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Sutherland for Schools blog

Yes, Virginia, it's true. There is no hope.

by Ann Sutherland on 07/21/16

There is no Santa Claus, and there's no hope for this district either.  Neither for our purchasing nor for our educational support.

On the purchasing front, the board just approved another half-million dollar purchase of pianos and accessories, the third of five of the $2.5 million voted for two years ago. They voted despite a clear presentation that:
--the needs analysis was done by a Dallas piano company under the "leadership" of the former director of music and came out to exactly $2.5 million;
--the RFP was constructed according to their needs analysis;
--the "evaluation" said they were best qualified;
--no principals were consulted about their needs;
--no evaluation of whether the pianos would repairable was conducted ("it would cost too much") according to our staff;
--my own mini-evaluation of the last two years indicated that, except for one piano which,  in nearly every case the pianos just needed tuning ("some of them can't keep a tune." "Do you know which ones?" "No it would cost too much to find out so we're just going to replace them" (this last is a paraphrase).
When, prior to the board meeting I notified the board and Dr. Scribner that I thought it was a mistake, Dr.. Scribner actually called me and asked what I would like to do with the item.  I replied that it should be pulled for further analysis.  But after conferring with the board president, he backed down.
If you saw the board meeting, you would know that Trustee Christene Moss actually said the proposal to remove it violated our equity policy, and she is the chair of the equity committee!  (The schools were to have been refreshed based on the level of need as determined by the piano company.)
I was the only vote for this review.  

The other item was the "presentation" on the notorious Dii proposal, which contained no information regarding its value to the classroom.  I was embarrassed for the presenters, who have to know better.

As one reader wrote after the meeting, "Ann, I don't know how you can remain so calm with this stuff."  

I can remain (pretty) calm.  We have many dedicated and talented teachers and school site staff, whom I have been privileged to get to know.  But I am telling you, I have studied this situation for 6+ years and there is no hope for any real change in this or any other major public school district.

I may write more later, but for now this is it.

Scribner manages a "save" on the transgender issue

by Ann Sutherland on 07/20/16

After getting us in a huge hole over an issue affecting a handful of people, I have to admit it:  Dr. Scribner has produced a fine, balanced regulation which should satisfy anyone who wants a solution, aided by attorney Brian Newby ans his staff.

The regulation provides that parents of transgender students notify administrators of the student's needs.  This follows the formation of a committee, as in a 504 situation (which it really is) to develop a program which meets the students' needs 

The use of opposite-sex bathrooms and locker rooms may be part of the solution, but is not required.  

Where did the "singleness of purpose" motto come from?

by Ann Sutherland on 07/17/16

An alert reader of this blog relates it to the Alcohics Anonymous motto.

Agenda for July 19 meeting

by Ann Sutherland on 07/16/16

Tuesday's meeting includes two new curriculum appointments one, an Asst. Supt. and the other an Exec. Director.  BOTH are from out of district!  Yay!

Also nearly 100 Chapter 21 resignations (almost all teachers) from school sites.

The Executive Session agenda includes an item added after the agenda had been reviewed on Wed:  "Legal Advice on Freedom from Discrimination Policy" which presumably tells the board we don't have to vote on the new transgender policy.

Also nearly $500,000 for more new pianos.

No $12K raise for reassigned principal

by Ann Sutherland on 07/14/16

We had a recent controversial reassignment of one of our principals, and it is reported elsewhere that it involved a raise.  I have checked the settlement agreement and there is no raise.

This reassignment is following written district policy and will involve no sleight-of-hand.  When a staff member is reassigned to a position which pays less than the existing position, the practice is to leave the existing salary in place for one year and then reduce it to the defined level the next year.  In this case the policy is being followed correctly.

The controversial raises happen during the reclassification of existing positions which was heavily practiced during the previous to superintendencies.  One cost us an annual $2.4 million for central office raises and was done secretly.   It figured prominently in the departure of that superintendent.

It will be hard for the board to stop all job reclassifications, but I do not think there will be the same level of actions as happened during the last few years.

For one thing, I expect the audit committee to review reclassifications for the entire district in an upcoming audit.  I intend for readiers to receive the results of this audit just as you have received a summary of the previous massive reclassifications.

Court of Appeal remands Palazzolo case

by Ann Sutherland on 07/08/16

This means we have to start over and have a new trial.

DII teachers to be paid $20-$22/hour; training required

by Ann Sutherland on 07/05/16

Teachers undergoing the DII training are to be paid $20-$22 per hour according to our budget staff.
There is $410,300 in the budget reserved for this.
Attendance is mandatory; I am told this was announced several months ago, but teachers on vacation will be allowed to "make up" the sessions next year.
Thanks to our top fiscal staff for the fast response.

Laws requiring tests for evaluating schools and teachers are going down.

by Ann Sutherland on 07/03/16

Things are changing fast because of successful lawsuits from California, Minnesota and New York.  Courts in these three states say teachers can't be fairly evaluated by tests.  

Houston goes to court on a wrongful-termination case in Sept. claiming their data is based on erroneous calculations based on EVAAS.  FWISD uses the same test to determine whether teachers are competent.

Texas State Teachers Assn. is suing TEA over Texas' teacher evaluation requirements which include these worthless tests.

