State Superintendent Randy Dorn thinks shortening the school year in order to save money is a bad idea.
During a speech to school board representatives from around the state, Dorn laid-out his suggestions for how the state could reduce education spending. He specifically said shortening the school year, an idea that’s being floated around for the 2012-13 school year, is not the right answer because it’s a cut to basic education.
Dorn’s cost-savings recommendations mainly focus on delaying payments to school districts for various things: levy equalization funds (money for property-poor districts), apportionment , and school bus depreciation.
According to Dorn, delaying those payments would save the state $600 million.
Delaying those payments would mean districts eventually get the funds, possibly helping them avoid some cuts, but the financial burden would fall into the next budget year. The state Legislature approved a move like that for the current budget; the June apportionment for the 2010-11 school year was pushed to July, meaning the payments came out of the 2011-12 budget.
During the Legislative session, Dorn said he will focus on trying to prevent cuts to basic education, continuing the work on improving and removing ineffective teachers, and writing rules for what to do when a school district becomes financially insolvent (something that happened in 2007).
The state Legislature returns to Olympia on Monday, Nov. 28 to start a special session.
The following is excerpted from an OSPI press release about Dorn’s statements at the Washington State School Directors Association conference.
Dorn said he will spend much of the 2012 legislative session fighting to retain basic education funding. “I don’t believe cutting days from the school year is the answer,” he said, adding that doing so is a cut to basic education. Dorn said that a number of one-time savings are possible: delaying when schools receive their levy equalization money by two months, delaying when districts receive some of their apportionment money by two weeks and delaying depreciation payments for school buses by nine months. Adding those would save the state about $600 million dollars.
“This state is in a tough economic situation,” Dorn said. “But if we cut basic education, that affects our children and their futures. We can’t let that happen.”
Beyond that, Dorn’s legislative agenda will focus on two areas: improving or removing ineffective teachers and helping to write rules if a district becomes financially insolvent. He will propose bills in both areas.
Dorn praised the Teacher and Principal Evaluation Pilot program, which was tasked by the Legislature to create a new, uniform evaluation system for teachers and principals. “I think the piloting they’re doing now is the best in the nation,” he said. “Plus there’s a lot of support for their work, both from teachers and administrators.”
But Dorn said he was concerned about how to deal with ineffective teachers. The first step, he said, is to help improve those teachers. If that’s not possible, districts need more flexibility in dealing with them. “My proposal is this: teachers who receive the lowest rating in their evaluations two years in a row should revert back to probationary status. Districts can then work with those teachers on a plan of improvement, or remove them without the elongated system of appeals we have now.”
Dorn said he was also concerned about what to do when a district becomes financially insolvent. That occurred in 2007, when the Vader School District failed to pass levies and could not continue to function. But no rules exist on the process of dissolving a district. In tough economic times, Dorn said, the issue could come up again. “Make no mistake, though: I hope all 295 districts remain solvent,” he said. “But we do need some rules in case they aren’t.”