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School Board’s priorities wrong

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By Bill O’Connor –

In our first installment we reported on a mom’s observed breaches of security at Atkinson Elementary. In the second we addressed the BOPE ceding its responsibility to the School Administration. This week let’s look at the value received for the money spent and where it comes from. Money which touches us in so many mostly good ways is the gateway drug to the American Dream, our American Dream. It is rightly the concern and responsibility of all of us to demand that public money be used wisely, well, in the open and not, in our school system, continue as just a spiraling addiction to more.

We all have a pretty good idea of the meaning of the term “Public Record.” But the Board of Public Education (BOPE) and Henderson County Public Schools (HCPS) have a different view of it than most of us. They claim that they only have to account to us for the 20% of their budget that comes directly from county funds. The money that pays for the education of our children comes to the school system from three directions. Roughly speaking, 65% comes from the state, 20% from the county, and 15% from the national government. We the People understand that all of the money comes from our wallets and any documents that record how it is expended is a Public Record necessarily open to any citizen who wants to see it.

The state provides every school district, with minor redistributive amounts, the same support. Likewise the Feds send money to each of the states, again with a bit of redistribution. As for the source of the money, we know the county gets its money straight from us; mostly from property taxes. The state gets its money from our taxes, plus some in transfers from Washington. And Washington gets 60 cents on the dollar from taxes and borrows the rest, $1.4 trillion last year, from our great grandchildren.

One hundred cents on the education dollar comes from our taxes or borrowing in our name, and just the same is true of every school district in the country. The BOPE/HCPS see it differently. They claim not to recognize what is obvious to all; that other levels of government have nowhere to get money but from us. And if you or I want to see the books, we have the right to see them all.

We find in our county schools a dozen or so kids every year whose performance is spectacular. They are assisted by dedicated teachers and HCPS staffers who guide and inspire, but all would agree that the overwhelming credit belongs to the young men and women and their families. In celebrating these outstanding achievers, the performance of the bottom dozen must also be our concern, even realizing that their outcomes are likewise beyond the control of the most dedicated HCPS staff. But it is how all those in between do in school that really defines how the system as a whole can be judged.

Remember that the environment here is that U.S. 15 year-olds rank 25th in the world in science and 17th in math, and North Carolina kids are below the U.S. average. On a positive note, Henderson County is reported to rate 9th in the state. But, on the other hand, 30% of Blue Ridge Community College (BRCC) incoming freshman have to take remedial math and language and, because they are there at all, likely ranked in the top half of their high school’s graduates. BRCC statistics reveal that sixty-seven (67) percent of men and women, full and part-time, are former Henderson County high schoolers. It would not be unfair to conclude that of the 2,000 plus BRCC students 1,300-1,400 are products of Henderson County schools. Therefore perhaps 400 or at least several score of our young men and women from the upper portion of their high school graduating class, arrive at BRCC un-prepared for college-level math and language.

The easy disregard of BOPE/HCPS for facts like these as they continue to give each other awards and denigrate the value of achievement testing is nothing less than downright dereliction of their only duty and reason to be. It more than suggests an unwillingness to publicly share evidence of their effectiveness, or lack of effectiveness. Here is a story that may partly explain how our kids are among those who are again, no better than 25th in science and 17th in math worldwide, and why our current BOPE/HCPS is likely to change the subject or push back strongly when confronted with questions about testing and rankings.

In the ’08 School Board race, BOPE member Ms. Mary Louise Corn was an incumbent among 7 or 8 candidates including the usual first timers, one was current member Rick R. Wood, appearing before the Republican Men’s Club. We wanted to ask a question that would get them out of their comfort zones. So we asked them all to respond to “Why do we even have a School Board, why not have an oversight committee of parents and principals like parochial systems all over the country?” A few of them seemed genuinely to consider the question and struggled to answer. As I recall Wood ducked the question, not so Ms. Corn, she drew herself up and in her best Principal voice replied: “Because there is a state law that we have to have one.” I was too kind to follow-up with why the state might have made the law. She clearly wasn’t very clear on the reason(s). Another time when the subject was achievement tests, she said she doesn’t need any; she “can tell any student’s level of understanding by looking them in the eye.” When I asked if she was serious, she replied: “I’ve been in the school system for……” Her reaction to the suggestion of teacher evaluation tests was volcanic.

