Sunday, February 6, 2011

Effectively Responding to a "Sobering Assessment"

The Grand Rapids Press calls it “a sobering assessment of Michigan's budget woes,” and this rings true through every public school district in Michigan, Godfrey-Lee included. This year, with the end of the Obama-bucks era that merely staved off the inevitable for the past couple of years, we face great uncertainty and difficult decisions in the coming months. A number of districts that area able will eat into their fund equity to minimize program cuts, especially those that directly effect students. But that may only buy another year's delay.

Right now is the time to consider a number of economical choices that will ensure the health of our districts while continuing educational reform measures that improve student achievement. I've spoke out previously in several posts on this site concerning the Perfect Storm. Here I provide a more specific list of what has to occur THIS YEAR to keep us solvent and moving forward:

  • We must restructure our salary and wage system to align it with the practical reality that we have exceeded the taxpayers' ability to pay under the Twentieth Century industrial model. However, coming up with a completely new model will take considerable time and negotiations, so for this year I propose the following:

    • One-year freeze on salaries and wages for all union and non-union employees.

    • Two-year moratorium on salary and wage step increases, including Schedule B compensation.

    • One-year delay on any “lane changes” for attainment of higher education levels (BA+15, MA, MA+15).

    • Immediate establishment of a joint district-union committee to develop a revised compensation model consistent with new state reform laws on inclusion of growth in student achievement.

  • We must realize that the health benefits we have been providing have priced themselves out of any reality that we can continue to afford the same level of benefits without significant cost sharing and competitive pricing. To ensure that our employees and their families continue to have access to quality health care, I propose the following:

    • A three-year implementation of limits on district cost-sharing for all health care benefits (medical, dental, vision, etc):

      • Year 1 – 90%

      • Year 2 – 82%

      • Year 3 – 75%

    • A formation of a joint district-union committee to re-evaluate health care benefits annually and search for new providers that provide a similar level of benefits for less cost.

  • We have to continue to assess the need for staffing in a number of areas including administrative, operational support, and instructional support, reducing wherever possible to preserve teaching positions where they are most needed. Of course, this requires that our teachers continue to step up to leadership responsibilities and the realization that support outside their respective classrooms has been and will continue to diminish as long as funds are tight. Teachers will also need to help their building principals engage more parents and other members of the community in volunteer roles to make up for less staff support.

While these reforms are being hammered out, we have to continue to focus on improving our instructional model to meet the 21st century learning needs for our students. Some of the specific academic reforms or steps necessary to put effective reforms in place RIGHT NOW include:

  • Lengthening the school day and year to provide expanded learning time for both students and teachers. I have developed a model that could easily be adopted for this coming school year that provides 10.2% more time for student learning over 179 student days, and 27.5% more time for teacher collaboration, but will require a 9.8% increase in teacher contract hours. Our high percentage of low-income, limited English speaking students necessitates these increases but it will have to be put in place without an equal increase in compensation.

  • Greater commitment on the part of staff to engage in self-learning and utilization of instructional technology in the classroom. Time and financial resources limit the district's ability to provide formal training however we plan to continue on our path of expanding 1:1 technology for staff and students over the next 4-5 years.

  • A greater willingness to explore new, less costly models for teaching and learning including multi-modal systems that pair fewer adult staff with larger student base groups while employing the use of technology to support small group and individual learning.

As you can gather, we are going to need many more discussions centered around these proposals as well as a number of others being offered by members of our district family, but the simple outcome must be this: Continue building a world-class educational system and do it better with less.  Let's get to the table and get this done.