Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Governor Abbott’s Silence is Deafening: Despite the suffering of public education employees and retirees across Texas, not one word from the governor

            Last Friday, public education employees and retirees across the state of Texas were dealt yet another blow.  The board of the Teacher Retirement System of Texas, which is the retirement system for all public education employees---teachers, bus drivers, cafeteria workers, maintenance workers, librarians, custodians, nurses, secretaries, counselors,police officers, social workers, sign language interpreters, classroom aides, cafeteria workers, and administrators—voted to reduce the rate of return assumption from 8 percent to 7.25 percent, despite our pleas.  We pleaded with them not to go lower than 7.5 percent, knowing that to do so would likely mean those of us who are retired would likely never see a COLA (cost-of-living adjustment) and those still working in our schools could see a change in their future pensions.  Keep in mind, the rate wasn’t lowered because our pension fund is performing so poorly.  On the contrary.  In 2017, TRS saw a 12 percent rate of return, which is considered stellar in the pension-fund world.  
            It was a split vote, with the four who, like us, have to live with TRS benefits voting against the 7.25.  Trustee Dr. Greg Gibson made a motion to adopt a 7.35 percent rate of return assumption.  It was seconded by Trustee Dick Nance.  Gibson, Nance, Trustee Dolores Ramirez, and Trustee Nanette Sissney voted in favor of this motion.  Chairman Jarvis Hollingsworth and trustees Joe Colonnetta, David Corpus, John Elliott, and Christopher Moss voted nay, so the motion failed.  Elliott immediately made a motion to adopt a 7.25 percent rate of return assumption, and it was seconded by Corpus.  Those two, along with Hollingsworth, Colonnetta, and Moss voted in favor, and in another split vote, Ramirez, Gibson, Nance, and Sissney voted against the motion.  With a simple majority, the motion passed. Now, our only hope is for the Texas Legislature to increase their TRS contribution rate from the current 6.8 percent to 8.18 percent, which means an additional $786 million.  And that’s just for TRS to maintain a 30-year funding period.    (The state’s contribution to the Employees Retirement System of Texas, or ERS, is 9.5 percent.  This pension system provides pensions and healthcare for all other state employees and for retired legislators. That is a 2.7 percent difference between what the state contributes to their own pension fund and what they contribute to the pension fund of all of us who spend our careers working in Texas public schools.)  This critical need for $786 million doesn’t include the money needed to end our TRS healthcare nightmare.
            Since January, active and retired educators in every region of Texas have been living a healthcare nightmare, compliments of the 2017 Legislative Session.  And yet, for seven months, Gov. Greg Abbott has remained silent.
·         These are only a small number of the healthcare issues public education employees and retirees have been facing since January.  Yet Gov. Abbott remained silent.
·         We shared even more stories.  Yet Gov. Abbott remained silent.
·         Retired teacher and administrator Adrienne Gray Myers shared her tragic healthcare story.  Yet Gov. Abbott remained silent. 

·         Sen. José Menéndez called for a Special Session to address our healthcare.  Yet Gov. Abbott remained silent.
·         Rep. Ryan Guillen called for a Special Session.  Yet Gov. Abbott remained silent.

·         Rep. Terry Canales called for a Special Session.  Yet Gov. Abbott remained silent.

·         I shared the story of 9-year-old Kensley, whose mom is a Texas teacher, and their TRS healthcare battle dealing with Kensley’s diagnosis of thyroid cancer.  Yet Gov. Abbott remained silent.
·         Public education employees and retirees and people who support us have called, tweeted, and sent mail and email to the governor’s office pleading with him to address our nightmare.  Yet Gov. Abbott remained silent. 

·         Because all else has failed, last week, Rep. Terry Canales asked the governor to declare TRS an emergency item at the start of the 2019 Legislative Session.  Yet Gov. Abbott has remained silent.

