I am one member of a five person board. The opinions I express on this forum are mine only, and do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of the Escambia County Staff, Administrators, Employees, or anyone else associated with Escambia County Florida. I am interested in establishing this blog as a means of additional transparency to the public, outreach to the community, and information dissemination to all who choose to look. Feedback is welcome, but because public participation is equally encouraged, appropriate language and decorum is mandatory.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Spending Stimulus Money Wisely for our Students

As an individual taxpaying citizen, I was not a fan of the TARP, The ARRA, the auto bailouts, the AIG bailout, or any other recent Federal Government big business entitlement programs. But the majority of Americans supported the stimulus concept and a stimulus package was passed by congress and signed by the President.

I now reluctantly take off my fiscally conservative private citizen hat and must as a duly elected School Board Member act to maximize the stimulus money’s impact locally on our district. Superintendent Malcolm Thomas has some excellent plans for use of the stimulus money, and I strongly support the lion’s share of his proposals.

But what I would like to pursue, in addition to what the Superintendent has laid out, are policies, purchases, and processes that will be more sustainable post-stimulus; the stimulus monies are short term solutions. If all of the financial resources are put into personnel- then when the money runs out, we will be forced into laying off these same personnel. The district may not garner a lasting impact from monies expended this way.

I’d like to see our district pursue stimulus spending that will have lasting impacts. An important point to note here is that this federal stimulus money has significant restrictions on how it can be used, and we have to be certain that we are using these funds properly.

The Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) recognizes Music and Arts education as a core subject, therefore expenditure of ARRA funds for Music education resources should be allowable. There is a body of research that correlates high student achievement with the study of music, so the pursuit of expanded music options for our students makes sense. Escambia County should use these stimulus funds to expose the maximum number of our district’s youth to music as a mechanism to drive student achievement.

The purchase of state of the art laptops, software, and other technology for our students should also be a high priority for the district’s use of stimulus funds. Every student in this district should have expanded access to functioning computers and new technology resources. The current stimulus plan allocates $650 million specifically for technology purchases through the Enhancing Education Through Technology Program (EETT)

The stimulus package also has $2 billion set aside for school improvement plans including $200 million for teacher incentive pay. Although our district (at the behest of the teacher’s union) bargained merit pay out of the current master contract, I will press for the use of ARRA funds to support merit pay for teachers at severely struggling Title I schools.

I will also advocate for the use of some of the ARRA funds to help develop a more detailed and accurate teacher evaluation system. One of the main goals of the education portion of the ARRA is to work toward “Making improvements in teacher effectiveness and in the equitable distribution of qualified teachers for all students”. The current Escambia County teacher evaluation system does not effectively delineate high performers from low performers.

Finally, I will advocate for the use of some of the stimulus money for increased differential pay for high performing employees to teach at our more academically challenged schools, allowable under ARRA expenditure guidelines.

Even though I did not support the ARRA stimulus package when it was moving through Congress, now that the funds are being made available I’ll push for Escambia’s fair share. I look forward to working with Superintendent Thomas and my fellow Board members to make wise choices for the expenditure of these funds.

No comments: