Monthly Archives: January 2007

Saving lives: death and seat belts #

This post isn’t about public education. It’s not about technology. It’s about tragedy.

I was driving home from a family reunion over the Christmas holiday when someone ran out in front of my car, waving for me to stop. It was dark. I was on the freeway. I swerved, missed him and pulled over immediately. Someone came running up to my car yelling for a phone. It was then that I saw the car off the side of the road, pointing the wrong direction.

Knowing I would be a bit calmer on the phone than the hysterical person screaming for help, I called for an ambulance as I ran over to the car. A young girl, a high school student, was laying face down in the frozen mud. The car had rolled several times, and she had been ejected out of the rear window.

I provided what little help I could, and assisted with CPR as the paramedics arrived. I left that night not knowing whether she would make it. It was only when I returned home the following day that I discovered she had passed away.

The experience messed me up emotionally for the next several days. I didn’t even know the girl; I only later learned her name from news reports. It’s been several weeks since this happened, and I still brood over it. I don’t know that it’s something I’ll ever be completely over.

A primary seat belt law

The accident occurred in a state with a primary seat belt law. Buckling up would have saved her life. The other (buckled) passengers escaped with only minor injuries.

Nearby states with primary safety belt laws have done studies of safety belt usage, and found a significant increase in compliance under a primary enforcement law combined with extensive public awareness campaigns.

I hope the legislature will pass SB36, which would make Utah a primary seat belt state. Some legislators reportedly want more research to be done on whether it would be effective. Other states have already done the work, why should we repeat it? A primary law successfully increases compliance. It saves lives.

Improve public safety campaigns

I have sometimes been negligent about buckling myself in the rear seat, thinking the back seat is inherently safer. No more. I urge those responsible for public safety campaigns will include information about the importance of buckling rear seat passengers.

I can’t begin to comprehend the pain her family is going through. Even as detached as I was, I can’t help but experience depression, wondering what could have been done differently, and why it had to happen to someone so young. I can’t imagine the horror the driver must still feel.

Please, pass a primary seat belt law.

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Fees for Public Schools #

The Deseret News ran an article about HB 68, which allocates state money to reimburse local districts for the cost of fee waivers.

Rep. Merlynn Newbold, R-South Jordan, suggested looking at boosting the state’s per-student funding formula to get rid of fees altogether, if equity is the question. She and two others voted against the bill.

“We pass laws that make it mandatory kids go to school, then you have mandatory fees when you get there,” Newbold said.

Deseret Morning News, “Schools may get help with fee-waiver costs”, 17 January, 2007
Referenced Thur, 18 January 2007, 16:20 (MDT)

I think Rep. Newbold is on the right track. Fees for participation in core academics are not in keeping with the ideals of a free public education system. Having attended public school in another state, I was surprised to discover many Utah schools charge fees for participating in the core curriculum. In many areas, students can’t graduate without incurring mandatory fees.

The Utah Constitution says public education should be free, and allows high schools to charge minimal fees.

Article X, Section 2. [Defining what shall constitute the public school system.]
The public education system shall include all public elementary and secondary schools and such other schools and programs as the Legislature may designate. The higher education system shall include all public universities and colleges and such other institutions and programs as the Legislature may designate. Public elementary and secondary schools shall be free, except the Legislature may authorize the imposition of fees in the secondary schools.

I think this language is an anachronism, representative of a time when a high school education was uncommon, and not nearly as vital as it is today.

It seems the legislature agrees on some level, because that’s how I read the intent of the Utah Code.

53A-12-102. State policy on student fees, deposits, or other charges.
(1) A fee, deposit, or other charge may not be made, or any expenditure required of a student or the student’s parent or guardian, as a condition for student participation in an activity, class, or program provided, sponsored, or supported by or through a public school or school district, unless authorized by the local school board under rules adopted by the State Board of Education.
(2) A fee, deposit, charge, or expenditure may not be required for elementary school activities which are part of the regular school day or for materials used during the regular school day.