            Not one word to the public education employees across the state who work in our schools educating, feeding, counseling, and providing so much more for Texas students.  Not one word to those of us who retired, believing the state’s promise to provide us with a pension and with affordable healthcare.  Not one word to the 1.5 million TRS members explaining why the state’s contribution rate and healthcare for retired legislators is so much better than the state’s contribution rate and healthcare for retired educators. 
            While we suffer physically, financially, and emotionally, Gov. Abbott remains silent.

Chris Ardis retired in May of 2013 following a 29-year teaching career. She now helps companies with business communications and social media and works as a sales coordinator for Tony Roma's and Macaroni Grill. Chris can be reached at (Photo by Linda Blackwell, McAllen)

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

MORE Bad News for Retired Teachers and All Public Ed Employees in Texas

            For once, I would love to be able to write about GOOD news for Texas’ public education employees/retirees.  But today, we received this news alert from the Texas Retired Teachers Association regarding this Friday’s meeting of the Teacher Retirement System of Texas Board.  (Remember that TRS actually covers ALL Texas public education employees, although the name indicates it is only for teachers.)
            AS IF we are not facing enough financial devastation already because of the TRS healthcare decisions the Texas Legislature made during the 2017 Legislative Session, now we have this to worry about.  For those who are new to the discussion, here are the key points regarding the TRS healthcare nightmare:

¨      The deductible for TRS retirees under the age of 65 was increased from $400 to $1500 ($3000 for married, under-65 retirees covered by TRS Care) during the 2017 Legislative Session.
¨      Meanwhile, the Texas Legislature kept the deductible for ALL OTHER state employees who are retired, including retired legislators, at $0.  (They are covered by the state’s OTHER retirement system, the Employees Retirement System of Texas, known as ERS.)
¨      We used to have a choice between three different levels of coverage, with an increasing premium as we moved up the coverage ladder.  Now we have one choice---the high-deductible, poor-coverage plan.
¨      ERS retirees continue to enjoy excellent healthcare benefits.
¨      This year, our monthly premium is $200.  It will increase over the next four years until it is close to $400 a month.
¨      ERS retirees continue to get their healthcare for free.  Their monthly premium is $0.
¨      As mentioned above, TRS retirees now have a $1500 deductible.  We must now pay 100 percent out of pocket until that deductible is met.  That means no co-pay for any doctor/hospital visits. For married couples covered by TRS, they must reach the $3000 deductible (NOT $1500 per person) before one penny of their healthcare costs is paid.
¨      ERS employees, as mentioned above, have no deductible.
¨      The $1500 deductible for TRS retirees also pertains to prescription drug costs, except for a list of standard, generic drugs.  Like with our healthcare, there is no longer a prescription-drug copay for all of us who are retired teachers, school bus drivers, cafeteria workers, librarians, classroom aides, maintenance workers, police officers, custodians, nurses, social workers, counselors, administrators, or sign language interpreters.
¨      ERS retirees have a $50 prescription-drug deductible.
¨      During the 2017 Legislative Session, Texas legislators appropriated double the amount of money for ERS than for TRS, although ERS has half the number of members.
¨      Throughout our careers, we were promised affordable healthcare when we retired.  That promise has been shattered.
¨      ERS retirees were promised the same thing.  Their promise continues to be fulfilled.
¨      For seven months, we have called, emailed, mailed, and tweeted messages to Governor Greg Abbott to let him know how we are suffering.  To date, he has not even acknowledged our pleas.  Not even acknowledged, which shows his complete disrespect for public education employees who dedicated our lives to the children of this state!

