The decision to close or reutilize several School District 11 schools was an emotional, yet necessary, decision. Unfortunately, the decision to have to close school buildings in a city that has been steadily growing is due, in large part, to an incompetent administration that has been rivaled only by its incompetent school boards. Nevertheless, as state money has dried up in response to ever declining enrollment numbers, something had to give. That something turned out to be neighborhood schools.
During the period from about January through March 2009, D11 held several community hearings to discuss the closure/reutilization process. The district maintained a continuously updated Utilization Study workbook that changed as the community provided input. On page 120
of the February 4, 2009 work book, it is apparent that the community was interested in receiving assurances that the money that was to be saved from these school closures and consolidations would follow the displaced students. Note that on lines FF, HH, and JJ of this document, this sentiment is clearly expressed. The community wants the savings to follow students and it wants the money to fund programs that help students.
Within this same Utilization Study document, D11 Deputy Superintendent of Something (depending on where the Superintendent decides to stick her in any given year) Mary Thurman showed that her interests were not necessarily aligned with those of the district tax payers. On page 4
and page 5
of this document, you can see the input from Thurman. In the second paragraph from the bottom of page 5, Thurman informs us that her priority is, (in these difficult financial times), increasing teacher and staff pay. While private industry freezes or cuts pay and staff, school districts like D11 believe that they should be immune from such actions. While tax payers all across D11 and the state are struggling right now, public employees believe that they should continue to receive pay boosts each year.
As D11’s enrollment has declined over the past decade, D11 staffing numbers have remained fairly steady. Staff has not declined in proportion to enrollment, which has placed even greater stress on the operating budget, 85% of which is staff pay and benefits. Thurman points to two recent resignations of D11 principals and she cites “better pay elsewhere” as the reason these administrators left the district (page 5). As all modern day school district employees are taught to do, Thurman resorts to the “just give our employees more pay and this district will finally start performing because we will attract good teachers” argument. I take it that Thurman is making the claim that, due to "low" salaries in D11, the current crop of employees is not of a very high quality.
Take a look at the D11 Executive Professional salary chart
for this school year and ask yourself if D11 administrators are really underpaid. Keep in mind that the average income in Colorado Springs is $38,000 per year. This D11 document shows that high school principals in the district make $95,000 to $109,000 per year. Is this really not sufficient to entice these principals to do their jobs? Did the two D11 principals really leave D11 due to poor pay, or due to the fact that principals in D11 have no power or authority to be anything other than the yes-man or yes-woman for the “one size fits all” administrators downtown?
During the March 3rd, 2010 board meeting, this document
was inserted into the BoE meeting packet by district CFO Glenn Gustafson. Note that Gustafson complains that, “For years the District has been unable to keep up with neighboring school districts for employee compensation…” Is this really true? Take a look at the next document
, which comes from the Colorado Department of Education web site. It shows teacher pay data for several Colorado counties, including El Paso County. Look at the “Average Teacher salary” column on page 3 and note the district in El Paso County with the highest average teacher pay. Of course it is D11. Maybe Thurman is actually only complaining that recent pay increases have not kept up with surrounding districts. OK, that probably makes sense considering those districts are actually growing while D11 has been dying. No matter the complaint on salary, one obvious solution to putting more money in teacher pockets is to immediately stop the forcible taking of teacher pay (over $600 per year) to give to the politically driven labor union. If teacher salaries are not satisfactory in D11, and if administrators want to claim that surrounding districts are doing so much better (despite the contrary evidence and despite the fact that surrounding districts do not have labor unions), then what purpose is served by forking over portions of teacher paychecks to this toothless union?
Despite the wishes of the D11 community, D11 administrators and labor union leaders wish to take the approximately $3 million recurring savings from the school closures and spend it on increasing staff salaries rather than on your students. Take another look at the memo to the school board above
. Towards the bottom of the document, Gustafson lists the “Key Players” in this discussion of what to do with the $3 million in savings. Notice who is missing from that list: parents and students. You really don’t matter to these people. Gustafson needs to boost his salary or he may have to go elsewhere where he can mismanage another budget. After all, he can hardly afford life on his $120,000+ (plus benefits) salary.
The final document is a Memorandum of Understanding
(MOU) that was signed on July 14th, 2009, by the leader of the labor union and Mary Thurman. This memo is mentioned by Gustafson in the Board document. Gustafson is wrong when he states that this MOU was “entered into” during labor union negotiations. Although the date of “May 11, 2010” appears on the document, it carries no meaning since the document was not signed until July, well after the BoE voted to approve the labor union contract. Additionally, the “teacher negotiations” are negotiations between the school board and the labor union. Thurman is not a member of either group. An employee of the district cannot bind the BoE to arbitrary agreements. The MOU was merely an attempt by Thurman and Gustafson to back the board into a corner. Unfortunately, most of the members of this compliant board will welcome this MOU, using it as an excuse to turn their backs on the community once again.
Gustafson leaves the BoE with two false choices in his board document. The BoE needs to ignore these choices and direct those funds where they belong, which is with the students who continue to be victimized by this poorly managed school district.