Legislature micromanages school issues

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  • Truth about local control
    Aug. 19, 2008 10:10 a.m.

    It is troubling that Ms. Swenson, a standing member of the Nebo School District is either so mis-informed or has chosen to deliberately misinform the public in her representation of the responsibilities of the local school board regarding the negotiation of salaries. State statute prohibits school boards from waiving their right to negotiate individual contracts, yet repeatedly they do so in favor of union negotiations. Her assertion that local control is being usurped by our Legislature is simply erroneous.

    Graduation requirements and attendance policies from district to district are determined by school board decisions. So, too, in issues related to curriculum is broad discretion given to elected local school boards. The State Office of Education has established a core curriculum, but great flexibility is afforded to local school boards.

    I find it interesting that Ms. Swenson chooses to give district board members a free pass, instead blaming lawmakers for the failures of school boards whose responsibility it is to impose mill levy and determine the amount of property taxes which will be charged to local residents, a tax which is extremely onerous and the only tax which has increased over the past decade.

  • Karen
    Aug. 19, 2008 12:12 a.m.

    Here's micro-managing for you:

    After several years of using tons of money to develop and issue the UBSCCT and end-of-level CRTs, the legislature now wants to scrap those and spend even more time and money to buy computer tests that claim to assess student progress.

    Here's a suggestion to the legislature:
    Stop spending money on anything that doesn't directly help a student to learn the information that he or she needs to become a healthy, productive, creative, thinking, capable, skilled adult?

    The biggest thing that charter schools has shown us is that small classes are valuable. Oh, right, that's something that the UEA has advocated forever, so the leg couldn't accept that.

    Ms. Swenson is on target when she talks about the legislature.

  • re:specific policies
    Aug. 19, 2008 12:04 a.m.

    Tenure in Utah is indeed a protection for teachers -- against mere personality, political, or unfounded complaint conflicts.

    If a teacher is truly incompetent, there are procedures in place that administrators can follow to dismiss that teacher.

    Tenure = due process. It's a federal law.

    Merit Pay: When someone actually figures out truly effective evaluations then maybe teachers will consider it (I'm not holding my breath.) Barriers? The same politics, favoritism, and unfounded complaints or praise prevent true merit pay.

    And no, science teachers don't deserve higher pay just for teaching science. If their students couldn't read or write, they couldn't do much science teaching, now, could they!

    Again you became general with looking at NEA resolutions. Be specific, please.


  • To Annonymous
    Aug. 18, 2008 10:19 a.m.

    Did I read the same letter that you did? I didn't see one mention of charter schools as an example of micromanaging in Ms. Swenson's letter, but you are all over the charter school thing. Is there a little pre-conceived animosity going on here? Hmmm. Thought so.

  • To Annonymous
    Aug. 18, 2008 10:14 a.m.

    I seemed to have missed the part of the editorial where Debbie said that charter schools were part of micromanaging. Could you please point that out to me?

    Did we read the same letter, or are you putting words in her mouth by your pre-conceived slant?

  • To "Spanish Fork Resident"
    Aug. 18, 2008 9:42 a.m.

    You obviously don't know me at all. I am NOT a critic of charter schools and feel that they have served a good purpose. My son teaches at a charter school that is excellent and I have many good friends whose children attend.

    I AM a critic of the unequal treatment of charter and regular schools that the legislature is famous for. Students should be equally funded. Last year when HB 278 was introduced, charter schools in Nebo were going to lose significant funding as well as the districts. Needless to say when our local legislators got wind of that, the bill was amended to hold charters harmless, but the district schools still lost significant money. I'm not opposed to charter's having property tax money. But since they are STATE chartered, the tax should be levied from the state and not taken from the local levies.

    Debbie Swenson

  • To Professor
    Aug. 18, 2008 9:37 a.m.

    Tenure is LEGISLATED. No local boards an change it. Check it out. When I asked my legislature why they didn't address it, he had no answer. They're chicken.

    Instead of harping on the NEA policies (which don't EVER affect local board policy), why don't you read the LOCAL board policies before you jump on the bandwagon of "anti-family, anti-Utah values" policies. You are absolutely wrong and a scare-tactic propagandist.

    BTW, why don't YOU run for public office, i.e. school board or legislature since you seem to have all the answers. There is nothing so detrimental to society than the glut of arm-chair critics that we have today.

  • Chance Williams
    Aug. 18, 2008 9:22 a.m.

    Don't under estimate the Morley Mafia's ability to take a simple article about "talk to the teacher" and turn it into a opportunity to bash his opponent: Debbie Swenson.

    These critics are just a part of the current "Culture of Corruption".

    It really is time to "Re-elect Nobody".

  • Specific policies
    Aug. 18, 2008 8:40 a.m.

    1. Tenure. This only protects teachers who are incompetent or have burned out. No help here to students.
    2. No merit pay. Teachers have no financial incentive to do a good job. No help here to students.
    3. Take a look at the NEA's resolutions to see many examples of anti-family, anti-Utah values policies.

  • Voice of reason
    Aug. 18, 2008 12:16 a.m.

