Disturbing School District Priorities

There are times when I will defend our local school district. Aaron is a product of that district, and had a (mostly) positive experience with it, and so I often make an effort to remember that when others bad mouth our district as being poor and not living up to the standards of surrounding districts.

After all, this was the district that helped us diagnose why Cordy wasn’t like other kids her age. The special education office worked so quickly to get her enrolled in preschool and provided services to help her adjust to the world she was so apart from. Her first preschool teacher is a woman I will forever speak fondly of, a woman I’d gladly consider to be a part of our family, and when Mira qualified for special needs preschool, I immediately asked for her to be placed with this teacher for the upcoming school year.

The principal at Cordy’s current school also worked with us to make sure that Cordy wouldn’t have to go to her “home” school for kindergarten – a school we know nothing about – when she wasn’t selected for any school in the lottery, including her current school. A quick e-mail to the principal pleading our case, and a seat opened up for her. After all, the principal has been just as charmed by Cordy as everyone else who spends time with her.

But the district isn’t perfect. I truly wanted Cordy to be mainstreamed this year – placed in a classroom of her “typical” peers where she would inevitably struggle with social rules and routines, but would hopefully be surrounded by a supportive team who would help her learn and grow and rise to the challenge like she always does. However, it wasn’t the recommended choice and Cordy will instead spend kindergarten in a special needs classroom with some “inclusion” time allowed in the mainstream kindergarten class each week.

I struggled to be convinced of why this was the best option for her. Her team gave us such glowing reports at the end of this school year: she no longer qualifies for speech therapy. She’s academically at a kindergarten level already and they recommend testing her for the gifted program next year. She’s still uncoordinated and does need assistance with some fine motor tasks, but she’s improving. Why should this child be in special needs?

She has trouble adjusting to a change in routine, they explain. The normal pace in a kindergarten class may be too fast for her. (A kindergarten class has a fast pace? Remember when we spent kindergarten learning to cut with scissors and had nap time?) She’s sensitive to some sensory stimuli. She would require too much attention from the teacher, and there are too many kids in the class for the teacher to spend a lot of time with her. Yes, if she had an aide she would probably do well, but that just isn’t possible.

It doesn’t make sense to me. What I hear is: our schools are overcrowded and our teachers are spread too thin already. And I also hear, loud and clear: your daughter would do well in a mainstream classroom, but we won’t pay for an aide for her to make this possible.

I’ve tried so hard to rationalize this information. I know Columbus City Schools is cutting corners just like every district to save money. They closed several schools this year, shifting the students to other schools to save money. And at the end of the school year, 133 teachers in the district were laid off. With this poor economy, other staff received no raises, but at least they were able to keep their jobs. A levy was passed in recent years, but apparently it’s not enough to help the school district.

I try to remember that Cordy isn’t the only child in the district, and that the cost of an aide for a child like her might be too much for the district to handle.

And then.

Then I read the news about the school board voting last week to give the superintendent of our school district a raise – a raise far larger than any teacher or staff member in the district is receiving. For the next four years, she’ll receive annual 3% raises along with a retroactive 4% raise that she deferred last year. Her total salary at the end of the four years will be $217,000, making her the third highest paid superintendent in Ohio.

This is not a reward for a stellar performance. The test scores for our district are abominable. (And the average high school student in our district probably couldn’t tell you what abominable means, other than something to do with a snowman, or spell it.) The superintendent is getting a raise for a graduation rate that has made an “improvement” to 73.9%.

I don’t see the reason in it. Schools are closed, teachers are laid off, they threaten to scrap bus transportation for some students, and yet the person who has the least to do with educating children gets the largest pay increase?

On a more personal note, the district can’t provide my daughter an aide in the classroom to give her the legal right to a “least restrictive environment”, but they can make sure their superintendent is the third highest paid school administrator in the state?

I really feel the district has a screwed up sense of priorities. I have no doubt in my mind that the teachers are doing the best they can with the resources given to them, but the school board and administrators aren’t properly appropriating those resources. The teachers need more help. They need fewer students in a class, and aides to help out students who are academically ready for their grade, but might need some assistance with adaptive skills and transitions.

If Aaron wasn’t laid off in May, we probably would have enrolled Cordy in a private Montessori school. After all, she’s doing extremely

But, like the teachers in the school district, we also can’t provide the best for Cordy because of money. It sucks.

The plan at this point is to be the best advocates we can for Cordy this year, watching her progress at school closely and pushing for more integration and moving away from the special needs classroom if possible. Assuming we’re both employed next year, Cordy will then go to the Montessori school for first grade. Seeing the superintendent get a large raise when teachers are laid off, classrooms are stuffed full of more students, and when my daughter can’t get the most appropriate education because it’s not in the budget has completely turned me off from this school district.

I want to support public schools. But I can’t support a school district that I feel doesn’t use its money properly. I will vote against the school board members who voted for the superintendent’s raise, I will not support this superintendent, and should the district cry “poor!” and put another levy on the ballot in the next few years, I will not forget the actions of the district this year when I cast my vote. And I will find another district, or save all we can for a private school, for my children where I feel they will get the best education possible.

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Comments

  1. Oh my gosh, I was just reading about how our district hired a new superintendent who’s the highest paid in the whole state. Meanwhile class sizes are enormous, programs are being cut, and teachers are leaving.

    I can only imagine how much more frustrating it is for you, having a child who could use an aide, in a district that prefers to direct funds toward a superintendent’s salary.

  2. I totally agree with you about the superintendent situation (we live in Pataskala, SW Licking Schools, but I pay attention to Columbus). I think her pay raise is bull! I hope that next year you’re able to send your daughter to a private school. I know that if we stay in this area until we have kids, they won’t go to SW Licking, its a horrible district. I’ll probably do my best to send them to St. Pius or St. Pauls.

