Friday, May 22, 2009

Sandwich school system debate

I blogged before the town elections about two school committee candidates who, in my view, have significant conflicts of interest. Since that blog post, there have been more than 40 comments, most debating the merits of the direction that our superintendent and school committee are taking the school system. Click here to see them.

Additionally, there are several thoughtful comments being posted below to this blog entry, so look in both places to see the entire discussion. It's turned into a very informed discussion of what's good and not so good about Sandwich Public Schools.

Copyright 2009 Randy Hunt


  1. Randy – Thank you for coordinating this blog spot. It’s obviously a popular local read and well trafficked. Your School Issues Debate web page(s) are interesting reading and shed some light on the perceived state of our schools.
    However, it should be noted that there are numerous postings that contain serious factual errors, misrepresentations and misstatements. All readers would be well advised and well served to do their own research and fact checking before forming any conclusion or opinions based solely on these page postings.
    Blog pages like these, our local press coverage (at times) and even public forum at our School Committee and Board of Selectmen meetings often puts me in mind of a still popular John Adams quotation. Adams said: “Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passion, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.”

  2. Thanks for the Segway into the factual letter sent out by Laura Carlisle/Sandwich Educational Union two days before the election. Note all the "WE's" interesting not a word was mentioned about the school children? Just how to keep their union more empowered than they already are. I also was shocked to read that Ms. Carlisle hope for concessions and understandings. Her leadership for 15 months showed no conceeding or understanding of how their over %3.00 percent increases would decimate the town's budget, the letter putting them on notice they would lose teachers every year didn't even make her hesitate for more than 3.5% increases.
    Here is the letter:

    To Our Sandwich Teacher Voters:
    Some of you have emailed, asking about school committee candidates. So, here's is my hope/request.
    VOTE FOR JESSICA LINEHAN-and bullet vote for her (meaning vote only for her, not her and two other candidates). And ask your friends and family members to vote for her.

    Here's my reasoning, based on my experience with the school committee.
    -WE need someone who understands the repercussions of their vote. Jessica is a school librarian, familiar with the way schools work, and with the impact of the governing body of those schools.
    -WE need someone who is willing to talk to us and who may be able to see there is value in the experience of the practitioners of this district. I've met Jessica only once, but I think we have hope here. There is no hope with any of the others.
    -WE need someone who has a dedicated interest in the continued success of these schools. Jessica has two young children enrolled at the Forestdale School.
    -WE need someone who will watch the dollars and pennnies with a genuine understanding of what is necessary and what can wait.
    -WE need someone whose political affiliation isn't apparent and who isn't arriving to serve a predetermined personal agenda.

    I don't expect always to agree with Jessica, but I do think she will be fair and balanced, and will be willing to listen. All good agreements represent concessions and understandings between the parties. We've approached every interaction with the school committee with a spirit of doing what's reasonable and fair for everyone, and have met with rudeness and dismissive comments. I don't promise immediate change in the way the school committee deals with us. I just hope for one more voice for understanding and respect in the difficult day are to come for us all.

    I can assure the townspeople Ms. Carlisle was not about compromise and understanding for 15 months while she used Rule to work orders and incited the school children by discussing the contract negotiations in the classrooms. She pulled every nasty trick out of her UNION tool bag to get a lucrative unreasonable contract for the teachers and showed no comprehension of how budgets compound.
    Are the taxpayers aware the average teachers salary if pro rated for a full year of work works out to over $100,000. including all the vacation and benefits. Ms. Carlisle showed no understanding of how her demands for more than 3% would impact the taxpayers and her fellow teachers losing their jobs.

  3. I appreciate what Mr. Guerin said in a previous post.

    "It’s always interesting to see what happens to a community when budgets grow tight and difficult choices need to be made.
    These recent posts certainly reflect the fact that we currently face some serious financial challenges. It is always about money and there is never enough to go around."

    He is right on the money. (Excuse the pun.) It's at times like these that a community must reveal its highest priorities. It would appear that there are two separate camps with opposing viewpoints.

    Camp #1—I love the schools, but it just costing too much to currently run them. Hopefully, we can cut the cost just by running a more efficient operation, but if we can’t we will need to cut programs and staff in order to keep the tax bill down. If that means we don’t offer quite as good an education then I am disappointed, but it has to be done.

    Camp #2—I moved to this town specifically for the schools. I know that some people are hurting, but we need to have the best possible education for this town’s kids. If this means people might feel a pinch in their pocket, its unfortunate but it has to be done.