Six years ago, I asked our curriculum staff how EVVAS, which determines our school rankings, calculates these green, yellow and red bars.  They didn't know.  They still don't know because the firm that created EVVAS, the test used to determine these "success" bars, claims the method is proprietary information owned by the EVVAS firm.  We pay this firm and an associate provider upwards of $500,000 per year for these services.   

Principals leave for summer; no transfer openings announced as promised

by Ann Sutherland on 07/02/16

I was assured yesterday by HCM that these would be posted for teachers to review prior to the close of business on July 1 on the "news" section of the page.  I will check again on Tuesday.  

Workers Comp claims seem to be increasing

by Ann Sutherland on 07/02/16

The number of school site workers comp claims, most of which involve student incidents, appears to be growing:

2012-13              297
2013-14              315
2014-15    386
        2015-16 (through May) 331

While not definitive, the data suggest that student behavior is becoming more difficult to manage and leads support to our need for more alternative settings for troubled or unruly students.

Nicholas Kristof, an acknowledged authority on international poverty, pointed out that many more US children now reside in extreme poverty than prior to the 1996 elimination of welfare in the Clinton years.  (The international definition of extreme poverty is family income less than $2 per person per day, or $240 per month.)  This means that one in 25 children are now in this group, 

While shameful on its face, this should direct us to taking a closer look not only at the results of this level of poverty, but should consider methods used even before 1996 to isolate and address the needs of children in desperate need. 

$3,300 per day for staff development?

by Ann Sutherland on 06/28/16

It's pretty clear that we need better board oversight on our approximately $50 million per year in contracts.  On March 22, the board approved Dr. Scribner's request for $1,599,000 to fund the transformation of our school district.
Included in the proposal is a pay rate of $3,300 per day for all trainers, totaling $1.4 million.  

This contract was originally written for $547,000 for 164.5 days of training.  
It was later extended to the $1,599,000 by the superintendent to extend the work through the 2016-17 school year.  

There has been no board presentation for the public and the board to consider this program.

The vendor is Action Learning Systems, headed by Gary Soto.  Training of senior administrative staff, including the superintendent, is included in the contract.   

Fort Worth deserves better.

I am going to request that a further allocation of $1.3 million to continue our staff development be postponed pending further review and discussion of the daily pay rate and other items.

June 28 board meeting, HCM, budget item

by Ann Sutherland on 06/24/16

The budget for the 2016-17 board meeting will be voted on Tuesday.  The agenda will be posted shortly (the board book is too large to load).  Of special interest is a $1.3 million item for the superintendent's leadership project, none of which has even been presented to the board.  This may be a continuation of the $1.6 million project the board approved in March.  Hired for this project was Action Learning Systems of Pasadena, run by Gary Soto.  Soto has close ties to EQCA and EQCAI, the premiere California advocacy organizations for LGBT.

 Our HCM program continues to ramble along.  Recall that there is no written procedure for hiring; apparently we follow the "grab and go" operational style utilized by petty crooks.  Our new HCM manager has decided to go elsewhere so we are scrambling to find a new one while we clear up the vacancies for the new school year.

We now have a posting for an Asst. Supt for Curriculum and Instruction.  The job description matches the Exec Director of Curriculum and Instruction.  I can't wait to see the organization chart's depiction of this one.  (The board has not approved an organization chart since Dr. Scribner arrived.  It makes you wonder about who reports to whom, particularly following the news about who is hiring the principals and APs.)


For Wondering

by Ann Sutherland on 06/17/16

I am holding your comment for a few days for investigation.  Thank you for sending it.

Two agendas posted: Board book, EQUITY committee; comments on transgender meetings

by Ann Sutherland on 06/10/16

The board book and the agenda for the new board Equity agenda are on the information page of this website. Included are  campus administrative appointments; however, they are not yet available to us (Friday 5:40 PM)

The board community meetings on the new transgender Administrative Regulations are now concluded.  The superintendent will convene an administrative committee to review this AR.  

I support general protections of transgender students.  However, as I said at our District Six community meeting, I believe the FWISD AR should be withdrawn as the OCR guidelines are now available . Any differences between the two could be used for grievances or even litigation.  

Here is the S-T article by Diane Smith:

Re the board agenda:  mostly more contracts, although a reader posting on a previous item here says the board agenda includes a second I-station item that does the same thing as the state-required ISIP.

Why the budget is so important

by Ann Sutherland on 06/05/16

Citizens often become incensed because of some small thing one of our government agencies does.  But we rarely tackle the big issues, because they are so hard to identify. 

In May, I distributed a list of priorities.  They are at the top of the "information" page on this website.  These are minimum requests:  a plan to eliminate the rampant rudeness and violent acts on our campuses, funding for adequate substitutes, and a commitment to follow school staffing ratios.  These requests are followed by a request for monthly reports.

Staff has responded with small changes which will not fulfill these requests. 

--We need 10,000 more substitute-days to solve our substitute problem.  Staff has proposed funding fewer than half of these.  
--Although our staff has asked for $260,000 for new software to record student behavior, there is apparently no line item to address the need for Tier 1 or other measures to isolate chronically destructive students, including monthly reports from school sites.  (Did you know that the central office has no record of referrals to police and does not track them?)
--Everyone knows that the mess in HCM is a disaster.  Yet there is no evidence of a plan to deal with this.

Meanwhile, the budget does $1,3 million for superintendents' initiatives, presumably for contracts to outside vendors. And eight new positions for athletic trainers.  Etc.

It is very discouraging.  

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