By Donna Garner
I would hate for us to leave our “voter education” to someone such as Kate Alexander who is one of the most biased reporters that the Austin American-Statesman has. The clear intent of her article in yesterday’s newspaper is to cause voters to throw out those conservative Legislators who have stood for fiscal responsibility by refusing to use up the Rainy Day fund to pay for the largesse of school administrators and school boards.
Kate put Thomas Ratliff’s photo at the top of her article and then proceeded to quote him as if he is the voice of “sensible” Republicans. Let’s get the cast of characters straight, shall we?
Thomas Ratliff is currently under investigation by the Texas Attorney General’s office because Ratliff was elected to the Texas State Board of Education (SBOE) even though the Texas Education Code says clearly that a person who is a registered lobbyist is not eligible to serve on the SBOE.
Texas Education Code: Subchapter A, Section 7.103 (c):
(c) A person who is required to register as a lobbyist under Chapter 305, Government Code, by virtue of the person’s activities for compensation in or on behalf of a profession, business, or association related to the operation of the board, may not serve as a member of the board or act as the general counsel to the board.
Here is the link to the letter sent to the Texas Attorney General’s Office on 3.2.11 by the chair of the SBOE asking for an opinion that involves Thomas Ratliff who has been a registered lobbyist with the Texas Ethics Commission since 1998.
One of Thomas Ratliff’s most lucrative clients is Microsoft, earning him tens of thousands of dollars since 1998. (Ratliff also has other education-related clients who may also be doing business with the SBOE/TEA.)
The SBOE is the caretaker of the Permanent School Fund (PSF). On May 30, 2010, Microsoft was one of the PSF’s top five stocks at $157.16 million.
In plain, simple English, the more deals that Ratliff can broker for Microsoft and his other education-related clients who sell their products to the SBOE/PSF/TEA, the more money Ratliff makes. This is called a clear conflict of interest.
Kate Alexander has chosen to quote Thomas Ratliff as if he is a voice to be trusted on school spending issues when he has been feeding at the education trough for many years!
Bill Ratliff is Thomas Ratliff’s father, and the three including Shannon Ratliff are all wealthy lobbyists for the family-owned company. Bill used to be the Lt. Gov. of Texas and is the one who crafted SB 1 that took local control away and moved it to the state.
Bill Ratliff, Mike Moses, Charles Butt, Thomas Ratliff, Raise Your Hand, Texas Parent PAC,Texas Freedom Network, and Save Texas Schools are all linked together through various funding mechanisms and have basically the same agenda — to get as much money out of the taxpayers as possible and to practice the politics of personal destruction against any conservatives who stand in their way!
Rep. Donna Howard (Travis County) is one of the most liberal Democrats in the Texas Legislature, is a big-time supporter of the Texas Freedom Network, and is linked to some of the most radical leftist groups in the country.
Rep. Donna Howard is a Texas Freedom Network board member. This puts her in direct alignment with Planned Parenthood, the Human Rights Campaign (largest homosexual organization in the U. S.), the ACLU Texas, Alliance for Clean Texas, Center for Public Policy Priorities, Equality Texas, NARAL Pro-Choice, Sierra Club, Stand Down Texas, TAPPA, Texas Impact, The Texas Observer, and MECha (who wants to eliminate the border with Mexico entirely and honor Mexican revolutionary war hero Ernesto Zapata and Cuban revolutionary Che Guevara).
Obviously their agenda is to destroy free enterprise and traditional values and to put every aspect of our lives under government and state control. Because of various miscounting of votes by the people in Travis County, Rep. Donna Howard won by less than five votes against Dan Neil who contested the Nov. 2, 2010 race. Howard definitely does not have a mandate from the voters!
By the way, Kent Grusendorf lost his election in 2006 because he had cozy relationships with technology vendors and wanted the taxpayers to spend almost $12 Billion on individual laptops for every student in Texas. The taxpayers rebelled against his heavy-handedness and voted Grusendorf out of office.
