Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Great analysis of the current moment in SLPS governance: Via Susan Turk/St Louis Schools Watch

St. Louis Schools Watch
Friday, May 13th Deadline
By Susan Turk
May 9, 2016—St. Louis--This coming Friday the 13th marks two significant events for the SLPS, the closing of the 2016 session of the Missouri legislature and the last day to provide comments to DESE on their transition plan for the SLPS to be returned to governance by the elected board of education.

At the April 20th state board of education meeting they did discuss the when and the how of transition.

DESE suggested transition criteria, the how, that basically meets MSIP standards except regarding financial stability. They suggested increasing the financial stability requirement to holding at least a 10% positive fund balance in reserve to be transitioned back to governance by the elected board.  This is a higher standard than the 3% requirement to not be financially distressed which keeps a district accredited. The SLPS currently has between 6% and 7% in reserve.  If annual enrollment and revenue continues to drop, it is conceivable that what they have would constitute 10% in a few years. But given that the SAB appears to realize they have hit a plateau in terms of what they can cut from the budget and are now looking to increase revenue through ballot initiatives and law suits, it may be difficult for them to meet the 10% requirement.

Other requirements are somewhat nebulous.

They unfortunately give the state board reason to keep the SAB in power if they fail to meet the standards.  They want to see effective teaching and learning demonstrated by sustainable improved academics. They want to see a climate and culture focused on student learning, including a safe environment in schools and family and community involvement in the learning process.
In discussion, board members stressed that they didn't think 100% of the criteria had to be met so that financial roadblock might not be considered important to them but they seem to be stuck on 3 years of good Annual Progress Reports as evidence a district is improving continually.

But the ability of the EB to run the district responsibly was a concern, that there be agreement between the SAB and the EB for a transition to occur which might involve a hybrid board for a time seemed to be important to them.

They said the criteria will be posted on www.dese.mo.gov and the public will be able to provide feedback as well until May 13.  So if you have not visited the site and provided your input yet, please do before Friday.

Apparently, MRS 162.083, which I mentioned in the last Watch, does not apply to SLPS, only to the rest of the state. As so often happens, despite the equal protection clause of the 14th amendment to the US constitution, laws that apply to rest of the state do not apply to a city that is not in a county.  Only MRS 162.1100 applies to SLPS. It allows that the state board to terminate the SAB at any time and return power to the EB with 30 days notice. That idea was not favored. They want a smooth transition and possibly shared responsibility beforehand. But the statutes do not provide that for St. Louis, only the rest of the state.

State Board Member Mike Jones suggested that there be negotiations between the EB, SAB and state board to work out the terms for a transition. He appears to be in no hurry to see the SLPs democratically governed. The state board decided to submit the criteria to the EB and the SAB for feedback and discuss the feedback at their next meeting, May 17th. The elected board has been working on a response which they will discuss at their regular monthly meeting on Tuesday ,May 10th at Busch Middle School, 5910 Clifton Avenue, at 7 p.m.

DESE has issued the following news release:
State Board Hears Conditions for Transition from an Appointed Board to an Elected Board

