Thursday, October 25, 2007

School employee can't be his employer's boss

The following editorial appeared in the Concord Monitor. The editorial below makes two great points first it asks the question "Can a school district employee sit on a school board?" The question is yes and we agree with the conclusions of the monitor staff that legislators should clean up the language of the law that this should not be allowed to happen. Legislators should take it one step further and say that spouses of school employees should not be allowed to serve on school boards either. Clearly a person with a spouse working as a school employee has a conflict of interest and will more than likely put the spouses needs ahead of taxpayers and the children school employees are to serve.

School employee can't be his employer's boss

Can a school district employee sit on a school board? Strangely, state law is murky - and it's causing unnecessary headaches in this season's Concord School Board race.

Tim Patoine is among eight candidates for three seats on the board in next month's election. He is also a school bus driver.

There's nothing in the district charter that prevents him from doing both at once. But state statute prohibits people "employed on a salaried basis" by a school district to serve on that district's board of education.

Patoine argues that he is paid by the hour - and therefore is not a "salaried" employee.

But the law goes on to say: "Salaried positions shall include, but are not limited to, the following: teacher, custodian, administrator, secretary, school bus driver (if paid by the district), school lunch worker and teacher's aide."

Surely the Legislature's intent was to avoid the clear conflict of interest that exists when someone drawing a paycheck from the school district is also setting school district pay policies. Lawmakers did not want school employees reviewing the performance of their supervisors or determining what sort of annual pay raises they should receive.
They did not want the school bus driver to be the boss of the superintendent who is, of course, his boss.

Patoine is a sympathetic figure. He is a bright, energetic school board candidate whose knowledge of the district and its challenges is informed by the very job that should keep him from serving.

Regardless, despite their messy law-drafting, state lawmakers were right.

Two things should happen now.

Most important: The Legislature should quickly clean up the language of the law, making clear that it applies to all school district employees, whether "salaried" or hourly workers. A member of Concord's delegation should make this a priority.

Second: Patoine should either quit the school board race or assure Concord voters that if he stays in the race and wins he will promptly quit his bus-driving job. He should not be allowed to hold both positions - and voters should not be faced with financing a special election to fill his seat.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Worse Than You Think

The below article solidifies are stance on why vouchers are so important for the children of Croydon and SAU 43. As reported by our superintendent at lasts months school board meeting about 2/3 of our students are performing at or above proficient level on performance. He seemed satisfied with this level. That means 1/3 of the children are being left behind. Parents should at least have the option of choice many may still may choose Croydon schools and SAU 43 schools but parents should have options. If a person is on food stamps they are not required to shop at only one store. If a person is on medicare or medicaid they are not restricted to one hospital or doctor. It is time we push forward in the 21st century. We in Croydon need to think outside the box.

The following article appeared in the Wall Street Journal.

Worse Than You Think
WSJ: October 24, 2007; Page A20

Proponents of educational choice tend to focus on the underprivileged, which is understandable given that low-income kids are overrepresented in failing inner-city public schools. But an emphasis on the plight of the poor can leave the impression that middle-class public school students are doing fine. And that would be a false impression, according to a new book-length study by the Pacific Research Institute, "Not as Good as You Think: Why the Middle-Class Needs School Choice."

Conventional wisdom holds that upscale communities tend to have "good" schools, and parents often buy homes in expensive neighborhoods so their kids have a shot at a decent public education. But the PRI study, which focused on California, found that in nearly 300 schools in middle-class and affluent neighborhoods, "less than half of the students in at least one grade level performed at proficiency in state math and English tests."

Many of these schools were located in the Golden State's toniest zip codes, places like Orange County, Silicon Valley and the beach communities of Los Angeles. In areas such as Newport Beach, Capistrano and Huntington Beach, where million-dollar houses are commonplace, researchers found more than a dozen schools where 50% to 80% of students weren't proficient in math at their grade level. In one Silicon Valley community where the median home goes for $1.6 million, less than half of 10th and 11th graders scored at or above proficiency on the state English exam.

