Cockamamie? You Don’t Know Cockamamie!

Cavanal Mountain, World’s highest hill above Poteau, OK; ID’d by Sue Haskins.

I enjoyed an informative conversation this week with two new friends who are active in Oklahoma City civic affairs.  Some of their stories remind me how fortunate we Tulsans are to be the home of the Oklahoma Policy Institute, not the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs, and the home of the Tulsa World, not the Daily Oklahoman (or the “Daily Disappointment” as aptly named by Frosty Troy).  Therefore, it pains me only slightly to use this post partly to dig my friends at the World’s editorial board for their recent characterization of our state’s education funding formula as “cockamamie”, a word best defined by Joe “Malarkey” Biden or some other Geezer.

They were reacting to Mayor G. T. Bynum’s State of the City speech to the Metropolitan Tulsa Chamber of Commerce.  Here are the relevant excerpts:

The quality of our educational system in Tulsa is the greatest economic development challenge we face today. It is the greatest quality of life challenge we face today. It is the greatest criminal justice challenge we face today. And I believe with every ounce of my being that if Tulsans could fix it, we would.  But we can’t. Right now, we can pass property-tax initiatives to build football stadiums and fix up buildings and buy iPads for kids – but if we pass a property tax to pay our teachers the kind of wage that will keep them from fleeing to Arkansas or Texas, the state will reduce our allocation by an equivalent amount. They will punish us for trying to help.  This upcoming legislative session, we are going to try to change the dynamic. We’re going to quit waiting for someone else to save us, and try to empower Tulsans to take our destiny into our own hands.  I am so thankful this is part of the Tulsa Regional Chamber’s One Voice agenda, but that is not enough. We need every family, every business owner, every employee, every voter to let your legislators know WE WANT TO HELP. We need their permission to help. I believe if they will let us, we can address this challenge in the same way we’ve addressed those that came before us.

The World’s editorial applauded Bynum’s other initiatives and concluded with this:

We’re enthusiastic about the six initiatives announced by Mayor G.T. Bynum at his State of the City address Thursday. But we’re particularly enthused about his effort to help fund Tulsa Public Schools.  Bynum’s proposals includeda concerted effort to lobby the Legislature to allow municipal property tax increases to fund public school operating expenses without any penalty to state funding.  Tulsa cannot not progress as a city unless it has a public school system that will attract young families. The first, essential step in that direction is adequate funding of education, which the Legislature has repeatedly failed to supply.But state law essentially prevents Tulsans from helping their schools. If the city gives one dollar of operating revenue to the school system, the state would penalize the district almost the same amount in state aid. It’s a cockamamie system that keeps urban schools from improving and has to be changed.  All six initiatives Bynum outlined Thursday show vision and practical wisdom, but his school effort is especially essential to our city’s future, and one deserving the support of all Tulsans.

Here is the One Voice Agenda item referred to by Mayor Bynum:

Funding of Education: Provide municipalities with the ability to supplement state education funding and target the unique priorities of their community. Voters in local communities should be able to increase their investment in their public schools without sacrificing or impacting their state funding. Meanwhile, the state aid formula should continue its role ensuring an adequate base funding level for all schools, with additional increases in state funding directed through that formula.  

Reacting to the World’s editorial I sent this Letter to the Editor:

The World’s Editorial reaction to Mayor Bynum’s proposal to allow local communities to vote property tax increases to fund teacher pay raises is disappointing in its uninformed dismissal of the state’s effort to equalize funding for Oklahoma students as “a cockamamie system that keeps urban schools from improving and has to be changed.”   Likely the most important reform of public education finance in our country’s history has been the implementation of state aid equalization formulas to offset the huge disparity among school districts when financing primarily relied on local property taxes.  The disparity was not caused by differences in local effort, but rather by huge differences in local property wealth to the detriment of students from poor communities. 

Those disparities remain.  Just within Tulsa County a taxpayer in districts with lower valuations per student, namely Sperry, Liberty, Collinsville, Glenpool and Sand Springs, would have to pay more than twice the amount paid by a taxpayer in the Tulsa, Bixby or Jenks districts to fund the same teacher pay raise.  Statewide the disparities are even greater meaning some Oklahomans would have to pay more than forty dollars for every dollar paid by others to keep pace. 

Perhaps Oklahoma’s state aid formula can be tweaked to permit more local funding, particularly to address teacher compensation in urban areas with higher costs of living, but care must be taken so that students in Oklahoma districts with low property wealth are not unduly penalized.  The real “cockamamie system” in Oklahoma that needs to be addressed is not its statutory commitment to assure equal educational opportunity for all Oklahoma students, but rather the constitutional provision requiring a supermajority to raise revenue that has empowered a backward minority in our legislature to block the will of the majority.

We’ll see if it gets published.  As my fellow Tulsans strive to enact legislation that will allow discretionary local funding of schools outside of the state aid equalization formula I intend to be a voice reminding them why there are equalization formulas to begin with.  The most famous school funding equalization litigation came out of Texas, beginning with the 1973 federal case San Antonio Independent School District v. Rodriquez and continuing with the 1989 state case Edgewood v. Kirby .  According to facts from the Edgewood case about Texas school finance, at that time there was a 700 to 1 ratio between the value of taxable property in wealthiest and poorest districts and district spending per student varied from $2,112 to $19,333.  As stated in the Edgewood decision:

There are glaring disparities in the abilities of the various school districts to raise revenues from property taxes because taxable property wealth varies greatly from district to district.   The wealthiest district has over $14,000,000 of property wealth per student, while the poorest has approximately $20,000;  this disparity reflects a 700 to 1 ratio.   The 300,000 students in the lowest-wealth schools have less than 3% of the state’s property wealth to support their education while the 300,000 students in the highest- wealth schools have over 25% of the state’s property wealth;  thus the 300,000 students in the wealthiest districts have more than eight times the property value to support their education as the 300,000 students in the poorest districts.   The average property wealth in the 100 wealthiest districts is more than twenty times greater than the average property wealth in the 100 poorest districts.   Edgewood I.S.D. has $38,854 in property wealth per student;  Alamo Heights I.S.D., in the same county, has $570,109 in property wealth per student.

In Rodriquez the U. S. Supreme Court held that education is not a right protected by the U. S. Constitution, rather it is a function undertaken by the states.  Therefore, efforts to achieve fair funding of education must be worked out state by state.  The Edgewood case was part of the Texas effort to achieve more fairness in financing its schools and it was successful with the Texas Supreme Court agreeing that the right to an education promised to Texas children was being violated by the huge disparities in school funding.  I believe Texas school finance today remains under the active review of its courts.

My son and I were plaintiffs in the original Oklahoma school funding equity lawsuit, Fair School Finance Council v State of Oklahoma .  Decided in 1989 the Oklahoma Supreme Court declined to find Oklahoma’s system unconstitutional, holding instead that the issues raised were matters to be worked out through the legislative process.  Because the Court did not find that Oklahoma’s school finance system violated the state’s constitution, the decision does not cite the huge disparities in property tax wealth among Oklahoma school districts like the Texas case did.  However, you can view these disparities for yourself by looking at school district profiles here:  http://www.schoolreportcard.org/report-card/county

This is the top part of the profile for Tulsa Public Schools:

In the first section on “Socioeconomic Data” you see that its property valuation per student (ADM, being average daily membership) is over $60,000, compared to the statewide average of almost $50,000 per student.  The Tulsa Public Schools may serve many students from low income families but the district is not poor by Oklahoma standards.  Contrast that with the other Tulsa County and a sampling of state school districts shown in this table.

What this chart shows us, simply stated, is that if the good citizens of the Maryetta school district in Adair County want to increase pay for their teachers with a new local property tax, like Mayor Bynum, the World and Tulsa Chamber want the opportunity to do, they will have to raise their property taxes more than 40 times as much as would the citizens of Burlington school district in Alfalfa County to fund the same pay raise.

