Saturday, April 09, 2011

Mayor Berger of Lima speaks out re: SB 5

April 9, 2011
SB5 and the Ohio budget proposal....
Lots has been said. Lots more will be said.
Ohio's legislature and executive branch have now acted to severely limit the bargaining rights of pubic employees throughout the state. This action has been spun as a solution to the budget problems of the state and local public entities.
Some weeks ago, I publicly stated my opposition to this legislation because it would strip public employees of fundamental rights, rights that were granted decades ago and rights that should remain largely intact. I have not changed my mind.
Nor do I believe that this action by the State of Ohio is anything but a scapegoating of public employees for fiscal problems that prior and current Ohio administrations created with tax cuts sold as stimulus for Ohio's economy.
Two things that I want to be clear about:
1. High quality public services, including safety services, public infrastructure including streets, bridges, sidewalks and curbs, and certainly public education, require adequate taxpayer support. The solution to Ohio's $8 billion budget problem must be a balanced approach that in addition to necessary budget cuts includes a fair tax reform package that will provide the resources necessary to maintain priority public services that we all want and need. Any proposal to solve that $8 billion problem only by cutting services and costs is a proposal that will escalate Ohio's decline.
2. The substance of SB5 and the way in which it was enacted will now cascade into other issues and concerns. The opportunity that the Governor and his partisan allies had was to engage with others across the aisle and in the labor community to craft fixes to Ohio's labor laws. They chose instead to craft an entirely restrictive and punitive approach and impugned the vocations of police officer, firefighter, teacher, sanitation worker, etc. This is immediately resulting in a referendum effort to repeal SB5 which is likely to succeed. The Governor has in effect thrown the baby out with the bathwater! I have never seen an organization succeed where management does not respect its partners in labor. For the long term, Ohio cannot succeed with this approach to labor relations and to public services.

Friday, April 08, 2011

It's time for an ORTA oxymoron......

John Curry to Ann Hanning, April 8, 2011 seen in the Spring 2011 ORTA Newsletter....and I quote:
"ORTA has not taken a position on SB5. We are focusing on pension reform at this time."
ORTA...just what the h@#$ do you think SB5 is? It deals with "pension reform." Pension reform of the kind that is killing STRS. Do you think the future RIFFing of those experienced teachers who contribute greater amounts to STRS because of their larger salaries will be missed by STRS investors who now (thanks to SB 5) will receive moneys in much smaller amounts to invest? They will be receiving smaller amounts because the newly hired teachers who replaced the experienced ones will have lower salaries. Nawww, ORTA, SB 5 has nothing to do with pension reform...just keep believing that. If you do, I have a bridge I would like to sell you.


Ummm.....Jessica, you forgot the retirees, didn't you?

From John Curry, April 8, 2011
I am a retired public school educator. Upon reading your article below I find you only supply the readers a half truth as your article contains an omission about some other victims of our "loose cannon on deck" Governor who initiated this 2% cut in the Ohio schools contribution rate to the State Teachers Retirement System of Ohio.
You see, the plan submitted to the Ohio Retirement Study Council (ORSC) by Ohio STRS for a 30 year funding period did not include decisions based upon actuarial information of this Kasich 2% cut to STRS and SERS AND (as you forgot to mention) this 2% cut did not include actuarial information re. the tens of thousands of retired educators and school support personnel, many of whom are not healthy enough to go out and find a job for additional incomes at their ages.
You see, not only has our uninformed Governor neglected to consider that with this 2% gift to the schools...... even more moneys will have to be found to pay the retirement checks for those currently retired. The STRS submitted plan to the ORSC of a 1% COLA cut is even in jeopardy (of rising) to those who are in the twilight of their lives and are unable to plan for this unkind cut. This cut will also impact their already exorbitant healthcare rates as only 1% of the employer (school) contribution to STRS currently goes for healthcare expenses for retirees....that is a full 3% less than OPERS directs to their healthcare program from their employers' contribution that will remain untouched. The elderly retirees just can't afford another hit and Kasich shows no sympathy or understanding of this fact.
Jessica, as it stands now, my cost for an 80/20 PPO health plan (through STRS) is over $1,300 per month. Had I retired with the same service years (30) the same plan from OPERS would be only $80.....that is the same plan that Kasich will one day be eligible for...if he stays in politics long enough (that is doubtful). However, since Kasich is an "elected official," he can "game the system" and retire with full benefits with OPERS with a little over 21 years of service as OPERS offers elected officials the luxury of purchasing an additional .35 years of service for every year in elected office an 80% discount (the 80% is subsidized by OPERS) rate. Of course, Kasich won't tell you about that, will he? Ask OPERS, they will!
John Curry - a retired educator of Ohio's public schools
Vice President of CORE (Concerned Ohio Retired Educators)
Districts: Pension changes don't solve problem
Gov. John Kasich's office said this week that pension changes included in his recent budget proposal will save Ohio school districts $229 million annually.
Cincinnati Enquirer, April 8, 2011
By Jessica Brown
Local savings under the plan

These five local districts would save the most under the pension changes included in Gov. John Kasich's proposed biennium budget.
...Cincinnati: $5 million
...Lakota: $2.2 million
...Mason: $1.3 million
...Hamilton: 1.1 million
...Northwest: $1.1 million
Source: Ohio's Office of Budget and Management

Gov. John Kasich's office said this week that pension changes included in his biennium budget proposal will save Ohio school districts $229 million annually.

However, that's not a lot of comfort to districts getting slammed by cuts elsewhere in Kasich's education budget.

The pension changes, which shift more costs onto employees, also are not sitting well with the unions. The changes will force teachers to shell out more toward their pensions in order to save their district some money.

