Your Opinion: Polk County School District Budget
WHAT TO CUT
The Ledger wants to let parents, School District employees and others suggest ways to bring the troubled Polk County School District budget in line. School officials have raised the possibility of severe cuts to trim another $12.5 million from the budget. See related story and the tentative budget.
Using this comment form, we invite people to list suggestions on how to save money or where to make cuts. Please be constructive, not snarky. Comments will be reviewed before being posted. Below are some of the comments that have been suggested so far:
1) Put children back in their neighborhood schools and stop busing them around the county. (Save on gas, maintenance etc.) 2) Eliminate positions in Bartow like "the weather person" how much does this person make? Really!!!! 3) Put Maintenance crews in schools, not running all over the county. Have them learn their school, what it needs, how to maintain it. 4) Let teachers teach. Stop paying for programs that are popular that year, or where someone has an agenda. Teach the basics, and teach them well. Eliminate Springboard, common core. This is not helping our children by dumbing down their education. 5) Eliminate "Block Scheduling". Put that child in their classrooms daily. How do you expect a child to learn when they are not in a class daily? Repetitive and consistent learning is what works. We have to improve the quality of our childrens education. I work with recent graduates, their education level is not up to par to go out and get a job. That has to change. 6) Stop catering to parents and focus on education. Get tough when necessary, be examples for our children. Rules are rules, enforce them. Set and enforce punishment for bad behavior. If that means picking up trash after school, then so be it. 7) Put respect back in schools for property and person. Do not allow anything less. This will save on property damage, repairs, etc. 8) Get online books for the teachers and stream to their classes. Buy paper books instead of hard backs. 9) Eliminate so many after school activities. Chose wisely. This would cut back on electricty and maintenance. 10) Use common sense, it appears to be lacking and needs to take center stage in our Public schools.
We need to get "Back to the Basics"! We have too many classes that concentrate on everything else instead of reading, math and the sciences. What happened to offering home economics and shop classes which taught the basics to male and female students. To this day, 38 years later, I still remember the basics of cooking and welding. Students who wanted to learn a trade were bussed to VoTech classes in the afternoon AFTER their basic classes. Why do we have college classes in high school when the majority of students don't read at grade level or are below math and science minimums? Classes such as medical assistance, forensic classes, various marketing classes, EMT, hotel management classes, and so on? We have brought "fluff" classes into high schools to try and keep students in school. These classes do not belong in high school! Get rid of them and get back to the basics and watch their test scores increase. In addition, get rid of the cell phones and enforce the dress codes! It is ridiculous what students are wearing in school. The principle and his staff are not doing their job. Solve the problem by putting everyone in uniforms if they don't want to enforce the dress codes! Using cell phones in school is just plain senseless. Teachers are video taped, tests are copied, kids are arranging meetings in the bathrooms or the hallways during classes, kids aren't paying attention in class, I could go on and on with problems with cell phones. The secretaries at the front office would be happy to let a student use a phone if they need to call their parents. Once the above changes are made and enforced, you will see teachers morale increase and less leaving the profession they love! It, of course, would be only the beginning of fixing the problems with our education system. There is much more to address such as fudging of numbers to benefit positive tests scores and various funding outcomes, i.e. not reporting accurate discipline infractions, manipulating number of students enrolled and attending, incompetent teachers on staff to just name a few. Another area of concern is why are we feeding kids up to 18 breakfast AND lunch in the summer? If they are underprivileged, aren't they already getting substance assistance for food? Why are they getting money for food and in addition to the schools feeding them two meals a day? It costs money for electricity in the building, the staff to cook it, a custodian to clean up and a school personnel to be present. Who is paying for their gas to go to the schools to eat? I don't mean to be insensitive, but come on. If you send out an anonymous survey to the teachers, you would get the real truth as to what they feel and how the problems of our education system could be fixed!
