Category Archives: COVENTRY EDUCATION

Challenges and Changes Ahead for Public Education

school-buses-005-2xThe decision on CCJEF (Connecticut Coalition for Justice in Education Funding) vs Rell lawsuit was announced and should have significant impact on educational funding in Connecticut.  The decision is far reaching and looks to change not only how schools are funded but also priorities in funding allocation.

Here are the key components of the decision:

  1. A ruling that it is NOT UNCONSTITUTIONAL for the state to have a public education financing system that is NOT based on the amount of money it takes to provide every child equitable access to an adequate educational program.
  2. A ruling that the present system for funding public education in CT is unconstitutional because it is irrational.  The judge gave the State 180 days to submit to the plaintiffs in the case a system that is rational.
  3. An apparent ruling that the State has to develop a system for requiring students to actually demonstrate that they have mastered specified content and skills before being awarded a high school diploma and a requirement that there be a State graduation exit exam established for this purpose.
  4. An apparent ruling that the current system for teacher evaluation be revamped so that compensation is based on the results of teacher evaluation.
  5. An apparent ruling that would require the State not to program for children whose special needs are so severe that education cannot materially influence the quality of their lives.

Appeals in the case are likely but it would appear at this juncture all school districts will face significant changes in the future.  Under the ruling, gone would be the days of social promotion and high school diplomas presented with little basis in merit.

Teacher compensation currently structured by contractual obligations rather than individual productivity or merit would be changed to a system based on results of teacher evaluation.  In the land of steady habits, it will be difficult to facilitate real change and not window dressing to institute a realistic system of evaluation and compensation.

Special education would no longer be required for children whose needs are so severe that education cannot materially influence their quality of life.  This may not be as clear cut as it sounds and remains open to some interpretation.  Currently special education costs for a single student can be hundreds of thousands of dollars.

The “irrational” system for funding education must be changed in Connecticut.   The new formula, under this decision, will not be based on a false premise of a constitutional guarantee to provide every child equitable access to an adequate educational program.

One thing for sure lobbyist and special interest groups will be active to pressure our legislature to preserve, protect and promote their positions as new policies are written.

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“March Madness” Is More About Life Than Just Playing Sports

trophyHigh schools across the state, colleges and university across the country competed this weekend for basketball championships.  For some it will be the culmination of a playing career for others it will be another step on the road of competition.

As a single moment in time the outcome of each game is important to the players and fans but the real reward is not found on the court in a single play or final score.  No the real value is found over a season.

Participation in high school sports is pure amateur competition.   It is the memory of the road taken together through a season that they will remember, the bonding, the thrill of victory and success they had together as a team. Win or lose the players will remember their moments of joy and the experience of the season for life. They may not recall the scores, wins and losses but 30 years from now they will remember the journey and the “brothers or sisters” they played with.  In the game of life they all won something this year; life lessons and memories.

Too often our emphasis is placed on winning and losing, too often we lose sight of the benefits of sports participation.  Too often we measure success in terms of playing time or points scored; we forget the importance and role of participation in education and life experience.  Too often we equate amateur sports participation to professional sports where winning is the only ultimate goal, where losing means coming up short and losses are never moral victories.

Soon the entire nation will turn some level of attention to “March Madness” the annual national NCAA Basketball Tournament for men and women to crown a national champion.  We will see great moments of emotion with tears of joy and tears of disappointment, but the real memory for the players will be the road traveled since October. Not all of education comes in a classroom there is much we learn about life on courts and fields.  Why would we risk losing these moments?

There is another road of “March Madness”, a political road that raises an ugly head in too many communities and too often in March.  Too often as budgets are formulated and adjusted we see politicians place sports on the chopping block.  While it may be an easy political move to create emotional support for higher spending it is “March Madness” at its’ worse.

Threatening students and using their emotions and enthusiasm to reach political goals is flat out wrong.  It is the wrong road for adult leadership and the wrong road for the long-term goals of education.  It is equally wrong to reach into the pockets of students to support sports participation as it would be to charge them to take a math or science course.

Have you ever wondered why students and parents are charged admission to view a student play basketball but are not charge to watch baseball, soccer or volleyball?  Ever wonder why taxpayers spend millions of dollars on education and yet when they want to view a student and evaluate their performance in a school play they are charged to view what their tax dollars have paid for to produce?  Just another form of “March Madness”

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Filed under CONNECTICUT ISSUES, COVENTRY EDUCATION, NATIONAL ISSUES

An Eye On Ackert, Part 3, Education A Risky Proposal

ackertThere is no question as to State House Republican Tim Ackert’s interest and dedication to education.  He is the Ranking Member for his party on the Education Committee and his resume shows a history of involvement with education.  Tim has a strong desire to improve educational opportunities but his latest proposal (HB-6178) needs some scrutiny.

We have all heard the expression, “the road to hell is paved with good intentions”.  So let’s take a look at the path Mr. Ackert wants to walk, as he offers what is no doubt a proposal of good intention.