Schools serving middle-income kids are also doing a poor job of preparing them for higher education. Some 60% of freshmen in the California State University system need remedial courses. And it's not because they grew up in Watts. At Dos Pueblos High School in ritzy Santa Barbara, only 28% of high school juniors tested college-ready for English in 2006, slightly better than the 23% of students who did so at San Marin High School in Marin County, where the median home price recently hit $1 million.

"Many middle-class parents don't think they have a stake in the school-choice debate," says Lance Izumi, the lead author of the study, in an interview. "They assume their schools are doing better than they are." In reality, these families would benefit from vouchers, tuition tax credits, charter schools and other educational options as surely as the inner-city single mom.

And the competitive pressure would help make the surrounding public schools better. "When you show people in these communities how their schools aren't doing so well, how they're not getting the bang for their buck," says Mr. Izumi, "they can begin to see how the debate over school choice affects them, too."

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

The Teacher Unions: Enemies of Reform

One of the main groups behind the lawsuits in Claremont and Londonderry were the teachers unions. The end result of the lawsuits is CACR 18 which will lead to a broad base income tax without any reduction in property taxes. The article below is from the Education Policy website
and requires no further explanation.

The Teacher Unions: Enemies of Reform

by Charlene K. Haar, EPI President
From the school house to the White House, the teacher unions are the most formidable foes of meaningful education reforms -- reforms, which I believe are necessary to achieve superior educational outcomes for children at lower costs to parents and other taxpayers through competition.

Despite their rhetoric, the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers, like other labor unions, were established to redistribute income from employers to employees and the unions. There is no incentive to reduce costs when taxpayers must pay upon demand. There is no reason to excel when the best employees are paid what the worst are paid. For decades, the NEA/AFT have negotiated highly inefficient contracts covering such items as

*hours of employment and compensation
*teacher work load and duties
*teacher qualifications
*teaching assignments and seniority
*teacher evaluation and tenure
*taxpayer subsidies to the unions, such as paid time off for union work, use of school mail system, payroll deduction for dues and NEA/AFT PACs at no cost to the unions, and retirement credit for full-time service as a union employee.

With incredible specificity, the teacher union/school district contract heavily influences the day-to-day operations and morale of a school. In their study, researchers Howard Fuller, George Mitchell and Michael Hartmann reveal that the 174-page contract between the Milwaukee Public System and Milwaukee Teachers Education Association, is an almost "impenetrable document". Making it even more complicated, they discovered "...a 'contract behind the contract' comprised of nearly 2,000 amendments ('memoranda of understanding'), grievance-arbitration rulings, and various state declaratory rulings."

Like legislators who don't read a bill before voting on it, neither school board members nor teachers are likely to read the labor union contract. However, highly paid union officials and political operatives, known in the NEA as UniServ directors, not only read the contracts, but craft them. The AFT local officers negotiate AFT affiliate contracts, sometimes with the assistance of AFT national representatives.

Consequently, with no competition and no incentives for excellence, teacher unions have a government school monopoly which constantly seeks increased taxes and more government expenditures for teachers and union bureaucracies. In fact, union bureaucracies benefit more than teacher union members according to Myron Lieberman. In The Teacher Unions (Free Press, 1997), Lieberman points out that over 3,000 NEA/AFT staffers earn more than $100,000 a year in salary and benefits. It is these highly paid negotiators/political operatives who insist on maintaining the current system. And their job security comes partly from crafting a document that most citizens cannot decipher. Teacher union control of the process is the result of nearly four decades of political power during which the teacher unions have successfully pressured elected lawmakers and school board members to shape education policies, laws, and contracts in their favor.

Teacher union contracts, policies, and laws exclude or severely restrict parental involvement. Because it is completely subservient to the teacher unions, even the National Congress of Parents and Teachers will not speak up for parental interests when teacher union interests are at stake. Almost 30 years ago, the PTA leadership adopted a position of "neutrality" on teacher strikes and terms and conditions of employment negotiated in teacher union contracts. As often happens in negotiations, school boards sacrifice parent interests to teacher union interests. As a result, parents are relegated to fundraising or helping teachers. As the purported representative of children's best interests, the PTA has failed.

