The administration has enjoyed a consistent seven to ten percent raise in compensation each year, yet it expects many of its lowest-paid employees to shoulder part of the deficit while it proceeds untouched. One of the alternatives offered by the parents of Grant and Johnson in an effort to keep the two elementary schools from closing, recommends that the district freeze any administration raises and accept a cap of $4,000 for these employees' deferred compensation. (The rate is normally seven percent.) This employment group would also be asked to contribute a portion of their health benefit. These three compromises alone would save the district $1.2 million annually, and go a long way toward overcoming the deficit. Not to mention that such alternatives have far less impact on the students and the quality of education than closing two schools so that administrators can retain their inflated incomes.
Inflated is a term that describes compensation that does not adequately reflect the level of service produced. Such is the case with some administrators in the district. Over the past month, mistakes and misinformation has been too great to ignore. One of two things is occurring: either the administration is deliberately withholding data from the parents and the public, or it is disturbingly incompetent when it comes to its own financial matters. The parents have had to revise their alternatives several times because the information they were given by the district was erroneous.
Either way, Davenport is at D Day relative to the closings of Grant and Johnson. The Davenport School Board (DSB) will vote the matter up or down next Monday, April 22, at its regular school board meeting. The DSB has viable alternatives to consider before Monday, which include extensive, well-researched data that originated from the district's own records. The parents have muddled through it all, found the discrepancies along the way, corrected for much of it, and managed to save not only the $2.2 million the district claims it will save by closing Grant and Johnson, but also an additional $2 million that nearly clears the entire district's budget. Knowing this kind of work has been done, with solid financials to back it up, the public should expect the DSB to vote to keep the schools open. Certainly doing so has far less impact on the community.
With all the research showing the negative consequences of closing small, neighborhood schools, this should be music to the DSB's ears. It is fairly obvious the public cannot count on the administration to conduct the necessary due diligence because it has not done so to date. But the board is another matter. These board members claim they want the best outcome for the district, but so far they have not demonstrated such a philosophy. It isn't easy to analyze complex financial data, including large budgets, but this is exactly what is called for because there are serious inconsistencies in the data being presented by the district versus that of the parents. More importantly, the board must acknowledge that the data is coming from the district's own records, so the inconsistencies take on far greater meaning. It is all the more reason to fully investigate all the information, not just that given to the board by the district.
Sadly, if the level of the DSB's questioning about the parents' alternatives remains as vacuous as it was during Monday's public hearing, the parents can forget any meaningful consideration of all their hard work. The DSB asked very few questions, and those asked were so perfunctory as to be almost insulting. Board member Mavis Lee (whose attendance is irregular at best) didn't ask a single question. This level of evaluation hardly inspires confidence that the DSB is doing its job as an elected body, let alone as the sole governing authority of the administration. The district administration is accountable to no other entity other than the school board.
The bottom line is that increasing class size by two students for each grade (an action already approved by the DSB), while keeping Grant and Johnson open, still saves the district at least $1.2 million. So in reality, if the district closes the two schools, it will only save $1 million. There is no justification for closing the schools under these circumstances. There are many other ways to save the $1 million that would result in far less negative consequences for students, for education, and for the community as a whole.
In fact, Davenport could be the poster school for research depicting the relationship between school size, free and reduced lunch participants, and learning achievement. The free and reduced lunch program reflects a lower socio-economic composition, and research shows that students in this category perform better in smaller schools. Davenport's numbers bear this research out. For example, Grant and Jefferson both have over 50 percent of their enrollment participating in the free or reduced lunch program. Considered a smaller school compared to Jefferson, Grant's third grade enrollment of 211 in the Fall 2001 boasts 86 percent in the medium reading level, with 17 percent at the high level. Jefferson, on the other hand, with an enrollment of 495, only had 50% at the medium reading level, with 14 percent at the high level. (Jefferson's fourth graders had 0 percent at the high level for the same time period.) Conversely, Adams and Wilson have large enrollments at 520 and 551, respectively, but both have very low participation in the free or reduced lunch program. Yet Adam has 81 percent in the medium range with 29 percent in the high reading level; Wilson has 86 percent in the medium level with 24 percent at the high level of reading.
Meanwhile, Superintendent Blanche divulged it during several task force meetings that an inquiry was made to purchase Johnson. When specifically asked about this during Monday's public hearing, Blanche remained deliberately silent on the subject.
Finally, there were many dedicated parents and concerned citizens that spoke at the public hearing. At a minimum, these parents have so much to be proud of because they are superb role models for their own children. The Grant and Johnson kids are witnessing first-hand the efforts of their parents' struggle to protect America's most valuable resource?our education system. But like everything else relative to the human condition, our systems are only as good as the people who participate. The parents delivered above and beyond the mission of the task force to reexamine the closings of Grant and Johnson. The parents not only showed the district how to save the $2.2 million without closing the two schools, but also provided the district with solutions to alleviate the entire $4 million deficit.
Now it is time for the DSB to do what they were elected to do: represent the students, parents, residents, and taxpayers of this community by voting to keep the schools open. Creative and exciting opportunities abound for resolving the district's finance problems and declining enrollments, such as possible charter schools. This is just one alternative worth pursuing, but will be gone if the schools are closed. There is enough information to justify keeping Grant and Johnson open and still manage the budget. If the DSB votes to close the schools in spite of all the information to the contrary, then the public will know that there is a much larger rat in the woodpile than ever imagined. Our work to expose it will have just begun.