Senate Bill 2033

Senate Bill 2033
Local Control,
Where Did You Go?

White Oak ISD recently received Texas Association of School Boards Policy Update 86. For the reader that is not familiar, this is school districts operating procedures and state law mandates prepared as a service of our membership in TASB. Many of the changes that are sent have to do with changes in the law that we can not change or choose to ignore. However, school policy does include “Local Policies” that are in place to allow each school district a certain level of discretion concerning the way a district (WOISD) operates.
I am concerned about one of the changes being required of the district in Update 86. In policy EIA (LOCAL), Grading/Progress reports to parents, our district no longer has the local option of assigning a failing grade of no lower than fifty (50) on a students six weeks report card. Senate Bill 2033 passed into law by the 81st Legislature removed this local option for educators across the state. On the surface one might say this is a good thing. If a student does not do any work, that student should get a zero (0) and if his/her average is a twelve (12) then so be it! Please allow me to express another point of view that is well understood by educators. A student with a twelve average will not receive credit for the six weeks, as will a student with a fifty. The student with the twelve will have to average 99 out of 100 for the next two six weeks in order to receive a passing grade of 70 for the semester. The student with the fifty will have to average 80 out of 100 over the next two six weeks in order to receive a passing grade of 70 for the semester.
The obvious purpose of giving a student the grade of fifty that he/she did not earn is to give the student a chance turn a bad six weeks into a successful semester. If the student does not change his/her ways and continues to do poor work, they fail the course with a fifty average. There is not difference between a fifty no credit and a twelve no credit except that we gave the student a chance to succeed. SB 2033 will succeed in increasing the number of dropouts at the secondary level and will result in more discipline problems in our classrooms. A student that might have considered making a change in behavior will not change when there is NO REASONABLE CHANCE of improving the poor grade from the past six weeks.
Senate Bill 2033 removes a very vital measure of local control that schools can use to save students from dropping out of school. More drop outs and more discipline problems at school translate into a more difficult learning environment for students that want to succeed. This places greater demands on our public school faculty and staff members while the legislature continues to pile on more restrictions that seem to be designed to hamper our efforts to provide a quality education to all students. It is obvious that there are legislators that would like to see public schools fail to make way for vouchers and privatization of education. It must be very frustrating for those legislators to watch the faculty and staff members of the Texas Public School System as they take what ever is put in front of them and turn it into success stories for public education. Productivity in Texas Public Schools is on the rise even when we are handcuffed by laws passed by lawmakers that do not have our student’s best interest at heart. I am proud to be a part of the faculty and staff at White Oak ISD and proud to be a part of the Texas Public School System for over 28 years.

Response to Dr. Thomas Sowell’s Column “A Letter from a Child”

Here is a link to the column referenced

Dr. Thomas Sowell
Senior Fellow, Hoover Institution
Stanford University

Dr. Sowell,

I would like to respond to your column titled, “A Letter from a Child,” that was published in the Longview News-Journal in Longview, Texas. I have spent 28 years teaching, coaching, and working as an administrator in Texas Public Schools. I am troubled by the idea of painting Public School Education with such a broad stroke of your editorial pen. Your accusations that public school teachers indoctrinate students with trivia at the expense of competing with students on a global scale are disturbing at the least.
A great deal of time and energy could be spent on the topic of the United States school children’s performance on international testing standards. As an educator, you are well aware of the factors that go into such analysis, and the fact that US students are making significant improvement on tests that compare “apples to apples” so to speak. According to the United Nations Education Index, the US ranks 19th in the world and 13th in the Human Development Index worldwide. There is not one country ranked higher than the US with a population equal to or greater than ours. Given that that kind of information does not help you make your point, I understand why it is not included in this column.
More to the point, I would like to address a few of your comments. You state that we are “frittering away time on trivia.” Texas Public Schools are governed by the Texas Education Agency and are required to teach the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) to all students. Those TEKS are then assessed through the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills (TAKS) test. In the fifth grade we are responsible for 344 TEKS for English, Math, Science, and Social Studies to be covered in 180 school days. That is two new concepts to master each day we are in class. That does not include the required material covered in Fine Arts, Technology, and Life Fitness. We do not have time to “fritter.”
The main point of your column has to do with a letter received from a fifth grade student at Sayre Elementary School in Lyon, Michigan. You assail the teacher for giving this student an assignment to seek the advice of “stranger in the media.” It must have been your hope that most of your readers do not know who you are. A person with three degrees in economics, forty-eight years working in the field of economics, and the author of seven books on economics should be a viable source for advice concerning problems in the economy. If you do not want to be bothered by school age children, just say so. You would have been more truthful and honest to quote W.C. Fields and say”, “Get away from me kid, you bother me.” Just using the information from your column, you have no idea what the scope of that assignment included and therefore cannot accurately judge it’s integrity.
Finally, I am always amazed that those who work within the most elite setting in education can determine the faults of those that educate everyone in their community. Your institution has very strict entrance requirements and a process of eliminating those that may not succeed. My school district enrolls every student that can produce a current water bill or any other valid proof of residency within the district. Your work history indicates you have spent your entire career in some of the most prestigious educational institutions in the United States. I challenge you to defend the idea that there is no indoctrination of students at Harvard, Columbia, The University of Chicago, and/or Stanford. There are good and bad teachers at every level of the education process. I firmly believe the public schools do more to weed out the weak than do our higher education constituents. I can assure you that when 60 to 70 percent of our students fail a course, we don’t blame it on the students. The men and women that get up every school day across this country and devote their time and energy to the education of our young people deserve better from you. It would be refreshing if we could wake up one morning and read the thoughts of an “Education Expert” that had taken the time to look at the big picture and decided to report on the good being done in public schools.

