Monday, February 26, 2007

To Save, or Not to Save - That is the Question

There's an interesting article in Friday's "Beaufort Gazette."  Here are some excerpts:

"While the Beaufort County Board of Education is toying with idea of eliminating year-round schools to save money, educators in Wake County, N.C., are examining them as cost-savers. Wake County residents last fall approved a nearly $1 billion bond referendum to build schools, but it wasn't large enough to satisfy all the system's needs to house students. Consequently, officials are examining a year-round calendar to alleviate crowding. According to The News & Observer of Raleigh, the year-round approach adds seating capacity without having to build more classrooms because more students can be accommodated in schools that are used 12 months a year. The school board plans to put new elementary and middle schools on a year-round footing and to convert a couple of dozen schools to year-round, to hold down construction costs, the newspaper reported. In Beaufort County, officials say they can save about $500,000 by eliminating year-round schools."

Thursday, February 22, 2007

What If He Had Quit?

Today is the birthday of George Washington. As I pause to reflect on the courage and wisdom of this great American, I would ask that you take just a moment to travel back in time with me.

The date is December 25, 1776. A ragtag group of soldiers, some shoeless, stood by the Pennsylvania shoreline of the Delaware River, awaiting orders from the Commander-in-Chief of the Continental Army, General George Washington. Morale was at a low point. British successes on the battlefield left any hope for an American victory hanging by a thread. In six days most of the men would be free to return home, the terms of their enlistment having been fulfilled. The weather had taken a turn for the worse. Sleet, snow, and rain, driven by a fierce wind, tore through their tattered clothing.

Washington had every reason to turn back. No doubt he had been advised to give up and let his haggard troops go home now while they still had the strength to make it. His plan to cross the Delaware River, march to Trenton, NJ, and defeat a Hessian Garrison sounded ludicrous. Some today would have questioned his sanity. They would have tried to stop him through Congressional action, and if that didn't work, legal steps would most certainly have been taken. After all, he was about to embark on a mission that was doomed before it even started!

But no - George Washington gave the orders that Christmas evening to load up the boats and head across that treacherous, ice-laden river. It was 3:00 in the morning before the total contingency of about 2,400 troops made it across. Other forces attempted the crossing as well, but had to turn back. The subsequent march by Washington's troops to Trenton seemed impossible, but they made it. In spite of extreme delays, General Washington's army was able to take the Hessians by surprise, thus successfully completing that phase of their mission.

Historians have pointed to that victory as a turning point in the American Revolution. As news of the Hessian defeat spread throughout the colonies, morale was boosted, hope was renewed, and the rest is...well,...history!

The ending could have been quite different of course. What if Washington had recognized all of the odds against him and decided to quit - to just give up? Take a moment to ponder that question sometime today, and to give thanks for a leader who saw beyond the probable, and took a leap of faith.


(References included "Eye Witness to History" and "Wikipedia")

Grassroots Group, WakeCARES, Opposes MYR

There's a link on the right to the website of WakeCARES. They have retained attorneys, and are trying to raise money for legal action against the Wake County Board of Education. They welcome any help they can get.

$285 Million to Avoid Year-round? There's More to the Story Than That...

Did you read the article in Wednesday's N&O entitled, "$285 Million to Avoid Year-Round?" That headline is a bit misleading. I attended the Committee of the Whole School Board meeting on Tuesday, where Chuck Dulaney went over a nine page handout that he had prepared on the subject. He stated that the information was in response to this question: "Should the assumption of opening all new schools as MYR be changed?" The report was extremely detailed and broken down into headings such as:

--The Cost of Returning to Voluntary Year Round by 2010
--Impact on the Next Five Year CIP

Two IMPORTANT points to note:

1) Dulaney defined the word voluntary to mean, "Year round as it was [in Wake County] in 2005" - meaning still some mandatory year-round
assignments. I think he said that, on average, 30-40% of the students in voluntary YR schools now are actually assigned to go there.
2) According to my notes, the report was based on the premise that a decision to go voluntary could not be made prior to 2010. Board member Carol Parker explained it to me as follows:

"#2. The report is based on increasing the number of schools to be built so that traditional schools could open instead of all new schools as assigned year round. These additional schools would then allow the 2005 year round model--with the new year round schools opening with seats available by application. It could not be implemented before 2010 school year providing the funding for the additional schools is available to start planning in 2007-2008 timeframe."

I will see if a link to the report is available. If not, you can contact the folks at WCPSS and request a copy.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Update on Last Posting

Sorry that I'm just now getting back to last Thursday's discussion forum with Rep. Ty Harrell, Susan Parry, Lindy Brown, and Chuck Dulaney. The most eye-opening revelation to me was in response to a question I posed separately to Mr. Dulaney prior to the meeting and to Susan Parry during the discussion period. In a nutshell, I asked them what the response would be if someone was able to find the needed seats for 2007-08, without creating major disruptions or taking drastic measures (I personally still believe it can be done). Their answer? Basically, thanks but no thanks - we're looking beyond 07-08.

Just another example of how people have been falsely led to believe that if they can come up with a viable option, the Board would consider it. We also heard the same talk about poll results, wanting to do what is best educationally for the children (that one really gets me fired up!), no support for additional monies to build schools, etc., etc.

There is more to the MYR agenda than meets the eye, that's for sure.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Citizen "Discussion Group" with NC Representative Ty Harrell

What an interesting Thursday evening! I attended one of Representative Ty Harrell's community input sessions where he has a panel discussing "hot topics" and answering questions turned in by those in attendance. Last night's topic was mandatory year-round schools. Details will come on Friday, but suffice it to say that this particular meeting proved to be quite an intimate get-together! The 7:00 event at the Morrisville Chamber of Commerce drew SEVEN citizens - I'm serious. We ended up doing away with formal protocol, and basically having an informal question and answer time with: Representative Harrell (newly elected, District 41, replacing Russell Capps), Susan Parry (School Board member), Lindy Brown (newly elected County Commissioner), and Chuck Dulaney (WCPSS Growth/Management). Although the turn-out was disappointing, I think we all agreed that the back-and-forth exchange time was a rare opportunity. Of course, the frustration only grew as we listened to some of the same old attempts to rationalize decisions, but at least we got to ask a few point-blank questions. Too bad the three guests had to take up so much of the discussion time. Even with just 7 of us there, we didn't have time to cover even half of what we needed to.

Sorry, but it's late and tomorrow's a big day. I'll try to share a few specific insights as soon as I can. Thanks to the other folks who were there. Great questions were asked and excellent points were made. What a team effort all of this is!!

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Wake School Board Finds Money for MYR Conversions

The Wake County School Board voted on Tuesday to proceed with plans for MYR conversions, using money they came up with themselves. This article tells where they are getting the money. Ron Margiotta (out of town) and Beverly Clark were absent from this called meeting.

Thursday, February 08, 2007


On the graph 2 postings down, I corrected it to say 19 elementary and 3 middle schools. No dramatic change in the graph itself, but I did want to make it as precise as possible. The 22 elementary and 4 middle school figures that were on the original graph included both converted and new year-round schools for 2007. So, the additional expenses would increase even more if you figure that the total utilities, custodial, maintenance, teaching and administrative staff costs would be even higher in the new schools.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

WCPSS Has More Than Enough Seats…WITHOUT MYR…

Here's a link to a copy of the StopMandatoryYearRound press release.

Monday, February 05, 2007

The Additional Cost of Conversion to Year-Round

There's a one page pdf version of this information here.

After being pressed for months and months, the WCPSS staff finally released this information:

"Average increased cost to operate a school in the same building on YR calendar is $149,117 for elementary and $195,760 for middle."

My follow-up question to Don Haydon, Chief Facilities and Operations Officer WCPSS:

"Is [this] referring to schools that will be converted? Also, what operational costs are included?"

Mr. Haydon's answer:

"Yes, schools being converted. Utilities, custodial, maintenance, and teaching and administrative staff."

Louise Lee

Friday, February 02, 2007

Let's Make Some Progress

Here's a letter I just sent to the Wake Board of Education members, CC'ing the County Commissioners and the Wake delegation to the General Assembly:


Sent: Friday, February 02, 2007 11:56 AM
To: Wake Board of Ed. Members
Cc: County Commissioners, Wake Delegation - General Assembly
Subject: Let's Make Some Progress

Enough is enough. If we can't put aside pride, agendas, politics and game-playing for the sake of CHILDREN, then we are truly a pathetic lot. Space is needed for students. Some say mandatory year-round schools are the only answer. Others insist that seats can be found without forcing a major lifestyle change on families. Let's "cut to the chase" right now, and get on with our lives.

School Board members, you all say that you would prefer not to have to mandate year-round school attendance. Parents and other citizens claim that they have found viable ways to seat students. Have you sat down with them to go over their data? If not, please do so before Tuesday. It would do no harm, but would speak volumes as to your willingness to scrap MYR plans if at all possible. One suggestion I made was to see how many seats would be available if music and art teachers gave up their rooms and used carts. This is not preferable I know, but it is already being successfully done now. According to Chuck Dulaney, such a measure would definitely open up some classroom space. No, it wouldn't solve everything, but it would help. I was told that you would have "staff" look into this. What did they find?

As I've said a hundred times before, if you insist on forcing year-round school attendance, the turmoil we are experiencing now will continue to grow and grow. As additional information becomes public, which it will, you will see a marked increase in opposition from citizens who have no children in WCPSS. Some of us are still doing extensive research on local and national MYR-related issues. Our findings, some of which are yet to be revealed, give further proof as to why this plan needs to be dropped - now.

