Friday, June 05, 2009

This Idea Has a Certain "Magnetic" Quality About It

I meant to write this post last week (before I had my keyboard troubles), but the story has been drawn out enough to still be "fresh" at this point in time. It's about the Dallas Independent School District (again), and once again it has to do with funding. But this time, there's no scandal, no underestimating the budget, or anything like that. It just the same old-fashioned belt-tightening that everyone has to do in these economic times. And once again, it's being done the wrong way.

So what's DISD's "solution" this time? Make deep cuts in the one area they've gotten right in the past several years--the magnet schools:
Since April, district officials have said they must level out campus funding across the district to comply with federal rules. Magnets and learning centers receive more local funding per student than other campuses, according to the district.

[...]The federal government requires that all schools – except those excluded – be funded within 10 percent of a district's average per-campus allocation, according to the district. If a school falls outside that window, the district is ineligible for Title I funds. DISD has said that it stands to lose $105 million in federal money.
But an official with the federal government said last week that DISD's math might be a little fuzzy here:
An analysis by Paul "Sandy" Brown, a program analyst at the U.S. Department of Education, looked at information for Dallas ISD's high schools and middle schools. Brown indicated in an e-mail sent to the Texas Education Agency on May 21 that the district is not using the best comparability measures, which could prevent the need to cut funding at some of the campuses.

[...]"Some of Dallas' schools would still not be comparable, and the [school district] would need to make adjustments. But I don't think the adjustments would be as radical as Dallas would have us believe," Brown wrote in the e-mail, which was obtained by The Dallas Morning News in an open records request.

Brown used various scenarios in his e-mail to show how the number of non-compliant schools in DISD could drastically be reduced.
That was last week. This week, the board released a list of 235 jobs that would be cut at magnet schools and learning centers--not as much as the 276 that were originally expected, but still a lot.

But no matter how many cuts took place, they're still doing it the wrong way. If some schools are getting more funds than others, the answer should not be to take money away from the higher-funded schools, but rather to give more money to the lower-funded schools. Let's bring everyone up, not dumb everyone down.

And I know the obvious question that comes out of that: "But, Kev, where will the money come from?" And this time I have an answer--yes, even in these economic times. The money will come from 3700 Ross Avenue.

That's the location of the administration building for the DISD, and a source of waste for many decades. I've said it before, but it bears repeating: Any school district facing a funding crisis should make sure that every bit of its administrative fat has been pared to the bone before cutting a single teaching position. Let's face it--the entire building could vanish into a black hole tomorrow and life would still go on at the DISD--teachers would teach, students would learn--and it might even go on more smoothly if the non-teaching bureaucrats were out of the way.

Sure, this jives nicely with my pet solution for so many of education's woes: Administrators must remain teachers for the duration of their careers in education, so that they'll continue to think like teachers and stay in touch with what's going on in education now, rather than become ivory-tower politicians and bureaucrats who haven't been in charge of a classroom for, in some cases, two or three decades.

But even if you're not on board with that idea, it would be pretty easy to look at the personnel list for 3700 Ross and see that there are just way, way too many administrators over there (as there are in most central offices). I wish I could find that DMN story from around five years ago that profiled the actual hierarchy over there (I haven't had time to look it up in the past, and I don't again today, but I'll get to it sometime). They just simply don't need the Associate Deputy Vice-Superintendent for Curriculum Development in the Northeast Quadrant--they just don't. (And while my example may not exist under that actual name, there are positions that are close to that all over the building.)

It's simple--education needs to be run by teachers, and teachers need to be the last ones let go in a financial crisis, because they have the most direct impact on students. Lay off a central office administrator, and most people, save for their family members, won't notice. Lay off a teacher, and a whole bunch of students will feel the pain.

As I said in an earlier post on the DISD,
As I said last time, not one teacher should be let go before every superfluous administrator is jettisoned first. I realize that some of these people are in place because of government requirements, and getting rid of them would also mean that we had to make major changes in the government; trust me, I'm in favor of that as well. But still, I think that the DISD has been presented a great opportunity to let the teachers run the show, or at least to let those running the show remain teachers. It certainly can't be any worse than the situation the district is facing now...
And nothing has happened since then to change my mind. DISD won't do this, of course, but it's still the right thing to do. Maybe someday, there will be a leadership team in place that truly puts the students first.

In the meantime, I send my best to the magnet school teachers who lost their jobs. Hopefully, you'll land someplace where your talents are more appreciated.

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