Friday, July 02, 2010

EUSD to ask for More Money

Last week’s Encinitas Union School District board meeting was very illustrative of a trend that is happening in education. Encinitas schools are awesome, they have scores amongst the highest in the state, and this is due almost entirely because of the teachers and principals we are lucky to have.


But the board is almost entirely, with the exception of Mo Muir, completely seduced by sparkly tools, green initiatives and buzzwords like "21st Century classrooms." While they lay off teachers, and most of the staff have gone without raises, the board has concocted a plan to place a $44 million dollar bond on the November ballot that they say they will use for technology, green initiatives and some facilities needs.

Now I want to first clarify that I have no problem with schools repairing what needs to be repaired. If a school needs a roof, for god’s sake, fix it! But the laundry list of things this board has requested spends over 30% of the $44 million dollars on computers, wifi, whiteboards (these are not white erase boards, these are actually smart boards which run $3K each) and they want to spend $7 million dollars on putting solar panels on 7 of the 9 schools and spend another 11 million on building a “community garden” and a “learning center” on the Quail Gardens property.

During the Q&A I asked the board whose input they sought when deciding that this large plot that is owned essentially by the community should be turned into a community garden and a shiny new learning center. It was crickets. Then Skiljan piped up and said “We are in the education business, we are elected to decide what to do with this property.” The board president was even more condescending, he essentially told me to shut up and sit down when I asked if any of the districts PTAs were consulted on what they thought the best use would be. He said I could send a written request to Superintendent Baird for specifics but that this was not the venue for the board to address such issues.

Board member Muir asked why they were planning on buying a whole new program to track attendance at a huge cost when they were still paying off the one they purchased just two years ago and she was shouted down by the other board members because “what” was in the budget was not up for discussion, only whether they were going to pass it or not. She was armed with a letter from the county board of education basically warning that this new technology is in it’s early phases and has not been tested in a school district before so it would be unwise for Encinitas to be the guinea pig, but the board didn’t want to hear any pf it. They want what they want , and this board wants shiny and new stuff.

I have been following the tactics this board is using to try and get this bond passed for a couple months now and it is essentially, let’s call meetings in the dead of summer when no parents are paying attention, and gloss people over with 119 pages of paperwork that they can flip through to figure out what we want to spend the money on.

They want the taxpaying residents to pay $5 million dollars for new computers for everyone and in every classroom, and another $5 million in a “technology endowment” which is fancy talk for, we know the technology will be obsolete in two years so we want money to buy new stuff when we’re bored with the shiny new toys we buy.

LB note: So, we're going to take a 30 year loan to set up an endowment? Does that make financial sense?

They are still paying off technology they bought 5 years ago and financed on a five year payment plan but yet now they want all new stuff. All while never asking teachers, parents or any of the advisory committees what they believe our schools might need.

I wonder if any teachers find it at all grating that while they have to send kids home to beg for money for the simplest of school-related stuff, say field trips, the school is planning on spending millions on devices like “smart boards” all while many have dealt with wage freezes for how long?

As a geek myself, I love new technology, but a technology should be evaluated not based only on whether it is useful or not, but on where it is *more useful* than other things that could be accomplished with the same amount of money. Unfortunately, this boards decisions are driven by what is cool and fashionable. This is what I find most egregious. Writing with pen or pencil on paper involves a different kind of thinking from writing on laptops and interactive boards. You are forced to wrestle with the words when you can’t delete and move them as you wish.

While EUSD Board cuts programs for gifted and talented students, physical education, arts and reading, transportation and all kinds of useful programs they want teachers to use Power points and teachers manipulating quadratic graphs across a smartboard screen using their finger/cursor, to help students learn…but in reality, according to teachers themselves, such items distract students from learning/remembering how to solve mathematical problems for themselves.”

The quail gardens plan is also completely half-baked. Each school in our district already has a garden on the grounds which teachers use already. To use five acres of land on the Quail gardens property to create a “community garden” is completely redundant.

I highly recommend residents have a look at the facilities plan the board created to explain how they plan to dole out the 44 million they want the bond for. Residents are going to be hit with all kinds of buzzwords like “21st Century classrooms” “Green initiatives” and “Energy conservation” with direct mail pieces in their mailboxes as well as the cheerleaders on the board pleading that its “for the children” but its as if they wrote this plan on the back of an Applebee’s placemat without any community input what-so-ever.

Even the last 2 million in “technology upgrades” which they passed in MAY, they never sought any insight or input from the districts “Technology committee” because the Superintendent said, “they are just parents.”


Sunana Batra

7 comments:

  1. Race to Nowhere documentary trailer:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jl3aJYY4aKU&feature=player_embedded

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  2. Sunana,

    Its true, we have awesome schools and teachers. I'm kind of out of the loop here, not having kids and all. But I did work at a local school district in the warehouse and drove a delivery truck, so I did see first hand a lot of monkey business with funds, (for example, if a teacher didn't spend their entire budget for one year, they were penalized and given a lesser amount the following year. So it was a mad dash at years end to get rid of the excess money).
    Also, being on the inside, a staff member told me that San Dieguito (pre academy days) strategically put temporary trailers in front of the school as a daily reminder to the public to make it look like they needed more rooms; i.e. more money.
    It does seem early for EUSD to ask for more money, seeing they haven't paid off their last booty. How much more money might be asked for before their $44 million debt is not paid?

    Fortunately, we live in a universe that has only 7 questions. (You know them: Who, What, When, Why, Where, Which and How.) So it's kind of telling when your core question was not answered at the board meeting:
    "I asked the board whose input they sought when deciding that this large plot that is owned essentially by the community should be turned into a community garden and a shiny new learning center." Simple. That's a Who question. I've noticed those are the ones people in power avoid answering the most. Seems like executives are quite artful at beautifully not answering such questions. Instead, you'll get some answer that sounds honorable, like "We do this for you". But telling you "this is not the venue for the board to address such issues" is truly laughable. .
    My uncle's brother invented the microchip. I'm a tech geek too, but I think millions of dollars would be better spent reviving bus routes to our elementary schools. And you parents in scholastic traffic jams each morning know what I mean. Now that'd be green.

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  3. Damn. I just read an article in the economist titled "These aren't the workers you're looking for" (http://www.economist.com/blogs/democracyinamerica/2010/07/unemployment)...and this is how that happens. As a MATH tutor, I can assure you, a "smart" white board doesn't necessarily translate into smart students...

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  4. Too funny.... like every kid needs an ipad. Geeze.

    They barely can teach the kids to read and write. Don't even think about science.

    All the doctors, engineers and scientists now are foreigners, because our kids don't learn science any more. We fell behind the curve. So I guess all our kids will be real estate agents and Lawyers.

    Good night Leucadia. Big weekend ahead.

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  5. Interesting website at school-ratings.com. On a scale of 10 in 2009, Paul Ecke Central ranked at 7, which is fine until you look further and find that when compared to similar schools, it ranked at 2. More time spent on the basics, please.

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  6. I was born and raised in Leucadia(4th Generation!), but (sadly) I have been away for 20 years. I moved my family back last year and have been thinking about how to get involved in my community. This piece might have been just the inspiration I needed! Maybe I'll see you at the next school board meeting!

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