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 cardis1022@aol.com. (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

Friday, May 25, 2018

Governor Abbott Turns His Back on Texas Teachers Once Again

            ….and it’s not just teachers.  Governor Abbott continues to turn his back on all public school employees and retirees.  For months, media outlets across the state have reported on Texas public education retirees suffering greatly as a result of the changes Governor Abbott, Lt. Governor Patrick, most members of the Texas Senate, and several members of the Texas House made to the Teacher Retirement System (TRS) of Texas while keeping Employee Retirement System (ERS) of Texas healthcare for all other retired state employees (AND retired Texas legislators) better than we have EVER had.  While our $400 healthcare deductible increased to $1500, theirs stayed at $0 for healthcare and $50 for prescriptions.  As if that isn’t bad enough, we have to pay 100 percent of our healthcare costs, including prescriptions, out of pocket until we reach that deductible.  For married couples on TRS-Care, they must reach a $3000 deductible before their insurance pays a single penny.  While the three-option healthcare plan for those of us under 65 changed to a one-option, high-deductible plan with a monthly premium of $200 beginning January 1 and rising to $385 over the next four years, their premium remained at $0 per month. 
            March 29, Rep. Terry Canales, House District 40, sent a letter to Gov. Abbott, asking him to call a special session to address TRS-Care.  These are excerpts from that letter:
            My retired local teachers and retired public school employees, who are on a fixed income, are now paying hundreds of dollars more a month (sometimes more) for healthcare services and essential medications.  These Texas teachers and school employees, who have dedicated their lives to service, increasingly have to make the choice to pay their mortgage, buy groceries, or pay for their potentially life-saving medications. 
            It is clear to me that we cannot wait for the next regular legislative session, which begins in January of 2019, to create a permanent fix for TRS-Care. I humbly request that you call a special session of the Texas Legislature so that we can immediately address the needs of our teachers and public school employees whose insurance is provided by the Teacher Retirement System. We must ask ourselves, if we don’t support our teachers, what does that mean about the Texas Legislature’s support for students and the overall Texas education system?
            It is now nearly two months after Rep. Canales sent that letter to Gov. Abbott.  No special session.  No response to all of the public school employees who have bravely told their stories to media outlets.  No response to those who have allowed me to share their stories on my blog.  And no response to those who have called his office in what I feel certain must be record numbers.  Instead, there has been deafening silence.
            There has also been silence from most of our elected officials.  Lt. Gov. Patrick has remained silent.  And why haven’t we seen other state representatives and senators taking a stand with Rep. Canales?  Where are they?  How can they see these stories, read these stories, and carry on as if nothing is wrong?  How can they sleep at night, knowing educators, under their watch, are suffering day and night?
            No matter how many stories are shared, it doesn’t begin to touch the surface of the healthcare nightmare we’re living.  And it isn’t only retired public school employees.  Many employees still working in our schools are suffering because our legislators have decided we do not deserve the healthcare benefits they receive.
            We will continue to speak out. We will continue to share these true stories of what Gov. Abbott, Lt. Gov. Patrick, and many members of the Texas Legislature have allowed.   These are people who have served, or who are serving, the children of our state. We all had contracts with the state.  Promises have been made throughout our careers.  Those contracts have been broken.  Those promises have not been kept.
            Please read these stories:

My RA (rheumatoid arthritis) medications cost $12, 000-$13,000 every 90 days.   My back was broken by a student in my 21st year of teaching. I didn’t sue because my children attended the same school district where this happened. I loved my kids in my classroom, as well. I wasn’t going to sue and take money from my district, my colleagues, or the children in the district.

The district’s workers’ comp fought me on getting the needed operation for 1.5 years. I finally got the operation and was in physical therapy when the district notified me that Texas is a right-to-work state and I could either medically retire or be terminated. Had they let me have the operation when I was first hurt, my career could have possibly been saved. The longer I waited, the more nerve damage that occurred.

Now, I have extreme nerve damage and a very low pension. After insurance, I bring home about $1100 per month. Recently, I have developed lung nodules and I am in treatment for that, as well.

I did all the right things in life by working hard and educating myself. I have an M.A., yet I can’t afford to support myself with this change in our insurance plan. I can’t afford to pay almost six months of my pension to meet the deductible to buy my medication.

How could the Legislature do this to us? How can they destroy our lives with no remorse?

I watched the hearings on the internet. They were laughing and chatting it up, all while destroying us. I actually cried when I watched the hearings. Unforgivable! I will use my vote and voice to get them out of office.

Pamela Cheshire
Retired from Goose Creek ISD
Currently residing in Whitney, TX

My husband is the diabetic who was interviewed for one of the news stories.  We are both retired teachers, so TRS-Care is our only option. We are 60, so we fall in that under-65 bracket (Horrible!!). His insulin runs about $900 a month. He’s already met the $1500, so now he pays ONLY the 20% which was about $220 last month for everything. Because of his situation, I put off going to the doctor when I got sick. Finally, I had to go, and we found I had strep throat. Who knew we’d have to drain our savings for health care?! Not what we were promised!!

Randy and Robin Heisig

I can no longer afford my asthma medication. Also, my husband had to have a yearly CT scan because he had cancer five years ago. We haven’t received the bill for that yet, but I know we won’t be able to pay it. We also had to drop healthcare coverage on our son because it was an extra $300/month. Two weeks later, he ended up in the emergency room with no insurance. He now has an $800 bill he can’t pay.

