Tag Archives: Nevada public schools

Right Wing School Daze in Nevada

School Corridor Lockers And now the National School Boards Association weighs in – along side the National Education Association – that’s not a combination one sees all that often. What might bring them together?  Nevada’s egregious Strip The Schools Funding scheme, or SB 302. (pdf) [RGJ]  Others who’ve found the new private/home school funding scheme an atrocious way to funnel funds away from public education include the NAACP, the SPLC, and the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund.  All these organizations oppose the right wing privatization plan.  They’re right.

The brain fart  child of Republican Scott Hammond (NVS-18) who has an interest in the Somerset Academy (as a founding member), is yet another way to line the pockets of  Floridian entrepreneurs, specifically the Zuluetas who control about $115 million in south Florida real estate, all exempt from property taxes as “public schools.”  [MiamiHerald]  The Zuluetas’s little empire has a fairly broad reach, as explained by the Miami Herald:

Academica’s reach extends from Florida to Georgia, Texas, Nevada, Utah and California, where the company also manages charter schools. But Academica is best known for managing four prominent school networks in Miami-Dade and Broward counties: the Mater Academies, the Somerset Academies, the Doral Academies and the Pinecrest Academies.

In the 2010-11 school year, these four chains had 44 South Florida schools with about 19,000 students. Each network of schools is run by a nonprofit corporation, which in turn is run by a volunteer governing board. These boards set policy for the schools, and also approve the management contracts and property leases — including the land deals with the Zulueta companies. While the teachers and principals work for the nonprofits, Academica routinely vets personnel and recommends principals from within its stable of schools.

As much as the principal characters in the Academica wish to claim altruistic motives and concern for the education of their little enrollees, there have been serious questions about the  “land deals” in Florida – since when have there not been questions about land deals in Florida? – and the connectivity between the academies and the corporation…a corporation which on at least one occasion held a lovely  corporate session in the Bahamas at the expense of the schools. [MiamiHerald] [CIOK] Enough questions were raised to grab the attention of the Feds who investigated Academica. [EdDive]

By April 20, 2014 the Department of Education’s office of inspector general had heard enough to begin an audit of Academica’s dealings. [MiamiHerald]

Little wonder some major organizations have questions regarding the transfer of funds – tax dollars – away from public schools whose lease arrangements, contracts, funds, and all other operations must be conducted in public, as matters of public record, complete with audits.

The byzantine labyrinth of connections between land developers in Florida and education in Nevada might be sufficient to call this inane bit of legislation into question – but wait, there’s more:

“Unless otherwise stated in the legislation, nothing in the legislation will be deemed to limit the independence or autonomy of any participating entity.” [edchoice]

If my reading skills haven’t escaped me this means that the State Treasurer can’t object to public funds being shipped off to the “Flower Child School of Sensitivity and Sensations,” the “Spartan Academy for Children in Need of Physical Restraint,” or parents who believe that everything a child needs to know in life can be taught by learning to knit.  There’s another item in the list that might give some serious militarists pause: What would prevent a “school” from encouraging a “gap year” for a student to “study with ISIS in Syria?”

However, the dubious intent of some recipients of Nevada tax dollars may be a side show.  The real intent is the privatization (and profitization) of American public schools.  If sufficient funds are stripped away from public schools, then their overhead expenses and personnel costs will be such a burden as to precipitate a financial collapse and consequent “need” for “flexible” charter/private education.  The plan is relatively simple, just flood a market with private schools, “market share demonstration sites,” – or call them “investment sites” – and those vulnerable markets will pave the way for the privatization process. [CashKids]

There’s nothing secret about this, the privatization contingent has a road map:

