The Knox County Board of Education met for their mid-month meeting on Monday, May 18. The topics on the agenda included a discussion of the recent Teacher Survey and the Balanced Calendar Survey. As controversial as these topics could have been, at the end of the meeting, Chairman McMillan commended the board for their “very orderly discussion.” Karen Carson was at a professional conference and was not in attendance.
Of course, no BOE discussion can begin without the obligatory PowerPoint presentation, and there were two. First the Accountability Department presented the results of the 2015 Teacher Survey. Overall, BOE members were “thrilled” with the results, which showed that teachers’ opinion of the school system has improved in almost every area from the survey taken in December 2013.
Patti Bounds said, “I am glad to see the trend moving forward, but the comments are telling.” She said she identified four major trends in the response to Question 11: “The Knox County Schools always seeks ways to maximize our resources to support education. Do you have any suggestions for opportunities for savings or efficiencies in the budget?”
15.2% of teachers surveyed responded to this open ended question. Bounds said there were 102 comments related to reducing downtown (central office) staff; 79 comments suggesting getting rid of teacher coaches; 31 comments related to doing away with Broad Center personnel; and 28 responses about the unnecessary purchase of new math books.
The majority of elementary teachers agreed that teacher coaches were valuable. Support for teacher coaches dropped off significantly for middle school and high school teachers.
Question 20 was also an open ended question, “Please use this space to provide any comments.” 21% of teachers submitted responses to this question. Bounds said the top three topics were PLCs, Balanced Calendar, and differentiation between their school and the District as a whole. You can read the entire evaluation, including the 61 pages of comments, at knoxschools.org.
Since actions speak louder than words, it will be interesting to look at the number of teachers who leave the system this year.
The next PowerPoint presentation was given by Dr. Elizabeth Alvez. The results of the widely criticized survey monkey survey on “Balanced Calendar” were presented, complete with data tables, and colorful charts and graphs.
Answering objections in advance, Alvez stated that there were “less than 200 suspect survey responses” (from the same IP address) out of the 15,984 responses. Even though many people have admitted they took the survey multiple times, from outside the county and even outside of the state, etc.
Throughout the community engagement and survey process, people were frustrated by the lack of detail and specifics. Would intervention and/or enrichment be offered during the breaks? Who would participate? What about childcare? For high school students (and teachers), how would this impact summer employment? And most importantly, how much will this cost?
Dr. Alvez presented a total of eight potential calendars to the BOE. The first four were for the 2016-2017 year, and consisted of the current traditional calendar, the traditional calendar with a one week fall break, a 45/10 calendar, and a 45/10 calendar with a different Spring break schedule. The same four calendars were also presented for the 2017-2018 school year.
At this point, Chairman McMillan said, “Before we go any further, Dr. McIntyre, I mentioned to you during the break about cost, and that is a question that has to be answered, for this Board and for the general public. We can have all this other discussion, we can consider options and everything, but we need to know or at least have some firm idea of what each of these options is going to cost.”
McIntyre dodged the question, saying, “…Part of this dialogue has been that we’ve been talking about the concept of a balanced calendar, and have not put, until tonight, pencil to paper in terms of what a particular concept might look like.” He added, “I honestly haven’t made any decisions about what I might recommend to the board of education on this concept yet. I want to make sure that we have some conversation this evening about where the board stands.”
But McMillan continued, “Last week, you and I sat together as the Mayor made his (budget) recommendation….at this point, he’s left us over $6M short this particular year, and you heard the same words I heard. He made it abundantly clear to me that he was not giving any more money over here, other than natural growth… I guess my question is – there’s going be some costs involved. Where do you think you’re going to get that money from?” (see more at: http://youtu.be/1FdYiMn73uQ).
Dr. Alvez then presented the cost estimates, although no additional details were given. The estimates ranged from $176,000 in utilities to simply redistribute the school days (somewhat laughable considering air conditioning 90 school buildings for a week in July) to between $2.6 and $8.8M depending on how many students participate in additional instruction.
Mike Donila, in his Screams from the Porch blog, said, “It’s all going to come down to cost, and I don’t think the money is there.”
Apparently, neither do Doug Harris or Lynne Fugate. After Student Rep Adam Hasan told the board that students he talked to were not in favor of balanced calendar, but were in favor of the traditional calendar with a full week of fall break, Harris said, “I’m leaning towards the traditional calendar with a one week fall break…If we really want to get an impact from this program we’re going to have to spend a significant amount of money, and my priorities would be teacher raises and technology. Until we know we are going to have the funding to do that, I would be reluctant to approve something like this…”
He added, “I think there are a lot of people who really do not want this…20-30% of parents who are really against it….The people who are for it look at it kind of like me… for my family, this would be nice, I’d rather do it…but I don’t care if we change it or not. It’s not that big of a deal. But the people who are against it have some reasons… it will really upset their family balance, so I’m reluctant to try to push that through, and maybe do some harm there.”
Fugate agreed, saying, “I think it’s going to cost a whole lot of money, and …I think there are other things we need to spend our money on…Personally it would work in my life just fine, but that’s not the issue. I do think it’s going to cost a lot of money and we have to prioritize what we want to spend.”
Harris added, “I was totally neutral on this before we started. I’m glad we had this discussion. I probably would have said six months ago that I’m for a balanced calendar, now I’ve totally changed. I think what we’ve done, for me, has been very helpful. It’s changed my mind.” (see more at: http://youtu.be/P5JCIIs8NoQ).