JCPS board member outlines why he can't support budget proposal - WDRB 41 Louisville News

JCPS board member outlines why he can't support budget proposal

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JCPS school board member Chris Brady JCPS school board member Chris Brady

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- A Jefferson County Board of Education member is speaking out against a district proposal that would increase class sizes and potentially eliminate assistant principals from some elementary schools.

Chris Brady, who represents District 7 in southwestern Jefferson County, sent an email out about noon on Wednesday to his colleagues and constituents in order to give JCPS "administration time to put together an alternate proposal if this one isn’t approved."

"I just want to put it out there that there could be an alternative plan," Brady told WDRB News. "I cannot support the proposal as it stands."

The district's newest proposal, sent to principals on Saturday and shared with the school board on Monday, appears to scale back on an initial plan to increase class sizes by as many as three students, but could still mean fewer teachers at some schools.

The proposal would keep the district's teacher funding allocation capped at one teacher per 24 students in grades K-3, but it would increase by one student across all other grades. Fourth and fifth grade allocations would increase from 24-1 to 25-1, while sixth through twelfth grades would increase from 28-1 to 29-1.

Officials say increasing the class size by one student in 4-12th grade classrooms would mean about $5.5 million in teaching resources that could be used elsewhere, although Superintendent Donna Hargens has maintained that the goal of the proposal is not to save money, but to "deploy teachers where we need them the most."

Officials say the reductions don't necessarily mean the schools will lose teachers, just the funding that is associated with those positions and that the schools can try to find savings elsewhere.

The funding allocations will be up for school board approval on Jan. 26.

Brady's full email is below: 

Dear Colleagues,

In the spirit of no surprises, and because we didn’t have enough time to fully discuss the allocation proposal, I’m communicating my position about this issue and my reasoning behind it.  I’m appreciative of our new CBO for looking outside of the box to find more funding to support our recently approved strategy.  However, increasing class size, even by a little, isn’t conducive and runs counter to the achievement goals of this district.

My experience as an educator at the public school, university, and private sector levels is smaller class size is always better for deeper learning and understating of the material being taught.  My own children also believe this to be true.  Their classroom experience last Friday matched what was communicated by the Dear JCPS speakers during at our last meeting.  They spoke of getting more accomplished, zero behavior issues, and better participation, due to inability to hide in a small class.

The administration has said data shows classroom size doesn’t really affect learning.  I believe this notion to be inaccurate as it depends on what research is reviewed and how those programs were executed.  One speaker during the last meeting mentioned a Center for Public Education report which examined this research and methods, a link to which is provided below.  The report concludes, “Even in light of findings that suggest no relationship between class size and student achievement, the preponderance of the evidence supports positive effects and academic gains when class size reduction programs in the primary grades are well-designed and properly implemented.”

I find the idea that this isn’t a budget cut to schools or a reduction in teachers misleading.  Teachers hold specific certifications based on content area and grade level.  I fear the first teachers to be “reallocated” will be from the arts.  If it were possible to simply move teachers like widgets, which it isn’t, then do we really expect band, choir, and art teachers to be ready to teach mathematics, language, and reading to priority school students, especially ESL students? 

Another possible change was to eliminate the Assistant Principal positions from some elementary schools.  Assistant Principals (AP) at the elementary level are a relatively recent addition at these schools.  An AP can perform evaluations, enforce discipline, communicate with parents, and other administrative functions that a teacher cannot.  Having an AP provides school principals the latitude to oversee the school while not being buried by administrative minutia.

Additionally, all middle schools face a reduction in staff under this proposal.  While I agree early childhood is a critical time of development, middle school is equally critical and perhaps more challenging for students.  We consistently see performance drops, discipline incidents increase, and a market share reduction at this level.  Middle school is when class size increases.  Adding additional students to these classes is a mistake.

Other concerns are reductions in class offerings, class scheduling, advance program limitation or elimination from some schools, and increased teacher workload, among others.

JCPS has many new principals who are still learning the ropes of their position and school.  An across the board change such as this can upend the learning curve for these new administrators.  I’m an “open door” type of guy when it comes to communications and value the “boots on the ground” view of our teachers and principals.  It is telling that so many principals turned out for the Board work session on this subject and speaks volumes about the magnitude of their concerns.    

The recently approved Vision 2020 strategic plan articulates how the Board wants to move the district forward.  However, it shouldn’t be used as a device to justify change for the sake of change.  Changes on this scale need to be well thought out and time needs to be taken to fully understand implications. The CBO and the Superintendent have spoken about the accelerated pace of this proposal due to a looming self-imposed deadline.  This Board member made the mistake of voting for an underdeveloped plan last year regarding our alternative schools and has regretted it since.  I learned my lesson well and don’t intend to make that mistake again.

Alright, it’s not enough to say, “no” without contributing a possible solution.  Therefore, this is what I think we can do to save money.  Like this proposal, it won’t be popular, it’ll be controversial and painful, and not everyone will agree.

First, examine the many programs JCPS funds and determine if they’re effective.  In the past, the Board has received reports that attendance of some programs has been sparse and/or effectiveness questionable considering the investment.  Apparently, the administration has done this with the extended learning program (without informing the Board).  We should continue to look at other programs as well.   