“First, commit to drastically increasing the charter market share in a few select communities until it is the dominant system and the district is reduced to a secondary provider. The target should be 75 percent. Second, choose the target communities wisely. Each should begin with a solid charter base (at least 5 percent market share), a policy environment that will enable growth (fair funding, nondistrict authorizers, and no legislated caps), and a favorable political environment (friendly elected officials and editorial boards, a positive experience with charters to date, and unorganized opposition). For example, in New York a concerted effort could be made to site in Albany or Buffalo a large percentage of the 100 new charters allowed under the raised cap. Other potentially fertile districts include Denver, Detroit, Kansas City, Milwaukee, Minneapolis, New Orleans, Oakland, and Washington, D.C.” [EdNext]

Proponents of privatization toss the usual buzz words into the discussion: Choice, Flexibility, Market Share, Free Markets, etc.  What they are NOT inserting is also germane:  Shareholder Value Theory, and Return on Investment.  If privatization is the model, then current financial theory is part of that system, and it isn’t too far fetched to believe that the insertion of the Shareholder Value Theory is part of the mindset of those advocating private education services.   Is it too difficult to imagine what a Martin Shkreli could do with a few schools?

In short, the “Nevada System” under SB 302 is an invitation to corporate cronyism, corporate malfeasance, theoretically valid but ethically unspeakable administration, and good old fashioned chaos.  The National School Boards Assn. and the other organizations are correct in pushing back against this disturbing trend.

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School Dazed in the NV Assembled Wisdom

NV Legislature wide It’s School Daze for the Nevada Legislature and its Raucous Caucus, as AB 448 comes forward.  This is the Achievement District bailiwick in which all pretense of “local control” is pitched into oblivion

AN ACT relating to education; establishing the Achievement School District within the Department of Education; (1)  authorizing certain underperforming schools to be converted to achievement charter schools sponsored by the Achievement School District; (2)  prescribing requirements for the conversion of a public school to an achievement charter school and the operation of an achievement charter school; (3) providing for the use of certain school buildings by an achievement charter school without compensation; (4) authorizing a school district to provide services to an achievement charter school under certain circumstances; prescribing certain conditions of employment for a teacher at an achievement charter school; (5)  authorizing the conversion of an achievement charter school to a public school in a school district or a charter school; revising provisions governing the use of school buildings owned by the board of trustees of the school district by a charter school; making reassignment of the employees of an achievement charter school (6) outside the scope of collective bargaining;  [AB 488]

Let’s not bother to pretend this has anything to do with “smaller government,” or other pillars of conservative wisdom.  If a school is categorized as “underperforming” the local school district loses control of it and its operations.  That would be, of course,  the duly elected school board of a school district in this state – losing control of its facilities and operations to the state. Small government this isn’t. More on this point a bit later.

There are three ways a school can be removed from local authority:

Sec. 20. 1. A public school is eligible for conversion to an achievement charter school if: (a) Based upon the most recent annual report of the statewide system of accountability for public schools, the public school is an elementary school or middle school that was rated in the lowest 5 percent of elementary or middle schools in this State in pupil achievement and school performance for the most recent school year; (b) The public school is a high school that had a graduation rate for the immediately preceding school year of less than 60 percent; or (c) Pupil achievement and school performance at the public school is unsatisfactory as determined by the Department pursuant to the criteria established by regulation of the Department.

Let’s look at the first one, based on the annual report.  For all intents and purposes this categorization is based on standardized test scores. Growth measures of achievement,  status measure of achievement, and reduction in achievement gaps are all based on … test scores.  There is one other criterion, and only one other, to date, and that’s average daily attendance.  [NVDoE]

Here’s what I don’t see in the description of the measurements. Does the school serve a struggling socio-economic group?  Is the school over-crowded? Does the school have a teacher-student ratio that indicates some classes are overcrowded? How many of the youngsters are classified as in need of Special Education?  What is the transient rate in that particular school? Is the school adequately staffed with counselors, language specialists, social workers, psychologists, aides and other support personnel? If the school is a secondary one, then what does it mean to say the students are “ready for college?”  Let’s be honest here, not everyone is prepared for or even interested in a four year college program.  So, what does it mean to say a child is ready for… a vocational program? An apprenticeship program? A School to Work transition program?  We know that about 41% of American students continue their education beyond high school.  [NCES]

What of the other 60%? Does this mean that if a student elects to be a truck driver, construction worker, apprentice plumber, landscaper, or apprentice mechanic, or heavy equipment operator they “don’t count?”

