Keep the Discussion Going and the Voices Growing

This post started as a comment in response to a comment I received from Jack Smith on the Patch. I quickly realized the Patch's comment process wouldn't allow me enough characters. Click here to read Jack's comment

Jack,

Thank you for your support. I think we, the non-aligned in Beaumont, could wield more power than the unions, administrations, business leaders, and "the families" but the no-aligned have to be motivated. People find it very hard to be motivated about national, state, and even local issues because there is a sense that it doesn't matter what we do, the politicians on both sides are the problem and that doesn't seem likely to change. I've always believed we can get parents and the community motivated about protecting their children's educational opportunities if we can educate them about what's happening in our schools. This is why I do what I do.

I don't believe any of our board members have reached the point where acquiring power is more important than doing the right thing like the rest of our politicians. I believe they are parents and educators who wanted to get involved and make a difference but I believe some are in over their heads. You try listening to Mr. Elatar spin the budgeting strategy for 30 minutes and you will see how hard it may be for some to follow. Instead of having the confidence to know how to direct our administration, they look to Dr. Kayrell to provide guidance and leadership.

I have learned over the years that a parent willing to speak out can make a difference. I've seen this district change the way they do business as a result of issues I have raised and my persistence. Not all their changes have been in the direction I was hoping for, many have been to try and prevent me and others from being heard. Every time they try to shut me up and make me go away, it makes me only want to come back stronger. The problem is I am only one voice. They find it easy to dismiss that "crazy Mr. White" and ignore my suggestions when I am alone. It is much harder for them to ignore many voices. 

Three years ago when the district held public forums about the teacher layoffs, hundreds of parents came out to be heard. It appeared the school board and Dr. Kayrell were concerned about involving parents in the process. When parents learned no schools were going to be closed and most programs, such as dual immersion at Palm Elementary, survived, many parents believed the board had listened and the administration had given in to the public demand.

I am a little more cynical. I believe the public outrage and the threat of laying off teachers and classified staff was used by the district to strengthen their position at the bargaining table with the unions. I believe the district's negotiators were able to get concessions that would have been difficult to obtain if they hadn't had so many parents "worked up". I don't kow all the details but I believe the teachers agreed to a permanent cap in their health care. 

In the end, class sizes increased, transportation for the middle schools and high schools was eliminated and money designated by the state to support a GATE program was permanently taken from our kids and redirected to the general funds. It turned out the district missed their budget estimates by $7 million, most of the teachers were rehired, and our superintendents all received contract extensions  and none of the administrators were required to fulfill their empty promise to take furlough days. When the dust settled, Dr. Kayrell negotiated to have his health care contribution picked up by us, the non-aligned tax payers.

This shows me that Dr. Kayrell is aware of the power of the voices of the non-aligned. I think he also knows you can only cry wolf so many times. Last month a couple of our board members asked for another public forum. I doubt Dr. Kayrell will allow this to happen again this time. We are already pretty far along in the process and the opportunity for the community to provide useful input has probably come and gone.

My plan is to turn up the heat. I plan to push for caps on class sizes for all grade levels. I want to get assurances from our school board they won't shorten the school year or take away anymore instructional time. And, I will continue to ask the district to release an itemized list of the programs and services that they value over teachers, class size and instructional time. So far my requests have fallen on deaf ears.

So Jack, here is how you can help:

Keep the discussion going and the voices growing. Email the links of what I have written, and what I will be posting in the coming weeks to anyone you know with kids in Beaumont Schools. Ask them if the sacrifices they are already making are worth picking up the full cost of our superintendent's health care package when we, the non-aligned, already pay him about a quarter of a million dollars a year and will continue to pay him this through his retirement. Tell them to email the board members and demand a public forum so we can be heard on which programs we value more than larger classs sizes and less instructional time. We may not have the money or the connections but we have the numbers. Those of us with kids, know the years we have to prepare them to succeed are limited and are racing by. We need to do something now.

Here's a link to the trustees' email addresses:

Board of Trustees Email Addresses

Thank you again Jack for your support.