That hand in your pocket is Alex Apostle’s

There’s been surprisingly little media coverage of the Missoula County Public Schools ballot. Voting ends 8 p.m. on Tuesday, May 4. Two issues are on the ballot – five school board seats up for election (although only 1 one-year term is being contested – by Ethan Heverly and Shelly Wills), as well as an Elementary (Grades K-8) Operation and Maintenance Levy for $195,962, or approximately 1.97 mills.

What of this levy? It will increase taxes on a home with an assessed value of $100,000 by approximately $3.36 per year, and on a home with an assessed value of $200,000 by approximately $6.72. It doesn’t sound like a lot of money, and gosh knows, the education system in the country needs all the help it can get.

But, take a look at what it will fund, according to the School District website:

* Educational programs – teachers, administrators, para-educators, support staff, music programs, art programs, athletics, assessment tools, counseling services, nursing services, cooks and various staff.
* Equipment and Supplies – textbooks, paper and printing, classroom supplies, library books and various equipment.
* Utilities and Facilities Maintenance – natural gas and electricity, grounds and field maintenance, custodians, painters, electricians, cleaning supplies.

Hmm, all good and solid education expenses. So good and solid I have to wonder why they are passing a new levy to cover them. Shouldn’t they be covered in the regular budget, which runs around $30 million for the General Fund. About $10 million of that comes from District Levies.

That’s what I find frustrating … Superintendent Apostle needs us to pony up this time for $200,000 … to fund basics like supplies, books and improved heating budgets. Just like last election. Just like what seems like every election. Why can’t he learn to live within his budget?

Or does he just like dipping into our wallet every time he can?
Alex Apostle

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Saving our Schools?

Today in the Sunday Missoulian’s color supplement, Parade, there is an interview with Michelle Rhee, the Chancellor of District of Columbia Public Schools. Clearly partisan, it would appear Michelle is gearing up for Republican patronage. Whether she has the best interests of schools and  students at heart now appears questionable.

When asked what the new President could do to help education, Michelle replied taking on the teachers’ unions. She’s not a fan of negotiated contracts it would appear. It’s all about merit-based pay systems in her world. However, stop and think what might be assumed in her anti-teacher stance. Is she assuming that teachers don’t care about learning? Is she assuming that teachers don’t care about their students? If it isn’t the teachers who are going to improve our schools, then who is? More administrators?

When asked about No Child Left Behind, Michelle is a huge proponent. Apparently, it would shift the mindset away from the credentials that teachers have (such as a Masters degree) and towards their achievements in the classroom. Nowhere does she explain what incentive teachers would have to pursue further education. Nor does she explain why expertise in their subject area, or in the latest teaching approaches, wouldn’t help teachers be more effective. But, most telling is her own educational background. Apparently it is OK for her to have obtained a Bachelors and Masters from the Kennedy School of Governance at Harvard University (and presumably her pay check reflects those credentials), but it is not OK to pay for teachers to get a similar quality of education! Does Michelle really believe in education?

When asked about merit-based pay, Michelle starts off by describing teachers who work their butts off. But, if those teachers are given difficult classes, inadequate facilities, and more bureaucratic dictates (such as unfunded testing), then it is unlikely their students will show dramatic improvements. It’s just real hard for students who come from difficult backgrounds to leave the concerns of their home life behind, particularly if the classrooms are rundown, there’s an absence of books, computers and other teaching resources at their schools, and if they are constantly being distracted from learning to ‘study the test’. All those things are beyond the control of the teacher, no matter how good they are in the classroom. Those hard-working teachers are unlikely to be rewarded for their efforts, no matter how hard they work.

Merit-based pay is all about picking winners and losers. Some teachers will do well and some teachers will not. Those who aren’t above average will see their paychecks decline. But, Michelle never quite explains why so many teachers should be thus penalized. And, Michelle never explains why those below-average teachers (I guess that means around 40% of them) are so bad. Nor does she explain why the system will always assume there will be ‘below-grade’ teachers. Rather, after a period of time of being neglected and living on abysmal salaries, many of those teachers will presumably leave the education field. Forget for a moment who will replace them, and ask Michelle if her merit-based pay would then ‘sunset’ and go away? No, I don’t think so. It’s just a system to pay some teachers less.

Finally, Michelle boasts about closing 23 schools and firing 36 principles. Forget for another moment who will replace them (and countrywide there is a shortage of principles, perhaps because teachers would rather teach than administrate!), and think about the process that she used. Was it an arbitrary firing, on the basis of prior neglect and difficulty? Or were the principles fired because of the performance of the teachers they supervise? Sounds pretty vindictive to me, penalizing hard-working people for agreeing to work in trying times. I wonder how the parents of the students felt about it? I wonder how the students felt about it? I know that I wouldn’t be happy to have my school closed down and have to bus across town, for things unrelated to my performance.

God help our Schools if this is their future, because somehow I doubt teachers, principles, parents, and students are going to want to help with this approach. I wonder how Michelle’s job performance is being assessed?