With continued talk about parent representation on site-based management councils, parents need reliable, accurate information about how to review school budgets, curricula, contract provisions, personnel evaluations, and other data. In some ways, local parent groups (PTOs) can be more effective than the PTA, but lack the necessary training to become effective leaders.

Who can help roll back teacher union power? Taxpayer and small business groups, which already have expertise in these areas, could expand their watchdog activities and provide training to parents interested in challenging the status quo. Persistent school boards can cut out taxpayer subsidies to the NEA/AFT. Lawmakers can eliminate legislation which micromanages education and school boards. Instead, they should provide a framework within which real competition takes place, thereby permitting and encouraging

*subcontracting with private providers for delivery of services,
*for-profit schools,
*charter schools with liberal waivers and flexibility,
*universal vouchers, or
*any combination of the above to offer superior educational opportunities to children and efficiency and choice to their parents.

The frustration of long-ignored parents is manifesting itself in the profusion of charter and for-profit schools that do not have school boards, negotiators, teacher unions, or PTAs. What these schools do have are effective, engaged parents in independent PTOs, and enthusiastic teachers unleashed from contract restrictions. Were such coalitions armed with more knowledge about the workings of the teacher unions and the weaknesses of the PTA, imagine what they could accomplish.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

N.H. teacher screening system lets some abusers slip through

Yet another reason for school choice....the safety of our children. The following article appeared in the Concord Monitor via the AP.

N.H. teacher screening system lets some abusers slip through

Associated Press Writer

CONCORD, N.H. (AP) -- When it comes to keeping risky teachers out of New Hampshire classrooms, background checks and other screening tools can miss crucial warning signs.

"I think it's a 'B,'" said Henry LaBranche, who dealt with several cases of teacher misconduct in more than 30 years as a school superintendent. "Even within our own protocols there are ways in which you could fall through the cracks."

Between 2001 and 2005, with an average of 18,488 credentialed teachers in the state, the state Department of Education revoked the credentials of 22 teachers. Nine of those involved allegations of sexual misconduct, including child pornography and sexual assault, according to state records, news reports and court documents.

New Hampshire's figures were gathered as part of a seven-month investigation in which Associated Press reporters sought records on teacher discipline in all 50 states and the District of Columbia.

Across the country, sexual misconduct allegations led states to take action against the licenses of 2,570 educators from 2001 through 2005. That figure includes licenses that were revoked, denied and surrendered.

Young people were victims in at least 69 percent of the cases, and the large majority of those were students.

Nine out of 10 of those abusive educators were male. And at least 446 of the abusive teachers had multiple victims.

There are about 3 million public school teachers in the United States.

In New Hampshire, prospective school volunteers and employees must pass state and FBI criminal background checks. An investigator working for the state is obliged to look into all complaints about teachers, and has about 100 cases going on at all times.

"I think we have a good system, certainly in this state, for tracking down complaints," said Judith Fillion, director of teacher standards and certification for the department. "I wouldn't say that I'm frustrated by it. I think we do due diligence."

But others familiar with the screening system say its limitations can protect offenders and hamstring those trying to weed them out.

"I think it works real well if you happen to have been adjudicated," said Paul Cooper, personnel director for seven Keene-area school districts. "It doesn't work real well if you've got an allegation or something that hasn't been adjudicated, or if you dodged whatever bullet."

Some of the flaws:

- Criminal background checks that don't cover less serious but still worrisome crimes

- Incomplete criminal records

- Criminal and education records effectively sanitized through plea-bargains and other negotiations

- Privacy laws and fear of lawsuits that limit the disclosure of adverse information, not only by former employers but by law enforcement

- Difficulty prosecuting teachers accused of sexual relationships with students over the age of consent

A background check did not catch that Kevin J. Corrigan had been charged with making harassing phone calls to a college student in Massachusetts when he was hired as a language arts teacher and coach at Woodbury Middle School in Salem in 2001. His teaching career didn't unravel until he was arrested in June 2002 in Kingston and charged with harassing and assaulting a teenage girl. Only then did officials learn that Corrigan was on probation in Massachusetts on terms that barred him from coaching children younger than 16. A plea deal kept the charges off his record.