Michael E. Gilbert, M. Ed.
Superintendent of Schools
White Oak ISD
White Oak, Texas

School Finance

The Checks in the Mail!

1. Q. Is it true that the formulas are designed in such a way that when the federal money goes away, state money will pick up the difference (in 2011 and beyond)?
A. Yes. The state’s Foundation School Program (FSP) formulas will not change after the state no longer has stimulus funding. The FSP formulas will continue to form the basis of school districts’ FSP entitlements.
This is the first question asked and answered on the TEA Stimulus FAQ document. If you are to read the question and then just look at the answer “Yes”, it appears that the financial problems for Texas Public School District are over. The State of Texas will step up to the plate and maintain the funding levels established with Federal Stimulus funds. For White Oak ISD, that would mean an increase of more than $600,000.00 per year in state funds. This would truly be a cause for celebration if you don’t take the time to read the rest of the answer. In short, if the formulas do not change, the amount of money a district receives from the state does not change. My interpretation of this is White Oak ISD is $600,000.00 short beginning in 2011 and beyond.
At the August Special Called Board meeting to adopt the 2009/2010 Budget and set the tax rate, we chose to adopt a budget without the stimulus money included. Our budget shortfall was $425,000.00. I then explained to the board that for the next two years we have a chance to balance the budget with Federal Stimulus dollars. I did not want the members of the board to think that everything was OK during the time when stimulus money was available and then think we tanked the budget “post stimulus”. Our deficit budget represents the district operating on Foundation School Program Formulas. I will not mislead the trustees and community members into a false since of confidence that we are financially sound. If you are thinking you have all this extra money coming to your district in 2011, the checks in the mail!
On September 23, 2009, Senator Kevin Eltife spoke to a regional meeting of Economic Development Corporation members. During the conversation, he gave his view on the Stimulus Funds at the state level. Senator Eltife expressed his concern that when the stimulus funds are gone, Texas will experience a 13 Billion Dollar shortfall that will create problems in the next Biennium. While he was speaking my thoughts went to the question of the money promised to White Oak ISD. If the state is going to be down 13 billion, there is a good chance WOISD will not receive extra funds in 2011 and beyond. I did get a chance to ask Senator Eltife about money for school districts post stimulus and he did not see how more could be done with less. If you still think the state will continue to fund your district at the higher level, the check is still in the mail!
Finally, my thoughts go back to the past legislative session. The fight for a system to fund education with dynamic driver based formulas died in the Senate Education Committee chaired by Senator Shapiro. One of the most powerful arguments against SB 982 was the extra 5 Billion Dollars it would cost the state. The powers that be could not support such a large sum of money for the betterment of Education Funding in the state. The decision was made to keep the system of Target Revenue in place and to mandate pay raises that would consume far more than half of any extra money allotted to districts. I had the opportunity to testify before the Senate Education Committee and to let them know White Oak ISD was a deficit budget district before HB 3646 and will be a deficit budget district after HB 3646 even with the passing of a Tax Rate Election to add 13 cents to the burden of our local tax payers. HB 3646 passed and I was right.
The Texas Legislature could not/would not come up with 5 billion dollars to make the necessary changes needed in school finance during the last legislative session. The Texas Legislature will not make the changes needed to come up with sufficient funds to keep school districts at stimulus funding levels in 2011 and beyond. For those of you that still believe the state will maintain your district at the higher funding level, I’m sorry to say there is no check in the mail. My final thought is simply this, don’t count until you see it and don’t spend it until it is in the bank.