Sunday, March 1, 2015

Now Come The Campaigns To Raise Property Taxes for Common Core

How can a school board president not possibly have a clue as to the cost that her regime has imposed on borough and district budgets? This is irresponsible in good times--and even worse in times of austerity.

This crisis is much bigger than any of you realize. It has two components: a fiscal crisis and a constitutional crisis. First is the fiscal crisis that was created by Common Core that is coming to light at the state level, but the bigger crisis has been at the local level for quite some time.  Our state has been dipping into the Constitutional Reserve longer than most realize.  To meet the requirements of ESEA local districts have also been dipping into their reserves-- and for many those resources are nearly depleted. This spending has largely been disguised, but won't be for much longer.

We must change those who are in leadership. However, we must also fix the structure of education administration and restore it to the way in which the Alaska Constitution had it designed.  However, it should be noted that our fiscal crisis in education is direct result of the constitutional crisis that most do not realize is upon us. It is this second one that has allowed Common Core into this state and will continue to allow all manner of horse hockey without voter approval. That will be the subject of a subsequent blog post.

First, the fiscal issues. Many Alaskans may not realize that the Alaska Department of Education and its rapid growth in employment and contracts is funded by federal funds--state funds are a lesser majority of dollars. This means that federal concerns are the majority of their day.

Commissioner Mike Hanley has repeatedly stated that there is no funding associated with the ESEA Flexibility waiver. However, there are a few inescapable facts.

1) Elizabeth Nudleman, Director of School Finance  testified before the House Education Committee on February 25th, 2015 that 97% of all money that goes to the districts is in the form of Federal Impact Aid. This has NOTHING to do with the ESEA Flex waiver.  This is strictly a function of federal lands and employees in the state of Alaska.

2) Several positions at the Alaska Department of Education and Early Development are federally funded positions that are tied to giving the adaptive common core test called the AMP. Deputy Commissioner Les Morse testified in House Finance that several staff positions were predicated on the ESEA test. (start at the 1:59 mark here).

3) Title funds pay for administrative overhead. Over 53% of staff at the Alaska Department of Education per the testimony of Dr. Susan Macaulay of the Teach and Learn Division, as shown in the video below and the pages from her testimony included below.

This waiver has done nothing more but kept a bloated education establishment afloat and imposed unfunded mandates on the district.  A large number of positions at the Alaska's Education Department of Education are paid by the Federal Government.

 This is the document that DEED presented in Senate House Education Testimony on February 10, 2015.

So, since these positions are not costing the state money, this might be good, right?  Well, not really, because what it really means is that they are beholden to the federal mandates that justify their position. It means that over half of the work of the Alaska Department of Education and Early Development (DEED) is federal compliance work.


They impose mandates--and those mandates have gone unfunded. The funding goes to pay DEED, and not fund the mandates.  It means that the implementation of Common Core and the Elementary and Secondary Education Act is largely at the district level.

That explains why the reserves at the district level, those back up funds to cover unintended circumstances.... they are quite depleted across the local districts and boroughs.

So let's take a look at how the ESEA waiver is affecting borough budgets.

Anchorage School District adopted the Common Core outright before the Alaska State Common Core standards were adopted. They have been in and out of a budget crisis for a while. They had projecting a $20 million budget shortfall earlier this year, but they magically emerged with a surplus. They have already raised property taxes and now they have accumulated a bit of a rainy day fund. However, that will quickly being spent down. ASD has also resisted releasing figures on how much they have spent implementing Common Core. The Common Core implementation is wrapped around their Social and Emotional Learning curriculum, so it seems they are unable to come up with a figure. However, if their per capita student expenditures on ESEA are on par with other districts, then a lower end figure of $35 million might be a good estimate.

The Fairbanks North Star School District  has an $11 million shortfall, and discussions are underway to raise property taxes. The rainy day fund is gone. Rumors about about cuts to Response To Intervention (RTI) programs, which are suppose to part of ESEA and IDEA federal legislation.  In 2014, the district estimated it would need $15 million to complete implementation of the standards. This did not include digital assets (computers, broadband, etc). The district will not release figures from 2012-2013 on the standards, but this would have been the purchase of Envision math common core texts and teacher inservice training. There is a very large homeschool community in Fairbanks, and they have faced significant enrollment declines due to the common core and other issues.

Mat-Su School District  The deficit projection for this borough begins at $6.4 million for the 2016 fiscal year, and grows to $10.6 million by 2019. Let's not forget last year's headline with a $7 Million short fall for Mat-Su. The enrollment in the Mat-Su district is close to the enrollment of Fairbanks, but they can piggy back off of the Anchorage in-service circuit to save costs. Mat-Su also had optic lines in place, funded by earlier grants from the Department of Commerce, so some of their digital costs have been offset. Nevertheless, Mat-Su has been hit hard from a budgetary standpoint too.

Delta Junction also faced a deficit. They closed Delta Greely Middle School and may take additional measures.

Sitka faces $600,000 in budget cuts. While this seems paltry compared to the other districts, Sitka is at least honest about what it has spent thus far on the standards--$1.8 Million. Their reserves have been depleted. Listen to how Lon Garrison gives a fairly honest account of what is going down in Sitka. They have been taking money out of their reserves to pay for mandates.


Notice what Lon Garrison says--$1.6 million in additional cost, and he placed it squarely on the ESEA waiver which required the Alaska Common Core Standards, the AMP, and the teacher accountability system based on those scores. Notice what else he says... that no money came with the mandates. They are taking the money out of their reserves to do that... that figure comes out to $1,400 per student.

Then there is Kodiak Island School District. They came to the Fly-In to request a reduction in regulations regarding day care inspections. However, I am certain that Kodiak would not find that requirement excessively onerous if they had not spent over $1.8 million to comply with the ESEA Flexibility waiver and spent off their reserves. With 2,500 students, Kodiak has spent roughly $720 per student to comply with that waiver. While enrollment fell by 3%, they have had to reduce staff at Kodiak Island by 20%.


But let's note something here about perspective. Katie Oliver was there to lobby to eliminate the secondary inspections for pre-schools housed in local schools--not to eliminate the unfunded mandates. Perhaps it escaped her notice that Kodiak might be overly burdened by that regulation if they had not just spent $1.8 million to meet the requirements of ESEA.

One thing I noticed is that legislators began to listen very closely when districts began to talk about their unfunded mandates, particularly ones that they could do something about. If I was one of those Fly-In people, I would make certain that I had those cost figures for the next Fly-In. I would be looking to impress upon the legislature how much property taxes might have to rise to meet unfunded mandates. See, for legislators, THAT is something they CAN do something about. They can get those things off the plate.

If the required local contribution is upheld, there will be some really ugly elections. If Common Core and its accompanying requirements don't get repealed, property taxes will rise. If the Required Local Contribution is struck down, as I expect, then the state budget crisis will force its repeal. Either way... The ball is in the courts and the legislature, and the standards,  structure and the governance must change.

Addendum: In a presentation by Bering Straight School District in 2013, requirements by DEED are listed above fuel costs as a cost driver in delivering education (second to the last slide).

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