Monday, March 31, 2008

Chickens So Predictably Roosting Everywhere

Changes in funding of school operating costs from local property taxes to increases in the sales tax, etc., were touted everywhere in 2006 as the answer to all problems. Some of us, even in the midst of all that hullabaloo said, "Yeah, right."

Now, even the most vociferous proponents of this change are beginning to see its serious consequences. For example, why is CCSD Superintendent Nancy McGinley touring the district explaining a projected $23 million shortfall in the school budget? Because under the new taxing rules, CCSD loses out to districts that are poorer. Duh. Predictable. Years ago California fooled around with property tax caps, and its stellar school system tanked as a result. We're not even stellar.

The P &C has finally recognized the unintended consequences of the new laws. According to Monday's business section,

"There was such a groundswell of support for property tax reform, it was hard for a legislator to get in the way and ask what the long-term effects are going to be," said Otis Rawl, vice president of public policy for the South Carolina Chamber of Commerce.

But the bill's consequences are becoming clear as county reassessment offices start sifting through last year's sales to figure out the new assessments. Charleston County Deputy Assessor Bobby Cale estimates that the prices of properties were about 45 percent higher than the appraised value in late 2003, when his office last gathered assessment data.

What that means is, on average, properties sold in 2007 will have a taxable value 45 percent higher than the previous owners paid.

As a result, the new system discourages the purchase of real estate, and not just for buyers who are new to South Carolina, said Nick Kremydas, president of the South Carolina Association of Realtors. Most people move every seven years, and most homes in South Carolina are sold to people who already live in the state, he noted.

"Fifteen or 20 years into the future of this, it would be a huge deterrent from moving out of a home because it might be more expensive to buy a smaller home," Kremydas said.

Lee Walton over at the blog Charleston Watch has a few good comments on the overall effects of the 2006 legislation:

Growing tax revolt pressure in locations with skyrocketing property values has led to numerous attempts to curb property tax increases by substituting various forms of regressive sales tax reforms, often coupled with homestead property tax and food sales tax exemption provisions. Invariably, such hybrid taxing policies punish the poor, the young and upwardly mobile, businesses, commercial property owners, new homeowners, and trap retirees who’d like to sell their homes. . . .

All sales taxes are regressive – poorer people and those on limited or fixed incomes pay a larger percentage of their income in sales tax than more wealthy residents. As sales taxes are substituted for property taxes, the tax burden shifts further downward to the less affluent. This regressive imbalance is especially evident in localities where some foods, medicines and utilities are subject to increasing state and local sales taxes. A 1999 North Carolina study by Gardner found that an increase in sales taxes burdened the poorest 20% six times more than the wealthiest 1%. . . .

[A current legislative] bill would eliminate property taxes altogether on “homesteads” for homeowners 65 and older and eliminate 28-30% of the current property tax of all 4% and 6% properties – all for just another 1% increase in state sales tax. The likely result of this ill-conceived action would be the demise of the middle-class, a quantum impact upon the already struggling poor, and old-timers trapped in their homes until the end of their days.

Well said, Lee. I hope someone's paying attention.

Shock and Awe, Cane-Bay-High-School Style

We've got to be more impressive than Wando High School!

At least, I guess that's the purpose of this two-story entrance and court for the new Cane Bay High School. Who knows, maybe it's the same architect.

According to Saturday's P & C the new Berkeley County high school's teachers
"demonstrated excitement and awe as they walked under a canopied entrance designed with seven archways.

"They then viewed the two-floor common area, which serves at the school's central gathering place and leads to the cafeteria, auditorium and media center."

Has anyone inquired why so much space needs to be wasted? What does BCSD think it's building--a cathedral?

Your tax dollars at work.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Let's Hear from Jim Rex on This Topic

Click on picture to enlarge.

Friday, March 21, 2008

CCSD's Bill Lewis: Pure as Caesar's Wife?

CCSD Superintendent Nancy McGinley began her series of budget meetings lamenting the projected shortfall in funding the district's yearly operating budget, while Bill Lewis, the executive director of its building program, had to explain his rejection of the low bid for the new North Charleston middle school.

Now, you and I know that the building fund and yearly budget for CCSD are separate from each other, but in the public mind it's all going down the same sinkhole. Lewis's action hardly was of assistance to McGinley's quest or fair to the taxpayers. According to the president of the Charleston Contractors' Association, "the way the system is set up . . . gives the appearance that something wrong is happening." Is it?

