by Granger Meador, BEA Chief Negotiator
For months the Superintendent's Budget Development Committee has been working to project 2015-2016 funding, assess district budget requests, and develop a budget recommendation for the local board of education. I have the dubious distinction of being the only teacher on the committee. The recommendation was considered and approved by the board of education on Thursday, May 28, 2015. It includes a number of personnel changes caused by the Grades 9-12 reconfiguration and personnel cuts across all grade levels to address inadequate state funding.
State Funding Isn't As Flat As You May Think
The legislature has been crowing about providing a "flat" state education budget, failing to acknowledge that the overall increase in the state's student population means that there will actually be less funding per pupil. Bartlesville is projecting a $107,000 loss in state formula funding from this, and that loss could be even greater if our guess on a leveling off of "virtual" student enrollments in the state is incorrect.
The governor and most legislators fail to acknowledge that their repeated cuts in the state income tax have devastated state revenues, on top of the revenue losses from the latest downturn in the petroleum industry, which is always volatile. Rather than allow state schools and services to recover from huge cuts in 2009, the income tax cuts have held down funding and promise to grow even worse later this year as yet another income tax cut takes effect. This is galling since the legislature struggled to deal with a $600 million gap in funding this session and failed to do anything to address a statewide teacher shortage caused by lowest-in-the-region salaries (Oklahoma only ranks above South Dakota, Mississippi, and Idaho in average teacher salaries).
Local Spending Cut Over $600,000
The legislature and governor's irresponsible income tax cuts have forced the legislature to raid the state "rainy day fund" and drain many "revolving accounts" even as they cut funding for higher education, vo-tech schools, and most state agencies. These strategies are not sustainable and the fear that there could be a state funding shortfall in early 2016 and cuts in state school funding in the next legislative session led the local school board to adopt a budget that cuts spending by almost $603,000.
The school board has been spending more than it took in as revenue for the past several years, spending down its fund balance in hopes that state funding would recover. That has not happened and now the fund balance is down to roughly 8.2% with encumbrances. Long-standing board policy has been to not dip below a 7% fund balance, which would happen without significant cuts in spending.
Even with over $600,000 in spending reductions, the fund balance is still expected to decline to 7.5%. That leaves only about $240,000 of buffer above the 7% fund balance level, which could quickly be drained by state funding cuts or unexpected expenses.
Board Members Agonized Over Cutting Primary Reading Teachers
The board members readily accepted most of the budget committee recommendations, but spent time discussing the Even Start program and agonized over cutting all six of the Primary Reading Teachers (PRTs) and cutting site budgets by 8.3%. The PRTs were added in 2013-2014 so that each elementary school had another teacher to work with the students having the most difficulty passing newly mandated 3rd grade reading tests for promotion to 4th grade. While the program has been successful in helping students improve their reading skills, it cost almost $284,000 annually with no new state funding to support it.
Given the unsustainable funding actions in the state legislature, I was adamant in recommending to the board that all six PRT positions be cut so as to maintain a projected 7.5% fund balance. One board member was concerned about funding a new string teacher position (requested because of the very high student/teacher ratio in the program, higher than in any peer district) even as reading teachers were being cut. Questions were answered about why the middle school string program has open enrollment and how the committee established its funding priorities.
Eventually the five board members present unanimously voted to adopt a budget cutting all six PRT positions and reduce the site budgets (Vice-President Scott Bilger and newly appointed member Tyler Vaclaw were absent). However, the board directed Dianne Martinez, the Executive Director of Elementary Education, to work on a significantly cheaper plan to provide some reading support, to be presented to the board at a future meeting. Initial possibilities include creating one or more classified positions to assist with reading in place of the six certified positions which were cut. The board also discussed how, if mid-year revenue turns out well in early 2016, it could then restore the site budgets.
Even Start Childcare Program Discussed
Some years back an Even Start Childcare Program was funded by a state grant, but the grant ran out. The district sustained the program as a mechanism to help reduce dropouts by providing pregnant students with child care, and some teachers and members of the public also took advantage of the program. Two teachers spoke in support of the program during public comment at the previous board meeting. However, state funding and fees are only covering about 3/4 of the cost of the program, and lately only 3 students and 9 teachers were using the program. Since it would cost the district almost $25,000 to continue the program and child care is not a core district mission, the board opted to end it.
Certified and Classified Step Increases and Administrative Raises Funded
Recognizing that certified step increases actually cost the district no additional funding, due to more experienced teachers retiring and typically being replaced by ones with less experience, and that classified and administrative positions require similar small increases to keep up with part of the increased cost of living and thus both attract and retain employees, the board approved the usual step increases for certified and classified employees and the usual administrative raises.
