Monday, November 25, 2013

More than one way to skin a cat?

One of my favorite movies is “A Christmas Story,” and my favorite line from that movie is “In the heat of battle my father wove a tapestry of obscenities that as far as we know is still hanging in space over Lake Michigan.” When I was a kid, I had a BB gun and a dad who could weave a tapestry of his own.

One of the printable sayings my dad used was “there is more than one way to skin a cat.” You don’t hear this saying much anymore, probably the work of PETA. In my young, literate mind, I often wondered just what kind of twisted person had done the research on this. Even to an avowed dog person this seems a little bit excessive.

This week I ran across an article called “Motivated Numeracy and Enlightened Self-Government,” (Yale Law School, Public Law Working Paper No. 307 ). OK, I don't really read the Yale Law Review, but I read an article that led me to the article in the Yale Law Review. The researchers set up an interesting experimental design that showed how political opinions affect our ability to do basic math operations and draw inferences. And before you get too smug, liberals and conservatives both did it. If the math didn't match their preconceived opinions, they were more likely to get the answer wrong.  Apparently, there is more than one way to skin the data?

I think this research may have implications for how we speak as well as how we do math. Recently, I had the opportunity to speak at the Kansas University Economic Policy Conference about education funding. At the conference, I was quoted as saying "state aid for Local Option Budgets (LOB) has been cut."  That statement is incorrect and I should know better.  But as my dad use to say, there is more than one way to skin a cat, so let's look at the question of LOB funding in its entirety.

1. The Governor's Budget, approved by the Legislature, funds LOB aid at the same level for the past few years. No cuts in funding.

2. Some districts have had declines in assessed valuation or increases in enrollment that would qualify them for more LOB aid according to the law.

3. In an effort to increase money to the classroom, many districts have chosen to increase their LOB levies, increasing the amount of LOB aid for which they qualify.

4. An increase or decrease in the aid to any one district affects the amount that is available to all other districts.  When local demand for state aid increases, but the total amount of aid does not increase, local aid has to be cut.

5. No cuts (level funding) at the state level translate to cuts or tax increases at the local level of $100 million. In other words, LOB aid is under-funded by about $100 million.

6. When LOB aid is underfunded, boards of education are forced to either make up the difference by increasing property taxes, cutting budgets or a combination of both.

7. Approximately 80% of the districts in the state get LOB aid and have been faced with this decision.

8. While it is difficult to know the exact impact on every district, KSDE has provided KASB with the following estimates of how underfunding LOB aid affects Kansas districts total property tax mill levies:
Over 10 additional mills- 17 districts
7-10 additional mills- 30 districts
5-7 additional mills - 42 districts
3-5 additional mills - 73 districts
0-3 additional mills - 72 districts

Like the math problems in the experiment, I was guilty of letting my preconceived notions on education funding affect my word choice.  There were no actual cuts to LOB aid at the state level. 

But not fully funding the LOB aid formula has resulted in budget cuts and property tax increases at the local level.  To a state level policy-maker the answer to “the math problem” is that there were no cuts.  To the local board member who has to raise property taxes or cut budgets, the answer is that there have been cuts.  Perspective influences how we do the math.  What is the answer in your district?  How much have you had to cut expenses and/or raise taxes because of underfunded LOB aid?

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

9-0 at the Break!

Three months ago I announced that we are going to the Super Bowl!  Many of you expressed doubt about my prediction, even to the point of questioning my sanity.  Now the Chiefs are 9-0, maybe 10-0 by the time you read this.  How do you like me now?  Of course the premise of the previous column was to make the point about getting better every year, and every day.  We know about the Chiefs, so how has KASB been doing at getting better?  

When I started in this position over three years ago now, I travelled the state and asked our members how we were doing.  The response I got was that we have great services, especially in the advocacy and legal department.  If we were the Chiefs, these programs would be our strong defense.  (Does that make Tallman the KASB Tamba?)