Data Center: Pension changes in your district

"The proposal represents a 2 percent pay cut to all of our public employees and will hurt the pension solvency," said Michele Prater, spokeswoman for the Ohio Education Association, which represents 128,000 teachers, faculty members and support staff at Ohio's public schools, colleges and universities.

"We support a balanced approach to the pension plan. We believe everyone should be part of the solution. But the active employees shouldn't have to have their contributions increased in order for the employer to pay less. This doesn't do anything to solve the problem."

Kasich's budget, which will be finalized by June 30, proposes that government employees contribute an additional 2 percent of their salaries toward their pensions. It simultaneously calls for government employers to contribute 2 percent less.

Ohio law currently calls for 24 percent of government employees' salaries to go into their pension fund. Employers pay 14 percent and employees pay 10 percent -although some union contracts specify higher employer payments.

Kasich's proposal would increase the employee's contribution and reduce the employer's contribution so both parties are paying 12 percent.

Kasich's office released estimates Thursday of how much school districts would save based on 2009-10 school-year data from the State Teachers Retirement System and the School Employees Retirement System.

As a group, Southwest Ohio school districts could save $31 million annually from the pension change.

But that doesn't make up for other state losses.

Districts in Southwest Ohio will lose a collective $90 million in other state revenue next fiscal year and another $14 million in the 2013 fiscal year.

Most of the losses stem from federal stimulus dollars drying up and from Kasich speeding up the phase-out of a tax on businesses' commercial equipment.

While the pension change will help, districts are still impacted.

"It will probably help mitigate the damage, but we've already built that into our budget picture next year," said Jeff Weir, superintendent of Williamsburg schools in Clermont County. His roughly 1,000-student district's plans to cut its budget by 12 to 13 percent next year.

The state education cuts contributed to already mounting financial woes for many districts. Princeton City Schools, which is being hit hard by the tax phase-out, laid off 110 workers this week - about 13 percent of its workforce. Those layoffs included 70 teachers.

"Gov. Kasich's approach in balancing the budget through the reductions in funding to schools like Princeton is just simply devastating," said Alan Bates, president of the district's 394-member teachers' union. "It's not an issue that Princeton created it's an issue that the governor created and I don't think he has a sense of the impact he's having on education."

Princeton could save about $1 million through the pension changes.

The pension changes wouldn't take effect until after current union contracts expire. So Cincinnati Public Schools, which would save $5 million annually under the change - $3.5 million of which would go toward operations - won't start seeing that savings until after its contract expires in three years. Princeton just passed a three-year contract with its non-certified employees and is at an impasse in negotiations with its teachers union, which is where the bulk of the potential pension savings would come from.

Back to the confessional for King Kasich!

When will he go back next?
Click image to enlarge.

Curryism by John.......................................................

Hey, Mikey (Nehf), what's this about an STRS 4% anticipated payroll growth?

From John Curry, April 8, 2011
Cleveland school board lays off 643 teachers, closes 7 schools
April 5, 2011
"[The board] laid off 643 teachers, some for the third time in the last seven years."

How's this for the 4% anticipated revenue growth, STRS?

From John Curry, April 8, 2011
Solon Schools Cuts 40 Teachers to Aid with Budget Crisis
"The Solon school district is nearing a financial cliff, and if nothing changes with the way the district is funded at the state level, 40 teachers each year will lose their job for the next eight years, starting today, said Superintendent Joe Regano."

Thursday, April 07, 2011

King Kasich and the disappearing 2% from the STRS employer contribution!

From John Curry, April 7, 2011

"Included in Ohio Gov. John Kasich's two-year budget is a provision that calls for state and local government employees to pick up 2 additional percentage points toward their pensions (from 10 to 12 percent of their salaries for non safety forces) and for government agencies to pay 2 percentage points less (from 14 percent to 12 percent)."



Kasich administration: Proposal would save schools $229 million
Columbus Dispatch, April 7, 2011
By Joe Vardon

The Kasich administration says Ohio schools would save a collective $229 million annually through the governor's proposal to shift more of the cost of pensions onto employees, offsetting some of the losses schools will suffer through the governor's proposed cuts.

Of course that also means that school employees will pick up $229 million more each year of their pension costs.

Included in Ohio Gov. John Kasich's two-year budget is a provision that calls for state and local government employees to pick up 2 additional percentage points toward their pensions (from 10 to 12 percent of their salaries for non safety forces) and for government agencies to pay 2 percentage points less (from 14 percent to 12 percent).

According to numbers released today by the Kasich administration, schools each year would save $175.5 million on teachers' pension costs and about $54 million from other school employees, once the changes were implemented.

Franklin County schools would save more than $25 million. Columbus City Schools would save $9 million through the pension shift. Southwestern City Schools would save $2.6 million and Hilliard City Schools would save $2.2 million.

Schools are set to lose $852 million in Kasich's two-year budget through dried-up stimulus funds and tax reimbursements. The pension changes would ease that blow by $458 million, leaving a net loss of $394 million.

Links for Ohio Referendum Kickoff rally at the Ohio Statehouse this Saturday (April 9)

"Everything is Beautiful" Laura speaks to the ACRTA
STRS: Proposed changes a must
“If the board doesn't make changes, there would be a time in the future where we couldn't pay pensions.” — Laura Ecklar, STRS director of communication services

LIMA — The State Teachers Retirement System board freely acknowledges that no one is all that happy with proposed changes to the retirement system.

After all, it is the first time in its 90-year history that benefits could be reduced, said Laura Ecklar, STRS director of communication services.

