Monthly Archives: October 2014

School Closure Information

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Timbered Classrooms strives to bring readers all of the information to which they are entitled; we firmly believe, that means “ALL of it”.  …an ambitious goal, to be sure, of which we, unfortunately fall short.  In pursuit of it, though, we offer the Maine Statute on the Procedure for Closing Schools.  

Last week, the State confirmed, that, as yet, no action had been taken, “even informally” on #3.  As for #2, a Board member is quoted as quipping, “It would be so much easier if we could just get a building condemned” over the horrified “SSSssssssssshhhhhhhhhhhh!’s” of her colleagues…..  We know all buildings are in dire need of attention and our readers have come forward with concerns that this avenue may currently be under consideration. (See comments under “The Hobbit Effect”)

The article (bottom of page) that would be put before voters would include an estimate of the cost to keep the school open.  The State must approve and guarantees the accuracy of this number, for what it is.  Increased transportation expense is the ONLY negative savings that would be calculated here; omitted are any of the other costs for renovations, adaptations taxpayer support and “Bureaucrats and Wardens”  that renders consolidation itself a “negative cost savings”.

The cost to children, families and communities outlined in the literature here and elsewhere are ignored completely.

Read the full statute §4102. Closing of a school building,   or keep scrolling….

§4102. Closing of a school building

The closing of a school building by a school administrative unit may only occur under the following conditions. [1983, c. 422, §17 (AMD).]

1. Replaced by new building.  The school building has been replaced by other school buildings as part of a school construction project that has been approved by the state board or the commissioner in accordance with chapter 609.
[ 1999, c. 206, §3 (AMD) .]
2. Condemned.  The school building has been condemned and ordered closed by local or state officials for health and safety reasons.
[ 1983, c. 422, §17 (AMD) .]
3. Lack of need.  The building has been deemed to be unnecessary or unprofitable to maintain by the governing body of the administrative unit. Before a building may be closed under this subsection, a report shall be filed with the commissioner. The report shall contain, at a minimum, the following:
A. Projection of the number of students in the affected area over the next 5 school years, including a projection of the educational programs which they will need; [1983, c. 422, §17 (NEW).]
B. Manner in which the continuation of the educational programs for the affected students will be provided; [1983, c. 422, §17 (NEW).]
C. Effective date on which the closing will take place; [1983, c. 422, §17 (NEW).]
D. Projection of additional transportation or other related services; [1983, c. 422, §17 (NEW).]
E. Existence of any other outstanding financial commitments, including debt service, related to the school building along with a retirement schedule of payments to meet the commitments; [1983, c. 422, §17 (NEW).]
F. Proposed disposition of the school building; [1983, c. 422, §17 (NEW).]
G. Financial impact of closing the school building; and [1983, c. 422, §17 (NEW).]
H. Statement of reasons why the school building is being closed. [1983, c. 422, §17 (NEW).]
[ 1983, c. 422, §17 (NEW) .]
4. Voter approval.  Before a school board may close a school building pursuant to subsection 3, voter approval shall be obtained as follows.
A. Elementary schools in school administrative districts, regional school units and community school districts may only be closed if approved by the voters in accordance with the procedures set out in section 1512 for regional school units. [2011, c. 171, §7(AMD).]
B. Secondary schools in school administrative districts, regional school units and community school districts may be closed only if approved by the voters in accordance with the procedures set out in section 1512 for regional school units.
[2011, c. 171, §7 (AMD).]
B-1. Elementary or secondary schools in school administrative units that are not school administrative districts, regional school units or community school districts may be closed without voter approval, unless the school board is presented with a written petition, within 30 days of the board’s decision to close the school, by 10% of the number of voters in the school administrative unit who voted at the last gubernatorial election, in which case a special referendum must be called pursuant to:
(1) Section 1351 for school administrative districts;
(2) Title 30-A, sections 2528 to 2532, for community school districts, except the school board shall issue a warrant specifying that the municipalities within the district place the petitioned article on the ballot, and shall prepare and furnish the required number of ballots for carrying out the election; and
(3) Title 21-A and Title 30-A, respectively, for cities and towns. [2011, c. 171, §7 (NEW).]
C. The article to be used shall be substantially in the following form:

“Article: Shall the school committee of ……………………………………………….. (name of town) (the board of directors of School Administrative District No. …….) be authorized to close ……………………………………………………. (name of school)?