Suspension of Planned Certified Raise for Adding 5 Minutes to Instructional Day
The third part of a three-year plan to increase the instructional day by 15 minutes was suspended. It would have provided a $460 raise for all teachers while increasing the mandated teacher work day from 7 hours 25 minutes to 7 hours 30 minutes. Board members said they still hoped to fund that change in a future year if the state improves district funding. In 2015-2016 the instructional day at all schools will increase to reflect the 10 minutes added to the teacher work day (and paid for by across-the-board raises) over the past two years.
Step 27 Added; All Out-of-State Experience Recognized
The board recognized that our salary schedule is not competitive with our peers for career teachers, with our schedule ending at step 26 while the peer average goes through step 33 and some peer districts go through step 40. They approved adding Step 27 to the salary schedule; this change was also fully paid for by attrition.
In an effort to improve our district's competitiveness in attracting out-of-state teachers, the board approved recognizing ALL out-of-state teaching experience in our certified salary schedule. The state only requires that 5 years of out-of-state experience be recognized, but Bartlesville for many years has recognized 8 years of out-of-state experience. Now all teachers in the district, beginning in 2015-2016, will shift on the salary schedule to a step reflecting all accumulated out-of-state experience up to the limits of the schedule.
Both the addition of Step 27 and recognizing out-of-state experience will need to be formalized when the BEA team bargains with the board team on June 9 to develop a new Tentative Agreement for 2015-2016, subject to teacher and board ratification in August.
Detailed Budget Changes
Below is a summary of the various changes in the budget approved by the board:
I have been personally involved in district budget development for 20 years. I've seen better years but I've also seen much worse. Unfortunately, I do not expect things to improve next year. Voters have returned to state government many legislators and a governor who presided over the largest percentage cuts in education funding of any state in the nation. Their rhetoric about supporting schools is as empty as the state coffers they drained with foolish and destructive cuts in the income tax rates. It would not surprise me if we are forced to conduct a work stoppage in the coming years like the one we mounted to support the HB 1017 education reform law back in 1990. Our legislature and governor have dismantled many of the improvements of HB 1017, and teachers and parents must band together to demand change.
The May 2015 edition of the BEA Line newsletter is attached to this post.
I can’t believe that it is already May! Soon school will be out for the summer and it will be time to take a relaxing break.
It is with mixed feelings that I write my last letter as the President of the Bartlesville Education Association. I am so proud and privileged to have served as your president for the last two years, and humbled that we have so many members that are willing to step up and help out when help is needed.
Last week, myself and three other BEA members, attended the delegate assembly in MidWest City. Something happened that to my knowledge has never happened before at a delegate
assembly. The state superintendent of public education, Joy Hofmeister, spoke to the delegates of the Oklahoma Education Association. She was upbeat, supportive and seemed to understand what Oklahoma educators need to be successful in the classroom. She is trying to do away with EOI’s and other state testing. Listening to her speech gave me hope that someone is actually listening to educators and not turning their backs on us.
Again, I am so blessed and fortunate to work with the wonderful educators in our district and to have been able to serve as your president for three terms. Have a great May and a
wonderful summer break!
The April 2015 edition of the BEA Line newsletter is attached to this post.
April is here and what an action packed month! It is filled with testing, testing, and more testing. Of course with testing comes lots of stress. Do your best to relax, take some time to do something just for you, and enjoy the remainder of the school year. All the students in the district are well-prepared for testing and our district is filled with teachers who spend time, much of it our own time, to make sure that every student in the district is reaching his or her potential.
This year at the OEA Delegate Assembly the Bartlesville Education Association will receive the Golden Apple Award on behalf of Judy Allen for the work that she so diligently does on the BEA Line.
The job fair will be held on April 25th at the Bartlesville High School Fine Arts Center. This is a great opportunity for potential employees to hear the benefits of joining our professional association. I will be sending out a sign-up sheet this week through the email and I hope that you can help our association. Due to the Delegate Assembly many of our officers are unable to help, so we need any member who has some free time to fill in and help serve our
Kelli Bryant, BEA President
The March 2015 edition of the BEA Line newsletter is attached at the bottom of this post.
Can you believe that it is already March? This winter has flown by and it has been such an unusually warm winter. With spring comes the end of school activities and planning for the next year. We are looking forward to gathering ideas for next year’s negotiations team. If
you have any ideas please email me and let me, Granger Meador or any officer know your thoughts or concerns.
There are many educational bills that are in legislative session. These bills have a direct impact on our students’ educations and our jobs. Please stay informed and contact your local legislator to give your opinion. To see the current status of bills that have to do with education follow this link and use your BEA/OEA membership card to register
and then login. Be sure to email your representatives from your home email, be professional and courteous, but voice your opinion about how these bills will affect education and teacher morale.
Also, if you want your voice to be heard in person, you may use your personal day to attend the educational rally on March 30.