“This is a big change and we appreciate that,” Ecklar told the Allen County Retired Teachers Association on Thursday. “But at the end of the day, the board and the staff can't sit idly by and just kick this can down the road and let some other board or legislators do what they think needs to be done.”

Bills currently in the Ohio House and Senate include plans from the state's five retirement systems. The hard work has been done by the groups, Ecklar said, but Gov. John Kasich's proposed state budget could impact the plan.

The change is needed, Ecklar said, to ensure the system's future and to be able to pay off liabilities over a 30-year funding period.

“The funding period does not even have a number attached to it. It has a word, infinity,” she said. “If the board doesn't make changes, there would be a time in the future where we couldn't pay pensions.”

The STRS proposal calls for increasing years of service requirements in 2015. Currently, teachers can get benefits if they put in 30 years, regardless of age. The proposal adds an age requirement, starting at age 56 with 31 years. That would eventually increase to age 60 with 35 years of service.

Member contributions would increase by 3 percent. It would be phased in 1 percent per year beginning July 2012. It does not change school district contributions currently at 14 percent. Members pay 10 percent. Under Kasich's proposal, 2 percent would shift, requiring teachers to pay an additional 2 percent. Both sides paying 12 percent would not meet STRS's 30-year funding goal, Ecklar said.

Pensions are also determined by employees' final average salaries. Right now, it is based on the top three highest salaries. The proposal changes that to five.

The benefit formula would also change under the proposal. The current 35-year enhanced benefit formula would be eliminated. Teachers retiring with 35 years of service at age 60 or older would receive 77 percent of their final average salary as a pension.

“It still provides a reliable and reasonable pension. ... It is still a good pension,” she said.

Of concern to retired teachers is the proposed reduction of the cost-of-living adjustment. Beginning July 2012, current retirees would receive an annual 2 percent adjustment. Currently, it is 3 percent. While not popular, Ecklar said it has the biggest impact on liabilities.

MIchelle Rhee and 'How to Erase Yourself to the Top!'

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Teachers...if the SB won't get you then the HB will!

Click image to enlarge.

"Seriously, just when you think these people can’t be more underhanded and devious, they invent whole new ways to surprise you!"

Kasich: Let’s start passing provisions of SB 5 in the State budget; GOP Speaker: Sounds like a great idea
by ModernEsquire on April 6, 2011

HB 153, Kasich’s biennium budget bill, already contains in it a number of provisions regarding teacher pay that seems similar, if not identical, provisions to the “merit pay” provisions in SB 5 for teachers. Presently, HB 153 would:

  • Supersede any provision in any collective bargaining agreement entered into on or after the effective date of the budget;
  • Start during the 2011-2012 school year;
  • Mandates that districts and ESC create separate salary schedules for:
    1. Teachers with a resident educator or alternative resident educator license;
    2. Teachers with a professional educator’s license;
    3. Senior professional educator’s license;
    4. Lead professional educator’s license
  • Determine the pay of each individual teacher within their appropriate schedule on a “merit” basis;
  • Any district that doesn’t comply may have its state funding withheld until it does;

Currently law creates such salary schedules, but to set minimum standards of what a teacher can be paid based on their years of experience and training. Kasich’s budget turns what was intended to be a minimum standard mandate into a more rigid “merit-based” system that ignores experience altogether.

However, Kasich is not content that his budget contains enough provisions of SB 5 in it. According to Gongwer, Governor Kasich thinks the State budget should be amended to include SB 5’s provisions on “merit pay” for teachers, and perhaps other SB 5 provisions.

Speaker Batchelder admits that they are seriously considering incorporating SB 5 into the budget to “back up” SB 5 in the face of a referendum. Although Ohio’s Constitution exempts appropriations as being subject to referendum, the Ohio Supreme Court has a strong line of cases (such as the VLT case during the Strickland Administration) that substantive changes in statutory law can still be subjected to referendum, even when they are burrowed into a budget or appropriation bill.

So the GOP knows, or should know, that merely putting SB 5 into the budget doesn’t make it immune from referendum? So why the duplicity? Because so far all the referendum can do is repeal SB 5 as signed by Kasich. If its provisions are redundantly incorporated into other legislation, such as the budget bill, then those provisions survive any referendum, unless they are also repealed via referendum. In addition, the GOP could legally challenge the right to referendum under the budget bill despite the legal precedent cited the Ohio Supreme Court in v. Brunner I.

By forcing anti-SB 5 forces to gather signatures for multiple referenda, the hope is that they either fail to put ever SB 5-invested legislation to the voters, or the voters will get confused and perhaps vote to repeal SB 5, but not the teacher merit-pay budget provisions. Think of it as cloning SB 5 in the hopes that one of the lil’ buggers will survive the onslaught of referenda.

It’s a highly provocative act that spits in the face of the voters because there is no rational explanation to even consider doing it other than frustrating voters ability to repeal legislation through referendum. It also is a rather telling example of just how confident they aren’t that SB 5 can survive a clean referendum fight.

Seriously, just when you think these people can’t be more underhanded and devious, they invent whole new ways to surprise you!

Hey, Governor (and 21st Century Education Director Robert Somers), how 'bout a little sunshine?

From John Curry, April 6, 2011
State Reps. Phillips and Lundy Make Public Records Request for Budget Info
COLUMBUS -Today State Reps. Debbie Phillips (D-Athens) and Matt Lundy (D-Elyria) requested Governor Kasich's office to provide vital budget information that that has yet to be released to Finance Committee members.

As members of the Primary and Secondary Education Subcommittee, Reps. Phillips and Lundy requested this information in committee, but have yet to receive any answers from the Governor's office.

Today's public records request follows weeks of testimony on the budget by staff in the Governor's office. Some staff members appeared before the committee without written testimony and were unable to answer committee member's questions.

Frustrated by this lack of information and unwillingness to provide the requested data, Reps. Phillips and Lundy sent the following letter.

.....Robert Sommers, Director of the Office of 21st Century Education
.....The Office of Ohio Gov. John Kasich
.....77 S. High Street
.....Columbus, Ohio 43215

Dear Director Sommers:

We write to you today on behalf of school officials, parents, children, and taxpayers who reside in the 92nd and 57th House Districts, who are growing increasingly concerned about the impacts of the proposed state funding cuts, as well as the lack of data necessary to attain a clear understanding of potential impacts.

As you know, in addition to coping with an extraordinary loss of revenue, school administrators must also communicate clearly and effectively with the students, parents, teachers and taxpayers who will be affected by these cuts. However, the lack of access to information regarding the budget proposal makes this difficult.

As members of the Primary and Secondary Education Subcommittee of the House Finance Committee, we are requesting a clear outline of the total financial losses school districts will face under Gov. Kasich's proposed budget. ORC Sections 149.43 to 149.44 provide that any citizen may request access to public information, and that it is to be provided timely in the format requested. We hereby request the provision of the following information at your earliest convenience, preferably prior to the conclusion of public testimony in subcommittee:

· One spreadsheet with school district breakdowns that includes the following information, so that one can see the actual anticipated financial change for each school district:

o All line items that are zeroed out and redistributed--reduction based on the distribution in this biennium to individual districts.

o All TPPT and KWH tax reimbursement reductions

o Estimated number of mils needed to replace these lost revenues

· Information regarding the bridge formula: definitions of the terms, a copy of the proposed form that will be used to calculate distributions (with calculation formulas and any supporting worksheets), and school district breakdowns of the per pupil property value index, the charge-off valuation index, and the threshold amount.

· Projected cost savings from the administrations' understanding of "flexibility" on a district-by-district basis.

· Projected cost savings under the removal of "last in--first out" provisions, and a clear definition of metrics and standards by which reductions in force are to be carried out under the new rules.

· Estimated cost of litigation from EEOC lawsuits if districts engage in a widespread practice of terminating older teachers, as Ms. Mattei-Smith indicated would provide the bulk of savings for school districts.

· Line 200909 (fixed rate levy reimbursements) by school district

· Projected losses for future charter and voucher payments under new rules, by school district

· A list of all existing mandates on local school districts, and any newly created mandates, along with an indication of which mandates will be removed.

· Also, specifically denote which mandates remain that are associated with zeroed out lines (EMIS data, gifted ID, etc.)

· Actuarial projections of the anticipated impact of reducing the employer share of pension payments on the funds' compliance with statutory funding requirements

· Projected cost of developing new measures and assessments in order to implement performance-based or merit pay, given the fact that value-added data only exist for grades 4-8 in English and Math.

· A list of charter schools in academic emergency and academic watch.

· A list of charters in the pipeline for potential closure due to poor academic performance under the current rules, and additionally those that would be subject to potential closure under the proposed rules.

· A list of charter schools that have closed, and which have reconstituted themselves to re-open (i.e. Paul Laurence Dunbar). Also, specific comparison of what remains the same from PLD and what has changed (management company, sponsor, board members, administrators, teachers).

· A bibliography of research which indicates that executive reform proposals will improve student achievement

· Copies of all e-mail and correspondence involving Dr. Sommers and/or the Governor and his staff sent to or received from the Fordham foundation and/or its staff and board.

· Copies of any correspondence or materials related to education policy which were produced or provided by anyone associated with Americans for Prosperity, or the American Legislative Exchange Council.

As you know, Freedom of Information Requests require a reasonable response time. Given that the Executive Budget is currently under deliberation in the House, we would request that you provide this information as soon as possible.

Respectfully submitted,

Debbie Phillips
State Representative 92nd

Matt Lundy
State Representative 57th District

STRS Board to meet April 13-14, 2011

From STRS, April 6, 2011
The State Teachers Retirement Board and Committee meetings currently scheduled at the STRS Ohio offices, 275 East Broad Street, Columbus, Ohio 43215, are as follows:
Wednesday, April 13, 2011
...11 a.m. Disability Review Panel (Executive Session)
Thursday, April 14, 2011
...9 a.m. Investment Committee Meeting, followed by Retirement Board Meeting
The Retirement Board meeting will come to order after the Investment Committee meeting on Thursday, April 14, 2011, and begin with a report from the Investment Department, followed by the Member Benefits Department - Health Care, Executive Director's Report, public participation, a Report From the Finance Department, Enterprise Risk Management - Investments, routine matters, old business, new business or any other matters requiring attention.

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

If you teach.........

