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Archive for June, 2013

Lack of Consistency

Today during the State Board of Education meeting, Linda Hampton of the Oklahoma Education Association was prepared to speak on a report about the testing debacle from this spring. She was denied that right because the nature of the comment did not pertain to any agenda item. While this is consistent with the posted rules for SBE meetings, the Board does not always adhere to these rules.

For example, last August, Rep. Jason Nelson was allowed to speak about concerns over myriad funding issuesnot an agenda item.

Rules are important when they suit you. And when they don’t force you to allow voices that contradict your chosen narrative. And when you’re all amped up for a stiff election challenge. And …

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Coming Soon: Vision 2020 II – The Sequel

The SDE’s big summer conference is approaching quickly. They’ve marketed it like crazy, and there are quite a few educators registered. In case you haven’t had a chance to look at what they’re offering, you should click here and see if it’s worth your time to attend any of the conference, scheduled for July 9-11 in Oklahoma City.

(Note: At this time, none of the workshops cover the relative advantages/disadvantages of the overuse of first person pronouns in letters sent to ravished [sic] school districts.)

Of note is the two hour “Parent Power” block the night of the ninth. Surely this will include opportunities to help parents understand why schools put no stock in the failed A-F Report Cards, how the so-called Parent Trigger is failing in other states, and what they can do to get on the SDE’s naughty list.

(I’m looking at you, Jenks.)

You can also read more about the three keynote speakers that the SDE has paid brought in with big money. Tuesday’s keynote speaker, Ryan Quinn, is a business professor at the University of Virginia. Wednesday, Ron Clark makes a return visit from last year. Finally, Thursday, Tony Wagner is a professor at Harvard and a prolific author of books and articles on education reform.

The conference website includes links to breakout sessions by topic, where you can see a title, a time, and a date. The workshops have no descriptions or presenter information, however. This makes it difficult to know anything about the quality or specific content of the sessions. If you’re within a comfortable drive of Oklahoma City, this probably matters less to you than if you’re coming from 100 miles away or more.

I’ve always been a believer that high-quality professional development can make us better at our jobs. And since our job is to improve the lives of our students, we should always be about self-improvement. Ask yourself, though: how much will three keynote speakers and a series of disconnected workshops change the way you do your job? On the other hand, it’s free.

Last year, I went to the conference and gave it a C. It’s time to clear the slate and see how this one turns out.

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Letter From Superintendent Barresi to Moore Schools Employees

I’ll let this email forwarded by a reader speak for itself:

Dear Moore Public Schools Employee:

As you know, we’ve passed the one-month mark since the May 20 tornado ravished Moore and southeast Oklahoma City. I know that you have been working hard, focusing on recovering, rebuilding or helping others to do so. It is important for me to communicate directly with you to let you know Moore Public Schools is and has constantly been in my heart and prayers as well as those of the entire staff at the State Department of Education. I also want to update you on what the SDE has done to help your district and what plans are ahead to help further.As you know, we’ve passed the one month mark since the May 20 tornado ravished Moore and southeast Oklahoma City. I hope this letter finds you well as many of you are recovering, rebuilding or helping others to do so. It is important for me to communicate directly with you to let you know Moore Public Schools is still in my heart and prayers as well as those of the entire staff at the State Department of Education. I also want to update you on what the SDE has done to help your district and what plans are ahead to help further.

Just days after the tragedy, the State Board of Education unanimously voted to waive the remainder of the district’s instructional days as well as end-of-year deadlines for state required reports. This was done to help the administration focus on recovery in the aftermath of the tornado. In the days that followed, I announced that our teacher certification department would waive the usual fees for duplicate certified personnel certificates for any teachers or support staff who lost their certificates in the tornado or the storms that followed. I’m pleased to say that some teachers have already taken advantage of this offer. If you are in need of a new certificate, please call 521-3337. The fee is waived until May 2014.

I want to address reports claiming I refused to release the district’s state aid a month early so the district would be able to cover up-front costs for recovery before the start of the new school year. I want you to know that I am personally committed to helping Moore Public Schools in any way I can, but it is simply not possible for me to grant this request. It is against state law (Title 62. Public Finance, Chapter 1, Section 34.46) for the State Department of Education to release money to school districts before August and those funds must be distributed on an 11-month basis. I regret that I was not able to grant this request made by your incoming Superintendent Robert Romines, but I have to abide by the law.

After being met with that red tape, I looked aggressively for other options. One option included using the Emergency Cash Management System that has been set up to help schools with cash flow problems. Private lending companies extend these loans and they come with fees and interest as is associated with any loan. Neither I nor the state has the ability to waive these fees and interest. Your administration did not want to incur the extra cost that comes with these loans so they declined this offer. I fully support and understand that decision.

Continuing on our pursuit, I reached out to the director of the state’s Office of Emergency Management, Albert Ashwood, to inquire about what could be done to help your school district. He assured me he would work to take care of every affected school district that had any needs arising from the tornadoes or storms. I encouraged Mr. Romines to contact the Mr. Ashwood.