I applaud Mayor Bynum, the Tulsa Chamber and the editorial board of the World for stepping up boldly to advocate for enhanced funding for our community’s schools.  At the same time, I encourage them to be informed about the large disparities in property wealth that exist among school districts, rural and urban, and the reasons we have a state aid formula that works to level the playing field among school districts so that all students have the opportunity for an adequate education.   Whatever empowerment of local communities they advocate needs to be crafted with the understanding that other communities have the same desire to help their schools, but don’t have the same local wealth.

As always lunch is on me for the first to ID the photo location.

Brown Boys Dump Plan B on Oklahoma

Heavener Runestone City Park, ID’d by Josh McBee.

I don’t normally have scatological thoughts when writing blog posts, but I have been drafting one titled “Who Will Empty Your Bedpan?” reacting to silliness posted on The 1889 Institute’s website.  Then I woke up this morning to the news that the failure of Plan A yesterday in the legislature’s special session leaves us with Plan B—namely another round of cuts to state agency budgets and the real possibility of elderly Oklahomans being denied Medicaid services like nursing home care. 

As I will elaborate upon in that future post, “Who will empty your bedpan?” was a rhetorical question I used in my economics classes when trying to emphasize the importance of thinking about “real” economic output more than just looking at the nominal or dollar totals and to demonstrate why education is a necessary government service.  I called it my “Bedpan Theory” which essentially states that you can have a bunch of money at the end of your life, but you’re going to be pretty miserable if those emptying your bedpan are untrained, uneducated and resentful of their poor circumstances in life.  Translated, though I doubt the Limited Thinkers at Oklahoma’s Stink Tanks will ever understand, we all benefit from living in a community where our fellow residents are educated and prosperous so we all, not just parents, should invest generously in the education of our community’s children. 

We have the Brown Boys, Dan and David, (along with many others including the Daily Oklahoman) to thank for this Plan B dump on our state.  I have written before about House Bill 1017, Oklahoma’s landmark education reform legislation and the lasting legacy of Governor Henry Bellmon a man of vision and courage, in Once Upon A Time and House Bill 1017 25th Anniversary .  As I pointed out in an Epilogue to the latter, after an attempt to repeal the legislation through State Question 639 failed in 1991, its backers filed State Question 640 which passed in 1992 and put in place the requirement that it takes a super majority of three-fourths for the legislature to increase taxes.  A vocal leader of the efforts to pass both state questions was Dan Brown, then head of the Oklahoma Taxpayers Union.  The following year David Brown, who served until just last year as chairman of its board, is credited with leading the effort to establish the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs that has dutifully kept the anti-tax, anti-government, anti-common sense rhetoric front and center in our state ever since.      

House Bill 1017, and the general economic prosperity in our nation until the Great Recession of 2008, fostered improvements in Oklahoma public education including statewide expansion of early childhood education for four year olds.  But that progress was fully constipated when the “tax cuts increase revenues” silliness advocated by David Brown’s stink tank bore its own brown fruit leaving our state government with an obvious structural deficit into the foreseeable future.  Now, even though a clear majority of our legislators have come to understand that it takes real and current (not imaginary “supply side”) revenue to provide essential government services, Dan Brown’s super majority sphincter prevents the passage of any new revenue measures.

I don’t know if the Brown Boys are related by blood, but they are certainly related in their legacy of dumping barriers to progress on Oklahomans.  In the near future when you see a bedpan that needs emptying just think Brown; that won’t get it emptied but it will help you remember why it isn’t.

As always lunch is on me for the first to ID the photo location.

Piling On

Inside Full Circle Bookstore, OKC.  ID’d by Steve Hunt

When I read the October 5, Tulsa World, Readers Forum piece by Curtis Shelton and David Autry of the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs, “State Budget Crisis?  What Budget Crisis?”, I was so disappointed that my hometown newspaper which had recently touted its new fact-checking mission would give space to the OCPA that I resolved I would not leave it unchallenged.  So I penned a letter to the editor, too long by a couple of hundred words, and emailed it in with much satisfaction because I not only pointed out shortcomings of Shelton and Autry’s drivel, but I also chided the World for printing it.   Back came a response that the editor liked my letter, but it was too long by about the number of words I wrote criticizing the World—go figure.

Actually the suggestion was not to drop my critique of the World, but to submit it separately from my letter responding to the OCPA’s piece; I did as suggested, and my eloquent epistle appeared Sunday, October 15.  But before I could bask in the glory of my erudite argument and dazzling data, another letter to the editor appeared October 12, penned by T. E. Connor and titled “More pie in the sky from political hacks”.  Mr. Connor chides them for claiming our state’s impending $500 million budget hole can be plugged by simply zeroing out the “pet projects” of “special interests” without providing any specifics.

I think Mr. Connor is spot on with his criticism.  You see the OCPA has been offering a series of “Cost Avoidance” recommendations throughout the special session and #8, by the OCPA’s Trent England, is “Make Low Priority Agencies Non-Appropriated”.  He lists three, probably after checking the list with his Board of Directors.  They are the J. M. Davis Gun Museum in Claremore, $288,000 appropriated, the Oklahoma Spaceport authority, I think $321,000 appropriated, and the Oklahoma Educational Television Authority, $3,608,000 (my numbers are best I can discern from the 2016 state financial report and budget).  In other words, Mr. England’s big idea to get to $500 million is saving $600,000 and killing off Big Bird in Oklahoma.

Three days later I got to bask in the glory of my letter which demonstrated, as I have many times in this Blog (see Same Song, Umpteenth Verse for a recent example) that the OCPA aggregates school revenues by double counting some and including fund balances as a way that grossly exaggerates the funding truly available to budget.  They also base their recommendations for funding teacher pay raises on the belief (or lie if they know better) that all school revenues can be used for any purpose.  I argued that if they so distort facts with respect to funding our schools, then they likely are employing similar misinformation about the state budget as a whole.  I loved it.

Then a mere three days after that, being today, the World’s new partnership with Politifact bore fruit with an almost full page fact-check of the Shelton/Autry/OCPA allegation that “state government spending is at an all-time high. The state is on track to spend more in this fiscal year — more than $17.9 billion — than at any time in state history.”  Jon Greenberg of Politifact explained how it is deceptive to talk about state spending levels over time without considering the impacts of increasing population and inflation, as most who work with such data would readily do.  He then concluded that the OCPA allegation is “Mostly False”. 

The fellows at the OCPA had scored a little win by getting the World to devote a quarter page to their drivel on October 5, something they could add to their monthly board productivity report, but then got slammed with a full page, in color, “Mostly False”.  Kind of makes this World subscriber proud and willing to keep paying for the print edition.  Actually the fellows got let off pretty easy by Politifact.  What is worse, in my opinion, than not considering inflation or population growth, is not discerning among the various components of the state budget that are not fungible, i.e. money that comes from the federal government for Medicaid program reimbursement cannot be used to hire more corrections workers.  As I have repeatedly explained before (see The Education of Little Thinker ) when the OCPA fellows have whined about all the money going to public schools in Oklahoma, the fact that more kids are eating and buying school meals at higher prices, that student activities like athletics and choirs are collecting more gate receipts and cookies sales, and that local communities are voting bonds to build and renovate their children’s school facilities, does not mean those increasing revenues can be used for teacher pay raises.

Here’s how Governor Fallin’s FY 2016 budget book states it:  “As a result, revenues available for discretionary spending are declining in years when total revenues are growing.  In these scenarios, many government functions receive fewer appropriated, or discretionary, dollars through the General Revenue Fund while other functions receive more apportioned, or mandatory, dollars.”   For many reasons, some within the Legislature’s control but many not, all state revenues are not fungible or available to be spent on any state function.  The OCPA’s passion for simply showing total revenues or total expenditures is of no help to those legislators who are trying to balance the state’s budget.  Our state’s challenges are more nuanced than that and you would think a think tank could think clearly about it.  Either clear thinking about policy is not their real mission or they simply are not capable.  Their statement is not only “mostly false” it is also mostly deceptive and/or irrelevant.

As always lunch is on me to the first to ID the photo location.

