The Best Schools For Everyone!

By Lloyd the Idiot

An article in today’s Washington Post on the growth of the school age population underscores the brilliance of a decision this week by the Loudoun County  School Board allowing parents to send their kids to any school within the Loudoun school system with openings even if it’s not in their district.  That’s any school as long as it’s not at capacity (which is only about 50% of the schools).  This is a great decision for several reasons:

  • First and foremost, it holds school administrators accountable.  Parents with kids in under-performing schools have a ticket out without having to move.
  • It reduces boundary fights by lessening the consequences of being redistricted.
  • It reduces the administrative expense of evaluating thousands of exception applications, not to mention removing the school administration from being in the unenviable position of verifying and weighing the validity of the exception request.
  • It equalizes property values.  Folks looking at housing in bad school districts will have the option of sending their kids to other schools, making the properties in bad school districts less undesirable.

While the majority of the school board continues to impress with refreshingly simple and pragmatic solutions, looming in the background of this decision are the board members who opposed it, arguing that the program is unfair because some parents will not be able to drive their kids to other schools.  Really?  Is that the best the teachers union could  come up with?  I mean really, how “fair” is it to stick a kid in an underperforming school?

At any rate, kudos to the school board for making some meaningful and tangible progress in improving the school system.


Comments

  • Eric the 1/2 Troll says:

    This is a good decision by the school board. One that is long in coming. It is the most efficient way to deal with the extra building capacity in some school brought about by the over building of past years (I am look at you Culbert Elementary). Hopefully this will help the school board move away from the push to close some of the best performing schools in the county and state.

    I will elevate to this thread a post I made earlier about a not so great move by this school board.

  • Eric the 1/2 Troll says:

    As promised – not every decision is as good as the one referenced by Lloyd…

    So the R school board has decided to require an economics and personal finance course to its graduation requirement thereby reducing the number of APs available to our grads by at least one. This will have the net effect of making our grads less competitive for college admittance in an already ridiculously competitive process.

    WTF? This smack of Fox and friends. Thanks a lot (for nothing)!!

  • FedUp says:

    “kudos to the school board for making some meaningful and tangible progress in improving the school system.”

    Agreed. I had not heard about the economics and personal finance course, but it is a great idea. Those are real world skills any adult needs.

  • The socio-economic consequences here are huge. Kids in bad schools (generally, poorer areas) now get the opportunity to go to better schools (generally, in richer areas). It also helps curtail the death spiral of bad schools leading to lower and lower property values. Homeowners can move into a “bad” school district, but still have the opportunity to send their kids to the school of their choice, thus, helping stabilize the property values in those areas.

    One other benefit – it effectively allows schools to become magnet schools. Schools, by accident or design, could end up becoming math, science or social studies hubs.

  • Eric the 1/2 a troll says:

    FU, a course in parenting skills or household repair would be real valuable life skills as well. Should we force these courses in as well? Hell they would be more valuable than economics.

  • FedUp says:

    “Should we force these courses (parenting skills and household repair) in as well?”

    While they are valuable skills, I don’t think they are a higher priority than economics and personal finance.

  • Eric the half a troll says:

    Oh no, FU, parenting skills are a much higher priority. It is at times all the right talks about. Certainly more important than economics.

    I have no problems with adjusting course requirements but they should do so without making our kids less competitive for college in the process. Now there is push for offering these new courses over the summer so that the kids can fit everything in this new schedule. Sorry, but this is a bad decision.

  • Gaius Baltar says:

    Overall, this looks like a good program. I just wonder if 5 – 10 years down the road if one of the high schools will serendipitously end up with all the great athletes

  • Kevin says:

    Some things to consider….

    Students need to reapply every year and the school may not be able to take them back depending on their capacity.

    For example with projected numbers at one certain elementary school, there will be room for 5 kids in fourth grade next year based on the formula…maybe….it will depend on who moves in and enrolls during the summer.

    Parents have to transport their kids to and from which will be a major factor in parents being able to take their kids out of school (unless you are a stay at home mom) and to the comment- poor kids can go to rich kids schools…the poor kids probably won’t have the means to get there (parents working long hours, lack of transportation).

    Our lower performing schools tend to have the most dedicated teachers of all……sending your kid to a higher performing school guarantees nothing.

  • Debbie Rose says:

    Eric- the “R” School Board did not ever vote on the specific curriculum requirements for graduating students. If you have a real issue with the curriculum, I suggest you bring it to your school board member or any member to have it reviewed in the Curriculum and Instruction Committee. This is the first concern I have ever heard with respect to these particular classes.

  • Bill Fox says:

    BTW, I’m not sure when the decision regarding the econ and finance requirement, but we’ve never had any conversation about it, and I’m on the curriculum committee. Not saying its a bad idea or a good idea, just not anything that has been in front of this board, unless I slept through it.

    Now when the Formal Logic class comes online in 2 years, you can blame that one on me. To my knowledge it will not be a required course (although perhaps it should be).

  • Eric the half a troll says:

    So where do these changes come from if not the school board ( which is who the guidance staff blamed these changes on)?

  • Kevin, you merely point out limitations with the program, but no underlying problems with it. In all, I think it’s great for students and families.

  • Bill Fox says:

    It may have been an initiative of the previous school board. If it was approved by this board, then it came to us as part of a consent agenda that did not get any discussion. However, given the fact that it did not come up in Curriculum Committee, I suspect it came out of the previous board. I will find out and get back to you.

  • Kevin says:

    That was my intent. Parents need all the information in order to make the best decision for their families.

  • Eric the half a troll says:

    Debbie, I will discuss it with my SB member but I have been around enough to know what that will get me on a curriculum change. However, if I see curriculum changes (or any decision) that is wrong for our students, I will not hesitate to say so very publicly. If this was done by the previous board, it is still wrong-headed and I am hardly surprised. But I will publicly retract my R board barb. We will see what Bill finds out.

  • Bill Fox says:

    On another school-related side-note, I seem to remember taking some flack last year when we created the new CIO/Assistant Superintendent of Technology position. The Gentleman we hired to fill said CIO position, Dr. Richard Contartesi, voluntarily cut 4.5 million dollars FROM HIS OWN BUDGET, last Thursday. I gotta say, I feel a little vindicated.

  • Liberal Anthropologist says:

    Bill,

    You should feel vindicated. It is excellent that much money has been able to be cut.

    Kevin,

    That you for pointing out some of the details. These limitations and risks should be understood. I am EXTREMELY happy with this move. My family is one of many which is likely to take advantage of it.

    It is not perfect, but the no votes made no sense.

    I think the concern about sports is interesting, but I hope irrelevant to any decision as I personally don’t care what happens with football teams or whatever. I also don’t think there will be open spots in such schools. So I think it is unlikely. But again, I don’t personally care about that. I care more about providing easier options for families and the other points Lloyd made.

  • BlackOut says:

    Bill, focus on an IT budget certainly should lead to cuts like you mention. At the least he has paid his salary and more. Makes one wonder who had that function before. A title alone doesn’t lead to this, someone was responsible for the budget and department pre-CIO.

    The flak was for not combining the role with the County. Both IT departments should be one. That criticism remains.

    We now are paying two CIOs to do the exact same thing.

  • Eric the half a troll says:

    ” Dr. Richard Contartesi, voluntarily cut 4.5 million dollars FROM HIS OWN BUDGET”

    That should be more tan enough money to keep Lincoln Elementary going for years, eh Bill?

  • BlackOut says:

    Lincoln seems to me to be a small benefit for a very small community. It should be considered for budgetary consolidation. What is fair is fair. Can’t help but think Lincoln is a very small private school for a very few families.

