This is a bit of a random collection of items related to education.
The school board is meeting tonight and is likely to pass amended calendars for the next two years. The revised calendars are available on board docs in the agenda under curriculum (#11, items A and B). This has been much discussed. The 23-24 year will start on Aug 28th, before Labor Day and ends June 12th. I’m not sure if it’s been modified since the last discussion, but it’s attracted a lot of attention. Tonight’s your last chance to be heard.
Educational Services Agreements
This is a topic that needs to receive more discussion than it gets. Educational Service Agreements are where the school district agrees to pay for education for a student elsewhere because the school district has not met a student’s educational needs. The agreement for student #2521052 in part 12, item A is one of the biggest I’ve seen thus far I think. It appears to be almost a quarter of a million dollars. That seems….large. Its the cost of educating 10 students in our district. Normally these agreements are in the 40-50k range, which is still about double what it costs to educate a student in the district. I’ve tried in the past to figure out how much the school district spends annually on these, but the budget remains a confusing mess that’s hard to analyze. I made an effort to compare WSSD’s ESA’s with other districts like RTM, but the numbers are so erratic that it’s hard to draw any consistent patterns from them.
There’s two sides to this. The first is that each of these agreements is an acknowledgement by the district they failed a child. And that’s heartbreaking. Some of the problem is likely structural – our school district is too small to offer specialized services – and some of it is a failure by administrators to find solutions for children’s needs. I have repeatedly heard of one particular administrator in the district who is particularly reviled by those that have had children that required special help. Could more children receive services within the district and avoid these expensive settlements?
The other side is that the school district seems excessively litigation averse. I have yet to hear of any case where they fought off a legal challenge in one of these cases. These are often dealt with in executive session so it’s hard to know for sure. I’ve heard by the rumor mill that some of these agreements to send children to private schools in the area probably should have been challenged. And if it’s widely known the school district will settle every case, there’s little to stop parents with access to legal help from seeking those judgements.
So all around, this issue needs some sunshine.
The finance section (#13, K-N) involves spending on a number of athletics items at King’s field. Fencing and gates for $55k, ADA compliant ramp and seating for $75k, handrails for $43k and a scoreboard for $153k. This is all on top of the $1.1 million for artificial turf there approved in March. I find it hard to accept all this while we have a shortage of classrooms, children learning in trailers and not enough counselors, but athletics seems to be a higher priority than education in much of America.
I mostly watch soccer, and in that sport artificial turf is generally frowned on. It causes more injuries, it’s harder to play on, and so on. Professional European soccer is rarely played on artificial turf. Women soccer players even sued over discrimination because they had to play on artificial surfaces. I’m still not convinced by any of the arguments brought forth by artificial turf proponents. It’s not clear it’s cheaper. It’s certainly not more sustainable. And it leads to more storm runoff, which likely contributes to problems in the 2nd ward, which lies just below the school field and has flooding issues. There’s discussions of a field at Gouley Park. Hopefully we can do more thinking about whether that should be natural or artificial.
The Court has Spoken on Pennsylvania School Funding: Now What?
Changing gears, The League of Women Voters of Delaware County has an excellent series of Hot Topic discussions where they collect experts to discuss pressing policy issues in the county. Last Friday they held a session with this title that I found discouraging. The “Now What” seems to come down to, continue to advocate with your legislators for more educational funding and whatever change there is won’t happen for many years. The court decision doesn’t seem to have had much impact beyond as a rhetorical point for advocates.
For those that don’t know, the courts have ruled that the Pennsylvania government has failed to provide the education for children required in the state constitution. From Article III, section B,
The General Assembly shall provide for the maintenance and support of a thorough and efficient system of public education to serve the needs of the Commonwealth.
State funding for education is low, leading to large disparities between high wealth and low wealth districts in the state. The court ruled that the state has failed to meet the standards required by the constitution. According to the speakers present, the Republican legislative leaders seem unlikely to further appeal the ruling, but it’s still possible it could be appealed to the state supreme court thus delaying any action even further.
Our judicial system seems inadequate. Here the courts have ruled that millions of children have been failed by the state and there are apparently no requirements for action. She’s just told them to fix it and left it at that. Meanwhile, as constable, I have arrest warrants for people that failed to pay parking tickets. Fail millions of children and violate the constitution? Well, don’t do that. Fail to pay a parking ticket because they had the wrong address for you? You could be hauled off to court in handcuffs.
While I’m on a rant here, it’s frustrating to watch the glacial pace of change. This lawsuit was filed before my son started kindergarten and it likely won’t have any effect until he’s out of high school. Our children are being failed and facing harms right now while the system is years away from changes to help them. I’ve heard from parents struggling to get their kids to school in the mornings (and experienced it myself) and yet the sleep/start time study has gone dormant for years now even though its amply shown that the current system is harming children’s emotional, physical and academic wellbeing. I’ll have more to say about bullying and harassment at another time, but needless to say, it’s another issue that needs more immediacy than it’s getting. The harms are being done now. A few years from now isn’t soon enough.
Categories: Government, WSSD