From John Curry, April 5, 2011
If you teach in a public school, the proposals put forth by Gov. John Kasich for education and teachers, will just make you positively sick. JointheFuture has a very detailed explanation of the Kasich plan for teachers. Here is a partial list:
Teacher Dismissal:
  • Eliminates the option to hold teacher dismissal a hearing in front of a referee instead of the school board.
  • Any teacher whose contract is terminated may appeal to the court of common pleas or request execution of the grievance procedure specified in any collective bargaining agreement that is applicable, but many not do both. This limitation on appeal of dismissal prevails over any conflicting provisions of a collective bargaining agreement entered into on or after the effective date of the bill.
  • When implementing a reduction in teachers, a school board or ESC board shall consider the relative quality of performance the principal factor in determining the order of reductions. Quality of performance is measured by level of license, highly qualified status, performance evaluations under 3319.111, and any other criteria established by the board. Seniority may be considered, but only after considering these other factors.
  • Eliminates preference in dismissals for teachers with continuing contracts. If a teacher contract is suspended in part, teachers with continuing contracts have the right of restoration to continuing service status if positions become open, but not in the order of seniority service to the school district or ESC.
  • All of the above provisions prevail over any conflicting provisions of collective bargaining agreements entered into on or after the effective date of the bill.
Teacher Testing:
  • The board of education in each school district ranked in the lowest ten percentiles of performance index score (3302.01) by ODE shall require each of its classroom teachers in a core subject area (3319.074) to register for and take all written examinations prescribed the state board of education for licensure to teach that core subject area and grade level.
  • Each district board of education may use the results of a teacher’s examination in developing and revising professional development plans and in deciding whether or not to continue employing the teacher, in accordance with statutory dismissal processes. Test scores cannot be used as the sole basis for a decision to terminate or non-renew a teacher unless the teacher has not passed the exam three consecutive times.
Parent Takeover of Schools:
  • A parent initiated takeover may be conducted for any public school (city, exempted village or local) that has been ranked by ODE in the lowest five percent of performance index scores for three or more consecutive school years.
  • If the parents or guardians of at least fifty percent of the students enrolled in a school eligible for a parent initiated takeover sign and file with the school district treasurer a petition for one of the following reforms, the school board shall implement the requested reform in the next school year:
    Reopen the school as a community school; replace at least seventy percent of the school’s personnel who are related to the school’s poor academic performance; contract with another district, non-profit or for-profit entity to operate the school; turn operation of the school over to ODE; any other major restructuring of the school that makes fundamental reforms in the school’s staffing or governance.

Gee, Mr. Gee, how do you rate THIS kind of salary in a state that can't afford to pay it's other public servants?

From John Curry, April 5, 2011
View article here (Presidents Defend Their Pay as Public Colleges Slash Budgets):
(Click images to enlarge.)


Hey, Governor, your dinner date (Michelle Rhee) for "Superman" didn't happen to bring her eraser with her, did she?

From John Curry, April 5, 2011

"On the 2009 reading test, for example, seventh-graders in one Noyes classroom averaged 12.7 wrong-to-right erasures per student on answer sheets; the average for seventh-graders in all D.C. schools on that test was less than 1. The odds are better for winning the Powerball grand prize than having that many erasures by chance, according to statisticians consulted by USA Today."

D.C.'s Noyes School Joins Others Under Investigation For
Suspicious Standardized Test Patterns

March 31, 2011

UPDATE: Since this story was first published, Michelle Rhee has acknowledged that some
cheating may have occurred, the Washington Post reports. This comes after her comments Monday that USA Today was one of the "enemies of school reform" who didn't believe Washington, D.C. scores could improve without cheating. In backing away from these comments, Rhee told Jay Mathews of the Washington Post that some of her comments were "stupid" and that strong precautions should be taken in safeguarding tests from potential tampering.

“You have got to have really strong test-security protocols at the district level and at the state level,” said Rhee, who contacted Mathews. “The vast majority of people will not cheat, but there will be exceptions here and there.” ----

In the last few years, Crosby S. Noyes Education Campus in D.C. has become the poster child for education reform, with its remarkable increase in standardized test scores. But Monday's investigation by USA Today about the possibility of cheating on the school's standardized tests may burst that bubble.

USA Today reports that from 2006 to 2008, the percentage of Noyes students who scored "proficient" or "advanced" on math standardized tests increased from 10 percent to 58 percent; reading scores followed the same trend. The dramatic improvements prompted a number of accolades: the U.S. Department of Education named the school a Blue Ribbon School; then-Chancellor of D.C. Schools Michelle Rhee rewarded Noyes' staff with bonuses for boosting scores and made the school a symbol of how her education reform strategies could transform schools; and last year, D.C. schools won an extra $75 million in federal monies in the U.S. government's Race to the Top competition, which factored in test scores.

However, in a detailed description of their investigation, USA Today reveals that for the past three school years, most of Noyes' classrooms had extraordinarily high numbers of erasures on standardized tests; wrong answers were erased and changed to right ones at a statistically improbable rate. It reports:

On the 2009 reading test, for example, seventh-graders in one Noyes classroom averaged 12.7 wrong-to-right erasures per student on answer sheets; the average for seventh-graders in all D.C. schools on that test was less than 1. The odds are better for winning the Powerball grand prize than having that many erasures by chance, according to statisticians consulted by USA Today. In 2007-08, six classrooms out of the eight taking tests at Noyes were flagged by McGraw-Hill, D.C.'s testing company, because of high wrong-to-right erasure rates (measured by the same scanners used to score the tests). The pattern was repeated in the 2008-09 and 2009-10 school years, when 80 percent of Noyes' classrooms were again flagged by McGraw-Hill.

There are other explanations for multiple erasures besides cheating, such as educators advising their students to go back and check their work. But, as Thomas Haladyna, a professor emeritus at Arizona State University who has studied testing for 20 years, told USA Today, in cases like Noyes' -- when whole classes at schools with dramatic increases in test scores show statistically rare erasures -- there's a need for thorough investigation.

This is the latest in a multitude of standardized test investigations coming to light in the last several months. A USA Today investigation of the standardized tests of millions of students in six states -- Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Michigan and Ohio -- and the District of Columbia found a large number of irregularities:

The newspaper identified 1,610 examples of anomalies in which public school classes -- a school's entire fifth grade, for example -- boasted what analysts regard as statistically rare, perhaps suspect, gains on state tests. According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, similar indications of potential cheating in Atlanta schools prompted an investigation by federal authorities into whether Atlanta Public Schools illicitly boosted scores on standardized tests. Since then, the district has been under fire for allegedly using intimidation to dissuade potential witnesses.

