Friday, February 04, 2005

Is "The Blade" Open?

Governor Mitch Daniel’s was known (affectionately I am sure) during his White House days as “The Blade.”
During “The Blade’s” state-of-the-state address he promised Hoosier’s his administration would be “more open.” (click link for the transcript)

So, how is The Blade doing? Is The Blade open?

I think the first attempt to be “more open” and “more ethical” in state government, probably indicates that this particular “Blade” operates best in a closed environment.

It seems that the Governor’s decision to cut school funding immediately even took many of his own party members by surprise.

School districts throughout the state have recently received notice that all local 2005 Basic Grants will be reduced. It is important for the public to know that the funding formula for 2005 was passed and approved two years ago. We realize it is difficult for a legislature to estimate exactly what the school funding formula is going to generate for each district. That's why it's common practice in the second year of the state budget, for the General Assembly to approve a supplemental appropriation to fund the difference whenever their estimates have been off a little bit.

Schools already have their staff hired. Immediate cuts and lay-offs are not possible given the current state laws the legislature has saddled schools with. It will be difficult for local school boards to even decide by this fall what programs for children they need to eliminate. These decisions need to be made in the next two months by each school board in order to meet state laws governing lay-offs in education. The public will not view this surprise announcement as "more open" government.

Schools across Indiana are aware that the state has financial problems and has to do something about it. However, patrons probably don’t know that about 85-90% of the General Fund in most school districts is used for personnel costs. That means that there can be no reductions in funding without cuts in personnel which means services to children. Many schools have already frozen salaries for 2004-05 due to the levy shortfalls. Many legislatures don’t seem to realize that a “flat-line” budget doesn’t flatline insurance increases, utility increases or the long list of unfunded mandates (Click on link for new Indiana graduation requirements in today's Indy Star - passed with no fiscal study as usual) passed down by legislatures everywhere.

The Indiana General Assembly is responsible for developing and passing the budget. It then goes to the Governor for signature or veto. The General Assembly has an obligation and responsibility to meet this commitment. Schools leaders are willing to help state officials overcome their financial problems, but we must have enough time to
further reduce our expenses. Giving shortfall notice after we have started a new budget year does not give us adequate time to make the necessary cuts, nor does it appeal to the greater public as a "more open" and "more ethical" government.

I think “The Blade” is closed. Or…. maybe just not very sharp.

Thursday, February 03, 2005

Does Highly Qualified Mean No One's Qualified?

Our Special Education Director came into the office last night and asked, "What are we going to do about meeting the new federal IDEA (Special Education) guidelines for faculty?" She indicated that this could be a huge problem around Indiana and the nation.

According to my understanding of the regulations, even special education teachers must have a license or endorsement in the areas they teach. Sounds logical on the surface doesn't it? If you were a high school special education teacher for Learning Disabled students, you would need an endorsement in any area of education that you are responsible for on the student's IEP.

So...I asked her to identify how many teachers on our staff would meet the guidelines of "highly qualified."

The answer...35%. Only 35% of our current special education staff would be considered "highly qualified" under the current law.

So here is the irony. We can't get enough applicants to take the jobs now. That is why there are so many teachers on limited licenses and emergency permits. I must be in some kind of alternate universe.

Under what rules of logic do we solve the special education teacher shortage by making the license more difficult to obtain? I think it is time to raise the pay for special education teachers to make it attractive. Every teacher knows that the liabilities and the paperwork responsibilities for special education teachers is far greater than it is for general education teachers. I think it is time to recognize that their jobs have evolved. We cannot afford to pretend that all teacher jobs are equal. An increase in their pay based on their caseloads or some such factor is more likely to solve the applicant shortage than simply raising the preparation requirements.

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Governor Daniel's Smokescreen

Governor Daniel's recent Indiana speech drew long applause when he stated that Indiana needs "instruction not construction." Who can argue with that! Of course Hoosier parents and educators value instruction over construction.

But here is why that is a complete political smokescreen. All Indiana school construction projects are local projects supported by and paid for by local patrons through local property taxes. At no time has "construction" money ever been available for "instruction." It would be illegal to take "construction" money bonded expressly for construction purposes and spend it on instruction.

You see...the state has not funded its own obligations (instruction) but it wants the locals to quit funding it's responsibilities (construction). It's a smokescreen designed to give the state cover for its own financial difficulties and create a diversion. The locals haven't defaulted on their obligations. Of course the General Assembly has made things more difficult by shoving more and more responsibilities for funding to the local school districts and to local taxpayers. And now they profess concern over rising local tax rates? The formula they created has caused it.

Why should a state legislature tell your local patrons that they cannot build and pay for a local project if they choose to? The Indiana state budget is not 1.6 Billion in the hole because of any local school district's decision to fund a building project.

Smokescreen...that simple.