Monday, July 29, 2013

Texas Association of School Boards (TASB) and Entity Board summer meeting - Houston, Texas

The Texas Association of School Boards (TASB) hosted the Summer TASB and Entity Board meeting last week in Houston, Texas - from Wednesday to Saturday, July 24-July 27, 2013.

A packed agenda called for reports and action by Boards and committees, including: the Energy Cooperative  Board,  First Public, LLC, the Legislative Action Committee, the Local Government Purchasing Cooperative, the Lone Star Investment Pool Board, Risk Management Board and committees, TASB Benefits Board, and the TASB Board and committees.

Meanwhile, TASB staff members reported they are also wrapping up final preparations for the 2013 TASA/TASB  annual state conference, set for September 27 - 29 in Dallas.  Hundreds of School Board Trustees and school administrators from all over Texas will attend.

Our appreciation to President Viola M. Garcia, along with the Executive Committee, for leading TASB Directors and affiliates in an effective, efficient summer meeting.

Thanks to TASB staff who once again facilitated this well-planned, well-organized event.

The quality of service and work provided by TASB for Texas schools and public education helps validate why, for the fifth year in a row, the Texas Association of School Boards was selected as the Fourth Best of Top Places to Work In Central Texas among large companies by the Austin Business Journal.

Executive Director Jim Crow stated, "This is a great honor, as there were 250 nominations this year.  TASB staff is dedicated to service, and we know that if we are good and caring to our staff, they will be good and caring to our members. I am extremely proud of their commitment to excellence as they work to support Texas public schools every day."

We are grateful for the services TASB provides to school districts throughout the state of Texas.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Debunking the Myths of School Closures

In cities across the country, education officials are closing public schools en masse, impacting thousands of students, disproportionately those from communities of color or low-income families. Officials use a variety of justifications to defend the closures, citing everything from budget concerns to promises of better opportunities for students. But as this new infographic from the Opportunity To Learn Campaign illustrates, these justifications don’t hold up to scrutiny.

Here is what the evidence from past and current school closures says:
[Click here for more information and citations. And don't forget to share it on Facebook and Twitter!]

Debunking the Myths of School Closures
Want to take action? Here's what to do:
  • Read up on the alternatives. You can't improve schools by closing them – here is what we should be doing instead to support and turn around struggling schools.
  • Find out if there's a local organizing group in your community fighting school closures. Contact the Journey for Justice coalition and Alliance for Educational Justice.
  • Share this infographic on Facebook and Twitter. And view and share our previous infographic, "The Color of School Closures."

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Digging Deeper: More information

Most students won’t go to better schools.

The vast majority of students from closing schools are transferred to receiving schools that are struggling just as much as or worse than the schools that closed.
  • A February 2013 report from Research for Action compares 32 schools recommended for closure or consolidation in Philadelphia with the 51 planned receiving schools. Overwhelmingly, the receiving schools posted similar or worse scores on the state math and reading exams and were in similar corrective action plans for failing to meet adequately yearly progress.
  • A 2009 University of Chicago report on the effect of past closures in Chicago found that 40% of students from closing schools transferred to receiving schools that were on probation. 42 % transferred to schools with scores on the Iowa Tests of Basic Skills in the lowest quartile. Just 6% of students transferred to receiving schools with scores in the top quartile, most of them traveling well outside their designated attendance area to find a school with open seats.

Closures won’t save the district big bucks.

Closing schools is expensive. Officials have to pay to relocate and store inventory; transport students to new schools; renovate receiving schools to accommodate the influx of new students; reassess, fix up, and maintain or demolish closed school buildings. It can particularly difficult to sell closed school properties because they are often in economically disadvantaged areas with little investment, which forces the city to continue maintaining the properties.
  • A 2012 audit of the closure and consolidation of 23 schools in Washington, D.C. in 2008 found that total cost of the closures was 39.5 million, roughly 4 times what the district was expected to save.
  • A WBEZ Chicago report about the city’s current plans to close 50 public schools this fall notes that education officials have used the school district's $1 billion deficit as justification for the closures. Simultaneously, those officials are planning to put all the savings from the closed schools, plus an additional $329 million from new bond sales, towards improving the receiving schools. So not only is the district not saving money, it’s going further into debt.
  • A 2011 report from the Pew Charitable Trusts examined the cost of past school closures in Chicago, Detroit, Kansas City, Milwaukee, Pittsburgh and Washington, D.C. The report found that "no district has reaped anything like a windfall" from selling or leasing closed school buildings because they are costly to maintain and are often located in low-investment areas with few interested buyers: “As of the summer of 2011, at least 200 school properties stood vacant in the six cities studied – including 92 in Detroit alone – with most having been empty for several years…Milwaukee spends more than $1 million a year maintaining vacant buildings, Pittsburgh $2 million, and Kansas City close to $3 million.”

These aren’t empty schools.

