage, Haley should stop -- halt -- bring an end to -- whatever it is that she's doing, and go back to the drawing board.

It's noticeable that Godfrey said Haley's "working daily on the business climate — recruitment of new companies and to support expansions of existing businesses." But if South Carolina is losing jobs by the thousands in the public sector, then maybe the highest-ranking public official in the state ought to focus a little bit of attention, maybe a few hours a week, on addressing the problem of all those unemployed public sector workers. Clearly, "recruitment of new companies" and "expansions of existing businesses" ain't getting the job done.

Here's a thought: Haley might help herself substantially by urging her lackluster education superintendent to apply for the federal waiver and automatically collect $144 million in federal dollars to preserve and restore jobs in public schools.

That is, unless she's dead-set on having the highest unemployment rate in the nation.

P.S. What message does it send that the governor only addresses the news of rising unemployment through "an email statement attributed to her press secretary"? What, does Her Excellency not want to address bad news herself, in front of cameras?

Gov. Nikki Haley, who has made job creation a priority but has been accused of inflating jobs numbers, responded to the bad news with an email statement attributed to her press secretary.

Debunking the "overpaid teachers" meme

This is just delightful, and whoever thought to write this should get an Emmy or something equivalent. Don't drink anything while reading this article; it's hard to mop up coffee or Coke from your keyboard and off your screen.

Teachers’ hefty salaries are driving up taxes, and they only work 9 or 10 months a year! It’s time we put things in perspective and pay them for what they do – babysit!

We can get that for less than minimum wage.

That’s right. Let’s give them $3.00 an hour and only the hours they worked; not any of that silly planning time, or any time they spend before or after school. That would be $19.50 a day (7:45 to 3:00 PM with 45 min. off for lunch and plan– that equals 6 1/2 hours).

Each parent should pay $19.50 a day for these teachers to baby-sit their children. Now how many students do they teach in a day…maybe 30? So that’s $19.50 x 30 = $585.00 a day.

However, remember they only work 180 days a year!!! I am not going to pay them for any vacations.


That’s $585 X 180= $105,300 per year. (Hold on! My calculator needs new batteries).

What about those special education teachers and the ones with Master’s degrees? Well, we could pay them minimum wage ($7.75), and just to be fair, round it off to $8.00 an hour. That would be $8 X 6 1/2 hours X 30 children X 180 days = $280,800 per year.

Wait a minute — there’s something wrong here! There sure is!

The average teacher’s salary (nation wide) is $50,000. $50,000/180 days = $277.77/per day/30 students=$9.25/6.5 hours = $1.42 per hour per student–a very inexpensive baby-sitter and they even EDUCATE your kids!) WHAT A DEAL!!!!

Make a teacher smile; repost this to show appreciation for all educators.

Haley contradicts herself on education superintendency

Remember this date: July 22, 2011.

On this date, The State newspaper published this statement by Governor Nikki Haley:

"Anything that empowers the voters, I’m always going to support,” said Haley, speaking to reporters after announcing a $14 million business investment in Bamberg County. “At the end of the day, it’s the people we want to be satisfied with who they had.”

To be clear, let's examine her quote again. Though her statement is inartfully composed, Haley declares affirmatively that she is "always going to support" "anything that empowers the voters."

I would like to take the governor at her word, but history warns against it. On this very topic, she has stated aloud and represented in print her position on voter empowerment many, many times, and the quote she offered on July 22 contradicts every single instance of her earlier statements and positions.

In South Carolina, voters since 1868 have had, and have been able to elect in a general election, a state superintendent of education. To restate the point: For 142 years, South Carolina voters have been empowered by their state constitution to elect the person who would oversee the operations of our state public school system and would be the chief advocate for South Carolina's public schoolchildren.

Presumably for the same period of time, we've had an office of lieutenant governor that is elected separately from the office of the governor.

These facts represent two rights of voter empowerment that Haley has sought, in her public addresses and in print, to take away from voters. To read on July 22 that she now is "always going to support" "anything that empowers the voters" means one of two things: Haley has reversed her position on one of the pillars of her platform to restructure state government, or she is lying to achieve a political goal.

