Monthly Archives: January 2012

Dallas school board picking on wrong people

It was inevitable that last week’s attacks on schools and teachers by the Dallas ISD school board would be followed by that alltoocommon political affliction – thin skin. It is a malady, sometimes bordering on paranoia, which strikes elected officials who take questionable actions that are overwhelmingly unpopular with their constituents.

Such apparently is the state of Dallas ISD Trustee Edwin Flores, following last week’s board decisions to close 11 neighborhood schools, assign more than 170 teachers to the “excess employee pool” (a bureaucratic term for the first step to the unemployment line) and add 45 minutes, without additional pay, to each surviving teacher’s work day.

According to an item over the weekend in The Dallas Morning News, a Dallas fourth grade bilingual teacher, Joseph Drake, sent Flores an email, protesting, with ample justification, the longer work day. Drake noted that he was the sole income earner for a family of six children, had not had a substantial raise in four years and was tired of being saddled with the school district’s budgetary problems. Drake also listed “nice properties” that he said were owned by Flores, while the teacher was “struggling to pay bills.”

The email was perfectly within the teacher’s rights, but nevertheless he was summoned from his classroom on Friday and ordered to report to the district’s administration building. There, he was handed a letter informing him that he had been placed on administrative leave with pay because of “allegations of potential misconduct.”

If this is the whole story – it is linked at the end of this post – the only potential misconduct is on the part of Flores and/or the DISD administration. State law expressly allows direct communication between school employees and school board members. And last time I checked, teachers were still covered by the First Amendment.

I don’t know if Flores demanded action against Drake or if the administration took it upon itself to violate the teacher’s rights. In any event, if Flores can’t take the heat, he should resign from the board. And, on his way out, he should write a strongly worded letter to the governor and legislative leaders. He should demand that the state adequately and equitably pay for public schools instead of cutting school budgets and encouraging districts to make bad choices.

Most teachers already work longer than the seven, eight or how many hours they are on campus each day. They regularly work extra hours at home – without pay – preparing for class, grading papers, etc. According to a survey TSTA conducted two years ago, teachers were spending an average of 15 hours a week outside of class on schoolrelated work.

Average teacher pay in Texas also is several thousand dollars below the national average, which requires many teachers to take extra jobs to support their families. The same survey showed that 40.8 percent of TSTA members moonlight during the school year. And each member, on average, was spending $564 a year out of his or her own pocket (without reimbursement) on school supplies.

Edwin Flores and his colleagues on the Dallas school board are picking on the wrong people.

Taxpayers stuck with campaign security bill

Gov. Rick Perry’s illadvised foray into presidential politics (or, his “oops” campaign, if you prefer) cost Texas taxpayers $2.6 million in security costs, according to The Texas Tribune. And, in case you were wondering, the governor has no intention of repaying taxpayers for the cost.

He isn’t required to make a reimbursement because the governor gets statepaid security wherever he travels, even for political misadventures in distant states. But considering the deep budget cuts Perry and his legislative allies inflicted upon public education and other state services last year and his insistence that we Texans who are mere mortals tighten our belts during tough economic times, it would be a nice gesture.

While thousands of Texans, including laid off school employees, are struggling, Perry lives in a taxpayerpaid mansion and is doubledipping, collecting both his gubernatorial salary and retirement pay. Assuming it is legally permissible, he could even repay the taxpayers from his state political fund, which, by coincidence, had a $2.5 million balance at the end of December.

But dream on, folks. Dream about what else Texas could have done with that $2.6 million security tab. The list is potentially endless, but one worthy use immediately comes to mind. Based on the average teacher pay in Texas, it could have covered the salaries of 53 teachers for the current school year.

Progress Texas, a nonpartisan group, has launched an online petition drive demanding repayment. If you are interested, click on this link:

An upsidedown “accountability” system

The Texas Legislature’s inadequate and upsidedown approach to school “accountability” was aired out again yesterday afternoon over at the scene of the crime, the state Capitol. During a House Public Education Committee hearing, parents, educators and wouldbe “experts” spent almost five hours reciting their concerns about the STAAR test, the state’s new “accountability” measurement for schools and students, which will make its debut this spring.

Some of the concerns are legitimate, particularly about how wellequipped schools are to prepare students for new, tougher tests following the misguided decision by Gov. Rick Perry and the legislative majority to slash $5.4 billion from the public education budget last spring. The best “accountability” lesson of the entire afternoon was the 15 minutes or so that Vice Chairman Scott Hochberg spent at the beginning of the meeting, reminding everyone that the least accountable figures in the state’s educational process are the governor and the legislative majority, who continue to demand that everyone else – students, teachers, parents, principals, superintendents – be accountable but themselves. (Hochberg, unfortunately, is in the minority and isn’t seeking reelection.)