In other provisions of the code (all in 53A-12, if you’re interested), the legislature also indicates that required programs should be free, but allows for the same exceptions as provided in 53A-12-102.

53A-12-201. State policy on providing textbooks.
(1) It is the public policy of this state that public education shall be free.
(2) A student may not be denied an education because of economic inability to purchase textbooks necessary for advancement in or graduation from the public school system.
(3) A school board may not sell textbooks or otherwise charge textbook fees or deposits except as provided in Title 53A.

Wait just a minute, though. Take a look at 53A-12-201 (3). How then are districts charging textbook fees? Because the State Board of Education allows it, and the local boards allow it according to 53A-12-102 (1). It’s a bit convoluted, but bear with me. The Board rule allowing the practice is R277-407. In particular:

R277-407-3. Classes and Activities During the Regular School Day.

B. Textbook fees may only be charged in grades seven through twelve.

Utah State Board of Education, Rule R277-407

Hmmm. I’ve spent time railing against textbook fees, thinking the problem lies in Utah Code, to the fault of the legislature. I was wrong—it’s in my own back yard, as it were.

Usage fees

Some consider textbook fees and other mandatory fees to be a “usage fee,” or an additional tax borne by those with children in school, who (under this argument) are the primary beneficiaries.

The public is the primary beneficiary. It is in the public’s interest to provide all students an education through high school. All citizens receive a benefit, just as with police or ambulance services, or community parks. Not only that, but we, as a citizenry through our elected representatives, have seen fit to make participation obligatory. Thus, the public body as a whole should bear the cost of the system we both require and benefit from.

Fee waivers

I know someone is itching to make a comment about fee waivers, and how that should address the issue. I disagree. Fee waivers are usually based on the federal free/reduced lunch standard, which I believe gives disproportionate subsidies to very large families. This translates to fees for a) middle income smaller families, and b) fees for rich families. It’s an odd way to tax, particularly when it’s not subject to the same level of scrutiny as property tax increases or bonding, for example.

Next step

I intend to propose language for a Board rule change that would prevent districts from imposing mandatory fees for courses required for graduation. Every rule change has unintended consequences. One obvious one is a revenue loss, that I hope will be mitigated by this year’s likely large increase in funding from the legislature. Are there others that I’m missing? Feel free to leave your thoughts below.

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Day on the Hill — Live Blog #

I’m at the Utah School Boards Association’s “Day on the Hill.” I’ll be live-blogging parts of the discussion and comments from those present.

Some discussion of HB 234. I wasn’t completely paying attention (was working on a different topic), but it sounds like they’re missing the point here. Ass I read it, the bill grants the local boards the ability to set their own compensation, rather than having it mandated statewide. This grants local school boards the authority enjoyed by city councils and council commissions. I hope it passes, because I think most board members, particularly in large districts, deserve more than the current maximum salary of $3000/yr. (I don’t believe this bill affects the salary of State Board members.)

Discussion of various bills. I’m a bit surprised at some of the misconceptions that come up, but in most cases, it’s really just being cautious.

There is strong opposition to tuition tax credits, without any discussion of the (de)merits of any particular bill. USBA feels it has the votes already in hand to kill any TTC bill. Someone suggested that its passage was inevitable, as proponents will continue to bring TTC bills forward each year. I agree that it’s inevitable, and believe that USBA and UEA are taking the wrong approach: they’re not participating in the discussion to craft a bill that is at least marginally palatable. If they stepped to the table, their might be opportunity to bring some level about compromise, resulting in a bill they don’t like instead of one they loathe. It shouldn’t be surprising—but it is—that most of the objections are philosophical opposition to the concept of TTC.

Full-day kindergarten was discussed. General support for funding for “all-day K.”

The group was graced with the presence of Rep. Bigelow, and then Sen. Lyle Hillyard.

Class size reduction was discussed, and some of the effects of reduced sizes: capital costs, etc.