Yes……………….. No………………..
The additional cost of keeping the school open has been estimated by the school committee (board of directors) to be $ ……… .” [1983, c. 422, §17 (NEW).]*
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Not-for-Profit….

schoolsaresupposed

A Reader’s Razor-Sharp Point…

“Timbered Classrooms” would like to thank our astute readers, one of whom submitted the following political parallel to the spending priorities pursued by the RSU #50 Board.  We’ve surely all heard the fury surrounding the Governor’s quip that $100,000 per year is “…not that rich..”?  The MEA points out that, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, 16% of Maine people — of any and all occupations, earn this amount or more.

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“…Thought this was interesting that the MEA basically thinks that $100,000 is considered a high salary in Maine – how do you think they would react to knowing that a superintendent with 700 students receives $109,000!? Thought you might post this info with the comparison!…” ~ Timbered Classrooms Reader

“…Only about 16 percent of Mainers make $100,000 per year, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. …” ~MEA

“…The average beginning teacher salary is around $31,500 and the average teacher salary throughout Maine at all levels is less than $49,000.  We know our ESP make much less than that…..” ~MEA

For further reading, we offer a link to the MEA page submitted along with our reader’s comment:  MEA Online

Superintendent Quenten Clark of East Millinocket intends to finish his contract for $62,400.  Houlton figures have been reported at $92,000; the Maine Heritage Policy Center maintains salary data here.

Though EPS is deeply flawed, in any number of ways, Administrative costs exceed those guidelines to a greater degree than seen elsewhere.  Consultants (20k+), Feasibility studies, (correct me if our reports of 60K is incorrect please).. …while teachers are first to the chopping block.

Readers?

Timbered Classrooms Editor’s Note:  We are aware that there are those that, though they take umbrage at such expenditures, they take more at us for discussing them publicly.  With all due respect we will have to agree to disagree on that.  The RSU Board is not entitled to deference, or to trust.  We are better for spirited debate, and citizens holding public officials accountable outside of the ballot box as well as on election day.  

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The Profession That Teaches All Others

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On Self-Governance….

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The Hobbit Effect

 

 

By running our small schools on large-school terms, our Board and Administration is effectively squandering the opportunities their current size presents to children….  By taking an inordinate amount of time to rearrange the furniture, so to speak…(children aren’t going to stop growing up while you wait, study and spend)  …spending money for consultants and feasibility studies in an attempt to lend credibility to a decision they made long ago, Board members are shortchanging kids in the small schools in their care.   The RSU  needs leadership with the expertise to optimize the assets at hand toward educational excellence and efficiency, and respects the natural advantages of small schools for children and taxpayers alike.

 

fairyschool

 

“…The effective characteristics
of small schools can be lost even in small schools if
school leaders chase the illusion that bigger is better….”

The Hobbit Effect – Why Small Works In Public Schools

From The Maine Center For Economic Policy

 

 

Education Funding Falters in Maine; Has Serious Repercussions

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On Respect for Children…

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Notes on the Task Force…

sheep and donkey

“…they could look at a bowl of cherries and see nothing but pits…” ~Marty Strange, on the negative view of consolidation proponents toward small schools.

…an apt description of the negativity toward RSU 50’s schools for their size that permeated last Monday’s “Community Meeting”.  (A compelling essay by Mr. Strange, and other works by top researchers on school consolidation can be found in Great Plains Research Volume 23 No. 2   Abstracts are available here, and I just submitted a full copy to the Sherman Public Library yesterday).

