Friday, December 21, 2012

Round Rock Push Poll Backfires

Political activists are quite familiar with 'push polls' in which a question is asked in such a way so as to 'push' a particular point of view.  After pushing an answer, the pollster happily trots out the results to support the chosen narrative.  But every once in awhile the public gets informed and the 'push' attempt backfires. 

It is so blatantly obvious that the newspaper's question is designed to skew votes against Romere, (and doesn't even mention the issue at stake!)  Shameless, but happily the people rejected the 'push' this time. 

And the print media wonders why they have lost the public trust.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Dismantling Democracy in Public Ed

I'm afraid I've been negligent in posting my newspaper columns on this blog site, and have missed several of the most recent.  Here is my "All In Perspective" column from the week of December 12.  "All In Perspective" currently runs in the Georgetown Advocate, Hill Country News, and Jarrell Star Ledger print newspapers.  

Americans have long believed that providing education is essential to a successful society. The Constitution leaves education to state and local governments, and typically public school administrators answer to parents and voters via the democratic process. Now, however, it seems there is a determined effort to dismantle voter control of public schools.

Control of curriculum content has been very much in the news in Texas for several years now. Elected State Board of Education members review and approve content for public school textbooks, and work to ensure that our values are reflected in the curriculum. In response, many left-wing advocates have called for curtailing SBOE powers or even abolishing the SBOE altogether.

Now, however, the political Left is working to circumvent SBOE curriculum oversight via a program called CSCOPE. Created by educrats at Texas’ enigmatic Education Service Centers, CSCOPE is not an acronym; apparently the term has no meaning whatsoever. CSCOPE is presented not as ‘curriculum’ per se, but a “curriculum management system,” and therefore does not require SBOE review. Furthermore, the Texas Attorney General has stated that while CSCOPE is subject to the Public Information Act, it is a copyrighted product, and public review would give competitors an unfair advantage. (Never mind the ‘advantage’ wielded by a government entity creating and selling product to school districts.) Teachers must sign contracts preventing them from sharing CSCOPE content, and parents and taxpayers have been denied the right to review elements of the program now used in more than 70% of Texas school districts.

Last month the Texas SBOE did hold hearings on CSCOPE that included testimony from numerous teachers and parents concerned about the content and usability of the CSCOPE program, but it is unclear as to what state agency has jurisdiction. While CSCOPE may very well have educational merit, as implemented the program severely limits public scrutiny of curriculum content.

Voter control over public school districts is also being limited from within the districts themselves. Although voters in each community elect a board of trustees to govern the local school district, school superintendents have been pushing rules to limit trustee authority. In the Round Rock ISD, elected trustees are not permitted to visit schools without the superintendent’s permission and are not allowed to conduct investigations into school district matters. Earlier this year, the RRISD also implemented a new rule requiring that a majority of the seven board members agree before even taking up an issue for discussion. Since the RRISD superintendent sets board meeting agendas, an unelected bureaucrat wields disproportionate power over the elected board.

Even more disturbing were comments made regarding public information and transparency at a recent Round Rock School Board meeting. After denying an elected trustee data regarding attendance, RRISD Superintendent Jesus Chavez stated that he had the right to determine what district information was given to the school board. (The trustee was also censured for pursuing the question.) Chavez’ attitude may come as a shock to voters and parents who thought that the school superintendent was the employee of the voters via the trustees. Voters should be aware, however, that newly elected trustees are sent to ‘training’ by the Texas Association of School Boards, where they are admonished to always defer to the superintendent.

There is a prevailing attitude amongst education ‘elites’ that they alone know what is best for children, and that they must work to disentangle education from voter and parental influence. Unfortunately, these elites are ever finding new and creative ways to manipulate education and evade scrutiny. Parents and taxpayers should be paying very close attention to the activities of educrats at both the state and local level.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Powerful Voices Speak at Round Rock School Board Meeting: Updated 12/15

While I was unable to attend last night's Round Rock ISD board meeting, one nationally-known activist did:  Texas Americans For Prosperity Director Peggy Venable.  Venable presented an open letter to the Round Rock School Board on behalf of Americans For Prosperity, in which she reminds the trustees that they work for the taxpayers and citizens and have no right to censure elected officials with whom they disagree. 