  4. (Continued)These are both legitimate views, and they reflect value judgments. Even looking at the same facts, two reasonable people may disagree. This is why I cringe at the direction some of this dialogue goes. For this community to function properly we need to be able to have a civil public dialogue. Right now, I worry that the demonizing of the opposing side ruins what is an important conversation for the community.

    Some comments from either side that have made me shake my head:

    Start concentrating on what is right for the children and the community as a whole. (Anti-super/committee)

    Why not write a letter to your local newspaper, rather than post anonymously to a blog? Oh, that's right; you'd have to give your name. (Anti-Union)

    Again I with Mr. Guerin when he says:

    The fundamental problem with our school budget is teacher compensation. It’s too high and to pay for it the school board must either add fees or cut services. 

That sad reality isn’t going to make anybody happy. And, fixing the problem will take leadership, courage and straight talk.

    This is the argument, and I believe it is an honest one. I make a different value judgment. I disagree, or at least want, the conversation to add the one key piece. “We can’t afford to pay what we are paying now for education, so we need to cut back on what we spend. This will have a negative effect on the overall outcomes, but in the end it is necessary.”

  5. Unfortunately, this is what we are getting:

    Lets get over thinking about how we can screw the families over and over. (Anti-Committee)

    Stay tuned, the article will be very enlightening as to who was really trying to appoint a puppet superintendant. (Anti-who knows)

    I can assure every negative anonymous poster that the desicion to make Dr.Young the new Superintendant was a positive step in correcting a long time abuse in the teaching of children within the Sandwich School District. (Anti-teachers?)

    She pulled every nasty trick out of her UNION tool bag to get a lucrative unreasonable contract for the teachers and showed no comprehension of how budgets compound. (Anti-Unions)

    When we all throw around these innuendo laced tirades, its lowers the quality of the dialogue. Just make your reasoned argument and resist the temptation of going the extra step of making a personal dig. It’s unfair to the people on all sides of this who approach it in good faith.


  6. The two numbered choices presented in the last post artificially limit the scope of the schools debate. Why not option 3?
    Option 3 could be: We love our schools and know that we can do better with the resources we have available to us today. BEFORE we ask taxpayers to “do more” for our schools through an override we are going to make sure that every dollar is accounted for and spent wisely.
    What does option 3 look like in practice?
    Something like what I helped drive forward while on the School Committee:
    We are not going to let school department utility budget money be spent to run the Community School pool. Instead, we made the pool pay its own utility costs and invested the savings in classroom education. We tried to not allow teacher salaries to increase 6% a year (on average) while tax revenues grow at just 3%. That’s just lunacy and overrides can’t “fix” that problem. We invested in new technology and software and we did it with a lease/purchase to maximize returns and help keep the technology current. We invested in teacher training, books, and building maintenance. We choose not to pay unlicensed teacher “aids” and part time help to deliver vital curriculum and services. We cut those positions and added certified teachers where needed. We implemented written teacher performance evaluations and are trying to hold teachers accountable for student performance (new to the last teacher’s contract). We refused to let student/teacher ratios drop to 7-1 or 12-1 as they did at the High School and “pretend” that those numbers are affordable or justifiable. Where NECESSARY, we tried to add or increase user fees to help offset the costs of non core services.
    Taxpayers and parents deserve real value and real results for their dollars. Everyone should know, for sure, that the money the schools get is well spent and produces real, measurable results. Only then, should anyone be willing to ask taxpayers to “dig deeper.”
    Despite recent election results, I still believe that most parents and taxpayers feel just as I do that my Option 3 is really our best and only option.

  7. I think you’re right that my “camps” do somewhat artificially limit the options that are out there. My point was more to say that the dividing line between people seems to fall in the small area between those two general themes. In fact, I think that we could come up with many options beyond #3 as well. However, I don’t want to dance around your point. Option 3 of “everything is spent efficiently and we get more for our money as a result” I think is what everyone would hope for. I know that most teachers would agree with idea. Yet the difficulty is how do we properly identify inefficiency. Some of it obvious and these are the easy calls. Then we get into the decisions that aren’t so clear cut. Many programs have values that are difficult to measure. It is when these programs are discussed that I have concerns. For most of these decisions, the committee doesn’t have direct access to data themselves; they rely on the superintendent to provide required data points. This leaves open the possibility of a large amount of spin in what is presented to the board. For example, how many times have SACAT watchers now seen a presentation on the Literacy Initiative? How much of this is to inform and how much is to sell? I guess the reality is a bit of both.