What did happen here? Well, according to the P & C's story of last Sunday, the low bid from Infinger Construction was never considered, since Lewis decided to "save time and enable the school to open in August 2009." Saving time, not dollars, was his highest priority. This arrogance led to a negotiated bid with the highest-rated company that will cost us $400,000 more.

"Highest-rated company" sounds good until you look into the details. According to the article, "The school board chose to spend the extra money so a company that it rated as higher quality would do the construction work." That WHO rated? Lewis stated that "contractors are evaluated on two criteria: the technical aspects of their plans — such as their approach, their team and prior performance — and their price." Notice the passive voice here--allowing Lewis to avoid saying who assigned the ratings.

One of two things happened here. Either Infinger was blackballed by Dorchester District 2 with no recourse, or a "few district-appointed people" made a subjective decision that the contractor's quality is not as it should be. The school board, in its usual fashion, followed Lewis's lead. Question: Can they show that Infinger's prior work for the district did not meet its standards? No mention of that.

Some of us might remember that the district no longer accepts kickbacks from contractors in the form of donations, parties, etc., such as last year's goodbye party to Goodloe-Johnson. Now I'm getting too cynical.

Speaking of which, what ever happened to the search for a qualified financial officer to replace Don Kennedy? Did I miss something here?

Up Periscope: Surfacing on Edisto Island

A teacher fistfight in the upstate apparently roiled the waters so much in the education community that a similar incident at Jane Edwards Elementary came to the surface. Or, so says Friday's article in the P & C. See Teacher accuses principal of assault ]

Of course, no connection exists between this altercation between the school's principal and a teacher and any previous history. How could it when 11 of the 15 teachers left the school last year after an inability to get along with this McGinley-selected first-year principal, sent in to clean things up. So the four left must have been malleable.

What's not clear from the article (of course!) is if the teacher who balked at worshipping at altar of Ms. Thompson was one of the four who stayed.

It's also unclear what constitutes "passing" and "failing" as described in the article:

The principal of Jane Edwards Elementary School has been accused of grabbing a teacher's arm during an argument about the teacher's evaluation. . . .

The alleged assault happened March 13 in the principal's office, and the dispute was related to [Pamela] Zbrzeznj's evaluation, according to a Charleston County Sheriff's Office report. Zbrzeznj said Thompson had passed her "onto the next level, then had changed her mind and had decided to flunk her and hold her back," according to the report.

Zbrzeznj had the original paperwork that showed she had been passed, and Thompson grabbed it from her when the teacher showed it to her, the sheriff's office report said. Zbrzeznj took the paperwork back and began walking toward the door when Thompson grabbed her arm and closed the door to her office in an attempt to keep Zbrzeznj from leaving with the original paperwork, the report said.

Zbrzeznj eventually was able to leave the office with the original paperwork, and she later asked sheriff's deputies to document the assault, according to the report. . . .

Thompson has faced criticism from teachers at her school in the past. Her first year at Jane Edwards was the 2006-07 school year, and 11 of the school's 15 teachers did not return to the school this school year. Many of those teachers alleged that Thompson acted inappropriately and with poor judgment. District officials completed two investigations into the allegations but did not release specifics of the results. [It used to be called whitewash.]

McGinley said Zbrzeznj's accusation is about a specific incident that has no connection to what happened last school year. The previous allegations have been dealt with, and this incident would be treated separately, she said.

It's not too much of a stretch to assume that the teacher's being rehired for next year was contingent on this evaluation. How else to explain her determination to hang onto the positive one?

Oh, I forgot, it's the P & C!

Why ask
  • how long this teacher has been in the classroom,
  • if this is her first year at Jane Edwards, and/or
  • if her being hired at Jane Edwards for next year or
  • getting another contract anywhere in the district
is contingent on this evaluation? That would be information overload.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Two Comments on CCSD Discipline Study

From the ivory tower:

Janet Rose
, executive director of assessment and accountability for Charleston County schools: "The behavior can be linked to students' culture and home lives. . . . Children who grow up in a rough neighborhood likely are going to be rougher students. . . . Some teachers might not be culturally sensitive to students' behavior and they classify it as 'misbehavior."

Calling Elizabeth Kandrac. . . . Calling Elizabeth Kandrac. . . .
This attitude got CCSD into trouble and on the losing end of a lawsuit.

From the front lines:

Kevin Smith, assistant principal at Morningside Middle School in North Charleston: "Students need to be taught and shown what it looks like to behave in an appropriate way at school, and teachers need to be able to understand that not all students have the same behavior norms, he said."

