Archives for category: Budget Cuts

The Chester Upland school district in Delaware County, Pennsylvania, will return to school even though the district has no money to pay them. The district is in a deep financial hole because of former Governor Corbett’s deep budget cuts and the charter schools that drain funding from the public schools. Chester Upland might be the first school district o go bankrupt because of competition with a charter school whose for profit owner is ranking in millions.

These educators are heroes of public education. They are truly doing it “for the kids” at personal sacrifice to themselves and their families. They join the honor roll of the blog.

On Thursday, about 200 members of the local teachers union voted unanimously to work without pay as the new school year opens. They were joined by secretaries, school bus drivers, janitors and administrators.

“The thought of it is very scary,” said John Shelton, 60, dean of students at the district’s only middle school and a 23-year employee. “It’s mind-boggling because there’s truly uncertainty. But we are all in agreement that we will come to work, so that the children can get an education.”

Shelton, who will be able to count on some income from his moonlighting job as a janitor, said he and his colleagues are willing to sacrifice because the students rely on the schools. “Some of our children, this is all they have as far as safety, their next nourishing meal, people who are concerned for them,” he said. “We are dedicated to these children.”

The district is about 20 miles west of Philadelphia and serves roughly 3,300 students, most them low-income.

A similar financial collapse occurred in the district in 2012, and the teachers also agreed to work without pay then. In the end, a federal judge ordered the state to pay the district, and lawmakers arranged a bailout, so that employees’ paychecks were just a couple of days late.

Chester Upland’s current fiscal crisis, however, is more serious, said Jeff Sheridan, a spokesman for Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf (D).

“They are in such dire financial shape right now,” he said, “unless something drastic happens . . . the school district is in danger of not existing.”

The governor is grateful to the teachers and other employees who are willing to work without pay, Sheridan said, adding, “It’s helpful and we commend them.”

But it’s not a solution, he said.

Chester Upland is facing a $22 million deficit that could grow to more than $46 million without major intervention, Sheridan said. He blamed several factors: local mismanagement, state cuts in education spending under the previous governor and a state law that requires traditional school districts to pay charter schools significant amounts for students who live within their boundaries but attend charters.

Public charter schools, which are publicly funded but privately run, have been growing to the point that they educate nearly half the students who live in the Chester Upland district. Chester Upland pays local charter schools about $64 million in tuition payments — more than it receives in state school aid.

State law includes a funding formula that is especially generous toward special education students who attend charters; Chester Upland has to spend $40,000 per student per year for every special education student from its district who enrolls in a charter school. That’s twice the amount the district spend on its own students with special education needs and more than any other district in the state, Sheridan said.

Chester Community Charter School, a nonprofit institution managed by a for-profit company, is the largest charter in the district. It began in 1998 with 100 students and now enrolls 2,900 students, nearly as many as attend the traditional public school system.

This week, a Pennsylvania judge denied a request by Wolf and Chester Upland officials to reduce the district’s payments for special education to charters by about half, or nearly $21 million, in the 2015-16 school year.

Wolf based his request on a recommendation by a 2013 bipartisan legislative commission that the law should be changed to bring payments to charter schools more in line with what it costs traditional public schools to educate special needs students. The committee also recommended lower payments to online charter schools, which currently get the same per-pupil payments that brick and mortar schools receive. That change would save the Chester Upland district an additional $4 million a year, state officials said.

Tell the story of the teachers and staff at Chester Upland the next time you hear someone complain about “greedy” teachers who put their interests before the interests of their students. Maybe StudentsFirst could offer to pay the salaries of the teachers who are working for free?

Troy LaRaviere is principal of Blaine Elementary School in Chicago. He was invited to speak on a problem at the Chicago Civic Club, where civic and business leaders convene. The topic was bankruptcy and the schools. Troy was the only school-based educator on the panel.

Here is the link to the event (you might want to hear Paul Vallas on the topic).

And here is Troy’s presentation:

“I recommend watching the last few minutes of Paul Vallas’ presentation in which he lays out the basic rules CPS operated by before the financial crisis. This part of his talk begins at the 36:00 time segment. I think all of Chuck Burbridge’s presentation is worth listening to, and that George Panagakis’ presentation on the intricacies of bankruptcy was eye-opening. This panel represents the first time I’ve prepared all of my remarks beforehand, so I’ve included those remarks below. I learned a lot from my participation on the panel and I hope you learn from it as well.

“Prepared Remarks

“Thank you to the City Club for inviting me to this panel and luncheon. Unfortunately I could not take advantage of the lunch as I am fasting today in solidarity with the 12 parents and community members who are in their 9th Day of a Hunger Strike to save Dyett School as the only open enrollment neighborhood high school left in their community (I mistakenly said “city” in my remarks). This gesture on my part is relatively insignificant when compared to the sacrifice they are making on behalf of their children. But I make it nonetheless before I begin my remarks.

“As residents and taxpayers we have to do more than identify problems. We have to identify and understand the source of those problems. If we don’t neutralize that source then we might be able to solve this problem today but that source will rear its head a few years down the line to re-create the same havoc that it’s wreaking on us today.

“We’re being told that pensions are the problem. We have a problem with pensions but pension are not the source of our problem. This administration consistently misappropriated pension funds, and then attempts to convince us that pensions themselves are the problem. That’s like a thief stealing your rent money and then attempting to convince you that the landlord is the problem.

“The source of our problem is city and school officials who spend and borrow money in a manner that is reckless and corrupt; the parasitic private sector banks and investors who are always looking for creative ways to rip off taxpayers, and the state legislators who enabled this irresponsible fiscal behavior in the first place.

“For the sake of time, I’m going to focus my comments on this administration’s reckless borrowing and the bank that benefit from it. When the Tribune attempted to look into the cost of this borrowing their reporters and attorneys were forced by CPS to spend a year getting the details about how much it spends in interest on its massive debts. So not only are they putting us in debt but they tried to prevent us from finding out just how much debt they put us in.

“Interestingly enough, CPS recently hired Ernst and Young to do an analysis of their structural deficit. That analysis shows that pension costs are projected to rise only 32% over seven years, while debt service is projected to rise 350% from $119 million to $421 million. THIS is the debt that’s driving up costs. This debt is not owed to teachers. This debt is owed to financial institutions like the Pritzker Group, Goldman Sachs and Northern trust—all Emanuel Campaign contributors; and his administration wants to ensure they get paid what they’re owed.

