Rapping Voters

In the aftermath of the recent school district levy failure, Superintendent Tammy Lacey took to the airwaves and newsprint to give the voters of Great Falls a good rap on the knuckles.

Lacey’s condescending explanation of why the levy failed was way off-base and laid the blame on everything except for hers and the district’s arrogance to think that even after the recent passage of a $98M bond levy there was still some spare change in the local taxpayer’s pockets, that administrator’s salaries weren’t too high and that a number of other mistakes would be forgotten. She was wrong, but now she says the kids will pay the price for lack of funds.

These are her excuses:

1.) “Getting people to vote to tax themselves more is always a hard sell”.

2.) “Having to use a mail-in ballot where it only takes a couple of minutes and a few cents to say NO”.

3.) “And having an opposition group that has their local school district and local educational opportunities “confused” with their dislike of government doesn’t help”.

Superintendent Lacey’s first point is obvious and her second point makes no sense at all. It takes the same amount of time to vote yes as it does to vote no.

And her third point. What opposition group? It looks to us as though the huge no vote was a grassroots movement comprised of individuals who saw through the tired mantra, “It’s for the Kids”. So, is Superintendent Lacey calling an imaginary “opposition group”, a Basket of Confusables? If so, that would be right out of Hillary’s playbook of excuses.

The big question is; did Superintendent Lacey and the school district learn anything from this experience, or will their blinders simply not allow them to see the forest for the trees?

To add insult to injury, Lacey’s congratulatory Tweet to the other AA districts whose levies were passed was a throw-it-in-your-face backhanded insult to the citizens of Great Falls for whom she works. Please spare us your condescension.

“Congratulations to Bozeman, Helena, Kalispell, and Missoula school districts for passing their operational levies! Sorry Great Falls…the gap just got wider. By the way, Billings and Butte, the other AA districts, didn’t run levies. That makes us the only losers.”

“To add insult to injury, Lacey’s congratulatory letter to the other AA districts whose levies were passed was a throw-it-in-your-face backhanded insult to the citizens of Great Falls for whom she works. Please spare us your condescension.”

Here is our basket of some recommendations to bring some resolution to the school district’s misadventure.

  • Cut all administrative salaries by 20%.
  • Discontinue the District’s 1% annual annuity contribution to administrators.
  • Eliminate four of the eight high school associate principals.
  • Cease purchases of residential properties around Great Falls High for expensive parking lots.
  • Involve citizens to explore consolidation of elementary schools.
  • Competitively bid general construction contracts for all district projects.
  • Implement an annual “Conflict of Interest” form for all district employees.
  • Eliminate secret professional selection processes.
  • DO NOT LAY OFF TEACHERS!

(Note: Readers please add to this list)

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Philip M. Faccendahttp://www.straymoose.com
Philip M. Faccenda is an AIA award-winning architect and planner. He is the Editor-in-Chief of E-City Beat.

21 COMMENTS

  1. Start with an independent audit of all schools and once the report comes out, look at downsizing, consolidating where neede.
    Get rid of old, unused buildings by either selling the or demolition and get the prpoerty off the tax roles.
    Check the middle schools for bloated, duplicate positions and eliminate those.
    Get rid of school trust lands and use that money to improve schools statewide.
    What abouse the reserves and interest gained off those monies?

  2. GFPS SHOULD WISELY SPEND TAX PAYER MONEY ON SCHOOL FACILITIES

    GFPS should wisely spend tax payer money on school facilities. They should invest in the future by efficient master planning solutions that incorporate energy consumption goals that minimize use of resources by earth sheltering, green roofing, active solar energy, passive solar energy, thermal heating/cooling, and wind energy.

    Darrell A. Swanson

  3. Bullets 1, 2, and 5 are not well thought out solutions, and suggests a lack of knowledge of basic macroeconomics. Bullet 1: If you cut administrators’ salaries by 20 percent, that has a ripple effect on the entire community in terms of incomes and would be a not insignificant hit to the community and the tax base. Bullet 2: The 1 percent rise in salary won’t even match the expected increasing inflation rate caused by the huge national deficits we are beginning to rack up. Keeping the 1 percent annuity for administrators is still a net pay decrease as a result. Bullet 5: Consolidating elementary schools would result in an increased financial burden to parents, who are also taxpayers. This isn’t a business, this is our kids’ education. I can at least say I agree wholeheartedly with your last bullet point.

    • Christian,
      Here are the facts:
      Bullet point number one. The Administrators current salaries total $4.2M. 20 percent of that is $840,000 per year. That would cause a very, very small ripple, even in a small pond.

      Bullet point number two. The elimination of the school district’s 1 percent contribution to Administrators totals just shy of $40,000 per year. Keep in mind that teachers do NOT receive such a benefit.

      Bullet point five. By the Superintendent’s own expostulation, the vast number of students are driven to and from school. A few extra blocks would be insignificant and without negative impact. The consolidation of 15 elementary schools into 7, or 8 would have huge economies of scale and provide more educational opportunities for students.

      You, Christian, are the one who is not thoughtful and has much to learn about economics, but nice try.

      • Points 1,2 and 3 would save the District $1,380,000 EVERY year and Consolidation of Elementary schools would save Millions annually from existing and growing budgets. Billings has 22 elementary schools with a population of 125,000 while Great Falls has 15 elementary schools with a population of 58,000. Using that ratio, Great Falls should only have 10 elementary schools. Even if we expected growth in River City, we should not be building new schools on sites that are only one block in size and do not allow for expansion. Simply bad planning that looks like an effort to grow an unsustainable model.