At Charles Seipelt Elementary School in Ohio, teacher Scott Mueller was accused of giving his fifth-graders the test questions prior to the test; investigators concluded that Mueller had looked at questions for fifth-grade math and science tests in advance -- a violation of testing rules -- and then used identical questions in his study guides.

Also, earlier this month, the Los Angeles Board of Education voted to revoke the charter of six schools that cheated on last year's state standardized tests, reported the Los Angeles Times.

The conditions that inspired cheating in these schools are similar to D.C. -- high praise and bonuses awarded for good scores; loss of hundreds of thousands in federal dollars and teachers and administrators jobs for failure to meet standards.

According to USA Today, while most school districts retain the power to hire and fire teachers, 10 states now require that student scores be the main criterion in teacher evaluations -- one of the many pressures on educators to get their students to score higher.

Some states and districts reward educators for raising scores; a teacher may earn a bonus of as much as $25,000 in Washington, D.C., if his or her students' scores climb. [No Child Left Behind] also puts principals' jobs on the line if students' scores don't improve. Most of the 130 Detroit public schools closed since 2005 were cited for having low test scores... By 2014, the law dictates, 100% of public school students must be 'proficient' in math and reading. If not, a school can face replacement of its entire staff.

Monday, April 04, 2011

What's that you said, STRS, about anticipated payroll growth?

From John Curry,April 4, 2011
Princeton school board to eliminate 104 jobs

Dennis Leone responds to an STRS retiree re: pension concerns

From Dennis Leone, April 4, 2011
Subject: RE: pension suspension
[XXX] – Kathie Bracy forwarded your email to me for a reaction. As retiree John Curry said in his response to your concerns, Ohio law is SUPPOSED to protect our annual pensions. While a legal challenge could be made that they can’t be reduced by the Ohio Legislature in the future, our lawmakers certainly have the power to change existing law. STRS is a creature of the Ohio Legislature, going back to 1927. There have been several times in the past 20 years – to illustrate the Legislature’s power – that lawmakers proposed raiding the STRS coffers to help erase other deficits in Ohio. Each time this was considered, however, there were enough votes to stop it from happening.
Frankly, I worry more what the STRS Board can do and might do. If there is another significant stock market crash due to some big external event, I really don’t know how it is possible for our pensions NOT to be cut. Yes, the STRS board would have to get Legislature approval for such a cut, but I believe that it definitely would happen it is ever recommended by the STRS Board. When I served as an board member, it always upset me when my fellow board members and STRS staff members preached “all is fine” and “your pensions are secure.” This was shortsighted on their part, and their optimism was driven by great stock market returns STRS experienced in 1990s and early 2000s. All of the changes now on the table for the future (increasing what actives pay, increasing the minimum age of retirement to 60, changing the final average salary calculation from 3 years to 5 years, eliminating the stupid 88%-35 year benefit) all are things that should have been done in years past, even when times were good. I personally oppose reducing our COLA, and I feel more should be done to protect the oldest STRS retirees who have the least, but I am convinced that at least a 1% reduction in our COLA (if not more) will happen for sure, and very soon.
So you know, in all of the talks I have had with legislators and STRS Board members in the past year, not one person is advancing a plan to actually reduce our annual pensions. My take is that such will NOT happen, at least not in the immediate future. If there are new stock market problems, or if there a significant reduction in what STRS “assumes” will be received annually from active members (due to fewer members or reduced raises), I think we will have to kiss our annual COLA goodbye completely. I hope this won’t happen, and I will do everything I can to fight it, but I think we have to be prepared for it.
Hope the above was at least informative.
Dennis Leone
STRS Board Member, 2005-2009
From an STRS retiree, April 1, 2011
Subject: pension suspension
Dear Kathy Bracy,
I am a retired teacher, as are most of my friends. We are very disturbed by the latest actions of the legislature here in Ohio and fear for the future of public education, as well as the for the future of career educators. We have followed the changes being made to the pension and the proposed changes. What has never been made clear to those of us already in retirement is how much will impact our pensions. We know that rising health costs will impact them and also that we can not expect cost-of-living increases. But can the State of Ohio legislators legally decrease or, most frightening, suspend the paying out of pensions altogether. This has come up in our discussions and we can not find it addressed any where. Is that because no one knows if the existing pensions could justifiably be decreased or phased out? Your take on this would be greatly appreciated

John Curry's response to STRS retiree re: pension concerns

John Curry to STRS retiree, April 1, 2011
Subject: Fw: pension suspension
[XXX], check out this portion of the Ohio Revised Code! This is your only pension guarantee. The Legislature CAN change the law but, up till now, they have left this provision alone.
John Curry
(Click image twice to enlarge)

3307.14 Creation of funds - trustees.

The state teachers retirement board shall be the trustee of certain funds hereby created as follows:

(A) The “teachers’ savings fund” is the fund in which shall be accumulated the contributions deducted from the compensation of teachers participating in the plan described in sections 3307.50 to 3307.79 of the Revised Code, as provided by section 3307.26 of the Revised Code, together with the interest credited thereon. Such accumulated contributions refunded upon withdrawal, or payable to an estate or beneficiary as provided in this chapter, shall be paid from this fund. Any accumulated contributions forfeited by the failure of a contributor, an estate, or a beneficiary to claim the same shall be transferred from this fund to the guarantee fund. The accumulated contributions of a member or of a teacher who qualifies for a benefit under section 3307.35 of the Revised Code shall be transferred at the member’s or teacher’s retirement from the teachers’ savings fund to the annuity and pension reserve fund. The accumulated contributions of a member who dies prior to superannuation retirement that are forfeited by the qualified beneficiary in exchange for monthly survivor benefits, as provided by section 3307.66 of the Revised Code, shall be transferred to the survivors’ benefit fund. The accumulated contributions of a superannuate or other system retirant as defined in section 3307.35 of the Revised Code shall be transferred to the survivors’ benefit fund for payment of a lump-sum benefit to a beneficiary as provided in that section. As used in this division, “accumulated contributions” has the same meaning as in section 3307.50 of the Revised Code.

