Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Covington After School Program

At this week's board meeting, one of the board items was to review a draft agreement under which the city would take responsibility for the after school programs that have traditionally been run by the PTA's. The plan was to hold a pilot at Covington this year, then roll it out across the district next year.

I was pretty surprised by the outcome. The city in fact will not be sponsoring the program, at least not yet. There were several factors that rolled into this decision:

No parents were included in the definition of the pilot program. The head of the Covington PTA and the head of the Site Council spoke to the board about the fact that the parents have not been included in the process. Under the old system, the PTA selected all of the vendors who held the after-school courses. They hadn't been consulted at all by the pilot study group, nor had the Site Council.

The revenue split has left a number of unanswered question. The city has said their program would be roughly "cost neutral" to the parents, but they also asked vendors for a 40/60 revenue split. Generally this means the vendors will have to charge more to take home the same amount of money, as the schools previously only took 15% to cover the cost of janitors, lights, etc.

The district wasn't being compensated at all for lights, utilities, janitorial, etc. This would have resulted in a cost to the district of approximately $8,000 per site.

There was not a list of actual offerings available. The city hadn't finalized which classes might be offered- they only had a sample list. This made some folks uneasy, to try to approve something we didn't have all the details on.

The city program wouldn't be ready for launch until ~28 September. Normally these programs are ready right after labor day. This would create a gap for parents of students at Covington who rely on the after school program for child care.

On the flip side, the city would bring to the program some disciple that it was agreed would be useful, in terms of formalizing the list of children participating (making it easier to deal with emergency situations), background screening / fingerprinting of vendors, etc. While those are valuable "pluses" to the program, there were simply too many unanswered questions about how the program would actually come together. After a pretty vigorous discussion, it was decided that the PTA would launch the fall program offerings. The city will go back to the drawing board and plan a pilot that will begin in January, which is a time when the existing programs normally turn over to new offerings anyway.

I think this was a good outcome. I'm glad to see such a strong emphasis on parental input to the program, and close scrutiny of how the finances would actually work out. While I'm sure it was disappointing to those who had been working on getting this going for September, it's better to get it "right" the first time it hits the schools, so it can be fully supported during the pilot.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Financial Emergency

Last week at the Board Meeting, there was a vigorous discussion about declaring a financial emergency. Among other options, it would give the administration the ability to freeze step and column movement for teachers.

I won't go into the specifics of the step-and-column discussion, but I will say that I believe this went as well as it could. For those who didn't attend:
- the district was considering declaring an emergency
- the teachers and classified staff have said they feel they are being effectively blackmailed
- the district has decided not to act until the Aug 17 Board meeting. If no meaningful agreement has been reached by that time to close the budget gap, the district will act unilaterally to address the shortfall

My thoughts:

1) I agree with the decision to consider the motion now. It is important that the employees understand that there is a very real problem here. In start-ups where I have worked, wage concessions and other austerity measures were better received when folks have some visibility and have been given the opportunity to chime in.

2) in this case, the teachers and classified staff will have an opportunity to make meaningful concessions at negotiating sessions before Aug 17. They've said they pride themselves on the working relationship. It is time to see it in action.

3) I also agree with the decision to postpone the final vote until Aug 17. Give folks one last chance to address the problem.

Let's all follow this closely and see where it goes.