Tuesday, November 17, 2015

The Democrats Can Be Real Leaders In Education Pay Reform

The SD Democrats are saying that they are willing to put forth their own proposal in trying to get SD in line with the rest of the region when it comes to teacher pay.  At least that is what the Argus Leader of today is telling me.
South Dakota Democratic lawmakers pointed out holes in the Blue Ribbon Task Force's recommendations Tuesday and said they aimed to put forth a plan of their own to counter them. 
State Rep. Paula Hawks, D-Hartford, and Sen. Billie Sutton, D-Burke, at a press conference in Sioux Falls said they saw shortcomings in the governor-appointed task force's suggestions for updating the state’s 20-year-old funding formula and increasing teacher salaries. 
"The biggest items were left undecided or incomplete," Hawks said.  
From the article I wonder if they are missing out on one of those key items: Going beyond sales tax to pay for the needed income.  As I have mentioned earlier, the Blue Ribbon Panel seemed to have ignored the idea of paying for the education funding increase.  We need to not put this just on sales tax, but instead include all those that benefit from education in this state (sales, income, corporate tax).  When we spread it out to include everyone, then there is more vested interest in the situation and less pain for any one group.  You can set up the income tax for those earning more than $350,000 for single or $700,000 for married at 3% (just random numbers), a corporate tax of 3% for corporations making more than $500,000 (more random numbers), sales tax of .5% increase with an exemption on food and cloths sales (like Minnesota).

Mr. Sutton is correct when he says the Blue Ribbon Panel failed its job.  (From the above Argus Leader article)
“The plan that we are currently looking at is just a layout and that was not our call," Sutton said. "If we’re just going to paint with a broad brush, I don’t think we did our job." 
Hawks and Sutton said they planned to draft their own plan along with Sen. Troy Heinert, D-Mission, on how the state should fund its teachers' salaries. They said it would provide more specific directives and they hoped others legislators, along with Gov. Dennis Daugaard, would support it.
The Democrats can not, I repeat, can not pick a funding mechanism based on what the Governor wants, but should develop one that comes across as fair and balanced for all citizens of the state and then let the GOP stand up against a common sense approach. 

Thursday, October 1, 2015

And the crickets chirped in Pierre

The Blue Ribbon Panel meet in Pierre today...and it felt like they accomplished next to nothing.  It was painful to listen to at times.  Cory had wondered at Dakota Free Press:
 But maybe as the Blue Ribboneers gaze out the windows at Pierre’s leisure class enjoying their expensive ball-chasing (Thursday’s weather: 70°F, partly sunny, windy), they’ll think about the wealth this state has available to raise teacher salaries. They’ll think about the teachers who are in their classrooms (except for the two K-12 teachers who serve with the 24 non-teachers on this panel deciding the fate of our state K-12 funding policy) earning the lowest salaries in the nation for the thirtieth year in a row. And maybe, just maybe, the Blue Ribboneers will put two and two together and realize they need to redistribute some wealth to support the teachers who make it possible for everyone in this state to acquire wealth.
The answer was a clear NOPE!  A lot was discussed about simplifying formulas and shifting capital outlay funds from one place to another, but the true thorny issues of increasing funds to pay for increases was basically ignored.

After the small groups met, you seemed to have a lot of discussion about new revenue from things like wind farms and banks being equalized, Allowing for some capital outlay funds to be used for general funds and getting rid of the current flexibility structure we have until 2018 and putting a cap on reserves like Nebraska, but no one really wanted to talk about how we raise revenue.  The reason?  They simply were not prepared!  Rep. Sly is quoated in the Oct 2 Argus Leader as reminding everyone that they have no idea what to do about funding and teacher salaries...
“We don’t have a good grasp on the whole model that was presented to us,” Sly said. “We don’t even know what the number would be at this point.”  
While quotation is on changing the funding formula and not revenue needed to increase salaries, it belies a big point about this meeting that was supposed to be the last (they do have a back up planned for the end of October): they talk about shifting things around and making funding look good to the voter.  As Paula Hawks asked toward the end: "Where is the money?"

They did have Andy Gerlach speak for a little bit of time about sales tax, but no other type of revenue was dared discussed.  At one point Billie Sutton tentatively asked why income tax was not being talked about, and either Sly or Soholt (I couldn't tell which) jokingly threatened to put it down that Sutton brought it up, and he backed away and basically apologized for the idea.  Then it was stated that only sales tax was brought up at the meeting.  I remember one group specifically mentioning that we need to look at a income tax or corporate tax.  I also remember the panel itself had a copy of polling data that says the tax payers would support come forms of income taxes and corporate taxes, but what the hell do the voters know....

They now have one last chance: October 29.  I think it is time to try and reach out to the panel and share some of our ideas, so they can come prepared and not be stuck spinning their wheels.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

When a Shooting Happens Near You

Today was a very surreal day.  Our staff spent the morning in teacher in-service.  The topic: how to respond when there is a shooter (active killer) in your school.  During the training in the morning, we were informed that there was a shooting at Harrisburg High School.  The room was in shock.  For many I think the first reaction was one of disbelief: "Is this part of the training?"  I am sure that was followed up by fear and worry.  Many have family, friends, and other connections in the school district.  Many probably remembered what happened in our town last year.