Unfortunately, many left-leaning educators in the education establishment would like nothing better than for the taxpayers to keep funding their lavish perks with our hard-earned tax dollars.
The people at Austin KXAN.com had the courage and perseverance to post 40 superintendents’ contracts online. Now by clicking on each of these contracts, the public can see the built-in perks that are making superintendents among the highest-paid individuals in their communities.
We also need to remember that these perks and compensation amounts add to supes’ total Texas Retirement System payouts, and it is these special “deals” for supes that are putting a deep financial strain on TRS that could eventually hurt the limited retirement of classroom teachers.
Superintendents’ contracts are public documents, and the taxpayers have every right to see them. Once the taxpayers realize it is the administrators (and not the Texas Legislators) who are misusing taxpayers’ dollars, then the locals need to raise cane about the fact that these same school administrators (and school boards) are the very ones who are making the decisions to lay off classroom teachers and/or increase the number of total students that teachers will have next year.
CONSERVATIVE LEGISLATORS NOT ONES TO BLAME
Schools have many ways in which to cut spending long before laying off classroom teachers:
Eliminate stipends for cellphones.
Cut way down on the number of teacher training days.
Cut overtime and summertime pay.
Eliminate curriculum directors. The new clearly written and grade-level-specific Texas standards in English, science, and social studies do not require interpretation by curriculum directors and/or consultants. New clearly written and grade-level-specific math standards will be adopted in the near future.
Cut stipends for math/science/ESL teachers.
Quit contracting with high-priced consultants.
Eliminate expensive conferences for administrators and curriculum directors.
Stop paying administrators’ and school board members’ dues to professional organizations (e.g., TASB/TASA). Classroom teachers have to pay their own dues if they choose to join teachers’ organizations.
Quit buying curriculum materials from high-priced vendors. Working together in departments, teachers can create their own materials that align with the new TEKS standards.
Stop over-building “Taj Mahals.” Bonds pay for the new facilities, but the district pays for the maintenance of these overly large and overly fancy facilities. School districts need to quit making architects rich on the backs of the taxpayers.
Quit hiring outside consultants to produce studies on demographics, bus routes, scheduling, accounting, cafeteria operations, maintenance, etc. School districts should do the research for themselves. In doing so, they would learn more of the nitty gritty details that occur with the people who are on the front-lines.
Instead of classroom teachers having to take on extra classes, which is bound to lower the academic achievement by requiring less individual time with students and fewer writing assignments, why not require administrators to become the teacher-of-record for at least one course per semester (preferably not an AP or IB course). The end result would be administrators who are more connected to real kids in real classrooms, and also students and classroom teachers would get to know their administrators better. Everyone would win.
Let me make a statement based upon my 33+ years in the classroom: When the superintendent is gone for the day from his office, almost nobody in the school district even notices. When a classroom teacher is gone from his classroom, there must be a substitute teacher hired; and definite plans must be made ahead of time along with catch-up responsibilities when the classroom teacher returns. In the life of a child, which person is more important? If indeed it is the classroom teacher, then he should be the last to be laid off because of budget cuts.
Please read my article published on 3.23.11 posted entitled “Texas Schools Can Cut Spending.” I sent this article to every Texas Legislator early in the Regular Session to give them ideas about ways schools could cut spending without laying off classroom teachers.
To read Kate Alexander’s article from 6.19.11 entitled “Will the Other Shoe Fall on Republicans’ School Budget Cuts?”
March 23, 2011 1:28 pm
by Donna Garner
The old TEKS (i.e., curriculum requirements for teachers — standards) that were used in Texas for the last ten years (since July 1997) followed a format and verbiage that was very generic, inexplicit, broad, and not specific by grade levels.
For instance, the English / Language Arts / Reading (ELAR) standards (TEKS) were the same in grades K-3, 4-8, and 9-12. That meant that teachers in those grade clusters all had the same goals. Who was supposed to teach what? Nobody knew because the standards themselves gave no clear direction.
