Monday, April 23, 2012

TAP creates a stir at Pickens board meeting

A Pickens County school budget workshop offered an opportunity to look more closely at state TAP programs last week.

If TAP is an acronym, I cannot tell it; there is no explanation of the word on the state Department of Education's website, though there is a concise description of the program:

The SC TAP System was based on a model launched in 1999 as an initiative of the Milken Family Foundation. It is now operated by the National Institute for Excellence in Teaching (NIET). TAP encourages teachers to grow and allows them to prosper by offering new models for professional entry and training, with new compensation and career advancement possibilities. It honors the essence while changing the structure of the teaching profession.

Let me process this for a moment: A foundation created by disgraced junk bond kingpin Michael Milken -- successfully prosecuted by Rudy Giuliani, no less -- and his brother Lowell, having no background in public education but billions of dollars in business profits, seeks to change the structure of the teaching profession, ostensibly through grants to states and local school districts to push their system.

In other parts of our society, when one entity pays another to do something, that's called employment; in other parts of our society, it's called bribery. In either case, the one paying the money always stands to gain something in the transaction.

First, I wonder what the Milken brothers stand to gain from spending huge sums of money on public education, an institution far from their backgrounds?

Second, I wonder how our state and our local school districts view the Milken fund stream: as wages for employment, or as a bribe?

Third, I wonder exactly how the Milken brothers seek to change the structure of the teaching profession?

And fourth, I wonder how professional educators feel about having billionaires use vast wealth to change their profession, presumably without their input?

The department's website offers a bit of a response to my third question, but its responses lead to more questions:

Multiple Career Paths. Teachers move up the ranks knowing that compensation will increase, as do responsibilities, qualifications, performance, and professional development requirements.

Is this not already accomplished by having a salary schedule that recognizes experience and credential? Where does the multiple career paths come in, given that in education, if you're a classroom teacher, your only real option for advancement is to leave the classroom and become an administrator?

Is it the goal of the Milken brothers to move teachers out of the classroom and create an army of administrators? I can't tell.

Market-Driven, Performance-Based Compensation. Master teachers may earn as much as $75,000 each year.

A salary of $75,000 per year will make a fine average teacher salary in South Carolina, and it will more adequately reflect the value that teachers provide to their communities and state.

But if this is a goal adopted by our state, then when will the legislature get around to funding it, and why isn't it being promoted statewide?

And why is this goal being gussied up with words that mean merit pay: "Market-driven, performance based compensation"?

Here's a thought: The market demands we have teachers to teach children. Let's pay them what they're worth, and pay them for their work. Done and done; no billionaires' ideological intervention required.

Performance-Based Accountability. Determined by student progress, academic achievement, and performance demonstration. Peer reviews may be an element of advancement.

I see ideology creeping in. Clearly, the billionaire brothers seek to change the structure of the teaching profession by paying teachers based on student test scores, and by dividing teachers into reviewers and reviewees. Reviewers who play the game, and reviewees who toe the line, get to be "master teachers" and collect bigger checks. Divide and conquer.

Ongoing, Applied Professional Growth. Occurs several times each week through the professional growth blocks built into the teacher's work schedule. Collaboration among instructional personnel is important with time for reflection, planning, sharing, research, and learning.

Ah, the old stretch-out. It's not enough that teachers have full-time jobs, but they'll be subject to full-time scrutiny from reviewers, and full-time on-the-job training until they get tired of it and choose to quit.

Michael Milken spent two years in a federal prison -- negotiated down from a ten-year sentence, mind you -- for bilking investors out of billions of dollars. Reckon he spent his two years pondering how to claw his way back to wealth by imposing an unnecessary merit pay and total-quality-management scheme onto public schools across the nation?

The ultimate goal of the SC TAP is to develop policies, practices, and procedures regarding evaluation, certification, and teacher quality, which will be implemented in all of South Carolina's public schools.

Oh, so the districts using TAP right now are the test cases; the Frankenstein's monster will be imposed statewide at some point soon.

Well, let's check out how well the TAP program is uniting and improving education in Pickens County.

A benign budget workshop with SDPC board trustees and district administration became heated last week when former board chairman Jim Shelton inquired how the board’s recent vote to end the TAP program impacted teacher contracts.

School district human resources director Stephanie Lackey said that the vote to do away with the TAP program eliminated 3.5 teaching positions and sent four teachers home.

Board member Judy Edwards maintained that the TAP vote had no bearing on the current budget workshop.

“It doesn’t matter. It’s over,” she said.

Shelton pushed the issue, asking incoming superintendent Kelly Pew why the state had given Pickens County $295,000 in funding for the third year of the TAP program.

“Why did they give us that money?” asked Pew. “Because they thought TAP was successful in our county.”

“The action to do away with TAP, a fully funded program with no effect on the general fund budget at all, laid off four teachers,” said Shelton. “The decision to end TAP was political, not practical. What this board has done is put politics into the classroom and removed teachers and dollars.”

Because funding for TAP was available through FY 2013, Shelton said bringing it up was pertinent to the budget workshop.

“This board chose to lay off teachers. The board had the authority and resources to retain those teachers. They chose not to,” said Shelton. “And they didn’t want the public to know it.”

“The board ended the TAP program, so 13.5 Master Teacher (teacher coaches) positions were eliminated. So far all but two have found jobs in the system,” said SDPC board chairman Alex Saitta. “Last year at this time the board eliminated 85 positions, and most all found jobs elsewhere in the system over the next few months.”

Saitta also said that there is no reason to rehash the TAP vote, because it was going to cost the district $275,000 next year, $800,000 the year after, $1.3 million the year after that and $2.2 million four years from now.

“Shelton wants to keep bringing up how much Mick Zais loves the program,” said Saitta. “Wonderful. Let Zais pay for it.”

According to Shelton, Zais is paying for it, because in two years TAP will be eliminated and replaced with a similar program of Zais’ choosing.

“The funding for TAP is supposed to be a gradual stepdown over time, but we’re into year three and the state department is almost completely funding it,” said Shelton. “There is no impact to the General Fund Budget, and revenues are rising.”

Total revenues for the FY 2013 budget, which is still in the preliminary stages, total $97,495,972.

Clark Webb, school district director of financial services, said that local revenues have remained the same as the previous fiscal year at $28,423,000. Employee benefits from the state are coming in at approximately $1.2 million, and the base student cost for FY 2013 is expected to be $2,012.00 up from $1,880.00 last year.

Some of the district’s estimated expenses include a 1.7 percent retirement increase totaling approximately $450,000 and an employee health increase totaling $366,000. In addition, General Fund items increased with the addition of $90,764 for Reading Recovery and another 5.5 FTEs at $340,516.

Although Webb and district superintendent Dr. Henry Hunt advised SDPC board members that the FY 2013 budget was still in the infancy stages and subject to change depending on decisions made by the SC Hose and Senate, Webb said the budget appears to be fairly well-balanced.

In addition, there is a contingency fund in the neighborhood of $597,000 that rolled over from last year.

“A combination of a firming economy and conservative fiscal management has landed the school district on its feet,” Saitta said. “There is no tax increase or fees increase in the budget. Also the three-year streak of position eliminations due to budget deficits has ended. Last year at this time the board/ district was eliminating 85 positions. Quite an improvement.”

“Whether it’s two or 22, they are still removing teachers from classrooms,” said Shelton. “Four teachers were laid off because the board voted to eliminate TAP and the funding for the program.”

So much for changing the structure of the teaching profession. Looks like the only impact TAP had in Pickens County is the loss of four teachers.

I wonder how our educators are suffering it elsewhere?

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