I wonder what John Rainey would say she's doing.

There is a second part to Haley's July 22 quote:

“At the end of the day, it’s the people we want to be satisfied with who they had.”

Her sentiment reflects perfectly the power that voters enjoy today, as voters are able to elect both an education superintendent and a lieutenant governor.

But in every case when these topics have been raised, Haley has sought to take away that power from voters. Consider this news report from February 2011:

When South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley steps before the House Constitutional Laws Subcommittee Tuesday afternoon, she is expected to testify in favor of three bills that would dramatically change the structure of the state's government and consolidate her power.

Subcommittee member Rep. Derham Cole, R-Spartanburg, said he anticipated Haley would speak in support of the bills and hopes "that getting these out early in the session will mean favorable passage in the Senate."

The three bills are:

H. 3066, The S.C. Restructuring Act of 2011, that would create the Department of Administration that Haley and her predecessor, Gov. Mark Sanford, have pushed for.
H. 3152. Which would have the governor and lieutenant governor run together on the same ticket.
H. 3070, which would remove the education superintendent from the list of elected state officers and make it a position appointed by the governor.
Unlike the bill to create a Department of Administration, the legislation consolidating the governor and lieutenant governor to one ticket and making the education superintendent an appointed office require S.C. voters to approve an amendment to the state constitution in 2012.

Haley said the state should have the governor and lieutenant governor on the same ballot, as H. 3152 proposes. "It simply does not make sense to have two people with two different agendas at the top of our executive branch," she said in the State of the State address.

Haley also said education receives 40 percent of the budget and that it is crucial the governor and the education superintendent work together. If voters approved, the superintendent would have a Cabinet position.

And when her mission to take power away from voters was thwarted and not achieved in the state Senate this year, she responded with speed and venom, issuing an executive order to bring lawmakers back to Columbia to give her what she wanted.

Senate President Pro Tem Glenn McConnell has asked the South Carolina Supreme Court for emergency guidance–claiming the governor’s order is unconstitutional. His question to the court: Can a governor force the legislature back into session to take up bills that were not included in the Sine Die resolution?

We’re coming back next week, what’s the rush? One week, and we now run the risk of all these constitutional questions, but that hasn’t been said.

However, Governor Haley says due to the Sine Die resolution, the Senate cannot take up the bill.

The governor answers McConnell’s question: “What’s the rush?”

I’ll tell you exactly why. Every day that we don’t restructure our government, every day is costing us money. We are wasting dollars by the hours and it’s ridiculous. They have kicked this can down the road literally for years, saying they don’t want to do this.

McConnell says he understands the governor’s frustrations in unfinished business, but that’s no need to mull over the state Constitution.

The governor has the power under the Constitution to call us back for extraordinary occurrences. There’s nothing extraordinary about bills not making it, hundreds of them (don’t) every year. The most ordinary thing in the world is bills don’t make it and it’s a good thing because it keeps us from having too much government.

McConnell says he does support the bills that Haley wants to take up, which would create a Department of Administration, put the lieutenant governor and governor on the same ticket, and make the superintendent of education an appointed, not elected, position.

What is the purpose of making of the education superintendent an appointed position, and eliminating the separate election of a lieutenant governor? It takes power away from voters and consolidates that power in the hands of, first, gubernatorial candidates in the case of the lieutenant governor-as-running mate, and second, the hands of the governor, who would then control the Department of Education.

If Haley is granted this concession by the legislature, the changes will be put on the ballot for South Carolina's voters to approve or disapprove because they require changes to the state Constitution.

At present, the office of South Carolina's governor is one of the weakest in the nation, as our state's leaders have long preferred leaving power in the hands of the legislature, closest to the voters.

If voters were to approve the Constitutional changes, they would make Haley one of the most powerful chief executives, with a hand-picked lieutenant governor presiding over the state Senate, and a hand-picked education superintendent doing her bidding at the Department of Education. Her influence over our children would be astonishing and have permanent impacts. And all of this would come at the expense of voter empowerment.