            In the TRTA alert this afternoon, we were reminded of more staggering statistics:

¨      The Texas Legislature “has not authorized any pension increases for retirees since 2013.”
¨      In 2013, the Legislature provided a pension increase for retirees who retired on or before August 31, 2004.  They received a three-percent increase in their annuity, though they could not receive more than an additional $100 per month.
¨      Those of us who retired on or after September 1, 2004, have never received a pension increase.
¨      Thousands of retired school employees have seen reduced Social Security benefits (if they receive them at all), increased health care costs, and no pension increases for as long as 14 years in their retirement.”
¨      “Ninety-five percent of Texas school districts don’t contribute to Social Security.”  What this means is that those who worked their entire careers in Texas public schools will not receive any SS benefits.  Those of us who have worked outside of the public schools will receive benefits, but they are far less than we would be receiving if we were not members of TRS because of a federal loophole.
¨      “The pure state budget general revenue contribution to Texas TRS is the absolute lowest percentage of payroll contribution to a state TRS pension plan in the nation.”

            This Thursday at 11 a.m., Texas AFT and retired school employees from across the state will hold a news conference on the steps of the TRS building in Austin to emphasize what the board’s decision the next day means for all of us who are already suffering at the hands of the Texas Legislature. 
            Friday, the TRS board will make a critical decision regarding lowering the rate of return assumption.  I urge ALL active and retired public education employees to read, in its entirety, the TRTA alert at the beginning of this blog post AND to respond to the call to action at the end of the alert by marking your calendars and watching the TRS Board’s meeting this Friday online, if you can’t be there in person. 

July 25, 2018
The TRS board meeting is THIS FRIDAY!  I just heard from board secretary Katherine Farrell. We can send emails for the board to her email (click on "her email"), and the entire board will get it!
I urge your to remain respectful and professional.  In my opinion, four of the board members have sincerely been listening to our concerns and feeling our pain.  Three of them are in the boat with us as active/retired educators!
Now is our chance to send emails urging them to think about THEIR teachers, bus drivers, school secretaries, classroom aides, librarians, nurses, maintenance workers, cafeteria workers, counselors, sign language interpreters, social workers, police officers, and administrators as they make this difficult decision Friday!

ACT NOW!!!!!

Chris Ardis retired in May of 2013 following a 29-year teaching career. She now helps companies with business communications and social media and works as a sales coordinator for Tony Roma's and Macaroni Grill. Chris can be reached at (Photo by Linda Blackwell, McAllen)

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

The Numbers According to Governor Greg Abbott’s Staff

            February 18, Senator José Menéndez wrote a commentary in the San Antonio Express-News boldly asking Gov. Greg Abbott to call a Special Session to fix the Teacher Retirement System of Texas, which is the retirement system for all Texas public school employees, including bus drivers, custodians, teachers, classroom aides, secretaries, librarians, nurses, maintenance workers, school police officers, social workers, administrators, and cafeteria workers.  This is how  Sen. Menendez’s commentary begins:
Educators in my district are honest, hardworking public servants who make financial sacrifices by choosing a career in education over high-paying private sector jobs for which they easily qualify. They make the choice to become educators because they believe in giving back, they love children, and they want to help strengthen our future.
In exchange for their efforts in preparing our children, the state of Texas told its teachers they would receive a pension upon retirement that would provide quality, affordable health care coverage during the years following a lifetime of service.
Texas has not honored that promise, and now the future for some 270,000 retired educators is in jeopardy. This past session we approved a bill providing only about 70 percent of what was needed to keep the Teacher Retirement System, or TRS, health program solvent. That pushed a shortfall projected to reach $400 million by 2021, according to the San Antonio Express-News, onto the backs of retired teachers.

            February 19, Rep. Ryan Guillen followed suit:

            March 29, Rep. Terry Canales sent Gov. Abbott a formal letter seeking this same Special Session:

            In the ensuing months, calls, emails, Facebook posts, and tweets from those of us who are living the TRS nightmare and others who support us have been made/sent to Gov. Abbott’s office.  However….
            Last week, a friend of mine who is also a retired Texas teacher living the TRS Healthcare Nightmare, wanted to know how many people have contacted Gov. Abbott’s office requesting a Special Session regarding TRS.  She filed a Public Information Request that read, “I am asking for all totals received concerning requests for a Special Session specifically to address the TRS health care problems and costs by anyone who has TRS health insurance.  The totals should include phone calls, emails, texts, faxes, and mail received by the Governor’s office from January 1, 2018, until today’s date of July 12, 2018.”
            Today, she received this reply from Gov. Abbott’s office:

