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State Board of Education – On the Road Again

January 31, 2013

Rather than making you sit through a game of Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego, I’ll just tell you that today’s State Board of Education meeting is in Howe. A quick of Google Maps tells me that Howe is 201 miles from the Capitol complex, just south of Poteau.

I have nothing against Howe – it’s a school district that long has seen the value of utilizing technology to bring curriculum to students attending school in a remote location. At a time when running a small district is tougher than ever, they’ve been proactive in chasing grants to fund programs that help the district reverse the trend of families leaving rural communities.

I do have to wonder, though, about the cost of this Board meeting. They’re calling the meeting to order at 1:00, so that probably eliminates the need for hotels the night before. They could take state vehicles, but there’s still a cost to that. Board members get mileage to and from meetings, but this is still an added expense because of the distance. Probably the biggest loss is in productivity. All the SDE staff required to be at a Board Meeting will spend at least seven hours in a car.

There are a few noteworthy items on the agenda. The Board will be asked to approve AP grants for training, materials, and vertical alignment. (By the way, the mere existence of this program highlights the fact that change always requires an investment on the human capital side of things). They will also award six grants to reward schools that are partnering with focus schools.

Another point of interest will be the discussion of the three districts that exceeded the allowable administrative cost for the previous school year. The Oklahoman covered this previously, and made it sound worse than it is. Each has severed ties with a previous superintendent, and duplicate costs put them over the limit. This should be pretty routine. It’s unfortunate when it happens, but it happened in three districts out of more than 500.

After that, we get a charter school application and a couple of ACE appeals. But none of this is what I really want to see.

I want to see the State Board of Education follow up on some of the statements that were made at the Education Committee meeting with legislators this week. Here are some examples:

  • Why did Superintendent Barresi, when asked about the need for supplemental RSA funding, indicate that it was the State Board who decided to put discretionary funds elsewhere? Yes, technically, the SBE votes on a budget. They do not, however, prepare the budget. This is like all the times someone from the SDE will say that the legislature is making them do A-F Report Cards and TLE. Those were agency initiatives. Passing the buck this way is transparent and disingenuous.
  • When Sen. Sparks brought up changes that are needed to the A-F Report Cards, there was a general sense that this made Barresi uncomfortable. I’m sure the Board and the state as a whole would like to hear more about the procedures that will be employed to make any rule changes that are forthcoming. It’s the end of January, and there has been no attempt to receive stakeholder input thus far. We’re looking at a very short timeline at this point if any tweaking is to be done.
  • She mentioned that as a fiscal conservative, she’d like to see “performance-based budgeting” in place by FY15. In case you haven’t looked that far ahead, she will be up for re-election in the fall of that school year. I’m not familiar with this term, and the George Orwell fan in me fears it.
  • She also asked for help in dealing with uncooperative districts and those that “impede” student learning. She cited Douglass HS in Oklahoma City, which is pretty obvious. Then she said there are “others out there.” Sorry…I’m going to need you to be specific. If you’re going to impugn educators, I’m going to need facts. I doubt I stand alone on this either. It’s a ridiculous, seemingly unfounded claim. Maybe she’s referring to everybody who has opposed one or more of her reform initiatives. If that’s the case, she’s going to need a lot of help.

Right now, before the legislature starts, before Spring arrives, there’s a chance for the SBE to make its priorities known. There’s a chance to ask for specific information on her claims about schools. And there’s a chance to say, As long as we’re being blamed for budget decisions, we’re going to make them for you next time.

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