What do our neighbors do? Both North Carolina and Georgia elect their state superintendents of education, and elect their lieutenant governor separately from their governor. It appears that both North Carolina and Georgia are content to leave power in the hands of voters rather than to establish a monarch-governor.

Of course, Haley's Star Chamber will say that she was speaking to a very narrow issue on July 22 -- the issue of giving voters the power to recall lawmakers -- and that applying her quote to other matters is not appropriate. But Haley herself made her statement as broad as the South Carolina sky. It's hard to misunderstand your governor's intent when she says, "Anything that empowers the voters, I’m always going to support," and "At the end of the day, it’s the people we want to be satisfied with who they had."

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Does this sound like teachers in your community?

As part of an occasional series, CNN published today an item on a teacher from Florida who is choosing to leave the classroom, and her reasons for it.

This is Linda DeRegnaucourt's last summer off. When school starts in August, it will be her last year to think about high school classes, advanced placement tests and calculus.

If all goes as planned, this will be her last year teaching at Palm Bay High School in Brevard County, Florida.

She doesn't want to go. After 13 years of teaching high-level math, she has a tested stable of learning methods that helped all her students pass the AP calculus exam. Her room is a popular place for students to escape the drama of the high school cafeteria. Few jobs can indulge her excitement for linear functions and matrix calculus.

"I hate to have to leave it," DeRegnaucourt said. "I really thought I was going to be that teacher, 65 years old and retiring from the education field. That's not going to happen."

She's quitting, she said, because she can't afford to stay.

Two years ago, a divorce left 47-year-old DeRegnaucourt with a single income. Rental properties she owned only caused more financial strain as Florida's real estate market fell apart in recent years. Despite her years of experience, she earns $38,000, she said, less than she made in the past, when teachers received larger supplements for additional certifications.

Once she made a budget, she realized she didn't make enough money to cover her expenses and save for her future. Changing careers felt like the only wise financial move, she said.

DeRegnaucourt isn't the only one.

Attracting the best students to teaching -- and keeping them -- is tough for schools across the country. Average starting teaching salaries are $39,000, and rise with experience to an average of $54,000, according to "Closing the Talent Gap," a 2010 report by McKinsey & Company. Teacher salaries can't compete with other careers, the report said, and annual teacher turnover in the United States is 14%. At "high-needs" high schools, it is 20%.

The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development data from 2007 said the United States ranks 20th out of 29 for starting teacher salaries, and 23rd out of 29 for teacher salaries after 15 years.

But it's not just the pay, DeRegnaucourt said, "It's the way we're treated."

Her colleagues have waited until just before school starts to learn what courses they'll be teaching, she said. Uncertainty makes it impossible to prepare, hard to succeed.

"Five years ago, 10 years ago, kids would ask me, should they become teachers? I was like, 'Oh, God, yes, I love what I do,' " she said. "Now, I tell my kids, 'You're really, really bright. Why don't you think about going into (this or that?)' They have the potential to be doctors, lawyers, nurses, CEOs and scientists. Why would I recommend to my kids, who I absolutely love, to struggle for years?"

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Beaufort parents don't want local schools closed

Four Beaufort parents told their school board last night that closing their local schools would hurt their children, and they opposed the proposed closure plan. It would seem that in the discussion of consolidation, parents should be consulted.

Susanne Baisch, a school-improvement council member at Port Royal Elementary, said the proposal would send her daughter to Port Royal for third grade, to Mossy Oaks Elementary for fourth, and to Beaufort Middle School for fifth.

"Finances aside, is this moving really good for our children?" she asked.

The residents also criticized a task force that voted 5-4 last week to recommend closing Port Royal and Shell Point elementaries, asking why several members abstained from that vote.

"The task force which needs to be implemented is one that is comprised of taxpayers and parents to review the school board district offices' expenditures, from coffee to salaries," said Port Royal Elementary parent Melinda Cato.

Port Royal Mayor Sam Murray also addressed the board.

"I'm holding my comments until the task force actually makes their presentation to you," Murray said. "But I do want to point out the fact that both schools you're talking about closing are in the town of Port Royal."

School board Chairman Fred Washington defended the task-force process and said if the school district has "extra capacity," officials would be derelict if they did not examine and address the issue.

