Archive for April, 2010

KEA President Message To School Board Re: Budget Cuts

April 25, 2010

Last year, we heard the district wail that there was no money, but you did have it, and in fact you made over $4 million more.  

This year you say you want a budget that reflects the priorities of the district. A preliminary action plan was developed supposedly to help focus district reserves and put time, effort and money on improving student learning.

Out of the preliminary action plan came the Getting to Graduation plan. A focus on students starting in kindergarten, ensuring that there is a smooth transition for new students to Kent schools and from grade level to grade level. A plan to ensure that the graduation rates increased and students were ready for life beyond high school. 

Add on the other programs and initiates like:

1) district’s move to implement tiered intervention

2) the outside experts brought in for training

3) the training that KEA members spent time at

4) the SIOP books (strategies for teaching English Language Learners) for every teacher and

5) the time and training that goes with SIOP

It all looks impressive and seems to focus on the students, but we can’t judge it by the impressions it gives on paper.

One third of the Getting To Graduation plan requires implementation and work from counselors – but they are now on the chopping block.

Those who were sent to training for tiered intervention – are now on the chopping block.

Those who are to provide training, strategies for teaching and best practices for student learning – are now on the chopping block.

The people who provide additional literacy and math support, another part of the Preliminary Action Plan – are now on the chopping block.

It is inconceivable that the resources used to develop this plan, pay for outside experts for training, train staff for implementation and monitoring was wasted.

The very people that the district counts on to do the training and implementation are now on the chopping block.

It is difficult to improve learning conditions for students when teachers, counselors, and support staff will not be available for students. If the district really wants to focus on student learning and success, then they need to find a way to ensure that no cuts affect student learning.

Lisa Brackin-Johnson

KEA President

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A Matter of Choice, Not Necessity

April 25, 2010

There they go again.  Once more, the Kent School District is claiming a financial crisis, and is planning to layoff dozens of counselors, librarians, and music teachers who provide important services to students.  And, once more, the actual facts do not support this decision.  

The district wants you to believe they are losing $9M in funding, but this is not correct.  The actual reduction in revenue will be more like $4-5M from a $262M annual budget (a 2% loss).  Some of their potential reductions in funding were offset when the legislature raised the levy cap, allowing the district to receive an additional $2.7M. 

While the district continues to cry wolf, it is on track to end the current school year with $21.7M in the bank, which is over 8% of their annual budget.  This fund balance has not dipped below $18.2M at any point over the past four years.  The administration is wrongly claiming that they can’t touch the bulk of this Rainy Day Fund.  But, in reality, only $1.6M of their $21.7M fund is “reserved.” and they can designate the remainder for any purpose they choose— like keeping programs and teachers that help kids.

 Even if the district were to have an actual budget crisis, there are many options to consider that the administration did not put before the board or the public.  The district continues to purchase new books and materials, implement costly new programs, and bring in expensive outside consultants.  Their expenditures on teaching and instruction are already far lower in comparison to other districts than is their spending on administration.  Nevertheless, administrators have placed false choices before the board and community, and they prefer to eliminate dozens of educators who work directly with students.  This was evident in the district’s recent community budget survey, in which all who responded were forced to choose the option of teacher layoffs—the survey could not be submitted and counted without adding in the “points” generated by that selection.

None of this is necessary.   The layoff of educators, forcing families to “Pay to Play” in the athletic program, and other cuts that impact students, are a matter of choice, rather than of necessity. 

Parents and community members who are concerned with the quality of education in Kent, and who believe in the careful stewardship of public funds, should have a voice in this discussion.  You can speak at school board meetings (the next is scheduled at 7:00 p.m. on April 28th at the district office), and can call, email, or write to Dr. Vargas and the school board. Ask them to use the resources with which they have been entrusted to do the right thing for kids!

Mike McNett, UniServ Representative

Kent Education Association

Board Votes To Approve Budget Sham

April 21, 2010

Despite the presence of over 200 passionate KEA members at Wednesday’s special session of the School Board on the 2010-11 budget, the KSD Board has voted to authorize the $9 million in budget cuts that will mean the elimination of 60 certificated positions, elementary music programs, librarians, IT professionals, and counselors at all levels.  While the Board did also move to reduce the “Rainy Day” fund by a small amount, it still lacked the intestinal fortitude to use the money they have been hoarding for the last several years to save vital jobs and programs.  Once again, their bond rating was deemed more important than the welfare of Kent kids.  The bright side is that new Board member Karen DeBruler voted against the cuts, and several Board members did express anger and frustration at having to make the decision due to unfunded state and federal mandates.  To many in Kent, however, these words are hollow and empty, devoid of meaning or significance when the final vote was taken and the cuts were approved.

For more than an hour, KEA members spoke with both passion and emotion about the impact these cuts will have not just on themselves, but on the students they work with each day.  Several painted a real and clear picture of the impact these cuts will have on students immediately next year.  Others, including several Kent Education Association officers and representatives, spoke about how the KSD consistently spends less per pupil than surrounding districts, that the KSD’s “Rainy Day” fund continued to grow even after last year’s budget crisis and strike, and how the KSD budget is filled with hidden dollars that go unspent from year to year. 