HB-6178 is An Act Establishing A Tax Credit For Donations To School Districts it is Tim’s proposal and his alone, with no co-sponsors.  Tim is asking to amend State Statutes to provide a tax credit to individuals and businesses that donate money, supplies or equipment to local or regional boards of education.  On the surface this sounds wonderful but below the surface the idea has trouble written all over it.

This is not a tax deduction proposal, it is a tax credit, and there is a major difference.  A deduction allows for the donation to be deducted from calculations to determine the amount of money from which taxes will be paid.  A tax credit on the other hand is a direct deduction from the amount of taxes due.  The impact could be enormous and devastating to some communities and equally devastating to state government.

This proposal opens a “can of worms” a “Pandora’s Box” when it directly diverts tax dollars to a specific line item without a vote of the community but rather by the actions of individuals.  It would allow for special interests to divert tax dollars to special causes.  If we applied the same thinking to other issues we could see diversion of funding for hunting, political races or environmental protection.

To illustrate the danger let me provide a scenario.  The Town of Coventry votes in May on a budget that is developed largely from Dec. to March.  If the budget were to pass in May it would be based on anticipated tax revenue to be collected starting in July.  If however, a tax credit were to be allowed where you could donate money directly to Boards of Education in lieu of taxes the amount collect could be substantially altered.

In many towns the largest employer is the Board of Education, like it or not those employees are a special interest group that could easily wait until the budget is passed then divert a huge percentage of tax dollars to their employer.  This action could severely harm the general government budget and in fact require layoffs and major cuts in services.

The problem gets exacerbated if other top taxpayers decided to also follow suit.  Major companies could as a public relations matter suddenly decide not to support government at all and divert all tax money to educations.

There is more to government than education, we still need, roads, bridges, fire and police departments not to mention other vital services.  While the example above points out the problem if a tax credit is allowed on local taxes the same holds true for state taxes.

This proposal is a case of good intentions with risky actions, potentially opening the door to financial disaster.  Opening a door to diversion of tax dollars by individuals and businesses, while well intentioned, is not good policy.  The allocation of tax dollars should continue to be a matter voted on by the taxpayers and or their representatives.

This series will continue with the next Opining Quill

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Filed under CONNECTICUT ISSUES, Coventry CT, COVENTRY EDUCATION, CT issues, POLITICS

School Cafeterias How Clean Are They?

coventry-highIn this age of instant communications and politicians claiming they want transparency, maybe it is time that school cafeteria health inspection reports are posted on the websites for local schools.  What would prompt such a proposal?

School administrators and elected officials are fond of telling us how they want to communicate and provide information to citizens and parents about our schools.  There is an inherent responsibility to disclose the good and the not so good information, so that all stakeholders have a complete picture.

When recently surfing the internet some interesting information was found concerning Coventry public schools, as well as other schools across the state.  Most schools are required to have 3 or 4 cafeteria health inspections per year and some communities such as Stamford post some information on line.

While the information found is from the year 2010, it makes you wonder just how we are doing today.  For some, the following information may be disturbing in content, for others it may be more disturbing that it was never discussed openly and they were kept in the dark.

First the good news, Coventry Grammar School cafeteria was nearly perfect with two scores of 100 and one inspection with a minor floor issue.  Congratulations to their staff for a job well done.  Now it is unfortunate that the other schools in town did not fair quit so well.

While there were some issues of mold related to ceiling and cooling fans at G. H. Robertson during the first two inspections by December the 5th all was corrected.  Not only did it receive a perfect score at that time but also a special notation of a “Very well organized and clean kitchen” was included.  So far things are pretty good, but there is more.

At Captain Nathan Hale School during the first inspection on January 12, the following violations were noted:  utensil drawer needs cleaning; inadequate sanitizer; dirty, rusted shelves with a score of 93.  During the second inspection on May 5 things got a little worse, the score dropped to 89 and more violations were found: floor under washer needs cleaning; some mold; some dented cans; sanitizer inadequate.  Then on November 15, the score was 91 and the following items were notated: washer rusted and paint peeling; mold in walk-in refrigerator; washer temperature being evaluated.  It is obvious that this was not a perfect situation but it offers guidance for corrections and is informative.

Now Coventry High School cafeteria is another story that may have you a bit more concerned and may prompt you to want health reports posted on-line in the future.  On January 12, the report indicates a score of 91 and violations of:  cutting boards marked up by knives; need replacing; storage room floor needs cleaning; bleach spray is not to be used on food contact, only for sanitizing.  On May 5th we find the cutting board issue has been ignored and the violations read as follows: dusty fan; broken sink valve; floor peeling; cutting boards are knife marked and should be replaced.  It is the next report on December 5 that is most disturbing, the site FAILED INSPECTION because of a 4 point violation “mice had chewed through three bags of gravy mix; two traps in dry storage room had dead mice in them; need to get a pest control company to evaluate mouse issue”.  Now do you suppose the mice ate through the bags that morning and jumped into the traps just before the inspectors got there, or do you think somebody let things slide?  What would the situation have been if the inspector had not been there on December 5?  Coventry High School required a 4th inspection two weeks later on December 19th when the score was 99 and the  “kitchen appeared to be much more organized and clean today”.