“This debt is also owed to banks and investors who virtually swindled CPS out of $100 million. Financial institutions like Bank of America and the Royal Bank of Canada. They have documented evidence that these banks knew that the auction rate securities market was about to collapse while they were preparing to underwrite a massive auction rate bond issue for CPS.

“That’s illegal. You can sue them and get those millions back. But the Emmanuel administration refuses. They want them to get what’s owed to them even though they got it in through corrupt and deceptive practices.

“This administration wants to pay your tax dollars to EVERYONE they owe, except one group. The only people the Emanuel administration doesn’t want to pay what they’re owed are teachers.

“Let me say it again another way.

“The only group of people the Emanuel administration doesn’t want to pay, just happen to be the only group of people who actually worked for what CPS owes them–spent their entire careers working and sacrificing for what CPS owes them.

“PNC Bank didn’t sacrifice a more lucrative career to dedicate itself to teaching science and mathematics. Chicago’s teachers do that.

“Goldman Sachs didn’t sacrifice time with their own families to stay after school to tutor struggling readers. Chicago teachers do that.

“None of these institutions spent consecutive years of his career working with four struggling students in hopes that that sacrifice and investment of time would pay off on their graduation day …. only to have those hopes destroyed when the news reaches you that you’ll be preparing instead for their funerals—in part, as a result of the neglect of their communities by many of the same people responsible for the neglect of their schools. Their names: Miguel. Tyray. Roberto. Candace. Those are the names I carry with me, but teachers all across Chicago have names of their own etched in their memories forever.

“As our teachers feel this district coming in to take what little they do get in return for their sacrifice, this administration’s hollow, empty, and hypocritical use of the term “shared sacrifice” to justify this encroachment must seem profoundly disrespectful and painfully ironic.

“To reiterate. The source of our problem is:

(1) city and school officials who spend and borrow money in a manner that is reckless and corrupt;

(2) the parasitic private sector banks and investors who are always looking for creative ways to rip off taxpayers, and

(3) the state legislators who are all too eager to create a legislative environment in which this legalized theft can occur.

“If anyone is made to sacrifice, it has to be members of these three groups, because the behavior of teachers did not cause this problem. The behavior of these three groups caused this problem. Teachers have already made their sacrifice a thousand times over, and those whose behavior caused this crisis have no right to ask them for more.”

For the past few years, the impoverished Chester County public schools in Pennsylvania have been in deep deficit because of competition with charter schools and cyber charters that suck funding away from the public schools.

The biggest charter school is the Chester Community Charter School, founded and operated by multimillionaire Vehan Gureghian, a lawyer and businessman who was a major contributor to former Republican Governor Tom Corbett and a member of his education transition team.

Governor Tom Wolf tried to save the public schools of Delaware County by reducing the exorbitant amount of special education funding that is transferred from the public schools to charter schools and reducing the equally egregious funding of cyber schools. But his plan was rejected by a judge yesterday.

The Keystone State Education Coalition posted these articles this morning, which explain the situation:

“The district pays local charter schools about $64 million in tuition payments – more than it gets in state aid – to educate about half of its 7,000 students.”

Judge rejects Wolf challenge to charter funding


A Delaware County judge ruled Tuesday that the Chester Upland School District must abide by the state’s charter school funding formula and keep paying the charter schools that now educate about half of the struggling district’s students. After a hearing that stretched two days, Common Pleas Judge Chad Kenney said the commonwealth’s plan was “wholly inadequate” to restore the district to financial stability. He also faulted the state and district’s lawyers for failing to provide “meaningful specifics or details” as to how they arrived at the plan. Kenney did approve two smaller requests: He said the district can hire a turnaround specialist and a forensic auditor.

The ruling was a setback for the Wolf administration and the district’s state appointed receiver, Frances Barnes, who had contended Chester Upland schools might not be able to open next week without a change to the formula. It was not clear if they would seek to appeal Kenney’s ruling.

Judge derails Pa. plan for Chester Upland recovery

By Vince Sullivan, Delaware County Daily Times POSTED: 08/25/15, 10:33 PM EDT

CHESTER >> Just minutes after a public meeting with the receiver of the Chester Upland School District ended with an impassioned plea for support of the public school system, a Delaware County judge denied proposals to alter charter school funding which would have eliminated a $22 million structural deficit. President Judge Chad F. Kenney denied portions of a plan proposed by Receiver Francis V. Barnes, with the support of Gov. Tom Wolf and the state Department of Education, that sought to reduce payments to charter and cyber charter schools that educate Chester Upland School District. Barnes was seeking to cap the regular education tuition reimbursement for cyber charter students at $5,950, and to reduce the tuition reimbursement for special education students in brick-and-mortar charter schools from $40,000 to $16,000. Both changes would have been consistent with the recommendations of two bipartisan school funding commissions. Other portion of the plan calling for a forensic audit, a financial turnaround specialist and the delay of a loan repayment were approved.

Chester Upland charters struggle to account for $40,000 price tag for special education


In court Tuesday, charter schools in the Chester Upland district defended their claim to $40,000 in tuition for each special-education student they enroll. According to Pennsylvania’s calculations, the charters need — and, in fact, currently spend — well below that on those students.

The debate about how much money charters need to fulfill federal requirements for a “free appropriate public education” for special-education students is at the heart of reforms proposed by Gov. Tom Wolf and the district’s receiver, Francis Barnes, last week. And it’s at the center of a battle in Delaware County court this week between state and charter school officials.

Witnesses for the state Department of Education said Tuesday that none of the schools claimed spending more than $25,000 per special-education student in annual self-reports.

So what exactly is in that Chester Upland Charter Special Sauce?

Here’s the bottom line on Chester Upland charter school special education funding. Would this have been allowed to go on for years if charter schools were “public” in more than name only and were subject to taxpayer scrutiny on a regular basis?

Right-to-know requests for financial information regarding the operations of Charter School Management Company have been blatantly ignored for years.

“Let’s look at Chester Upland’s special education enrollment, while considering that, in general, special education students diagnosed with autism, emotional disturbance and intellectual disability require the highest expenditures, while those with speech and language impairments require the lowest expenditures.