  • Eric the 1/2 Troll says:

    BO, what is fair about it? It is an efficient elementary school which is small in a small community. That is fair and equitable. If the community were large and dense but a very select few in that community were allowed to go to the small community school then you migth have a point – but even THAT is stretching it. I mean it is pretty assinine to advocate for the closure of an extrememly successful school ANYWHERE these days. Figure out what these teachers are doing and REPLICATE it. THAT is what our School Board SHOULD be doing.

    It is the same old Hatrick and Adamo argument against EVERYTHING they do not want to do (or want to do against the wishes of the parents involved). Equity – bullshit!! Notice this same argument was made by the SB members who voted AGAINST the policy that has been lauded on this thread – by the traditional supporters of Hatrick and Adamo.

  • Ed Myers says:

    I think the finance curricular requirement comes from the state,.

  • Ed Myers says:

    Ok, I’ve done the googling since I remembered some of the issues Eric mentioned coming up in a parent meeting:

    http://www.doe.virginia.gov/instruction/economics_personal_finance/resources/faq.shtml

    Here’s a snippet from the website that answers the key question and a hint about how to squeeze an AP course out of the requirement.

    When did the graduation requirement go into effect?
    Because of the legislation passed by the 2010 General Assembly, the following elements, which would have been effective beginning in the 2010-2011 academic year, became effective beginning in the 2011-2012 academic year:

    1.The increase in the number of standard units of credit for the Advanced Studies diploma, which was to begin with the 9th grade class of 2010;
    2.Changes to credit requirements related to courses for the Standard and Advanced Studies Diplomas (which are found in the footnotes to 8 VAC 20-131-50).
    3.The addition of one credit in economics and personal finance as a graduation requirement for the Standard and Advanced Studies Diplomas; and
    4.The requirement for all students, beginning in middle school, to have an Academic and Career Plan.

    11. Does the AP Economics course (semester) still satisfy the graduation requirement?
    Yes, the one-half (1/2) standard credit earned for the history and social studies AP or IB microeconomics or macroeconomics course in combination with the one-half (1/2) standard credit earned for the CTE Finance course (6121) may satisfy the graduation requirement. However, the AP or IB microeconomics or macroeconomics course must be aligned with the Virginia Standards of Learning to fulfill the one-half credit course requirement in Economics and Personal Finance.

    [Commentary: Another example of politicians unable to trust parents and students to make good choices for themselves. The advanced diploma is a most worthless piece of paper since colleges look at the whole transcript. Now if UVA were to guarantee a spot for any student who completes an advanced diploma..... The students who do take AP courses in early May have a month after the AP exams to chill. That would be a perfect time to teach this material instead of making it a required course.]

  • Bill Fox says:

    Ed. . .Thanks for posting this info. I received the same information.

    BO – Although I am always open to consolidation, this may actually be one place where consolidation DOES NOT make sense. In fact It was recently pointed out to us, again by Dr. Contartesi, that one tech contract that was consolidated with the county, our library management software, was costing about 2 million or so, and covered both the public libraries and our school libraries. The problem was, in order to have the software do everything that the schools needed it to do, we had to add all sorts of expensive custom add-ons. We were informed that if we broke the contract up and LCPS handled its own library management system, we could handle all of LCPS’s needs for a mere $100,000, thereby increasing the LCPS budget, but saving the taxpayer as much as $1-1.5 million (LCPS has 10 times as many libraries as the county, so the assumption is that a much smaller contract without the expensive add-on’s would be much cheaper for the county) The point is, because we have a expert in educational technology running our tech programs rather than relying on the county’s tech folks we might actually avoid costly inefficiencies and mistakes.

    I continue to have an open mind regarding consolidation elsewhere.

  • The personal finance/economics course is a state (and unfunded) mandate, and one that I am personally opposed to. (Even though my son isn’t impacted by it — fortunately, he missed it by one year.)

