SBOE unanimously approves #reorg

Nevada continues to lead the country in transforming education into the 21st Century. On Sept. 1, The State Board of Education voted unanimously to pass regulations set forth for Assembly Bill 394, The Plan to Reorganize the Clark County School District. This was the second step in a three-step process. The Plan will go into effect after final approval by the legislative advisory committee when they are expected to meet on Sept. 9.

The Plan to Reorganize the Clark County School District will give more autonomy to the District’s 357 individual schools rather than retaining centralized control. Some of the areas where local school precincts will have more control are budgets, hiring and firing, and instruction. This is a major shift in the way CCSD operates. A similar empowerment model was implemented on a smaller scale back in 2006, but the legislature didn’t renew funding after a biennium and the promising program was discontinued.

As we all know, Nevada ranks at or near the very bottom of nearly every “bad” list comparing education by state. The Plan gives CCSD, the fifth largest school district in the nation, room to try something different that could improve our educational system by giving more power to the people in the schools, at ground level, who better know what their community needs to thrive. It also gives parents a voice in the decision-making process.

One of the main differences from the abandoned Empowerment model to The Plan is the formation of a School Organizational Team that supports the principal in areas such as the operational plan and budget. The SOTs will be comprised of teachers, support staff, and parents.

Over the past 14 months, so many experts in education came to meetings to share ideas about how to fix our District’s failing education model. Throughout all the 100+ plus hours of Legislative Advisory Committee, Technical Advisory Committee, and Town Hall meetings HOPE attended while AB394 was created, tweaked, changed, morphed, and crafted, we continued to keep our eye on the prize: Our 320,000+ students and the consequences of the Plan’s changes as it affects them.

The verdict from Thursday’s SBOE meeting was not surprising. However, this particular piece of legislation does have a history of being pushed through at the last minute, passing by critics’ concerns and questions with relative ease and few concrete answers, especially regarding equity and funding. Because of that, HOPE presented testimony to the SBOE so that our observations and questions went on record.

For your review, here is HOPE’s testimony:

