Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Context of Senator Argue's Statement - Raising Minimum District Size to 800

And other interesting tidbits from the meeting the media did not cover

Tom Kimbrell, executive director of the Arkansas Association of Educational Administrators (superintendents), gave testimony at the end of a long day at the Joint Adequacy Committee meeting on Aug 24, 06. The Adequacy experts gave their report on the amount of money needed for adequate education in Arkansas at this meeting – an increase of $335 million.

Basically, Kimbrell said (to the best of my understanding) that he could find no way to do a schedule for teaching the 38 required credits that have to be taught and the 4 AP classes that have been phased in since the last matrix was done for the smaller schools in Arkansas and pay all the cost of other factors in the matrix like the required teacher salary, etc. The matrix is based on a school of 500 students.

Argue and Mahony had made several arguments that all the items in the matrix had to be mandated this next time so the superintendents would have to spend the money specifically in each category on the matrix; thereby leaving the superintendents no wiggle room with the funds whatsoever. (Be sure to read about the instructional specialists below that they emphasized over and over and just what specialists qualifications entail!)

Kimbrell pointed out that Odden and Picus had developed models in other states where they had worked up a matrix model on high schools of no more than a 100 students. He told the committee he wanted Odden and Picus to show the superintendents in Arkansas how they did this on smaller schools than 500 in other states. The adequacy experts had left after giving their presentation which lasted from 9:00 to about 3:30 or 4:00 p.m. with Representative Mahony literally doing about half the talking all day.

Although he didn't mention it, I think Kimbrell was trying to obtain the matrix model for smaller schools inorder to draw attention to the fact that Odden and Picus had earlier told the committee back in May, 2006 "that many states have more flexibility with their mandated core curriculum….Arkansas is different because it wants all high schools to teach all 38 units every year,” Odden said. “We’re saying in other states they don’t have that mandate, so you can alternate. You can teach physics one year and chemistry one year and biology another year. But in Arkansas, there’s been a push to consolidate, so that strategy may not fit here.”

That is not what Argue and his consolidation allies wanted to hear or brought back to their attention.

Four of the legislators Elliott, Argue, Pickett, and Mahony immediately jumped in and kept interrupting Kimbrell and hammered him so hard that one legislator interrupted and told them this was testimony, and they weren't supposed to be doing this to Kimbrell during his testimony.

Among other comments, Argue said in a frustrated, angry tone to Kimbrell, "What you are really doing is giving me a bad case of déjà vu. That is exactly the argument that was made over and over again when we made the argument that we needed a minimum district size in the neighborhood of 800 students so we would generate a high school of 240 students which would give you your FTE. Then when we were trying to improve the efficiency of the system, then the response was Oh, give us a chance and we can make it." Now 2 years later, damm, if it is not my argument but it is being used in reverse for additional funding. Déjà vu." (See note below as to how Argue reveals his hand here.)

(continued- click Tuesday below and scroll down for rest of article, or if sent straight here just scroll down)


Blogger Debbie Pelley said...

Mahony jumped in and said also in angry tone to Kimbrell after already having made other smart comments, "When the head of the small school association said [back in 2003], 'Oh, no we can do it [teach all the courses] just fine," and that is the head of the association saying that [referring to the head of the superintendent association] I didn't hear one peep out any other member of the association. I am like Senator Argue now. Now you [superintendents] turn around and when it is more advantageous to say we can't make it– they got the small districts preserved. Now they just reverse their argument [in order to get more funding]. It is somewhat hypocritical for them to be doing this."

At this point Senator Argue said, "Mr. Hudson, I am going to ask the staff to go ahead and draw up a bill in my name to raise the minimum district size to 800."

(Right after that when the next speaker started speaking, and the attention was drawn away from Argue, Argue had a smirky smile on his face and looked at someone in the vicinity of the other legislators, met his eye and sort of winked as if to say that will shut up Kimbrell and those superintendents.)

Rep Pickett reiterated some things Argue and Mahony had said and then insulted Kimbrell by making some negative comment, like Kimbrell could probably pay someone enough to get a matrix he liked. (Could Pickett possibly believe Kimbrell could have anything like the influence that she and the committee have on getting experts to say what they want them to say?)

Back to Mahony's statement and Argue's implication on superintends' hypocrisy – of course none of the above legislators mentioned the hypocrisy of telling everyone in 2003 that their bills just dealt with administrative consolidation and would not affect any of the elementary schools. 57 school campuses, including many elementary schools, have now been closed.