I am very happy that there were no serious physical injuries.  I also know that the reaction of the Harrisburg administration are to be held up as how to react to a shooter.  Assistant Principal Ryan Rollinger and AD Joe Struwe showed impressive courage and quick thinking in reacting to the shooting.  It is amazing the Principal Lein would get on the intercom to inform and try to calm his students.  The actions of Rollinger and Struwe fell right in line with what we were being trained to do in our school.

I also know that this is not justification to put armed guards in our hallways.  It is definitely not justification for arming teachers.  Our trainer (a police officer from Iowa) pointed out that police officers only hit their target 20% of the time.  

This is a time to think about what to do when you think it can't happen in your school; what to do when it happens in your town.  Putting more guns in the school is still not the solution, but that doesn't mean that I would have to lie down and not fight back.

I also know one more thing...tell those close to you that you love them.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Undervaluing Is Not a Way to Draw New Teachers

"They felt undervalued."  This simple sentence from the September 26, 2015 Argus Leader seems to sum up the reason why we are seeing more and more problems with maintaining quality teachers in this state.  Teacher's feel undervalued.  Their opinions seem to have little value, we don't want to pay them because "they only work for 9 months," and it is easier to blame them for failures of behavior, poverty, and the future of democracy.  We try to design tools that prove that they are failures after handicapping them and not even being sure if those measuring tools have any validity.  We have non-professionals that work very hard to tell teachers exactly what to do, without getting input from teachers.  

This feeling is not just in the South Dakota.  Last year the O.E.C.D. surveyed teachers from around the world and found roughly a third of the US teachers felt appreciated.  My thinking is that this number is actually a little lower in South Dakota.  Mr. Davidson of the O.E.C.D stated in the New York Times
If teachers felt undervalued, Mr. Davidson said at a media briefing, the best candidates would be less likely to enter the profession or stay in the job.
Cut back to the Argus Leader article and notice that Patrick Anderson actually talked to the people about why they left the field instead of relying on vague statistical figures.  

One such teacher was Rogene Brown who used to teach at Whittier Middle School.  Anderson sums up her reasoning as
There is no single reason why Brown left behind her job in the public schools, but she had problems with what she perceived as a changing philosophy in education and public perceptions of teachers. 
“And then you’re not getting paid what your worth,” Brown said. “No teachers are, no matter what they’re getting paid.” 
Another middle school teacher from Sioux Falls left teaching to drive truck for Harms Oil.  He explained the decision 
“I love teaching, working with kids and coaching,” Weinstein said. “I hate saying it, but at some point I got to take care of my own.”
Unfortunately, South Dakota has failed to take care of its own: teachers and students.   Lawmakers are more worried about the pressures of getting elected and making a few people happy instead of stepping up and being brave to do what is right and needed.  If the Blue Ribbon Panel wants to make any real change, then they can not limit themselves to make this minority of South Dakota happy just because they sit in Pierre.  Show that you value education and start fighting for it instead of hoping for crumbs.

I await Thursday and the next Blue Ribbon panel meeting.

PS. Patrick Anderson, I would recommend that you try talking to teachers to get their view on education by not holding coffee sessions during the times when many people (teachers included) have to work.  You are sort of limiting your pool of information.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Will the Blue Ribbon Panel be Bold?

BE BOLD!  That was one of the biggest things people have told this Blue Ribbon Panel over and over.  This is not a time to approach things as what usually happens to education funding in Pierre.  Can we expect the Blue Ribbon panel to take that charge and shoot for something big to allow them some negotiating room when it comes time to pass a bill?  It does not look good.

Listening to the last meeting on September 9 in Pierre, the Blue Ribbon Panel heard even more data that continued to be pointed out as not quite a clear picture of what is actually happening with education in our state.  They then met to talk about actual goals of this panel.  They concluded by getting together in three smaller groups and talking about the next steps.  For many this may seem like a lot of spinning ones wheels and getting no where.  You probably won't get much disagreement.  

The groups came back and brought out their recommendations.  All the groups like the idea of the penny sales tax, but we should include some property tax relief.  Why the property tax relief?  Because these "bold" individuals claim that we should only do something that the Governor and the rest of the GOP leaders would pass.  THIS IS BOLD?  

The panel seems to be coming to the legislative table like they are scared of what everyone else wants in Pierre and not what the citizens are willing to do and support.  They need to remember that this is the same group of people that rejected the idea that we are approaching a teacher crisis in this state simply because the idea of funding increases.  This is the same governor that has shown his disdain for the education profession and public education in this state over and over again.  

What would be bold?  My suggestion is a requirement that puts skin in for everyone involved in the education game.  A 1/2 cent sales tax with removing of sales tax on food goods,  A small corporate income tax with a little more for corporations not headquartered in the state, and an income tax on people making more than $500,000 could be established and provide some property tax relief.  The corporate tax would help acknowledge that businesses are making an investment in the future of the workforce.  