  8. However more than spin, I worry about a lack of nuisanced knowledge of existing district practices by the superintendent. This lack of consideration of institutional memory leaves us open to making mistakes that could be avoided. Often that lack of institutional memory is coupled with a quick trigger on decisions. Decisions like school of choice, full day pay kindergarten, and adding girls’ hockey (not yet) are some examples. This compounded by the mass exodus (during a tough job market) happening from the central office.
    This is one place where I question the school committee. When you have a virtually unknown quantity in the curriculum director and you have established that she will be the interim for a year, why jump the gun and pay more? I feel like that type of shoot-from-the-hip decision making process started a trend this year of snap decisions. Again three years down the road, the committee might end up having made the right call—but it seems like a big gamble, and I would be less than honest if I didn’t say I have significant doubts.

  9. One more point, here is what the gamble boils down to: class size.

    If the town is able to provide no more resources and the super wants to spend much more money on Professional Development than we have in the past—and pull teachers out of classrooms to conduct the PD, then we are banking on two premises that we have heard a lot of this year.

    #1 Research says that class size doesn’t matter 5-12. The research says that class sizes really matters K-4. Other than during that period, teachers just need to teach properly and they will be the same results in classes of 30 as in classes of 15.

    I have serious concerns about this one. My reading of current research says that this claim is murky at best. I read a lot of research that says exactly the opposite. This premise is driving a lot of policy right now. I think that quality of personalization of education is going to be reduced as class sizes begin to grow 5-12. I think it will be important soon to acknowledge that classes moving from 18 to 28 will likely have negative impacts. Then a more serious consideration of the adjustment of both human and fiscal resources can be more effectively analyzed.

  10. #2 "If you went to a lawyer's or doctor's office and they said they didn't get any training for 10 years, you'd get up and walk out because you'd be nervous.”

    Now this assumes that the practice has enough staff on hand to have a personal sit down with you. If I have a hard time seeing a doctor individually, because the practices spends their funds on continuous training—what good does the highly trained doctor I can’t see do for me. Once again I think there is a fine line. It is not an either/or argument. There are trade offs for each and those trade offs should be seriously considered.

  11. Randy -
    This will be my last public comment on School matters as I have been “retired” by the recent election and find myself increasingly enjoying life on the sidelines.

    However, the last posts does deserve a reply. The last post simply ignores the reality of our town’s current fiscal situation. The town and school budget are in projected deficit by millions for every year going forward. Even if someone were to choose to ELIMINATE the entire sports budget, health budget, Superintendent’s Office budget and all professional development, the budget for next year still wont balance, assuming no new taxes, no new state aid and no new fees. The following year the deficit will be even worse. Don’t believe me? Go to the town’s web pages and review the budgets and budget projections posted there - assume the schools need to shoulder roughly 60 - 65% of the projected town deficits and “do the math” yourself.

    Our town simply cant afford ANY of its current labor contracts. If that is not fixed we’re sunk no matter what else you do.

    Conversations (and fights) about class size, new fees, adding sports programs or anything else for that matter, that continue to ignore the fiscal sunami we are expecting is wasted energy and time; and is as silly as Titanic passengers fighting over their anticipated arrival time in NY after the iceberg was struck.
    Best regards,
    Bob Guerin

  12. I guess that as the representative of the silly people in the deck chairs I just wanted to say that I can see the iceberg, and it’s huge. The ship is in big trouble, and I just think it would be fair for the crew to admit the obvious. When the tsunami hits, the quality of the education that Sandwich students receive will be at least somewhat diminished. When the financial crisis passes it will be time to rebuild…and yes, the town may need to decide that it needs to hire cheaper professionals to educate their children and that too will come at a price. If that’s the reality let’s just have it on the table. It’s a big decision for a town with such pride in their school system, and it should be made consciously.

    Live from the Titanic,

  13. Good evening and after reading the above post it becomes apparent that the teachers will not undertake any compromise upon which the great Sandwich ship of state will be allowed to sink with all onboard.
    The ship of state has taken a serious hit that forever damages the overall stability upon which it can not float upright any longer.

    The present benifit package will with out a doubt forever change how the school district values education into the future.

    If the teaches union continues to provide the common front, that they will not compromise in any manner, then you will have a condition of where the patches to the ship are torn apart and the ship sinks deep into the unforseen darkness forever. It does not need to come to this drastic position, so lets all works toward making a concesion for our children, after all is said and done we are all in the same boat together.

    CA Johansen

  14. Last night at 10:18 I received an anonymous post that included hearsay about a meeting of teachers and cast a number of aspersions on several individuals' integrity. I will not post such comments, especially when they involve people not in the public eye.