Special education students on the autism spectrum – generally requiring high expenditures – make up 8.4 percent of the entire special education population at the school district, compared to 2.1 percent at Chester Community Charter School and zero percent at Widener Partnership and Chester Community Schoolof the Arts.

In the emotional disturbance category, another often requiring high expenditures, 13.6 percent of all special education students are categorized as emotionally disturbed in the school district, compared to 5.3 percent at Chester Community Charter, none at Widener or Chester Community School of the Arts.

For the intellectual disability category, the final category generally requiring high expenditures, the school district again serves a much larger percentage of this category: 11.6 percent for the school district, 2.8 for Chester Community Charter School and none for the others.

Conversely, for special education students requiring the lowest expenditures, the speech and language impaired, only 2.4 percent of the school district’s special education population falls into this category, compared to 27.4, 20.3 and 29.8 percent, respectively, at the charters.

Clearly the lion’s share of the need requiring the highest expenditures remains with the school district, but an exorbitant amount of funding goes to charters, where most special education needs can be addressed for comparatively low cost.”

Guest Column: The case for the Wolf recovery plan
Delco Times Letter by Frances Barnes POSTED: 08/24/15, 10:24 PM EDT

To the Times:

This is an open letter from Chester Upland School District Receiver Francis V. Barnes.

This afternoon (Aug. 24), Chester Upland School District and the Pennsylvania Department of Education will appear before President Judge Chad Kenney seeking approval of an amended Financial Recovery Plan to restore financial integrity and balance the books, which is vital for the district and the charter schools it funds. The plan treats charters fairly by not reducing payments made for about 70 percent of charter students, but it does reduce unreasonable special education and cyber payments to charter schools. Reducing unreasonable payments will make the allocation of funds more equitable for all students in the Chester, Chester Township, and theUpland geographical area, regardless of which school they attend. Under the current formula, funds for special education students are not allocated equitably. The district is required to pay charter schools more than $40,000 per special education student, regardless of the actual cost to educate that student, while the district receives less than needed to educate its own special education students.

Here’s Dan Hardy’s coverage of the same issue from 2012:

Chester Upland: State special ed formula drains millions from district

By Dan Hardy, Inquirer Staff Writer
As Delaware County’s financially troubled Chester Upland School District struggles to stay afloat, officials there say they are paying millions more than they should on special-education students who attend charter schools.
School districts pay charters to teach their children, using a complicated formula set by state law. About 45 percent of Chester Upland’s students attend charters.

Chester Upland’s payments are based on the previous year’s expense of educating students in its own schools, minus some costs charters do not incur.

For regular-education Chester Upland students this year, that figure is $9,858 per child.

But flaws in the state charter-school law, district officials say, make payments to charter schools for special-education students much higher, costing Chester Upland about $8 million more than is reasonable.
Chester Upland’s per-student special-education charter-school payment this year is $24,528, more than twice as much as for regular students and thousands per student more than the state average.

The AFT created a video capturing the views of several GOP candidates on education.

It’s worth a watch–only a few minutes.

Reader Jack Covey left the following comment in response to a post about Utah:

“One of the first actions as newly appointed superintendent that really caught the ire of the community was to fire all of the librarians in the district including many reading specialists, citing potential increases in the cost of benefits under the Affordable Care Act. [ii] Smith also went on to explain that Ogden School District is the only remaining district on the Wasatch Front to employ licensed teachers as media specialists in their libraries. [iii]This turned out to be false, but deaf to the public outcry by parents, teachers, and students, the librarians did, indeed, lose their jobs. Many had been in the district for decades. After all was said and done, a handful of librarians remained.”

A lesser known outrage during John Deasy’s reign of terror in Los Angeles schools was his treatment of librarians. Just after taking over, he made a speech at Occidental College calling them useless and a waste of money, and then went after them.

Once he closed school libraries and removed the librarians in charge of them, the next step was to keep librarians from being placed in classroom position—as most had 10-30 years seniority, and were at the high end of the pay scale—and fire them from the district to save money.

What happened next defies description. They were put through hearings that were right out of Arthur Koestler’s DARKNESS AT NOON. The intent was to “prove” that, though fully credentialed by the state to teach, their years as librarians rendered them unfit to return to the classroom.

“… attorneys representing the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) asked Kafkaesque questions such as ‘Do you take attendance?’ of dozens of teacher-librarians appealing their layoffs in order to prove to an administrative judge that the teacher-librarians were not qualified to become classroom teachers. At least, that’s what observers such as Tobar and Nora Murphy, a teacher-librarian for L.A. Academy Middle School and blogger, have written about the hearings.

“What does taking attendance have to do with being a highly trained educator who is duly credentialed and who teaches how to learn? Here’s the connection: A recency rule established this school year by LAUSD officials (and upheld by an administrative judge) states that a teacher-librarian who has not taught in a classroom for five years is no longer, by definition, a qualified teacher, no matter how many years of service and training she or he has.

“And if a teacher-librarian hasn’t taken attendance in five or more years, she or he must not have been in charge of a classroom. The administrative judge presiding over the hearings upheld the recency rule, clearing the way for the trials. It is unclear when the judge will rule on the individuals’ qualifications.

“In a May 18 op-ed in the Times, Murphy said:

” ‘I have listened as other teacher-librarians have endured demeaning questions from school district attorneys, and I wonder how it has come to this. . . . The basic question being asked is whether highly trained and experienced teacher-librarians are fit for the classroom. LAUSD’s lawyers seem determined to prove they are not.

” ‘One librarian, who would like to go back to an elementary classroom if her library is closed, was asked to recite the physical education standards for second-graders, as if failing to do so would mean she was unfit.

” ‘Another teacher, who wants to return to teaching English, noted that she spent all day in the library effectively teaching English. But her inquisitor quickly started asking questions about the Dewey Decimal System, suggesting that since it involved more math than English, the teacher was no longer practiced in the art of teaching English.’

“Among those laid off is Leslie Sipos, teacher-librarian for the middle- and high school library at the brand-new LAUSD’s Robert F. Kennedy Community Schools campus, which was featured in American Libraries’ 2011 facilities showcase. ‘She hadn’t even gotten all the books out of boxes,’ Monroe High School Teacher-Librarian Annette Scherr told AL.