  3. Wisconsin Mommy says:

    Situations like this make my head hurt! The Sup. is making HOW MUCH? And the aide that they “can’t afford” would be paid, what, maybe ten percent of that?

    This frustrates me beyond words, even in my own district where I am considered by many teachers to be part of “the administration” (even though I’m not). When I see the ridiculous number of positions created in administration while those in the trenches doing great work get laid off it makes me want to scream.

    We need some serious education reform in this country and (my personal belief) it needs to start by getting the unions out of the schools. Here in Milwaukee, hundreds of teachers lost their jobs because the union wouldn’t budget on the retirement benefits and cadillac health plans for the retired teachers and their spouses. They never even let the teachers affected vote on it!

    I need to shut up now before I create a whole post in your comments.

    This stinks – big time. But I know that you will find a way to make it work for Cordy – because that’s what makes you an amazing mom to her. ((hugs))

  4. This just stinks. For Cordy, for Mira, for you guys and for all the other children out there that are getting the shaft because of people not realizing where they money should go.

    I am so sorry about this and I truly hope that you all are able to send Cordy to private school..((hugs))

  5. I agree that the pay raise is ridiculous and sends a very bad message to teachers and residents….

    But..as to the other. I’m a librarian in K-5 school, mostly Title 1 school and kindergarten is not what it once was. The pace is VERY FAST and it’s all academics and very little play. IT’s “oops” gotta hurry we’re late for lunch”, “Put away your crayons NOW, we have to go to PE”. “Gotta leave the library NOW, the next class is coming in the door”. The transitions during the day are many and abrupt and there isn’t time built in for a child who needs time to go from activity A to activity B.

    We have child in first grade who reminds me of your daughter – he can’t handle transitions and his library visit almost always ends with a meltdown.
    Unlike you, his parents can’t or won’t accept his AU so he’s become a legend in his own time – and not in a good way. He is smart, smart, smart and very sweet but he needs strict routine and when he doesn’t get it all H— breaks loose.

    Best of luck with the upcoming year. Cordy is lucky to have you for a mother.

  6. I agree that the pay raise is ridiculous and sends a very bad message to teachers and residents….

    But..as to the other. I’m a librarian in K-5 school, mostly Title 1 school and kindergarten is not what it once was. The pace is VERY FAST and it’s all academics and very little play. IT’s “oops” gotta hurry we’re late for lunch”, “Put away your crayons NOW, we have to go to PE”. “Gotta leave the library NOW, the next class is coming in the door”. The transitions during the day are many and abrupt and there isn’t time built in for a child who needs time to go from activity A to activity B.

    We have child in first grade who reminds me of your daughter – he can’t handle transitions and his library visit almost always ends with a meltdown.
    Unlike you, his parents can’t or won’t accept his AU so he’s become a legend in his own time – and not in a good way. He is smart, smart, smart and very sweet but he needs strict routine and when he doesn’t get it all H— breaks loose.

    Best of luck with the upcoming year. Cordy is lucky to have you for a mother.

  7. mrsfortune says:

    I’m not defending what they are doing, but school district budgets are very complicated because of federal and state regulations. Money is earmarked for certain things and can only be used for those things as required by law.

    But, remember that an IEP is a LEGAL document. You do have recourse if you can prove that in order for her to be in the LRE she should have an aide in the classroom, (and it certainly sounds like it) the school would be required by law to provide that for her. Don’t give up!!!! Consult an attorney.

    Having worked in all different schools – private, public, charter – I can say without a doubt that public schools are the BEST place for students with special needs, by far.

  8. I agree with mrsfortune. They tried to pull the same stuff with my cousin here in Texas. Now this has been a decade and a half ago and this was a small school district. Probably not more than 2000 kids at the time from K-12 and we pushed and pushed through the Supers office to the state and amde them pay for the aid for him in class.

    Julie also has a point. The supers don’t rate the pay they are getting. They don’t do enough work to qualify for it. Office work IS NOT worth that rate of pay for anyone unless you own a private business. They teachers should be paid more, we should have more of them, and they should be better trained. The unions should be long gone from everything in this country. There is too much media. We won’t see mine conditions like we saw in the 1800′s that formed those unions.

    Anyone catch the news this morning. The United States isn’t even in the top 20 for math and science. We need some serious reforms. I guess I am a little socialist on some of these points but these are our kids sufferng so the supers and city managers can ride around in that nice Lexus, BMW, pick your poison. While the teachers the ones that are actually doing the real work are worried about their car starting to get to work.

  9. I’m so sorry. This sucks. I hate reading stories about Cordy and other kids whose school districts and insurance companies won’t provide or pay for the things they need to make them successful. It just sucks.

  10. It’s everywhere, babe. Everywhere, the higher ups are getting raises while aides and teachers are getting fired. It makes NO SENSE.

  11. A local school district near where I live recently fundraised 1.5 million dollars to protect many teachers from losing their jobs. (I think it was like 32 teachers, but I could be wrong.) The whole community pulled together and raised the money. It’s sad that it’s come to that, but on the otherhand, it’s pretty amazing what can be done when push comes to shove. Perhaps other areas of the country could do the same?

  12. Sadly, it is pretty much the same across the country. I’ve worked with kids on the spectrum for a number of years now (in both California and Arizona) and it is darned near impossible to get a school district to pay for an aide for a child without severe needs (in a lot of districts, it’s almost impossible to get the schools to allow you to bring in your own aide, also). It is so infuriating to know a child could be totally mainstreamed with minimal support, but be denied not only the support, but the option to privately pay for your own aide! :( Hang in there, good luck, and keep on being such a great advocate for your daughter!

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