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We’re cutting again; Now it’s #yourturn

February 23, 2017 5 comments

GR Failure 2.23.17.png

This afternoon, I received the following email from the State Superintendent about finances:

Dear Superintendent,

The General Revenue (GR) failure that was announced on February 21, 2017, has affected the FY2017 Midyear State Aid Allocation. Based on the FY2017 adjusted budget approved by the State Board of Education, we have reduced the funding formula’s GR portion by $7,270,161.

The adjusted funding formula allocation has also been reduced by the projected shortfall in the Education Reform Revolving Fund (1017 Fund) by $39,151,255, for a total cut to the formula allocation of $46,421,416. The adjusted allocation has been posted on the State Department of Education’s Single Sign On (SSO) application under Allocation Notices at https://sdeweb01.sde.ok.gov/SSO2/Signin.aspx.

Additionally, there will likely be a shortfall in the Common Education Technology Fund before the end of the fiscal year. We are closely monitoring the fund and will make necessary adjustments to the allocation in the coming months.

The new adjusted midyear allocation (02/23/17) has a factor of $3,008.60, which decreased by $42.00 from the FY2017 Midyear Allocation of $3,050.60 on January 4, 2017. A comparison report and all of the documentation (reports) will be posted on the State Aid web page athttp://sde.ok.gov/sde/state-aid by Friday, February 24, 2017. Your allocation may be modified as other conditions change.

The Flexible Benefit Allowance (FBA) funding has also been cut by the GR failure in the amount of $3,094,213, but we are able to maintain the allocation without any cuts to the Jan. 1 count adjustment (02/24/17) at this time.

Thank you for the work you do each day to serve your students and communities.  These are difficult times which will require strong leadership at every level within districts and at the OSDE. Please let me know how we might offer greater support or assistance to you in the coming weeks and months.

Where should I start? How about by telling you what these cuts mean to one district with 14,300 students.

General Fund Loss $961,431
Anticipated Tech Fund Loss $336,501
Total FY 17 Loss $1,297,932

That’s about 25 teaching positions (once you factor in benefits and employer taxes). That’s a reading or math textbook adoption for the entire district. Or 14school buses. Or a safe room. Or hundreds of new computers. Or a new roof on a wing of an old building.

That’s money the state told us we’d have available to serve our students this year. We don’t. That’s why we’re planning a bond issue that will take care of some of those costs.

Through the first three weeks of the legislative session, we’ve seen the Senate Education Committee look for ways to provide funding for private schools, in the form of vouchers. We’ve seen a pointless bill requiring students to pass a citizenship test before they can graduate. We’ve seen a bill that would term limit school board members (who are volunteers) and a bill to cap superintendent salaries. We’ve even seen a plethora of teacher pay raise bills, all with no funding source.

What we haven’t seen is a plan that addresses the fundamental revenue shortfalls that cause budgets to fail and all state agencies to reduce services.

This is the third year in a row that the state has seen a massive budget shortfall. It’s the second year in a row with a general revenue failure.

I believe the Capitol has many elected officials who mean well. There are also some who keep telling district leaders that we have to be willing to give something up, to become more efficient.

We cut over $5 million from our budget last year. Here we go again.

Your turn.

Bills about five-day weeks won’t change per pupil funding. Bills about consolidation won’t change per pupil funding. If you consolidated all the schools in Cimarron County into one district, Mid-Del wouldn’t get one more dollar. Nor would Tulsa. Or Miami. Or Chickasha. Or Woodward. Or Poteau. We still will have x dollars over y students. It’s simple math.

Don’t pass a teacher raise if you can’t fund it. Don’t neglect the operational costs we’ve been cutting for years and say you’ve “helped schools.”

Educators and parents: please take to social media and share #yourturn stories. What are you buying or raising money for that schools should be buying? What have the cuts of recent years looked like for you?

Elected leaders: Do something. #FixThisNow

Oklahoma Definitely Deserves Better

January 31, 2017 5 comments

Shortly before the November election, a group called Oklahoma Deserves better appeared out of nowhere and threw nearly $900,000 into a campaign against SQ 779, the penny sales tax. Right after election, they pretty much vanished. Their website isn’t even around anymore. The magic of the Internet preserves some of their work, however.

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As you remember, SQ 779 failed. While several legislators have proposed bills to increase teacher pay, there’s still the little mystery of how the state will fund it.

Fortunately, you can peruse the list of donors who contributed this money (all between October 1 and December 31 of 2016). If you know any of these people (or work for any of the companies that contributed), maybe you can ask them about that better plan. I’d love to hear it.

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Thanks for the Metaphor

January 28, 2017 3 comments

Thursday evening, I did not attend the school choice summit at Oklahoma City Community College. I registered for it. I went to it. Unfortunately, I did not get in because I had been flagged as a security risk.

It wasn’t just me. Other people I know didn’t get in, including my wife. We were told by one of the event organizers that OCCC had initiated the flagging process. Trent England had even tweeted as much the day before.

In fact, I am concerned about accuracy. That’s why my wife called the OCCC police to find out why we had been labeled as security risks. They said the event organizers had flagged us. I’ll let the event organizers and the college work out their differences on that one. It sounds complicated. Read more…

Get thee to a Thuggery!

January 25, 2017 5 comments

Get thee to a nunnery: why wouldst thou be a
breeder of sinners? I am myself indifferent honest;
but yet I could accuse me of such things that it
were better my mother had not borne me: I am very
proud, revengeful, ambitious, with more offences at
my beck than I have thoughts to put them in,
imagination to give them shape, or time to act them
in. What should such fellows as I do crawling
between earth and heaven? We are arrant knaves,
all; believe none of us. Go thy ways to a nunnery.

William Shakespeare
Hamlet, Act III, Scene i
(a few pages after that one more famous scene)

Two evening events on my calendar this week relate to education advocacy. Last night, I attended the Education in Oklahoma panel discussion at the University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma featuring strong public school advocates.

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The University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma’s Nita R. Giles Public Policy Program and the Oklahoma Policy Institute present Education in Oklahoma, a panel discussion examining feasible solutions to problems facing the Oklahoma education system.

Panelists: 
Phyllis Hudecki, former Oklahoma Secretary of Education, executive director, Oklahoma Business and Education Coalition

David Perryman, Oklahoma State Representative

Mickey Hepner, dean, College of Business, University of Central Oklahoma

Joe Siano, superintendent, Norman Public Schools

Megan Benn, consultant

Moderator: 
Gene Perry, policy director, Oklahoma Policy Institute

As I said, it was a friendly crowd. I didn’t detect any dissent from those in attendance either. They discussed some of the issues public schools are facing and some potential solutions for solving them. I heard little with which I would disagree. Other than Hepner, I was previously pretty familiar with the rest of the group.

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Tomorrow night is an entirely different ball of wax. I was thinking of going to Full Circle Bookstore to hear Scott Inman speak about the upcoming legislative session.

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It was on my calendar and everything. Then I caught wind of another event:

school-choice-summit

The School Choice Summit and Expo is tomorrow at Oklahoma City Community College. It’s scheduled from 4-9 pm, and it’s free. I’ll just be attending the main event from 7-9. Apparently, this bothers some of the people who aren’t big public school fans.

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“Thuggery paid for with our tax dollars, at least for now.”

So I’m a thug because I’m going to an event that is far outside of my bubble? Sure, there will be people there who see me and are uncomfortable. It happens all the time. I assume these people are adults, though, and that they can handle being in a room with someone who isn’t a fan of vouchers – especially the kind that come with no accountability.

By the way, my tweet that Trent England responded to was from Friday night at 8:59 pm. I’m not really sure how my thuggery was paid for with tax dollars. And what’s with the at least for now business?

trent-england-deuce

Oh, they’ve called the police in for order. The libertarians are so scared of teacher thugs like me that they’ve called the cops. How cute. As KFOR reports:

So far, no word if the event will be canceled, but OCCC assured us they will have campus police available for the safety of the students.

Check that. They’ve called the campus police. All is well.

I have so many issues with all of this.

  1. It’s a public event. I registered on Eventbrite. I announced that I’d be coming almost a week ahead of time. I’m not even trying to sneak in.
  2. My plan is to listen, take notes, maybe ask a question or two, and then write about the event if I come up with anything good.
  3. Nobody is threatening violence. There is a group I don’t know much about organizing a group to support public education, but they’re not even making signs.
  4. How is my tweet on a Friday night anything “paid for with our tax dollars”? I have a life outside of work, you know. And last I checked, Twitter is free.
  5. Is Trent England threatening my job or all public education jobs? He really needs to work on his clarity.

Dictionary.com defines thug as a cruel or vicious ruffian, robber, or murderer. I hardly see myself as a ruffian, robber, or murderer. I do like the sound of the word ruffian. I just don’t think I can pull off the vibe.

Again, as we have seen in the past few weeks, there are some in power who view dissent as vitriol. That’s ridiculous. We need to quit eyeballing the extreme positions and locking into them. That’s why I’m going tomorrow night. I might actually learn something. I also might want to bang my forehead on the seat in front of me for wasting my time. I’m keeping an open mind about it.

What I’m not going to do is recuse myself to a world of like-minded people. I have plenty of those around. I have few friends who are on the other side of education issues anymore. That was never my intent. While I don’t expect to make new friends in the middle of an OCPA/ALEC/Walton event, I can at the least hear what others are saying about the public schools I’m proud to lead.

If that makes me a thug, so be it. Another perspective, Mr. England – and just bear with me here – is you need to work on not being so thin-skinned.

Flush with Bears and Lies

January 22, 2017 1 comment

But for too many of our citizens, a different reality exists: mothers and children trapped in poverty in our inner cities; rusted out factories scattered like tombstones across the landscape of our nation; an education system flush with cash, but which leaves our young and beautiful students deprived of all knowledge; and the crime and the gangs and the drugs that have stolen too many lives and robbed our country of so much unrealized potential.

This American carnage stops right here and stops right now.

President Donald J. Trump
Inaugural Address, January 20, 2017

I don’t discuss national politics here very much. Whatever influence I have is limited to the state of Oklahoma. I can’t tell you much about the state of public education in Maine or Oregon. I haven’t researched it. I haven’t lived it.

I have lived in Oklahoma all my life though, and I’ve yet to see a time that we were flush with cash, as President Trump said Friday. I’ve worked in public education for 24 years, and I don’t believe that we’ve left our students deprived of all knowledge, either.

 

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Public education advocates (me included) often share the table from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities showing that Oklahoma schools have endured the deepest cuts in state funding in the country. The table also shows that while we aren’t exactly alone, more than 20 states have increased funding for public schools.

The CBPP includes a more detailed breakdown of the funding data:

Most states provide less support per student for elementary and secondary schools — in some cases, much less — than before the Great Recession, our survey of state budget documents over the last three months finds.  Worse, some states are still cutting eight years after the recession took hold.  Our country’s future depends crucially on the quality of its schools, yet rather than raising K-12 funding to support proven reforms such as hiring and retaining excellent teachers, reducing class sizes, and expanding access to high-quality early education, many states have headed in the opposite direction. These cuts weaken schools’ capacity to develop the intelligence and creativity of the next generation of workers and entrepreneurs.

Our survey, the most up-to-date data available on state and local funding for schools, indicates that, after adjusting for inflation:

At least 31 states provided less state funding per student in the 2014 school year (that is, the school year ending in 2014) than in the 2008 school year, before the recession took hold.  In at least 15 states, the cuts exceeded 10 percent.

In at least 18 states, local government funding per student fell over the same period.  In at least 27 states, local funding rose, but those increases rarely made up for cuts in state support.  Total local funding nationally ― for the states where comparable data exist ― declined between 2008 and 2014, adding to the damage from state funding cuts.

While data on total school funding in the current school year (2016) is not yet available, at least 25 states are still providing less “general” or “formula” funding ― the primary form of state funding for schools ― per student than in 2008.  In seven states, the cuts exceed 10 percent.

Most states raised “general” funding per student slightly this year, but 12 states imposed new cuts, even as the national economy continues to improve.  Some of these states, including Oklahoma, Arizona, and Wisconsin, already were among the deepest-cutting states since the recession hit.

During this time of recession and austerity, I take no comfort in knowing that other states share our misery. One reason is that Oklahoma continues doing the one thing that makes times like these harder.

Not only did many states avoid raising new revenue after the recession hit, but recently some have enacted large tax cuts, further reducing revenues.  Four of the five states with the biggest cuts in general school funding since 2008 ― Arizona, Idaho, Oklahoma, and Wisconsin ― have also cut income tax rates in recent years. (See Figure 6.)  Another state that cut taxes deeply ― Kansas ― also has imposed large reductions in general school funding, but the precise size of those cuts cannot be determined because the state eliminated its funding formula earlier this year.

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When it comes to politicians bashing public schools, I can’t let lies lie. We are hardly flush with cash. President Trump knows this, yet minutes after taking the Oath of Office, he said it anyway.

Unfortunately, if the lie is repeated enough, it will gain traction. That’s Trump’s plan. Lie and repeat. Don’t even rinse.

Trump’s son Barron attends a private school in New York where tuition is $45,000 annually. Does he want to compare our schools with that one? Does he not understand that public schools have nowhere near that kind of funding? To be fair, neither do most private schools.

The second prong of the lie – that we deprive our students of all knowledge – is simply ridiculous. Public education critics typically look at international test scores to show that other countries’ students outperform ours. Data without context is a dangerous thing, though.

pisa-and-poverty

American schools serving students with a similar level of poverty to Finland outperform Finland’s schools. American schools serving students with a similar level of poverty to Canada outperform Canada’s schools. And Estonia. And Australia. And New Zealand and Japan. Yes, Japan.

We have amazing schools in this country and in this state, but they don’t all exist to serve the same purpose. Nor do all of the countries to which we compare ourselves serve all students. They don’t all serve special education students. Comprehensive high school education for all is not a guarantee in every nation.

These facts don’t matter to Trump and the school reformers drooling over his election. His lie feeds the narrative that public schools are failing. It feeds the sycophants too, which brings me to Betsy DeVos.

Trump’s nominee to lead the Department of Education has paid her way into his Cabinet. She’s very open about this.

Trump may have run against big money in politics, but his choice for Education Secretary has made no apologies about her family’s political spending. Betsy DeVos has been a major financial backer of legal efforts to overturn campaign-spending limits. In 1997, she brashly explained her opposition to campaign-finance-reform measures that were aimed at cleaning up so-called “soft money,” a predecessor to today’s unlimited “dark money” election spending. “My family is the biggest contributor of soft money to the Republican National Committee,” she wrote in the Capitol Hill newspaper Roll Call. “I have decided to stop taking offense,” she wrote, “at the suggestion that we are buying influence. Now I simply concede the point. They are right. We do expect something in return. We expect to foster a conservative governing philosophy consisting of limited government and respect for traditional American virtues. We expect a return on our investment.”

You and I don’t have a chance of being heard by the likes of Trump and DeVos. Collectively, all of us who will read this post probably don’t have the wealth of any member of the DeVos family. For years, we’ve been fighting the Kochs and Waltons in this state. She just adds to the oligarchy.

That’s why I found an exchange between DeVos and Senator Bernie Sanders during her confirmation hearing this week very interesting:

Sanders: “Mrs. DeVos, there is a growing fear, I think, in this country that we are moving toward what some would call an oligarchic form of society, where a small number of very, very wealthy billionaires control, to a significant degree, our economic and political life. Would you be so kind as to tell us how much your family has contributed to the Republican Party over the years?”

DeVos: “Senator, first of all thank you for that question. I again was pleased to meet you in your office last week. I wish I could give you that number. I don’t know.”

Sanders: “I have heard the number was $200 million. Does that sound in the ballpark?”

DeVos: “Collectively? Between my entire family?”

Sanders: “Yeah, over the years.”

DeVos: “That’s possible”

Sanders: “Okay. My question is, and I don’t mean to be rude. Do you think, if you were not a multi-billionaire, if your family has not made hundreds of millions of dollars of contributions to the Republican Party, that you would be sitting here today?”

DeVos: “Senator, as a matter of fact, I do think that there would be that possibility. I’ve worked very hard on behalf of parents and children for the last almost 30 years to be a voice for students and to empower parents to make decisions on behalf of their children, primarily low-income children.”