What I do see is that if the kids show up and they test well then the school is said to be successful. The bias here appears to be that if the local school district isn’t churning out academically successful students, even if the school has prepared numerous and sundry mechanics, truck drivers, beauticians, file clerks, plumbers, etc., it isn’t “successful.”

A graduation rate? 60% is doable. The state average – one of the worst in the country is 63%. [LVSun] There are diploma options, for example in Clark County one can earn a standard diploma, an advanced diploma, or an advanced honors diploma. [CCSD] Students with learning disabilities can opt out of the “college and career readiness” track, and be evaluated according to their Individual Education Plan.

Statewide there are standard diplomas 63% receiving this form, advanced diplomas 27.2%, adjusted diplomas 4.8%, and certificates of attendance 4.9%. [NVASB pdf]

Nevada is a state with 37% white, 40% Hispanic, 9% black, and 1% Native American students. 19% of the students are classified as Limited English Proficient, 11% have diagnosed learning disabilities, and 54% are come from low income families. [NVASB pdf] By at least one standard – if the schools are majority low income, and the graduation rate is over 60% then some might call this successful? While it may not be ideal, it certainly doesn’t deserve the opprobrium of abject failure.

Item (c) is bureaucracy personified. A school may be declared “unsuccessful” based on Department of Education regulatory criteria. For those who purport to eschew “bureaucracy” and support “local control” by “locally elected officials” this ought to be enraging?  This isn’t small government, it’s grasping government, and personnel policy isn’t all it’s grasping.

Welcome to our accounting nightmare.  As set forth in Section 22.

“2. An achievement charter school must continue to operate in the same building in which the school operated before being converted to an achievement charter school. The board of trustees of the school district in which the school is located must provide such use of the building without compensation. While the school is operated as an achievement charter school, the governing body of the achievement charter school shall pay all costs related to the maintenance and operation of the building and the board of trustees shall pay all capital expenses.”

This is a go broke slowly scheme?  While the charter pays for the maintenance and operations, the local school board has lost control of its building and the capital expenses associated therewith.  If the school district approved a bond issue for the construction of the school (over which it now has no control) it must still pay off the bonds – without any compensation from the entity now using the facility.  But wait, there’s more…

Any financial operation from the lowliest back yard garage service to the most complex corporation has to deal with depreciation expenses, and accounts for capital replacement.  So, we have here a building on which  there are outstanding bonds or not, someone has to pay into accounts for depreciation expense, and into accounts for capital replacement – without any compensation from the charter management firm in charge of the building.  We’re not dealing with insignificant numbers here.

The Clark County School District reports $2,245,000 in depreciation expenses in 2012-2013.  Let’s assume that the “average” functional age of most schools is about 40 years, and that this functionality is dependent on (a) use and (b) renovation.  If we use straight line depreciation then we take the cost of original construction and divide it by the number of years the building is assumed to be serviceable.  If the school district, or any district, is functioning with fiscal intelligence, then the older the building the more must be added to the capital replacement accounts.

Clark County has 8 buildings constructed before 1949, 20 schools constructed during the 1950s, 39 during the 1960s, 31 during the 1970s, 23 during the 1980s, 98 during the 1990s and 119 constructed recently after 2000. [CCSD pdf]   In 1996 the Clark County School Board authorized $89 million in bonds for elementary schools (9), and $104.9 for four middle schools. [LVSun]   We can use these numbers to create an illustration of how expensive depreciation can get for a school district.  The CCSD numbers yield a cost of about $9,888,888 per elementary building included in that bond issue.  If the buildings have a life expectancy of 65 years then the depreciation for those would be $152,136 per building annually.

