Friday, September 30, 2011

My alma mater / weekend house school board hired a consultant to tell them what they already knew. From the grapevine I hear that they are still in denial. See here. Enrollment is plummeting, tax rates are skyrocketing. This report only goes back five years but the trends are clear, if you go back ten or twenty or thirty years it is even more dramatic.

I am very sympathetic to issues of community schools and class size. I like small schools. I believe research supports them. However, sometimes you have to face reality. Change is hard, I know. There are a number of cuts that are going to have to be made, but many of them require state-level reform before local areas will benefit. There is one that can be done locally, almost immediately: A building must be closed.

One of the problems with implementation is that the last board came out with that as a strong recommendation, and were promptly voted out. The current board members (well, at least the ones who are left; meaning they didn't resign almost immediately after seeing what they had gotten themselves into) were elected solely because they promised to not close a school.

Whenever there is a touchy issue, one segment of the community rises up and the board turns over. When this happens, it goes from a dominated board to a factional board. It's like a case study taken from McCarty and Ramsey (1971). Often during the factional period, the superintendent is replaced, and for a time it becomes inert: The new superintendent has a lot of influence. The community snoozes, the board relaxes. However, gradually the board becomes dominated again, with the POV of the faction in the super-majority. Power shifts back to the board, and the superintendent has to go. The community starts to get restless. It is only a matter of time before a controversy lights a fire under another faction and a new segment rises up, the board turns over, starting the process again. Something I have never seen happen there is a pluralistic board. Maybe that more representative structure could better navigate the controversies, but it might not be possible.

It's a difficult district, in that it is centralized - four-plus towns consolidated into one. Each town had its own elementary school, back in the days when the baby boomers attended. Several years ago, one building was closed and the community was outraged; the board turned over. The trends in enrollment and costs have continued, and there are still too many buildings. I look into the future and see a time when eventually, it will have to be just one centralized campus. Perhaps that would end the factionalism. The only other solution would be to break up the district, and in a community schools utopia that would be wonderful, but I don't see that happening. I'm no fan of Conant's 1950s vision that ushered in centralized schools but there's no turning back the clock. Economies of scale and all that. Demographics just don't support maintaining what is, and there are state-level incentives for "efficiencies." Yes, it may be a bitter pill but denial is not a solution.

Next hot topic, there is this. Another unpleasant reality! I think it is outrageous that there are no public hearings scheduled for Chenango, Delaware, Otsego or Schoharie Counties.

Finally, a lot on my mind. Turning over an opportunity. It would be a big change. I may need to make one of those decision-making spreadsheets. Haven't done that in years. It's especially appropriate in this case. But first, research.

Added: ever have one of those spells where everything is irritating? Is the answer to that question "wine?"


J. Eric Smith said...

I was very proud of myself when I managed to make my decision about our move to Iowa move without developing a multi-attribute utility model to justify the decision I made. This was a first for me . . . you should see some of the analytics that resulted in us moving to New York in the first place!!!

Good luck with your tough decision . . . I know what that's like . . .

J. Eric Smith said...

P.S. in re wine: Yes.

howzerdo said...

Ha. Spreadsheets can wait. So can research! Wine is waiting.