The questions that I got were about our leadership programs.  What were we doing to help improve district leadership teams, to help improve student achievement?  The first step in answering this question was to ask the board if we are committed to this service.  The answer was a resounding yes as the board set a new mission for KASB of focusing on Service, Advocacy, and Student Achievement.  

This is the equivalent of ownership telling the team’s GM we want to focus on the offense too, and that is what we did.  As a long-time Denver-hater it is hard for me to acknowledge this, but when Denver added Peyton Manning and Wes Welker to their offense, production improved. The stats tell the story.  Best offense in the NFL.   At KASB, the stats tell the story as well.

In the 2010 school year, the KASB Leadership Department did 12 superintendent searches, no strategic plans, 21 onsite board trainings, and one MCREL Leadership Training.  Compare that with the past 12 months:  KASB has done 21 superintendent searches (up 9), seven strategic plans (up 7), 88 onsite board trainings (up an astounding 67) and provided seven MCREL Leadership Trainings.  Over the past three years, forty districts have trained their entire leadership team in the MCREL Leadership Model and two of the state’s largest districts have started training their staff. One hundred one districts have been trained by KASB staff on using the MCREL evaluation system for teachers, principals, and/or superintendents.  The improvement is Peytonesque.

My Chiefs don’t have Denver’s offense, but KASB has added a great offensive team to an already tough defense.  This will help us serve you better.  If you are looking to improve your student achievement, you would be remiss in not contacting our Leadership Services to see how they can help.

It also bears mention that KASB’s Insurance services performing at high levels.  To extend the metaphor, they might be the special teams of our team.  In the past year, KASB Worker’s Comp gave a refund back to past members, and added 17 members to the pool (21% growth).  Our property and casualty insurance has taken off, increasing membership by growing from zero three years ago to 17 districts now, and we keep giving new quotes.  If you are looking to improve your coverage possibly save some money in the process, give them a call.

The Chiefs may not make it to the Super Bowl, but they are getting better every day.  At KASB, there is no Super Bowl, but every day your districts are under the same microscope as championship teams.  We aim to help you avoid distractions, stay focused, and to get better every day.  We do this by getting better ourselves.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Wait! I have a coupon!

My wife loves coupons, loyalty cards, and discounts of all kinds.  Her wallet is a Costanza-like monstrosity filled with super saver loyalty cards for every store one could possibly imagine.  We have a basket full of coupons by the door and are not allowed to leave the house without one, just in case.  We have 55 gallon drums of Chex mix and bushel baskets of lettuce from the jumbo discount store that shall go nameless.  Shopping with her is always an adventure, because she invariably has a card or coupon that allows you two free if you buy five, three free if you buy the extra four, or some other mathematical discount adventure. So imagine my excitement when someone on the KASB board suggested we give a FREE PASS to convention to every district!

That’s right- every member district gets to send one person to the KASB convention for free!  A $250 value with no strings attached; no super-saver card to clog your keyring or weigh down your wallet; no buy two get three free math problems; just a free pass.

Of course, we hope that our one free pass will entice you to send more than one person to the convention.  The two great keynote speakers in Kevin Honeycutt and David Zach will speak about Shaping the Future for our students.  Break-out sessions by Kansas board members and educators, and tours and site-visits will allow you to see what other districts are doing for their students, and give you a chance to connect with other board members.

On Sunday, the delegate assembly will elect a new KASB President, and consider legislative policies for the 2014 session and beyond.  We anticipate important discussions on employment rights, education funding, and constitutional issues.  It will be important for the every Kansas district to express the views of their local communities by participating in the delegate assembly.

Look for a flyer or email, or visit our website to learn more about the convention. And now for the disclaimer- we have an ulterior motive.  We think that board members know that a team approach works best, and that having more than one person attend from each district will increase the power of the learning exponentially in every district.  We think the power of teams from every district will increase the power of the whole, and that there will be more interaction in the halls, at the breaks, and more opportunities for you to learn from each other. We think that giving one free pass will prime the pump of learning for board members in Kansas.  

We will look for you in Wichita this December, and if you need a discount card for one of the local restaurants or shops just let me know, I am pretty sure I can hook you up.