The way I’m reading this section of the proposed law, the Clark County School District would be responsible for the $152,136 annual depreciation expenses on a building over which it was forced to relinquish control if that school were to be declared “unsuccessful.” And, the charter management firm would be using the building without contributing to the depreciation expenses.

And, now the nightmare compounds.

“4. An achievement charter school may: (a) Acquire by construction, purchase, devise, gift, exchange or lease, or any combination of those methods, and construct, reconstruct, improve, maintain, equip and furnish any building, structure or property to be used for any of its educational purposes and the related appurtenances, easements, rights-of-way, improvements, paving, utilities, landscaping, parking facilities and lands; (b) Mortgage, pledge or otherwise encumber all or any part of its property or assets; (c) Borrow money and otherwise incur indebtedness; and (d) Use public money to purchase real property or buildings with the approval of the Achievement School District.”

Whoa Nelly!  The charter management firm may encumber, mortgage, or pledge any part of its property – the school building – on which the local school district is (a) still paying off capital construction bonds and/or (b) still paying for depreciation expenses?  In a nightmare scenario, the hypothetical  Chatter Charter Achievement School (formerly operated by the local school district) which is still being paid for – can be modified by the Chatter Charter NPO, and who books the depreciation on the renovations? Who’s on the hook for the mortgage if the Chatter Charter outfit goes bankrupt?  If the local school district is “still responsible” for the capital expenses, then is it also ultimately responsible for the  payment of capital outlays for renovation?

There’s something else here I’m not seeing.  The Charter may acquire all manner of equipment and furnishings – but can it sell off equipment and furnishings without the approval of the original donor – the local school district?   Buildings, furnishings, and equipment (anything not classified as supplies and personnel costs) may also be an integral part of the school districts accounting. In our good old fashioned double entry system of bookkeeping in this country, the non-perishable or consumable items are booked as ASSETS of the school district and thus any donation of those items (voluntary or involuntary) depletes the assets of the school district. Deplete enough assets and you deplete the capacity of the district to qualify for future financing.  

In short what we have here is a fiscal system in which the taxpayers who paid into the local school district make all the contributions and the charter firms take all the donations, just keep the floors mopped and the lights on.   Therefore, the penalty for having an unsuccessful school is not only the loss of policy control but the loss of financial assets to boot.

It’s a double whammy for any school district, and one that doesn’t appear to have been entirely thought through to the obvious financial conclusions.

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There’s a reason tenure cannot be taken from a Nevada public school teacher, and it’s simple.

teacher tenure

There is nothing to take, Nevada public school teachers do not have tenure.  Nevada teachers have either probationary or post-probationary statusAB 378, which is purported to be a ‘reform’ bill is another of those ALEC/AFP dream lists inserted into the Legislative discussion.  Here’s the meaty part:

“Existing law provides for the evaluation, discipline and discharge of public school teachers and administrators. (NRS 391.311-391.3197) Generally, during a 3- year period, probationary teachers and administrators are subject to more intensive evaluation, have no right to continued employment after any school year, and have limited procedural rights if they are suspended or dismissed during a school year. (NRS 391.3125, 391.3127, 391.3128, 391.3197) The admonition, demotion, suspension, dismissal and nonreemployment provisions that apply to postprobationary teachers and administrators are generally inapplicable to probationary teachers and administrators. (NRS 391.3115) However, existing law provides that a collective bargaining agreement supersedes these statutory provisions if the agreement contains provisions relating to dismissal and nonreemployment. (NRS 391.3116) Section 10 of this bill generally eliminates the existing distinctions between probationary and postprobationary employees, except for the purposes of the evaluation requirements applicable to them. Notwithstanding the provisions of any collective bargaining agreement or contract of employment to the contrary, section 10 provides that a postprobationary employee has no status or rights of employment different from those of a probationary employee and may be denied reemployment after any school year.”