Even before the budgetcutting last spring, Texas’ school finance system already was underfunded and inequitable. But the budget slashers insisted on keeping STAAR on schedule, even as questions continued to be raised not only about inadequate resources for student preparation, but also about grading practices and inconsistent policies among school districts.

Hochberg got to the root of the problem by citing the plight of the tiny Premont ISD in South Texas, a district whose persistent accountability failures, including poor test scores and high truancy, have prompted the Texas Education Agency to threaten it with closure, the ultimate sanction. Were that to happen, the district would be annexed by another district 35 miles away and the small town would lose its largest employer and about 90 jobs. Given one final chance by TEA, the district is making a concerted effort to reduce truancy and has eliminated all athletic programs for the rest of the year to strengthen its focus on academics.

Hochberg didn’t claim to know all the issues impacting Premont ISD, but, on questioning a TEA lawyer, he noted the district is one of the poorest in the state, spending about $500 a year less per student than the state average. That isn’t the fault of local taxpayers. They approved a tax ratification election raising their property tax rate to $1.17 per $100 valuation, the maximum allowed by state law. The funding fault lies with the governor and the legislative majority, who have allowed an inadequate and inequitable school finance system to worsen. Meanwhile, as Hochberg also pointed out, most of the highestperforming school districts, those getting exemplary ratings for their campuses, are wealthier, spend hundreds of dollars more per year on each student than Premont does and have lower property tax rates.

Instead of addressing these problems last session, the governor and most legislators approved a budget that worsened the school funding dilemma and then dared school districts to sue them, which a majority of the state’s 1,044 districts have done – for the fifth or sixth time in the past 20 years.

Meanwhile, the same state officials are demanding that school children, in order to be promoted or graduate from high school, pass a new, tougher set of highstakes tests, even though – because of the Legislature’s neglect – classrooms in many schools are more crowded, textbooks more outdated and the learning environment compromised.

TSTA believes that standardized tests, such as STAAR, have a constructive purpose as diagnostic tools. But the Legislature is misusing these tests as a rewardorpunish “accountability” system that is becoming increasingly hypocritical.

From Turkey to Texas, Perry wearing thin

It’s difficult to say which governor – Rick Perry of Texas or Scott Walker of Wisconsin – is having the worst week so far, not that anyone should be wasting a tear for either of them.

Walker’s efforts to destroy America’s valued system of public service – and public schools – have justifiably earned him a millionplus signatures on petitions dumped at the state Capitol in Madison, demanding his recall. And, Perry’s intemperate, illinformed and just plain wrong remarks continue to doom his presidential misadventure, creating ill will as far away as Turkey. The leaders of that country, a U.S. ally, objected strongly to Perry’s characterization, in a televised debate, that they were a bunch of “Islamic terrorists.”

Polls of South Carolina voters indicate Perry’s week will get even worse when that state’s primary results are counted Saturday night, and Perry, we can hope, finally will be removed from the national stage.

Of more longrange concern to Perry and of interest to the rest of us, meanwhile, is a new poll back home, showing his stature among Texas Republicans is in a nosedive, at least as far as his presidential pipedream is concerned. According to a new poll by Public Policy Polling, only 18 percent of Texas Republicans are still supporting Perry for president, putting him in third place in his home state behind Mitt Romney (24 percent) and Newt Gingrich (23 percent). In a oneonone matchup, Perry would trail Romney, 46 percent to 45 percent, a 27point plunge for Perry since a similar hypothetical matchup was polled in September. Some 39 percent of the Texas Republicans said the governor’s presidential campaign has created bad perceptions for the state.

I don’t know how much bearing these figures would have should Perry seek still another term as governor in 2014, but I can’t help but feel he finally has begun to wear out his welcome among some of the same Texas Republicans who have been keeping him in office all these years. I also can’t help but wonder what took them so long to realize—if, indeed, they do that the emperor’s wardrobe is very thin.

I mean, all the national (and international) embarrassment that Perry has heaped upon Texas during his presidential bid is minor compared to the damage he already had inflicted, as governor, upon the state. Just last spring Perry demanded a budget with deep budget cuts to public schools, health care and other critical state services while his administration continued to reward big campaign donors with state contracts and other special favors. He also insisted on keeping more than $6 billion of taxpayers’ money in the bank – money that could have been used to prevent many budget cuts to bolster his bragging points with the Tea Party and other right wing voters during his presidential race. The Perry reality in Texas is worse than the perception.

Unlike Wisconsin voters, Texans can’t recall their governor. But it is time for Texas to move forward and start seriously preparing to put Perry, as Republican voters in other states already are doing, in the rearview mirror come 2014.