Kettering School’s “Blue Ribbon Report” is a regular publication of Kettering Schools, paid for with local tax money. About half of this Spring’s issue is dedicated to giving a one-sided view of why voters should approve the 6.9 mill school tax proposal that is on the May 4 ballot.

The Report fails to explain that:

  • Because of a decrease in total property value in Kettering, the effective rate of property taxes needed to support Kettering Schools is increasing — from last year to this year by 2.34% — even if no new school tax levies are approved.
  • 86% of the budget for Kettering Schools goes to personnel and the need for 6.9 additional mills of tax is based on a five year budget projection (below) that shows, in the last three years of the five year projection, increases of 4.82%, each year, for personnel.
  • Teachers in Kettering now earn, on average, $63,839 each year, with generous health and retirement benefits, and recent administrator contracts averaged $103,000, each year.

I am proud to live in a school district, that, through long tradition, pays its teachers and administrators well. I feel, however, a strong school district in a democracy must have transparency. I just think the school board, via its tax supported school publications, should be up front with the public.

I’m all in favor of paying teachers well. After all, I was a teacher for 30 years. It would make a good discussion, I think, to consider the question: “Why, in Kettering Schools, are there no teachers who earn $200,000, or more?” We live in an era when top professionals often earn much more than $200,000 each year. Wouldn’t it be desirable to create a system of public education where at least some teachers could earn top professional level salaries?  For my book, “Kettering Public Education In The Year 2022: How Do We Get To A Great Future?”, I’m analyzing what a system might look like that would attract and develop top talent to its fullest potential.

There are a lot of good questions about system reform that are never asked, because it is assumed that the current system will go on forever and forever. The idea that the present system could work to find and reward top talent in some new way is exhausting to consider. The basic premise of the 6.9 mill tax proposal, reported in the Blue Ribbon Report, is that the system will continue as it is — bureaucratic, hierarchical — embedded in tradition, encoded in master contracts that seek to assure teacher equality.

According to W. Edwards Deming, who, Warned Against “Remodeling The Prison,” in every organization, overall system structure is the key to quality. What is needed, I feel, is a system that redefines teacher professionalism and teacher opportunity. But efforts to accomplish such change via bureaucratic processes is likely to fail. We need to consider redesigning public education from a market point of view.  The point is to create a system that empowers teachers to find new creativity, excellence, and energy — to build a new standard of what it means to be a professional teacher.  Such a system, would likely be more free market, more entrepreneurial — less bureaucratic, hierarchical.

As I walked neighborhoods, this past autumn, in my school board election effort, I heard a lot of good reports about Kettering Schools from parents and students. Many expressed to me their appreciation for a great education from caring teachers. Kettering Schools, I feel, deserves voter support. But, in my judgment, Kettering public education is not good enough. I believe, even in districts deemed “excellent,” with lots of good reports, public education needs transformation.

Superintendent, Dr. Jim Schoenlein, on page 1 in the Report, writes about, “preparing our kids to thrive in the new economy, developing into creative, innovative, high-level thinkers,” and I agree this is a great goal. The problem is, the present system does not have the capacity to accomplish this goal. The current system is not structured to accomplish top quality and the cost of maintaining the current system is increasing in a manner that cannot be sustained.

Dr. Schoenlein, in my view, finds himself the captain of a huge ship that is headed in the wrong direction. And, this 6.9 mill levy campaign seems all about finding the fuel needed to keep the ship headed in the same direction, not about using new energy to change direction.

The purpose of Kettering school district, at present, is the same as every other school district — to be deemed “excellent,” according to a governmental bureaucratic definition of excellence. The problem is, “schools of distinction” are failing to produce the creative, high-level thinkers Dr. Schoenlein writes about, and tinkering with the present system cannot possibly work to do much better.

“Excellent” schools, deemed so by the state of Ohio, are failing to produce the thoughtful and engaged citizens our democracy needs, and further gearing up the tests scores is not the answer. Everyone needs to remember that the original purpose of the state testing system was to define minimum standards and even today, the state testing system is still focused on minimum standards.  These tests make no pretense to be indicators of high level thinking or creativity.

During the board election campaign last fall, the League of Women Voters asked each candidate to answer this question: “What Are The Biggest Challenges Facing The Kettering School System?” I wrote, in part, “Public education needs transformation. To achieve 21st century quality, we must stop simply replicating the present system. Authentic change is rare, because it is not easy. It requires leadership and strong community support.”

I keep quoting David Matthews, who writes in his book, “Reclaiming Public Education by Reclaiming Our Democracy,” that, “We must have the public we need before we can have the schools we want.” To improve education, Matthews argues, there must be a more engaged, more informed, more active public. In short, to improve education we must improve our democracy.

I’m happy to live in Kettering, because it is a great community. It is exactly the type of community that should be able to make a big breakthrough in showing the way to how to transform public education. It’s a community where democracy, at least, is awake and where democracy, I believe, can be vitalized.

Kettering is a community that should be a leader in public education. For Kettering to be a leader in public education we need an informed and engaged community. Tax money spent on preparing general school publications, like the Blue Ribbon Report, should have as its mission to inform, not to persuade.

The needed transformation of public education will not come from within the current system.  The current system is all about replicating itself.  Transformation of public education must come from the proper functioning of a strong democratic community. This proposal to the Kettering public — that we should voluntarily raise school property tax by 6.9 mills — offers a good opportunity for discussion about developing a long term plan for system transformation. In the short term, it is hard for a big system to change direction. But Kettering Schools, I believe, could and should develop a long term plan with two purpose:

  • to decrease cost, and,
  • to make a big leap in quality and purpose.

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