In determining the optimal number of students in a given school, education officials employ a double standard in terms of classroom “utilization.” Despite the documented benefits of small class sizes, a public school with 15-20 students per classroom can be labeled “underutilized,” while private schools (to which many politicians send their children) and charters just a few blocks away can pride themselves on having small class sizes.
  • In Chicago, an analysis by researcher Jeanne Olson and a WBEZ report both highlight that the city’s utilization formula assumes from the start that every school should have 30-36 students per class. Anything less and the school is deemed “underutilized.”

Closures do have a big impact – on everyone.

School closings impact and disrupt whole communities.
  • Many receiving schools aren’t equipped for an influx of new students. Though the receiving schools may get some additional resources from the district, chances are it won’t be enough to accommodate the needs of the incoming students, most of whom are from low-income communities. This creates a cycle of struggling schools and sets up the receiving schools for future closure.
  • Students from closed schools will have to travel across unfamiliar neighborhoods to get to their new schools. This is a particular concern in Chicago, where some students will be forced to walk through gang territory.
  • During non-school hours, school buildings often house pre-K programs, health clinics and other community programs. Closing the buildings destroys this hub of community resources.
  • School closures fit into a larger pattern of community disinvestment, declining public housing and unemployment. Many of the neighborhoods with closing schools have seen their hospitals and police stations closed as well.

Want to take action? Here’s what to do.

Read up on the alternatives. You can’t improve schools by closing them – here’s what we should be doing instead to support and turn around struggling schools.
Find out if there's a local organizing group in your community fighting school closures. Contact the Journey for Justice coalition and Alliance for Educational Justice, or send us an email.
Share this infographic on Facebook and Twitter. And view and share our previous infographic, “The Color of School Closures."

The Color of School Closures

Posted on: Tuesday April 23rd, 2013
Mass school closings have become a hallmark of today's dominant education policy agenda. But rather than helping students, these closures disrupt whole communities. And as U.S. Department of Education data suggests, the most recent rounds of mass closings in Chicago, New York City and Philadelphia disproportionately hurt Black and low-income students.
What can you do to end these discriminatory and unacceptable school closures?
  • Share this infographic with your friends on Facebook and Twitter – start the conversation in your community!
  • Send us your stories and data about closings in your district.
  • Learn about alternatives that support students rather than close school doors on them.
There is no evidence to suggest that school closures work. Despite what policymakers say to justify these mass closures, reports have shown that the majority of student who are affected do not get placed in high performing schools. And though closures are often touted as a way for districts to save money in tough economic times, those savings often fail to materialize and can in reality cost taxpayers millions in hidden costs.
What is the alternative to closing schools? Evidence-based policies that provide students, schools and communities with the opportunities and resources they need to succeed, including:
For more information, check out this report from Communities for Excellent Public Schools, "A Proposal for Sustainable School Transformation."
Here are just a few of the many groups organizing against school closures in the cities highlighted in the infographic. If your organization is doing anti-closures work, let us know and we'll add it!

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

AFT President Randi Weingarten calls for "Reclaiming the Promise" of Public Education

"Public education is under assault." 
"They aren't in education to make a difference. They are in education to make a buck." -- Randi Weingarten
Reclaiming the Promise - Uniting for Public Schools
Published on Jul 22, 2013
In her speech at TEACH 2013 AFT President Randi Weingarten contrasts AFT's vision for "Reclaiming the Promise" of quality public education for all with corporate education "reformers" ineffective approach of cuts, competition and closings.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Dallas ISD Superintendent Mike Miles' comments violate the spirit of the Texas Public Information Act

On Saturday I posted the Office of Professional Responsibility 'Final Reportof the 'investigation' of 
"allegations made by the Chief of Communications, Rebecca Rodriguez, that Superintendent of Schools Floyd Mike Miles used 'undue influence' by pulling an agenda item from the June 13, 2013 monthly Board Briefing. Ms Rodriguez stated her concern was the agenda item was pulled because the vendor who was awarded the contract per Request For Proposal TH-204031 was not Mike Miles favored vendor."
I released the report because I strongly believe in open government. I believe in the Texas Public Information Act which clearly requires that public information be released to the public.

I also released the 'Final Report' because I knew an effort would be made to prevent public release of the information.

On Sunday Superintendent Mike Miles released a "lengthy statement" that confirms his desire and intention to prevent release of this Final Report of the Office of Professional Responsibility OPR).

In his public comments on Sunday, Superintendent Mike Miles stated "that this incomplete report should not be in the public domain."

In making this statement Superintendent Miles is expressing an arbitrary and self-serving viewpoint that disregards the clear requirements of the Texas Public Information Act.

On the second page of the OPR Report approved by Donald R. Smith, Jr., Chief Compliance Officer, it clearly states in plain English - 

"Type of Report - FINAL."

It is the final report of the investigation of the Office of Professional Responsibility. The statement of Superintendent Mike Miles that 
"this incomplete report should not be in the public domain" CLICK HERE-DMN 
is a false and untrue statement.
What does the Texas Public Information Act say about this?