“ ‘The elimination of school librarians means the District is losing invaluable teachers whose educational specialty is empowering students with life-long, independent learning skills,’ wrote American Library Association President Roberta A. Stevens and Nancy Everhart, president of ALA’s American Association of School Librarians, in an open letter May 18 to the LAUSD board and administration.

“Urging the district to reconsider its decision, Stevens and Everhart asserted: ‘The elimination of these positions will have a devastating effect on the educational prospects and success of the District’s students. A good school library is not an option—it is essential to a good education.’

“As the grilling of teacher-librarians and other LAUSD educators proceeded, there was a presumption that state aid to education was going to be slashed yet again in FY2012, which would be partly responsible for LAUSD having a nearly $408-million deficit to erase. However, California Gov. Jerry Brown announced May 16 that, because state revenues had mushroomed $6.6 billion more than anticipated this fiscal year, he was recommending the restoration of $3 billion to education spending.

“If LAUSD receives the $300 million it would be due, it’s unclear whether it could help alleviate the situation in which teacher-librarians find themselves. What could help is the intense networking and outreach that members of the California School Librarians Association are doing to make the Los Angeles school libraries crisis as visible as possible.

“Teacher-librarians such as Scherr lobbied in the state Capitol with the California Teachers Association in mid-May for additional education funding, and even buttonholed California State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson, who was among those backing the state’s adoption last year of model school-library standards. Authors Neil Gaiman, Bruce Coville, and Jane Yolen have been spreading the word through Facebook; Gaiman has also created a #savethelibrarians hashtag.
From Kafka to kiosk?

“Scherr and other LAUSD teacher-librarians remain determined, but according to the April 20 quarterly report on bond-funded projects issued by district Chief Academic Officer Judy Elliott, the district has already reorganized the Instructional Media Services, which supported the school-library program, into a new department: the Integrated Library and Textbook Support Services.

” ‘The Director position of Instructional Media Services is being eliminated,’ Elliott writes, noting, ‘ILTSS supports the instructional goals of the Superintendent and LAUSD by ensuring new school libraries will be made available to students. . . . It is understood that all libraries need a certified librarian, but budget constraints force us to investigate different options for the schools to implement.’ ”

“According to Scherr, Elliott testified before the administrative judge that there was no function a teacher-librarian could perform that couldn’t be performed by anybody else. That philosophy is reflected in the report, which goes into detail about the implementation of Follett Software’s Destiny integrated-library system for library and textbook inventory management. Principals are offered three options: Find external funding for a teacher-librarian to manage the software system; delegate a school staffer to learn and maintain the software; establish an unstaffed ‘kiosk’ self-check system so students and faculty can still access the library’s collection.”

And here’s Hector Tobar’s report at the LOS ANGELES TIMES:


“In a basement downtown, the librarians are being interrogated.

“On most days, they work in middle schools and high schools operated by the Los Angeles Unified School District, fielding student queries about American history and Greek mythology, and retrieving copies of vampire novels.

“But this week, you’ll find them in a makeshift LAUSD courtroom set up on the bare concrete floor of a building on East 9th Street. Several sit in plastic chairs, watching from an improvised gallery as their fellow librarians are questioned.

“A court reporter takes down testimony. A judge grants or denies objections from attorneys. Armed police officers hover nearby. On the witness stand, one librarian at a time is summoned to explain why she — the vast majority are women — should be allowed to keep her job.

“The librarians are guilty of nothing except earning salaries the district feels the need to cut. But as they’re cross-examined by determined LAUSD attorneys, they’re continually put on the defensive.

” ‘When was the last time you taught a course for which your librarian credential was not required?’ an LAUSD attorney asked Laura Graff, the librarian at Sun Valley High School, at a court session on Monday.

” ‘I’m not sure what you’re asking,’ Graff said. ‘ I teach all subjects, all day. In the library.’

” ‘Do you take attendance?’ the attorney insisted. ‘Do you issue grades?’

I’ve seen a lot of strange things in two decades as a reporter, but nothing quite as disgraceful and weird as this inquisition the LAUSD is inflicting upon more than 80 school librarians.

” ‘With my experience, it makes me angry to be interrogated,’ Graff told me after the 40 minutes she spent on the witness stand, describing the work she’s done at libraries and schools going back to the 1970s. ‘I don’t think any teacher-librarian needs to sit here and explain how they help teach students.’

“Sitting in during two court sessions this week, I felt bad for everyone present, including the LAUSD attorneys. After all, in the presence of a school librarian, you feel the need to whisper and be respectful. It must be very difficult, I thought, to grill a librarian.

“For LAUSD officials, it’s a means to an end: balancing the budget.

“Some 85 credentialed teacher-librarians got layoff notices in March. If state education cuts end up being as bad as most think likely, their only chance to keep a paycheck is to prove that they’re qualified to be transferred into classroom teaching jobs.

“Since all middle and high school librarians are required to have a state teaching credential in addition to a librarian credential, this should be an easy task — except for a school district rule that makes such transfers contingent on having taught students within the last five years.

“To get the librarians off the payroll, the district’s attorneys need to prove to an administrative law judge that the librarians don’t have that recent teaching experience. To try to prove that they do teach, the librarians, in turn, come to their hearings with copies of lesson plans they’ve prepared and reading groups they’ve organized.

“Sandra Lagasse, for 20 years the librarian at White Middle School in Carson, arrived at the temporary courtroom Wednesday with copies of her lesson plans in Greek word origins and mythology.

“On the witness stand, she described tutoring students in geometry and history, including subjects like the Hammurabi Code. Her multi-subject teaching credential was entered into evidence as ‘Exhibit 515.’

” Lagasse also described the ‘Reading Counts’ program she runs in the library, in which every student in the school is assessed for reading skills.

” ‘This is not a class, correct?’ a school district attorney asked her during cross-examination.

” ‘No,’ she said. ‘It is part of a class.’

” ‘There is no class at your school called ‘Reading Counts’? Correct.’ ”

” ‘No.’

“Lagasse endured her time on the stand with quiet dignity and confidence. She described how groups of up to 75 students file into her library — and how she works individually with many students.

“Later she told me: ‘I know I’m doing my job right when a student tells me, ‘Mrs. Lagasse, that book you gave me was so good. Do you have anything else like it?’ ”

It’s a noble profession. And it happens to be the only one Michael Bernard wants to practice.

