A do-nothing board of education

In reference to Mr. Guarino’s letter of April 14, where he touts the supposed good works of this most recent board of education and continues to disparage the past board and Mr. Farrington, I would like to point out some facts that he leaves out.

First, the notion that this board has been able to extract more from the mayor and Board of Aldermen than previous boards is just factually incorrect. The most recent two years of budget increases averaged 2.1%, while the average of the four years prior is 2.27%. But, why are we focused only on funding? The previous board strategically invested in energy improvements to building structures and lighting that resulted in several hundred thousands of dollars in cumulative savings in energy costs which were used to improve the budget baseline. We implemented reserve accounts for both severance costs and energy that allowed us to maintain a reserve in case of an emergency but enabled a tighter budget for annual expenses. We did all this while restoring the technology replacement investments (the district went from over 80% of our computers being more than 5 years old to less than 20%), and instituting full day kindergarten (which was done under Dr Brown’s budget not the current administration) with no increase in the baseline budget because of reductions in student enrollment. The previous board also settled almost all of the staff contracts, which extend into next year and which resulted in some of the most favorable years being during Mr Guarino’s first 2 years (you’re welcome). The primary contract that the current board has under their watch is the custodial union. You might remember that the previous board was chastised for our attempt to find alternatives to the status quo but were told that we hadn’t dealt with the union in good faith. The union indicated they were willing to work with us if we only gave up any notion of a private option – three years after we were forced to scuttle even considering a private option and with a Board that is now clearly in the union’s favor, the union still hasn’t settled. I suppose we should believe that the snagging issue is that they want to give up too much?

And, what structural changes has this board or the new administration made? Almost none from what I can see. It has all but abdicated its responsibility to oversee school operations or the superintendent. In fact the most obvious change is that the board simply meets less often, rarely asks insightful questions and blindly passes anything administration wants (which is mostly limited to minor policy changes). Perhaps the current board and administration believe there is nothing to be improve? Under the previous board we had worked hard to develop metrics by which the board could gain some insight starting with goals for reading levels at the elementary schools. We also had a program to extract information from i-Ready and statewide level exams. This wasn’t a simple who’s passing and who’s not, but an in depth analysis of what questions students were getting wrong and how they mapped back to the curriculum. The then data analysts, Ron and Kathy, were doing work that mattered and it had the potential to transform the way data can be used for education: a focus on how we get better rather than what we’ve done wrong. But all that ended under the new administration as it dismantled the entire data analysis team – all with the support of this current Board. Now, the Board is never briefed on data nor do they ask to be. Apparently, everyone would like to be ignorant of the facts and simply focus on how we all feel. Speaking of that, I wouldn’t mind seeing an updated climate survey – I suspect we won’t find any improvement in that area either.

Finally, to Mr. Guarino’s swipe at Mr. Farrington for his law suit against the Superintendent and the city. As I said in a letter to the Board at the time, this was a gross abuse of power by the Superintendent and the police report and subsequent court filings clearly show that. As part of its oversight role the Board of Education should have investigated and reprimanded the Superintendent. Instead, they blamed Mr. Farrington, who on that day was picking up public documents on communications to the board (as any reporter can tell you, picking copies of these up in person is the only way these can be obtained). If a Superintendent can punish a former board member for simply having the audacity to understand what this “transparent” administration and board are doing on behalf of the school district, imagine the chilling affect that has on any teacher, administrator, student or parent who dares to question the workings of the school district?

So, Ray, perhaps you should spend less time bloviating online and in the Telegraph and more time focused on the needs of students, or at least what little you can do in your once-a-month 2 hour meetings.