Back to last Monday’s meeting.  I know many of you have asked for this and I’m sorry I took so long with my “homework”  At the beginning, Mrs. Hill expressed a very valid concern at the way in which meetings like this one are announced.  They should be on AlertNow.  I share her belief that people should be as informed as possible, and in a consistent way.  I also want to thank her, too, for welcoming my voice in this debate though I have no vote and likely disagree.

“If you want to know what’s going on you have to come to the meetings.!” ~Chairman Greg Ryan,  “We announce the next meetings at the meetings….”

I disagree.  People have a right to know what is going on whether they are able to attend meetings or not.  That is why we read newspapers rather than go, say, to the State gHouse….. It was suggested to a number of us some time ago that we record/video/mp4 -whatever, meetings and share them.  I lack the technological capability!  Tech-savvy readers?

It is difficult to attend, certainly.  I would have preferred to be at home with my family; on a rare night off for such a hardworking husband.  Anyway:

How did the meeting become so heated so quickly?

It all started innocently enough.  I asked Craig Kesselheim to clarify references to Searsport High School in the FTF report.  In it, the FTF asserts that Searsport’s size relative to Belfast and philosophical uniqueness should bar its closure.  It brought to mind, for me, another instance where that very same argument was used by then-Commissioner Susan Gendron to justify closure of Benedicta’s school.  Such value judgements run throughout the FTF’s “unbiased” analysis.  Many surrounding Katahdin look to Searsport as  a model to emulate for good reason.  I did not share a letter from a friend there; I didn’t have time, as the Board was busy  shutting down discussion for which they were unprepared, but here it is now:

“…Searsport High School has worked hard at coming back from losing their accreditation in the 90’s and has been working towards becoming a STEM school. The program is so popular and successful here that schools in Maine, New England and beyond have visited our campus and talked with teachers and students for advice and direction. The superintendent said more schools needed to close and he had Searsport High School on the chopping block even though our test scores were higher than Belfast and even though we are so close to becoming a STEM school. He wanted to move us into a school that is too small and falling apart, while our school is newer with modern improvements and state of the art lab, etc. If we moved to Belfast, we would have had to use modular classrooms as the school isn’t big enough to accommodate us. That was Belfast’s way of being able to say to the state they need a new school sooner rather than later. Basically it boils down to our communities wanting local control of our school tax dollars and control over keeping the momentum going with creating a STEM school..”

 

Our readers will likely see parallels in our own RSU.

The preference for large schools  underlied the discussion, and the Board’s position was clear, that schools of Katahdin’s size are inviable:

“…The criticism that smaller schools cannot offer as broad a program of studies as can larger schools has been around for a very long time; it is often used as a justification for closing smaller schools. Educational authorities, pursuing an agenda of school consolidation, point out the obvious: larger schools can offer a wider range of programs and more courses than can smaller schools. “Therefore, goes the argument, operating small schools with more limited curricula is unfair to the students who attend them” (Cotton, 1996).
“While this has a certain common sense appeal, examination of the research reveals that there simply is no reliable relationship between school size and curriculum quality. 

“Even the smallest schools (100-200 students) are able to offer core curricula comparable to schools of more than 1,200….” ~Jack and the Giant School, by Stacy Mitchell

Mrs. Robinson astutely pointed out how slight even the FTF’s own predictions are regarding more offerings saying, “I expected more”.

“..researchers have found that “it takes a lot of bigness to add a little variety – that is, on average, a 100% increase in enrollment yields only a 17% increase in variety of offerings…”  Education on a Human Scale

The FTF offers no evidence to support even these modest, predicted gains, and even they may be overly optimistic when applied to  RSU #50.  These figures do not account for the demands that increased transportation, construction, State subsidy uncertainties or taxpayer support will undoubtedly make on any savings.

