Some views as a school trustee
By John Rajcic
One of my responsibilities as a school board member centers on my fiduciary obligation to the taxpayers.
My father in the family business would say, “take care of the nickels, son, and the dollars will take care of themselves.”
I do not believe my arguments on school board matters are seriously considered by my colleagues on the school board with a few minor exceptions. Some of my views follow:
1. Salaries and contracts. I do not believe in a lockstep salary schedule where everyone advances at the same pace regardless of their contribution and success in reaching District Goals. This includes the teacher salary schedule. In the case of teachers, the state has mandated a lockstep salary schedule. Since there is no political will in the State Legislature to change it, I am forced to accept it.
When it comes to administrators and managers, there is no such mandate. The compensation of administrators and managers should not be based upon a lockstep salary schedule. Compensation for administrators and managers should be based upon merit. The board can change the compensation for administrators and managers by a simple majority vote, which they should do. Those administrators and managers who, in the judgment of the board, do the best job should receive merit increases.
Under the district’s current compensation policy, if a principal gets a 5 percent salary increase the superintendent gets that same percentage increase. This means our superintendent would receive an automatic increase of $10,000 per year. This is unconscionable to me and borders on a gift of public funds. A little history, in January our superintendent had two and a half years remaining on his contract. The district was and still is to a large extent on a fiscal cliff. The district was also in a serious labor dispute with the teachers. The superintendent received a $10,000 salary increase and his contract was extended an additional year. The classified staff and teachers continued to receive furlough days! This is leadership?
The superintendent’s compensation with benefits and “goodies” exceeds $250,000 per year. This is not a value statement, this is mere fact. None of our district goals were significantly met, including the fiscal viability of the district, but the superintendent received a significant salary increase. To a large extent the board delegates its power to the superintendent without appropriate oversight. This is problematic to me.
The district’s personnel selection procedure should be modified. There is no harm in waiting for a position to be filled. Many times in a bureaucracy it is discovered that a position is not needed, especially when it is left vacant for awhile. Other employees often take up the slack.
No serious consideration was given to my argument for the need for just a superintendent and one assistant superintendent. No person is indispensable. The cemeteries are filled with such people.
My basic philosophy is that no one should be 100 percent secure in their position, especially for over two years. Employment contracts could have options for the board to renew or extend, but not over two years at a time. I believe in the notion that you should not hire someone you cannot fire. Giving people decision making power without incurring some penalty for being wrong or not meeting goals makes no sense to me.
2. Bidding and contracts. No contract should be extended without review and a serious look at the marketplace for better services or products at a better price. This includes all services, including legal and other consulting fees. I suggested that our attorney fees are so high that it would be profitable for the district to have a person with a legal background as the personnel department head. We are at the point where this makes economic sense. My suggestions were not even discussed by the school board.
Personnel is policy. It is not necessary to spend a lot of time writing bids. One can tailor and enhance vendor suggestions or even requests for proposals (RFP). This is not time-consuming.
3. The District Headquarters Office exterior is an embarrassment.It should be humble, tidy and inviting. The headquarters of any company says a lot about the people and their values.
We are probably among the few, if any, school districts in America that cannot pass a bond issue. Is it the water we drink in Ramona, is it indifference, is it leadership, or is it that the community feels we do not spend their taxes frugally and wisely? Some conclude the latter to be the case just by looking at this building.
4. The flow of information in a bureaucracy. It is not a question of a dearth of information, it is tons of information that has little or no value to the person receiving it for decision making on critical issues. Target (a communication brochure of the superintendent) is a minor case in point. Much of the information is already discussed or will be discussed in other venues like board meetings and the press. Significant information should be emailed when it is first known. The superintendent immediately rejects my suggestion by saying amongst other things, “the board president said ….” without seriously arguing against or for my positions. I must remind the superintendent that the board president is merely first amongst equals.
Target should be online, and when necessary an executive summary, with a “read more click“ if someone wants to.
We are in a digital age and information should be in real time. My agenda is so heavy it strains my back to lift the packet. Personnel actions, suspensions and the like should be in executive summation with a laundry check list indicating laws, procedures and all bases were checked.
The budget “package” also is a case in point. An executive summary of two pages was sufficient. Most of the budget is accounted for in salaries and benefits. Potential increases in funding can be noted. It is the discretionary area that is up for grabs. I cannot possibly see at this time how a board member could actually benefit from such a monstrosity that is over an inch in thickness. Maybe before its final form a board member may have a pet project that he/she wants funded.
5. There is a lot of hoopla about the Common Core curriculum. A lot of money is up for grabs by schools and a lot of money is to be made by computer programmers and publishers who have talented people and are ahead of the game. It is predictable that the first thing the school bureaucracy will say is, “we need another person to be the leader in this effort.”
Everyone will begin getting their curriculum in line, even if it does not need aligning. To me this is back to the future. Much of the same was to be accomplished in 1958 NDEA (National Defense Education Act) and 1963 ESEA (Elementary and Secondary Education Act that morphed into No Child Left Behind).
There will be a lot of effort, but ultimately it will be what publisher’s materials we select. Maybe we should start with published teaching materials and work backwards. The ultimate test of student success will be Grade Point Average and SAT or ACT scores or a good job as a welder in North Dakota.
One of the many arguments for the Common Core Curriculum is students will more effectively grasp concepts with the integration of disciplines and such efforts. This in turn will make us more competitive in the world marketplace. It is true that innovation in product and services keeps the U.S. ahead of the game. Ironically much of the innovation and creativity has little or nothing to do with formal education or it may come from someone who had less than an “adequate” school experience, like Einstein.
The strength of American education is in its diversity, not commonality. Common in the sense of love for our country, our heritage and the wonders of the market system. It is bad enough to have lockstep salary schedules and now comes to some extent the Common Core lockstep curriculum. All this aside, emphasis on the Common Core will as a minimum question what we are currently doing.
I am agnostic about a lot of things in education but not the value of a great teacher. Great teachers have teaching in their DNA. I have been around for over eight decades. I can honestly say, the more I know, the more I find out that I do not know. Also, experience is not the best teacher (Dewey). It is learning from the experience of others. One can only be 100 percent sure about something only if one knows everything about the subject or absolutely nothing about it. I come to the school board from an arena where the market forces demand continued improvement in product, lower cost and better service.
John Rajcic is a Ramona resident.
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