How about having Janet Rose volunteer for McGinley's pet project to teach in one of CCSD's failing schools? What if it were a "voluntary" requirement at 75 Calhoun to give three years of service at one of those schools?

What? These administrators aren't qualified to do that? Then why are they making policy for the school district?

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Need a Good Laugh? Try Russia

Thanks to the Paragraph Farmer (see list on left) for a heads up on this one:

Coke Versus Pepsi in Russia.

Too Embarrassing: YouthBuild and CCSD

Is Renee Chewning of Sea Islands YouthBuild Charter School calling Randy Bynum, Chief Academic Officer of CCSD, a liar?

How else to interpret her remarks in response to the findings of CCSD's team visit to her hapless charter school. [See School board votes 8-1 to keep YouthBuild open.]

This failed attempt at assisting those overage students who were not allowed back to Murray Hill Academy is like a nightmare that won't go away. See my analysis

Another Sea Islands YouthBuild Update?

Space for YouthBuild? That's Easy

No Good Deed Goes Unpunished: CCSD & First Baptist Johns Island

CCSD has failed in its oversight of tax dollars and students. According to Tuesday's article, "the school district has given the school $347,000 this year and will give $73,000 more." Talk about throwing good money after bad! This sum that is approaching half a million dollars is going for a school where maybe 10 students will show up on any given day.

It's March. The school still does not have a state-approved building, and yet the board went against its own previous requirements for one, voting to continue funding this charade of a school.

Of course, given the P & C's tender feelings towards the CCSD school board, the announcement was hidden on page 6 of the local section of the paper. Even the reporter stated, "School officials' accusations about the lack of learning, supervision and safety at Sea Islands YouthBuild Charter School were so serious that school board members debated Monday whether they should close the school." Debated, yes. Did nothing.

Are we to assume that the school board doesn't trust Mr. Bynum? That his statements that he did give a report to Chewning, saw an unsupervised table saw being used, and could not find attendance records are all lies, lies, lies? Why have an Academic Officer, then? We could save the money.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Why, Thank You, P & C! How Kind of You

I wonder when the editors of the P & C realized that their investigation into disparities in discipline between black and white students would force them to publish a list of the CCSD schools that are de facto segregated. My guess is, too far into the process to turn back.

[See Statistical Analysis for Sunday's article.]

Manigault must be on his way to the hospital with a heart attack after seeing CCSD's List of Shame published, especially as the comparable lists for Berkeley and Dorchester 2 were so short.

Statistics. In the course of the investigation, schools that had fewer than 40 black or 40 white students were eliminated from analysis. According to a companion article on the statistical methods used,
"The sample size eliminated nearly half, or 37 of 82, of the schools or programs from analysis in Charleston County. Students in three programs — the Special Day School, Septima P. Clark Corporate Academy and Montessori Community School — were counted separate from any school, which led to Charleston having 82 different schools rather than 79.

Politano said [. . . ] In Charleston, 30 of the schools had fewer than 20 students who were in the school's racial minority, and 22 of the excluded schools had fewer than 10 students in the racial minority." [italics mine]

No surprise to frequent readers of this blog. Did any schools in District 20 (besides Buist) make the cut? See for yourself.



Cainhoy Elementary/Middle, J.K. Gourdin Elementary, St. Stephen Middle


Baptist Hill High, C.C. Blaney Elementary, Brentwood Middle, Burke High, Edmund A. Burns Elementary, Charleston Development Academy, Charleston Progressive Academy, Chicora Elementary, Septima P. Clark Corporate Academy, Matilda F. Dunston Elementary, East Cooper Montessori Charter, Wilmot J. Fraser Elementary, Edith Frierson Elementary, Garrett Academy, Haut Gap Middle, Malcolm Hursey Elementary, James Simons Elementary, Jane Edwards Elementary, Lincoln High, Mary Ford Elementary, McClellanville Middle, Memminger Elementary, Military Magnet Academy, Minnie Hughes Elementary, Julian Mitchell Elementary, Montessori Community, Mount Pleasant Academy, Mt. Zion Elementary, Murray-LaSaine Elementary, R.D. Schroder Middle, Sanders-Clyde Elementary, Special Day School, St. James-Santee Elementary, St. Johns High, Sullivan's Island Elementary, Susan G. Boykin Academy, Greg Mathis Charter High

Dorchester District 2: None

If housing patterns in Charleston County really were this segregated, the list wouldn't be so shameful. Contemplate where Memminger Elementary is located, for example.