Ruth Cooney

I’m the dependent of a Texas teacher and I have a severe chronic blood disorder. I am on a specialty injectable medication that is normally used by cancer patients.  It is something I have to inject daily, likely for the remainder of my life. We switched to ActiveCare after I separated from my job because of the severe illness.  I initially took ActiveCare-2 because there was a co-pay of hundreds of dollars for specialty drugs vs. thousands on other plans. Over the years, this has become too draining financially, and we were forced to take HD-1. With premiums over $900 per month and rising, as well as hitting the out-of=pocket maximum every single year, we’re facing extreme physical and financial stress. At this point, there is no way to save for retirement, save for our young children’s college educations, nor even replace my husband’s aging car that he needs to get to work every day. We’ve been making monthly payments to an area hospital to pay off debt since 2015 with no end in sight. Charity can only go so far.  Teachers must be treated fairly and be given the money to support their families! (My husband is in an incredible district.  There’s nothing more they can do without state support)!

Sheralyn Chilson Irwin

I’m pre-65. My eye doctor wanted to change my glaucoma eye drops to a different one. The old drug was $21 dollars for a three-month supply.  The new drug is $900 for a three-month supply. I told her I would just wait until Medicare to get the new drug. I taught for 36 years.
I retired from Grapevine Colleyville in 2012. I taught 8th grade English and GT English. I retired to take care of my 90-year-old mom. She lived with me, in my home, until her death.

Lori Von Gundy Bland

Susan Alcorn Taylor
I retired from Crosby ISD.

Active teacher here! Due to mental health meds and appointments, I have to be on Active Care 2. My premiums have gone up every year. With the addition of our daughter in July 2017 and my husband being a small business owner, we have added her to my plan. (My husband has his own catastrophic plan as we can’t afford to add him to mine.)  I am now taking home $300 less than I did last year. That money plus all of the other new-baby expenses has left us living nearly paycheck to paycheck. After reading about the  9.5% premium increase next year, I’m honestly considering leaving the profession. I have NO idea what I’d do, but I can’t afford to be a teacher if things don’t change.

I know my situation isn’t as dire as my fellow retired educators, but it’s still scary.

Karen Sandifer Wallace
Fort Worth ISD = While no district is perfect, I believe they treat us well. In fact, they actually contribute a little bit more than what the state requires, but it’s still not enough. 😩 I truly don’t think they can afford to contribute any more than they already do.)

I retired in May of 2017 with 34 years of service. I have taught K-12, the last 15 years as an elementary librarian split between two campuses with enrollment around 550 at each..
I was so excited to retire and actually be able to afford insurance for my husband and myself through TRS. I thought it was a great rate and plan considering the district rate. The summer came, and all we heard about was the raising premium of TRS for retirees. Then the shocker came and decisions had to be made to keep or drop the plan. Financially, I would be able to pay the monthly increase. But then the reality set in. The deductible must be met before anything is paid. But hold on!  The prescription coverage will not cover my diabetes medication. It will be $1200 through Caremark. They will not take the discount card..  CVS pharmacy will take the discount card, but it’s still $1000.00.   My check take-home pay is about $3000.00  I know that’s better than some... but 34 years of service.
And bloodwork must be done at a Quest Lab. Now I hear this will not be paid until the deductible is met.
$679 ×12= $8178.00 just for the premium. Does not include a $1500 deductible per person.
I am looking to use a Canadian Pharmacy for my diabetic drug--$78.00 for three months.  And I found out today CPAP supplies are not covered.

Pam Sedita Capps
Killeen ISD

I just signed up with a Canadian pharmacy today; a sad state of affairs.

Ronald Baker

We have not been able to find a good M.D. since we retired ! A group of seven doctors in Georgetown would not see us because we had Medicare! A second group would see us, and the office visit would be between $90 and $200 each.   You pay them cash, and they will file insurance for you.  About six to eight weeks later, they would send you what the insurance paid them!

We can't get a short-term drug filled in Lampasas, Texas, because our drug card has the names United, AARP, Walgreens on it, and we don't have a Walgreens!

We are over 65! We could not keep TRS! We went with retired teachers ‘Medicare supplement Plan F. The reason the doctors won't take us is because many in this area will not take Medicare! We do have a doctor currently, but it took a long time to find one that would take us!

Linda Klose
I taught for 30 years! I taught for Donna I.S.D., Bonham I.S.D., and Lometa I.S.D.

I am pre-65.  Just retired last May. My injectable GENERIC medication for severe migraines used to be $25 for a 90-day supply. As of the changes after January, it is now over $3,200 for a 90-day supply! No therapeutic alternative available. This is Dihydroergotamine Mesylate, generic for DHE-45. This is the only medication my migraines respond to, so when I run out, not sure what I will do....

Lisa King

I had to go to the emergency room in December for a life-threatening allergic reaction (eyes, tongue, and throat swelling, coughing, and having trouble breathing). Got two shots and 45 minutes of monitoring.  After insurance, my bill is $2084.  That is twice my mortgage! I will be paying on it for a while, but I had no choice but an emergency room because it was after 10 p.m. Normally I would go to an urgent care (which still costs me $125-$175 for the visit and another $100+ for the shot, but is way better than an emergency room) 😢

Alexis Escorcia