Monday, September 13, 2010

A Root Cause of Many Problems...

Below is the text of a speech I gave at the school board meeting tonight. Several others also spoke to various issues revolving around the current contract negotiations and the lack of progress.

Before I became a Special Education teacher, I spent a decade or so as a Systems Engineer. I even got training in solving organizational problems using a method called Theory of Constraints.

This last Sunday I used my training in Theory of Constraints to analyze several recent conflicts in the District. I was looking for commonalities that might inform me regarding the current contract negotiations conflict.

Here’s what I determined via the analysis:

High level decisions must be made by the Superintendent, such as teacher selection, teacher discipline, and fair resource distribution. The expectation is that the decisions will be fair and equitable. The expectation is that the superintendent’s decisions will be legal, impartial, and agenda-free. Those decisions should be unbiased, fair, without malice, and consistent. In a nutshell, those decisions need to be trustworthy or worthy of trust.

The common, underlying conflict beneath the three scenarios I examined was this: the current superintendent's decisions are not always trustworthy. They were less than impartial, not always legal, sometimes biased and sometimes unfair. The decisions were only reversed after they were persistently challenged by a teacher or a group of parents. The decisions were only changed when a judge, the law, or a vocal group of parents forced the change.

How can this generalized analysis assist in the current conflicts including the current contract negotiations?

We cannot sit idly by and trust what the superintendent says. She has demonstrated repeatedly that she does not deserve that trust. Perhaps some combination of inexperience and lack of expertise may have hampered her, but she is also hampered by apparent personal ambition, a drive to win-at-any-cost, and a leadership style that is not inspirational, but confrontational.

Her behaviors in contract negotiations are simply another instance of her dysfunctional leadership. 

Dr. Howell has retreated from erroneous positions only when others stand up to her, present the facts, and allow impartial arbitrators review those facts. The contract negotiations are heading into fact finding. Perhaps the truth will come out, and she will retreat.

My message is this: we have got to stop trusting Dr. Howell, especially in the area of personnel issues. The contract is ultimately a personnel issue. We need to question her, double-check her facts and logic. We cannot afford  passive acceptance of her half-truths.

The scenarios I examined demonstrate that Dr. Howell is untrustworthy. She is unyielding in her decisions until a higher authority censures her. Her inexperience and lack of knowledge might be forgivable if it were mixed appropriately with honesty, forthrightness, and humility, but it is not. 

We must become vigilant and vocal, so that we can override the erroneous recommendations and decisions that are being made by the current superintendent.

I am here tonight to raise my voice against the erroneous recommendations that the superintendent is bull-headedly offering as a pretense for negotiating a fair contract.

I see a pattern of misinformation and abuse: do you?

Thank you for listening.

(Thank you for reading!)

Sunday, September 12, 2010

A New School Year: A Kite in the Wind...

A kite in the wind… that’s my personal metaphor for the new school year.

You might ask, “How’s that working for you, Don?”

And I might answer with a sigh.

I see the wind: the superintendent continues her “spinning” ways, for example… at the “Welcome Back” BBQ she mentioned that if the current budget crisis continues, we could end up with a state appointed administrator who would cost the district $150,000!

I did the math. At a board meeting last year, the Los Angeles budget guru gave the formulae for the cost of a state appointed administrator: 80% of the district’s superintendent’s salary.

$165,000 x 80% is $132,000 not $150,000.  Simple math, simple fact, and simply not $150,000.

It made me think: If that simple number is being erroneously presented as fact, what other numbers are?

(What new “dots” have shown up on your radar?) The wind continues to blow.

Here’s another dot on my radar:

The state rejects our district’s budget and tells us to refigure it without the COLA. The district recalculates the budget and the only thing they do is take out the COLA… it still gets rejected. Of course it does! But now the district can say, “We tried twice!”

 (The second try was not a try, it was a ruse!) At least that’s what it looks like to me… up in the sky… trying to maintain a kite-like perspective.

Is the district administration so bereft of ideas that all they can do is continue to blame the economy and the teachers’ union? (And misrepresent fiction as fact!)

Here’s an idea:

Have the superintendent take a “temporary” pay cut to $50,000 a year. Not only would that demonstrate her commitment to share the economic pain, but it might make it difficult to find someone willing to work for 80% of $50,000 which is… see if you can do the math!

(Or… take a cut to $1 a year… it’s been done before… who would take the job for 80 cents?)

The only problem with this scenario is that, unlike the temporary pay cut that the teachers took, I doubt if the superintendent would be willing to make it permanent, like she’s asking the teachers to do.

Another “aha” moment for me: I suspected the Memorandum of Understanding which made the last two years of temporary cuts temporary would mean that my pay would be reinstated with a restored step and column. The district would never say so, but that’s just what happened.

Of course teachers are being warned not to spend their reinstated salary increases, because a new contract will probably be negotiated that involves retroactive pay cuts to the beginning of this school year. (Actually, the pay cuts will be retroactive for two years… because what was promised to be temporary will become permanent… in violation of the MOU.)

Forthrightness, honesty, clarity… too much to ask? No.

Too much to expect? Yes, as long as the School Board continues to allow this wind to blow unchecked.

In the mean time…. Class sizes are up, budgets are down, and teachers are being asked to do more with less… with more less to come.

Good kite flying weather.