            A TOTAL of 106 messages in six months?  Are we really expected to believe this?  I have seen calls to action on several Facebook pages, on Twitter, and in private messages. 
            A TOTAL of 106 despite all of the media coverage?  Here is just a sampling:

From U.S. News December 8, 2018
From the Houston Chronicle January 1, 2018
From Fox 4 February 6, 2018
From the Austin American Statesman April 9, 2018
From the Abilene Reporter News April 14, 2018
From the Texas Tribune April 20, 2018
From CBS DFW April 23, 2018

            Retired public education employees are not the only ones suffering due to the TRS healthcare nightmare.  Many active public education employees in Texas are being subjected to UNaffordable TRS healthcare    , as well, and we all have Gov. Abbott, Lt. Gov. Patrick, and many members of the Texas Legislature to thank for it.  Take Kensley’s story, for example.  All one has to do is compare TRS to ERS, the retirement system for all OTHER state employees, including our legislators:

            To add to this insanity, July 11, Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar sent out a press release titled Comptroller Raises Revenue Estimate by More than $2.8 BillionWhat excuse can Gov. Abbott make now for ignoring Sen. Menendez, ignoring Rep. Guillen, ignoring Rep. Canales, and ignoring the “106” citizens who have contacted his office?  Seriously, who is going to believe 106 people have contacted his office when the TRS website reads, “The Teacher Retirement System of Texas is the largest public retirement system in Texas, serving more than 1.5 million people”?  More than 1.5 million of us are being forced to live with broken promises from our legislators, promises made to us throughout our careers, and 106 of us have contacted his office?)
            POR FAVOR!

            Looks like we need to get LOUDER and STRONGER.  Please do not leave a message.  Please ask to speak to someone in the governor’s office and tell them you want your message RECORDED.  The office is open Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., and the number is 512-463-2000Here are more ways to contact Gov. Abbott’s office.

Chris Ardis retired in May of 2013 following a 29-year teaching career. She now helps companies with business communications and social media and works as a sales coordinator for Tony Roma's and Macaroni Grill. Chris can be reached at (Photo by Linda Blackwell, McAllen)

Thursday, July 5, 2018

Gov. Abbott and Lt. Gov. Patrick: Nine-year-old Kensley caught in the TRS conundrum