Sen Hillyard (paraphrased, as I can’t type as fast as I’d like): When I went to school, we were all alike. When someone calls me with problems, I tell them to go spend a day at school. No one ever calls me back. I’m not sure that they go, but those that do come back and say, “I didn’t realize how many hispanic kids there are.” I think the public doesn’t understand that schools don’t look like what they did 20 years ago, we have minority students who don’t speak English, we have special ed students, that when I was young didn’t go to school at all. … When you need new buildings, don’t just blame the legislature. Local citizens needs to understand that they play a part too, with property taxes. Large class sizes are a problem we’re always going to have here in Utah, unless we have significant [demographic] changes.

Some discussion of growth v. declining growth areas. A member brings up the topic of school impact fees.

Sen Hillyard: I don’t think I’ve ever supported impact fees, because it’s so expensive to build a home. It also hasn’t passed, because the realtors have opposed it, and up here [on the hill] the realtors have a very strong and influential lobby. I don’t think it will go anywhere.

A member brings up the difficulty of recruiting new teachers, because they can’t attract teachers, as teachers are going out of state for higher salaries and signing bonuses. She mentions that in their district they have been able to postpone the problem, because the neighboring Jordan district made some missteps, and they were able to capitalize by hiring teachers who left Jordan. She mentions the number of science education graduates in recent years, which will not come close to meeting demand.

Sen Hillyard: I listened to Bill Gates, who says that the number one growing major in college is exercise science. He cites some other anecdotes about how hard it is to find science and technology majors in all industries. He mentions SB61. (PEJEP?) We also have a scholarship program for kids who are good in math and science. I think the number one problem here is that our kids just don’t want to study and pay the price for a technology education. [I disagree, but that’s a topic for another day.]

The Senator gets a good round of applause for 27 years of dedication to education. He credits his success to education.

BREAK FOR LUNCH

Voting on organizations’ positions on bills. USBA, USSA, and UASBO joint positions. (The positions listed here are their positions, not necesarilly mine.)

  • HB8: hold for further study
  • HB77 (High School Diploma Amendments): Question raised about language of “distinguished diploma.” Question also raised about the exemption of Adult Education from taking the UBSCT, and whether it will lead high school students unable to pass the UBSCT to join Adult Education prorgams. Support.
  • HB 239 School community council amendments, removes imposed deadlines. Rep Menlove says a constituent requested flexibility on dates for elected school community councils due to a highly transient population. Also added language to allow a member-at-large, perhaps representing the business community, so long as the council’s membership is not disrupted. Questions re language of “shall” instead of “may” in a handful of instances, making at-large-members optional (as intended), rather than required. Rep. Menlove promised to get it fixed. Voted position of Support, with the comment that the parental majority should not be disrupted.
  • HB 240: Public Education Job Enhancement Program Amendments (PEJEP, I’ve talked about this as before). Adds language allowing elementary teachers to get the money to pursue the elementary math endorsements. Question was raised whether this would include the elementary math endorsement, which isn’t currently the language of the bill. I mentioned that it’s my understanding of the feeling of the State Board that elementary math endorsements be included, and as a member of the PEJEP committee, I support that interpretation. The question was brought up, that if the elem. math endorsement were allowed, whether it was a step toward requiring the elem math endorsement for all elem educators. State Supt Harrington disabused the group of this notion. Support.
  • HB 241: Appropriation for the T.H. Bell scholarship. Students get scholarships, which they pay back by teaching in high need areas. Rep. Menlove indicates this program has never been fully funded by the legislature. Support.
  • SB 133: Local School Board Public Hearing Requirements. Senator Jones came in for this. Require 10 days notice and public hearing for boundary changes or school closures, similar to what is required or a tax hearing. (Open meeting law already requires 24-hours notice.) The question was raised whether this is something school boards are not already doing. Sen Jones responded that the only part not currently being practiced is the requirement for public hearings, as public comment can be limited in current open meetings. She added that this provision is not intended to disparage the difficult job many school boards have. She indicated she has had a great deal of positive feedback on this bill from constituents, stakeholders, and legislators. One participant suggested this is a feel-good item for the legislature, as most districts follow similar guidelines already.