She also noted that similar behavior on the part of the El Paso ISD Superintendent prevented that board from gaining information about illegal activities that eventually led to jail time for Superintendent Garcia.  Venable correctly stated that public records belong to everyone, including elected members of the board.

Regarding the School Health Advisory Council (SHAC,) it seems the Superintendent finally got around to reading the state's education law code and created a new presentation that includes detailed information.  The new document is in stark contrast with the sloppy and unprofessional work submitted by Superintendent Jesus Chavez' administration for 2011-2012.  Of course this battle is far from over; Planned Parenthood CEO Cecile Richards' group, "Texas Freedom Network," has been trying to use local SHAC's to impose radically leftist sex education programs in Texas schools.  Watch for the RRISD Superintendent and the liberal-progressive members of the school board to try to stack the district's SHAC with TFN activists.

If you are not too busy with those Christmas preparations and would like to send a note of support to Peggy Venable and the two board members who are standing up for transparency in government, here is their contact information:

Texas AFP Director Peggy Venable:  Comment on her Open Letter here.
RRISD Elected Trustee Terri Romere:
RRISD Elected Trustee Pauline Law:

Update:  It seems I missed another powerful message that was delivered to the RRISD Board of Trustees on December 13.  A Round Rock citizen by the name of Scott Campbell addressed the board and circulated a copy of his comments.  Campbell's well-written letter reminds me of the scare-mongering perpetuated by RRISD Superintendent Jesus Chavez during the 2011 Legislative session, and the erroneous information he put forth.  Regarding recent board conduct, Mr. Campbell notes that five board of trustee members "have fallen short" of our trust.

Scott Campbell's letter to the RRISD Board of Trustees.

Thank you for the opportunity to address the Round Rock ISD Board of Trustees.

Our message this evening is about "trust", the root of the word "trustee", the trust we as parents and community members placed in you when electing you to make decisions maximizing our children's quality of education while optimizing the use of funds financed by the taxes we pay. Recent decisions by five board of trustee members have fallen short of this trust.

The board member these board members have censured on multiple occasions represents a minority viewpoint within the board of trustees. The legitimate concerns she raises on behalf of the community stakeholders are being marginalized. She asks questions and digs deeper for data in the interest of making informed decisions. This due diligence is met by resistance from other board members with statements such asI/we don't or can't ask those types of questions". While community input is solicited, these board members generally vote with the administration's recommendation.

During the 2011state legislative session, as the state budget proposal was becoming clearer, an error in calculating the remaining RRISD budget impact, including the benefit of $7m additional federal funding, forecasted a $33m deficit rather than a $13m deficit, a $20m error. The board approved a tentative action allocating $15m from the available fund balance to reduce the $33m deficit, while continuing to communicate fear and anxiety to the employees, students and parents. I brought this error to the attention of the board president and superintendent. Rather than examine the numbers more closely, the board president's only response was that the state hadn't finalized the budget. Ms. Occhiuzzi called me at the superintendent's request and after I explained the error, she had Mr. Flores call me who confirmed the error in the district calculations. That day, the incorrect information was pulled from the district website, thereby reducing stakeholder anxiety.  At the time the board of trustees acted on this data, a basic ''gut check" should have exposed the magnitude of the error. In the course of this process, I contacted Ms. Romere. She took the time to understand the data in the interest of making informed future decisions.

We further know that incorrect data was presented during the boundary alignment process and that the recent Student Health Advisory Committee was not formed according to state education law. The Student Health Advisory Committee is only one example where the RRISD Board of Trustees and persons at various levels in the administration are unaware of state and federal law that should be guiding the decision process.