  15. I noticed that the former School Committee member, voted out this passed election, commented on how we can not keep on under the weight of the current school employee contracts. Dah! Maybe that is one reason he did not get the votes to win!!

    The School Committee should closely watch what the Superintendent is doing. Example, she did save money by taking on several jobs, but guess what, so have other superintendants. No big deal.
    Who is doing the job of the specialized department of Special Needs? Who will she hire?
    Let me guess, she will use diversity and vote for the old girl network closing the gap for men. Wathc, again it will be a woman. I guess we women are always better. Thanks Mary Ellen. When will you quit, after your next contract, work one year at a high pay and retire?

    Watch what's goin' on School Committee. If you think Linehan can do it alone, your wrong. Be nice to her and you veterans will learn, if you don't, you will be gone next spring.

  16. I wonder if the editors of the newspapers read this blog. If they do, then maybe they will right in depth articles of what is being said by both the pro school and anti school people.

    Remember, education is our most important product. Without it, we die.

    E Pluribus unum

  17. Did you read the Sandwich Democrat Enterprise today. It is amazing that Dr. Johnson blamed the former Superintedent for the shortfall in the budget that she "fixed". I believe that Dr. Young blamed Mr. Cannone for a bad budget. Well, if everything is transparent, then why did the school committee not see what was happening? Tell me, what is going on?

    Questions for the School Committee.

    How many teachers do we have in our system?
    How many of them teach?
    If not teaching, what do they do? Is it worth it?
    How many non-instruction positions do we have, excluding teachers? Are we running a school or a socail network? Why don't we vett the positions that are improtant? Can the PUBLIC ask them some questions? Is it true that teachers get to go in late once a week? If so, what is next a day off once a week? What is a television doing in the janitors office I thought they worked?

    If I do not get answers on this blog I will take it out on the incumbants who run next spring. I carry an additional 13 Votes.

  18. The answer to the question in the last post about how many teachers we have. I would guess that it is more than would fit in the High School Cafeteria.

  19. Does anyone read this blog????

  20. i don't know who reads this blog, but i do have my 2 cents to contribute.

    How about the Fire Dept calling out the Superintendent. i think that she was 10000% right and that the hatred of the people that are on the townside shows clearly.

  21. To the September 24, 2009 Annonymous poster above, obviously you read this Blog, but don't want anyone to know who you are. I also recognize the tone. When you don't like opposition to your position, or your beliefs, you resort to terms like "hate' by your opponents. By the way, who are the "townside" folks to which you refer? What an under educated comment. Frank Pannorfi

  22. Did you catch the question asked by Mrs. Linehan to Mrs. Johnson that asked whether a person had resigned. The answer she got was that "we do not talk about personal matters at school board meetings.

    I hope when she resigns, hopefully soon, that she is gone and that they can not talk about it. We can all guess if she was fired or resigned.

  23. Another post here. The person who wrote about Ms. Johnson being 10000 percent right is about 100000 percent wrong.

    If anyone knows JJ, the they know he is one honest and decent man. If anyone knows Ms. Johnson, they know she cleans house and wants all the power.

    Might she have called Bud Dunham or the Fire Chief before she took matters on her own.

  24. To the person who wrote about the hatred on the "townside". How hateful you are. In Sandwich, there are no sides. All the people who pay or don't pay taxes, but live in this town are provided services by the non-school and school government. Those who always address things as being on a side are the hateful people.

    The fact is that the schools represent 80% of all the money that flows through Sandwich. They should be made accountable but are not.

    A writer above mentioned Mrs. Linehan's question on whether or not someone was fired. Excuse me!!!, but do not the people of Sandwich, or, at least the School Board supposed to know what is going on?

    Fact is that the school board in this town, for the most part, do not want anyone to disagree with them ever. They support Mrs. Johnson at whatever she does and that is because she receives direction from the committee on the sly.

    God bless us all. Yes, Mrs. Johnson, I did write God. I know that goes against your feminanzi grain, but so be it.

    Margaret Gyllanhal Repose

  25. The last post on the blog was back in March. I suggest you all read it again. The fact is that there are sides in this town. Someone said that those who use words like school side or townside are hateful. If that is the case we have thousands of hateful people in this town because it is used daily.

    Go out and vote as you feel. Do go to town meeting. Speak there. Write letters to the editor and work for what you believe. If you have answers, run for office, don't hide behind your written name on a blog as if your name mattered to anyone. It doesn't, what does matter is what you do for your country, family, neighbors.

    Bianca Negra


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