    One growth district suggested that boundary changes are something that occur multiple times per year, and suggested that their district may not be willing to post their agendas 10 days in advance [why not, the State Board does a week?], and suggested their process of meeting with local community councils and stakeholders would be compromised by this bill. [I think this is a straw man argument, as the bill doesn’t prevent them from additional discussion with stakeholders.] Several districts mentioned that having recently gone through this process, the did not allow the public enough chance to speak, and in their notices stated that public comment would not be accepted, and didn’t allow the public to participate in committee meetings, which opened them up for litigation. Final position of support.

  • HB 79, Concurrent enrollment (CE) amendments. Formalizes the compromise between public and higher ed. Moves CE “above the line” in the budget process. Ties CE to the same rate of growth as found int he WPU. Standardizes the amount schools/higher ed receives. (I’ve mentioned in the past that it differed widely across districts.) Mentioned that the house ed committee went over this bill with quite a bit of controversy, although it eventually passed out of committee. Supt Patti Harrington mentioned that there have been rumblings of a floor amendment of a $30/credit hour fallback if the appropriation is not made annually. [I support the bill, but not the as yet unmade amendment.] Some mentioned that higher ed is lobbying for a 53/47 split instead of 60/40 as the bill proposes. 40% is more than what they’re getting now. The position of USOE is that public schools are doing most of the work, so 40% is generous, and if changes are made, they should be in the other direction. Comments made suggesting that charging students (possible if this bill doesn’t pass) will be detrimental to the CE program. Support.
  • HB 111, personal property certified tax rate amendments. There was some discussion as to the meaning of the bill, and most expressed a lack of understanding of the purpose of the bill. Original motion to oppose. Substitute motion to hold for further research (passed); it was referred to the district business administrators.
  • HB 204, changes to open meeting laws. There seemed to be a misunderstanding as to what the bill was written to accomplish. Support.
  • HB 207, School truancy compulsion amendments. This has come up for several years, and USBA has supported it in the past. Also mentioned that currently, to get around existing truancy laws, studnets will often come in with home school requests. Support.
  • HB 212, School discipline amendments. Comment made that Rep Fowlke is not in support of vouchers, so it might be a good political move to support her legislation. Several mentioned that the bill is unnecessary. Supt. Harrington mentioned that she’s fine with the bill, even though it means more work for USOE. Support.
  • HB 215, Defines how average class size shall be calculated across the state. Mentions that Rep Morgan is . A district mentioned that she’s bringing the bill because she doesn’t like how it’s calculated in her local district, because the formula masks the actual class size (the district admitted as much, but seemed to not want to be transparent in their reporting). The question was asked whether USBA, et al would need to support the bill to secure her TTC vote. [I think the group is kidding themselves if they think their positions on bills will influence legislators’ positions on TTC.) Held until the group can speak w/ Rep Morgan re her intent.
  • HB 222, requiring internet posting of public meeting notice. The bill is quite simple, but no one wanted to propose a position. I wonder if this has anything to do with what I sense to be an apprehension from the ed community of Rep Dougall’s bills.
  • HB 234, compensation of local board members. Local boards have not had a salary increase in at least 12 years. Bill would bring boards in line with other committee’s/council’s compensation. If local boards wanted to keep insurance (language struck by the bill), they could vote to add it to their compensation packages. Questions about insurance. One supt questioned whether districts should provide different levels of compensation for boards. Someone countered that our teacher don’t make the same, and our superintendents don’t make the same. We’ve been arguing against micromanagement, and their giving us the chance to control our own fate; it would be disingenuous to not support this bill. One board member was concerned that the other members of her board would vote to eliminate their compensation. Out of time, so motion to support was withdrawn.

Meeting adjourned.

Hire Tom! Hire Tom!