Teacher Input Limited – Part 1

What Happened to Transparency?

Government Transparency (or lack thereof)
Image from www.columbianewsandviews

I always give the families of my students plenty of notice for an upcoming parent-teacher conference. I also tell my students that they should attend the conference with their family members, and my students always want to know why.

“Well,” I say, looking them in the eye, “we’re going to be talking about you. Since your family is going to be there, I’d much rather talk to you about you and have you involved in this process. It’s in your best interest to be there.”

Involving my students in the conversation I have with their families about them helps to put us on the same page. Reaching out publicly, far in advance, and getting input from all stakeholders that can positively influence students’ educational success is crucial to a successful parent-teacher conference.

These guidelines should be have been — and still need to be — applied to the current efforts to reform Ohio’s school funding model. Former Governor Strickland’s efforts followed this standard.

Strickland unveiled his six principles for education reform in his 2008 State of the State address. The Governor announced in early July of 2008 that he’d hold 12 forums throughout the state over the next three months to get input from Ohio citizens about reforming our education system. An additional six regional meetings were led by Governor Strickland in the late fall of 2008 to discuss education funding with all Ohio education stakeholders.

After a year and a half of highly public and transparent collaboration, Strickland signed the Education Opportunity Act in July of 2009 and transformed the ideas of Ohio’s education stakeholders into law, but the legislation only lasted until June 2011. Ohio’s current governor has taken a much different approach to changing our state’s school funding model than our previous governor.

The passage of the 2011-2013 state budget removed the Education Opportunity Act from state law and gave Governor Kasich and state legislature two years to develop a new school funding model. As a result of this state budget, Ohio is the only state in the entire nation without a permanent school funding model.

Led by Barbara Mattei-Smith, Assistant Policy Director for Education, the governor’s office began to work in earnest on a new school funding model beginning in July of this year. A series of six meetings was quickly scheduled over a two-week period to gather stakeholder input on the principles of the new school funding model.

Mattei-Smith held meetings at locations around the state, but kept each stakeholder group separate from one another. She met with school board members, school treasurers and school superintendents regarding the new funding model’s tenets six times for nearly two hours each time. On five separate occasions she met with teachers for an hour, followed by five one-hour meetings with the school principals. Unfortunately Mattei-Smith was a no-show for the last scheduled meeting with teachers because she went to the wrong room —it was later explained by the governor’s spokesperson as a “simple scheduling snafu”—but the meeting was ultimately rescheduled for Monday, Aug. 1 at the State Library of Ohio in downtown Columbus.

I arrived at the last meeting with my digital camera, ready to take a few photographs for my local association, but Mattei-Smith immediately got up from her place at the front of the room, walked right up to me and told me in no uncertain terms that I was not to record the meeting. I politely explained that I was simply going to take a few photos before the event began.

Sunshine Week
Sunshine Week - Your Right to Know

My colleagues and I took notes throughout the discussion, as did Mattei-Smith. Towards the end of the meeting, Mattei-Smith was asked where she was putting the information she gathered online from previous school funding discussions. After all, all of Strickland’s forums were aired live on local PBS stations — Ohio school districts organized watch parties — and were promptly archived on Strickland’s education reform website for all to see.

“I’m not putting it per se anywhere,” Mattei-Smith responded. “I’m taking notes, trying to put that into some kind of cohesive thought pattern and from there we’ll work on a funding model.”

I don’t know if Mattei-Smith’s prohibition on video recording of the meeting or the lack of public information regarding the discussion in previous meetings would meet the test of state sunshine laws.

What I do know is that if my parent-teacher conferences were held with just my students’ parents, and I gave them short notice that the conferences were scheduled at a time when they would probably be unable to attend, they wouldn’t help my students. Likewise, changing school funding in Ohio requires more than a series of meetings held over a three-week period in the summer.

To be continued. To read about what happened in the last meeting and what teachers said their students need, come back and read Part 2.

By Phil Hayes, Columbus Education Association



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