President Wynn and Board Members, Thank you for the opportunity to speak today. My name is Jenn Blackhurst. I am here with Caryne Shea and Julie Vigil representing the parent advocacy group HOPE, Honoring Our Public Education. We support many of the new Legislative changes in Nevada’s K12 education system. We have attended all the Advisory Committee, TAC and Town Hall meetings with cautious optimism in the hope proposed changes will give all children a better chance of graduating high school, succeeding in college, careers and beyond. Our 800-plus HOPE members share enthusiasm at the prospect of proactive decision-making at individual schools, based on student need, and we relish greater efficiency, true family/community involvement, and changing unsuccessful practices in meaningful ways. We have become increasingly concerned as the deadline approaches, at the amount of missing information, and the lack of real-time and historical data to vet. We do appreciate the value of law and regulation not being overly prescriptive, but we must provide enough framework to ensure true, equitable support to our children, teachers and administrators. We have seen the pinball activity of the reorg meetings over the last seven months and have reserved judgment due to constant changes in trajectory. Since the discovery phase, we feel there are still concerns to be addressed before we can in good conscience move our students forward in the Reorganization process. We need to make clear that we are not against the Reorganization. Rather, we have spent time navigating through many upheavals in Nevada education, such as the roll-out of the NACS, the SBAC chaos, and the continued confusion of the EOC exams. We’ve seen what happens when regulations and laws are passed and implemented without all stakeholders input or enough questions being asked. While all concerns brought up may not need to be in regulation, these issues deserve to be carefully considered. To date, the most common answer received from the LCB to concerns has been “You’ll need to figure it out.” We owe our children a better answer than that. In Sect. 14, the list of services provided through central administration is so extensive, no one has been able to pin down what services will actually transfer to the school site. In that vein, the well-touted “savings” that will come from eliminating said services remain conjecture. For example, currently CCSD receives about a quarter of our promised federal special ed funds and the district is left to cover the millions of $ left in need. How can we expect individual schools to bear the burden of that deficit, with their current per pupil dollars? Will we actually be robbing Peter to pay federally-mandated Paul, upsetting the questionable equity our students currently face? Will unprotected GATE money be subject to filling the holes, as well? In Section 17, why is there only a hold-harmless for magnet and rural schools? Not having ALL of our schools given this same entitlement will leave the bulk of schools vulnerable to having budgets cut below existing per pupil dollars, especially with implemented weighted funding. And if student achievement is the primary goal for AB394, how will this lack of protection negatively affect student outcomes? I’d like to share an actual 2016 flex budget for a four-star school that receives no Title funds. The school’s allocated budget for the year is roughly $3.2 million for 700 students. Salaries and benefits alone are over $3 million for 34 licensed teachers, two administrators, and contracted hours for support staff. The school still requires additional support staff hours for its special education needs and pays that out of pocket. Combined with approximately $140,000 for an additional teacher for growth, and teaching supplies, the school team has about $50,000 left over to pay for everything else: copy paper, office/ custodial/health office supplies, books and materials, technology replacement, subscriptions, publications and fees for online programs, etc. This school is run by an experienced administrator who has years of experience working with a flex budget. Seeing how far that money must stretch, exactly what does the school have autonomy over, let alone any “cost savings”? We have seen CCSD schools on flex budgets attempt to save money by cutting programs, hiring long term subs, and expanding class size to eliminate teachers. Is this the autonomy the Legislature felt the school communities were craving? In addition to budget training for all administratos, we cannot stress enough the importance for Climate and Culture training for the entire School Organization Team. Superintendent Skorkowsky stated that CCSD has Reorganization funds until January, right when the real work is to start. The previous empowerment model’s success came with appropriated state and grant money. How do we ensure that all training via the School Associate Superintendent is adequate? What about adequacy of the end of the year surveys? And with an unknown cost of the transition, and no estimates on future available funds, you can see that the administrators we have surveyed are understandably concerned. Over the years, HOPE has also attended the Task Force meetings charged with recommending weights for the modernization of our funding formula. Section 17 is very concerning because the Implementation of weights at the state level is stalled due to lack of money, but yet AB394 requires the school district to do it. In addressing the makeup of the SOT in Section 25, the information on the Parental component is largely absent from draft regs. We support Educate Nevada Now’s added language recommendations for this section. Further, from a community survey HOPE did last year, 75 percent of the 420 parents across 41 zip codes surveyed revealed they “occasionally or never” participate in a parent organization in campus. Additionally, almost 70 percent of those parents stated they were NOT willing to start a parent organization if their school didn’t already have one in place, which currently describes half of our schools. The majority of parents we spoke to worried that time was a luxury they didn’t have. Also, they questioned their ability to be effective without feeling pressure to defer to administrators and teachers, for fear their child will suffer the consequences. While the plan says “there is no hierarchy,” we must be realistic. Given these responses, we suggest parent participation and training should be made mandatory to level the field. Hopefully the liability component for parents will be remedied in the upcoming Legislative Session, but we are aware that is also a deterrent for parents to serve. Parents and teachers have expressed that the selection of teachers based on payment of membership fees is discriminatory and the school team may lack important historical insight as veteran teachers are less likely to be members. What happens when the highest vote-getters are not Union members? Must they join or be disqualified? The plan states that efficient operation requires constant planning and communicating. In Section 26, how will teachers participate with their current CBA restricting their “after hours” events to three per year, but the regulation requires no less than one meeting per month? Will meetings be held during teachers contract hours, limiting parent and community availability? And how does the “NO additional compensation allowed” clause affect the teachers’ ability to serve? (Sect. 26, 5 & 7) If more money must be found for compensation of staff, does that come from the school’s operating budget? We hope there is a remedy that makes teachers available to attend as prescribed, but doesn’t take a bite out of the school’s operating budget. We suggest that the Union requirement for teachers and support staff be removed, parent participation be made mandatory, term limits be instituted, terms be staggered, and moving forward from year one, an election team is responsible for the election of all members. In Section 30, with respect to accountability, parents, teachers and administrators are concerned by the use of surveys as being our measure for success. Historically, we suffer from abysmal participation, notably: they aren’t mandatory, the results are subjective, and the lack of employee anonymity hinders participation for fear of retribution. Not only do we recommend a minimum threshold be added, but also this cannot be our only barometer. Parents, teachers and administrators agree that the goal is increased student achievement for every student in every school. We appreciate your thoughtfulness and consideration for our children’s success as the determining factor for when and how this reorganization is adequately vetted and approved.
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