The last item I want to address is the fact that we are having a hard time getting members to get involved in our association. I have served as president for three terms, not because I did an amazingly fabulous job, but because no one wanted to step in and be an officer. There are many reasons that people don’t want to serve. The reasons range from, not knowing about BEA or what we do, not enough time, or I don’t want to get involved. While all of these are very valid reasons, it makes me think back in history to what our country would be like if our forefathers such as George Washington or Abraham Lincoln had used those words. We are only as strong as our membership or the involvement of our members. Please consider coming to our monthly meetings or some of the special events that we have for our members.
I hope you have a wonderful and restful spring break!
By Granger Meador, Chief Negotiator, Bartlesville Education Association
In a most welcome development, the Teacher/Leader Effectiveness (TLE) Commission has unanimously recommended sweeping changes in the TLE appraisal system. (Bartlesville's Senator Ford, the chair of the Senate Education Committee and a member of the Commission, actively helped craft the recommendation language. But he declined to vote on the final recommendation to the State Board of Education; see below.)
The recommendation calls for scrapping Other Academic Measures (OAMs) and Student Learning/Outcome Objectives (SLO/SOOs). While it calls for retaining Value Added Measures (VAMs), the recommendation takes much of the potential sting out of their use, since it calls for eliminating TLE composite scores which would combine qualitative and quantitative scores, while also saying local school board policies (and bargaining agreements, unless specifically excluded in legislation), not statewide rules, should define how qualitative and available quantitative measures would be used for determining career teacher status and mandatory firings.
Don't count your chickens yet...
HOWEVER, many of the recommendations would require an amendatory law make it through the legislative process. Senator Ford, a key player in that, declined to vote for or against the final recommendations, saying that he did not want to vote no on the recommendations, but also is not clear on the end results of the legislative process to amend TLE. He said he will be working with many different parties to amend TLE, and he did make it clear that he:
So bear in mind that all of the recommended changes may well not make it through in their current form, although it appears certain that significant changes will occur. Senator Ford's SB 706 currently differs from the recommendation in marked ways, but he indicated he will be visiting with various parties to further craft the bill's language, and a companion bill will be introduced in the House.
So which quantitative measures are endorsed by the Commission?
The Commission recommends having separate quantitative scores only when a high-quality measure is available. The Commission is following Ms. Burk's lead in considering VAMs to be high-quality, but labels the menu of OAM choices as poor-quality with little validity and accepts that while research supports the use of SLO/SOOs in formative assessments (e.g. for use in data teams), there is no strong research base supporting the use of them in teacher evaluations.
those surveys were the subject of considerable controversy this year. Tulsa's TLE leader also noted that while a 5-point scale is appropriate for qualitative ratings, Tulsa's research showed only a 3-point scale (below average, average, and above average) was appropriate for quantitative ratings, and they avoid a composite score, instead having evaluators consider multiple separate scores when data is available.
So far the Commission only says it plans to 'recommend', not mandate, such alternate measures. As your Chief Negotiator, if the Commission does eventually recommend the very expensive and controversial Tripod surveys now being used in Tulsa, I would not support their use in our district.
SLO/SOOs could be eliminated as soon as next week
While most of the recommended changes will require an amendatory law make it through the legislative process, SLO/SOOs are another matter.
The audio record of the meeting revealed that the TLE Commission never recommended the use of SLO/SOOs to the State Board of Education; that requirement did not come from them or from state law, but was imposed by the State Board of Education, and the Commission members were unclear on whether or not the state board knew that the TLE Commission never voted to recommend SLO/SOOs.
So Superintendent Hofmeister plans to ask the State Board of Education, at its 2/26/2015 meeting, to scrap SLO/SOOs. So we might soon be able to forget about that onerous mandate, with OAMs living on until hopefully a state law is passed to get rid of them as well. Bartlesville teachers, in a good faith effort to comply with state law, will then have wasted considerable time and energy on SLO/SOOs. Shame on the state's policy leaders for yet again foisting off on us yet another unfunded mandate, based more on politics than sound research.
It appears certain that the quantitative component of TLE will not be fully implemented until 2017-2018, but what precise form that component will take is now up in the air, with a Commission recommendation that may or may not be fully reflected in the necessary legislation.
Below is the press release on this matter from the State Department of Education:
The February 2015 edition of the BEA Line newsletter is attached to this post.
Words from the Prez:
Have you ever seen such crazy weather? One day the temperature is in the 70’s and the next day it is in the 20’s. The ups and downs in the temperature reminds me of our membership and getting people involved in our association. Sometimes our membership goes up, and our voice gets stronger. Other times, our membership goes down, and our voice becomes weaker.
My point is that people want the benefits without being a member or being involved. Before I
became an officer, I knew literally nothing about our association, local, state or national. It was by becoming involved and people mentoring me that I found out all our association has to offer. We are looking for people to become involved, to voice their opinions and help us be the strong local that we are meant to be.
Soon it will be time to find a president-elect for the next school year. I know people are going to say they don’t have the time, but I found that being an officer is not only rewarding but it didn’t take as much time as I thought. Please consider finding a way to become involved, we would love to have each and every one of you.
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