The Board admitted what readers of Timbered Classrooms have known for some time:  that a new school is, indeed their first choice of scenarios.  Though it did not admit the myriad of ways pursuit of new construction in lieu of innovating; optimizing our small schools’ potential shortchanges kids in their care today, we can extrapolate a certain degree of callousness from  the Board’s willingness to yank $20,000 from the classroom to “study” this,using only data provided by the Superintendent.  Why did they need Great Schools Partnership then?  Save 20  grand and do this work yourself!  You’re all adults….  When asked for evidence,  “We haven’t done that yet” protested Greg Ryan, but further discussion descended into one, unequivicol conclusion:  Minds are already made up.

“Educational authorities, convinced that they were right, intimidated and informed parents that if they wished their children to have a quality education, they had to agree to close their small community school and have their children bused to a larger school in a distant community. No additional evidence was necessary (Howley and Eckman, 1997; Truscott and Truscott, 2005, Theobald, 2005; Meier, 2002).”

“For many educational authorities there was no need for research to support this view. Most administrators and policy makers during this time period increasingly drew their educational models and metaphors from business and industry. Notions of economies of scale and the “cult of efficiency” (Callahan, 1964) provided all the “proof” needed to justify the consolidation and closure of small schools. For many it was simply a matter of common sense: if bigger factories are more productive than smaller ones then bigger schools must be better than smaller schools.”

I hope that the people of the RSU #50 communities will soon demand evidence to support the path their Board is aggressively pursuing:

“…Those who say small schools are not “efficient,” or effective, need to cite the evidence, not just the rhetoric. …” ~Size Matters

Such careful, critical analysis is long overdue, and it is surely the responsibility of Board members to engage, actively and independently throughout their terms:

“…I suggest that potential candidates for school board should be required to visit exemplary schools in Maine and elsewhere before announcing their candidacy. They should be asked to share with the electorate their vision of excellent schools and their ideas for how to help schools achieve that vision. They should be required to demonstrate an informed engagement with topics in the national educational dialogue….” ~Kathreen Harrison School Board Candidates Should Show Serious Engagement

Though a stack of research/empirical evidence sat in my knitting bag, consolidation proponents — with none at all, accused those of us who see value in small schools of “being emotional”, “negative” and unable to get along with others.  (Actually, we embrace sharing – real, universally beneficial sharing.)  Not surprisingly, no one showed any interest in evidence:

.  “…don’t bother me with the facts, I have made up my mind” applied to educational decision making. It is hard not to conclude that those who still insist that bigger schools are better schools are simply not interested in the evidence to the contrary…” Education on a Human Scale

I came to this issue in 2004, inclined to believe consolidation saved money and offered opportunity, and did not have children in school when Commissioner Gendron came after Benedicta Elementary.  I got involved, only because she had refused to answer any of my neighbors’ letters — I just asked her , politely, of course, to answer them as they were becoming increasingly upset.  Thus began a lengthy, spirited-yet-civil correspondence, as I pursued the research with an open mind; determined to go where the evidence led.  I was surprised by how decisive it was!  …as surprised as researchers themselves:

“…the advantages of smaller schools have been established with a clarity and confidence rare in the annuls of education (Raywid 2000)

The Commissioner and I would never agree, and some views she held on equity for rural children I found difficult to respect.  She always engaged, though, even coming to Benedicta several times under contentious circumstances and I do respect and appreciate that.  Perhaps more now as this Board is disinclined to do likewise.

The contrast between the former Commissioner and the behavior of this Board toward Timbered Classrooms, certain employees and me could not be more stark.

But it should not be surprising:

“…It’s an unfortunate, but fairly common reality that intimidation and personal slurs are used against people fighting consolidation. Sometimes teachers or administrators have their jobs, or the jobs of family members, subtly threatened. Sometimes rumors are spread locally. It’s not uncommon for pro-consolidation media outlets to portray community advocates of small schools in unflattering ways, to use derogatory rural stereotypes, and to misrepresent the legitimate concerns of rural residents and parents as self-interest, commitment to local athletic teams, or ignorance of and disregard for what’s best for their own children….” ~Anything But Research Based

Phil Knowles was right about one thing:  (no, this is not a typo, and it WAS only one thing:  Education cannot be run like a business.