Their words seemed to have some impact, but not as much as was hoped.  What will happen in the upcoming months, as RIF notices are sent out and actual budget amounts are adjusted to fit the money TBD coming from the state, remains to be seen.  Let’s hope that no one in Kent will forget these decisions and the warning tonight that was sounded but largely ignored.

More details are forthcoming, but you can check out reports from KING-5 and KOMO-4 news here and here.

Budget Crisis – KEA’s Call To Action

April 19, 2010

Emergency!

Budget Crisis – KEA’s Call To Action

 

The KSD School Board is meeting on Wednesday to make budget decisions.

Any layoff will make every member’s job harder.
Any layoff makes each member’s job vulnerable.

To all members:

·      Wear black to school on Wednesday.

Attend the school board meeting on Wednesday 4/21/10.

o  Arrive at 6:15 for a rally outside
o  Attend the meeting at 7:00
o  Wear black
o  Bring your rain gear – it’s raining and the rainy day fund needs to be spent.

 The absence of our members implies consent. Be at KSD on Wednesday at 6:15.

 
Lisa Brackin Johnson
President
Kent Education Association

KSD Budget Crisis/Fiasco Continues

April 19, 2010

Budget cuts are on the horizon, as we all know.  KSD continues to claim that they must cut $9 million from our District’s budget before the 2010-11 school year.  With the help of the WEA, KEA’s projections are that KSD’s budget deficit will be more like $6 million.  (KEA’s budget projections have tended to be dead on when it comes to forecasting the KSD’s annual budget and expenditures.  Last year, KEA’s projection of the ending “Rainy Day Fund” was off by just $600k, while KSD’s projection underestimated their ending balance by over $5 million.) 

Something smells rotten about the whole process underway.  While the KSD claims they are working collaboratively with KEA and other interest groups, the District created a severely flawed and biased budget survey without any KEA input.  (See previous post below.)   The KSD claims that they are working to get community input on budget decisions, and yet they gave less than two weeks’ notice for a Community Budget Forum.  As a result,  less than 100 people attended to give their input.  Does this mean that the KSD’s budget cuts are not of interest or importance to KEA members or the Kent community?  Of course not!  Now, the KSD Administration is pushing the School Board to make decisions regarding what items to cut in a hasty manner.  The Board has shown some caution, as when it questioned recently why numbers provided by District Administrators on consecutive nights were different.  New School Board member Tim Clark as well as Bill Boyce have frequently questioned what is being presented to them more openly in public meetings.  Is that enough to prevent disaster?

Still, it seems that KSD’s main priorities are to protect pet projects, shiny new programs, and the ridiculously over-inflated Budget Fund Balance (aka “Rainy Day Fund”).  KEA continues to call for cuts to be made as far away from students as possible.   At the core of our argument is the question: “Why is the District buying new classroom phones or paying outside lawyers and consultants at the expense of laying off certificated staff and teachers that have a much larger and more direct impact on students’ education?”  KEA continues to call for real and meaningful input from all stakeholders (not just our union) to set the District’s spending priorities.  Another equally important question: “If the KSD will end the year with $9 million in reserve funds above their self-imposed 5% reserve, and they have a $9 million projected budget shortfall, then why do we need cuts?”  KEA asserts that the “Rainy Day” fund balance above that all-important 5% should be used to prevent staff layoffs that will result in diminished instruction and services for our students.

Meanwhile, the School Board again met to look over the list of potential budget cuts at a Special Sessoin on Monday, 4/19.  Once again, the Board questioned why numbers and documentation presented to them by KSD Administration had changed since the previous meeting.   While the School Board met, KEA discovered that at one building, an administrator actually told a committee of teachers and certificated staff in their building to choose which of their colleagues to give a layoff to!  More examples of rumors of program cuts and upcoming layoffs have been announced before the School Board has even made any final decisions! 

It’s time for KEA members and the community to stand up and cry foul!  It’s time to get involved and let our voices be heard!  It’s time for the citizens of Kent to demand full transparency and an honest, open dialog on budget decisions that make kids the priority.

What Are KSD’s Budget Priorities?

April 18, 2010

When we asked this question last year, parents and community members stood behind Kent teachers in responding that KSD’s top priority should be students and supporting learning in the classroom.

Nevertheless, KSD is pursuing a course that will negatively impact our children by cutting elementary staff positions: Librarians who provide key literacy support; counselors who provide support emotional health and coordinate services; intervention specialists who support struggling learners and coaches who help teachers implement best practices.

Yes, KSD is surveying the community about these potential cuts. The catch? To submit your survey, your answers must accumulate at least 60 “points”. Reducing elementary staff, such as librarians, counselors and specialists, is the only way to accumulate these points. This does not truly allow the community to establish district priorities.

Does KSD have other options? Absolutely. In the last five years, KSD has had as much as $15 million more in its “rainy day fund” than the school board policy calls for. Last year, KEA forecast a KSD “rainy day fund” of $22 million, while KSD asserted that the fund balance would not exceed $17 million. At year end, it was $22.6 million. This year, KEA forecasts KSD will end the year with a “rainy day fund” of $21.7 million.