Well which is it, Mrs. DeVos? Do your donations buy you unlimited access inside the walls of influence, or did you get there because you’re so involved and well-informed?

I really need not to focus on this. Yes, she made the ridiculous statement that we need guns in school because of grizzly bears, but this moment of comic relief is a distraction. I downloaded I don’t know how many bear memes and gifs while I’ve been working on this post. I admit it’s slowed me down.a-polar-bear-fell-on-me

evil-bears-with-rainbowsDeVos also was confused by the difference between proficiency and growth. She had no clue what the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act is. Is it possible the Secretary of Education-nominee has never heard of the country’s foundational special education law?

Presidents have a right to appoint the people to their Cabinet who they feel are best-equipped to execute their policy initiatives. That’s what winning the election gets them. The Senate has to confirm those appointments, though. Merely going through the motions of a confirmation hearing, however, does not meet that standard.

I’m bothered by many of the things DeVos believes about education. I’m more concerned, however, about the fact that she simply has no clue what she’s doing. Understanding the difference between proficiency and growth is so easy that a dentist could get it!

Oh wait, bad example.

Maybe the Senate will deny DeVos. On the other hand, she’s put a lot of money into the campaigns of many who will make that decision. Even if they don’t confirm her, she’ll be replaced with someone else who shares the Trump mindset and who is willing to repeat the lie.

We must fight back with truth.

The School I Choose

January 22, 2017 2 comments

I wrote this four years ago at the beginning of National School Choice week, and I thought it would be worth sharing again. We have many of the same threats to public education we had then, and we have some new ones too.

Demand of our elected leaders that public schools have the resources to meet the needs of our children – all of them.

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The mantra this week is that parents should get to choose the schools their children attend; that their zip code shouldn’t choose it for them. It’s quite the idyllic belief – that out there, somewhere is the perfect school.

As a parent, I’m still looking. Here’s what I hope to find.

  • I choose a school that values children for the unique individuals they are.
  • I choose a school with a strong, active PTA.
  • I choose a school where the parents of the other children value education as much as I do.
  • I choose a school that has well-paid faculty who are happy to come to work.
  • I choose a school where the teachers receive meaningful professional development and are treated as professionals.
  • I choose a school that teaches all students, regardless of background or ability.
  • I choose a school that has enough technology to prepare my child for the world…

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Categories: Uncategorized

A Pocket Full of Mumbles

January 18, 2017 Comments off

I am just a poor boy
Though my story’s seldom told
I have squandered my resistance
For a pocket full of mumbles, such are promises
All lies and jests
Still a man hears what he wants to hear
And disregards the rest

Simon and Garfunkel, The Boxer

One of my former students, Larin Sears Rottman, is a teacher in Washington, DC. Her husband is an assistant principal there. Both are University of Oklahoma graduates, and they still have family in this part of the country, but they love it out there. I mention this because of an article that she posted to Facebook over the weekend. She added this at the beginning:

This is a very short read that is very real for me. I am from Oklahoma, but D.C. is my HOME. I live in a real house, in a real neighborhood. I wake up each day and go to my real job to make the world a really better place. There are far more REAL people than politicians in my city. Respect D.C.

I won’t post the article here, but you get the basic idea. People who have real families and live in real neighborhoods and who work and send their kids to real schools there don’t like the generalization that it’s a swamp.

Sure, 220 years ago, when Pierre L’Enfant began to lay out the city design Actually, the District was never a swamp. It was a tidal marsh. But DRAIN THE TIDAL MARSH doesn’t really roll off the tongue, now does it.

Still, as of 2009, 46% of DC’s residents were actually born there. For that matter, OU President David L. Boren – the son of a congressman – was too.

Generalizations hurt. When you make them, even if you mean for this to happen, you’re probably hurting the wrong people.

Over the last couple of months, since the defeat of State Question 779, I’ve seen more of them on social media. Everyone is making them!

generalization

It’s the love language of identity politics. Liberals this. Conservatives that. Gender. Race. Religion. Sexual Identity. Wealth. Geography.

That’s one of my favorite ones. Remember when Ted Cruz was attacking Donald Trump for being from New York? Or have you heard a defensive Republican point out that Hillary’s popular vote margin over Trump is virtually erased if you exclude California? It makes sense. After all, that’s more American than discounting the opinion of voters in the most populous state?