A Tribute to Vo and Katy

Statue of Luther in the Wittenberg Market plaza in front of the town hall just off Collegienstrasse about halfway from the Castle/All Saints Church of 95 Theses fame to the Lutherhaus where they lived; ID’d by my nephew Vince Taylor.

I’m taking a little break from critiquing the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs this time though I do have a brief comment about a recent post Teacher Hiring Devastated by Emergency “Common Sense Shortage” on their site by documented (see In A Flash , Crybabies and Where to Begin? ) Limited Thinker Greg Forster.  He questions whether teacher certification requirements are really beneficial and believes that eliminating them would end Oklahoma’s teacher shortage.  I commented on my experience as a beginning classroom teacher without the benefit of any focused preparation in my post (Charlie’s Wake ) Charlie’s Wake so have some first-hand experience with what he proposes.  I’ll only say I appreciate that Mr. Forster has stopped referring to Oklahoma’s teachers and administrators as “the Blob” by toning it down to “education establishment” and “old guard”.

Tomorrow is my mother’s birthday and she would be 92 if still with us.  Her given name was Veaujilla and her siblings were Xerlan, Gretzlyn, Arlon, Durian and Thamon; my grandfather Leslie Hazen was an interesting man.  My mother went by Vo.  Where we lived in the early 60’s the wives in each house next door and across the street were named Flo, Jo and Zo.  The neighborhood joke was that the husbands just had to yell “O” and some wife would answer.

I’ve written previously about my mother and father in They Made It Look Easy .  She was an amazing woman of intelligence, compassion and strength.  Anyone she interacted with was immediately drawn to her warm, caring personality.  After my brother and I left home she entered nursing school and had a successful career as an RN in Tulsa till her retirement to care for her father and step-mother.  Had she been born in 1955 instead of 1925 she would have been an amazing physician.

Any Watts family members still reading at this point are wondering if the second half of my tribute is to either of two women named Katy who are married to my nephews, one in Texas and the other in Florida.  Both, like my mother, are women of intelligence, compassion and strength and certainly worthy of tribute (Watts men always marry our betters), but I’m writing about neither.  The Katy who has been on my mind in recent weeks is Katharina Von Bora who was the wife of Martin Luther.

My mother’s mother died when my mother was five years old.  I had always understood that this grandmother I never knew was the daughter of two German immigrants and thought it would be interesting to learn where they immigrated from and visit those parts of Germany.  We had made a similar trip to England concerning Linda’s English grandmother and it was an interesting and fun experience.

My efforts in genealogy ran into a dead end when I learned that, while my grandmother’s mother was born in Germany and immigrated as a child, her father was the son of an English father and Irish mother; also I couldn’t find any specific immigration records.   Undaunted we decided we would still go to Germany but instead of chasing my roots, this October 31 being the 500th anniversary of the publication of his 95 Theses, we’d go see Martin Luther sites instead.

Here is Katharina Von Bora’s statue in Wittenberg where she and Martin Luther lived.

She was born in 1499 to noble but impoverished parents who sent her away to a nunnery at age 5.  At age 9 she moved to the Cistercian monastery in Nimbschen, near Grimma, south of Leipzig where she eventually became a nun.  Here are the ruins of her monastery that we visited.  They are near a lovely hotel and restaurant, old and new buildings, in a fairly rural and quiet area.

In 1523, having learned about the reformation activities sparked by Martin Luther in Wittenberg in 1517, she and eight other nuns escaped their Catholic dominated region in the wagon of a fish monger and settled in Wittenberg.  Her companions ranged in age from their teens to fifty something and one by one Martin Luther and other Wittenberg leaders found suitable arrangements/marriages for their well-being.  Eventually Katharine was the last without a permanent situation, having rejected more than one proposal.

She told a friend of Luther’s that she would marry Luther.  Having struggled with what impact his marriage might have on the reformation movement, Luther decided that marrying Katharine Von Bora would “…please his father, rile the pope, cause the angels to laugh, and the devils to weep.”  So they married in 1525.  Over the next ten years she bore six children, four who survived childhood.  She and Martin lived in their Wittenberg house that was previously an Augustinian dormitory which she ran and managed as a rooming house for both paying and non-paying students, friends and family.  She brewed and sold beer (the water was not safe to drink), maintained vegetable gardens and livestock outside the town and eventually managed a farm in another area.

Of course Martin Luther was teaching, writing, traveling and generally being famous all the years of their marriage until his death in 1546.  She lived seven more years to age 53, seeing their four children into adulthood.  She was literate but left few writings; what is known about her life in Wittenberg is largely through the extensive writings left by Luther and others, especially the men who attended his nightly “table talks” over dinner at the Luther house.  They were devoted to each other and Luther defied both law and tradition when he named her guardian of their children and beneficiary of his estate in his last will and testament, though after his death the court still required a man be appointed to help her.

As always lunch is on me for the first to ID the photo location.

The Education of Little Thinker

In my last post Same Song, Umpteenth Verse  I took Dave Bond and Curtis Shelton of the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs to task for their ill-informed and misleading September 19 post “Oklahoma Public School Revenues Are Higher Than Ever”.  Here is the graph they used

I tied in to their numbers and showed how they were double counting and using non-recurring funds to fabricate a tale of growing education revenue in our state.  There was more I could have said, as I have in many past posts ( Double, Double, Toil and Trouble  and Paradox of Thrift are two of several) , about their failure to comprehend even the most basic school district finance principles, but I stopped at those two and declared Mr. Shelton a Limited Thinker for the first time (Mr. Bond is a repeat offender,  see Done Waiting for Mr. Bond ).  So when I first read Mr. Shelton’s latest post “AP Reports States’ Funds ‘Slashed’, ‘Depleted’”, and saw this graph

I sadly thought here is a young “research fellow” going down the same path as the other Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs limited thinkers being unable to think clearly or do real research.  But then I noticed the graph has changed.  The total numbers for each year are now less and they appear clearly to be lower by the amount of the “double-counting” of “Non-Revenue Receipts” that are included in the first graph, which was the most obvious half of my prior critique.  So there is hope for this new thinker and I want to continue his education.

Here’s what he says in the earlier post after trying to convince us that Oklahoma schools are awash in funding:

“Tragically, too much of this increased funding hasn’t made it to the classroom where it could most directly benefit students.”  Then he pleas for giving school districts flexibility to re-allocate funding by saying, “For instance, lawmakers should send to a vote of the people a resolution allowing a larger percentage of local ad valorem dollars to be utilized for teacher salaries and other classroom expenses, rather than for buildings and technology upgrades only.” 

In the more recent post he echoes the same thought, “Murphy (the Associated Press writer) never explains why, with over $2 billion increased funding in a decade and with “new buildings and huge football stadiums,” school districts fail to prioritize teachers.”  Again his thinking (or the editorial direction he was given) has led him to the conclusion there is plenty of money, some of it just needs to be re-directed from its current uses to higher priority expenditures like teacher salaries.

Here’s my new chart to help him think about that with facts at hand.

I show FY2009 and FY2016 to keep it simple and for the reasons I stated in my last post, i.e. the state was still making a reasonable effort through 2009; our policy-caused woes have occurred since then.  I do not include “Cash Forward” or fund balances for reasons I’ve repeatedly written about ( see Where to Begin? and Paradox of Thrift ) , primarily you don’t rely on one-time money to cover recurring expenses and these funds are almost entirely already committed and even encumbered.  The Total New Revenues shown are the same as in my earlier chart, taken directly from the same Oklahoma State Department of Education data Mr. Shelton shows, however they are broken down by “fund” instead of “source”.   This makes it easier to explain what the revenue is used for.  Let’s work from the bottom up.

All Other is mostly the OKC area MAPS funding and statewide private gifts to school districts.  (The 2009 amount includes $1.333 million to make the overall total equal the state’s numbers due to an error on their end that I can’t explain.)  Local boards already have control over these funds subject to the giver’s requirements.

