Friday, November 9, 2018

RISD TRE: Lessons and Roadmap

In a tax ratification election (TRE), voters in Richardson ISD approved a tax rate increase by a ~7% margin. What should be the takeaways for the RISD board of trustees and district administration?

First and foremost, the district now should have enough revenue to run the schools for the next five years (with or without a solution to the root cause of the problem with school finance at the state level). So, execute. Give teachers that raise. Hire more special ed teachers. Expand Career and Technology programs. Increase security. Do all the things the district said were needed. That's the obvious takeaway. But we now ought to be able to turn our attention to other matters that might have been overlooked while we were focused on solving our local funding problems. I have a few suggestions, some easy, some hard.



  • November elections: Let's start with an easy one to implement. In 2016, the RISD bond election passed with a 2:1 margin. It seemed like the community was broadly on board with the RISD's roadmap. But that 2016 bond election was held in a local, non-partisan May election, when the electorate is smaller, presumably more tuned in to what's happening in public schools, and has self interest in getting "stuff" for their children's schools. The 2018 TRE election was held in the heat of a partisan national and state election, with eight times as many voters taking part, many of whom don't pay any attention to their local schools beyond wincing at their annual property tax bill. The 2018 electorate is probably a better reflection of how much the community as a whole is really on board than the 2016 election was. The RISD should consider moving all elections to the November general election, despite its partisan nature. Win the more difficult, larger electorate and you can better justify claiming a mandate for strategic plans.

  • Community outreach: The 53-47% split in support for the TRE means community outreach needs to continue and strengthen. Those strategy planning teams that were put together in 2017 need to be institutionalized and made a permanent part of how RISD solicits community input. Not everyone can volunteer for regular participation in strategic planning teams, so town halls should be a regular occurrence. Alternatively, or maybe in addition to, the unsatisfying 3-minute open mic section of board meetings should be reformulated to allow for more back-and-forth dialog. (The TOMA would need to be finessed somehow to keep within legal requirements, but I'm sure something can be worked out.) In all such outreach, ways need to be found that community input is both heard and acted on. This can't just be a way to let the community blow off steam. It needs to be a way to draw on the talents of the community to find and implement solutions.

  • Representation: The board of trustees needs to settle the David Tyson lawsuit, not fight it. Adopting single-member districts could very well introduce geographical turf wars and dissension into an efficiently running operation, but let's face it. The current system of electing trustees has largely failed in getting a board of trustees with anything like the diversity of the schools in the district. Change is needed. The sooner we try something different, the sooner we'll figure out what works.

  • Segregation: It's the elephant in the room since the 1970s. The problem didn't go away just because the US Department of Justice released the RISD from court supervision. The RISD's introduction of the Accelerating Campus Excellence (ACE) program at four RISD schools is a welcome attempt at overcoming the negative effects of racial and socio-economic segregation, but it's also a way of avoiding doing something to increase integration, which has been shown to have a greater impact on escaping poverty than just improving schools in poor neighborhoods. Redrawing elementary school boundaries, more magnet schools and other school choice options, free busing to eliminate affordability issues for families, all should be on the table in community discussions. That leads to another issue that might be at odds with solutions to the segregation problem...

  • Neighborhood schools: RISD says it's proud of its commitment to neighborhood schools. But how deep is that commitment, really? RISD's magnet schools work to draw students away from their neighborhood schools. The magnet schools might be diverse, but is it at the expense of making the abandoned neighborhood school less diverse? I don't know how to simultaneously strengthen neighborhood schools and increase integration, but I do know that it's a problem that needs more discussion, not less.

I'm sure there are other issues that escape me just now, but this list should be enough to keep the RISD board of trustees and the whole community busy for the next five years, don't you think?

20 comments:

glbeach said...

Well said, Mark. Well said.

Lynn Davenport said...

You never say these things until after your previous blogposts help sway the outcomes in favor of continuing the bad behavior you admit exists. You did the same thing after Chumney ran against Greenhaw. You are part of the problem. You enable RISD to continue the charade then pretend to hold them accountable.

Victoria Suarez said...

Lynn, what exactly is your problem with what Mark has said here? Interested to hear what you take issue with.

Sassy Texan said...

I think Mark knows exactly what Lynn is talking about.

Mark Steger said...

"Sassy Texan" please don't assume what I do and don't know. Also, anonymous comments are not welcome. That includes use of aliases with no attached real name.

buzz maxwell said...