We have to remember, education is education, a humane and human process. It is not competition or production. It is not a business, and business leaders really don’t know much about it. Education is not their area of expertise…. Not a Business

He went on to express openness to scenarios that, “…throw my kids under the bus…” because Southern Aroostook is closer to Region II and would afford those kids the opportunity to return in time for another class.

This is why Regional  Boards are so problematic.  Why on Earth would you throw ANY child “under the bus” EVER?  This is exactly the type of thought processes that occur in a Board that is too far removed from the kids.  They begin to think in terms of averages and lose sight of the preciousness of every single child.

A child is not a “regional unit”, is not “scaleable” and none of them are “average”.  The Board could create and empower separate committees to see to individualize decision making:  Pearls of Wisdom From out Coastal Cousins

Back to “Proximity to Southern Aroostook…”.  It’s an argument we have heard over and over and over, and one more often used to justify closure.     Do you know what else is “proximate to Region II”?  Houlton.  If busing is so benign, then, why not close SACS?  The distance is less than what you are asking Katahdin’s children to endure.  Why does the harm of busing matter more or less depending on who is in the seat if “all children matter equally”?

Claims that the desired “new school” will remain small, and retain all of the benefits of small schools is used to discredit the research offered here.  READ: “…too small to benefit from scale…”  In a few words, Larry sweepingly dismissed every item of research presented here and beyond, “They’re not talking about us….” — the height of absurdity in a decidedly farcical evening.

They are correct, though, and will likely be smaller than anyone may think.  …too small to offer the benefits touted by the Board.  Do we have reason to believe that precipitous enrollment declines will NOT continue unabated?    Though I believe in public education, and find “shopping” for schools in a “market” abhorrent, I am doing just that and am not alone.  The Superintendent referenced the difficulty in attracting and retaining good teachers.  The only reason I do not home school, is the relationships children form with wonderful teachers.  If they will not choose RSU #50, then why should I for our children?  Has anyone on the Board spoken with good teachers who would not submit a resume?  I have.  Like many problems in the RSU, size isn’t the issue.  Further, as research shows that taxpayer support diminishes with distance in consolidations, interest in changing the cost-sharing formula to a per-pupil one will likely grow and that budgets will become even more difficult to pass.

At the moment, our small schools are being run by people seeking to prove their inferiority, as is reflected by budget priorities toward “Bureaucrats and Wardens” which does not bode well to realizing their full potential.

I’ve always thought it odd that school size was treated as a choice — it isn’t always.    Children in your care are not going to wait for you to “decide” whether to pursue “bigness” OR innovate as quality small schools do.  Policymakers have a responsibility to do the latter, though we all know it conflicts directly with their efforts toward the former.

The Board would do well to remember, that,  they have no choice — they are running small schools at the moment, and their negativity toward them amounts to an admission that children are being shortchanged now – and unnecessarily according to research and to residents who believe the budget is sufficient to improve education for kids if spent differently.

“…Research also suggests that impoverished regions in particular often benefit from smaller schools and districts, and they can suffer irreversible damage if consolidation occurs….”Beware the Oversimplifiers

The communities have a decision to make, here, and I do wish them well.  The Board made theirs long ago.