"As much obligation as we have to parents, well, we also have some obligation to taxpayers who are not parents," he said.

Washington said parents should continue speaking out and -- if need be -- take their case to voters.

"We're elected folks," he said. "You determine if we sit here or not."

District superintendent Valerie Truesdale said the task force will give a final report to board members Thursday, unless it does not finish its work today.

The lesson learned by parents when schools are closed -- the lesson being taken from this situation in Beaufort -- is that elections have consequences.

Brooks to state: Stop posturing, do what's best for children

A note published by the Florence Morning News on Sunday discussed the issue of school consolidation, but it contained a nugget of wisdom voiced almost in frustration by Florence 1 Superintendent Allie Brooks.

Brooks told the Morning News that "consolidating districts to save money should be studied before action is taken because variables change from community to community."

“We have to be concerned about the quality of what we’re doing,” Brooks said. “We might save money in one area, administratively, particularly, but you might be a penny wise and a dollar foolish.”

So true. But Brooks offered his interviewer the most appropriate frame for this discussion, if this or any other questioner wants to take it:

Brooks said, in the end, it’s up to the state to fulfill its responsibility to educate its children. While the legislature appropriated some additional money to education near the end of this year’s budget deliberations, state allocations are down and don’t match the recommended levels produced by the funding formula in the 1977 Education Finance Act.

“If we’re going to support public education, then we’ve got to put the money where our mouths are,” Brooks said. “We’re going to have to stop all the posturing and look at the community and do what’s best for every child.”

That's precisely what has never happened on a consistent basis -- ever in the 34-year history of the Education Finance Act, ever in the 200-year history of South Carolina's pledge to provide for public education (dating to the Free Schools Act of 1811), ever in the 341-year history of the state.

It always comes back to money. Priorities cost money, and lawmakers don't want to spend it. This is how we devolve into conversations about school consolidation, like this one:

School consolidation is an old and familiar issue in South Carolina, where districts have traditionally been built around communities and the idea of a county with a dozen or more separate school districts was for years considered neither unusual nor untoward.

But the number of public school districts in the state is falling — the total is now less than two per county — and recessionary pressure on budgets has given districts still more reason to consider it. This is especially true in the impoverished Pee Dee, where during the past two years districts in Dillon, Marion and Sumter counties have all consolidated, and where a debate is raging over the fate of Florence School District 4. The Timmonsville-based district is on the verge of bankruptcy and many officials, both in and out of the district, see its only real salvation coming from a merger with a larger district, most likely the adjacent Florence School District 1.

While there is more to consolidation than just saving money, and more to saving money than just administrative costs, one clear advantage to combining small districts is the savings produced by elimination of the highest administrative jobs. Where multiple, small districts remain in place, administrators continue to get paid for duplicate positions in the same county to serve their districts despite the cost to taxpayers.

A Morning News study of district salaries showcases the problem. (See our database at While top administrators in larger districts do get paid more than the superintendents and other top brass in small ones, the small districts’ salaries are still significant; most are six figures or more.

An example of the problem can be seen in a comparison of Florence and Horry counties. The superintendents of the five Florence County school districts make more than $500,000 combined in a year, but Cynthia Elsberry, Horry County’s only school district superintendent, makes $205,000 per year. Yet, Elsberry oversees nearly twice as many children as her Florence counterparts combined. There’s no call for combining all of Florence’s districts into one, but such a move would clearly save money.

And the superintendent’s job is not only service that’s duplicated. A 2009 study by Clemson University found that the cost per pupil for administration is generally higher in small districts than in larger ones. But, as noted, there’s more to consolidation than just dollars and cents.
Maybe, but Dr. Steve Quick, the recently appointed interim superintendent for Florence 4, said consolidation can do more than save money. Quick should know. He worked in Marlboro County when that county combined districts and served as a consultant to Marion County when it was pondering its recent merger.

Florence 4 has had its share of financial troubles of late. The district is working through a negative general fund balance of $1,464,702 for its school district which has somewhere between 700 and 800 students (acutal numbers fluctuate dramatically).

