We are writing today in response to the commentary by Randy Shumway regarding the worth of school districts as resources for improving student learning ("Are school districts genuinely worth their cost?" Feb. 15). We are local school principals and also assume the leadership for the Granite Association of School Administrators (GASA), which is the employee association for principals within the largest school district in the state. Our organization represents over 140 principals and assistant principals in Granite School District.
While Mr. Shumway makes several good points about improving accountability at the school level and creating "rigorous performance goals that every school must achieve," his commentary is divided between advocating for local control, while simultaneously pushing for additional state regulation. Which does he want: more local control or more state control?
We too support the notion of local (school level) control as does our board of education and our superintendent. However, 45 percent of our funds are controlled and mandated by the state Legislature and federal government. If Mr. Shumway truly supports local control, then he and his group should support the elimination of line-item mandates at the state and federal level that hamstring local schools and often create additional district level administration in order to oversee these programs.
In Granite District, our new superintendent has vigilantly advocated to empower school principals along with our local school community councils to make decisions to the benefit of student learning. Additionally, the district department that oversees school principals is aptly named "School Accountability Services." The emphasis of the district is to improve student learning by holding principals accountable as school instructional leaders. We welcome that accountability.
Mr. Shumway feels strongly that additional savings can come through privatizing some district functions. Is he not aware that Utah has the lowest costs in the entire nation? Granite District in particular spends less per pupil on district functions than almost every other district in the nation. The state average is less than one-fifth of the national average. In fact, Mr. Shumway may be surprised to find that in Granite, district administration costs less than 1 percent of our entire half billion-dollar budget. While such rhetoric may make sense outside of our state, it does not fit the model of efficiency in which most Utah districts run.
As principals, we are grateful for the many services our district provides for our schools. For instance, they support our newest teachers through their New Teacher Academy. This model of orientation and professional development is nationally recognized and sets high standards for our teachers and helps retain good teachers in the long term. This professional development component for principals and teachers is based on current, research based and effective instructional practices and has become even more critical since the legislature has eliminated most professional development funding with recent budget cuts.
As school principals, we already have enough on our plates without having to add "accountant" and "transportation director" to our job descriptions. There is only one principal at many elementary schools. Who is going to be the curriculum leader if we are to take on these additional responsibilities? Who is going to support the teachers both physically in the classroom and be present in all aspects of school life ?— mentor, model, professional learning, discipline, etc.? Most principals are in their schools long before school starts and into the evening for activities, sports and other requisite responsibilities tied to their jobs. We would have to hire more staff at each school to replace what a few district personnel do for the 90 schools in Granite District.
We humbly invite Mr. Shumway to shadow a principal for a few days so he can fully understand the breadth of our responsibilities and gain a better understanding of the implications of additional state mandates over real local control.
Verneita Hunt is the principal of Crestview Elementary; Jerry Haslam is the principal of Granger High School; and Julie Lorentzen is the principal of Pioneer Elementary.