Looking Toward the Educational Future

The past two years have been brutal. And I do mean brutal. If we just took Common Core, Race to the Top, etc it would have been enough to run most out of the teaching profession. Then once you lump in the charter surrender and the explosion of charter schools, ASD, etc, it has been overwhelming.

Public education has been and will always be one of the key components to a successful existence. But it does not come even close to solving all of our societal problems. So I think at some point, we cannot setup the education system for failure by expecting it to save our society. And unfortunately, public school policy is now being influenced and dictated by many as a means to level the socio-economic playing field. This is how common core really came into being.

With all of that being said, I think it is important to bring the education back to the local body. It must be customized for the children,community, and culture that it serves. One size fit all does not work. It must have the flexibility to educate the least and challenge the most.

I moved to Bartlett in 1986(11) as part of the group that migrated out of Raleigh. I went to Shadowlawn Middle and graduated from Bartlett High School in 1994. I met my wife at BHS. I out down my roots in Bartlett, had children here, and remain when many that we grew up with moved on and moved out. But so many have remained and love this community and want to continue to see it thrive.

Education was the key component to the boom in Bartlett in the 70’s and 80’s. And it is the key to long term sustainability. This also applies to Arlington, Lakeland, Millington, Germantown, and Collierville. So I fully expect those of us in these areas to vote overwhelmingly in favor of these new school districts. And I fully support doing so..

The resources that were once dedicated in Shelby County Schools to provide quality staffing models, maintenance, great principals has been damaged substantially. And that has only one reason: The needs of an urban schools district and suburban school district are different. Urban school districts have to focus more resources into feeding, clothing, providing dental and health care, providing ample security, and every other wrap around service you can imagine. Suburban schools did not have to fund those needs and was able to put it into education.

Even when these new districts form, poverty will remain in the county. But strong suburban areas of the county are so important to the long-term viability of Shelby. So as I think about some of these districts, the following thoughts come to mind:

1) Bartlett is not Germantown, Arlington, Lakeland, Millington, or Collierville and vice-versa – each community is unique in its culture, its business environment, and resources. These school districts will have unique needs that will need to be tailored and matched to the vision of the cities.

2) Education is an investment but it does not have to break the bank. There are not unlimited amounts of money to educate children. But there are substantially better ways to invest money in education that how we are doing it today. Central offices should be minimized and the right resources should be pushed into the schools.

3) Innovation and 21st century education must converge in these districts. We should not be doing education the same way we did it 10 years ago.

4) Good teachers are worth paying a premium and should have more measurements than just standardized testing.

5) Strong principals are one of the keys to driving school success and should have more skill than just being an educator. They should be educators, innovators, motivators, and business managers. They should be empowered to hire teachers  that fit the vision for that schools and that can meet the unique needs of that school.

6) A good superintendent is needed to execute the vision of the district. I mention execute because this person will be involved with not only strategy development and execution and school level but at the municipal level. Superintendent soft skills are key to community buy-in, alderman buy-in, and employee loyalty. These must also be advocates, innovators, good business managers. And one key that I find most important is vested in the community they are serving.

Education Sustainability in Shelby County – The Next Discussion

Against the backdrop of the first two weeks of school, it seems that many of us are finding that our concerns in merging into such a large school district had merit. There is no doubt that merging these two systems, reallocating resources across the county, and adopting what we would refer to as “best practices” has only equated into a costly experiment in futility. Although spend is now down. Service levels are abysmal in the areas of central office customer service, transportation, and last but not least staffing levels. So I think we all realize is that bigger is not better. It just costs more.

While this may song like a broken record, it really is a microcosm of other political realities that we are facing. You can marry the same results to the laws like t he Family Affordable Care act which has seen benefit costs increase and quality decrease all in the name of “efficiency and cost savings”.

So what is the long term prognosis of public education when you factor in all current reform efforts today in Shelby County? It really boils down to two areas: Money and Education Quality.. Both are interwoven.. Shelby County Schools has budget of 1.2 billion dollars for general fund alone. 53% of that amount comes from the state of TN. 44% comes from Shelby County. ¬†47.5% of property tax are appropriated for education .361 million dollars from the county commission. Debt Service fund pays $163,859,000 a year to pay for capital funded projects. Over 1 billion of the county’s bond debt is school construction related or close to 80% or 131 million a year.

So when we add up the numbers from Shelby County we get 492 million just from the county or roughly 3.08 on the tax rate.

So we spend 3.08 on our county tax bill and expect a certain level of service when it comes to education delivery. However, baked into those costs are significant non-educated costs the continue to put pressure on the quality of education. However, the non-education costs are critical depending on your school.

The real lesson out of this merger is that there are significant differences in cost structures for urban, suburban, and rural schools. A uniform model applied throughout without considering those is what we have today. And it is causing less quality operationally and in some aspects educationally.

So what is the problem? Unsustainable funding, poor quality, cookie cutter solutions that raise operational costs(non-scalable)

How do we fix the problem?

In the situation for a large district that cannot scale, it only make sense to break it apart and support the unique characteristics of each community. The county provides a baseline of services but the enhanced quality has to be driven by those in the community that desires it. On the whole, our county is poor.. Maybe we don’t all realize that but it is true. And trying to balance the overwhelming poor on the backs of the few is not sustainable and ultimately creates what we had in Detroit. No money at all…

So where is our starting point? What can we fix now and later…