Robert (Bob) Griffing – School Board (Position 5)

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Primary Results

Well, we ended up with a bit more than 1,800 votes in the primary. Many thanks to all our voters, donors, and helpers! It has been a privilege to converse with fellow voters about important issues in our school district.

Congratulations to Deana Brower and Sally Fulmer, who advance to the general election! (here is a link to the early SR report on the election: http://www.spokesman.com/stories/2011/aug/16/verner-takes-commanding-lead/).

Bob Griffing’s Newest Statement

My family and I lived in Spokane since 2000, and three of my now-adult children graduated from Ferris High School. My broad experience as a parent and a district volunteer, and even more my years as a thinking and concerned voter make me abundantly qualified to be a school trustee, accountable to you, the voters of this district.

I’m running for School Board to help District 81 re-focus on its ONE PURPOSE: producing well-educated students.

But let’s lift our eyes for a moment and see the big picture. Everywhere we look in our nation’s public sector, nothing is working as it was designed to any more. Our state and local public education system is no different. Ever more input of taxpayer Dollars for increasingly less output. Stifling layers of bureaucracy and regulation.

So when I argue that we need to re-focus on District 81’s ONE PURPOSE of producing well-educated students I’m not saying that we should do better with structures invented in the past. Not at all. We should use proven educational tools where we find them, but we can’t stay in the past.

One critical function of the board is that it envisions the future for Spokane Schools. To get there, I believe we must shed unnecessary layers of bureaucracy and centralized control. We must abandon programs that no longer serve, or that even stifle effective learning in our classrooms. And we must think about preparing our students for the future.

Therefore I call for nothing less than a renaissance of teaching and learning in Spokane Schools!

I’m not talking about throwing more money at our Spokane School system. In fact, we need to get used to educating our students with less money. But if we cut away the fat, and reallocate what we’ve got, we’ll find we have enough to produce well-educated students.

So let’s work really hard on three things to enable that teaching and learning renaissance:

  1. Empower our teachers,
  2. Sharpen budget focus,
  3. Strengthen board leadership.

Empowering Our Teachers

Producing well-educated students requires top teachers who are motivated and equipped with the resources to do the job. This is why I am calling for a renaissance of teaching and learning in Spokane schools

What might this involve?

  1. Take significant curriculum and educational strategy authority from the central office and give it to the individual schools and teachers. This, by the way, would make it possible to eliminate a number of central office positions of curriculum researchers and writers. Increase the rewards for the top 10% of our teachers.
  2. Our district provides alternate paths to graduation for students in danger of failing or dropping out. We must also blaze new trails for our very best students. I call for the establishment of academically rigorous charter or magnet academies, with special concentrations in math and science, cutting edge technologies, as well as arts, humanities and languages. Admittance to these schools would be on a competitive basis, while fulfilling equal opportunity laws and policies. Existing facilities would be reallocated, and many of our best teachers would be reassigned to enable these programs.
  3. Many students intend to enter the job market right after graduation. We must actively assist them to enter appropriate vocational training via the “Running Start” program, the Spokane Skills Center, or private technical schools, beginning in grade 11. Effective job training for these students MUST take precedence over the District’s retention of full funding for them.

Sharpening Budget Focus

Prognosis: We can expect more years of declining appropriations from Olympia. 2/3 of our roughly $300 million budget is for teacher salaries. We must protect our teacher positions, so we must reduce everything we can elsewhere.

Regarding the Budget, I propose the following:

  1. Instruct the superintendant to produce operating budget drafts which include real cuts at least 2-3% per year for the next years. Introduce zero-based budgeting in some budget sectors. The question is not how much has been cut already. Rather it should be, “How much/little do we actually need to do the job?”
  2. Be prepared to freeze salaries at their 2011-12 levels, including step increases. Do not fill vacant positions where possible. Further reduce the budget positions for central administration and for school site administration as well
  3. Examine all District 81 activities in terms of what they directly contribute to producing well-educated students. Programs not fulfilling this standard, such as the District’s public television station, should be re-settled elsewhere in the Spokane community.
  4. Privatize more non-teaching functions performed by District 81. Janitorial and maintenance services can also be performed more flexibly and more inexpensively by contractors. Substantial portions of data processing, accounting and human relations could also be outsourced.
  5. Institute or increase student/family co-payments for extra-curricular activities. A two-tier co-payment system based on family income should apply (indexed by free and reduced price lunch qualification).

Strengthening Board Leadership

Our board is too often caught up doing what is staff work, like developing a budget draft. I recently read an email from a board member, listing the board’s significant accomplishments—but the items listed looked to me like staff work, not board work. The board even follows a staff-developed order of business in board meetings.

I propose the following:

  1. Require the superintendant to offer complete proposals, rather than roping the board in for the more difficult calls. Where possible (e.g. operating budgets) require multiple options be prepared, among which the board chooses.
  2. Require the superintendant to demonstrate how each district practice contributes to the ONE PURPOSE of producing well-educated students.
  3. Push more of the routine decisions into the “consent agenda,” or where possible, expect the superintendant to make them. This will free the board up for “big picture” issues, and to develop a future-oriented vision for educating our students.
  4. Foster an “I – you” relationship with the superintendant, rather than an undifferentiated “we” relationship. The district is best served by a strong board and a strong superintendant.
  5. Upgrade existing citizen committees to foster genuine voter input and hold more board meetings in neighborhood schools to improve voter accessibility.

Response to the “Lions and Tigers and Bears (oh my!)” argument of high administrative salaries.

Response to the “Lions and Tigers and Bears (oh my!)” argument of high administrative salaries.

  1. The Superintendant makes over $200,000 per year, which is too much!
    1. Caution against populist-type arguments that stir up class envy.
    2. The Superintendant is responsible/accountable for:

i.      $300 million annual operating budget

ii.      Hundreds of millions of dollars of physical plant

iii.      3,700 employees

iv.      The quality of education for 28,000 students

  1. If she is successful at her task she is a bargain at that price, if not, then any salary is too high.
  2. More than 100 employees of District 81 earn more than $100,000 per year. Cut their salaries!
    1. That makes less than three percent of employees. How significant is that?
    2. The earnings differential between beginning teachers and the top administrators is 1 to 2.5, or 1 to 4 for the superintendant. Is that really out of line?
    3. I support reducing the number of administrative positions, not the individual salaries of existing employees.

i.      Reducing salaries is often not possible.

ii.      Reducing salaries makes for de-motivated employees.

iii.      Salaries will creep back up.

iv.      Reducing positions permanently changes the face of the district, the balance between teachers and administrators.

  1. Don’t forget the long years of service and the expensive education investments of these administrators.
  2. Areas to cut:
    1. Central positions that are only communications links (school directors)
    2. Central positions made redundant by pushing curriculum authority to individual schools (teaching and learning PhD’s)
    3. School administrators currently in greater abundance than 10-20 years ago (multiple vice-principals)
    4. Administrators made redundant by outsourcing (janitorial, maintenance, accounting, human relations)
    5. Elementary school principals, when 1 principal could cover 2 schools

Hello world!

Spokane Schools exist for one purpose: producing well-educated students.

Let’s re-focus on this purpose by working hard on three things:

1. The Board must lead by holding district officials accountable to sound education principles.

2. Spokane Schools will have to work with ever-decreasing resources. We must become “lean and mean,” and reserve District 81 finances for activities that directly benefit our students.

3. We must empower our teachers, protecting them from budget cuts whenever possible and returning authority for teaching strategies to the individual schools and teachers.