Archive for June, 2008

Colorado SAFE

June 22, 2008

The Colorado constitution is tied in knots.  Our legislature's ability to manage competing state needs as circumstances change is severely limited.  As voters, we have placed caps on revenues and mandated spending.  These are not reconcilable differences.

Colorado SAFE – Savings Account for Education – is and innovative effort to untangle these knots.  I encourage you to take a look.  I'm curious what you think.

What’s Fair

June 6, 2008

We have friends with three young children.  The youngest of the three has a number of medical problems which require trips to see specialists, surgeries, long recovery periods and rehab.

 

This special medical treatment requires considerable sums of money and time.  The mom and her youngest child are away from home, sometimes for long stretches.  The medical bills exceed what insurance will pay not to mention the costs of travel and meals away from home.  It adds up.

 

The two older children, fortunately, are completely healthy.  There medical bills are minimal to non-existent.  Our friends are spending far more money and time to support their youngest child’s health than they do to provide for their older children’s health.

 

I remember once their oldest daughter – she must have been eight at the time – standing on our porch saying, “I don’t like how much my mom has to be gone with my brother.  It’s not fair.”  She knew her mom was doing the right thing but she also was keenly aware of her own sacrifice.  The money diverted to health care probably cost her in ways she did not know – for instance, the family had less disposable income for their older children.

 

Our friends’ experience is, perhaps, acute but not uncommon.  Most families with multiple children face situations in which they must make judgments about how best to support their children.  Often, the considered choice leads parents to spend more time and money on one child than on another.  We all learn – heck it’s common sense that even an eight year old understands – that doing the right thing does not always mean being equal in the strictest sense.

 

Now here’s the thing about our friends.  There youngest child’s health will probably never be as good as the health of the older two children.  All three of their children should have good enough health to lead good lives.  But, bottom line, their youngest child will always have some issues.  Even though they have and will spend exponentially more on the youngest child the “results” won’t be as good.

 

Every family I know would do the same thing for their children.

 

I find the experience of our friends useful when thinking about how education dollars are spent.  The reality is that it takes more money to educate some children than it takes to educate other children.  We would like to think that all children are exactly the same – and thus require the same level of support.  But, we all know that is not the real world.

 

Some children have obvious learning disabilities.  Other children’s learning needs are less obvious.  For instance, some children come from homes in which “habits of learning” are passed on intuitively from parent to child.  Other children don’t develop these “habits of learning” at home and have to play catch up at school.  This takes time and, in some instances, personal attention, which often costs money.

 

(At the other end of the spectrum, some children need special programming so they won’t be bored at school – but that will be a topic for another time.  It just occurred to me, perhaps we should criticize parents whose children are exceptionally bright because of the extra burden they place on our schools – but of course I’m just being sarcastic, which isn’t terribly helpful. )

 

Administrators at the private and parochial schools in our community are fully aware that some students require more money to educate than other students.  That is why some private school administrators discourage or prohibit students with extra learning needs from enrolling at their school.  That is why, for instance, some parochial students travel to neighboring public schools for literacy instruction.

 

I am okay with that.  If a private school isn’t up to the task of educating a child, they should be up front about it.  If a parochial school does not have the resources needed to support a child’s instructional needs, I think it is okay for the community to help out.  Some people may say, “That’s not fair.  We shouldn’t subsidize parochial school students.”  But, I think we do what is best for the children of our community – we can’t let rivalries take our eye off of the children.

 

Here’s another reality.  We will invest more money in some students than we do in others and yet their academic performance will never match that of many of their classmates.  Just like our friends and their three children.  They spend more money on one child’s health even though his health will never be as good as his siblings.

 

But, I believe we have an obligation to prepare as many students as possible to be self-sufficient and contributing members to our communities – even if they never make it to the right side of the bell curve.  And, the reality is that there will always, by definition, be a right and left side of the bell curve.  Or, put another way, we have an obligation to help children reach their potential no matter what that potential is.

 

These are the types of choices we face as a community and as a school district.  We must make choices about what’s fair.  It would be nice if these types of choices were as simplistic as “everyone gets exactly the same.”  But, that isn’t the real world.  Children’s educational needs are no different than their health needs.  They vary.  And, sometimes, some kids need extra time, attention and resources.

 

Making judgments about how to distribute resources to meet the needs of 24,000 students can be clumsy at times.  We should always investigate ways to improve the system.  For instance, the Poudre (Ft. Collins) school district uses a formula for student needs.  Whatever system we use, common sense dictates that a fair distribution of resources is unlikely to be exactly equal.

Go St. Vrain Discussion Forum

June 4, 2008

 Most of you are probably awared of the web site Go St. Vrain Discussion Forum.  It is a site developed by a grassroots group of parents working to support St. Vrain public schools.  Check it out.  Participate.

School Board Effectiveness

June 2, 2008

Any effective group is continually asking itself the question, what can we do to be more effective?  For a governing board, such as a school board, we should continually be asking, are we focused on the most essential issues?

 

In my six months on the St. Vrain Valley School Board, I have developed a tremendous amount of respect for each of my fellow board members.  They are a group of passionate and dedicated people.  I am learning from each of them.

 

I also have come to believe that, as a board, we can be more effective and more focused.  We need to spend a greater proportion on what's essential.

 

How to be more focused?  This is a common challenge for governing boards.  It is so common that there are many books and articles written on the topic.  Countless consultants earn their living helping boards learn to be more effective.

 

I am reading two books by John Carver to learn how a governing board can be more effective.  The two books I am reading are Boards that Make a Difference and Reinventing Your Board.