After his New Hampshire arrest, parents learned that during his first year in Salem, Corrigan had been disciplined for inappropriately touching a female student, and that others had complained of feeling uncomfortable around him.

LaBranche, then superintendent in Salem, said the incident jolted awake educators who had put their faith in a system that turned out to have significant shortcomings.

"At the time ... we only had a narrow perspective in terms of what the background history and check was," he said. "It wasn't until those types of experiences happened that we realized that the system didn't have the in-depth check that we initially assumed it had."

Corrigan had mentioned a Massachusetts arrest during his interview for the Salem job. But officials said he left out details, and they accepted his explanation that the arrest was over annoying phone calls to a woman he had been involved with. They decided the incident would not affect his performance in the classroom.

In hindsight, that was a mistake. "That's a red flag we should have paid attention to. Much closer attention to," said LaBranche, now Salem's town manager. After Corrigan, Salem schools expanded their vetting process beyond standard criminal background and reference checks, on occasion hiring private investigators to dig into candidates' histories.

Corrigan now lives in North Carolina. Reached by telephone, he said he no longer teaches and declined to be interviewed for this article.

Even if Corrigan's record had been available, it might not have made a difference. New Hampshire law would have prevented school officials from knowing that Corrigan twice pleaded guilty in Massachusetts to making harassing phone calls to young women. New Hampshire law requires applicants be checked for a range of serious crimes - including murder, kidnapping, rape, sexual assault and child pornography - but not lesser offenses like harassment, which still might concern school officials.

"I routinely tell people, 'Do not put all your hiring eggs in my basket. We're just a small part of the puzzle. ... Go with your gut feelings," said Jeffrey Kellett, chief administrator of criminal records for the New Hampshire State Police. "If there are red flags that pop up through the usual application process or interviewing process, follow those."

Kellett's office conducts state and FBI background checks for school districts. He is barred by law from giving school officials the specifics of a person's criminal record, and can only say whether it contains an offense that would disqualify someone from being hired.

"It's a range and they have no idea. We are prevented by statute from divulging exactly what the information is," he said.

Because not all states report into a federal criminal records database, background checks don't always turn up everything that is reportable.

"If you're looking for the full history on someone you could have to run several searches - and again, that's only going to give you the public record. If a file has been sealed or an offense has been annulled or expunged off someone's record, you're never going to find that information," said Thomas Velardi, a Strafford County prosecutor who has experience with teacher misconduct cases.

"Whatever the school systems are doing they seem to be doing it well enough to forestall these types of issues from happening, but obviously any agency can always do a better job," he said. "And even the most diligent background screeners are going to miss people's intentions which are formed after the date" they are hired.

Access to information is limited in other areas, too. For example, state law prevents state police from telling prospective employers whether former middle school teacher Tracy Kukesh followed through with the terms of a plea deal and registered as a sex offender after he pleaded guilty in 2002 to misdemeanor sexual assault involving a student. (Kukesh did lose his teaching credentials.) That's because only two-thirds of New Hampshire's sex-offender registry is public. The remaining third, including those convicted of misdemeanor sexual assault, is confidential. State police are barred from saying who's on it, let alone why.

"It's protecting the offenders' privacy. We've been banging our heads against the wall for years," said Jill Rockey, a state trooper who works on the registry.

Because every state's registry requirements are different, offenders can avoid registration by moving to a state with more favorable rules. A new federal law aims to set national standards for registries, but it will be three years before New Hampshire is in compliance, Rockey said.

Revocation records kept by the state Education Department also can be misleading. Of the 22 credentials revoked (or surrendered in the face of revocation) between 2001 and 2005, sexual misconduct is overtly mentioned in only three cases - one each for child pornography, sexual assault of a student and sexual misconduct with students. The six other sexual misconduct cases were confirmed independently of state records.