Today the State Board of Education heard proposed criteria that would indicate when a school district under the governance of an appointed or Special Administrative Board is ready to return to an elected board. The Board directed Department staff at its February meeting to develop these conditions.“What we’re trying to build is something that will serve the kids in these districts,” said State Board member Vic Lenz. “What do we need to make these school districts function in the very best possible way?”The Missouri School Improvement Program resource, process and performance standards and indicators were used to identify criteria that would need to be met to make the transition to local control. The conditions would be viewed cumulatively rather than as a checklist. There are five key categories:•Leadership – The district demonstrates compliance with laws and regulations, retention of effective building and district leaders, and development and implementation of a comprehensive school improvement plan.•Finance – The district demonstrates stability, have acceptable audit results and have no significant compliance issues.•Effective Teaching and Learning – The district demonstrates sustainable academic progress, including alignment among curriculum, instruction, assessments and staff professional development, as well as Annual Performance Reports at or above the accredited level for the most recent three years.•Climate/Culture – The district demonstrates a culture focused on student learning, high expectations, and physical and emotional safety for students.•Parents and Community – District leadership demonstrates collaboration with students’ families and community members, and the community must support the return of district governance back to a locally elected board.“This is a complex issue,” said Commissioner of Education Margie Vandeven. “We are seeking to identify those conditions that – when present – would reflect that the district is well-positioned for a transition in governance.”Three Missouri school districts are currently under the governance of an appointed board: St. Louis Public Schools, Riverview Gardens School District and the Normandy Schools Collaborative. Although Missouri statute allows for a different timeline and review of the appointed board in each of those districts, the proposed conditions for a return to local governance would apply to all the districts.Community members who wish to comment on the conditions for transition to a locally elected board may email SABcomments@dese.mo.gov by May 13, 2016.Thank you,Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education | Communications | 573.751.3469 | dese.mo.gov
Board members Katie Wessling and Bill Haas circulated personal responses to DESE’s criteria. They follow.
From Board Member Wessling:

If the objectives outlined in DESE’s five point plan are not yet achieved after 9 years under the SAB, DESE and the State Board owe the St. Louis community answers as to why. If this is the case, what is DESE’s plan for monitoring and supporting the district to ensure that these objectives are being prioritized?a.                            If there is already a plan in place, what is it and when was it put in place?  Who is monitoring it?b.                            If there is not a plan in place, why have nine years gone by without any oversight or accountability?  If these goals have not been achieved, then continuing to do the same thing that isn’t working, i.e. SAB governance, cannot reasonably be expected to yield any result other than the one that it has—the objectives are not being achieved.

Either the SAB has served its purpose and achieved its goals, in which case it is time to end its tenure, or it has not made a difference in nine years, in which case it is time to end its tenure.
Determining a return to governance based on the criteria suggested by DESE is a recipe for rewarding failure.  The longer the SAB doesn’t meet the goals, the longer it stays in governance.  If an elected board is failing to meet goals, its members will get voted out.  There is no such check and balance for an appointed board.  The only recourse city parents have if they are not happy is to leave.  Which leads us to the next point……
The district has lost 1/3 of its student population during the SAB tenure to other educational options.   Declining enrollment has been the predominant trend since 2007.That is not an indication of community support or trust.
Given the gravity of a situation where a community is deprived of its right to have a part in the direction of its schools, we believe the burden should be on the side of the SAB proponents proving it should stay, not on those who prefer an Elected Board to prove it should return.  Every district of predominantly white, privileged children in this state is governed by an Elected Board. The system is not the problem.  When there are problems, they are caused by the individuals who populate the Board.  Of the six current members of the Elected Board, only one was in office when the decision to reinstate the Transitional School District was made.  We argue that that is the criteria that should govern the return of the district to an elected board; the community has had a chance to vote in new members who were not part of the problems that led to loss of accreditation, and there is no evidence to show that the new Board members are unable to govern.  They are as qualified as any other elected board member in this state; in fact, more so in many instances, as they have had years to learn about the district and attend trainings.  A newly elected Board would have none of that experience behind them.

 Member Haas’ response.
1.      The first thing that is intuitively obvious even to the most casual of observer about DESE’s suggested criteria for return governance from an appoint board to an elected board, is the irony that the worse the appointed board is at addressing its list of concerns, the longer they stay in power. Nine-12 years is a considerable length of time to be sure; we believe the longest ever for an appointed board nationally. Moreover, our understanding of the literature and studies is that on average appointed boards do no better than the boards they replaced or their successors.