Quick said consolidation can provide better education and services to its students. Larger districts can offer a wider variety of coures and resources for its students. And, as a veteran of several consolidations, he knows it can be done.

“It’s not that it can’t happen,” he said. “It’s, does the community, and do the administrators and does the legislative delegation have the will to do it?”

Brooks said consolidating districts to save money is a decision that must consider community ties.

“You take any school district in this state or in this nation where schools have been established for a historical period of time: the loss of that identity isn’t something you’re going to forget,” Brooks said.

Dillon School District 2 Superintendent Ray Rogers said identity is important. He said all wasn’t lost when the Dillon County Board of Education recently worked to merge his Dillon-based district with Lake View-based Dillon 2, reducing the number of Dillon County school districts from three to two (Dillon 3 is based in Latta).

“The key thing is, everybody down there had to decide that there had to be an alternative to what was going on,” Rogers said. “When you have a problem, you’ve got to address the problem.”

That has been what’s driven consolidation of late in this the Pee Dee. Districts faced with some dilemma — most often financial — turned to consolidation only when everything else had been tried or considered.

Quick said there’s another option to consolidating districts: consolidating services, programs and funding could help pull troubled districts out of hard times, but it could come with drawbacks.

“Usually the big issue is everybody thinks consolidation means someone’s going to lose a job, and in the economic situation we’re in right now, no one wants to lose a job,” he said.

Today, the Morning News editors issued an editorial in favor of consolidation as a "good and necessary thing."

A long, slow march towards fewer districts is underway. Up to the end of the 19th century, South Carolina had 1,700 public districts, limited by state law to seven square miles, presumably because of transportation concerns. By the 1950s, and with the advent of the school bus, the number of districts had been reduced to 120. Today there are between 82-85 districts in the state (the range is due to problems counting districts in transition, such as those in Marion, Dillon and Sumter counties), and a trend towards lower numbers still is clearly underway. If and when the three Pee Dee counties mentioned above complete their transition to single-district entities, 32 of the state’s 46 counties will operate as unified school districts.

There’s no doubt that consolidating very small districts saves money. A 2009 study by the Jim Self Center on the Future showed that all eight of the state’s school districts with less than 1,000 students (Marion 7, Florence 4 are among them) had per pupil administrative costs that were double, triple or more the state average of $234 per pupil. This is common sense, of course. A recent Morning News story by education reporter Elizabeth Lamb showed that the burden of high, upper administration salaries alone can place a real drag on small district finance.

District consolidation remains a controversial topic, and most district “marriages” remain shotgun affairs where one or both parties are brought to the altar against their will. In recent years, as the economy sank into the Great Recession, failing finances often played the “shotgun” role. Districts consolidated because they had no other choice. The Timmonsville (Florence 4) district likely faces a similar choice in the near future — providing it can find a willing (or slightly coerced) partner.

It is abundantly clear, from high altitude, and maybe from a low one, that consolidation is a good and necessary thing (to use still more wedding phraseology) for small districts. Fiscal efficiency is lacking in districts with less enrollment than a good-sized middle school. One national study puts the efficiency “milepost” at 1,500 students. Below that threshold, districts are generally inefficient. Above 1,500, little additional saving is seen. Students may not be as well-served in microdistricts either. Special classes — and sometimes, even not-so-special ones — may not be available in small districts. Hiring a teacher just for French, Japanese or German, or for higher math and science, is beyond the scope of some small districts. Some extracurricular activities, which are central to the scholastic experience, may be unavailable as well.

And yet, resistance remains. Larger districts, like Florence 1, are often unwilling to take on struggling partners. Smaller districts are wary of being swallowed up inside a heartless educational colossus. They do not want to give up hoary tradition, community spirit, or hard-earned autonomy.

And bigger is not always better. The same study that suggested 1,500 as a minimum for efficiency, also noted that large districts could be out of touch with students’ particular needs. Breaking up some of the really big districts might be a good idea, too.

For now, however, the pressing needs, at least in these parts, seem to be improving the lot of small, struggling districts. As we have said before, that should be a priority for local education leaders, and local legislators, in the years ahead. There’s only one reason we think that: it will better serve all children in the area.