            July 2, after midnight, I wrote a new blog post because I couldn’t sleep due to anxiety over a thyroid sonogram I had later that morning and the overwhelming out-of-pocket expenses I am now facing courtesy of Gov. Greg Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, most members of the Texas Senate, and several members of the Texas House.  You see, like my fellow Texas Retired Teachers’ Association retirees--which includes teachers, bus drivers, custodians, classroom aides, librarians, nurses, maintenance workers, police officers, secretaries, and administrators--I am living the TRS nightmare.
            At 7:16 p.m. that same day, one of my friends tagged me on a Facebook post by a woman named Megan.  I contacted Megan after reading the post to get details about HER TRS-healthcare nightmare.  (It isn’t only TRS retirees living this healthcare nightmare.  MANY active members are living it, too.) 
            This is what I learned:  Megan works for Dickinson ISD.  She first worked as a “paraprofessional” (I have always despised that word.) but has been a certified teacher in the district since March of 2000.  She is a current teacher on TRS Active Care 2 – Select.  Last school year, she was also on Active Care 2 – Select; however, she was living in Galveston County, so she had an “open network option.”  This school year, she was told she has just one option, KelseyCare Aetna.
            Her KelseyCare Aetna plan started September 1.  Megan’s nine-year-old daughter, Kensley, had been under the care of a pediatrician and a pediatric endocrinologist; however, Kensley’s doctors were not on the KelseyCare Aetna plan, so Megan had to find new doctors.  She made an appointment with a new pediatrician September 1 to establish Kensley as a patient.  Immediately, this new doctor referred Kensley to Texas Children’s Hospital for further testing.  Not so fast, according to KelseyCare Aetna.  It took Megan over a month, and countless phone calls, to get the approval to make an appointment at TCH.  It took another month for the paperwork to make its way from KelseyCare Aetna to TCH.
            So although Kensley’s doctor referred her to TCH September 1, her first appointment with an endocrinologist at TCH wasn’t until November 16.  Any parent would agree that waiting two months for an appointment a pediatrician said should be made ASAP is a nightmare.  But according to Megan, that was but a small taste of the nightmare she, Kensley, and their entire family have been living since.
            The November 16 appointment involved drawing labs.  Kensley was scheduled for a thyroid biopsy November 21.  While Megan should have been calming the nerves of her little girl the day of the biopsy, she instead had to spend over three hours on the phone, still awaiting approval.  That approval was finally granted just 30 minutes before the scheduled biopsy. 
            The results revealed that nine-year-old Kensley had thyroid cancer, which required her to have a complete thyroidectomy in December.  She also had to have one of her parathyroid glands removed, and her surgeon took 14 lymph nodes to check for metastasis.
            After the surgery, KelseyCare Aetna informed Megan that there wasn’t enough documentation to substantiate the removal of Kensley’s thyroid.  In fact, they denied coverage for the tumor removal three times, claiming it was not medically necessary, while approving chemotherapy, which was not even an option presented by the doctors at TCH.  After more hours on the phone, away from her daughter, and unimaginable stress, the surgery was covered.
            Then Megan was told the lab work done November 16, which cost over $1000, was not covered because Megan used Quest Diagnostics.  They claim the plan Megan and her family are on through Dickinson ISD only allows for LabCorp.  Megan used Quest Diagnostics because she got on the TRS website even while at TCH that day, and the website clearly displayed that the TRS Active Care 2-Select paid 100% if the member used Quest.  However, now KelseyCare Aetna is busy playing the blame game.  They blamed Megan for choosing the wrong lab.  When she told them she had screen shots to prove what she saw on the TRS website, they blamed her district for sharing the wrong information, TRS for posting incorrect information on their site, and even the state.  Megan is still fighting this.
            Just this week, Kensley had to return to TCH for a full day of tests, including five x-rays, and the addition of two prescriptions and two over-the-counter medications. 
            (TCH tried diligently to help Megan by applying for a “Medicaid buy-in,” which would allow her to keep her insurance but pay the government an additional insurance premium for secondary coverage.  The application was denied because Kensley’s cancer had not spread.  Kudos to them.)
            This week’s tests showed no new tumors in Kensley’s thoracic cavity, which is the best news her family has heard since September.  They know their little girl faces a lifetime of body scans, ultrasounds, lab work, 3-9 pills a day, radioactive iodine therapy, lymph-node mapping, and more.  She continues to endure aches and pains, weight gain, thinning hair, and bald spots.  She already has appointments at TCH scheduled for July and August, as well as an ultrasound, oncology appointments, labs, infusions, and more medications scheduled for September.
            Megan and her family need to focus on precious Kensley’s recovery.  Instead, Megan is spending hours on the phone and enduring untold anxiety over denied medical bills because she is a Texas teacher caught in the 2017 Texas Legislative Session’s TRS conundrum.
            Meanwhile, in Austin, Gov. Abbott has refused to even acknowledge the calls for a Special Session to address the TRS healthcare nightmare.  Who can possibly explain what public school employees and retirees across this state ever did to deserve his disdain?
            So I ask again, Gov. Abbott, Lt. Gov. Patrick, and members of the Texas Legislature, while this mother, a TEXAS TEACHER, can’t sleep because of the worry over her little girl diagnosed with cancer and constant battles over insurance coverage--or lack thereof--

These are screen shots Megan took from the TRS website before choosing to use Quest Diagnostics back in November

The message Megan received just this week from a representative at KelseyCare Aetna regarding the NOVEMBER lab work:

Chris Ardis retired in May of 2013 following a 29-year teaching career. She now helps companies with business communications and social media and works as a sales coordinator for Tony Roma's and Macaroni Grill. Chris can be reached at

Monday, July 2, 2018

Dear Governor Abbott and Lt. Governor Patrick…I can’t sleep. How can you?