So there you have it, a bit of health inspection history for Coventry schools.  Does it make you think that maybe in this day and age of technology that such reports should be posted on line?  There is nothing to hide, after all the information is public record just not conveniently available.

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Filed under Coventry CT, COVENTRY EDUCATION

Coventry Schools Ranked After Test Results

Each year the State of Connecticut test students to measure the impact of our educational system.  Here are the results for 2012 for Coventry CT.

Out of 164 school districts Coventry ranks 79th placing Coventry in the top 50%, this ranking is based on an average test score of 76.6.  To achieve a ranking in the top 50 the average test score required was 80.1

So how did Coventry do at the various grade levels and where are the problems and where are the best performances?  Below is a copy of the test scores as reported by the State of Connecticut indicating the percentage of students performing at or above goal in each of the subjects and grades tested.

Grade              Math                Reading           Writing            Science

3rd                   78.2                 75.8                 73.5

4th                    82.6                 75.4                 73.2

5th                    81.4                 77.4                 56.7                 70.2

6th                    83.6                 87.6                 75.8

7th                    81.3                 88.3                 88.3

8th                    81.6                 92.8                 86.1              82.6

CAPT TEST SCORES

Grade              Math                Reading           Writing            Science

10                    47.0                 63.6                 81.6                 57.6

Some observations and questions based on the results:

While reading score were a bit low on the 3rd grade level the steady progress and end results is admirable.  One has to question if the ability is there why the results are so relatively low in the early years and is there a weakness in the foundation of reading learning that can be addressed earlier?

Writing scores seem to follow a lagging progression with the reading scores and one anomaly in the 5th grade results which needs some additional explanation.  The 5th grade writing score somewhat distorts the overall test score average to the low side and does not necessarily reflect on the true quality of education in Coventry.

The math scores while consistent show little progress in actual performance growth and the CAPT test score of 47.0 at grade 10 is troubling.  This is another area that should be further explained or addressed.

While test results are not the final say or measure of a student’s ability to learn, retain or perform they are one of the tools to measure our educational system and the information is important to evaluate.  There are questions that will come to mind as you look at the results and listening to your Board of Education address the issues.

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Filed under Coventry CT, COVENTRY EDUCATION

A Salute To Coventry High School Baseball

They are not the best team in the State but they are the hometown team and they do dedicate themselves to the game of baseball.  They play the game with enthusiasm working together doing their best.  So today rather than a written Opining Quill we have a pictorial from the East Granby vs Coventry High School baseball game of May 4, 2012.

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Coventry Budget: Are We A Caring Community?

Coventry is an exceptional small New England community; it is often mentioned at the Town Council meetings we have active and supportive citizen volunteers stepping forward to serve their community.  One such organization Coventry Helping Hand has recently been organized to assist our neighbors, not with a handout but with helping hands.  The organizers recognize that in this economy some of our neighbors are struggling.

The Council needs to be cognizant and more mindful of the impact even a small tax increase will have on our community at this time.  While some will call this proposed increase minimal and point out that to an owner of a median valued house it would be only $1.15 per month, to others that can be significant.  How many of us are aware of the number of families living on an economic edge in this town?  We have a community food bank that is currently serving about 115 to 120 clients per week.  That translates to 115 families that need assistance for even the basic need of food.

Yes, the increase is small but it is not compassionate.  I ask the Town Council follow the lead of Coventry Helping Hand and reach out to help your neighbors, reach for your pencils to erase the small increase in your budget.  It will not solve our neighbors’ problems but it will not add additional hardship.  If we can find money to pay extra for green energy we should be able to find a way to help our neighbors.

According to statistics provided by State agencies and published in the Hartford Business Journal out of 61 towns in the greater Hartford region Coventry was one of 16 towns that spent more money than the total taxes collected in 2010.  Only nine municipalities had debt service in excess of their total general fund balance.  Coventry was one of only five towns to appear in both categories.  According to the Connecticut Department of Labor of the five towns, Coventry has the lowest annual wages, at $33,692.  In today’s economy of rising prices that leaves little for discretionary spending and any tax increase can be a burden.

There is a large built in increase this year since the basis of comparison was a budget inflated over actual cost last year largely due to savings in the insurance line item.  Even a zero increase this year allows for additional spending since we over budgeted last year.  The combination of that savings and the increase in the grand list provides about $1,000,000 extra without raising taxe.

The Governor has talked about shared sacrifice and too often that has been equated to higher taxes with the sacrifice coming from the taxpayers.  It is time the shared sacrifice be looked at from another side, the side of government and spending increases.  At no time in the past 25 years has a tax increase been more inappropriate than this year.  At no time has the economic hardship on our neighbors been this difficult.

For the sake of our neighbors, I urge the Town Council to adjust the budget to show compassion for your neighbors living is less fortunate circumstances.

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