"Left the field of education" is the official reason given for teacher Dennis P. Sheehan's revocation in October 2005. The Education Department's public record omits the details: that Sheehan was fired from Londonderry High School in 1999 over allegations he fondled himself in front of two students. Acquitted of lewdness and indecent exposure charges, Sheehan lost his job but hung onto his teaching license and was hired to teach at Methuen High School in Massachusetts. That lasted until 2003, when he again became the target of misconduct allegations. Again, he was acquitted.

In a brief telephone interview, Sheehan said he gave up his teaching credential after the second acquittal.

"I just got disgusted with the whole thing. Won both court cases and just said I can't go through with that again, so I turned it in," he said.

Revocation records can be misleading because teachers who surrender their credentials before their cases go to hearings can work out deals to limit what becomes public.

"When we make the agreement about what the revocation says, we do it in conjunction with their attorney," Fillion said. The rest of the information is sealed, so that labels like "inappropriate" and "unprofessional" conduct may cover a range of accusations and misdeeds - "all the way up to sex," she said. The state does not differentiate between credentials that are revoked and those that are surrendered.

School officials say the vast majority of teachers behave professionally, and warn that even the most transparent records and most thorough investigations would not guarantee schools free of predators.

But as further insurance against problems, some districts take precautions to protect teachers and students alike from accusations of misconduct.

For example, Londonderry passed an anti-fraternization policy in 2002, a year after high school teacher Timothy Masse was accused of sexually assaulting a 17-year-old student. (He pleaded guilty to a lesser charge of simple assault.) The policy governs teacher-student relationships ranging from physical contact to e-mails.

Marie Ross, superintendent of the Newfound Area School District, says she advises teachers and coaches to avoid driving students in their cars. If they do, she urges them to drive more than one student at a time, and to make sure students stay in the back seat.

"You need to make judgment calls and I will always make a judgment call that that errs on the side of caution," she said.

NEA goes after Vermont

In the below article, what Reg Weaver really means is "We will continue to fight against anything that denies our union leadership the opportunity to access the wealth of money still left in the hands of taxpayers because we do believe that taking other people's money is our union's basic right". Any law that keeps the NEA out of our pockets has to be a good one. Go get 'em Vermont, you've been ripped off by these educrats long enough!

Why is it that the Comrades next door in Vermont have been able to put a cap on Big Ed spending and our leaders in Concord just passed legislation that will create a spending boom and decrease the current quality of education our children receive.

The below article appeared in the Eagle Times on October 21, 2007. Bravo to the Eagle Times!

NEA goes after Vermont
There is something ironic about the National Education Association coming after the state of Vermont for its latest effort to solve the problem of the soaring cost of education in grades K-12.

Act 82, an offspring of Act 60 and Act 68, was passed during the last legislative session and is scheduled to take effect next year. While it's a complicated law like its predecessors, it boils down to a state-imposed limit on education spending in local communities. Spend more than what the state says you can and you must go back to voters for a supplemental budget. And that is what has the NEA in a tizzy.

"We will continue to fight against anything that denies young people the opportunity to have access to a great public school because we do believe that it's a basic right," said Reg Weaver of the NEA at a Vermont-NEA convention last week.

Vermont legislators, of course, like to claim that it got down to business 10 years ago when the state Supreme Court ruled that it needed a more equitable system to fund education so students in property poor towns did not get less money because of where they live. But neither Act 60 nor 68 did the trick and with no end in sight to the oppressive property tax burden caused by higher and higher education spending, the Legislature finally got wise and decided to cap spending with Act 82.

New Hampshire, meanwhile, still has not come up with anything that would put an end to protracted court battles. One would have thought New Hampshire's lack of action would have brought the wrath of the NEA.

But the NEA does not seem genuinely interested in anything that actually makes our public schools better; it only wants to ensure nothing stops the continual flow of money that goes into them. New Hampshire has not tried that at the state level; Vermont has.

According to an Associated Press report, Vermont spends an average of $11,000 per student or $1.3 billion a year. Vermont-NEA's president says spending limits do not improve education; apparently unlimited spending doesn't either.

When the Legislature reconvenes in January both Democrats and Republicans should stand their ground and not let the NEA bully them into stripping Act 82 of its intent to help taxpayers handle higher and higher education costs. It certainly won't hurt the schools.