” ‘It’s true, I’m a librarian and that’s all I want to be,’ said the librarian at North Hollywood High School, who has been a librarian for 23 years and has a master’s degree in library science.

” ‘The larger issue is the destruction of school libraries,’ Bernard told me. ‘None of the lawyers was talking about that.’

“School district rules say that only a certified teacher-librarian can manage a school library. So if Bernard is laid off, his library, with its 40,000 books and new computer terminals, could be shut down.

“Word of the libraries’ pending doom is starting to spread through the district. Adalgisa Grazziani, the librarian at Marshall High School, told me that the kids at her school are asking if they can take home books when the library there is closed.

” ‘Can I have the fantasy collection?’ one asked her.

“If they could speak freely at their dismissal hearings, the librarians likely would tell all present what a tragedy it is to close a library.

“Instead, they sit and try to politely answer such questions as, ‘Have you ever taught physical education?’

“It doesn’t seem right to punish an educator for choosing the quiet and contemplation of book stacks over the noise and hubbub of a classroom or a gymnasium. But that’s where we are in these strange and stupid times.”

Angie Sullivan teaches young children in Clark County, Nevada. She is a one-woman crusader for the rights of children.

She writes:

How best to discriminate against small young persons of color in Nevada. . .

1. Fail to hire teachers for impoverished communities – staff with substitutes.

2. Ensure that no one will want to work in impoverished communities because you punish anyone who does.

3. Fail to fund.

4. Replace instruction with repeated and incessant testing – if the students fail, test them some more rather than provide additional support. Drive them into the pavement with testing. Smash them. Make sure they cannot get better by replacing all instruction with additional testing. 13 tests is not enough! Let’s invent another! We don’t need the same test – we just need more tests!

5. Retain. Any small child who is not able to score like a white kid in Connecticut by the time they are seven . . . Punish them with repeating another non-instructional, non-supported year obsessed with testing year. Ignore every study that shows that retention is closely linked to not graduating and social stigma. Punish small children and punish them hard! Don’t you dare support them as would be required to succeed – whip them, whip their teachers, whip their schools.

That is a summary of what is occurring right now in the Nevada State Board meeting


I cannot watch this destruction.

Kids are more than a score.

It is a rare few kids that benefit from retention.

It takes between 5 to 10 years for language learners to be proficient in academic English – if they are supported.

Underfunding and no recognizing the significant need because of poverty in our community – is a problem.

The kids who will be retained will be brown – because that is what has happened in every state that has implemented #readby3.

O God hear the words of my mouth let those who implement this horrible crime see. I cannot bear to watch. All I can do is weep. How did we get to this horrible relentless place?

This is a debate about the state of public education in North Carolina.

First James D. Hogan, a former high school English teacher, wrote a scathing article about the war against public education in North Carolina, waged by the Governor and the Legislature against teachers, students, and public schools.

Then came a rebuttal by Brenda Berg, a spokesperson for business, saying that Hogan was wrong.

Now comes an article by North Carolina high school teacher Stuart Egan, refuting Brenda Berg, point by point.

Ms. Berg,

I read with great interest your essay, entitled “The real war on education in North Carolina.” It was a carefully crafted response to James Hogan’s widely circulated op-ed piece, entitled “The war on North Carolina’s public schools,” in which he explained actions taken in the last few years by a GOP-led General Assembly that have seriously handcuffed the public school system in our state.

You are certainly right in many respects: There is a war on public education and much of the rhetoric surrounding this war is “built on half-truths” and masterfully spun double-speak.

You responded to Hogan’s arguments in a very professional and matter-of-fact manner, taking each of his supporting points and rebutting them with your own information. Yet, I would be remiss in not offering some clarification and insights as a veteran North Carolinian educator who has seen much in these last few years. In many instances, you have not only misinterpreted the data, you have also not explained the whole picture.

The first item you “debunked” from Mr. Hogan’s article was his assertion that “Among their first targets: … cuts to public schools, including laying off thousands of teachers… The state lost thousands more teacher and teacher assistant positions.”
You countered with numbers from the Department of Public Instruction about how the number of teachers in the state has actually increased since 2008. You said:

“We don’t know where Mr. Hogan finds evidence for the layoff of thousands of teachers. The North Carolina Statistical Profile from the Department of Public Instruction shows that in 2008, North Carolina had 97,676 teachers. Since 2008, the largest decline in the number of teachers employed in North Carolina was between 2011 and 2012, when the state employed 641 fewer teachers. There is no evidence that teachers were laid off; rather, it is more likely that vacant positions remained unfilled. In 2012, the state hired an additional 1,357 teachers and since then, the number of teachers has grown to 98,988 in 2014.”

With this use of numbers, you appear correct, but you are actually ignoring one very important item: growth of population. North Carolina has grown tremendously in the last few years. In fact, the number of teachers in 2014 should have been much higher to keep the same student to teacher ratio we had in 2008. Instead, high school class size caps have been removed statewide, and teachers are teaching more students per day.

Add to that your observation that vacant positions were unfilled. That in and of itself tells one there is no longer a teacher employed to “fill” that position. The duties remain, but now others have to assume them along with already growing responsibilities. Two teachers now are doing the work of what three teachers did in 2008. Attrition rates, early retirement, and reduction in force (RIF) are all real forces in schools today, and the effect is akin to layoffs.

Furthermore, do the numbers you refer to include all of the teacher assistants, media assistants, administrators, and other classified personnel who are no longer employed?

The next item you attempted to debunk involved state funding for schools. Mr. Hogan said, “Two years later, in the last budget cycle, 2014-15, the legislature provided roughly $500 million less for education than schools needed.”
You countered with the PolitiFact claim that “In fact, by 2014-15, North Carolina was still spending $100 million less on public education than it had before the economic recession.” Then you further explained:

“North Carolina is spending more today on public education than it did before the economic recession, even when adjusted for inflation. The public education appropriation for the 2014-15 school year is $11,013,800,000—a significantly higher number than the $9,406,300,000 allocated in 2007, just before the Great Recession. When adjusted for inflation, North Carolina is also spending more per pupil now than in any of the ten previous years, with the exception of 2009, a peak budget year.”

Again, you simplified the numbers. There is more there and much of it has to do with population increase and the need to educate more students.

