Each month, Dr. Zorn reaches out to our business community via the Kelso Longview Chamber of Commerce newsletter with information about the successes and challenges of our public schools.
The 2017 legislative session will begin soon and with it will include many important issues that are certain to have an impact on the Longview Public Schools. I’d like to highlight some prominent issues for our community.
At the forefront will be the manner in which the state legislature chooses to address the state’s funding inadequacy brought to light in the Supreme Court’s “McCleary Decision.” The heart of this ruling is that local school districts have become far too dependent upon local levies to meet their basic education requirement needs.
In the Longview Public Schools, 22% of our total state funding comes from locally-voted Maintenance and Operation levies. The increased dependence on local levies across the state has resulted in discrepant district commitments to the Time, Responsibility and Incentive (TRI) pay given teachers to supplement salaries set by the state schedule. Our TRI compensation average is $6,500 per teacher. The state average TRI pay is $14,000 per teacher. Because larger districts in the Vancouver area provide more in TRI pay, we have had some difficulty recruiting teachers to our area. Additionally, state funding for teacher and support personnel neither matches our need nor our actual compensation costs. The present state funding formula only provides teacher salaries for 180 days of instructional time. Additional time is needed in our efforts to improve upon student achievement levels as we address school improvement and professional development. Our hope is that the solution crafted by the legislature acknowledges this need.
We also believe that the State Construction Assistance formula needs to be revised to more accurately reflect actual costs to support school construction. The present square-footage-per-student calculation does not meet national averages, industry standards or new class size requirements. Additionally, we would like to see the 60% majority vote for the passage of construction bonds reconsidered. The super-majority requirement puts control of our school bonding requests in the hands of the minority.
The requirement to increase high school graduation credits to 24 is an unfunded mandate because it requires making the school day longer with more class periods. Our district’s move to a 7-period day in the 2018-19 school year will remove about 7 minutes per period (we need to teach more subjects in the same time allotment). Seven fewer minutes per day for 180 school days means approximately 21 hours of instructional time per credit granted. To recoup about 4 of those lost 7 minutes, we need to add at least 30 minutes to the instructional day. This extension of the instructional day represents an approximate 7% increase in the cost of our teacher contract. These unfunded yet significant compensation implications to the adoption of a 24 credit graduation requirement have largely been ignored by the State Board of Education and Legislature.
This legislative session, we are also asking that graduation requirements no longer be tied to state-mandated test scores. It seems that we continue to make it more and more difficult for our students to graduate from high school, and we believe that districts should be allowed to manage their own graduation requirements providing they meet minimum levels provided by the state.
Beyond the state level, we have deep concern for the systematic federal intrusion into the operation of our nation’s public schools. Over the past 16 years, our states and local public school districts have increasingly lost control of many decisions. This gradual creep of federal intrusion, couched in a need for accountability and justified by a propagandized belief that our public schools are failing has done little to improve upon the education we provide our students. I am hopeful that the replacement of No Child Left Behind legislation with the newly authorized ESSA legislation will be a first step in restoring control of our public schools to states and local districts.
Finally, state and national school privatization efforts which include support of charter schools and vouchers present great concerns. These efforts promise to put public funds in the hands of unelected boards and for-profit organizations who have no accountability to the public. They are not required to serve all students nor are they required to meet the same standards of accountability, testing, and performance required of all public schools. The privatization efforts supported by former US Secretary of Education Duncan, present Secretary King, and future Secretary DeVos have failed to produce any demonstrable improvement in student achievement levels. Diverting our nation’s educational resources from accountable and locally-run public schools governed by elected boards to unaccountable private entities controlled by self-appointed boards and individuals is certain to dilute the resources available to public schools that are uniquely charged with serving all students, regardless of background, ability, or station in life.