And they did not mention the hypocrisy of telling (and writing into law) all the consolidation opponents that they would not close the isolated districts. Then a year later they came back and wrote a law breaking both the promise and the law.

No mention was made, either, of the hypocrisy of pretending that consolidation would save money by eliminating some superintendents. The salary for every superintendent (325) in the state in 2003 was $22 million. Ironically legislators turned around and gave $107 million to the ADE for 32 new staff and other expenses. That figure would hire over 1000 superintendents for the state.

Another thing they discussed in the meeting was a need for more Arkansas Department of Education employees - to do all the work it would take to oversee all the schools in Arkansas to make sure they followed all the mandates set out by the legislature and the ADE. I suspect that the ADE will hire 2 more employees for every superintendent they get rid of.

Parents in one school that consolidated administratively with a larger school in 2003 did a study on all the administrative employees. The parents documented that all the former school administrative personnel of both schools were still there, and their salaries had increased by $137,625 (16%) in just one year, 2003-04 to 2004-05, (I don't want to put the name of the school in the email but will give it to anyone privately who wants to document the information). Wouldn't it be reasonable to study the administrative salaries of every school that has been merged or consolidated in Arkansas to see if this is not true across the state?

That increase in administrative costs is the same type of information that came from West Virginia newspaper reports when W. Virginia consolidated so many schools. This information from West Virginia was passed around to all legislators in 2003 before Act 60, that mandated that districts with enrollment of under 350 be annexed or consolidated, was passed. In addition, Arkansas gave these consolidating schools a fairly large chunk of incentive money to consolidate as well.

Then the schools have the extra ever-rising fuel costs to add when they put students on the buses 3 to 4 hours a day. Argue said in the meeting the other day he thinks they should set up a fund to give more money to some of these schools for extra buses to shorten those routes. The way to solve any problem these days seems to always be to add more money. Consolidate to save money and then spend more on buses and fuel costs.

There were a great many comments made by Mahony and a few other legislators expressing concern and dismay because the superintendents had not used the money allotted to schools for instructional specialists (also called instructional facilitators or coaches) in the matrix model developed in 2003 for the schools. The reason the superintendents didn't use them is because they are not effective. Kimbrell pointed out that numerous schools had great scores without using the specialists. Mahony shot back, "If they didn't use the specialists, then instruction was not as good as it could have been" or something very similar to that.

Look at the description of a specialist below, and I think you will understand why superintendents didn't use the so called specialists. I had to go to a great deal of trouble a couple years ago to get this information which confirmed my suspicions about the qualifications of math specialists..

The qualifications for a math specialist as outlined by the State Department are as follows:

•A bachelor's degree and three to five years of recent teaching experience within grades seven through twelve.
•A teaching philosophy that supports the Arkansas Mathematics Curriculum
•Knowledge of current research and effective practices in standards-based curriculum, instruction, and assessment.
•Experience in adult learning situations and in team problem solving. (Taken from fax from Christi Alexander, Math Specialist for ADE, May 30, 03. after a telephone conversation and request for it.

Numerous math teachers have masters' degrees, and the requirement for a specialist is a bachelor's degree. Numerous teachers have 20 and 30 years teaching experience. Why should they be counseled and taught by a less experienced, less educated so-called "specialist" with a bachelor's degree and three to five years of teaching experience. That one example should alert everyone to the nonsense the bureaucrats are pulling.

This is the meeting that no media in Arkansas covered. It may not have been of interest to the reporters, but there were numerous matters of interest to the taxpayers and to rural school supporters. I guess that is why we conservatives believe the media is so biased, while they contend they are not. The media most often is coming from one perspective, and we are coming from another. The things that are important to us just don't grab their attention – issues like the above that caught my attention at the meeting, not to mention the $335 million dollars being discussed to add to our tax burden.

Stay tuned and the next email will tell you more about these so called specialists, how their failure has been documented, and just what the second qualification in red actually means.

Footnote: (Argue reveals his hand here with his statement on minimum size district of 800. Evidently he plans to use the ADE regulations and the Omnibus bill to close down school districts until the 800 minimum enrollment is reached since he couldn't get his earlier bill passed for the higher minimum enrolled in the 2003 session. If they can't do it by law, then they can do it by regulation - like using the nutty rule that all courses have to be taught even if there are no kids to take them and refusing any flexibility like other states do on the way the courses are taught. Then using that same pattern, if they can pass the countywide district bill which Argue proposed in a law 10 year ago and is still working for, they can move on to the 1500 minimum enrollment they wanted all along. )

10:21 AM, August 29, 2006  

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