Let me use an analogy. Say in 2008, a school district had 1,000 students in its school system and spent $10 million dollars in its budget to educate them. That’s a $10,000 per-pupil expenditure. Now in 2015, that same district has 1,500 students and the school system is spending $11.5 million to educate them. According to your analysis, that district is spending more total dollars now than in 2008 on education, but the per-pupil expenditure has gone down, significantly by over $2,300 dollars per student or 23 percent.

A WRAL report from this past school year stated, “In terms of per-pupil spending, an NEA report ranks North Carolina 46th in the United States in 2014-15, up from 47th in 2013-14. But spending actually drops from $8,632 to $8,620 per student from last year to this year.” According to Governing magazine, even the Census Bureau confirms that we are spending less per student than in years past.

Mr. Hogan stated next, “And when Republicans finally acted to increase teacher pay, they claimed to make the biggest pay hike in state history–but in reality only bumped up paychecks by an average of $270 per year.”
Your rebuttal was:

“We find no evidence that supports Mr. Hogan’s claim that the teachers received on average a $270 increase in salary. The average salary for a North Carolina teacher in 2013, the year before the raise was added, was $44,990. If you multiply this number by the average percent raise, 6.9 percent (according to calculations from Fiscal Research), teachers received on average an additional $3,104 dollars on their annual paycheck, plus benefits….

In 2014, the General Assembly passed an average 6.9 percent raise for teachers. This year, both the House and the Senate have proposed additional teacher raises averaging 4 percent. Combined, this nearly 11 percent average raise makes significant progress toward addressing the 17.4 percent decline (adjusted for inflation) in salaries teachers experienced between 2003 and 2013.”

The operative word here is “average.” Beginning teachers saw an average pay hike of more than 10 percent, yet the more years a teacher had, the less of a “raise” was given. The result was an AVERAGE hike of 6.9 percent, but it was not an even distribution. In fact, some veterans saw a reduction in annual pay because much of the “raise” was funded with what used to be longevity pay. And as a teacher who has been in North Carolina for these past ten years, I can with certainty tell you that my salary has not increased by 6.9 percent.

Mr. Hogan’s claim that there was only an average salary increase of $270 comes when one takes the actual money allocated in the budget for the increase and dividing that evenly across the board.

That raise you refer to was funded in part by eliminating teachers’ longevity pay. Like an annual bonus, all state employees receive it—except, now, for teachers—as a reward for continued service. Yet the budget you mentioned simply rolled that longevity money into teachers’ salaries and labeled it as a raise.

In the point about out-of-state teacher recruitment, Mr. Hogan said, “Meanwhile, Texas and Virginia started actively recruiting North Carolina teachers to go work in their states. It didn’t take much to convince Tarheel teachers to flee…”

You responded:

“Relatively few North Carolina teachers are leaving to teach in other states, and fewer are leaving now than before the economic recession. The North Carolina Department of Public Instruction’s 2014 Teacher Turnover Report reports that only 455 left for this reason in 2014—just three percent of the 13,616 teachers who left their jobs last year. The percentage of teachers “fleeing” to other states was actually higher before the recession, as 3.5 percent of teachers in 2008 left to teach in other states.”

Editor’s Note: This paragraph in Berg’s original article has been corrected. It now states:

Relatively few North Carolina teachers are leaving to teach in other states, and rates have been relatively consistent since the economic recession. The North Carolina Department of Public Instruction’s 2014 Teacher Turnover Report reports that the percentage of teachers leaving for other states rose slightly in 2014 (734, or 5.4 percent) with fewer leaving (341, or 3.5 percent) in 2012, consistent with the rate in 2008 (467, or 3.5 percent).

Teachers are not simply leaving North Carolina to teach in other states; many are leaving the profession altogether. The 2014 Teacher Turnover Report only states the information given to DPI. Not all teachers who leave teaching jobs take the survey, but from what I have witnessed, many teachers leave the profession because they cannot simply afford to raise a family on a North Carolina teacher’s salary. Younger mothers cannot afford day care, and teachers in border counties are easily lured to other states. They do not have to be recruited.

Furthermore, other states like Texas have had recruitment fairs in the state, and highly publicized ones at that. Most notably were a couple done by the Houston Public Schools, who are now led by Terry Grier, the former Guilford County superintendent. He knows the conditions in North Carolina and took advantage of the situation. While he may not have taken entire faculties with him, the fact that he was actively recruiting in North Carolina shows how conditions have deteriorated in this state.

So many teachers left the Charlotte-Mecklenburg School System this past year (some estimate that it was more than 1,000), that the school system participated in over 50 job fairs, according to a May 25th WBTV report. As of two weeks ago, over 300 positions were still posted. And the CMS system is in a border county. Just look in York County, SC and see how many of their teachers were formerly employed by our state.

There is more. If you want to see a brilliant teacher, with no research assistant, doing a demolition job, keep reading.

You be the judge.

Fred Klonsky reports on his blog that Thereis a dangerous bill in the legislature that would wipe out all school funding and pensions and appoint acommission of legislators to start from scratch.

Since this is apparently Governor Bruce Rauner’s idea, you can be sure whatever happens will hurt the state’s public schools and benefit charters.

The bill has passed the State Senate and awaits action in the House.

Get involved. Speak out.

Stephanie Keiles is (or was) a math teacher in Ann Arbor, Michigan. She loves teaching. She loves her students. But the mandates and budget cuts finally got to her. I met Stephanie in Austin at the first Network for Public Education conference and again in Chicago at our second conference.

Here’s the piece:

I am sitting here in my lovely little backyard on a beautiful Michigan summer day, drinking a Fat Tire Amber Ale, and crying. I am in tears because today I made one of the hardest decisions of my life; I resigned from my job as a public school teacher. A job I didn’t want to leave — but I had to.

A little background. I didn’t figure out that I wanted to be a math teacher until I was 28. As a kid I was always told I was “too smart” to be a teacher, so I went to business school instead. I lasted one year in the financial world before I knew it was not for me. I read a quote from Millicent Fenwick, the (moderate) Republican Congresswoman from my home state of New Jersey, where she said that the secret to happiness was doing something you enjoyed so much that what was in your pay envelope was incidental. I quit my job as an analyst at a large accounting firm determined to find my passion. I floundered for a while, and then eventually got married and decided I would be a stay-at-home mom, but only until my kids were in school. Then I would need to find that passion.

