The title has a question mark because the subject of funding for public education is somehow a difficult issue for educational leaders to stand up and promote. How will our next superintendent deal with this issue?
[For the introductory post, click here, and for the second post on the superintendent and politics, click here.]
[Disclaimer: I have been a supporter, including modest financial support, of Diana Greene’s campaign.]
The funding referenda on the August primary ballot got an appalling lack of support from every elected educational leader except for Superintendent Jim Yancey, a lame duck in the countdown to retirement.
In the School Board races decided in the August primary election, Woody Clymer was the only candidate out of four to endorse the community’s support for new public education funding. Clymer lost narrowly while the rest either dodged the issue or made nonsensical statements like, ‘I don’t know about the budget, but once I’m elected, I’ll work it out,’ or ‘Let’s reduce administrator pay to cover the deficit,’ or ‘The system is improving with less money; let’s cut more and make it even better.’ (I heard each of these comments from candidates.)
We need to ask our two candidates if they intend to watch our schools become ever more decrepit as funding gets stripped or suppressed by Tallahassee, or are they actually going to provide leadership to seek funding support from the community.
On the two August ballot proposals for school funding, Diana Greene decided eventually to endorse funding for the operations assessment, but declined to support funding for the capital assessment. Her initial statements, like the response provided to Marions United for Public Education before their forum with Education Task Force, indicate a dodgey non-committal stance since the funding revenue would arrive long after the budget was adopted.
I believe the way I vote is my personal business, but I will say that we owe it to the citizens of Marion County the opportunity to weigh in their desires by casting their vote. I can only control my vote, and so I encourage everyone to vote [their conscience].
Indeed, the next year’s budget was adopted with the hope of both proposals passing built into its figures. Both measures’ failure meant revising the budget, inflicting $14.8 million in cuts, covered from fast dwindling reserves plus not hiring reading coaches for students, and shelving any planned capital expenditures.
Greene eventually came around to support at least one of the proposals, but her refusal to endorse the capital assessment seems inexplicable. I believe she had stated that there were funds to meet those capital expenses, but never indicated where the funding existed exactly.
George Tomyn has responded to the issue by chanting the phrase “using available resources.” Presumably if the school budget decreased by another $40 million over the next 5 years, Tomyn would simply make it work … whatever is left. He offers no hint of advocacy. Of course, he does state the obvious – you use what you’re given. This was Tomyn’s reply to the same questionnaire from Marions United/EFT before their forum:
The job of the Superintendent of Schools is to create and manage an exemplary school system using the available resources. I intend to do just that! This task may be a bit easier to accomplish with additional resources but I do not believe that Marion County property owners should bear the responsibility of paying higher property taxes in order to address a problem created by our state legislature. These are tough economic times. Let’s roll up our sleeves and work together to solve the challenges created by reduced funding.
Here Tomyn blames the legislature, protects property owners from a $10/month assessment, and leaves education funding (the students, the staff, the facilities, etc.) hung out to dry.
My favorite video of this election cycle is Tomyn’s 33 second commercial on funding. As you witness his strong, vigorous tone, listen closely to the message. Click here to view it.
In the video, he is deeply passionate, rock solid serious, firmly in charge, sternly confronting the challenge, and he commits to … absolutely nothing. He will spend the money that is given. Um, can I get a woohoo?
To see Tomyn give another, more recent answer on the funding issue, try this one – MCSB’s “Classroom Connection, October 2012.” (Sadly, the same question is not asked of Diana Greene in her preceding interview in this video.) At about 14:00, Tomyn very carefully answers the question of ‘how much funding is enough.’ Using precise wording, he eventually falls back to his favorite expression, “using available resources,” while finally affirming that ‘current funding is adequate.’ To close, he throws a meaningless bone to staff, saying ‘we really need to support those people.’ That’s a really nice sentiment but a chronically slashed budget with no new funding (or advocacy) isn’t close to reflecting “support.”
Public school funding and local taxation are the issues on which Tomyn’s Republican base will be holding him accountable. Greene will not find the Democrats running another candidate if she advocates community funding support for our local schools. Tomyn will have to worry if he dares to open his mouth to advocate for any taxation.
The school board isn’t going to provide any leadership on the funding issue. Instead, they’ve proven adept at running in the other direction and letting the budget dine on reserves, programs, and staff, a meal that’s no longer digestible without serious consequences.
The next superintendent will need to show leadership in advocating more funding from the community. The state has abdicated its role and is no longer a reliable partner in the public education enterprise.
Tomyn is unlikely to provide that leadership for obvious political reasons. He has pandered to his GOP base in this campaign, as he must.
Greene seems more likely to carry that mantle, not being menaced by political retaliation from her own party, and having already taken a stand for more funding already.
In the next post, leadership means communicating a vision and standing in the crosshairs – who is ready to do that?