First, with the large number of offices in the Floral Avenue facility, what essential functions are served at satellite campuses such as Jim Miles and the facility at the Bartow Airport? There was a day when school cafeterias were used for large meetings (many of which are also unnecessary). I know teachers who have gotten lost driving around the Floral Avenue facilities before even entering any of the buildings and it boggles the mind to think that they have outgrown such a campus. Just the cost of one of the executive desks in some of these offices would supply several classrooms with materials? Secondly, why is the accounting system so cryptic that our financial secretary can't even understand it well enough to explain numbers to club sponsors? Were a more straight-forward system used, then cutting corners would be easier. Lastly, in light of the recent article about a recruiting trip to Puerto Rico: How difficult can it be to find Spanish-speaking teachers in Florida? How much was paid for airfare, hotels, food allowances, and other expenses? How many other such trips have taken place to hire for a district with displaced teachers?
I think the county should take a much closer look at school bus transportation. I was sitting at a red light at the intersection of State Road 33 and Old Combee Road about a week before school ended. I watched four Polk County School Buses turn left off of Old Combee Road onto State Road 33 going north. Each bus only had four or five students on it. I was stunned and thought, what a waste. I read in the Ledger today, June 11th, that the school board had looked at bus transportation and elimited 10 bus routes. I think they need to look at bus transportation a lot closer. The hiring of a consultant at $11,000 a month for four months to help the new superintendent with budget issues and to provide a fresh set of eyes seems overkill. She is the fresh set of eyes, and if she needs a consultant to help her, it makes me wonder if she is capable of filling the position she was hired for. There are also a lot of classes being offered to students that do not support the core function of a public education such as culinary classes, fashion design, aeronautical school, and many others. These are higher education fields that if a student wants to pursue once they graduate, then it should be done at their expense and not at the expense of the tax payers.
As a teacher with almost twenty years of experience in this district, I have seen money wasted time and again on consultants and the next "miracle" program. The truth of the matter is we have some of the brightest and best talent right here in Polk County. We have retired and veteran teachers who have been in the trenches and seen what works with our student population. Put them to use instead of paying MEGA BUCKS to outside consultants and companies who are profit driven. Also, the district should stop throwing money down the drain by purchasing programs/software that are redundant or never used! There have been several instances in my teaching career where a product was purchased by the district, teachers were given extensive training (more money!) only to NEVER implement the program or only use it for a brief period. It is akin to a child wanting a new toy every time a parent makes a trip to the store. We don't need fads. We already have the answers we need right here in our own backyard. We have experts here that have proven what works. Look at those teachers. Dissect the data from those schools and let them lead the way, not outside for-profit companies! There a few areas that I hope and pray the district doesn't cut and the first on the list is paraprofessionals and their salaries. These men and women work for peanuts and without them I don't know what we'd do. They assist with special needs students, help to keep students safe, substitute teach when regular subs aren't available, and provide countless other services for their schools. Most of these folks could work elsewhere (with fewer responsibilities and more pay!) but choose to remain in our schools because they love what they do.
The teachers/instructors are the most important part of the equation. GOOD/EFFECTIVE teachers should be compensated FAIRLY. Bad, lazy teachers should be weeded out, just because someone wants the summer off, doesn't mean they'll be a good teacher. I'm not a teacher or instructor, but I see a LOT of inequality in the pay structure. I see "asst.principals" that don't do much more than ride around in golf carts all day, after showing up after everyone else, leaving before everyone else, working on their Masters while they're on duty. No joke. You have hard working people working for 17,000/year. 17,000/year!!! That is a poverty wage. These hard working, poverty wage earning employees, have been with the school board for years!!! And these so called "assistant principals" make in excess of 70,000/year, (low figure). Just a general restructuring of salaries, take away so much money from the school board, really does someone who makes 200,00+/year need a 800/month car allowance? In Polk county? Come on. And the consultant for 11,000/month???!!! That person better be freaking awesome & solve all of our problems. Also, how about spending money on "scanning students" without the knowledge of parents. I'm sure that system cost a pretty penny. Are we using it now? I don't think so!! I know exactly where there is about 10,000, at least, of equipment that has never been touched, in our school. Crazy. Stop buying programs, equipment that doesn't directly assist in better teaching our children. Also, lets rethink our policy on "celibacy" only teaching in our schools. It's not working, look at our teen parent programs in our schools, those poor girls (babies themselves) are on their 2nd, 3rd baby by the time they are 17. Can we be a little more realistic? Maybe I could have just been a little more concise and said "how about some common sense in the PCSB?"