Education on a Human Scale…

“…There are some who cling, stubbornly, to the outdated view that bigger schools are necessarily better schools. Despite the fact that there is no research evidence to support this view, well meaning but misguided and ill-informed policy makers continue to pursue the closure and consolidation of small neighborhood and community schools. They pursue this agenda apparently unaware that the educational community has moved on from this mid-twentieth view to embrace the educational opportunities available to students in small schools. Despite paying lip-service to “evidence based decision making,” some educational leaders seemingly ignore the growing body of evidence that clearly indicate that smaller schools are to be preferred over larger ones. One has to wonder if these folks can read! …”

…the Opening Words, of “Education on a Human Scale”; in-depth and comprehensive research by the Acadia Centre for Rural Education. The full report, in pdf, is linked in the third paragraph and is also available in hard-copy form at the Sherman Public Library. We have asked that it not be checked out, that it remains accessible for the entirety of the RSU Reorganization process.

Timbered Classrooms...

children-hands-heart.jpg?w=625Your school, your children and your tax dollars.  Everyone has a stake in public education in the region…

Please come to the forum for public input to shape a Future Vision for Education on Feb. 10th @6:00pm at the Katahdin Elementary School Cafeteria.  Don’t like public speaking?  This format will be very comfortable for you; table discussions and post-it notes….

Meanwhile, read this fascinating study of school consolidation in its entirety, here: Education on a human scale_5 April 

…or keep scrolling for (colorful) highlights:

“….Once upon a time rural parents and educators were more or less alone in their struggle with governments and school boards to maintain their small community schools. Educational authorities and policy makers seemed united in their view that bigger schools were better schools. If parents truly cared about their children and their education, they would agree to close their small schools and have their children bussed…

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What We Know And Don’t Know About Small Schools

What this Board and Administration does not know about small schools is eclipsed only by what they do not WANT to know. When are they going to answer to the evidence? Never, voluntarily anyway….

Timbered Classrooms...

girlwalkingleaves“…the closure of schools on the basis of their size is not warranted in terms of academic achievement or community or other measures of academic quality. There is a lack of evidence to suggest that small schools are incapable of achieving the broad goal set out for public schooling….” ~Michael Corbett

WhatWeKnowAndDontKnowAboutSmallSchools

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How can our education tax dollars best be spent ?

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“…We would get much more for our money by investing in our teachers than in expenditures devoted to expanded technology, new testing, new grading systems, teacher evaluation plans, or school ranking systems. When we neglect the growth of our teachers we are basically throwing our taxpayer dollars right down the drain….”

Read more of this fantastic piece by Kathreen Harrison, and others from her blog, “Rethinking Education” here.  

Community Meeting – Futures Task Force FULL AND FINAL REPORT

RSU 50 FTF Report (1) FINAL

The RSU 50 Futures Task Force Committee will be conducting a community meeting on:

 Monday, October 6, 2014 at 6:00 p.m.

at the Katahdin Middle/High School. 

This meeting is a full report of the work of the Task Force.  The public is welcome and encouraged to attend.

Though the recommendations will come as no surprise to many of our readers, the decisions they will surely influence are far reaching and permeate every member of the community, whether or not they have children in school.  The decision to close a school permeates property values, economic activity, tax bases and other vital infrastructure as well as the costs to children and families.

Budget Vote Grapevine……

grapesThe decidedly UN-scientific, UN-official decision has come to us via the latest in grapevine technology!

It looks as though the budget has passed, by a modest figure, 46 perhaps?  Timbered Classrooms joins the community in awaiting the official results, which we will, of course, share with our readers.

We look forward to your interpretation of the message the voters are sending, here, and how officials may best respond.

Please Vote Today!

vote-today2….on the RSU #50 Budget.  For your children, your tax dollars and your schools.

What We Know And Don’t Know About Small Schools

girlwalkingleaves“…the closure of schools on the basis of their size is not warranted in terms of academic achievement or community or other measures of academic quality. There is a lack of evidence to suggest that small schools are incapable of achieving the broad goal set out for public schooling….” ~Michael Corbett

WhatWeKnowAndDontKnowAboutSmallSchools

VOTE! Thursday, October 2nd

VOTEThe RSU #50 Budget Referendum will be held Thursday, Oct. 2nd

Please weigh in!