    I have to interject that the derogatory comments about the UEA and Utah PTA are out of line. My experience with both in this state has been nothing but positive. Both organizations seem to be interested in two things only ---the kids and the truth. To find out about REAL conspiracies, look at Parents for Choice, Children First Utah, The Sutherland Institute, The Friedman Foundation, and other national think-tanks who only goal is to destroy the public school system. Public schools have problems, but I OWN my kids' schools. I am involved and I DO make a difference. I am grateful for a school board which stands between my child and a few out-of-control, single issue parents who think they can solve complex problems by ranting and raving for a few minutes. School boards do the hard homework and make the hard decisions, knowing full well that they can't please everyone. What a thankless job! Thank God there are a few willing to do it. Thank you, Debbie, for walking the walk as well as talking the talk. Utahns, OWN YOUR SCHOOLS.

  • to Professor
    Aug. 17, 2008 11:47 p.m.

    Are you saying that it is indoctrination to advocate that every child be afforded a quality education?

    That every child should be treated with respect?

    That constitutional rights should not extend to teachers because they are teachers?

    Please be more specific about your complaints so that a discussion may occur. Claiming indoctrination and political agendas as if truth without example won't cut it.

  • to Professor
    Aug. 17, 2008 11:38 p.m.

    You still do not offer specific examples of any policies of those associations which do not benefit students.

    It's not enough to broadly claim indoctrination. Please be specific so the topic can be discussed.

  • Room Mom
    Aug. 17, 2008 11:29 p.m.

    Educrats frequently blame parents for the failures in our schools. As far as the recommendation that parents look at themselves first, the parents I know who are involved in charter schools are among those most dedicated and involved in their children's public education. Just to start a charter school requires a year or two of essentially full-time work on the part of a few incredibly committed and visionary parents. How anyone could fault this kind of parental involvement is beyond me. I believe charter schools are the breeding ground of a generation of future leaders both in Utah and the nation.

  • Professor
    Aug. 17, 2008 9:24 p.m.

    You have not seen the NEA, UEA or local associations or any PTA aup any policy which does not benefit the students. Either you are not watching what is happening or your are a part of the power structure of those organizations. Simply get on the internet and download their published agendas. The NEA and UEA are political instruments pushing political agendas that deal with radical social change. Their goal is indoctrination, not education. That has nothing to do with math, arts, sciences and language, which should be the core focus of K12 education.

  • to Passing the buck &Room Mom
    Aug. 17, 2008 8:26 p.m.

    While local associations negotiate salaries and other benefits and policies for the teachers within a district (whether or not those teachers are members)with representatives of a school board, they only get to negotiate with the money that is provided by the legislature. So Debbie is correct about that kind of micromanagement - and other types, as well.

    I have yet to see the NEA, UEA or local associations, or any PTA push any policy which does not benefit the students. I'd love to hear of one if you have it. The legislature (and Congress), however, has pushed a few doozies - as has the Board of Education. High stakes testing given to students who don't care about them comes to mind.

    I don't live in Nebo district, but the letters here tell me a lot about a few of its residents. It's not good, either.

    If, in fact, Nebo's students can't do math, perhaps parents should look at themselves first.

  • Anonymous
    Aug. 17, 2008 7:58 p.m.

    Mark makes a great point. Utah teachers are respectful and helpful. No problem there. The problem we have is with higher levels of administration. Especially at the district level. They simply don't listen. They micromanage. Plenty of evidence there.

    I don't agree with Debbie about the legislative branch. Where is the evidence? Is there a problem that parents are concerned about math in Utah and they asked the legislature to pass a law directing the State Office of Education to raise the standards? Can Debbie tell us what is wrong with that? She tells us Charter Schools are an example of the legislature micro managing, but what difference does it make if a student goes to 6th grade at ALA to get pre-algebra instead of going to a NEBO school where there is no pre-algebra. It is a parent right to decide what is best for their child, not the NEBO school board.

    The California Legislature is run by Democrats and they have legislated some of the tightest control over schools of any state. They are also approaching a half a trillion dollar debt load which is causing major problems with education funding. Do we want that in Utah?

  • Mark
    Aug. 17, 2008 7:01 p.m.

    I can't comment on the above criticisms of Ms. Swenson, but I can say (as a veteran high school teacher) that her advice on handling problems with an individual teacher are excellent.

    Most teachers are parents. They will understand if your child has an issue (personality or communication) with them personally. Experienced teachers know they have limitations. Two reasonable adults can handle most of the problems that arise in a school setting. I always appreciate it when a parent contacts me directly.

  • Room Mom
    Aug. 17, 2008 12:28 p.m.

    Face it, local control is a thing of the past as the NEA and PTA - two powerful national entities - dictate local policy, not to mention a plethora of federal mandates which teachers and administrators uphold. The UEA and Utah educational crowd are in lockstep with the national liberal education agenda. For Swensen to posture in favor of local control, is ludicrous since she is part of the educational establishment taking marching orders from liberal minds outside of Utah.

    People like Senator Stephenson and Rep. Mike Morley have the discernment, knowledge and foresight to want to reign in the national liberal education agenda. THEY are the real proponents of local (Utah) control.