"White fleet" should not be used by anyone unless there are on call (and there are several that I am aware of that work their normal 7-3:30 or 4:00 and never work any oncall or overtime) - stop allowing them to drive the White fleet to the closest school to where they live - I have to pay for my gas to work and back so why should taxpayers have to pay for them to pick up the white fleet vehicle 1 block down the road from their home and the taxpayers pay for them to drive to the dristict office (and I am not talking about management - although no one should be doing this) - also today there were 5 or 6 white fleet trucks at one school location,- why not carpool if you are going to the same location** stop school principals from picking favorites and allowing that person to get away with everything, ie....the rest of us work a full day this person comes and goes just about as they please. It is not fair to the rest of the hardworking teachers at the same school***get rid of the unions - u can never get rid of anybody or anything because of them even though it is needed - yes there are bad admin, principals, teachers, etc....at every school***stop paid out vacation and time at the time of retirement or quitting. It should be you take it within the year or u lose it. It is not fair for the taxpayers to have to pay out thousands of dollare to every single person that there whole intent is to just build it up. I know a teacher that was out 5 months with a newborn (talk about build up) - Sorry to say but some go into the profession just for the perks although their are some great teachers that do put in their time.*****Stop the Cronyism in PCS that is out of control - like hiring of brothers, sisters, husband, wifes, daughter, son - they know what they are doing and it just causes problems- like a position getting created for someones family as above*****do away with the PCSB as a paid position - none of them want to upset the status quo - we need people that can make decisions without having to worry about having to explain it to undel Joe*******Get rid of Springboard program - despise it*********get rid of the salary of the top brass and consolidate the position as the right does not work with the left and the left does not work with the right, it is crazy***********do away with the DROP program*****Quit shuffling employees from one department to another when they are lazy and do not want to work-we do not need consultants, we need people to do their jobs
Cut EVERYTHING and ABOLISH *all* forms of compulsory "education" and let the free market work its magic. No child should be forced to attend any educational institution, and no working individual should be forced to pay for anyone else's children to attend. Education is *not* a RIGHT.
First... cut salaries of those on the top. I shared a workshop with a school superintendent from a district in Illinois. He was voted in, and paid per diem, plus gas and mileage. He was a small business owner, and he still did a top job for the district. He never received more than $5,000 in any single fiscal year. He agreed that many of these highly paid board members and superintendents put in less than 30 hours per month. They may appear to be putting in more time, but that is only because they are going out for photo ops for re-election, or preparing for their next move to a more lucrative position in another state or county. Our last two superintendents, appointed by the School Board bailed before their contracts were up. 1st, Gail McKenzie, then Andrea Whitely. There is rumor that Whitely might have medical issues and I accept that. However, when they put John Stewart back in, the first thing that he did, is say that if a teacher leaves a vacancy at any time during the remainder of this school year (which was close to half a year), their replacement would be substitute status at substitute pay. In addition, if you need to be in contact with any of the "Top Dawgs", you have any army of secretaries to work through to get to them. That's also a big reason for the overstaffed County Office. Second... The so-called academies. I don't consider myself a racist, however at one North Lakeland Middle School that has had discipline and FCAT problems for years, found itself suddenly in the middle of a growth spurt of gated communities. To help keep the students from going to places like Lawton Childs or McKeel Academy, she started an academy within her sleepy little school. The requirements included parent involvement, as well as FCAT scores of 4 or 5. These students are housed in their own building, which is in the far end of the campus, they are predominantly white, and are given supplies, completely stocked Science labs, etc. The rest of the student body...nada. As this discrimination was fairly obvious, she decided to start a second Academy, which was a pre-pre-Aerospace Academy. These students were only required to have an FCAT score of 2.0 or more to attend. They were shuffled throughout the rest of the student body, and their classroom behavior was terrible. In the early nineties, when they had no average, basic, and high achieving classes at the middle levels, the high achievers helped to bring the lower achievers up. These