This is the last in a series of five letters that I felt compelled to write to sum up the Peabody study. I have had one town hall meeting to try and explain what the intent of the study was coupled with some recommendations that the Peabody team came up with.
I completely understand the frustration and the finger pointing. No one wants their children bused to all points on the compass. No one wants a sub-standard education for their children. The "no one wants" could go on and on.
I am sure that the last "no one wants" would include having myself suggest one thing to help fix a completely broken model. The model is broken with no or few possibilities to fix it. It is true that Mr. Jindal cut off the incremental raises in MFP. It is also true that he is demanding more and more from the districts to help pay for district personnel benefits. All of this is happening when the economy is cratering with very little, if any, hope on the horizon that it is going to turn around anytime soon.
The teachers are scared to death to step up to the plate and speak their minds fearful of retribution from higher-ups. Further consolidation is hard to stomach for anyone. The letter grade "D" is not accepted by anyone. The issue of having too many kids in classes due to consolidation or RIF is another adverse concern no one wants to discuss. Cutting central office staff is an anathema to central office staffers. We are broke. Yes, we. I include myself much to the chagrin of a lot of people because I am a tax paying citizen of Webster parish and I have the right to speak my mind.
The study is finished and the final document will be disseminated to the school board members, superintendent, press and other members of Webster Parish. I said time and time again in Springhill that our system is a cancer that is eating itself. If someone does not act no one will have to worry about a thing other than who from Baton Rouge is coming to take over. The Peabody team throws out some recommendations, and they are categorically dismissed largely due to the fact that I paid for the study. If you do not like my recommendations I would be happy to pay for another article with your recommendations as long as you sign your name to them. Why not we all be a part of the solution instead of a part of the problem. The problem has been in the making for years now. Our prior financial officer predicted it to a tee.
The recommendations that you read in my prior articles came straight from the Peabody team. Most of the recommendations came from the report and others were added to my letters by Peabody associates at a later date. I would add a couple of more (1) New teacher pay should start at a range somewhere between $36,000 and $37,500. (2) School board members should vote to reduce the size of the board to 7. This in fact would save very little money but should show to the public that they are willing to take a hit along with everyone else. (3) The board make a hard concerted effort to file for unitary status. (4) The board consolidate, if possible, the seven bonding districts into one. (5) Consider further consolidation only if it makes economic sense and spell that out to the people in dollars prior to voting on further consolidation. (6) Reduce the size of the central office commensurate with comparable districts. (7) Define publicly how many teachers have decided to retire and/or move on so that the Superintendent can definitively say how much RIF will have to take place. (8) Set up performance/merit based goals so that the citizenry knows what is expected of our school officials be they teachers, principals, administrators etc.... Total transparency.
Everyone will have to take some of the pain. In my estimation not one entity can or should take all the hit. The board needs to feel the pain along with central office personnel. If one portion of the public school system thinks they are exempt from the proposed right sizing make it known publicly that they are not.
I cannot say what the future holds. If we do not act boldly enough this time we will be back next January starting this process all over again. Jindal and company are not going to turn lose the purse strings. That is one thing that I will bank on. Charter schools are probably our future, although I have said before and I will say again that I am against that proposal. Vouchers in my estimation will further segregate our schools. Teacher tenure is killing our system. The holy grail of our systems failure is in the defined benefits plan. It costs our system an additional $1,000,000.00 this year and will probably go up next year. There it is all laid out. No quick fixes. No guarantees that any or all of the above will save the system. I will say it one last time. Our system is broken and eating itself, and structured as such is made to fail.
The proposed town hall meetings are in no way sanctioned by the Webster Parish School Board.