(B) The “employers’ trust fund” is the fund to which the employer contribution made on behalf of a teacher participating in the plan described in sections 3307.50 to 3307.79 of the Revised Code shall be credited and in which shall be accumulated the reserves held in trust for the payment of all pensions or other benefits provided by sections 3307.35, 3307.58, 3307.59, 3307.60, 3307.63, 3307.631, 3307.66, 3307.6912, and 3307.98 of the Revised Code, to teachers retiring or receiving disability benefits in the future or to their qualified beneficiaries, and from which the reserves for such pensions and other benefits shall be transferred to the annuity and pension reserve fund and to the survivors’ benefit fund. The balances as of August 31, 1957, in the employers accumulation fund shall be transferred to this fund. As of September 1, 1957, an additional amount shall be transferred from the employers’ trust fund to the annuity and pension reserve fund in the amount required to complete the funding of the prior service, as defined in section 3307.50 of the Revised Code, and military service pensions then payable.

(C) The “annuity and pension reserve fund” is the fund from which shall be paid all annuities, pensions, and disability benefits under the plan described in section 3307.50 to 3307.79 of the Revised Code for which reserves have been transferred from the teachers’ savings fund and the employers’ trust fund.

(D) The “survivors’ benefit fund” is the fund from which shall be paid the survivors’ benefits provided by section 3307.66 of the Revised Code and the lump sum payment to beneficiaries as provided in section 3307.35 of the Revised Code, and to which shall be transferred from the employers’ trust fund the amount required to fund all liabilities as of the end of each year.

(E) The “guarantee fund” is the fund from which interest is transferred and credited on the amounts in the funds described in divisions (A), (B), (C), and (D) of this section, and is a contingent fund from which the special requirements of said funds may be paid by transfer from this fund. All income derived from the investment of funds by the state teachers retirement board as trustee under section 3307.15 of the Revised Code, together with all gifts and bequests, or the income therefrom, shall be paid into this fund. Any deficit occurring in any other fund that will not be covered by payments to that fund, as otherwise provided in this chapter, shall be paid by transfers of amounts from the guarantee fund to such fund or funds. Should the amount in the guarantee fund be insufficient at any time to meet the amounts payable therefrom, the amount of such deficiency, with regular interest, shall be paid by an additional employer rate of contribution as determined by the actuary and shall be approved by the board, and the amount of such additional employer contribution shall be credited to the guarantee fund. The board may accept gifts and bequests. Any funds that may come into the possession of the board in this manner or that may be transferred from the teachers’ savings fund by reason of lack of a claimant, or any surplus in any fund created in divisions (A) to (F) of this section, or any other funds whose disposition is not otherwise provided for, shall be credited to the guarantee fund.

(F) The expense fund is the fund from which shall be paid the expenses for the administration and management of the state teachers retirement system as provided by this chapter.

(G) The “defined contribution fund” is the fund in which shall be accumulated the contributions deducted from the compensation of teachers participating in a plan established under section 3307.81 of the Revised Code, as provided in section 3307.26 of the Revised Code, together with any earnings and employer contributions credited thereon.

Effective Date: 07-13-2000

SB 5...let's let a little more Sunshine in....what it DOES ALLOW and what it DOESN'T ALLOW!

April 4, 2011
The following article (link) contains a summary from the Ohio Legislative Service Commission of Substitute Senate Bill 5 (Public Employees' Collective Bargaining Law), as reported by the House Commerce and Labor Committee:

Sunday, April 03, 2011

Public school educators, these for-profit charters are cutting your throats, bilking the taxpayers and producing a poor quality education!

From John Curry, April 3, 2011

The problem with OHVA and other for-profit charter schools is that their primary goal is to make money, not to educate students, and the effects of that profit-oriented approach to education are obvious in the numbers. Extremely high staff-to-management rates, extremely high student-to-teacher ratios and very low teacher pay may result in cheaper operating costs for the school and lots of extra revenue for the management company, but the students are ultimately the ones who pay the price.

It’s exactly this kind of school that Kasich’s budget rewards with extra funding and that decision seems to fit in perfectly with his world view: decreasing pay for teachers while funneling tons of state cash to corporations. Kasich promised to help improve our schools and put more money in the classroom but his budget does exactly the opposite: it takes money out of the classroom and sends it to big education companies like K12 all while supporting schools that cost more and fail more students.

Ohio's for-profit charter schools make great businesses, crappy educators
by Joseph on April 3, 2011

If passed in its existing form, John Kasich’s budget will result in large cuts to public schools and large increases in funding to charter schools. Supporters of charter schools will defend this choice claiming charter schools are providing the same – or better – educational opportunities for kids compared to public schools. They will also claim charter schools operate at a much lower cost to the taxpayer. But both claims are completely untrue.

