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Gov Kasich encourages school districts to engage in a communication plan with parents

February 16, 2013

CINCINNATI — The same component of Gov. John Kasich’s school-funding plan that would empower districts to add performance pay incentives for teachers also could push districts to trim teachers from the payrolls.

At Cincinnati’s Taft Information Technology High School yesterday, Kasich confirmed that the $300 million “Straight-A Fund” within his two-year, $15.1 billion education plan was what he was referring to last month when he said school districts would have more flexibility to incentivize teacher pay.

But the Straight-A Fund is a one-time pool of money over the next two years to incentivize schools to improve education and lower costs. So how could a district add pay boosters for teachers and reduce costs in the same Straight-A-Fund proposal?

“For example, you could pay a really quality teacher to teach two or three classes (at the same time), which really saves you money and yet rewards a teacher who’s really excellent,” Kasich said yesterday.

Based on statements made by Kasich, his education advisers and Cincinnati-area superintendents at the Taft Info-Tech event, it appears the $300 million fund could drive districts toward incorporating online learning and embracing bigger class sizes.

Kasich and his aides say the innovation-fund proposals should prepare districts for when more than $400 million in funding “guarantees” — state money above what districts should get based on the funding formula — go away after two years. About two-thirds of the state’s districts get guarantees. The administration stressed that these proposals to reduce costs will come from the districts themselves.

“It sounds like we’re looking more at how do we save money, not how do we do what’s best for students,” said Ohio Federation of Teachers President Melissa Cropper.

Cropper said blended learning should use technology to create opportunities for students in areas where some classes might not exist. “That’s how you put students first, not saying we want to save money so we’re going to pick one teacher and load him up with 100 kids.”

There are other ideas for the fund, Cropper said, such as creating a streamlined paperwork process. “I think a lot of people are going to be excited about the possibilities that are in here,” she said.

Whether a district reduces its teacher work force is up to the district. The Kasich administration says only that there need to be greater efficiencies.

“The innovation fund can help schools to restructure,” said Kasich, who said district “guarantees … generally involve overhead — too many buildings and not enough students.

“Somebody would have to enter into a communication plan with the parents to explain to them that we can’t have all these buildings because it’s not sustainable,” Kasich said.

But David Varda, executive director of the Ohio Association of School Business Officials, said there are good arguments for why the state should keep guarantees in place.

“Is there some basic level that, as a taxpayer, I should expect my local district is going to get?” he said, noting that Upper Arlington residents send a lot of income-tax money to the state but don’t see much of it returned.

For urban districts, many of which have built up guarantees because of declining enrollment but also serve a low-income, troubled population, Varda questioned if they should take a major funding hit.

The amount of guarantees also raises the question, Varda said, of whether the proposal provides an adequate level of funding.

Mary Ronan, superintendent of Cincinnati Public Schools, said she envisions her district pursing Straight-A Funds to bolster early-childhood learning and “blended” learning at the high-school level, where face-to-face interaction is meshed with computer-assisted instruction.

Ronan said expanding online education programs requires a “large investment” upfront to purchase and install computers but would allow Cincinnati schools to “deliver instruction in a more cost-effective manner.”Because 75 percent of the budget is consumed by salaries, Ronan said, “yes, the plan could mean less staff. It could also mean redeploying staff members to do other things.”

Several of the Cincinnati-area superintendents who joined Kasich for his event yesterday described their desire to pursue online education models, yearning to move away from the traditional model of a teacher standing in front of a class of 25 students and toward a digital classroom where students communicate with peers and teachers around the world.

“If we were able to start our school districts over from scratch, would they look the same as they look today?” asked Christopher Burrows, superintendent of Georgetown Exempted Village schools. “I think many of us would say, ‘Absolutely not.’  ”

Michele Prater, a spokeswoman for the Ohio Education Association, said, “Technology can be a useful tool to engage students but is not a replacement for teachers.

“High student-to-teacher ratios prevent teachers from providing the individualized attention needed to meet the diverse needs of all students,” Prater said.

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Posted in Community Outreach, Education