One Step Forward For Technology And A Step Backward For Gifted And Talented Students

Here's what I found interesting or important at this week's BUSD board meeting.

Board approved DELL purchase for hardware, training and installation for the technology project.

The approval received applause from the audience and we were treated to another evening of the cabinet and superintendent patting themselves on the back for all their efforts to bring technology to every classroom. Assistant Superintendent Kakish told us she got the idea from neighboring districts that were considering technology upgrades to every classroom.

A little history first:

* The administration originally proposed 2-3 classrooms in each school would be remodeled to become 21st Century Classrooms. These rooms would be outfitted with state of the art technology and infrastructure including solar lighting and speakers.

* In December 2009 I asked for an agenda item to be placed the 12/08/09 board meeting agenda to open a public discussion regarding the priority and cost of the Measure Z projects.

* The district's Technology Planning Committee (TPC), composed of teachers, parents and other district staff, had recommended updating every district classroom's technology, not just a few super classrooms.

* Teachers and parents asked the board on 12/8/09 to consider adopting the TPC's recommendation.

* The administration was standing by their proposal of a few 21st Century Classrooms and was hesitant to give up on the solar tubes and built in speakers.

* Board President David Sanchez was against bringing technology to every classroom. He stated that technology was a convenience and only needed to be in computer labs and technical career classes at the high school.

* The other four board members disagreed with Sanchez and argued for following the TPC's recommendation.

* Assistant Superintendent Kakish was concerned that there wasn't enough time to change the scope of the project but reluctantly agreed to bring back a new proposal to upgrade all the districts classrooms.

I think the applause and praise we heard this week should be directed to the teachers and parents who pushed for this and to the four board members, Vaccarello, Greenwood, Lara, and Orozco, for leading the administration in the right direction. If we had followed David Sanchez, the cabinet and the superintendent, we would not be in a position to boast that BUSD is the only district in the area bringing upgraded technology to every classroom in every school.

The board approved cuts to compensation for board members, management and confidential employees. This measure will require the board and administration to match comparable reductions in compensation that the two labor unions may agree to. Similar measure was passed last year and never amounted to anything. This is what I referred to earlier this year as an empty promise. I'll let you know if management ever takes a pay cut.

The board held a public hearing regarding the budget update the administration was presenting that night. BTA President Trina Brown spoke to the board and asked them to reconsider rolling the funds the district received for our Gifted and Talented students GATE (more than $49,000 next year), into the general funds and use the funds for what they were intended, GATE programs.

Later in the evening, a new program for struggling and emerging readers, Fast ForWord reading assistance program was presented by the cabinet for board consideration. The cost of this new program is more than $39,000. Lara, Vaccarello, and Orozco, concerned about cost, voted against the program until they had more information. Sanchez and Greenwood approved this new program. Greenwood said "We will find the money."

I find it interesting, and disappointing, that the district is considering "finding the money" to fund a new program while they continue to ignore the needs of the GATE students. The district qualifies for the GATE funding from the state based on the performance of these kids on the state's standardized tests. The governor and legislature have authorized districts to use the GATE funds for general expenses. Contrary to what the administration will lead you to believe, using GATE funds for general purposes is voluntary not mandatory.

The test results of the GATE students not only generate the additional income from the state but they also raise the overall scores for each school and the district as a whole. For districts that are so concerned these days about low test scores and staying out of program improvement, they seem to be taking for granted high test scores the GATE students earn. Parents can opt out their children from taking the tests. I wonder if the district would reconsider their actions if parents of GATE students prevented their kids from taking the state tests until GATE funds were used to provide enrichment to our top performing students.