Got this? Because it really isn’t very difficult.  There are no “tenured teachers” in Nevada – there are only those with “postprobationary status” who have a less stringent evaluation procedure, and have DUE PROCESS rights if they are to be dismissed, demoted, or refused a contract for the next school year.  That’s all, simply DUE PROCESS rights to answer the allegations of mismanagement or incompetence if they are not offered another one year contract; and – every teacher in Nevada signs ONE year contracts with the local district.  Therefore, what AB 378 does is NOT to eliminate tenure (which doesn’t exist) but to eliminate DUE PROCESS, which does.

Now class, hands up, all in favor of removing  DUE PROCESS for teachers who are challenged by the school administration for mismanagement, incompetence, or generally not being popular with the administration?

This is a piece of legislation entangled with all manner of potential unintended consequences. A few examples:

Which evaluation regime is to be adopted for all teachers in the district if the distinction between probationary and post probationary teachers is eliminated?  It sounds like the probationary model might be the one most aligned with the intent of the legislation, but have the authors of the measure calculated the amount of time a school administrator would have to add to an already busy schedule to implement the enhanced processes in place for probationary teachers to everyone in the building?  Do the bill’s authors intend to fund additional administrators for school districts to fulfill all the evaluation tasks assigned?

If there is no advantage in staying with a school district for any length of time because there is no distinction between probationary and postprobationary teachers, then why should a “highly effective,” or “effective” teacher bother to stay longer than three years in a district if some other district or school offers higher pay or better incentives? 

Frankly, if I were in charge of an affluent school or district I’d be delighted with the prospect of “picking off” the best and brightest in the not-s0-affluent areas, by hinting to the best and brightest that since there was no advantage for them to stay longer in the Not So Affluent district or school,  I could offer, say, smaller class sizes, a lighter schedule, and more input into curriculum design and implementation?  This often happens anyway, but why encourage it?

If due process is denied to an individual who has received “highly effective” or even “effective,” ratings for three years running does the prospect of demotion, dismissal, or refusal of re-employment invite more litigation? The elimination of the hearing process means that the “administrative remedies” are exhausted as soon as the announcement is made to the teacher in question.  So, if there aren’t any “administrative remedies” available, then the next step is into the courtroom.  Expensive? Probably.  This situation leads to the next question.

Does eliminating the due process and related contractual provisions place more school administrators in jeopardy?  Possibly yes.  If administrative remedies are eliminated and any questions remain about the intent or source of the decision to demote, dismiss, or refuse to re-employ, then the administrator or district must demonstrate (as a potential defendant) that the decision made was not arbitrary, capricious, or vindictive.   If there’s  system in place governing the demotion, dismissal, or employment refusal decision making process then the administration has a documented ‘trail’ and it is much more difficult to substantiate allegations that the decision was made arbitrarily, capriciously, or even vindictively.

Other than completely eliminating the due process protections for both teachers and administrators, there’s another element in the bill that should make a person’s skin crawl.

“Existing law requires the State Board of Education to establish by regulation the maximum pupil-teacher ratio in each grade and for each subject matter each school district in this State. (NRS 387.123) Generally, the ratio of pupils teachers in kindergarten and grades 1, 2 and 3 must not exceed a specified and each school district must develop a plan to reduce the ratio within the limits available financial support. (NRS 388.700-388.725) Sections 3-5, 12, 13 and this bill repeal those provisions and eliminate existing references to them.”

It’s difficult enough to be “effective” or “highly effective” as a teacher or administrator in a school anyway… but in which situation are they more likely to be successful:  School A with 40 students in primary grade classrooms; or, School B with no more than 20 students in primary grade classrooms?  Or, put less stridently, in which classroom is a youngster more likely to receive attention to his or her questions?

Assemblywomen Victoria Dooling (R-NV41 and Freedom Works) and Shelly Shelton (R-NV10), the sponsors of this bill, should have paid a bit more attention to the details in NRS 391 before putting this bill forward.  Additionally, they should have noticed that when the subject of employment and due process arise the potential for mischief (and protracted litigation) increases.  Sometimes things aren’t as simple as anti-government activists like Matt Kibbe says. 

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