I was pregnant with my oldest child, sitting on a sofa in Stockholm, Sweden, when I had my epiphany — I would be a math teacher. A middle school math teacher! I thought about it and it fit my criteria perfectly. No, I wasn’t thinking about the pension, or the “part-time” schedule, or any of the other gold-plated benefits that ignorant people think we go into the profession for. Two criteria: I would enjoy it, and I would be good at it. Nine years and four kids later, I enrolled in Eastern Michigan University’s Post-Baccalaureate teacher certification program, and first stepped into my own classroom at the age of 40. I was teaching high school, because that’s where I had my first offer, and I was given five classes of kids who were below grade-level in math. And I still loved it. I knew I had found my calling. After three years I switched districts to be closer to home and to teach middle school, where I belonged. I felt like I had died and gone to heaven! I was hired to teach in my district’s Talented and Gifted program, so I had two classes of 8th graders who were taking Honors Geometry, and three classes of general 8th grade math. This coming year I was scheduled to have five sections of Honors Geometry — all my students would be two, and sometimes three, years advanced in math. I was also scheduled to have my beloved first hour planning period, and I was excited to work with a new group of kids on Student Council. It was looking to be a great year — and I’m still walking away.

My friends, in real life and on Facebook, know what a huge supporter of public schools I am. I am a product of public schools, and my children are the products of public schools. Public education is the backbone of democracy, and we all know there is a corporatization and privatization movement trying to undermine it. I became an activist after Gov. Rick Snyder and his Republican goons took over Michigan and declared war on teachers. I am part of a group called Save Michigan’s Public Schools; two years ago we put on a rally for public education at the Capitol steps that drew over 1,000 people from all over the state with just three weeks’ notice and during summer break. I have testified in front of the Michigan House Education Committee against lifting the cap on charter schools, and also against Common Core. I attended both NPE conferences to meet with other activists and bring back ideas to my compadres in Michigan. I have been fighting for public education for five years now, and will continue to do so.

But I just can’t work in public education anymore. Coming from the Republicans at the state level and the Democrats at the national level, I have been forced to comply with mandates that are NOT in the best interest of kids. I am tired of having to perform what I consider to be educational malpractice, in the name of “accountability”. The amount of time lost to standardized tests that are of no use to me as a classroom teacher is mind-boggling. And when you add in mandatory quarterly district-wide tests, which are used to collect data that nothing is ever done with, it’s beyond ridiculous. Sometimes I feel like I live in a Kafka novel. Number one on my district’s list of how to close the achievement gap and increase learning? Making sure that all teachers have their learning goals posted every day in the form of an “I Can” statement. I don’t know how we ever got to be successful adults when we had no “I Can” statements on the wall.

In addition, due to a chronic, purposeful underfunding of public schools here in Michigan, my take-home pay has been frozen or decreased for the past five years, and I don’t see the situation getting any better in the near future. No, I did not go into teaching for the money, but I also did not go into teaching to barely scrape by, either. As a tenth-year teacher in my district, I would be making 16% less than a tenth-year was when I was hired in 2006. Plus I now have to pay for medical benefits, and 3% of my pay is taken out to fund current retiree health care, which has been found unconstitutional for all state employees except teachers. And I’m being asked to contribute more to my pension. Financial decisions were made based on anticipated future income that never materialized, for me and for thousands and thousands of other public school teachers. The thought of ANY teacher having to take a second job to support him/herself at ANY point in his/her career is disgusting to me, yet that’s what I was contemplating doing. At 53, with a master’s degree and twelve years of experience.

If I were poorly compensated but didn’t have to comply with asinine mandates and a lack of respect, that would be one thing. And if I were continuing my way up the pay scale but had to deal with asinine mandates, that would be one thing. But having to comply with asinine mandates AND watching my income, in the form of real dollars, decline every year? When I have the choice to teach where I will be better compensated and all educational decisions will be made by experienced educators? And I will be treated with respect? Bring it on.

So as of today I have officially resigned from my district, effective August 31st, which is when I will start my new job as a middle school math teacher at an independent school. I am looking forward to being treated like a professional, instead of a child, and I’m pretty sure I will never hear the words, “We can’t afford to give you a raise”, or worse (as in the past two years), “You’re going to have to take a pay cut.” I am looking forward to not having to spend hundreds and hundreds of dollars on classroom supplies. And the free lunch, catered by a local upscale market, will be pretty sweet, too.

I will miss my colleagues more than you could ever know, especially my math girls and my Green Hall buddies. It really breaks my heart to leave such a wonderful group of people. In fact, it’s pretty devastating. But I have to do what’s best for me in the long run, and the thought of making more money and teaching classes of 15 instead of 34, and especially not having to deal with all the BS, was too much to refuse.

I will always be there to fight for public education. I just can’t teach in it.


James D. Hogan, a former high school AP English teacher who now works for a liberal arts college in North Carolina, spells out the dramatic changes in his state over the past few years. He reaches a considered and dire conclusion: “North Carolina is waging war against public education.”

He describes in horrifying detail how the state legislature and Governor has systematically attacked the teaching profession, literally driving experienced teachers out of the state, and opened every possible avenue for privatization and profiteering.

At a time when public education is under attack in many states (often with the silent assent or the active approval of the Obama administration), North Carolina may well be the worst and meanest state in the nation.

In this brilliant article, Hogan writes:

Let me begin by saying that I am often no fan of hyperbole. We live in an era in which blog titles like this one are used as click bait, lures to entice–and, really, to enrage–readers and provide as little meat on the figurative bone as possible.

But I really mean it when I say this: North Carolina is waging war against public education.

From the rise of mega-testing companies and the policies that mandate them, to the widespread adoption of common curriculum, to the years of economic struggle following the Great Recession, public schools have endured substantial stress, and they may very well look substantially altered by the end of this decade. The biggest change? Public education is wholly political, evenly divided and polarized by factions on the left and right. What I call war, others may call a revolution.

Make no mistake, however. Our state is dismantling its public education system. And it didn’t have to be this way–the pathway that brought us here was paved with underfunded budgets, tactical strikes against public school teachers, fundamental changes in how charter schools operate and how tax dollars can go to private or religious schools, and the erosion of our hallowed University of North Carolina. In other words, not the failure of public education.