  • NEBO District resident
    Aug. 17, 2008 10:44 a.m.

    Ms. Swenson is letting her political ambitions and dislike of Representative Morley blind her. When 2/3s of Nebo students have to take remedial math at college and the district is in the tank AFAIC in the WORLD, she wants to shift the blame? Maybe, just maybe the problem, Ms Swenson IS the student and NOT the teacher! Maybe it is the attitude you portray that is harming the student. When kids leave Nebo District and go to college and can't spell or write; well, the problem just might lie WITH the student who refused to learn and a district school board who doesn't DEMAND learning rather than make and find excuses to blame the teachers...or the legislature. And she thinks we should put HER into office to continue the failure she espouses? I think NOT!

  • Passing The Buck
    Aug. 17, 2008 9:54 a.m.

    Ms. Swenson states:

    "The policies and practices within a district are increasingly mandated by our state Legislature. At one time, local boards negotiated salaries, set graduation requirements, decided on attendance policies and chose curriculum. All of those things are now being decided on and controlled by the Legislature."

    Last time I checked, school boards still set salaries for all employees in a district and negotiations still occurred between the local UEA and the district. Also, if you look across the state you will see a variety of graduation requirements indicating that local boards still have a large say in setting them. School boards still select textbooks as well.

    In addition, school districts levy property taxes, build buildings and oversee all operations in a district.

    Maybe Ms. Swenson ought to learn the job she has before taking on a new one.

  • Oh Really?
    Aug. 17, 2008 9:14 a.m.

    Ms. Swenson, just because you are a sitting member of a School Board does not make you guru on education. I too, am a sitting member of a local School Board yet I applauded the desire of parents have vouchers which would enable them to move their children from a situation which they, the parents, felt were not right for their children. Your running for the legislature only exasperates a long standing problem and that is the feeling that the government is the best to run schools and knows what is best bet for children, which totally takes the power from the parents. You have fallen to the likes of the USBA and the NSBA (remember the dog and pony show of the awards of the six who helped strongly defeat Vouchers while standing under the banner stating "Public Engagement, Its What Counts"?) I feel that you will be a detriment to the education of our children based on education isn't just Public Ed, but rather Private, Charter and Home School, also, which are just as important in our society.

  • Professor
    Aug. 17, 2008 9:08 a.m.

    Debbie is running for office. She is a NEBO school board member who refuses to listen to those who put her in office. She is a rubber stamp for the school district. Her mantra is "We have poor education because we don't have enough money. We have poor education because of the Republicans." Tax and spent is the solution, not a return to educational basics.

    NEBO parents are frustrated with the arrogance of the district leaders and school board.. They are frustrated that 67% of NEBO students going to Utah Valley University must take remedial math. They are frustrated NEBO students math achievement ranks in the lowest 5% of math of ALL nations. They are frustrated with a State School Board that was directed to write world class math standards, yet thumbed their nose at the law and approved mediocre standards. They are frustrated with high salaried administrators that divert teacher pay increases to pet projects.

    Debbie has abandoned her party and become a part of the radical liberal educational establishment that runs education locally and nationally. If elected to the legislature she will do nothing to change this problem.

  • Chuck
    Aug. 17, 2008 9:03 a.m.

    I agree completely with Debbie. However she won't like the solution. Parents become afraid to address the problem where it should be done, because the schools ARE TOO BIG, and the districts are TOO BIG! When districts are too big for the public to know board members personally, they turn to the legislature with their problems. Frequently then the legislature tries to solve the local problem with a state solution, which isn't good. BUT THE SOLUTION IS TO DIVIDE THE BIG DISTRICTS and build smaller schools, so the problem will be fixed where it should be!

    I have to add that the state board and big district boards are notorious, and worse than the legislature, at passing onerous mandates on teachers, local schools, and parents.

  • Give Me A Break
    Aug. 17, 2008 7:50 a.m.

    And local school boards ignore parents, oppose school choice, and promote mediocrity. If school boards were responsive, the legislature wouldn't have to deal with the mismanagement.

  • Room Mom
    Aug. 17, 2008 7:09 a.m.

    I applaud Utah's state legislature for stepping in where Utah's school districts have turned a deaf ear to the parents. Countless parents have turned to their school board, only to be ignored and rebuffed, with the large districts being the least responsive to constituents. Recognizing the problem, the state legislature wisely passed legislation to split large districts. They also had to prod the state school board to raise Utah's abyssmal math standards (still in the works), spurred by Alpine School District's eight years of ignoring parents who hated Investigations Math.

    Power never voluntarily gives itself up. School districts need the "check and balance" provided by the legislature's oversight.

    Swensen's idyllic formula for resolving problems with teachers and principals is laughable to those of us who have gone through the hoops with districts like Alpine, to no avail.

  • Spanish Fork Resident
    Aug. 17, 2008 12:53 a.m.

    I had to laugh and Swensen's complaint that one size doesn't fit all, particularly since Swensen is one of the biggest critics of charter schools.

    Swensen is a typical school district board member that claims to believe in "local control" and then does what the superintendent and the business administrator tell her to do.