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


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