Where do I get these ideas?  Are they something I picked that would be poison to the citizens of this state?  Nope.  The Blue Ribbon Panel had them from a Harstad Poll that was sponsored by several different groups.  Here was a finding that I don't think got mentioned once on air:
When presented with various tax options as possibilities to fund increases for public schools, voter responded positively. When asked whether or not they would support a corporate profits tax to help fund public schools, 53 percent of the respondents said definitely yes or probably yes. An option that received the most positive response was increasing state taxes on corporations heard quartered in other states at 70 percent followed by taxing the income on people making over $500,000 a year at 59 percent, increasing the summer sales tax by one penny at 56 percent, the corporate profits tax again at 53 percent, and lastly at state tax on car rentals, hotels and motels at 51 percent. 
My advice to the Blue Ribbon Panel is to be bold and do something that doesn't happen much in Pierre: consider the thoughts of the public over the wishes of party elites.  Do not start from a position of weakness, but instead show your GOP colleagues that this is in their best interest because not supporting education will be a pivotal moment and probably could cost them their seat.  Remind them that they are there for good of the state and the districts that contain a school (or probably more).  Remind them that they also need to be bold.  

That would be the BOLD move, but based on what I heard, even from one of the co-chairs, bold needs to take a back seat to giving something Daugaard and other GOP will support.

Monday, September 7, 2015

The Next Blue Ribbon Panel Meeting

I have taken a nice long break from blogging.  Plenty of excuses for the break, but the best two are preparing to take on a new role in school that has just started and recharging the brain to focus on teaching and being a parent.  When I start talking about politics in South Dakota and the general treatment of education by Pierre, I get a tad depressed and the cynicism grows and grows.  I hate to have that destroy the last bastions of summer and the beginning of school.

In the last Blue Ribbon panel that meet August 19, they brought in expert Richard Ingersoll to explain that salary is not the main cause for teacher shortages around the country.  The Argus Leader summed up his generic talking points this way:
Richard Ingersoll, an education professor for the University of Pennsylvania, presented his research Wednesday to members of South Dakota’s Blue Ribbon Task Force on Teachers and Students. 
School leaders in the state have reported dwindling candidate pools and a spike in unfilled teacher openings. They blame South Dakota’s low teacher salaries, which rank last in the nation. 
At least nationally, however, pay isn’t the main reason for teacher dissatisfaction, Ingersoll said. 
“It is a factor, but it’s not the only one, and it’s not the main one,” Ingersoll said. (Argus Leader Aug 22, 2015)
I say generic, not because I dispute Dr. Ingersoll's research (which is a bit dated), but that his findings are on a national scope and do not look specifically at South Dakota's issues.  This is something that the Argus and, I fear, many others overlooked when actually listening to the testimony.  For example, one of the reasons for lower wages in school districts and problem staffing is a "greening" effect that is occurring.  He explains the "greening" as districts getting more new teachers and fewer experienced teachers.  However this is not occurring in South Dakota since according to Dr. Schopp's data, over 31% of South Dakota workforce is 51+ years of age and only 19% is 20-30 years old.

At about 7:39 into the second session, Supt. Pearson asks if the South Dakota numbers an ages matched the nation.  The answer from Ingersoll was simply "No."  Then Ingersoll goes on to explain how South Dakota is not showing the greening like the rest of the nation.  Pearson comes back at about 9:40 into the second session to point out that this means that the majority of our teachers would be on the higher end of the pay-scale, but we still rank 51st in the nation.  

The majority of the panel seemed to have been talking about how there is not really a crisis in staffing (despite what everyone is saying in the school districts on the ground) or there are a lot of ways to cover shortages with other things like computers.  There has been little talk about actually dealing with the problems.  Problems like that pointed out by Dr. Ingersoll that only 51% of teacher graduates actually stay in the state teaching (25 minutes into the second session).  A "striking data point from a researcher's view point."  Problems like that we do not have the greening impact to off-set the number of retiree's.  In fact there has been little to nothing about the real issue of education funding in South Dakota.

Don't expect much of anything to come from the September 9 meeting.  They will be talking about extending student teaching to a full year across the state as a way to better prepare beginning teachers to all the stuff that is not teaching in a classroom that a teacher has to do.  I don't see how this will impact education funding for schools?  Maybe, the Blue Ribbon Panel's main goal was how to actually staff schools for as cheap as possible?  The only indicator that we may get is the small group discussions (I will be interested in how they will broadcast this) and the framing scope of work and the tenets and goals portion.  

There is only one meeting left after the September 9 date (unless they go to overtime at the end of October).  The number one concern from educators about the panel was that they actually do something and not waste our time.  So far, things are not looking too good.

Monday, August 17, 2015

This Could Be the Excitement Paula Hawks Needs for Her Campaign Videos

Some people have felt that Paula Hawks campaign videos have lacked some punch to them.  Canada provides the answer.  Seriously, if you have not seen this, you have too!  AWESOME is all I can say.

Wyatt Scott, he is running for Parliament.

Change the goose to a pheasant, keep the dragon (but make it a Chinese dragon to make conservatives happy), and have your hands turn into assault rifles.  That should pull in enough voters to win!  Seriously, I love the video for a great smile.