The Commissioners of the Land Office, of which I am a member, provides monthly distributions to school districts. I found out today that Moore Public Schools will be receiving $518,810 this month. That is almost $400,000 more than you received last year in the month of June.

As we move closer to the first day of school, I continue to work with my staff at the SDE to make sure the new school year starts well. Mr. Romines has asked me to send a letter to all district superintendents asking them to cooperate, not just with Moore Public Schools, but all school districts that have families requesting emergency student transfers for their children. This is so their children may attend school at their home schools while their families rebuild. I will be sending this message out later this week. It is very important for students whose families have had to move out of their home district while rebuilding to attend school with their friends and teachers in the fall so they can all support each other during what maywill be a difficult year.

When I spoke with you at the district meeting held shortly after the tornado, I promised to help meet the classroom needs of those who lost so much to the tornado so they would have what they need as teachers, administrators and support personnel on the first day of school., and I stand by that promise. Many caring and generous individuals, businesses and organizations have donated school supplies to you already, but I know there may be additional needs. I have directed my staff to create a process where school staff can send a “wish list” to the SDE for what they need. We’ll post those needs on our website for the public to review and make donations. The SDE staff will deliver those supplies before the start of school. You will be hearing more about this project we call “Project Meet the Need” in the near future.

Lastly, I wanted to share with you my goals for Moore Public Schools as they relate to you:

The district should not be forced to spend General Fund (Classroom) dollars on response to the tornado and storms,
My intent is for teachers to have what they need for the classroom to begin the school year, and
For the 2013-14 school year to begin in the most positive way possible.
Thank you for allowing me the opportunity to address you directly. Please know that you can always contact me by phone at (405) 521-3301 or email at janet.barresi@sde.ok.gov. It is an honor to serve as your state superintendent.

Sincerely,

Janet Barresi
State Superintendent of Public Instruction

The 11 Month Statute

Thanks to reader Niky Shobert, I can cite the statute that calls for districts to get their state aid in 11 month increments rather than 12:

O.S. § 34.46 Allocation of Revenues – Accounts with Agencies – Nonfiscal Year Appropriations – Supplemental Appropriations

 

A. Revenues deposited in the State Treasury to the credit of the General Revenue Fund or of any special fund which derives its revenue in whole or part from state taxes or fees shall be allocated monthly to each state agency or special appropriation on a percentage basis, in that ratio that the total appropriation for each such state agency or special appropriation from each fund for that fiscal year bears to the total of all appropriations from each fund for that fiscal year. Appropriation allocations to the State Board of Education for the financial support of public schools shall be effective August 1 of the fiscal year in which they apply.

B. A cash account shall be maintained by the agency of the state charged with the allocation of revenues for each agency or special appropriation which receives appropriations from the general fund or any special fund, and no check or warrant shall be issued in excess of the unexpended balance of said cash account at the time such check or warrant is issued.

C. Cash allocations to each cash account shall be cumulative and shall be available for the payment of any claim incurred within the appropriations for which such cash was allocated, including claims incurred against nonfiscal year appropriations which are available for contracts for thirty (30) months from date such acts are passed.

D. Revenue allocations shall be made to nonfiscal appropriations. During the applicable fiscal year such appropriations shall become available for expenditure. Such appropriations may be expended only in that fiscal year. This limitation applies equally to those revenue allocations made to such appropriation.

E. Measures passed by the Legislature appropriating revenues from the General Revenue Fund, which are supplemental to the original budget in effect on July 1 of any fiscal year, shall be considered supplemental appropriations and shall receive revenue allocations for the first time in the month in which such acts become effective in compliance with Section 23 of Article X of the Oklahoma Constitution.

F. Supplemental appropriations from the General Revenue Fund passed by the Legislature in excess of the Board of Equalization’s estimate for that fiscal year shall be null and void.

As I read it, the allocation has to be made available to districts by August 1. Given the SDE’s track record with disbursing state aid, I guess we shouldn’t be surprised that they see no flexibility in the statute to help a district like Moore – which has faced unprecedented expenses for an Oklahoma school district over the last five weeks.

 

 

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On Moore’s Request for Early State Aid

Much is being made over the dust up in the last few days about the request by Moore Public Schools for early state aid. And it should. This is an issue that speaks immediately to one’s sense of empathy and in a larger sense to the way in which education is funded in Oklahoma. Many people have reported that Superintendent Barresi said she would “move heaven and earth” to help the district. It would seem that some are questioning the level of commitment now behind those sentiments.

Look at this on a bigger scale, though. For more than a year now, school districts have faced question after question about their supposedly large fund balances. Rep. Jason Nelson has been studying this for quite some time, in fact. He was even on Twitter last night questioning Moore’s request for $5 million, citing an $11 million carryover – LAST YEAR.

A lot has changed in a year, Rep. Nelson. State revenue has increased, but per pupil funding to school districts continues to lag. Enrollment is up in many places, especially in districts such as Moore. Few districts have the carryover they did last year. And as several other people pointed out on Twitter, $11 million isn’t even one month’s expenses in a district that size.

