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Santa Clara Education Desk: May 29, 2013

Micromanagement 101

“A regular criticism of local [school] boards is the tendency of board members to confuse monitoring of key outcomes and executive performance with prescribing how to manage the components of the system,” according to the Gale Encyclopedia of Education.

SCUSD board meetings, regularly running four hours or more, amply illustrate this.

Last week’s meeting included over an hour of basic instruction in high school master scheduling, repeated explanations of California’s “categorical” education spending structure, discussion about the relative value of computer science classes vs. ones in fashion merchandising, whether or not 10 students justified offering an AP French class, and a description of course scheduling methods used at Stanford in the 1990s.

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All this was continuing discussion from May 9 when Wilcox math teacher Karen Hardy used the public comment section of the meeting to ask for more sections of her AP computer science and robotics classes.

Master scheduling, explained District Superintendent of Human Resources Brad Syth is an intricate balancing of many constraints including graduation and college admission requirements; the school’s curriculum and staffing; physical resources; the number of students, periods and class sections; where students are in their academic careers; and elective preferences.

It’s a process that requires a lot of “hands-on” work by teachers, department chairs and principals, and multiple iterations to arrive at a final schedule. However, the issue isn’t about core subjects, it’s about electives – students’ “seventh” period choices.

“The problem is the limited number of FTEs [full time employees, i.e. teachers],” explained Superintendent Bobbie Plough. “We are…the only district offering a seventh period [and] while that’s a wonderful thing, you have 400 kids requesting these electives, these are seventh period electives, and it’s way beyond our budget. That’s where a lot of this elective overload is coming from.”

That led to a dissection of elective offerings, and tutorial on California’s categorical education funding.

“It looks like there’s a teacher with three sections of fashion and two sessions of retail with a question mark,” said Trustee Ina Bendis – a seven-year board veteran. “And then I was able to correlate that with a course number 655605 called ROP Fashion. And it looked like ROP fashion had 31 students who desired to take it and a teacher who was teaching three different periods of it, which averages out 10 students a period.”

“That’s a CTE [Career Technical Education] class,” explained Plough. “It’s out of a totally different budget and doesn’t affect any of the other electives. So that wouldn’t have any bearing on anything.”

“Why doesn’t it have a bearing?” Bendis shot back. “Because,” returned Plough, “it’s a different pot of money that can only be spent on CTE. It doesn’t affect our other electives that come out of our general fund.”

“So the state says that you have to use this money [this way] even if there are only 10 students per period,” observed Bendis.

“CTE money is not general fund money that comes from the state,” answered Plough. “It’s for specific courses that are approved. You can’t flip it over and say we’re going to use it over here.”

“We need to bring this back to something that we have control over,” said Trustee Andy Ratermann. “How can we help with the master scheduling?”

In one of the few actions of the evening that could be described as policy, the board approved a resolution to tell state education officials in Sacramento that the CTE spending category should include computer programming and robotics as well as traditional skilled trades – something, Plough noted, that will be rendered moot if Gov. Brown’s overhaul of education funding is approved.

Showing that sauce for the goose invariably ferments into sauce for the gander, students and teachers from Wilcox’s Japanese language program took to the podium May 23 to ask for more sections of advanced Japanese.

The other important action of the evening was board approval of a “flexibility” policy with regard to Tier III categorical funding (this is funding that’s earmarked, but which can be used for other things – unlike Tier I and II funds – but only if the board votes to make the funds transferable to unrestricted general funds).

Not approving the flexibility policy, Plough told the board, would limit its ability to manage the district’s budget for the upcoming year, as the district’s revenue won’t be known until next month. Without the policy, the district must offer the designated programs, regardless of a changing budget. Plough also noted that schools have yet to see the specifics of the governor’s proposed restructuring of education funding and, under the circumstances, should leave itself the maximum flexibility.

Even something this routine couldn’t get done without parliamentary fiddle-faddle, as Trustee Chris Stampolis insisted on separating – “bifurcating” – the motion to approve flexibility into two motions (although it was clear that he had no support on the board for this). The first motion approved flexibility for all grants except GATE and Music & Art (passed 7-0), and the second approved flexibility specifically for those grants, with Stampolis casting the sole ‘no’ vote.

Stampolis also came in for some questioning from SCUSD resident and former teacher Vickie Larsen Fairchild, about his ties with construction unions – he appeared at an April Santa Clara City Council meeting representing an East Bay trade union – at a time when the district is letting a significant number of contracts for bond-funded construction.

“All contracting is handled by staff,” responded Board President Christine Koltermann. “The board doesn’t see any of it until it comes to us in our agenda packet. We don’t see any of it all. Contractors are not allowed to contact board members – anyone contacting the board is disqualified.” Stampolis didn’t comment on the matter.

Later in the meeting, Fairchild questioned Bendis and Koltermann’s participation in an interview with a prospective principal. “You do not have authority to join these interviews. I request an agenda item about that.”

“Dr. [Stanley] Rose is making the final decision on hiring,” responded Koltermann, “and he asked myself and Dr. Bendis to sit in the back…He invited us because he could not be there. We did not ask questions and we did not vote.” Rose, the district’s new Superintendent, was not at last week’s meeting to address the question himself.

Mission College Center for Innovation and Technology (MC2IT) Gets Go-Ahead

Last week the West Valley-Mission Community College Board of Trustees unanimously voted to fund the Mission College Center for Innovation and Technology (MC2IT).

“Elected officials have been talking about promoting Science and Technology in this country most of my life,” said Trustee Chad Walsh. “I am proud of my fellow Trustees for stepping up and doing it. MC2IT promotes technology internships, education, seminars, career technical education, and will move the ball forward in our effort to promote Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math and support high tech in our region.” For information visit http://mc2it.missioncollege.edu/.

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