Dear Gov. Abbott and Lt. Gov. Patrick,

            I can’t sleep.  How can you?
            It is past midnight, and I have to be up by 5:30 tomorrow morning in order to be at an imaging center in the Rio Grande Valley when they open.  I have to be there for a sonogram.  I can’t sleep because of anxiety over the results.  But my anxiety is even greater as I consider the cost associated with this sonogram.  One year ago, I would not have had this level of anxiety over a necessary medical procedure.  One year ago, I had affordable insurance.
            I am a retired Texas teacher.  I taught in Texas schools for 29 years.  For 29 years, I worked with the promise of affordable healthcare during my career and in retirement.  It was understood that in exchange for a salary that did not come close to matching my education and experience, I would have the benefit of knowing I could pay for necessary medical procedures.
            I have not been to a medical doctor since January.  I have avoided going at all cost because of what the two of you, most members of the Texas Senate, and several members of the Texas House did to my insurance and to the insurance of my fellow retired public school teachers, custodians, bus drivers, librarians, nurses, secretaries, classroom aides, administrators, cafeteria workers, maintenance workers, and police officers.
            For the first four years of my retirement, you and the Texas Legislature kept the promise I lived by for 29 years.  I had a $400 deductible and a copay for my doctors’ visits, medical procedures, and prescription drugs.  But since January, all of that has changed.  Now I have a $1500 deductible and no copay.  Instead, I have to pay 100 percent of the bill for my doctors’ visits, medical procedures, and prescription drugs out of pocket until I reach that $1500.  Once I reach that, I still have to pay 20 percent.  Do you know how much $1500 is to a retired public school employee?  (And it is $3000 for anyone who has a spouse on his/her plan.)
            While I can’t sleep tonight as I worry about the cost for tomorrow’s sonogram.  I would guess you two are sleeping just fine.  After all, your insurance, provided by the state, is far greater than ours.  One only has to compare ERS healthcare (for all other retired state employees and retired Texas legislators) to TRS healthcare (provided to my colleagues and me) to see the injustice.  While ERS retirees are living with promises kept, we are all living with promises broken, and an incredible number of my colleagues are going broke and choosing to forego medical care as a result.
            Gov. Abbott and Lt. Gov. Patrick, I had my last sonogram in December.  The radiologist recommended that I have “tissue sampling”; however, in talking to my surgeon and knowing the healthcare nightmare I would be living starting in January, I opted to wait six months for a follow-up sonogram.  I am praying that I made the right decision, a decision I forced upon me because you and those members of the Texas Legislature who followed your lead decided we were no longer worthy of the affordable healthcare we had been promised throughout our careers.
            I can’t help but think about so many of my colleagues across the state who have endured sleepless nights since January.  I have posted many of their stories.  Scores of us have called your office and sent you messages but with no response.  Rep. Terry Canales and Rep. José Menéndez were the first to formally ask you to call a Special Session to deal with our healthcare crisis.  I recently learned that another Valley legislator. Rep. Ryan Guillen, requested in February that you call a Special Session. 

Our calls and emails and their formal pleas for a Special Session have been blatantly ignored. 
            While we lie awake, you sleep.  While you get the healthcare you need, we do not.  While all other state retirees and Texas legislators continue to enjoy affordable healthcare, we live this nightmare.
            Another day, another week, another month with no response from either of you regarding a Special Session.  Another day, another week, another month wondering how you could break a promise we believed in for so many years.
            How can you sleep?