Data is "hard". This is why it is incumbent on each board member to ask questions to ensure they are    making informed decisions based on correct information.  

The recent censure of Ms. Romere resulted from her quest to ensure valid data. Based on data provided after the August vote allocating $25m for the Success High School, I calculated the cost per student to be 2-3 times that of the recently built Cedar Ridge High School. With more recent data, the cost per student appears to be on the order of 4-5 times. While we believe it is critically important to meet the education needs of the Success students, a more affordable option meeting these education needs would be  to allocate funding from this $25m to complete the final phase of Round Rock High School without the need for an additional bond election; and rather than tearing down building 100, remodel this facility to house the Success program. This will save taxpayers millions of dollars. Thus, Ms. Romere's request for more accurate data was justified. I have requested analysis of this approach from Mr. Albers and Dr. Chavez. I first shared this approach with Dr. Chavez at the August community meeting with the superintendent and more recently during the December community meeting with the superintendent.

In closing, we ask the five board members who represent a majority on the board to reevaluate their actions and ensure they are acting with the 11trust" placed in them by their stakeholders starting with a reevaluation of the plan for the Success High School, including community input.

Thank you for your time.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Round Rock School Board Meeting December 13: Chock Full of Fun!

For those who have been following the many "interesting" issues surrounding the Round Rock School District, you might consider attending the December 13 Board meeting scheduled for 7 P.M. at the Round Rock High School Lecture Hall.

According to the posted agenda, during the open session the Board will be discussing the School Health Advisory Council (SHAC).  Last month the Superintendent acknowledged that his administration had not followed state law in conducting the 2011-2012 SHAC, so now the Board must reformulate the council.  It will be interesting to see if they re-appoint Mr. Lynn Williams, the gentleman who called attention to the improper proceedings of last year's SHAC.

Also listed on the agenda is a Superintendent's report on "School Vouchers/School Choice."  In November, the administration invited the anti-choice group "Raise Your Hand Texas" to present a 'workshop' to the trustees, but as of yet the board has not heard from both sides of the issue.  It appears that the Superintendent is pushing the board to take an official stance on legislative issues.  If they do so, Superintendent Chavez will be free to lobby the State Legislature during the 2013 session.  (And we thought we paid him over $300,000 per year to run the school district.)

Finally, while the $25 million campus for drop-out students is not on the agenda, the Bond 2013 Study Decision is listed as an "Action Item."  Although the district is very much in need of elementary and middle schools, the board spent some $74 million on pet projects they knew voters would not approve.  Now, however, the RRISD can plead poverty and convince voters to approve new bond debt and tax increases.  Fitch reports that RRISD debt is already "Above Average" at $703 million, but this seems to be just fine with Fitch and our government culture of borrow and spend.(Supposedly RRISD isn't anything like Leander ISD with $1.3 billion in debt and a CAB Fiasco in the works.  Time will tell.)

Regarding the Success High School program for drop-out students, the district continues to maintain secrecy and only point to 'enrollment' numbers.  Voters should be aware, however, that students only need to show up for one day to be considered 'enrolled.'  Whether or not these students actually attend the program is another matter altogether.  As Trustee Romere discovered last month, average daily attendance hovers around 40 students per day.  At $25 million, taxpayers are spending $625,000 per student just to build the campus, never mind the maintenance and operation costs that will come after completion. 

Considering all of these issues, one finds it very difficult to trust the RRISD with such ample financial resources and/or the education of the majority of the community's children.  (Remember, RRISD academic rating has fallen from "Recognized" to "Acceptable," and now has several schools rated "Academically Unacceptable.")

Taxpayers and parents should be asking this board and administration for transparency and honesty.  The citizens of the community are entitled to the truth, and perhaps we need to be a little more vocal in asking questions.

If you wish to contact your elected board members, please strive to be courteous and respectful.  

Pauline Law:

Brian Sellers:
Diane Cox:
Catherine Hanna:
Chad Chadwell:
Glen Colby:
Terri Romere: