The National Superintendent Search – I Cannot Support

Over the past few months, there has been an effort  to conduct a superintendent search.

From a historical standpoint, two votes were taken several months ago. One vote was to not renew Kriner Cash’s contract. I think that was the right thing to do at the time to make sure that there was a path to one superintendent. We also had a subsequent vote to not renew John Aitken’s contract that failed. Again ,I believe it was the right vote to make sure that John remained in place through the remainder of his contract in 2015.

However, a movement still emerged to conduct a national search for a superintendent with the thought that the process would create a legitimate superintendent that all communities could rally behind. That makes sense to me if I thought that was realistic. However, I do not think it is realistic.

As a result, a superintendent ad hoc committee was formed to create a process for a superintendent search. This committee met for several weeks and created a process for a national search. That process has been finalized and reviewed by our board. Tomorrow night, we will take a final vote to approve the process to move forward with a superintendent search.

I have been in opposition to a national superintendent search since this has started. As a matter of fact, I oppose any superintendent search at this time. I like John Aitken. However, my reasons are based more in tangible impacts.

I believe that it is reckless and irresponsible to conduct a superintendent search during the middle of a merger. We currently have significant impacts to teachers, administrators, and students due to the change in state laws on how we measure progress and how we evaluate teachers. The testing component is extremely rigorous and the pressure is breaking even our best teachers. After you layer on this poorly timed and reckless charter surrender, you create an environment that is not conducive to exemplary learning and impact educational outcomes. We stand to lose so many great teachers to retirement this year which could substantially impact the quality of the SCS and MCS systems.

Much like any leader that is loved and brings district stability, John Aitken is a stabilizing force in the SCS district. John Aitken has:

1) Been involved in every facet of merger planning from TPC meetings to development of the overall merger plan.

2) Sat in front of the county commission and asked for funding for the new district and pushed all to begin merger implementation

3) Been there to console and walk with so many of our people in the district due to teacher deaths and tragedies.

4) Has been at every board meeting standing up for what he thinks is right for this district

5) TN Superintendent of the Year

John is needed to steer the merger through its completion and be allowed to serve out his contract. However, I believe that a vote to conduct a national superintendent search by its very nature tells John that he is not the guy. John does not deserve to be treated this way and our educators do not deserve more instability.

I feel very strongly about the need to create a continuum of leadership through the end of the merger. If John is not going to be that guy, then  i would be open to buying out his contract. I also believe that a national superintendent search will yield  no more quality than what we have today. If John is not the man, than I would be open to renewing Kriner Cash’s contract for an extra year to finish guiding us through the merger.

But a national superintendent search I cannot and will not support at this time. It may be the right move to salve political promises and create a false sense of “unity” but it is NOT in the best interest of our educators.

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Resolution Supporting Early Childhood Continuum

Resolution to Recognize Early Childhood Education as a Budget Priority

WHEREAS , The Shelby County School Board is charged with operating the Shelby Countyschools as it deems fit in compliance with state and federal mandates in order to ensure the best and most appropriate education for all Shelby County children entrusted to its care;

WHEREAS, The Board is the governing body of the Shelby County school system responsiblefor policy development and oversight, educational planning, and fiscal management, among other things;

WHEREAS, in fulfilling its fiscal management duties, the Board is provided with funding from federal, state, and county funds to be allocated through a budget process;

WHEREAS, as an integral part of the Board’s duties and responsibilities pertaining toeducational planning and fiscal management, it must develop and approve a budget that bestreflects the community’s expectations of the schools;

WHEREAS, as evidenced by the thorough research conducted by the Urban Child Institute and disseminated in its 2012 Data Book, it is incumbent that our community focuses on as many avenues as possible to provide children with early childhood learning opportunities;

WHEREAS, in acknowledging and supporting the early childhood education research by the Urban Child Institute, the Board values the academic success and well-being of all our children and is dedicated and committed to creating a budget that will support educational programs and operations designed to perpetuate an educational continuum beginning with early childhood (i.e. pre-K programs) through and including career/college ready adults;

BE IT THEREFORE RESOLVED THAT, The Shelby County School Board, through itsbudget process for the upcoming 2013/14 School Year, will focus its budget priorities on educational and operational programs designed to support an educational continuum designed toaddress, including but not limited to, early childhood education.

 

Submitted by:

 

Dr. Jeffrey Warren

The 1/2 Cent Sales Tax Increase – The Reason to Not approve it

There is much debate currently raging in regards to the proposed 1/2 cent sales tax increase for Shelby County. And rightly so… This referendum is ill-timed and very premature. Let me paint the picture for you.

The Shelby County School Board is staring down the barrel of at least a 60 million dollar deficit next year based upon the TPC plan. If all recommendations are accepted by the TPC plan, the gp would be 60 million, give or take a million. Before the recommended cuts, the gap is 150 million dollars.

The Shelby County School Board is looking at raising 60 million in new revenues. The 1/2 cent sales tax would yield around 30 million dollars. However, that leaves a gap of 30 million dollars.The next logical source of revenue will be a countywide property tax increase. The county commission can only raise the county property tax rate 10% in one year which would equate to a .40 cent tax increase. .40 cents would yield around 64 million dollars for education.

In all, the county   the 1/2 cent sales tax increase and a .40 cent property tax could raise around 98 million dollars for education if they so choose. To cover the 30 million dollar gap, the countywide property tax will have to be raised around .19 cents.

So voters must understand that they will face at a minimum and double tax increase in the county. Half from a sales tax and half from property taxes. Layered on top of this is the fact that sales tax proponents are advocating that the sales tax increase will got to fund universal pre-k. I can tell you that this is not true.

By the way, over the next 5 years our funding gaps get worse as key provisions of Norris-Todd require that we level salaries, etc. We also have key federal dollars and state dollars expiring that support pre-k.

So the question that I am asked is: Why should we not approve the sales tax? Because it undermines the unified board’s job to create a lean, effective district. We will see subsequent property tax increases every year until we figure out how to balance our budget.

And I believe that I have a solution for long-term solvency without a tax increase. We can close the funding gaps and fund pre-k without a property tax and sales tax increase. Here is how:

We start by adopting all recommendations in the TPC plan. However, instead of just firing staff, we create a broad district wide buy-out program that applies to everyone. It would be voluntary would target particular pockets of the work force. Mostly highly paid, long-tenured, and retirement ready administrators and teachers. This would allow us to drastically reduce our salary and benefit costs and allow for some fresh new faces in the district. Some positions will not be backfilled and some would be.

Let me provide an example:

We have a long-tenured professional who is making 80K per year loaded. If they took the buy-out, we could provide for examples a severance of 30K. If we brought on a new teacher for 50K loaded, we could save 30 K per year. If we did that with 500 people, that is a 15 million savings beginning year 1. If we decided not to backfill, it would be a 40 million dollar savings. We would create a  buy-out fund and pay severance out of the buy-out fund. This would be a collaborative effort between SCS, Memphis, and Shelby County Commission.

We also have a very heavy central administration that will need to be cut as well. Many administrators making 130-160K a year. All duplication of efforts.

The reality is that we have not gotten creative to fix our funding issues. And we need a long-term, sustainable model so we do not need subsequent revenue increases.

However, if this 30 million dollar sales tax passes, we now have no incentive to drive efficiency.The best way to drive us to meet our budget is to put us in a position to have to do it. If you do not, you will see tax increase after tax increase.

And none of us what those…

$130,000 Legal Bill

Today, I finally received word from the judge that he would not order the county to pay the legal fees for the 5 school board members who fought against the merger. Total Bill: 130K. That would place the bill at ~$26,000 per member.

The question of the day has been: Why would you be crazy enough to enter that fight and place your financial viability on the line and then ask the Shelby County taxpayers to pick up the tab? Great question with an easily explainable answer.

The outside counsel of Shelby County schools who filed the original complaint asking for a declaratory judgement on how the districts would be merged informed the board members at the time that a litigation strategy that involved both the legal entity known as the board of education could be strengthened by individual claims of property rights in seats. At the time, the county commission was moving forward with declaring our seats vacant, which we felt was illegal. Our entry into the fight would also create another party to help dictate and drive an outcome as part of the consent decree. So the reality is that this litigation was part of a multi-pronged strategy to preserve suburban board voices during the merger process.

As the case went on, the 5 of us had significant input into the judge’s consent decree that was created. Things like the 23 member board, etc were part of what we helped to craft. As parties to the lawsuit, we helped to make sure that Public Chapter 1 (Norris-Todd) ruled the day and that municipalities would have the ability to have their own districts.

So the gamble paid off although formally we did not prove that we prevailed(per the judge), we won by giving our constituencies a voice at the judges table. That cost the 5 of us collectively 130K to make sure it happened.

I believed that since this was part of the original strategy to make sure Public Chapter One ruled the day and suburban voices were preserved, that the offending party (the county commission) should be responsible for picking up the tab. Also, Scott Bennett was a far more effective attorney at the judge’s table then the outside firm brought in by SCS. The reality is that our private attorney drove much of the outcome. Again, a good reason for the funding to be provided by the county. 

So the next question is: Where will you as a group come up with 130K and how will you individually come up with 26K? The answer to the question for me is simple. I don’t have 26K to pay the bill at this point but it will get paid. If that is via fundraiser, cutting grass, or bagging groceries, i am a firm believer that if you make the commitment then you pay it.

I remember when first faced with this decision looking at my wife and saying, I can’t do it and place our family at risk. But after praying and reflection, the answer to me was that “if not you, then who will do it for them?” I just trusted God that his provision on the other side of this case would prevail. It just looks like it will not come from the county.

All of that said, I am glad that this is behind me. But it left a $26,000 scar. However, my people and their children were worth  it…

Manipulating the Electorate

Yesterday, a joint press conference was held by Memphis Mayor AC Wharton in regards to the Shelby County Sales Tax referendum next month. Originally, the Memphis City Council voted to raise its sales tax and when that happened Shelby County voted to place it on the ballot for November.

However, yesterday, the mayor and Shea Flinn along with many other distinguished guests came together in lock step to support the county sales tax. It seems that the action that sealed the deal was a commitment to Wharton and Flinn that the monies collected from the Shelby County Sales Tax for schools would go to fund expansion of pre-k programs for all of Shelby County.

Two weeks ago Jeff Warren brought a resolution that stated the SCS would use all proceeds from the Sales Tax increase to go to fund pre-k. Obviously, a resolution stating this and approved by our board would have been reason for Wharton to believe that this would happen. However, Jeff modified the language since the will of the board was that it was ill-timed, illogical, and irresponsible to commit those kind of funds to an optional program. With more than a 60 million dollar gap to close without pre-k, it was very unlikely that we ould have the funds to increase this program.

The next week Jeff Warren brought a new proposal that stated the SCS would aspire to make pre-k funding a priority. That measure passed as it was largely aspirational. I opposed on the grounds that we needed to determine all of our priorities before we waded into this one. It passed this past Thursday night.

All of these actions by Warren were nothing more than a justification for Wharton to support the sales tax. However, the SCS did NOT approve any document that stated our commitment to fund these programs at all.

With that said, either Wharton knows this and is twisting and distorting the board action or he is being misled. The reality is that the message that is being presented to Memphis and Shelby County at-large is that they can tell you where this money is going and dictate board actions.

They cannot… and the unfortunate actions taken yesterday are just one of many untruthful, lies to the public to manipulate them into approving a sales tax.. Sad but unequivocally true…