Friday, November 15, 2013

Lamenting The Bond, And Other 11/12 Highlights

This has actually been a pretty busy week for the Hillsboro school board-- in addition to our regular monthly work session meeting, we had a parent rebellion against the new math curriculum go viral, and the annual Oregon School Board Association Covention .   Rather than try to cover everything at once, I'll discuss the meeting highlights in this post, and the other two items will be in upcoming posts.  Stay tuned!

The first major issue discussed at the meeting was, of course, the failure of the bond issue.   Most comments centered around the thoughts that there was insufficient salesmanship & energy to bring out the small number of potential Yes voters in the district, and that we should try harder next time.   There was also discussion of the fact that voters seeing their tax bill just before the vote hurt the turnout; personally, I find it a bit offensive to suggest that we would prefer voters to have less information so they vote our way.   We also need to keep in mind that the economy in general makes this a bad time to ask for any kind of tax increase; we may have to face the fact that a significant increase in resources is simply not going to happen.   But I'm still of the opinion that a key lesson here was that our voters don't want more salesmanship and manipulation-- if we try again & sell the bond on a basis of openness and frankness, as I discussed in my blog post on the topic, perhaps we will have a shot.

The other major discussion was a followup on the equity emergency, where two schools in our district were rated in the bottom 5% statewide.   Superintendent Mike Scott presented a reasonable $250K plan that was proposed by the schools involving techniques such as more teacher training, additional tutoring and other attention for the at-risk students, and community outreach, based on methods that were successfully used in other at-risk schools to improve educational quality.   We approved this plan, as I do think bringing these schools to an equitable level should be a priority.   But we also discussed a graph showing wide variance across the district in the proportion of poor and at-risk students, with the ones at the most risk concentrated in a small selection of schools.   A few items to consider here:
  • Mike mentioned that we may need to consider moving more funding and resources into schools based on their needs.   This may prevent more from sliding into the lowest quality level in the future-- but is likely to be very controversial, at it would seem to punish schools with talented students, more involved parents, or local fundraising and direct donors.   (I'll be interested to hear from any of you who have a strong opinion on this.)
  • I know you're probably tired of having me repeat this-- but I think it's only fair to mention that it constantly came up that smaller class sizes would be a key factor to help improve the low-performing schools.   Has everyone already forgotten the statement in an earlier meeting that charter schools are able to have "unfairly" small class sizes due to our current regulatory structureSo why aren't we trying to reach out and attract more charter schools in response to our current problems?  I didn't bring this up at the meeting because I didn't want to rathole the meeting with more anti-charter tirades, but will be sure to bring this up as a factor if any charters do apply.
  • An interesting solution I heard from a friend in another district is to reduce the concentration of at-risk students in particular schools by increasing school choice within the public system.   In his district, every parent lists their top 3 school choices each year on a form, and the district then assigns students to schools based on the lottery system.  This also creates incentives and competition within the public school system, even without charter schools, and results in distributing kids more evenly rather than having a bunch of economically homogeneous islands.    Of course, before we could start such a system, we would need to bring our bottom-5% schools up to par (otherwise parents lotteried into those would scream bloody murder), so this is more of a thought for the future.
The final major item discussed was state legislative priorities for the 2014 session.    It's unclear if many bills will be introduced, so it may be a moot point, but we will likely continue our usual uncontroversial ones of PERS reform, funding, unfunded mandates, and regulation.  One key issue I brought up is rather than our vague generality of unfunded mandates, we really need a full, itemized list of them.   It's very important that we can show our legislators not just the big-ticket items, but a full list of the many state requirements that are costing us money.   For example, new emissions requirements have significantly increased the cost of replacing old school buses-- would a waiver of this mandate just for school buses really have a noticeable effect on the environment?

At the end of the meeting I brought up the parent revolt over the math curriculum.  But given the various twists that has taken in the media, I'll leave that for it's own blog post.

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