Christine Ardis
Retired Texas Teacher Living the TRS Nightmare

Chris Ardis retired in May of 2013 following a 29-year teaching career. She now helps companies with business communications and social media and works as a sales coordinator for Tony Roma's and Macaroni Grill. Chris can be reached at (Photo by Linda Blackwell, McAllen)

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

YIELD! PSJA ISD Teachers Set to Vote This Week on Superintendent’s EmpowerED! Proposal

            When I first heard about PSJA ISD Superintendent Dr. Danny King’s idea of “going charter,” I have to admit I was intrigued.  After all, if you keep up with education and innovations in education, Dr. King is recognized locally, statewide, and nationwide. 
            Before I continue with my thoughts on Dr. King’s latest innovative idea, I want to make it clear that I have a great deal of respect for him.  I have had the opportunity to interview Dr. King and to talk to him several times over the years, and I have always found him to be honest and to be a true advocate for students, for his employees, and for education.
            Although Patty Quinzi, legislative counsel for Texas AFT, called SB 1882 “one of the most problematic privatization bills of the entire session” (referring to the 2017 Legislative Session) during her presentation at a recent meeting hosted by PSJA AFT, I must admit I knew nothing about it.  Last session, I focused on the Texas Legislature’s decision to strip public education retirees of affordable healthcare, the push for vouchers, and the attempt to strip public education employees of the ability to have their association dues paid through payroll deduction.  SB 1882 wasn’t even on my radar.
            This blog post would be at least 20 pages long if I went into detail about SB 1882, so I will instead include links to explanations of this law passed during the 2017 Session, the PSJA plan, and other documents and stories I read to come to the conclusion that a “yield” sign would be most appropriate right now.
            According to the Texas Education Agency’s website…
SB 1882 is an Act relating to a school district contract to partner with an open-enrollment charter school or other eligible entity to operate a district campus.
The bill states that to be eligible to access the benefits described in SB 1882, the partnered campus must be granted a charter under Subchapter C, Chapter 12. The district may partner with two types of entities to operate the charter:
A State-Authorized Open-Enrollment Charter School in good standing. State-authorized open-enrollment charter schools are also known as Subchapter D open-enrollment charters. To be eligible for the benefits associated with SB 1882 the open-enrollment charter partner may not have been previously revoked and must have received acceptable academic and financial accountability ratings for the three preceding school years.
On approval by the Commissioner, other entities. These other entities include institutions of higher education, non-profits, or government entities that have been granted a charter under Subchapter C, Chapter 12  
            SB 1882 allows districts to partner with these entities for any of three purposes:
Turnaround Partnerships: District contracts with a partner to operate a campus that is in IR (Improvement Required) status
Innovation Partnerships: District contracts with a partner to operate a campus that is in Met Standard status
New School Partnerships: District contracts with a partner to launch a new school
            Thankfully, PSJA ISD is not in a position where they are pending TEA takeover of any of their campuses, so a Turnaround Partnership is out of the question.  Dr. King is focused on Innovation Partnerships, though I did note that in the district’s Phase 1 Application for Approval Under TX SB 1882 Cover Letter, both Innovation Partnerships AND New School Partnerships were checked off.  In reading about PSJA’s plan and in speaking to Dr. King, there was no mention of launching a new school.
            Dr. King’s proposal does not involve teaming up with a charter school.  Rather, it involves the creation of at least four Innovative Management Organizations (or IMOs), nonprofit 501(c)(3) organizations that will work with PSJA campuses to innovate and, according to Dr. King, move participating campuses “from good to great.”  Dr. King’s two guiding principles for EmpowerED! are to empower teachers and to significantly increase the district’s operating funds.
            (Here, I highly recommend readers click on the links at the bottom of this blog (if you are not yet well versed in SB 1882) so you can clearly understand the bullet points below.)
            These are just a few of my concerns about the rush to implement EmpowerED! for the 2018-2019 school year:
·         While Dr. King, and I presume other PSJA administrators, have studied SB 1882 and the district’s proposal for the past several months, teachers who have to vote this week on whether or not to proceed with the plan have been made aware of it only within the past month.  Countless questions and concerns remain, and we all know how critical it is to be an informed voter.