Ms. Corn has been on the BOPE for 12 years, and was re-elected in 2012 to her 4th term. She regularly gets the highest vote count in BOPE races. She is a long time and influential member of the North Carolina Association of Educators (NCAE) and a consistent supporter of union issues, oh yes, and make no mistake about it, the NCAE is a union in fact if not in name. Go to the websitehttp://www.ncae.org/who-we-are/, click on “Join the NCAE” and you are taken straight to the NEA (National Education Association) website to join it. Is the NEA a union? Just the largest one in the country. The NCAE is really just lipstick on the uh…you know, NEA. It may be common knowledge that there are no public employee unions in our state, but like so many things we think we know, it just isn’t so. It’s like this:

No unit of government can contract with a union or labor organization (LO). {NC 95-98}

Public employees may not go on strike. {NC 95-98.1}

Until 1998 it was illegal for public employees to join a union or LO. {NC95-97}

The Democrat dominated Legislature of 1998 repealed that law. Since then the national teachers union (NEA) claims to have has signed up 60,000 members constituting nearly all the teachers in the state, along with others who qualify for membership. The NEA signup site list five categories of members. One of them reads: “This membership type includes classroom teachers, faculty, counselors, librarians, nurses, school administrators and others with a teaching certificate who work for a public education institution.” And who pony up $427 bucks U.S. ( OK, I added that) It might be hard to get a job that doesn’t qualify, but then there are four other types of members. Maybe it is time to return to the pre-1998 law and rid ourselves of the $25 million dollar anti-taxpayer lobby, now that we have a different party in charge in Raleigh? Sen. Tom Apodaca, and Reps. Chuck McGrady, and Chris Whitmire represent US down there.

Citizens are well aware that NEA (and hence the NCAE) concerns are not necessarily the same as those of parents and students and the rest of us taxpayers. Witness the above student rankings, and remember NEA’s recent notorious and riotous confrontations with budget-minded state governments in Wisconsin, Michigan, and Ohio. It is said that the pressure to join among local teachers is unsubtle. The annual dues of $427 are over a week’s paycheck for many. Political influence? NCAE claims over $25 million in annual teacher dues.

When I was working for the County and made public that I had worked in a United Steel Workers (AFL) shop, I received a postcard from a Henderson County teacher saying that since I was “…a union man, so you understand why we have to protect teachers[sic] rights against those who would take them away.”

All over the country, School Boards and Administrations have, like ours, merged into joint lobbying efforts to get more money to hire more non-teachers to exert pressure for more money and so on and on. In Henderson County millions are spent on dozens of administrators who are nominally Program Administrators and other titles, but who are really foot-soldiers applying continuous political pressure outside the classroom and anecdotally, chaotic interference inside. The BOPE/HCPS will spend half a million dollars for a few hundred iPads, but ignores innovations like the Khan Academy ( http://www.khanacademy.org/ ) for just one, which can be a fabulous assistant for every teacher and is free. The BOPE/HCPS gather nothing that advances student achievement and readiness for college and life from all this over-spending and over-hiring except centralized power, and they are thoroughly corrupted by it.

There is a nice Latin phrase I got from Willie Nelson’s sister-in-law: Otende Nobis Librorum. She said it means:”Show Us the Books.” We are working on that; we have requests for detailed financial information outstanding, and will report to you as we get it.

In a later installment we’ll consider the disastrously short-sighted budgeting process, and perhaps how top, “Top Scholars” can be, if it includes something like a third to a half of the seniors in the high schools. If you have concerns on school issues including school security, that need to be aired publicly, contact me with complete confidence in our respect for your privacy at: BillOhsee@gmail.comor call 828 890-0412

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