Texas Government Code - Chapter 552. Public Information
"Sec. 552.001. Policy; Construction.
"(a) ... The people, in delegating authority, do not give their public servants the right to decide what is good for the people to know and what is not good for them to know. The people insist on remaining informed so that they may retain control over the instruments they have created. The provisions of this chapter shall be liberally construed to implement this policy.
"(a) without limiting the amount or kind of information that is public information under this chapter, the following information is public information and not excepted from required disclosure unless made confidential under this chapter or other law:
(1) a completed report, audit, evaluation, or investigation made of, for, or by a governmental body, except as provided by Section 552.108 (Exception: Certain Law Enforcement, Corrections, and Prosecutorial Information)"
The comments of Superintendent Mike Miles violate the spirit of the Texas Public Information Act. He is a public servant and has no right to prevent public access to information about public business.

It really doesn't matter what Superintendent Mike Miles thinks or believes. He is obligated to support and follow the laws of this state.

What matters is what the Texas Public Information Act permits or requires regarding the public's right to know.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Dallas ISD OPR Report alleges Superintendent Mike Miles obstructed investigation

The Office of Professional Responsibility Report started with the complaint of former Chief of Communications, Rebecca Rodriguez.
"Superintendent of Schools, Floyd Mike Miles used 'undue influence' by pulling an agenda item from the June13, 2013 monthly Board Briefing. Ms. Rodriguez stated her concern was the agenda item was pulled because the vendor who was awarded the contract per Request For Proposal TH-204031 was not Mike Miles' favored vendor."
At some point the Office of Professional Responsibility appears to have added an additional item alleging obstruction of the investigation by Superintendent Floyd Mike Miles.

 Alleged Obstruction of OPR Investigation
  • Contacting Potential Witnesses to Discuss Case Facts and Allegations
  • Suspending the Investigation and Taking Custody of All Investigative Files
The Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) report states on page 35:
On June 26, 2013 in a phone call from Mike Miles to Donald Smith, Mike Miles stated he had two concerns ...
"The first concern was talking about suspending the OPR report by going to Board of Trustee (BOT) president Eric Cowan. The Superintendent stated the BOT does not direct you and that "going to the BOT was bad form." The Superintendent stated that this was the second time doing it (reference to May 17th meeting concerning the merger of Internal Audit and OPR."
"The second concern stated by the Superintendent was "the manner in which OPR was conducting investigations." The Superintendent stated that DeeDee (the Superintendent's executive administrative assistant) was called in by OPR and the Superintendent stated, "I do not want that done." Cannot have a secretary called into an investigation as this is "not appropriate as she sees my coming and goings." Superintendent continued saying this is "overreach and not appropriate." He said maybe if criminal, yes." The Superintendent said that oversight of OPR "you need to see how I am going to run OPR." "No checks and balances on OPR." The Superintendent continued saying, " We need OPR from the beginning I have said no big brother and divisive to group." "Overreach of OPR not just because of this case." "Very disappointed must be on same page." "Chain of decision making - I (meaning Superintendent) am clear on organization chart." "You need to follow my guidance." He then stated that BOT Eric Cowan had spoken to him today at approximately 8:00am and stated the investigation was in "suspense for now" this will allow attorneys Jack Elrod and Lisa Ray to "look at it and read it.
"The Superintendent then directed me to give them (Elrod and Ray) all documents to read. The Superintendent then asked do you have any questions. I responded, "No sir." Superintendent then cautioned me to inform him if I call a BOT member other than for "Casual conversation." Superintendent then asked if I understood and I stated "yes."
 "At 8:55 I informed the superintendent that BOT Eric had requested a copy of the draft OPR report. The Superintendent responded, "Give to Jack for attorney client privilege." I explained to the superintendent that this was the first time OPR had ever given any documents to legal services while an investigation was in progress. The Superintendent stated that he and legal would interpret CAA (Local)."
Page 36 - "Because of the superintendent's second phone call I called Board President Cowan and stated that my independence in this investigation was very questionable from hereon as the Superintendent had already placed a tacit limitation on the investigation by requiring that the investigation be conducted in a discreet manner.  I asked for outside independent legal counsel work with OPR along with OPR's current attorney Robert Luna, P.C. I also requested that the direct intimation of Dallas ISD  General Counsel's Office and attorneys be excluded from any action in the personal investigation of the Superintendent as this legal service is a benefit not available to any other employee in the District regardless of position or title during an OPR investigation. I stated that this is a misuse of District resources and a means of intimation to OPR employees doing their job. I recommended that Board President Cowan call attorney Robert Luna for guidance. Cowan said he could and would get back with me."
 Referral to Outside Agency

"At the direction of the Dallas Independent School Board's President, Eric Cowan, the OPR investigation of Mike Miles will be referred to outside legal counsel for further investigation."

This is the first time I have heard of the Office of Professional Responsibility alleging that an investigation has been obstructed by a Superintendent and further accusing the Dallas ISD General Counsel's Office and attorneys of intimidating OPR employees doing their job.

The OPR investigation had developed a significant  amount of information.

The report appears below.