·         Based on the PSJA AFT meeting I attended, it appears the PSJA School Board is firmly divided on proceeding with this proposal.  I don’t think this is healthy when it comes to a proposal that will dramatically change the way the district—or certain campuses within the district—operate.
·         PSJA administrators refer to their district as a “family,” and as long as I’ve been in the Valley, I have seen a devotion to the district by alumni and by employees.  While I applaud Dr. King for allowing teachers, nurses, counselors, and librarians in the district to vote on whether their campuses will participate in this proposal or not, when TEA does not require him to do so, I can’t help but think of the family turmoil that is likely to ensue if some campuses choose to move forward and others don’t.  Not only will this mean employees on campuses that proceed will get significant pay raises while the others will not, but there will also likely be arguments between employees on the same campuses based on who voted one way and who voted the other.  Additionally, if the district is a “family,” all members of the family should have a vote.  But then again, go back to the bullet point about informed voters.
·         In PSJA’s proposal and in Dr. King’s video, it is stated that the IMOs will supervise principals.  Principals already have supervisors from Central Office.  This part of the plan shouted “DISASTER” to me, not only for the principals but for the staff.  After working in education for 29 years, I see another layer of administration as the last thing our schools need and an obvious juxtaposition to the idea of empowering teachers.
·         The plan also reads that “the IMOs will have full budgetary control to execute their vision for network support.”  However, in talking to Dr. King and in listening to his video, he said the school board will not relinquish any of its authority.  I think there is much more explaining to do about how they can retain the authority voters gave them through the election process while being required to give a set amount of authority to the IMOs in order to satisfy the state.
·         Dr. King is spot-on in fighting for funding equity.  I’m just not convinced this is the way to get it.  WHY are we allowing charter schools that educate students who live in the PSJA zone to get $906 more PER PUPIL than PSJA ISD receives?  I would like to see a plan with ALL public school employees and retirees across the state boldly fighting during the 2019 Legislative Session for equality in public-school and public-charter funding without the need for IMOs or other external entitities.
·         Due to the current, unequitable funding, PSJA stands to gain $28 million IF a majority of those voting on every campus vote to proceed AND if a majority of the board does the same.  If some vote yes and others vote no, what will that number be, and will any amount be worth splitting up the PSJA family and making the board division even deeper?
·         I have an idea I would like Dr. King to consider.  During my teaching career, I worked with so many intelligent, passionate, innovative educators driven to be the best teachers their students could possibly have but who didn’t feel empowered to be a true force in education, affecting other students and teachers.  What about using employees within the PSJA schools, instead of IMOs, to come up with innovative plans?  I will say it once again---the last thing our schools need is another layer of administrators.  (That is not meant to offend those great administrators in our schools.  However, the more layers of administrators, the more school funding needed for their high salaries and benefits.)
      Empowering teachers—and the entire district family—means involving them from start to finish.  Again, because I know Dr. King, I am confident that he proceeded the way he did because of the hoops one must jump through any time the Texas Legislature and/or TEA is/are involved.  I am not saying scrap the plan. I’m saying form the Superintendent’s Advisory Council of Teachers (set to be formed IF the plan proceeds) without proceeding for the 2018-2019 school year and empower the PSJA family to CREATE the Innovation Partnerships!
      My vote, if I had one, would not be to come to a complete stop, but it would definitely be to yield.

Chris Ardis retired in May of 2013 following a 29-year teaching career. She now helps companies with business communications and social media and works as a sales coordinator for Tony Roma's and Macaroni Grill. Chris can be reached at (Photo by Linda Blackwell, McAllen)

Texas Legislature - SB 1882

Texas Education Agency - Updates and Implementation of SB 1882

PSJA's EmpowerED! Proposal

The latest report on the proposal from The Monitor

The Facebook page of PSJA AFT

Other Texas public school districts applying for SB 1882 Turnaround Partnerships