        • Regarding the elementary school discussion, how many enrolled elementary students does Billings have versus Great Falls? For Billings, is 6th grade included in elementary or are the 6th graders included in middle school? How big is the average elementary classroom in Billings versus Great Falls. Is it feasible to make an estimation of how many elementary schools a city should have just based on the city’s general population?

    • I agree that consolidation of elementary schools makes sense. Part of the problem with the bond to build two new schools is that the district didn’t even consider consolidating schools.

      The district didn’t think long term. Maintaining two buildings is expensive in the long run. It also keeps administrators and support staff at twice the rate as one school would require. So in the long run, this will continue to bleed money from the district for many years to come. It would be far cheaper to bus children a little bit further than the upkeep on two schools.

      There are far too many schools in this city. The district would have been smart by closing a couple schools on the east end of town and the more central area of town and building two large schools. Yes it would eliminate some jobs, but it would mainly be administrators and support staff, which would save quite a chunk of change.

      I know some of these ideas are not popular, but they are prudent. In the current fiscal climate, budgets keep getting cut and the district has to face facts. The taxpayers are strapped, even more so than the school district. It is time for the board to look at the big picture by looking 10 or 20 years into the future, not trying to do immediate quick fixes, or continuing with the status quo.

      • G, You are exactly right! E-City Beat will be proposing a Consolidation Plan in the next few days and I hope you, and other readers of this blog find it interesting.

        • I think neighborhood schools are a valuable asset that encourages parental involvement that is so important to student achievement. A large voluntary school would make sense though and Longfellow would have been the perfect spot for a magnet school. A magnet school is one that gets the extra resources to draw in parents from all over town who seek more for their kids. The kids attracted to these kinds of schools are generally above average learners and help bring a better balance of aptitude to lower performing schools that are often in poorer neighborhoods. It seems like in GF the emphasis has been on forcibly, through boundary adjustments, stacking poor kids in schools to get title I designation and bringing down the school. As opposed to baiting good students to voluntarily move to struggling schools and improving them.

          • RJ,
            Your points are well taken, but I would suggest two things; first, a “neighborhood “ is relative and consolidation can still provide a neighborhood cohesiveness. Secondly, we simply cannot afford to have 15 individual schools located a few blocks apart. If you want to achieve a sustainable plan, consolidation is the best answer for Great Falls and we need to have a serious community discussion about it instead of allowing administrators to serve themselves.

  4. GFPS SHOULD WISELY SPEND TAX PAYER MONEY ON SCHOOL FACILITIES

    GFPS should wisely spend tax payer money on school facilities. They should invest in the future by efficient master planning solutions that incorporate energy consumption goals that minimize use of resources by earth sheltering, green roofing, active solar energy, passive solar energy, thermal heating/cooling, and wind energy.

  5. Stop trying to get Levies passed by paying 30,000.00 or more on special election’s. Hoping the general public won’t participate. I know back in the day when you had to go to the election polls people would not show up on off general election votes and they would get most of them past back then, heck all of them. Now the mail-in ballot has screwed this up for the district but they keep trying. Another big waste of resources every year. But it’s only taxpayer dollars right.

  6. For the record : I like Tammy Lacy and support our students and school programs !! I think a good long and hard look at School District MANAGEMENT practice is in order –! think there in is the problem–why not fix that first? Perhaps there are FAR too many chiefs, when fewer would do just fine. As our community ages and less business opportunity is available the entire city structure must adjust accordingly. Spendable income of the citizen becomes the determining point of rather say Yes or no to new taxes. Then again I may be wrong !

  7. Mayor Winters,
    I respect your opinion, but this is not about Superintendent Lacey’s personality, it’s about her management capabilities. She is the Captain of the ship and she doesn’t know how to navigate the issues facing the GFPS. You are right about the demographics of Great Falls, but Lacey is subject to shortsighted thinking. Her condescending public reaction to the levy’s failure is proof that she doesn’t understand the dynamic that is at play in our community. I don’t think you can fix the MANAGEMENT problems at the school district without a manager with the vision and the innovative ideas that it will take to avoid the iceberg.

    • Phil- If anything our district suffers from too many innovative ideas, stick to the knitting. Why do we have two highly paid curriculum directors when the feds, state and publishers have been laying out curricula for years? Because of a need to re-invent the wheel and experiment on our kids we waste time and money administratively and in the classroom. Give any good teacher a decent textbook to follow, stay out of the way and the kids will do just fine. GF is not an educational research center.

    • “Be gracious in victory and be gracious in defeat.” My football coach pounded that into us. The GFPS, like an addict in denial, will not look at the problem. Mismanagement. It seems Ms. Lacy is unwilling to meet with us mere peasants and have open, sane, frank discussion about ideas. Maybe, she’d find out we are not as bad as she thinks we are and there might even be some ideas with merit. Consolidation is a dirty work for school districts, but plenty of rural school districts had to do just that in order to survive. GFPS is no different. Fifteen elementary schools, for what? The “neighborhood school concept” died in the sixties, so it’s time to look at bold, innovative options that may call for downsizing administrators, more dirty words for education unions.

  8. RJ,
    I agree with everything you said. I’m talking about innovation that saves money, achieves efficiency, and provides essential programs, not education industry experiments that I have watched since I was in graduate school. What we have now in the District is like an overweight person that just keeps eating until they are so heavy they can’t even get out of bed and finally kill them selves.

    • Phil- Or so heavy they roll over and kill the baby after lecturing us all about putting babies to bed on their backs to prevent SIDS.

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