Also on Twitter, I challenged readers last night to find out where it says in state law that the payments have to be disbursed in 11 payments rather than 12. So far, none of us have found it. Maybe it’s there and we’re missing something. Even if that’s true, it’s not ok to act as if state law is that hard to change when it suits you.

One of the first things the legislature did when Governor Fallin and Superintendent Barresi took office was change the law to allow for the immediate and complete replacement of the State Board of Education. As recently as last month, the legislature postponed full implementation of TLE because the SDE couldn’t complete preparations for it. Don’t throw your hands up in the air and say, well, it’s the law. CHANGE THE LAW!

The bottom line is if you say you’re going to take extreme measures to help someone, maybe you should know whether you have the ability – and the commitment – to back it up.

Hypocrisy

June 20, 2013 Comments off

When the legislature decided last month to allow a two year delay in the full implementation of TLE, Superintendent Barresi was grateful. When Arne Duncan announced delays to federal reform plans this week, she threw a tantrum:

OKLAHOMA CITY (June 18, 2013) – State Superintendent Janet Barresi comments on today’s announcement by U.S. Department of Education Secretary Arne Duncan of a rollback of the implementation timeline for states for teacher and leader effectiveness evaluations and testing accountability requirements.

“This just shows again that federal bureaucrats in D.C. think they know what is best for Oklahoma children. Oklahomans know what is right for our children and that is an outstanding education system fueled by our state-generated education reforms. President Obama and the education establishment have caved into union bosses’ demands to roll back critical reforms. I pledge to Oklahomans to remain focused on the needs of Oklahoma children and on building an outstanding education system for each of our children. We do not need the U.S. Department of Education, the education establishment or union bosses running our lives. Oklahoma children come first.”

We love teachers, except when we don’t. We love reform, except when it’s not all coming together quickly enough. We love the Feds, but only when we need something.
This SDE administration loves double standards.

We Trust Parents, Except When We Don’t

Today’s Tulsa World explains that the SDE’s probe into the tomfoolery in Jenks regarding parents opting out of field tests (tests that do not count for students or schools) has turned up nothing of substance. Rather, it began when a parent, local PTA president Deedra Barnes, decided that she didn’t think Jenks students needed to be “unpaid subjects by CTB/McGraw-Hill.”

When we first learned about the investigation, we did not know much about its origins. Now we do:

Under the state’s Open Records Act, the World obtained numerous documents from the Oklahoma State Department of Education this week about the opt-out event, including the Jenks internal investigative report and emails among state officials about the issue.

Documents show Barresi requested in a telephone conversation April 5 that Jenks Superintendent Kirby Lehman initiate an internal investigation into the opt-out movement.

In an email to Barresi later that day, Lehman reiterated that Jenks would comply with all the state’s requests. He also wrote that after speaking with Barnes and Jenks Middle School Principal Rob Miller, “it is clear to me that Ms. Barnes and other parents made the determination to pen the letter and take the action which resulted in Wednesday’s ‘opting out’ activity on the part of many Jenks parents and students.”

That evening, Barresi wrote an email to Chief of Staff Joel Robison, Assistant State Superintendent Maridyth McBee and the department’s general counsel, Kim Richey, about Lehman’s email.

“I am not buying the explanation that seems to insulate Miller and others. There had to be a great deal of conversation between Rob and the parents. Clearly this was orchestrated,” Barresi wrote.

When you begin an investigation with the outcome already in mind, you preclude yourself from other possibilities. Barresi believed that the parental opt-out movement was “orchestrated” by the principal. The SDE had even begun to explore ways to punish school officials who might have been involved:

On April 11, Richey sent Barresi an email suggesting that the department submit an open records request to Jenks for any communication among Miller, Lehman and Barnes about testing.

“While I’m sure the district will conduct a thorough investigation, I would like to see directly what conversation occurred prior to Mr. Miller’s actions,” Richey wrote.

She noted that the department shouldn’t respond to Lehman’s email with details of their concerns so he wouldn’t know what legal basis “we may use to take action later down the road.”

Any case to be made and disciplinary action should come before the state Board of Education, Richey wrote, adding that she was researching the basis for possible license revocations for employees found to be involved.

You read that correctly. The SDE was exploring the legality of revoking teaching licenses in the event that any school staff were found to have been involved in the movement. Never mind that nothing about opting out of field tests is illegal or unethical. They were simply saying they didn’t want to play. Rather than accepting that parents get sick of the testing nonsense, Barresi and company assumed something nefarious and looked for people to punish.

The funny thing to me is that most of the time, Barresi tells schools to trust parents.

So what did the investigation find? Nothing. And of course finding nothing means nothing. There can be conspiracies without paper trails. In fact those are the best kind. Especially when you’re suffering from paranoid delusions.

And what did the SDE report to the public about the outcome of the investigation? Nothing. Because the only thing that the people in charge there hate worse than not getting their way all the time is being proven wrong. Technically, this is not a closed case.

This is nothing but a vendetta (and if an investigation of the SDE proved differently…well, I just wouldn’t believe it). The SDE gets more push back on its initiatives from Jenks than from any other school district in the state. For a leader who says local control and parental choice are important, Barresi sure isn’t showing it here.

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