2.      The second point that occurs to us is that though the legislature didn’t address an exit strategy the standard they used to take away governance was becoming unaccredited. So it is logical to assume that had they addressed an exit strategy, or if they do in the future, it would be that it regains at least provisional accreditation. If they provided that it regains and maintains provisional accreditation for a period of years, at least two, that would not be unreasonable or unexpected, and we believe that should be the standard for giving governance back to the elected board. We’ve not only regained provisional accreditation for several years, we have enough points for full accreditation, so that would argue strongly that the return to governance of an elected board is long overdue. The granting of full accreditation would not be totally unreasonable, some might say, but that would be totally inconsistent with the standard of the state statute providing for taking away governance, but in some cases could be indefinitely for some districts and that is not reasonable. Taking away governance on loss of provisional accreditation, returning it on gaining provisional accreditation for a period of 2-3 years, the only reasonable standard, and what state statute would provide if legislature ever gets around to it, and what they provide for other districts that have had governance removed, we believe.

3.      Every other district in the state, with the exception of Kansas City, if they became unaccredited, got two years to regain provisional accreditation before governance can be taken away. If it’s not unconstitutional for St. Louis and Kansas City to have no period of time to regain it before governance can be taken away, it should be. And state criteria for returning governance should reflect this unfairness that started this process. We’ve regained provisional for several years, have the points required for full accreditation, and thus time for governance to be returned now!

4.      Poor districts and districts of color and poverty are the only districts that have had governance taken away. Their lack of achievement much more the result of the conditions of the families and children in the district, poverty foremost among them, then the governance of the board, tho admittedly governance of such districts more challenging. So who would contend that populations of color and economic distress are less capable of good elected representatives than middle-class districts?! To take away the governance of their elected representatives in the first place is racist and classist, and every effort should be made to return governance at the earliest possible time.

5.      It is our understanding that the current interest, practice or policy of DESE and other educational professionals is to accredit by school not by district and to help the district get underperforming schools the help they need to succeed. St. Louis Public Schools for sometime now have had all of their schools except less than 20 performing well enough for individual accreditation.  It seems inappropriate in many ways to unaccredit or keep unaccredited a whole district because a small fraction of their schools are not performing to accepted standards. We contend that the most appropriate action of the DESE would be to return goverance to the elected board as soon as possible and work with the board and district to improve those schools which are underperforming.

6.      The longer an appointed board is in governance, the more difficult to transition back to an elected board in some ways because personnel on the board has changed, and thus their experience in governance. This may a practical consideration in some ways but is not the fault of the current elected board. There are three members of the current board with governance experience, but the longer DESE dithers in returning governance the more difficult it will be. Nine years is too long; 12 years unconscionable. Return to governance should begin this year. Even Freeman Danforth Commission recommended return to governance of an elected board after 5  years, as anything the appointed board cant do in five years they probably cant do at all or ever, and this reality is compounded the longer governance remains in the hands of the appointed board.

7.      The reality is that sometimes elected boards can be messy for want of a better word. People have different opinions on matters, groups emerge with different ideas of what is best, sometimes differences become vigorous (hat’s because there are 7 people not 3, among other reasons); that is natural, but there is never any excuse for dialogue not being professional and business, not person, and good boards learn that. . This is a strength of the board, vigorous divergence of ideas. Some, such as our Board member Bill Haas, have been on many boards, in his case 7-10 over a period of 19 years, and there were factions of sorts, differences of opinion, on all of them. But on none of them did such differences cause a failure of the board to be able to act, it made the ideas better, he says. That’s what consensus and majority votes is about. The hecticness of the period from 2003-2006, the period of the Slay slate in charge, where factors that caused the takeover in 2007 occurred, were caused not by divergent views, we believe, but rather because views different from the majority were not fairly considered. Differences of opinion among board members, even vigorous ones, is not a legitimate factor for denying the people governance by their elected representatives. The people get to choose new representatives every two years, sometimes more often (there will be 5 people chosen in 2017 and 2018) if they don’t like the views that are being expressed or the actions being taken. How does that compare to where the people have had no opportunity to have their say in governance over the last 9-12 years. The advantages of an elected board, and the equities of it, for outweigh any simplicity that can be attributed to an appointed board. If not, why not just make all boards in the state appointive?A board of just one person would be simpler still, but few advocate that.