multiple academies within single schools may help bring up their overall FCAT scores, but that is because the schools are relying on those small groups of students to bring up the school grade. It's a smoke and mirrors trick. Third.... The state made a mistake quite a few years ago when they allowed teachers from other counties and other states to transfer all of their years for the purpose of salaries. I have seen outstanding teachers who have either been in DROP, or choose not to go into DROP for various reasons. These people have experience. If they decide that they want to go back into teaching, I say more power to them. Instead, why can't we reset the transfer of years for purposes of salary to a maximum. Say a teacher retires with 30 years experience, travels, spends time with the family, then wants to return to education. Tell them that it's okay, but they can only start at the pay level of a teacher with 10 years experience. Then, as they continue to teach, they can add either one or two steps to that amount. It's been done in city's and communities with problems such as New York, Detroit, etc. Look at the falling FCAT grades over the past few years in Polk County. Can we say that we're doing better than those cities are. Fourth... several years ago, I found myself teaching at Dundee Ridge Middle School. The Principal there was making it miserable for the experienced teachers, and as they left, or were driven out, she would hire relatively inexperienced teachers, whom she could pay less, and mold to her way of thinking. Look at the statistics for that school. How many teachers have less than five years of experience? How many of the more seasoned teachers have moved on to other schools? ARE THE PRINCIPALS BEING TOLD BY THE COUNTY TO KEEP COSTS LOW BY HIRING THOSE WITH FEWER YEARS?.... OR, ARE THEY COMPENSATING THE LOW SCORES THAT THEIR SCHOOLS ARE PRODUCING BY SAYING, "WE MAY ONLY BE A 'D' SCHOOL, BUT LOOK HOW MUCH MONEY WE ARE SAVING THE COUNTY?" It's a form of age discrimination, and it will remain ongoing. The reason it will continue is that as new teachers are being welcomed into these schools, they are facing culture shock, and quickly abandon the school, if not the entire profession. Fifth... A minor problem that they seem to be correcting. I had the opportunity to be an Academic Intervention Facilitator for Reading. As an AIF, I found that both myself, as well as those in the other areas... Reading, Math, Science, etc. were doing about the same thing that many of us did as Department Chairmen. We did have to attend quite a few meetings throughout the year, observe teachers, etc. The great thing was that we could do all this at our full teacher's salary, and not have to deal with classroom problems, grading papers, making copies, spending countless unpaid hours of work that we took home. Essentially, we were doing not much more than we did as Department Chairman 6 or 7 years ago. When we were department chairmen, we would still have to teach the same classes, but we would get an ANNUAL SUPPLEMENT of $350-$750, depending on the school level (Middle or High School). FINALLY.... (I KNOW THAT YOU'RE THINKING IT AS WELL.) Let's cut out all of this extra testing, constant meetings during what should have been our planning time; get more sports into the Middle Schools; get more electives that will be fun for the students, and/or prepare them for the economy that we are currently in. Not every student needs to be in Aerospace, or in a top Culinary position, bring back things like regular Home Economics, Child Raising, Shop, Agriculture, How to make repairs and improvements in your home. Many of our "D" students will never leave the State of Florida. The fact is, many of them will never leave Polk County. We don't need highly paid County Administrators. Most of them have other careers already, and "School" is just pocket change to them or a way to gain public recognition. In the mid to late 1990's, Bob Macy was an elected member of the School Board. In spite of this, he was able to run Bartow Steel, a multi-million dollar company. He also donated time to various groups to perform magic. If a person could do all of this, and still have time to be a member of the School Board, are those board members really deserving of the pay that we are giving them. Look into the records, you will find that most of them are conducting lucrative businesses in their spare time from School Board Activities.... Or, is it the other way around? Maybe being a member of the School Board is what they due with their SPARE TIME.
I am a veteran 34 year teacher and have taught in two states and have tenure in 4 counties. I have seen much waste in the Polk County School District. When visiting the central office I see many secretaries doing nothing but personal things. There is too much fat at the central office. Also schools do not need secretaries for everything. One teacher does many tasks, secretaries can do the same.
WHAT TO KEEP
What are the things you don't want to see cut or eliminated as the Polk County School District seeks ways to reduce the budget. Using the following list of words, choose up to five that you think are important and shouldn't be the focus of budget cuts.