Second, close Frost Middle School.  This has nothing to do with the staff or students at that school, but everything to do with location, location, location.  This shouldn’t be anything new, I’ve expressed my concerns about the environmental conditions around this school and its impact on learning and health (see attached email and link below).  We spend a good deal of funds transporting students to this building since there are really no students living to the south and west of the school from which to pull.  It is far from capacity and these students can be absorbed by other schools.  My guess is a savings of about $1 million per year in operating cost.

Third, close Minors Lane Elementary for some of the same reasons as Frost.  The neighborhood that once surrounded this school is gone and the location is now zoned for industrial use.  Additionally, there is speculation that this area being considered as an alternate location of the recently withdrawn bio-digester project.  My guess is a savings of about $500K per year in operating cost.

Last, evaluate if it would be better to sell some facilities in valuable commercial areas and replace them with better, more efficient buildings closer to students.  Although not a budget cut, this could result in long-term operational savings for the district and improve student outcomes.  

This is only one way to save money and I’m sure a variety of better proposals than mine can and will be presented.  My sense of the Board, is there are at least three (perhaps five) other members opposed to this proposal.  Since the reasoning is this has to be approved at the next meeting due to the size of our district, I want to give the administration time to put together and alternate proposal if this one isn’t approved.  There should be no excuse to say we have to approve this due to statute or operational impact, because there is no other plan.

Due to the time limitation of the work session and to be transparent, I’ve cc’ed stakeholders on this e-mail in an effort to inform them of my position.  Since I don’t have permission to share their e-mail addresses, they are blind cc’ed.

Sincerely,

Chris

About 50 of the district's principals attended Monday's work session with the school board. None of them were asked to be there, they attended because they are concerned about funding.

"We care about our schools and want what's best for the entire district," said Allyson Vitato, principal at Breckinridge Franklin Elementary. "As principals, we are together as an entire group."

Brady is the second school board member to speak out publicly about the budget. 

Board member Stephanie Horne, who represents District 3 in northeastern Jefferson County, posted this to Facebook on Tuesday:

Thought I'd share my thoughts on the current JCPS budget proposal. I do not support the proposal.

The JCPS School Board should be multiplying successful schools and supporting them. Around the country, in many other KY public school districts, and in Louisville the Catholic system got real several years ago. They looked at empty, low performers and closed, consolidated, surplused, and operationally became more efficient.

How can JCPS management propose budget cuts to schools that effect children's learning and teacher's teaching while in the same breath continuing to divert funds to fill the 17 million dollar deficit in state reimbursements in the JCPS transportation line items.

The current JCPS management proposal is not the answer I believe. Failure can lead to better decisions and suggestions to problems.

If you look beyond the percentages and at the actual number of students in poverty the proposal moves funding away from students in poverty. There are huge numbers of FRL children in large A-1 schools, more than some schools have in their total enrollment, yet these students are denied any additional resources to meet their academic, college/career readiness, and social-emotional needs! Ex. Ballard has 713 children who are FRL living in poverty, Eastern has 681 children who are FRL living in poverty, Male has 621 children who are FRL living in poverty (from the 2015/16 JCPS data book). These schools have more FRL children in poverty than Shawnee & Waggener. In fact, not only are no additional resources planned for these students, the proposed changes are taking funds out of our school budget that could have been used for initiatives for helping these children. Not only will there be a loss of teachers, but the loss of the opportunity to get Section 7 funds, which are meant to be used to serve at-risk students. There are achievement and opportunity gaps within A-1 resides schools that must be addressed. Diverting resources that serve these needs from the very students in need is not something I can support.

Schools that are meeting expectations, as well as schools that are high-performing, should not be penalized for their success, but that also appears to be the effect of the budget proposal.

Overall appears that the quality of education in the classroom would be placed at risk by the proposal. Under the proposal there is a real threat of elimination of remediation teachers and/or arts/music educators.

I have yet to hear evidence that increasing funding to low-performing schools will solve the long-standing problems that those schools have experienced within the District.

A reduction of teachers even in a high-performing school will still have an adverse impact on the ability of the school to meet the needs of all of its students. This could have a detrimental impact on course offerings, and the ability of children to learn from teachers with specialized experience in their respective fields. Additionally, it will be more difficult to offer a broader variety of offerings that meets the individual educational needs of each student.

The irony. The Board is on record as being against charter schools yet Charter School advocates couldn't ask for a more perfect storm. If this proposal is passed will the communities most adversely affected question the rationale for belonging to JCPS when resources (and children) are constantly and consistently being moved from one part of town to another with very little benefit to our local schools (or to the children transported into them). In a number of years, well past when our children are out of the school system, proposals like this work to severe the connections between the community and JCPS. Will we see one or more independent schools, systems or charters break off and try their hand at serving the local students?

Again, thank you for your advocacy and efforts to help make our public schools better, and to help JCPS management come to a better solution to the budget woes.

Best regards,
Steph Horne

Board member Chuck Haddaway also publicly opposed the proposal at Monday's work session. 

Principals are expected to receive their school's allocation on Feb. 2 and Hudson said they will have until Feb. 17 to alert the district "if they think something is wrong."

Reporter Antoinette Konz can be reached at 585-0838 or @tkonz on Twitter.

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