Kasich will tell you he wants to spend “more dollars in the classroom” and that he wants to “improve our schools”, but charter schools in Ohio have a bad track record in both areas. Not only do charter schools perform MUCH worse than public schools, they also cost much more per-pupil. And in the case of schools managed by for-profit companies, a huge percentage of the money they receive from the state goes directly to the corporations that manage the schools instead of into the classroom.

As we pointed out last week Ohio’s charter schools actually receive 2.5 times MORE in per-pupil funding than public schools. And a study by Innovation Ohio, charter schools are way less effective at educating students than public schools:

“only 21 percent of charter schools rate effective or better … Meanwhile … 72 percent of traditional school buildings and 88 percent of traditional school districts rate effective or better on the state report card. In fact, 46 percent of public school buildings rate Excellent (A) or Excellent with Distinction (A+), while 45 percent of charter schools rate in Academic Watch (D) or Academic Emergency (F) – success rates that are almost exactly opposite one another”

While there certainly are some charter schools out there doing good work, the majority are poorly serving the students they have been entrusted to teach while costing the taxpayers tons of extra cash. For-profit schools run by companies like White Hat and K12 take it a step further. Not only are many of these schools under performing, but all of them take much needed money away from public schools and out of the pockets of taxpayers and turn it into profit for the management company at the expense of their students.

The techniques these for-profit charters use to squeeze revenue out of their schools make a great deal of sense in the world of business: increased class size, lower labor costs, aggressive growth through advertising and marketing. But in the world of education, they can be absolutely disastrous for the students.

One of the most egregious offenders of putting profits before students is the Ohio Virtual Academy (OHVA), a high-growth, for-profit, online charter school that performs amazingly well as a business – but very poorly as an educator.

OHVA is managed by K12, a publicly traded company whose stock hit a 52-week high last week. Operations at OHVA are structured like a business instead of an educational institution and this is no accident. OHVA is setup to make money.

Ohio Virtual Academy is currently the 28th largest school district in Ohio. It is larger than Springfield and Youngstown school districts and it has grown 243% over the last five years, from 3,161 to 7,687 students. That growth is intentional. In the business world, growth = profits.

Even OHVA’s 7-member board is composed almost entirely of business and marketing professionals, and has only one individual with an education background. Three of the members have degrees in marketing and two have business degrees. And one is a beauty pageant coach with a degree in musical theater.

The problem here is not that OHVA has created a successfully operating business – which they absolutely have. The problem is that they have created this business when they were SUPPOSED to be creating a school. This isn’t private sector money funding a private sector operation. It’s public money. 100% public money. Money that was supposed to be spent “in the classroom” on educating students.

And we’re not talking about chump change here. OHVA received almost 45 MILLION dollars in state money last year, and $9.4 million in federal grants. That’s $55 MILLION in public money. And a good hunk of it went right into the pockets of K12.

According to K12′s 2010 annual report, money from OHVA accounts for 10% of the company’s total revenue, which works out to be about 38.5 MILLION DOLLARS. That’s 85% of the money OHVA received from the state flowing directly back to K12.

The bulk of that money is spent in the form of “Purchased Services” i.e. services provided by K12. The average spent on purchased services statewide for all districts is 16.41%. ECOT (Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow), the largest online charter school in Ohio only spends 23% on Purchased Services. But OHVA spends 60% of their total funding on purchased services.

It really makes you wonder where the money ISN’T going.

While there is certainly some savings to be had by not having a physical school building to maintain, the bulk of OHVA’s ‘savings’ (read: revenue) is gained through staffing. When it comes to human resources the school is organized more like fast food restaurant than a place of learning.

The high school has a single principal responsible for managing a very large staff of 233 and the staff to student ratio is also extremely high: 33:1. A typical public school will be around 16:1 and a private school around 12:1, meaning each OVA teacher has twice as many students as a typical public school teacher.

You’d think, because of the large class sizes, OHVA staff would be compensated accordingly, but they aren’t. They actually earn much less than their public school counterparts: $33,064/year on average vs. $55,958 for a public school.

And these number really help the bottom line. Statewide the average school’s salaries make up about 58% of operating expenditures. But by doubling class sizes and cutting salaries nearly in half, OHVA has been able to get it’s salary expenditures down to 18.6%!

All of these numbers are great news to the stock holders of K12. But if you are one of the poorly-paid teachers responsible for three times the number of students as a private school teacher, or one of the poorly-performing students fighting for your teacher’s attention, these numbers kind of suck.

Want a take a guess how this type of cost cutting affects student performance?

  • OHVA’s state report card grade has declined each year for 4 straight years.

  • OHVA’s passing rate is 62.74%

  • OHVA’s graduation rate for 08-09 was 54.1%, ranked 744 out of 839.

    It really makes you wonder about K12′s advertising for the school. To whom are they comparing themselves? Higher test scores? More personalized attention? Really?

    The problem with OHVA and other for-profit charter schools is that their primary goal is to make money, not to educate students, and the affects of that profit-oriented approach to education are obvious in the numbers. Extremely high staff-to-management rates, extremely high student-to-teacher ratios and very low teacher pay may result in cheaper operating costs for the school and lots of extra revenue for the management company, but the students are ultimately the ones who pay the price.

    It’s exactly this kind of school that Kasich’s budget rewards with extra funding and that decision seems to fit in perfectly with his world view: decreasing pay for teachers while funneling tons of state cash to corporations. Kasich promised to help improve our schools and put more money in the classroom but his budget does exactly the opposite: it takes money out of the classroom and sends it to big education companies like K12 all while supporting schools that cost more and fail more students.

    (special thanks again to Greg Mild for helping me locate all of the statistics used in this post)

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