Student Activities is controlled by Title 70 Okla. Statutes Sect. 5-129 and is essentially where athletics admissions, school fundraisers, and other student activity related funding is deposited and must be expended for school activity purposes.  This is not a source for teacher raises.

Sinking/Bond Project funds are controlled by Article 10, Section 26 of the Oklahoma Constitution as more fully spelled out in Title 70 Okla. Statutes Sect. 1-119 and 15-101 through 15-106.1.  These funds cannot be used for teacher salaries.  We will come back to this shortly.

Child Nutrition funds are primarily federal money for school breakfasts and lunches, money paid by parents and students for student meals, and a little bit of state matching funds to secure the federal money.  These expenditures are controlled by Title 70, Sect. 3-119 and federal law.  None of this money can be used for teacher salaries.

Building funds are derived from a 5 mill levy established by our state’s Constitution at Article 10, Sect. 10, specifically for the purpose of erecting and maintaining school buildings.  These funds also cannot be used for teacher salaries, BUT can be used to maintain and operate school buildings including utilities and custodial costs.  In effect, based on local discretion, these funds are essentially operational and can free up other unrestricted operational funds to be used for teacher salaries.

Lastly, I have combined the General and Co-op funds together since the latter is essentially operational funds combined by two or more school districts to carry out a joint educational program.  These funds can be, and are mostly, used to compensate instructional and other staff needed to operate our school programs.

Note the last three lines of my table; these show per student revenue for 2009 and 2016, first for all New Revenue which includes much that cannot be legally used for teacher pay, then for the General/Co-op funds only, and lastly adding in the Building funds which I pointed out are operational, even though not available for teacher pay.  Despite the silly math of the OCPA the reality is clear—Oklahoma school districts have less funding per student ($260 per student less in their general funds and $214 per student less including their building funds) available now to fund classroom instruction than eight years ago and we haven’t even considered that insurance, utility and fuel costs have all steadily risen and take a larger share of those operational dollars now than in 2009.

So what is our little thinker thinking when he decries the money spent on buildings, technology and football stadiums?  Those are all choices made by local communities, paid for with local property taxes out of district Sinking funds, to retire bonded indebtedness used pursuant to our state Constitution.  Apparently, if he understands state law which is a big IF, he is advocating allowing local communities to sell bonds, i.e. incur debt, to give teacher pay raises.  That’s a pretty shocking recommendation coming from a “conservative” think tank.  You see all the operational millage that school districts receive is provided for in Article 10, Sections 9 and 10, of our state constitution, namely 35 mills for the general fund of each school district based on its own valuation, another 4 mills raised county-wide and distributed by student population (was originally the funding for Oklahoma’s separate schools under segregation), and the 5 mills for the building fund.  All of this is already available, the building fund by substitution, for teacher pay as I’ve discussed above.  The only other millage allowed is for retiring bond debt.  The legislature can do no more without an amendment to our Constitution to increase property taxes.

So I don’t get it and I don’t think little thinker Shelton does either.  But there is hope that he will actually read, think and do research in the future before simply regurgitating the misinformation he is being paid to promulgate.  What is even more amazing is that he and others at the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs are given space in the Tulsa World, a reputable news organization that recently committed to a relationship with Politifact to enhance its fact-checking capacity in our state.  If the World is interested in facts it will give no space to OCPA Limited Thinkers until they learn how to read, think and research.

As always lunch is on me to the first to ID the location of the above photo showing me as king of thinkers—and good luck with that.

 

 

Same Song, Umpteenth Verse

  Centennial Carousel, Elk City, OK  ID’d by Senator Stephanie Bice

Tomorrow the Oklahoma Legislature begins a special session to address the budget shortfall for FY 2018 and to consider funding for a teacher pay increase.  Having checked the website of the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs some days earlier and seeing nothing particularly related to the special session other than their regurgitation of non-specific “government bad, private good” drivel that they are paid to produce, I anticipated I would need to reprise my “The Glib, The Bad and The Ugly” post from just before the 2017 regular session when there was also talk of a teacher pay increase (which didn’t happen).  It’s pretty interesting how even our legislature, which is somewhat fiscally accountable, can tell there is no funding for teacher pay raises, but the Limited Thinkers at the OCPA continue to assure us that there is–by just distorting facts and making stuff up, though sometimes I wonder if the poor fellows there even know that’s what they are doing. 

The latest example, and I assume their attempt to “inform” the legislature before the special session convenes, is a September 19, 2017 post by fellows Curtis Shelton and Dave Bond.  I don’t think I’ve commented on Mr. Shelton’s work before but I’ve documented Mr. Bond as a Limited Thinker more than once (Something Special, Waiting for Dave Bond and Done Waiting for Mr. Bond) so it was no surprise that their attempt at providing “research” falls short of any standard of credibility.   To understand why, we must first examine their numbers.  Below I’ve copied their data from the row labeled “State Sources” to the row labeled “Per Pupil Revenue” for three fiscal years, 2006, 2009 and 2016.  Then below the horizontal line, taken from the same Oklahoma State Department of Education source, pdfs, I show “New Revenue”, a re-calculated “Per Pupil New Revenue”, “Bond Sales” and a calculated “Net Ad Valorem” for each of those three years.  

Here’s why I selected those three years.  I picked 2006 and 2016 because that’s the years they use as the start and the end; they are also the earliest and most recent now showing on the SDE website.  Then I picked 2009 because, having managed an Oklahoma school district’s finances during that roller coaster decade, I know that was the last year that school districts saw any appreciable increase in state appropriated funding over the prior year.  It also marked the beginning of the Great Recession (caused in no small part by the kind of anti-regulatory policies urged by the OCPA) which unfortunately coincided in the following years with the full fiscal impact of the silly “cutting taxes increases revenue” state fiscal policies urged by the OCPA.  Here is the actual data:  Revenue 2006Revenue 2009 and Revenue 2016

By choosing 2006 as the start they are able to say revenues have grown 41% over that 10-year period; however, over half, 23% of that “growth”, took place in just the first three years and only 18% in the most recent 7 years.  Using their data, the per pupil growth rates for the same two segments are 21% and 8%, respectively, making up their touted number of 29%.  It’s easy to cherry pick start and stop dates to prove a point if you don’t care about presenting real facts and context.  Even using their numbers, it is clear revenue growth has not been robust for Oklahoma schools since 2009.

Now let’s look below the line, where we find the real numbers.  Here is the bottom half of the last page of the 2016 SDE Revenue Report.  Notice nowhere do you find their “Total Revenue” amount of $8,812,222,076.52.  That’s simply because only a limited thinker would see that as a useful number.  The useful number that you do see is “New Revenue Received From School Year 2016” which is the $6,012,945,268 that I have entered in that row below the line, along with the New Revenue numbers for 2006 and 2009.

 

Bond and Shelton, showing that they can actually add together numbers they don’t understand, add on to the New Revenue amounts for each year the entries for “Balance Sheet Accounts”, being $2,048,140,826.61 for 2016, and for “Non-Revenue Receipts”, being $751,135,986.24 for 2016.  Because these two line totals have increased more rapidly over the years included than the ones that make up “New Revenue” then their inclusion simply distorts the facts in a way that fits the OCPA’s preconceived conclusion—that Oklahoma school districts have plenty of money for teacher pay raises or whatever.

I have written extensively in previous posts about each of these fallacious efforts to overstate school district revenues.  The easier to dispose of ( Double, Double, Toil and Trouble ) are the “Non-Revenue Receipts”—duh, aren’t Bond and Shelton at least curious why OSDE labels them as “non” revenue?  This is revenue that is recorded for tracking, but adding it to total revenues would overstate, or “double count”, the financial resources that are available.  The largest category is “Bond Sales” at $652 million that year most of which was probably raised to build and repair buildings; but you simply do not count that revenue AND the property tax revenue used to pay off the bonds—that is double counting.  Stated so perhaps Bond and Shelton can understand, if you borrow $10,000 to buy a car and then pay back the loan using $10,000 from your wages over the next year, your “income” was not $20,000, it was just $10,000 and you used it all to pay for the car.  The “New Revenue” used to pay back the “Bond Sales” non-revenue is included local ad valorem revenue, specifically property taxes collected into school districts’ sinking funds.  If you look below the line at “Bond Sales” and “Net Ad Valorem” (their “Total Ad Valorem” less my “Bond Sales”), it crudely shows bond sales grew 89% over that 10-year period while other ad valorem grew just over 60%.  Real research would probably reveal that more school districts turned to bond sales as a way to balance their general operating budgets for such things as text books, technology and student uniforms.  That’s not a very efficient way to pay for those items, but when other sources have dried up that’s how they are coping.