Why? That’s the question I most often found myself asking. Why would our state government work so hard to threaten public education? Who could have the audacity, or the political capital, to take on such an assault?….

When North Carolina Republicans took control of the state government in 2012, they quickly set into motion a sweeping agenda to enact conservative social reforms and, more importantly, vastly change how the state spends its money. It was the first time in more than a century that Republicans enjoyed such political dominance in our state.

What brought them all to town? A good reason: in the 2011-12 budget year, North Carolina projected a multi-billion dollar deficit, enough to rank the state among the worst budget offenders in the country and bring a new slate of elected legislators to Raleigh. So Republicans, with a clear mandate to clean up the fiscal mess in November 2012, set to work righting the ship.

What does a state like ours spend money on? Public education, including higher education, consumes about a third of North Carolina’s budget. Health and Human Services, including the state’s Medicaid and unemployment programs, composes an even larger slice, about 37.5 percent.

Other state programs make up little bits and pieces: nearly 8 percent on transportation and highways, 5.5 percent on public safety, 9 percent on natural and economic resources.

In other words, if you want to make big cuts, public education is one of two really big targets.

After that landslide election in 2012, legislators began sharpening their knives.

A Fury of Budget Cuts

Among their first targets: reductions in unemployment benefits, cuts to public schools, including laying off thousands of teachers, and a massive, nearly half-billion dollar slash from the University of North Carolina.

Two years later, in the last budget cycle, 2014-15, the legislature provided roughly $500 million less for education than schools needed.

Later in the 2013 session, though, the most radical changes in state financing fell into place. Republicans reconstructed the state’s tax code, relieving the burden on corporations and wealthy residents. They continued to take aim at other parts of the education budget, cutting More at Four program dollars and decreasing accessibility for poor families. The state lost thousands more teacher and teacher assistant positions. The bloodletting was fierce. More on that in a minute.

Across the state, local education districts were faced with budget deficits of considerable proportion after legislators hacked away their funding. School systems raided fund balances, rainy day funds set aside for things like natural disasters, not political ones. Elsewhere, employees were furloughed, teachers were laid off, teacher assistants were forced to take other jobs or lose their classroom positions, and so forth. Non-personnel funding disappeared. Textbooks stayed in circulation another year. Buildings were patched together instead of replaced. Education Week called ours “The Most Backward Legislature in America.”

Republicans defended these austerity measures by saying that lower taxes would eventually yield fiscal growth. And they were right. This year, the government is enjoying a $445 million surplus–a clear victory in light of those multi-billion dollar deficits of yore–but still a statistically small number in light of the state’s $21 billion budget (about two percent), especially after considering that our state budget is still smaller than it was in 2011.

In fact, by 2014-15, North Carolina was still spending $100 million less on public education than it had before the economic recession. And over the past ten years, public schools added more than 150,000 additional students. No Republican legislator can honestly say that per pupil expenditures across the state have increased in the last six years.

Taking Aim at Teachers

Curiously, the Republican-held capital didn’t stop at defunding education. They also took aim at teachers.

NC teachers are prohibited by law from unionizing, but they did have a common advocacy group in the North Carolina Association of Educators. In 2011, the legislature passed a law targeting how the group collects dues from member teachers. Then-Governor Bev Purdue vetoed it. In 2012, the law made its way back to Purdue, who vetoed again–but the House overrode it during a sneaky, late-night vote. (The law was later found to be discriminatory, retaliatory, and a violation of free speech and thrown out by state courts.)

But with teacher’s main advocacy group effectively muzzled, the legislature was free to run rampant, and teachers quickly came under fire.

Teacher salaries fell to 46th in the nation and worst in the south after five years with zero pay increases. And when Republicans finally acted to increase teacher pay, they claimed to make the biggest pay hike in state history–but in reality only bumped up paychecks by an average of $270 per year. When you factored inflation into the mix, teachers were losing money.

Meanwhile, Texas and Virginia started actively recruiting North Carolina teachers to go work in their states. It didn’t take much to convince Tarheel teachers to flee–especially after some teachers discovered they earned substantially less money than when they started thanks to inflation.

In case pitiful paychecks weren’t enough to deter teachers from returning to work, the legislature next took aim at teacher tenure. The Republican-led proposal initially was to eliminate tenure altogether, but eventually they came up with a plan that would grant teachers pay raises for giving up their career status. It was, as I wrote then, a clever way of getting rid of veteran teachers.

Eventually, that compromise became law, and teachers state-wide began the effort of figuring out if their career status or their retirement pension was more important–and once again, the court stepped in and overturned the law. Another legislative overreach corrected by the courts.

(This year, just for kicks, the NC Senate is proposing an end to teacher healthcare coverage in retirement. “That’s something that should have been done a long time ago,” state Rep. Gary Pendleton said.)

The assault didn’t stop with the assaults on new and tenured teachers. It continued on teacher preparation programs, including the North Carolina Teaching Fellows Program.

The Teaching Fellows program was arguably one of the best teacher prep scholarships in the nation; it celebrated a better retention rate than its federal cousin, Teach For America, and it produced droves of quality teachers who filled hard-up school classrooms. Its budget was a modest one, and yet Republicans uprooted it from the state budget and killed the entire program.

This year, with its final class of scholars graduating college, the program officially flat-lined. State Teacher of the Year Keana Triplett called the legislature’s shuttering of the Teaching Fellows “the single biggest mistake in public education.”

The result? Enrollment in teacher prep programs in the UNC system has dropped 27 percent in the last five years. A teacher shortage is just around the corner.

First, weaken schools. Then print parents a ticket out–and into for-profit schools….

Let’s review. With an unassailable, veto-proof majority, North Carolina Republicans seized control of this state and unleashed a devastating blow to public schools.

They have systematically pared budgets to the bone. They have insulted, antagonized, and demoralized teachers through stingy salary offerings–and they’ve muted the organization that had for many years protected them.

Make no mistake: this is a war against public education. Teachers are losing. I have been reading and writing about education in North Carolina for several years now, and while it might not always appear obvious, our state has formed a cohesive and coordinated attack against public schools.

Public education is at risk. And with every measure–every budget cut, every insult, every weakening–our school house slides toward complete devastation.

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