KSD has maintained a fund balance between three and six times the budgeted level and well over the board policy of 5%. What’s more, they spend just 90% of what they budget to spend in the classroom and about half of what they budget on purchased services (hired consultants, attorneys and other outside contractors). Just setting the budget for the actual expenditures would reduce the budget significantly and potentially eliminate the need for cuts.

Families must sometimes dip into savings to cover expenses. If necessary, the Kent school district should do the same.

During a budget crisis, staff members agree that support in and for the classroom should trump new programs and trainings with consultants.

We believe that the number one priority of the Kent School District should be the students. We urge the district and community members to keep cuts as far away from students as possible to ensure that our children continue to have the opportunity for a quality education.

True Facts About the KSD Budget Survey

April 11, 2010

The KSD budget survey is open to all staff and parents in the community. The survey is online and can be accessed through the KSD website. From several categories, a total of 60 points worth of cuts are to be selected.

There are a few things to note:

1)    KSD says, “… the district incurred increased costs resulting from bargaining that took place in the fall of 2009.” However, even after the bargain, the district’s general fund balance increased by about $1.4 mill.

2)   If your total is less than 60, your survey input will not be accepted by the system.  

3)   You can’t get to 60 points without choosing one of the selections in section one (reductions at the elementary level)

4)   There are four “revenue” increases; two of them increase the fee for staff development (money out of your pocket) and the others are for “pay to play” initiatives (money out of parents’ pocket).

5)   The introduction to the survey states that some items from last year were not listed because of the contract bargained last fall. In reality, many of the items listed last year had to be bargained anyway with several of the unions (teachers, paras, bus drivers, custodians, office personnel) and should not have been listed in the first place.

6)   The choices and impact statements were selected and written by KSD cabinet members.

Personnel costs are the largest part of the district’s budget. It should be! KSD staff serves students everyday whether in the classroom, the school office, lunchroom, playground or on the bus. The focus should be on how to best support and serve the needs of students. It’s a difficult job now, and would only get worse with a reduction in staff at any level.

 For now, I urge you to complete the survey and add comments at the end. Tell the school board how you view this survey. Tell them how the cuts will affect your students, classroom and you. Let them know that the budget is not just numbers, but students and people. You know that some cost areas and/or programs were not listed, ask them why. Plan to attend the open meeting on April 12, 6 – 9 pm at Kentwood to have your voice heard.

Budget reductions are a necessity; however they should occur as far from the classroom as possible. Let the school board hear your voice through the survey and comments and let the community the real impacts of reductions on students at the April 12 meeting at Kentwood. 

Lisa Brackin Johnson, President

Kent Education Association

One Teacher’s Take On Budget Cuts

April 11, 2010

The following is the text of an email sent by a Nationally Board Certified teacher in the KSD to the Kent School Board about the current budget cuts being proposed. 

Once again we find ourselves at a crossroads of making decisions for students or against students.  Any decision that compromises the student’s classroom experience is a decision against students.  When so much is being asked of those working daily with students to bring students up to standard and raise the level of proficiency in our district, how could any level minded stakeholder consider removing anything that directly effects the students.  IF it is necessary to make cuts in the budget, EVERY effort should be made to see that those cuts do NOT impact the classroom and those directly involved with the lives of the students. 
 
Lip service has been given to making administrative cuts, however, at an earlier board meeting this year, yet another superintendent position was approved.  How can that be?  I attend every board meeting; I hear the budget reports.  What I don’t hear are cuts from administration that free up money to preserve students’ education.  Administrative cuts I do see are those that remove administrative personnel from the buildings that only serve to harm the students in our care.  For example, just yesterday, our “designated administrator” (since our principal was out of the building) spent the entire day dealing with a student issue that potentially put other students at risk.  This required an intense investigation involving the questioning of at least a dozen different students to ensure an accurate representation of the situation before imposing consequences.  During this time, no other administrative work was possible.  THAT is what administrative cuts from last year have done.  Because the building I work in is not Title I, apparently we do not have student situations such as this that require the attention of administrative personnel.  Obviously an inaccurate assessment.  It appears that our district believes it is more important to add another superintendent position than it is to meet the needs of the students in the buildings by providing enough administrative staff to ensure the safety of our students.  Hmmm.  Something is wrong with this picture.
 
Other administrative cuts I see are those of TOSAs, or teaching staff at the district office that work directly with curriculum implementation issues.  Once again, these are positions that directly impact the classroom and the students.  Seems the most costly administrative cuts are those that require the services of the least paid and those with the greatest student impact.  How is that “Preparing All Students for their Future?”
 
My concerns are not just mine.  I am certain  you have heard this opinion before, and if not, it is because of fear of retribution.  Yes, fear of retribution.  There is still a culture of fear in the Kent School District when teachers express their concerns regarding administrative decisions.  If we are sincere about
the quality of education in the Kent School District, ANY budget cuts will be far, far away from the classroom and the building.