As I’ve written before there are also reasons why it is fallacious to view “Balance Sheet Accounts”, called “Cash Forward” by Bond and Shelton, in the same way as “New Revenue” ( Where to Begin? and Paradox of Thrift ).  First, and most obvious, is that it is one-time money.  So using it for something like recurring teacher salary increases would create an immediate revenue shortfall the following year.  Second, most of the “Balance Sheet Accounts” funding is already earmarked for such uses as retiring bond debt, child nutrition services, early fiscal year payroll obligations in advance of ad valorem calendar year collections, etc.  And the almost yearly state revenue failures since 2010 have caused prudent school boards to increase their local “savings accounts” to assure their ability to make payroll and pay district operational expenses when state revenue promises are not kept.

What’s the bottom line?  Look at the calculation of “Per Pupil New Revenue” for 2009 and 2016, it went from $8,644.40 to $8,680.82, essentially no actual dollar increase over seven years, while at the same time utilities, employee health insurance, fuel for buses, etc. all were steadily rising in price.  That is the reality of what Oklahoma school districts have faced, not the preconceived fantasy of abundance concocted by limited thinkers Bond and Shelton.  And what about their parting shot “…this increased funding hasn’t made it to the classroom…”?  I don’t even have to click on the link to know they’re echoing the same song, umpteenth verse about the “Surge” in hiring non-teachers.  Just read my posts A Dirge for a Surge , Purging the Surge and Return of the Surge to see more of their limited thinking, and laziness, on display.

As always, lunch on me for the first to ID its location; and good luck with that.

 

 

 

Dangerous Lessons

Wartburg Castle, above Eisenach, Germany; ID’d by Brooks Williamson.

Linda and I survived our old person adventure in another country where the people were friendly, the scenery was nice to look at, the food was good and our walks were pleasant, just like we enjoy in our own city and state.  After a week of getting caught up with tasks, enjoyable and not, I took a peek at the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs website to see if maybe they have improved while we were out of the country and found a September 1 post under “Educational Freedom” titled “Dangerous Distractions” by their President Jonathan Small.  Of course “dangerous” can make your mind go to “lions and tigers and bears, oh my!”  But we’re talking the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs so my mind went to what silliness is documented Limited Thinker (Onward to the Past and The 64 Million Dollar Question ) Small up to this time.

Here is his argument in a nutshell:  Everyone knows the Oklahoma City Public Schools are terrible—just look at all the F grades they get from our state legislature.  But instead of working to make the schools better, the OKC school board is worrying about schools named for Confederate soldiers.  They need instead to figure out why, over the last 25 years, they’ve wastefully hired all those non-teachers who obviously don’t help kids learn.  And, almost forgot, just give the money to private schools and for-profit charters and the students will instantly be better educated.

Wow; that’s some deep thinking about what’s “dangerous” for the students in Oklahoma City.  About the F grades and the school choice arguments I don’t have any comment today except to refer you to three other Oklahoma bloggers who have written extensively about these topics including how Oklahoma’s school grade cards are more about zip codes and income than about school effectiveness:  okeducationtruths.wordpress.com   viewfromtheedge.net and fourthgenerationteacher.blogspot.com

I will comment on the Confederate soldier names for schools.  I agree with Small that naming schools is not as important as assuring that all our children have access to a quality and safe education.  However, school boards are called on to set policy for a wide range of matters that may seem peripheral to the core function of education, like competitive athletics, candy sale fundraisers, facilities use agreements, dress codes, school building designs, etc., and naming schools is one of them.  I attended Celia Clinton Elementary, named as best I recall for the daughter of the man who provided the land on which the school was built, Eli Whitney Junior High, named for the cotton gin inventor, and Nathan Hale High School, named for the Revolutionary War patriot (of his new nation, not his state) who courageously gave his life for his country.  I remember the names but those are just the places where my education took place and if the Tulsa School Board, in its wisdom, were to re-name any or all of them I would not object.  Both Nathan Hale and Eli Whitney will long be remembered as part of our nation’s history regardless of whether these or any other buildings are named for them; and the family and friends who may remember Celia Clinton do so because of their relationships with her, not the building named for her.

Many school names have disappeared and changed in Tulsa, usually as with Lincoln, Pershing, Barnard, Irving, Horace Mann, etc. when the buildings are destroyed or no longer used as schools.  Others, like the former Wilson (where I taught in the early 70s) and Nimitz Junior High buildings, are renamed for new uses, now Mayo and Eisenhower Elementary schools, respectively.  Did those names disappearing or changing constitute “dangerous distractions”?  I think not.  And also I am among the many who understand that naming public buildings is not in and of itself “history”, nor does changing a building’s name change “history”.  Rather naming public buildings should be about who we, through our elected representatives such as the OKC school board, choose to honor and hold up to students and the public as examples of citizenship.   An interesting and inspiring choice in the Tulsa system is Memorial High School which, if my memory is correct, is named in honor of our service men and women collectively who have given their lives for our nation (not our state).

Yes, in grade school I read the biography of Robert E. Lee and understand that he was a man of courage and ability.  I have also since read that he was asked to serve as a military officer for the United States of American in defense of an armed rebellion against our nation and he declined, instead choosing to join that armed rebellion which cost hundreds of thousands** their lives.  I was born in Oklahoma, have lived here over sixty of my seventy years, and will most likely die here, but I have never considered myself an Oklahoman first above being a citizen of our great nation.  No, I do not think we should honor those who took up arms against the country they had once taken an oath to serve.  Changing a school name does not alter history; it is the relatively unimportant prerogative of each generation of school board members to do or not as they deem appropriate and doing so is not “dangerous”.

What is dangerous?  I did some quick and dirty searching on the word along with some Oklahoma state budget related topics and here’s what I found.

  1. This 2013 USA Today article “States with the most dangerous bridges” lists Oklahoma as the second worst, and the only state among the 10 worst that had more dangerous bridges then than two years previously. I wonder how Oklahoma fares today after four more years of failed budgets due to the fiscal policies urged by the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs.  Now this is scary.

https://www.usatoday.com/story/money/business/2013/06/29/states-most-dangerous-bridges/2456467/

  1. This from the Oklahoma Department of Public Safety website in March of this year:

OHP Chief Rick Adams said, “The perilous security environment created by a 15 percent budget cut places citizens at increased risk, local law enforcement at risk and our troopers’ lives at risk. This is a gathering Public Safety Crisis that can only be fixed by adequate funding, and everyone will feel the impact. Further triaging of resources, further cuts in mileage and no manpower replacements – all at a time when 26 percent of the OHP is eligible for retirement – makes this evolving situation far more sinister than budget crises of the past.”

You can read the rest of it and then decide which is more “dangerous”, these cuts to Oklahoma Highway Patrol services and capacity or renaming some schools.

https://content.govdelivery.com/accounts/OKDPS/bulletins/18c0b67

  1. And this from Oklahoma News 4 story “Oklahoma Department of Corrections: prison overpopulation becoming dangerous”:

According to the DOC, there are 26,619 inmates being housed in state-run and private prisons or halfway houses; 32,564 being supervised on GPS monitors, community supervision or by probation and parole officers; and 1,829 in county jail backup.  Corrections Director Joe M. Allbaugh said the numbers are a sobering reminder of how overpopulated and dangerous the state’s prison system continues to become.  “We are beyond the tipping point,” Allbaugh said. “The staff and the public are at risk every day when we operate at this capacity. We are critically understaffed in facilities that weren’t built to house inmates. Some of these places are over a century old, causing the agency to hemorrhage money. Statewide, our prisons are in need of more than $2 billion in infrastructure repairs.  We have individuals working in the agency who qualify for food stamps and an astronomical turnover rate close to 40 percent, which is leading to money spent on perpetual officer academies and training for new employees,” he continued. “The inefficient practices inundating the agency for decades must end.”

http://kfor.com/2016/12/16/oklahoma-department-of-corrections-prison-overpopulation-becoming-dangerous/

Again Small demonstrates that he is a Limited Thinker by focusing on the inconsequential, school boards changing school names, as being dangerous, when his “Think Tank” has prescribed the very “tax cuts increase revenues” fiscal policy that has left our state unable to take care of basic state services, like having safe bridges, adequate state law enforcement, and prisons that increase our safety instead of putting corrections officers and the public at risk, thereby making our state truly a more dangerous place to live.  If the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs were truly interested in helping our public policy discourse then they would do real research instead of echoing the same old stories like this statement in his post:

From the 1992-1993 school year to the 2013-2014 school year, OKCPS saw student increases of just 10 percent and teacher staff increases of just 11 percent, according to the SDE. That same time period saw non-teacher staff increases of 24 percent, or approximately 545 additional non-teachers.

As I’ve pointed out in Purging the Surge , A Dirge for a Surge and Return of the Surge , if the OCPA is truly concerned about this data then do the hard work and let’s see how many of those 545 are teacher assistants due to the expansion of early childhood education, how many are cafeteria workers due to the expansion of the school breakfast and lunch programs, and how many are mandated because, duh, Oklahoma City’s student population has changed with more special education students, more students for whom English is not their primary language and more students living in poverty.  Each of these categories mandates more staffing than was the case in 1992.  But no, the OCPA isn’t interested in discerning the truth, they are only interested in pushing the narrative dictated by their funders—government bad, private always better.

As always lunch on me to the first to ID where the photo was taken, a place far away where long ago a real thinker found refuge from real danger.  My friend Brooks Williamson Id’d the photo; thinking of school names I have to pay tribute to his grandfather T. D. Williamson who was a loyal supporter of his beloved Central High School in Tulsa and his support continued even when the school board did the “unthinkable” and moved it outside of downtown Tulsa and out of its wonderful building that is headquarters now for AEP/PSO.  Loyalty to schools and education is not about names or buildings, it’s about caring for next generation and the future.

**I originally posted “millions” without fact checking.  One reputable source says about 600,000 deaths.  Unlike the OCPA I will correct my errors when found.

A Letter For Hallie

  Spreckles Organ in Balboa Park, San Diego; the world’s largest outdoor pipe organ.  ID’d by Tom Spencer.

We leave soon to spend two weeks touring historical sites, in a country with responsible adult leadership, related to the 500th anniversary of a pivotal event in world history.  Though focused on travel preparations I wanted to write another post before leaving without having to work too hard. Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs Communications Associate Hallie Milner, by regurgitating arguments from Limited Thinkers I’ve previously debunked, handed me an easy assignment. Based on her title and photo I’m assuming she is fairly new to the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs mission of misleading Oklahomans and that she still can learn how to thoughtfully analyze information and present truthful arguments that are not formed in advance of her analysis like her colleagues, the Fellows at the OCPA, usually do.  So I will not deem her to be a limited thinker this time.

 

Dear Hallie,

Congratulations on having a job with an organization whose mission is supposed to be doing research and providing information about matters of importance to the quality of life for the people of Oklahoma.  It is an opportunity to use your academic skills for the betterment of our state.  Unfortunately, based on my thoughtful review of many writings promulgated by your colleagues over the last year, summarized in my recent Declaration of Intelligence, they fall far short of any reasonable measure of quality.  In several writings about them I have demonstrated that they often are deliberately misleading, shoddily researched and of no useful value to Oklahoma’s policy makers.

Your July 17, 2017 post “Comparing Oklahoma School Districts To Surrounding States” is similarly deficient in a couple of ways.  I applaud that you tackled the issue of school district consolidation in Oklahoma; as a big city guy I’ve always believed that having fewer school districts would improve education in our state, though I admit my belief is not based on any real research, and your writing does not provide any other than to state the obvious that there would be fewer superintendents.  While the savings from having fewer superintendents is real, I doubt that it is highly significant, probably less than what we’d save if we got rid of either our state house or senate, a consolidation idea that also has much merit.  Rather the real savings would come from reducing the “fixed costs” to which you allude but about which you do not elaborate or quantify.

As a Tulsa Public Schools board member during the early 1980s when we were still adjusting to its dramatic decline in school enrollment, I reviewed many studies about the cost savings of school consolidation.  My recollection is that the primary savings came from not operating as many buildings, i.e. fewer custodians, lower utilities, less maintenance and repairs, etc., from having fewer building administrators, and from having larger class sizes when students are served in one building instead of two.  Most of the savings came from changes in staffing standards, but undeniably operating fewer buildings saves money.  And isn’t that the political challenge with school consolidation in rural Oklahoma:  fewer buildings means many small towns lose their primary employer and even their reason for being.  We also had to consider the increase in student transportation costs which in a rural setting would be even greater and some offset.

I suspect much has been written and researched about the experiences other states have had with school consolidation which might provide helpful guidance to our state’s policy makers, but instead of turning to the obvious you looked only at a brief summary of work by Benjamin Scafidi that I’ve reviewed in several posts, Purging the SurgeA Dirge for a Surge and Return of the Surge.  Based on his work you make this statement:

The abundance of school districts could also explain some of the growth of non-teaching jobs in Oklahoma public education. Between 1998 and 2011, Oklahoma increased school administration employees by 49 percent, while student enrollment only increased by 6 percent. In other words, in the Oklahoma education system, administration grew eight times faster than the students did. When federal or state overreach imposes burdens on local districts, those burdens can require hiring additional district-level staff. While no one can blame school districts for unfunded mandates, perhaps the cost of such overreach would be less if Oklahoma had fewer public school districts. 

By referring only to “school administration employees” you do not inform your readers that Scafidi’s work looks at two categories of employees—teachers and all others.  All others includes school administrators but mostly consists of “teacher aides, counselors, social workers, reading and math coaches, janitors, bus drivers, cafeteria workers, curriculum specialists, etc.” to use his most recent words.  In Oklahoma, if you did real research, I suspect you’d find that the largest numbers of “all other” are teacher assistants, bus drivers and cafeteria workers– job categories most people would not consider as “school administration”.   Why then do you use the term “administration”?  If you are misinformed, then at least read the source material.  If you just want to mislead your readers, then you are working at the right place.

Now if your theory, that an abundance of school districts explains the growth in administration employees per Scafidi’s research, is correct then we should see a correlation between the number of students per school district in a state and the ratio of the growth in “administration” to the growth in students, namely an inverse relationship.  In other words, if we look at the six states you mentioned in your post, Oklahoma, Texas, Colorado, Kansas, Missouri and Arkansas, the “Scafidi Ratio” as I’ll call it, namely growth in non-teaching employees divided by growth in students, should be in the opposite order of your first graph and the same order as your second graph.  Specifically, Oklahoma should have the highest Ratio, followed by Missouri, Kansas, Arkansas, Colorado, and Texas, in that order.

Here’s the data from Appendix 1 of Scafidi’s most recent work, see Return of the Surge, that is based on student and employee growth rates from 1992 to 2015, and my calculation of the Scafidi Ratio:

 

State Student All Other Staff Scafidi
Growth Growth Ratio
Oklahoma 17% 36%      2.12
Missouri 9% 24%      2.67
Kansas 12% 50%      4.17
Arkansas 12% 50%      4.17
Colorado 50% 94%      1.88
Texas 48% 66%      1.38

The data doesn’t support your argument because the Ratio column should trend steadily down, but instead rises before it then falls.  If there is a relationship to the Scafidi Ratio it appears to be to the Student Growth percentage, i.e. the greater the student growth, the lower the Ratio, which has nothing to do with school district consolidation.

Again school district consolidation is a worthy topic for research by a think tank.  Think harder and maybe next time your writing will contribute meaningfully to the discussion.

 

As always lunch is on me for the first to ID the location of the photo above.  14 free lunches eaten so far.

Return of the Surge

Nebraska Capitol in Lincoln; ID’d by Kenneth Cole

As summer draws to a close and with my grandkid Uber driver duties suspended unexpectedly while they are out of town a few days, I took a look to see what’s happening on the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs website—and it wasn’t pretty, but it does give me an opening to complete the San Diego trifecta before summer’s end.  I first wrote about the amazing Slomo in A Rise By Any Other Name.  We actually saw him again this July, for the first time in several visits to Pacific Beach, while we were watching the sunset, hoping for a green flash.  We did not see the flash which I wrote about in my post In A Flash and is the second of the trifecta.  The third happening in the trifecta is to see a grunion run.  More about them in a bit.

Hot off the press on the OCPA’s “Educational Freedom” blog is the title “Oklahoma’s (Missing) $8,872 Teacher Pay Raise”.  It is another iteration of the research done by Benjamin Scafidi about the scandalous fact that school districts nationwide have dared to hire adults to help educate, transport, feed and keep safe our nation’s children.  His newest report is titled “Back-to-the-Staffing-Surge-by-Ben-Scafidi”.  I have dealt with his work in earlier posts, namely a A Dirge for a Surge, Purging the Surge, The Glib, The Bad and The Ugly, and The Ugly Step-Thinker, but like a bad horror movie genre (think Return of Swamp Thing, Return of the Living Dead or Return of the Killer Tomatoes), he keeps “surging” back to remind us of the obvious, that school districts could afford to give Oklahoma’s teachers an $8,872 raise if they would just fire thousands of teacher assistants, bus drivers, cafeteria workers, custodians, and, of course, administrators. 

But first let’s enjoy the beach.  Grunion are small (think double the size of minnows) ocean fish that return to Southern California beaches with the twice monthly highest tides (full moon and new moon) from spring through summer to spawn in the sand.  The eggs are laid and fertilized in a frenzy of activity on the beach as the grunion ride in with each wave during a “run”.  The eggs take about a half month to incubate in the sand and then the new little grunion can head out with the next lunar high tide.  It’s pretty cool to see and also reasonably predictable.  Linda and I saw them first in the early nineties while taking what we thought would be a quiet night time stroll on the summer sand—instead we found a grunion run in progress and lots of spectators and a couple of “fishermen” who were gathering them up by hand in buckets (this is allowed for some of the season’s runs).  Here’s this year’s schedule.  https://www.wildlife.ca.gov/Fishing/Ocean/Grunion#28352306-2017-runs

Here’s a couple of photos, not ours which I couldn’t locate, but similar to what we have seen a few times over the years. 

 

Here is a video of our most recent grunion run experience in June, 2016.

So you see the grunion “return” each year to do their thing.  You may have heard of another California based annual returning, namely the swallows of Mission San Juan Capistrano.  After driving past the exit many times on I-5 between Los Angeles and San Diego we finally made a brief visit to the Mission and were so impressed that we timed a spring vacation visit the next year to coincide with the March 19 festival when the birds would return to nest at the Mission.  Turns out they don’t.  The only nesting swallows we saw that year at a mission were at Dwight Mission in Oklahoma a few weeks later.  The swallows do return to San Juan Capistrano but they no longer nest at the old Mission building, preferring higher buildings and bridges instead.  Still the Mission festival and activities are lots of fun, including a lecture by a biology professor from the University of Tulsa who does field work studying cliff swallows in Nebraska.

Now we return to the surge.  The timing of Surge Scafidi’s post is ironic coming the same day the Oklahoma Supreme Court has nixed the legislature’s $1.50 per pack “fee” on cigarettes costing our already strapped state budget over $200 million in budgeted revenues.  So now our governor and the majority of our legislators who previously swallowed the supply side tax cutting myth peddled by the limited thinkers at the OCPA are learning that when you cut tax rates you generally will collect less revenue—duh.  But there is no easy correction because with the passage in 1992 of State Question 640, in direct response to the implementation of House Bill 1017, see Once Upon A Time and House Bill 1017 25th Anniversary, it takes a super majority three-fourths vote to raise state revenue.  Not to worry though because the Surge assures us there’s plenty of funding for teacher pay raises, just fire all the other excess school employees—exactly 6,221 of them.

As I pointed out in my earlier critiques of his work, his not so veiled effort to mislead his readers into believing that school administrators made up the bulk of the non-teacher hiring surge certainly diminishes his credibility as a “researcher” interested in presenting facts.  He has yielded somewhat to that criticism by now clearly stating up front that “all other staff” includes “teacher aides, counselors, social workers, reading and math coaches, janitors, bus drivers, cafeteria workers, curriculum specialists, etc.” as well as school administrators.  He also acknowledges that from 1950 to 1992 perhaps additional staffing was justified “because during those decades public schools began welcoming students with special needs and were allowed to integrate by race or were integrated by government policies.”  Translated he’s thrown in the towel on holding up the state of public education in 1950 as being a lofty standard to which we should aspire.  Instead he harkens back to 1992 as the gold standard for school staffing.

For Oklahoma his data, which I have not vetted, shows that from 1992 to 2015 our student population went up 17% and the “all other staff” increased 36%.  By doing simple arithmetic, i.e. 36% – 17% = 19%, that is the percentage of excess “all other staff” schools have, being 6,221 positions, which at $60,000 each would free up over $373 million for teacher raises—did you notice the $60,000?  Now Surge Scafidi looks at national data first, and then does a state by state breakout so all the little echo tanks around the country, like the OCPA, can try to capture a newspaper or other media headline telling the public there’s plenty of funding for schools and teacher raises.  Fair enough if your objective is pushing a preconceived narrative, i.e. “public schools bad, school choice good” instead of doing real research and analysis.

What drives me crazy is that the limited thinkers at the OCPA, if they were true thinkers, should not regurgitate this data for Oklahoma consumption without a little localized vetting.  For example:

1.  If Surge Scafidi acknowledges that staffing levels for schools in 1950 that did not serve all students regardless of race or disability were less than what is justifiable and needed in 1992, then perhaps the passage of House Bill 1017 and subsequent legislation expanding early childhood education and mandating the use of teacher assistants in those programs explains some of the surge since 1992.  If the Surge’s pay raise plan for teachers comes at the expense of dismantling early childhood education programs in Oklahoma our policy makers need to know that—if facts mean anything to Limited Thinkers. 

2.  A quick glance at national school nutrition data (https://www.fns.usda.gov/pd/child-nutrition-tables ) shows that total meals served nationally went from 4,953,830,000 in 1992 to 7,339,690,000 in 2015 for an increase of 48.2% while student population increased only 20% according to the Surge’s table.  I suspect Oklahoma’s data would show a similar pattern.  More meals served per student likely means more staff, i.e. cafeteria workers, needed at a rate of increase greater than student growth.    If the Surge’s pay raise plan for teachers comes at the expense of cutting back on child nutrition programs in Oklahoma our policy makers need to know that—if facts mean anything to Limited Thinkers.  It’s also worth mentioning, Surge Scafidi, that any funding saved by reducing cafeteria staffing will lower the price of school meals and is not available for teacher raises.

3.  $60,000; yes, $60,000, tell that to Oklahoma’s teacher assistants, bus drivers and cafeteria workers.  That’s what Surge Scafidi, for his “thought experiment”, determined is a low side estimate of their average annual compensation and cost to their employer that, if laid off, could be used for teacher raises.  In my posts Miserables Love Company and Later, Sooner I show why The 1889 Institute’s Byron Schlomach, my Schlomo, is off by $10,000 when he claimed the average Oklahoma teacher costs $66,000.  So a real number for the cost of a teacher in 2015 is about $56,000; ask teacher assistants, bus drivers and cafeteria workers if they are paid, in Oklahoma, as much as teachers.  $60,000 as an average cost saved for each of those 6,221 “all other staff” the Surge wants Oklahoma districts to lay off is an absurdly high number.  At most it is half that amount so double the number of “all other staff” the Surge wants us to fire so teachers can have a raise—if facts mean anything to Limited Thinkers.

I shouldn’t be doing this quick analysis.  If the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs is going to print this stuff and pass it off as real research, the limited thinkers there should vet it themselves—if only they knew how.  But see facts don’t matter to them as long as the “research” conforms to their narrative that “public education bad, school choice good”.

As always lunch on me to the first to ID the lead photo.

 

 

Charlie’s Wake

This is the real challenge; the one below it is a hint.

 

A couple of years into my decade of teaching economics at Tulsa Junior (now Community) College a couple of us decided to organize a men’s (late 1970s) faculty softball team and enter the City’s park and rec league. There were ten positions and you had to buy your position so there was no coaching and no subs during games. We called ourselves the Pedants (look it up, I had to).  I played mostly outfield for three years till I tired of the lousy schedules we got being in the lowest league and the rest of my life, like coaching youth soccer and politics picked up.  We included a couple of ringers, one named Charlie came to us by way of his neighbor Danney Goble, gifted member of the history faculty and published author (see Onward to the Past), but more a wannabe ball player like the rest of us than the real deal.  Charlie, though more than a decade older than the rest of us, was the real deal having played for a baseball state championship as a student at Tulsa Central (I think they won).  Charlie taught mathematics at a local junior high school and we welcomed him as a polished player at any position who quietly led by example and consistency, and he could suffer us fools.   Here is a photo of gifts he welded for each of us.

 

Our softball friendship evolved into four of us Pedants playing doubles tennis year ’round every Saturday morning for about 15 years at the courts by Hillcrest Hospital.  Charlie was not then a tennis payer but had accepted my challenge and beat me (I had played off and on since junior high) with steady defense the first time, and every time, we played singles.  He was savvy and a good athlete.  He was my partner all those years against our shortstop and first baseman, the Mikes.  

Over the years we shared many conversations and experiences off the court as our children grew up and some left home.  Our Saturday matches ended when Charlie and one Mike could no longer play hard court tennis without pain so they focused on golf while the other Mike and I continued with tennis by joining a USTA league and settling in with new tennis friends.  As happens when common interests end Charlie and I just didn’t stay in touch except through reports by mutual friends.  I did visit him last December and planned to do so again.  He died in July.  

My first job out of college was teaching secondary mathematics for the School District of Philadelphia.  I had scholarship offers to study for a PhD in economics at UCLA and Wisconsin (my preference) but a 1A draft status and the Vietnam War (Plan C for us losers who didnt have bone spurs or other medical disqualification) derailed my plan A.  Plan B presented itself when the Philadelphia recruiters came on campus looking for math and science teachers.  My minor in mathematics qualified me so they got a two year commitment from a certifiable, though wholly unprepared, math teacher and I got an occupational deferment from the state of Pennsylvania; my time in Philly lasted four years and every day I was grateful for the deferment my education provided me and knew that otherwise I could be one of the thousands of my less fortunate contemporaries.   

In reality I was a poor recruit to teach in the Philadelphia schools.  True I knew math, would easily get emergency certification followed by standard certification in one year, and I was highly motivated by the evening news to stay employed, but I had no experience and no training to be a teacher.  Regardless, I had a contract to teach; the only question was at what school. The best secondary positions were in the high schools simply because the students are calmer at that age and many of the hardest to manage had dropped out.    Many junior high teachers, if they had high school subject certifications, would put in for transfers that were often awarded based on seniority.  So I was first assigned to a north Philly junior high, went for the interview, and the principal wisely passed, opting instead for his uncertified long term sub on whom he knew he could rely to last year after year, unlike us newbies who had a 60+% no show rate the second year. 

The principal at my second assigned north Philly junior high either didn’t care or figured he was stuck with me so I reported there the first day with the other faculty for my teaching assignment, as did an experienced teacher from the Catholic diocese schools. He had taken the job for higher pay and the pension, not the working conditions.  Yes, the District Office bureaucracy had assigned two of us to the same position.  He pulled out his union book and cited something that said since he was there first he would get the assignment; I didn’t object assuming I’d have a job somewhere since they’d signed a contract with me.  He spent the day in teacher meetings while I sat in the office.  At some point the District Office acknowledged their error and determined I would be assigned to West Philadelphia High School which happened to be a pleasant one mile walk from our apartment near the University of Pennsylvania.  The next four years were challenging to say the least, but I know my work life would have been much harder but for this lucky accident.  Here is West Philly High.

 

Working hands on as a classroom teacher those four years in Philly, then two at Wilson Junior High in Tulsa, followed by eleven at Tulsa Junior College, left me with several observations.

1.  Not much good is going to happen in your classroom for students if you don’t have disciplinary control.  Individually my students at West Philly were as sweet and fun as anywhere else, but there were enough who couldn’t sit still, goofballs, that maintaining discipline my first year was impossible and very challenging the other three.  Lower class sizes definitely help.

2.  Some people have a natural or acquired teaching charisma that students respond to; most of us do not.  These “naturals” are special and every student deserves to be taught and inspired by one or more each year.  The rest of us can be good teachers if we follow the well-established teaching rubrics that are tried and true and that most teachers are exposed to in their college instruction.  Simply stated:  review prior, introduce new, practice new, evaluate, then use evaluation to guide next session, i.e. review, etc.

3.  The best teachers are in K-12 schools; not colleges and universities.  College and university teachers look good because they start with self-disciplined students who are motivated to please the teacher—how can you fail to look good.  But many of them haven’t a clue how to really teach and wouldn’t last a semester at the schools where Charlie and I taught.

4.  In real world K-12 schools a strong, effective building leader makes a huge difference.  This fact was driven home to me when, after several days on the picket line in West Philadelphia a judge ordered my union, the American Federation of Teachers, back to work.  After a day of reflection, I went back to work; most did not.  With the teachers available the District established “Senior Centers” so the high school seniors could stay on track for graduation.  I was assigned to Bartram High School in southwest Philly where the principal was a well-organized, highly visible, leader.  Unlike my school where the school office was the center of chaos and the principal (his name was Walter Scott, I kid you not) rarely left his office, if he was in the building at all, the Bartram principal and school administration functioned and had your back which the students figured out.  It was like night and day.

So, in my opinion, if you want K-12 schools to function properly hire all the natural teachers you can recruit, be sure the rest follow a sound teaching rubric, give every building a strong, knowledgeable leader who will stay several years, and then get out of their way.  The best resource for understanding how this works is the Effective Schools movement; I was lucky as a school board member in Tulsa to hear its founder, Ron Edmonds, speak a few years before his passing.  Here’s what makes effective schools:  have strong building leadership, an orderly environment (discipline), high expectations for student success, focus on instructional time, and frequent monitoring of student progress using results to adapt instruction.  At one time Tulsa Public Schools had a School Effectiveness policy, I know because I introduced it; a policy isn’t needed, it’s just what I could do as a board member, but having educators committed to these strategies that are known to work is essential. 

I don’t know if Charlie was a good teacher because I was never in his classroom and never talked with one of his students.  I do know that he showed up for work every day, that he worked hard and that he cared about his students.  I know this because that is how he approached every endeavor we shared—he showed up, worked hard and cared about the people he was with.  With the right educational leadership in our state, in our school districts, in each school, and with the committed educators we have, the many more we need in our classrooms and lots of Charlies, children in all parts of Oklahoma can learn, thrive and help our state become a better place to live for us all.  What’s stopping us is state political leadership, bolstered with the shoddy cookie-cutter policy work done by Limited Thinkers at the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs and its echo tank the 1889 Institute, that sees only what public education costs our state with no attention to the lasting benefits it produces or to financing proven strategies that will make our schools more effective. 

As always lunch is on me (13 free lunches so far) to the first to ID each photo location.