Thursday, June 23, 2022

The Donald Trump School of Governancing Now At A School District Near You

This will take a bit of unpacking.

The local school district conducts a student survey every year to get an idea of how well the district is serving the students.  (No judgment here.  I grew up in the era of "bubble tests," most of which weren't tests conducted by the teacher, but questions we had to answer by filling in "bubbles" on pieces of paper.  I thought then it was preparation for SAT's, because I saw no other pedagogical value to it.  I'm sure it was some kind of assessment (at one point apparently they did mass IQ tests.  I saw my scores on that.  One summer I worked with a janitorial crew cleaning and waxing the linoleum floors of the schools.  I found my permanent record in the teacher's lounge of my high school.), but what was being assessed was never all that clear.  So it was stuff like that.  It was new, it was sciency, it was "modern," and the school district took to it like a dog to water.  Same as it ever was.)

The local school district has been doing this for years, and accumulated a record of results that helps guide curriculum decisions and other decisions about how to adjust/improve the district and educate the students.

Let me pause here to note this kind of work is the work of the full-time administrative staff.  I mean that in contrast to the work of the volunteer (unpaid) school board.  The latter's job is to guide, and be guided by, the administration.  To approve budgets prepared by staff, to approve bond proposals prepared by staff, to publicly praise and recognize notable student achievements as presented by staff.

You get the picture.

So the district has been conducting the student survey for many years, using one vendor to administer the survey and report the results to the administration.  There are several companies that offer this service, and all offer a battery of questions the district can choose from to craft a survey responsive to their needs and interests.  Just like cars, these questions are all pretty much the same across the several companies.  What varies is the questions a district chooses for its survey. So you want a black car, I want a white car; you want a care with leather seats, I prefer fabric.  Again, you get the picture.

Now come three new board members who haven't been on the board a month, and they don't like these survey questions.  Have they seen them?  No.  Do they know exactly what questions the district asks?  No.  But the contract is up for renewal, and they say:  "No."  Why?  Because they don't like the questions.  Yes, we are going in circles.  Have they seen the questions?  Somewhere, it seems, they have.  Most likely on a Facebook page or somewhere on the intertoobs.  Are those questions actually ones available from the vendor?  Who knows?  Are any of them the questions used by the district now?  Who knows?  No one but the three members knows what they are objecting to.

Most crucially:  are the questions any different from another vendor?  No.  Like I said, it's pretty much a matter of "cars are cars," as Paul Simon sang.  The questions are not fundamentally different from company to company.  But these members "don't like the questions."  'Nuff said, apparently.  Kill the contract.

A new survey cannot be conducted until next spring, at the earliest; that's if they will approve a new vendor (and probably they won't, because "they don't like the questions").  It will take about 2 years to build up enough of a data base to have useful responses to the surveys.  They will lose access to the data already accumulated (apparently it's proprietary). That's a lot of sunk cost.  That's a lot of value being tossed out the window on nothing more than a whim. This was explained to the board.  All of it.  Did the new members care?  No.  They know all they need to know, and knew it before they were sworn in.  Aux armes, les citoyens!

This is going to cost the district in sunk costs and lost information.  These actions are the opposite of the actions of trustees who have a duty to put the interests of the district above their own interests.  This is the Donald Trump school of governance:  I don't know anything, but that makes me more qualified than you.  And I'm in charge, and you're not, so:  fuck off.

And a bit of an interesting sidetone:  the district has been replacing old school buildings with new for some time now.  That involves architects and engineers and bond propsals and a whole raft of complexities which is the kind of thing that really keeps school boards busy with oversight (administrative staff handles all the details).  Now a new board member pulled a consent agenda item involving the construction of a new school that was to be done by the architects and engineers already approved for such work.  He wants to open the bidding process to public bids, again.

Why?  Well, his wife is an architect.  You draw the conclusion.    Ethically, he should recuse himself and not vote or discuss any such topics.  And perhaps he's an ethical person who simply doesn't understand he's now in a fishbowl.  If he's not careful, he's going to find out.  And that could damage the entire school district.

Like I said, the Donald Trump School of Governancing.

May you live in interesting times.

1 comment:

  1. We have had our own versions of this in New Hampshire. A small town Croydon, with a population of 800, a school age population of 80 ha a school budget vote this spring. Being small town New England, the budget was voted on at a town meeting. It snowed that evening, and a small group of self identified libertarians pushed the actual vote until after 11 pm by deliberately prolonging the meeting. An amendment was proposed to cut the school budget by 55%, to $800k. The amendment passed 20 to 14. Needless to say, the next morning there was outrage when everyone else found out what had happened. Turned out the man that advanced the amendment was the husband of a school board member, and she knew of the plan. At the next school board meeting she was confronted by parents that demanded she resign. Her answer was, I am not on this board for your children, I am on this board for the taxpayers.

    Under state law, the board had to make a plan to meet the budget. The town has an elementary school, and tuitions the older students to surrounding public schools systems. The elementary teachers were all to be fired. A private company was hired to run the school. The kids were to be put into 4 "pods" for learning, but the company refused to say if the teachers would be certified. Much of the learning would be online (and we know how well that worked out during the pandemic). The older children's families would get $9,000 for tuition (School vouchers! Maybe not such a good idea). The surrounding towns however had been charging $18-21K per student. There supposedly was one private school in the area that would accept the $9k but they never said where (I am guessing some religious school).

    The rest of the town rallied. Under state law the budget could be increased, but it required the vote of more than half the voters on the rolls (a term of art for voters registered as of the time the new vote was called). Given the town is run by town meeting, that meant getting more than half of the voters to the same place, at the same time for a meeting. 51 new voters were registered by the parents (the town register quit because she wanted the school cut and was refusing to register the new voters until forced by the state), and on a Saturday they were able to get 320 voters together to vote 318 for, and 2 against the original budget (the no vote decided not showing up was better since that could deny the 50% of voters needed).

    Closer to home, our town elected a few conservatives to the school board. One in particular ran on the issue of the high school music teacher being put on paid leave during an investigation into an accusation of improper contact with a student at previous school. The then current school board and superintendent were attacked for having reported the incident when the superintendent became aware of the accusation (reporting is required under state law) and for putting the teacher on leave (also required under state law). The only thing the board and superintendent could say was it was a personnel matter that they could not comment on. Our superintendent eventually left. The new board members "were going to fix this". There were many posts in the local social media groups on the subject. Then it was announced by the state, that the accused teacher was turning in the their teaching license, which ended the investigation (and also the teacher's paid leave, and no future job without a license). Suddenly all the critics fell silent. As one person posted right after the election, while you got yourselves elected on this controversy, now you are accountable and responsible for the schools and their real problems (there was also a failed bond issue for a new elementary schools and rehab of the middle and high schools that are all in disrepair. NH gives zero money to towns for school facilities.) There has been almost nothing in the news about the current school board. They have their hands full and I suspect the new members are realizing that they can't walk away from addressing the actual issues.