    It isn’t that the skill set taught in the class isn’t a worthy one, just that if you have a high academic student, or a student pursuing one of the serious vocational tracks, this course is a serious problem. It makes it next to impossible for an IB student (my school in Fairfax County is IB, not AP) to meet the requirements for the diploma without going to summer school or taking a course online. It makes it difficult for a student who is attending one of the academies/trade schools (for the arts, languages, or business, etc) to meet both the requirements of schools plus the general education requirements, because most students must factor in what is known as a ‘travel period’ which leaves them with one less course per day than the average student.

    It also forces students who are, for all intents and purposes, only attending schools for the extracurriculars at a disadvantage, because now this is often one less course in the arts, music, theatre, phys ed, elective that they can take. In our part of the country, with our extreme emphasis on education, this isn’t such a big deal. But let’s keep in mind that this is a STATE WIDE requirement, and the different between a student staying in school or dropping out may be the difference between taking a couple of classes of art or not.

    So while the goals of the class were admirable ones, the application of this to high school graduation requirements was not. There are lots of excellent goals that we wish parents would teach that they don’t, but that doesn’t mean the schools must necessarily pick up the slack by mandate.

    (And if you ask me, that’s a pretty conservative postion.)

  • Elder Berry says:

    BO if we no longer hold community schools in any regard then why not send all our county’s kids to one huge school. That factory education process ought to really economize on education costs. Punch those little students out like nails or Cheetos or any other mass produced item.

  • BlackOut says:

    Bill, as any IT exec will tell you, situations like you highlight can, in most cases, be worked out with the vendor. Or just continue to have the contracts separately administered by the schools and by the libraries.

    The big picture is where the consolidation makes sense, not on a relatively little application contract. There is no way anyone can justify the support of two email systems. Now you’re starting to touch a big potential savings. And now you have a “Dr” justifying his fiefdom. Oh well, opportunity lost there.

    Sorry to hear you’ve closed your mind on the IT consolidation. I truly wish you luck on other consolidation efforts. I await the justification to can the consolidation of land aquisition and builidng functions.

  • BlackOut says:

    …as apparently the schools did btw.

  • FedUp says:

    “…why not send all our county’s kids to one huge school.”

    EBerry, that’s swinging the pendulum a bit too far. This discussion of closing the smallest schools in the county, that some refer to as community schools, is all about how to make the best use of limited taxpayer funding. There are economies of scale with larger schools. It was estimated 4 years ago that $2.2 million a year could be saved by closing Lincoln, Aldie, Hillsboro and Middleburg. Is that number still valid? I would like to see a detailed study conducted and presented to the public.

  • Eric the 1/2 Troll says:

    “There are economies of scale with larger schools”

    Given that admin staff is assigned/budgeted on a prorated per-student basis and salaries are far and away the highest overhead cost, this point is largely overblown.

    Further, considering the lower transportation costs and higher average student/teacher ratios associated with the smaller elementary schools of western Loudoun, I would say it is false.

    The simplest way to reduce the $/student spent in these schools is to simply increase student/teacher ratios. I suspect that the students and families who attend these schools see the benefit in continuing their education there and would accept a slightly higher s/t ratio IF there is any current inequity at any of the schools in terms of $/student spent. I think you will find that there is NO inequity, however.

  • FedUp says:

    “admin staff is assigned/budgeted on a prorated per-student basis”

    I think it’s based more on school enrollment thresholds. For example, a school may have a half-time principal if enrollment is less than 300 pupils. But even with half-time principals, the 4 smallest schools in Loudoun have 2 FTE principals serving a combined enrollment of less than 400 students. A typical large school with 800 pupils needs only one principal and one assistant principal.

    As far as classroom teachers, if those 4 small schools were combined into one school, there should only be a need for 3 classes per grade instead of 4. That would be 6 less teachers needed. If average teacher compensation is around $85k, then that’s a half million in savings right there. The economies of scale are clear.

    Maybe transportation costs would be slightly lower, but they are typically very small compared to the cost of salaries and benefits.

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