Saturday, March 08, 2008

CCSD Teacher Coaches: Another Failed Idea

Sometimes you wonder--what were they thinking? Then you remember, they probably weren't thinking at all. They were simply responding to stimuli from NCLB to get those failing schools up to standards.

What else would explain taking more than 60 experienced teachers out of the classroom to make the lives of teachers IN the classroom more difficult by increasing the paper workload? Or assigning individual teacher coaches to "coach" entire faculties of larger schools? Or asking teacher coaches to "coach" outside of their academic areas?

The answer, of course, is that these *bright* ideas come from those administrators who have spent little, if any, time in an actual classroom teaching an actual academic subject.

Thanks to budget problems (!), as reported in last week's P & C, these missteps may be on their way to the dustbins of history in CCSD. Ask yourself, would CCSD's Superintendent McGinley have continued this ineffective program that has been costing the district (by my estimate) roughly $300,000 per year if there were no budgeting problems?

Or would the taxpayers of CCSD be told how the program is paying off? Of course, the P & C article neglects to mention whose idea these coaches were, but the reasonable guess is McGinley herself. Wasn't she Chief Academic Officer? Too embarrassing to remember, I guess.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

CCSD Sets Up Experienced Teachers to Take the Fall

Nice to see my friend Cyndi on the front page of the P & C, rather than the usual poseurs who claim to be making a difference. She really is. I may need to change my category to "sung" heroes. [See Seasoned teachers wanted in struggling schools.]

Would you believe that CCSD officials have never tried before to point more experienced teachers towards working in its failing schools? What can I say? They admit it themselves.

The reporter is a bit confused about the difference between an experienced teacher and an NBCT--but I'll let that one pass. At least we finally have the statistic that CCSD has been hiding (where its NBCTs are working): "Only 36 of the county's 293 National Board Certified teachers [. . .] work in schools rated unsatisfactory on the state report card."

Now, why would that be? Hmm. Maybe because the incentive money that comes with NBCT certification doesn't require any such commitment from those teachers? I've pointed out previously that a stipulation to work for a certain period in an under-performing school would spread some of that state money to the schools that really need those teachers. I guess the state legislature doesn't want to upset the education apple cart.

In the "Ripley's Believe It or Not" category, we have Superintendent McGinley, who now wields the power to place teachers that was taken away from the constituent boards, pleading that experienced teachers volunteer out of the goodness of their hearts--no other reward, mind you--to go from the relatively tolerable environments they are now in and dive into the great unknown.

Except it's not the great unknown. What's known is that these schools have great difficulty in keeping faculty year after year. You don't need to teach in one of these schools to know why. Just look at some of the comments on the above-referenced article in the P & C's online edition. For example,

As a Nationally Board Certified teacher who has taught in a "failing" school for the last 7 years, I can tell you why good teachers do not stay in these schools. The paperwork required of these teachers is punitive, many of the administrators are not effective, the students are disrespectful and disruptive, and the teachers can drive down the street a few miles and work in a school where they don't have to deal with any of these things--for the same pay.

All of that being said, a good teacher in one of these schools CAN make a difference. My students consistently score well on tests--and they love to learn--despite where they come from. Not everyone can teach in these schools, but if you have the "gift" and can do it--those kids need you!

If you haven't taught in one of these schools, how do you know "you have the 'gift'"? Does being a highly effective teacher in another environment guarantee it? What happens if you don't? Even the head of the New Teacher Project (yes, let's not forget them--the ones who got paid so much by CCSD for failing to recruit the number of new teachers they promised) said he hadn't previously heard of "such an organized emotional appeal." It comes with a recruiting video but not much else.

Some comments did make sense. Even Daly (of the NTP) pointed out that "the district should make those schools worth wanting, . . . . Schools need to have strong team cultures and good academic instruction so that high-performing teachers will want to go there and stay."

And Kent Riddle, chairman of the Charleston Teacher Alliance, "said the district should focus on the bigger issue of why low-performing schools lack quality teachers. School officials should ask teachers why they leave such schools and evaluate whether those issues are ones they can address."

Ask the teachers? What a novel idea! Certainly McGinley doesn't have any firm ideas in mind other than emotional calls to the altar. Her theorizing about financial incentives and guaranteed jobs held in the school left behind is simply pie in the sky by and by.

Next we know, experienced teachers in the district will be blamed for not heeding the call.

NOTE: For a taste of what goes on in Sacramento, California, see Why couldn't they find the teachers they needed? post of March 1, 2008