8.      Finally, regarding the other criteria DESE refers to:8a-building and district leadership: why is this any better under an appointed board then an elected board; the elected board had stable leadership under their then superintendent Diana Bourisaw when governance was removed. Dr. Adams has done a good job since then and has the support of the elected board, which looks forward to working with him in the future as it does now.
8b-whether it’s in good shape financially with a fund balance of 10 percent or more is not an appropriate factor in failing to return governance to the people and its board: that the finances of the district had some issues when governance was taken away, all reasonable and knowledgable people agree was not the fault of the then elected board, but of a fall-off in state revenue, which has been improved, as has district finances, especially in view of the new tax that has been passed which will give the district added revenues in the future.
8c-whether it has effective teachers, as demonstrated through overall academic progress: academic achievement has been non-existent or modest under the appointed board, especially until recently; credit would be due to the Superintendent more than the board; achievement issues we believe are the strength of an elected board, especially ours, and we contend the district will be in better hands in the future in ours. See especially our Strategic Plan we’ve had ready for over 5 years and has recently been submitted to the state board, and has, or will be at this time, to DESE.
8d-whether district culture is focused on student learning, high expectations and physical and emotional safety: we believe that this is currently true and would be as good under an elected board as currently under the appointed.
8e-and whether the community supports the return of district governance back to a locally elected board: this standard would be laughable if not so serious. In every election since 2007, candidates supporting an elected board have received more votes than those supportive of the appointed board. Moreover, the community was against the take-over, as vigorously expressed in public hearings that no one paid any attention to. No one cared about the community’s opinion then, how hypocritical is it to feign caring now, even tho it’s obvious to all the community supports return. Even tho this is difficult to quantify, it’s not a reason to return governance to the elected board.
9. Although we agree to some extent with State Board member Lenz that the elected board should “be ready to take over when the ball is handed to them,” we don’t agree that it was the reason for the failures at the time of the takeover. Those were the fault of the Slay slate, admittedly “elected board” members, but elected by an excess of campaign funds from city hall, and voted out of office at the first available opportunities by the voters who supported more democratically elected representatives than those appointed by city hall, at which time members of such slate declared “elected boards don’t work” (discredit History Museum president Bob Archibald) and in our opinion engineered the take-over so they could continue to control the district indirectly that they could no longer control directly.
10. We disagree vehemently with the statement of state board member Peter Hershend that “The problem in St. Louis and every failed district in the state was the board,” but we couldn’t agree more that “what there should be in place an organization in place that is strong enough a board, that is strong enough in place that can pick up and run with the ball.” It may be fair to say that even among elected  board members, there is some belief that we wouldn’t be easily take over governance of the district ourselves on June 30th of this year, but that’s not going to happen. We believe strongly we are potentially capable board (with more than 12 years of active governance among its current members), and will be more so after a three-year transition that should be begin now with two of our members back on the board by this fall, another two after the elections of 2017, and the final three after the elections in 2018, and that that SAB members should roll over when there term expires in 2019.  No way will an elected board not be ready to pick up the ball and run with it after a three-year transiton with the SAB, so the sooner that starts the sooner the elected  board, as constituted now and perhaps with new members in 2017 and 2018 will be ready.
11. Since the inception of the SAB the elected board has expressed their willingness to collaborate on ideas with the SAB even tho only SAB members could vote, on the theory that 10 good minds better than 3. Within the last two years, the elected board has indicated it’s willingness to begin an informal transition of sorts. Virtually all overtures of the elected board has been spurned by the SAB. That says a lot about them, none of it good. We think their unwillingness to work with the elected board in any way, shape or form, is a reason to accelerate a transition back to an elected board not delay it.

If you have not yet done so, please read the criteria and add your own comments to DESE about their transition criteria from an appointed to an elected board at SABcomments@dese.mo.gov by May 13.  You can read the criteria by going to www.dese.mo.gov and clicking on State Board Hears Conditions for Transition to an Elected Board  under the News menu on the right side of the page.