Earlier this week, I had the honor of speaking with a distinguished leader in the field of education. Dr. Howard Fuller, PhD, is an education professor at Marquette University who has dedicated his heart and soul to teaching. He is currently chair of the Black Alliance of Educational Options, a group which "supports policy initiatives that will provide options for parents and their children, be they public, private, or outside of institutional arrangements." Dr. Fuller believes in parental choice. To him that means "giving families the opportunity to choose, from a range of options, a learning environment they think is best for their children." That is what parents in Wake County are asking for. That is what their children deserve.

In a recent speech, Dr. Fuller referenced a quote by William Daggett. It bears repeating. Mr. Daggett said, "We must love our children's hopes, our children's dreams, our children's aspirations and our children's prayers more than we love the institutional heritage of the school systems." Do not force year-round schools on the children of Wake County. Let that calendar remain a choice. That is the only way it will succeed.


Louise Lee

Thursday, February 01, 2007

A Letter From a Concerned Parent

The letter below was written to the School Board by Wake County parent Scott Haviland.  He has graciously allowed me to reprint it here.


Imagine that the President of the United States has deemed mandatory year round conversion in Wake County to be a clear and present danger to the security of the United States, and issues an executive order mandating that it cannot be an option for our public school system. You're still charged with educating all the children in Wake County.

What do you do?

You solve the problem.

You call in every resource at your disposal. You work the system in any way you can to do what you need to do to make it happen, because we all believe you very much care about your charge to educate our children.

You finally listen to the intelligent suggestions made by intelligent parents who have studied this issue for countless hours and beg to be heard. You look at their honest quantitative assessments and you objectively question your own analysis and those who helped you to derive it. You have no choice because converting to mandatory year round is no longer on the table.

You work the political system as you have done before as you are, of course, politically savvy in your own right. You reach out to the folks copied on this note and you ask for their help. You convince yourself there has to be a solution because you have no choice but to provide education for the children of Wake County.

You put behind the ill-will that has been created with parents and work with them to figure out what can be done.

At the end of the day you hammer out a solution, and get on with planning for the future as the County Commissioners have graciously endorsed you to do. I'm not going to pretend I know what that solution is. I've seen a number of ideas coming from parents that seem to make sense. I don't believe talking to you is like talking to a brick wall so I'm quite sure you've heard and understood many of these arguments. In the "clear and present danger" scenario you would bring several of these parents into the fold for their contribution. Of course my executive order notion is ridiculous. The rest of my scenario is not.

And neither is this.

Imagine my middle school son is on a traditional calendar. His twin sisters are on a year-round calendar. One of those girls has special needs which may well limit her track options. She may not even have the same teacher throughout the school year. Imagine that being the one adjustment she is unable to handle, brave as she is. There is no guarantee the girls will be on the same calendar. Imagine their mother, in school herself, busy as she already is getting them to school and activities now, trying to balance their schedule and hers.

Imagine their grandmother and great-grandmother in Egypt no longer having the summers to see these precious children.

Imagine that our family budget is now enduring a property tax hike from the bond passage, and paying through the nose for track out programs, euphemistically referred to as "business opportunities" for area organizations. Imagine our son "escaping" reassignment for sixth grade but likely facing it
in seventh grade.

Imagine yourselves explaining to our family why we have to endure this, when you're finding previously unidentified traditional seats. Imagine the inequity in how this burden is shouldered by the families affected by this conversion. Better still, imagine the joy you would feel in reporting to your constituents that you've found a solution after all. Imagine their feeling of being heard, respected, and well-served. Imagine my family being relieved of the stress of
MYR conversion that has dogged us through this entire school year when our lives are crazy enough already.

Take mandatory year round off the table. You don't need an executive order. Nobody wants it. And you know it. The next parent who tells me they are for mandatory year round, will be the first parent who tells me they are for mandatory year round.

Not even you want it. Reach out to the people on this note and ask for their help. None of them want it, either. You know that, too.

To Chuck have a tough job and a lot of people who don't even know you don't seem to like you very much. I've met you on a couple of occasions and know you're not the person people say you are. You're a nice man in a tough spot. I know this is a lot to ask, but could you try to push the envelope a bit harder? Imagine that the solution is out there but is just eluding you. There are a number of people more than willing to help you find it.

For all of you copied on this note.....imagine what you can do, that you're not already doing (and for those things I thank you), to help the Wake County BOE, right now, to find an answer.

Let me know if I can help. I realize I suggested no alternatives in this note, but despite my going through school having my summers off, I managed not
to forget too much during each of those ten weeks off and got educated. I don't pretend to understand the issues as many of the other parents do, but I'm  happy to help in any way I can. Just don't ask me to support what you're doing now.

That I cannot do.

Sincerely yours,
Scott Haviland