Therefore, school districts (even the little tiny districts) began to hire curriculum directors to help teachers figure out what needed to be taught at each grade level. Those curriculum directors in turn also did not know what needed to be taught at each grade level because of the foggy TEKS documents; and this meant they had to go off to many meetings/conferences to be taught by consultants.
When the curriculum directors got to these meetings/conferences, they would hear zippy, entertaining, fast-talking consultants; and the curriculum directors would go back to their districts and beg to have the administration bring in the consultants. The highly-paid consultants would come into the local districts to do the training; and of course, they all had their own products to sell. They would tell districts to buy their wares in order to give teachers grade-level-specific goals to reach.
Add up all the curriculum directors (in large districts, there is one curriculum director for almost every grade level), the curriculum directors’ staffs, the highly paid consultants, and the products sold by the consultants; and you have a whole boatload of taxpayers’ dollars!
When the Texas State Board of Education began to adopt new TEKS (May 2008 to the present time), they established a completely different structure for them. The new standards had to be knowledge-based, academic, explicit, grade-level specific, and measurable.
For instance, the new ELAR’s have specific elements that tell teachers the goals that are to be met at each grade level. This is the same thing for the Science and Social Studies TEKS. Math TEKS are in the pipeline. A teacher can now take the ELAR, Science, or Social Studies TEKS documents; and by reading the elements listed, he knows WHAT to teach and exactly WHAT students are to learn. Students and parents can also look at the new TEKS and know the same thing. No “interpreters” are necessary. Of course, it is up to the individual teacher to decide HOW to teach the standards and reach the explicit goals; but at least he does not have to wonder as he did for ten years WHAT he should teach.
If local teachers are given enough time to work in department groups within their schools or (in the case of small schools with departments in surrounding schools), they can decide for themselves HOW to teach the TEKS for their particular grade levels; and the districts will be out no money for the curriculum directors, expensive conferences/meetings, consultants, and high-priced curriculum systems. Teachers are by nature creative; and given a goal to reach, they can do it if given enough time and instructional support from local principals and other administrators.
There are many other ways for schools to save money also. For instance, I have suggested to every Texas Legislator who has asked me for suggestions that he should ask any experienced classroom teacher where he thinks cuts could be made that would not hurt the academic standards of the district. I wager that there is not a single classroom teacher who would be shy about telling Legislators where the “fat can be trimmed” without hurting the academics in the district.
These same classroom teachers to a person would also tell Legislators what a total waste of money the Education Service Centers are. I taught for 33+ years myself, and I can remember only one professional development/in-service training session that was practical and worthwhile for me to implement into my classroom. On the other hand, the very best ideas that I ever got came from my fellow teachers through peer group sharing.
To mention the obvious, it also would not hurt for administrators to “sacrifice” some of their largesse found in their contracts. It bothers us in the public to watch these Save Our Classroom rallies without hearing a single administrator who says he is willing to put back into the school budget at least a part of his salary and negotiated perks found in his contract. Administrators should be leaders. How about leading by example?
As someone recently said:
I believe a simple rule should be applied to the budgetary shortfalls our schools are facing: If you are in front of kids each day and actively teaching, your job is safe. If that rule is applied, then what do we cut?
Administrators make eloquent arguments to justify their positions, but we have too many of them. If we are really serious about making significant cuts, why not start with the positions that carry the highest salaries? Why not have our principals teach one or two periods a day? They were teachers at one time. Why not have them double up and in so doing help cut down on the student-to-teacher ratio.
We need to eliminate or significantly reduce education service centers…Not only do we pay the salaries of these individuals, but we also pay to purchase and maintain the buildings they occupy. The regional service center that serves our area says on its own website that it has 315 full and part-time employees. Many of these individuals rarely enter a classroom.
To see examples from school districts that are practicing wasteful spending, please go to the Americans for Prosperity Rotten Apple Award website:
Another great source is P E Y T O N W O L C O T T – Public Ed Commentary
(left side of the screen) where Wolcott has given taxpayers a plan to get their school districts to put their checkbook registers online so that everyone can see how and where the school district has spent taxpayers’ dollars.