Even making generalizations about voters is specious. Hillary supporters are just a bunch of whiny crybabies (or crybaby whiners, if you prefer). Trump supporters excuse all the horrible things he says. I’m probably doing this wrong because I never use exclamation points. Ever!

This isn’t a blog about DC, or presidential politics, or racism, or sexism, or class warfare, though. It’s an education blog in which I have tried, for nearly five years, to set the record straight. Mainly, this involves responding to the action (or inaction) of policymakers and false narratives presented by groups with influence.

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Generalizations seep into the public education conversation too much too. Whether it’s a state senator talking about all the waste in public schools (without offering a single example), or another one making sweeping, disparaging remarks about school board members, this kind of recklessness does not steer us towards solutions.

With the First Regular Session of the 56th Oklahoma Legislature set to convene in 19 days, I’m unwilling to make generalizations about this new group as a body. The book is closed on the 55th Legislature. I can comfortably say that they failed us – both sessions. They built upon the failures of the 54th and 53rd legislatures. For six straight years (three straight Legislatures), we’ve been treated to a menu of fiscal catastrophes.

I don’t blame all the legislators (lowercase). I blame the Legislature (uppercase) though. The body failed to help with teacher raises, specifically, and with so many other critical state functions, in general. Individuals within that body had good intentions, though. Many did. Maybe most did. They just couldn’t get it done. In the end, we won’t judge you by your intentions. It’s your outcomes that tilt our moods.

That doesn’t mean the 56th Legislature will be the same, though. We have 45 new legislators. Most of them love teachers. Just ask them!

We need to remember that they haven’t served during the session yet. We really need to remember that when we engage them on social media. Some of the returning legislators are on our side too. Maybe many. Maybe most.

My friend Blue Cereal Education posted a blog this morning titled Don’t Raise Teacher Pay (To Be Nice).

We shouldn’t tolerate the implication we’re somehow looking for charity; we’re not. It’s unbecoming to play on sympathy, especially when we’re not the only profession getting shortchanged at the moment. Besides, pity or warm toasties are horrible reasons to raise teacher pay or increase school funding. They’re emotionally driven, unreliable, and fundamentally inaccurate.

Public schools aren’t businesses, nor should they be. You’ll hear that a lot in the upcoming voucher battles, and it’s entirely true. But neither are we charities, or churches, or some type of third world profession. We’re not asking for handouts or love offerings while Sarah McLachlan plays in the background.

Nevertheless, teacher pay needs to go up substantially, and soon – but not for me. It needs to go up for you. And your kids. And your pocketbook. And your state.

A decent public education system is an essential function of civilization. We’re a fundamental element in the social contract that allows people to live together in relative peace, to specialize, to become more productive, and to progress artistically, culturally, medically, financially, and lots of other –allys.

Blue Cereal is right. All teachers need raises. I’m not saying that all teachers are fantastic or that all superintendents are worth what their districts pay them. I’m not saying I’ve never met a board member with an agenda. Nor am I saying that all legislators or all Republicans in the state are out to get us.

As an example, I recently had an exchange about school funding (and waste) via Facebook Messenger with a legislator I know. I won’t share his remarks (without his consent), but I’ll share a portion of mine:

I have some thoughts on waste. Sometimes it’s in the eye of the beholder. We have some patrons who don’t value athletics at all. To them, every time we buy a football helmet, it’s waste. To the mom whose son is on the field getting hit, it’s not. Some people want us to get rid of the arts. Or transportation. Or child nutrition. Or they want teachers to clean their own rooms (which I would highly suggest not proposing).

I managed a restaurant for four years in college. There I learned that limiting waste, more than anything, was about predicting the future. If we prepped a certain amount of food expecting customers and had to throw a lot of it away, which was wasteful. Some nights at closing, we threw away very little. Sometimes, we underprepared which then backed up the kitchen, and probably cost us business.

My point is that every enterprise has waste. Every government agency and every business does. Every superintendent I know tries to limit it – often to the point of increasing the frustration of the workforce. You won’t find one of us who hasn’t tried to find waste.

I get it. You’re trying. So are we. In trying times, that’s what we all do.

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