Mark, do you believe it diminishes an argument if you can cause fear in the participants? Rest assured Sassy Texan is spot on with her assertions. If she had not been, you would never have gone after her anonymity. We are more in numbers than you and yours. I have always been told the truth will stand under its own merit. Can you show the merits of your truth. Waiting with an open mind and ears.

Mark Steger said...

"buzz maxwell", come again?

Unknown said...

Those are all good ideas. Any suggestions on how to get the Board to implement them? Based on them increasing the number of hours spent on homogeneity from 3 to 12, I don't think they want to hear differing views. https://www.dallasnews.com/news/watchdog/2018/11/08/texas-school-districts-need-mavericks-school-boards-succeed-system-doesnt-allow

Marcia Grau

Mark Steger said...

Marcia Grau, thanks for the support. The way to get the board to implement them is for the public to express their support. I'm less interested in the vote counts than in seeing the board adopting good policies. If and when they adopt any of my recommendations, I hope the votes are 7-0, as it would indicate the board is fully on board.

Unknown said...

Hmm, do you think they'd respond to a petition or a poll? Email campaign? Is there an example from the past that worked?

Marcia Grau

Mark Steger said...

Marcia Grau, RISD is a small enough community that residents can meet and know their elected representatives personally. Talk to them. Tell them what you think and try to understand what they think. Consider the possibility that they might have a valid viewpoint, too. That the board of trustees hasn't adopted my recommendations is not evidence that they aren't listening, or that they don't want to hear differing views. I just consider it evidence that they reached a different decision than I did. For each of the issues I identified above, there are pros and cons. People of good faith might have differing views. But if I keep the lines of communication open, that might change in future.

Unknown said...

I've actually done that already without seeing any sign of change. So I will just have to assume that things like paying attention to what teachers say would improve retention or stopping principals from dictating the lowest grade a teacher is allowed to give out are bad ideas.

I'm just out of step with the majority. :)

Marcia Grau

Mark Steger said...

Marcia Grau, I can't believe any board member said "paying attention to what teachers say" is a bad idea. If we all agree on the goal, it must be the methods that are in dispute. That's where I would focus.

Marcia Grau said...

The method was providing information on what teachers said they wanted most to improve their working conditions so they could follow up. The response was that they were afraid that opening a dialog with with teachers would be likely to result in "a black hole of petty complaints". What method would you suggest I try instead? I'm completely willing to try it if I can figure out one that works. Thanks.

Marcia Grau

Mark Steger said...

I don't believe any board member is afraid of opening a dialog with teachers. The RISD conducts exit interviews with departing teachers and also just conducted "stay" interviews with remaining teachers. The board reviewed the findings of those HR interviews at the November 5 board meeting. That effort suggests to me that the RISD board and administrators are serious about listening to teachers. If you believe that the process has reached a dead end, then I'm afraid I'm out of suggestions for you.

bmarks56@aol.com said...

The single member district litigation needs to be settled by the RISD BOT and a BOT district map drafted by the BOT or one will be drafted for them by the USDOJ and the Federal District Court.

Unknown said...

The part in quotes is exactly and precisely what the board member told me in regard to RISD instituting a permanent dialog with teachers.

I originally responded because I was hoping there was a plan to encourage RISD to implement your suggestions that I could help support. If anyone knows a way to make that happen, please contact me at grau.marcia@gmail.com. I would be happy to help.

Thanks.

Marcia Grau

Mark Steger said...

Even if "a black hole of petty complaints" is an accurate quote, I believe it is being taken out of context, because I don't believe any board member is afraid of opening a dialog with teachers. The "stay" interviews that the district conducted with teachers is evidence that the district is not only not afraid, but welcomes dialog with teachers. If you believe that the dialog has reached a dead end, then I do have additional suggestions, contrary to what I said above. Asking others to help you, as you've done, is a good one. And if all else fails, working to elect board members who share your frustration with existing policy is the ultimate way to implement different ideas.

Unknown said...

I believe the district starts out with good intentions but has problems with execution. As a case in point, at LHS the "stay" interview was conducted by an admin who asked the group of teachers (not individual teacher interviews as originally planned) why she was meeting with them.

I agree with you, we need to find a way forward to work together to improve the outcomes for the students and teachers. I'll support things that do that even if it costs me because it's a benefit to everyone in the long run. That's why I will increase my donations to non-profits that benefit students.

And I meant what I said about getting involved and helping to implement those ideas if anyone else is interested.

Marcia Grau

thclear said...

Mark- As a 30 year employee I have endured a lot. I voted for the TRE as I support our only hope for public education funding in the short run. What I don't know is if RISD has learned lessons of fiscal and operational responsibility. I am worried they have not... I pray I am wrong.