Educators Lambast Schools Bills
Superintendents Say Schools Faced With Dwindling Funding, Unrealistic Standards
Posted: February 27, 2013
HARRISONBURG — If administrators in Rockingham County and Harrisonburg could rate legislators on their performance — just as the state’s schools soon will be subject to a letter grade — they say their representatives in Richmond wouldn’t do so hot.
Dwindling funding for public education, unrealistic standards and little input on the legislation that will affect schools each day were complaints voiced Tuesday by educators from around the region during a press conference at the Harrisonburg City School Board office.
Calling himself a “bumper sticker philosopher,” Rockingham County School Board member Lowell Fulk summed up the tone of the press conference with a take on a classic saying:
“Those who can, teach. Those who can’t, pass laws about teaching.”
Twenty superintendents from the area were expected to attend Tuesday’s press conference following a regional meeting of the Virginia Association of School Superintendents, but the meeting was canceled due to weather.
Superintendents from Waynesboro, Charlottesville, Lynchburg and Harrisonburg and Rockingham and Fluvanna counties still came, however, to represent those who couldn’t make it. School board members from Staunton and Harrisonburg and Rockingham County also attended.
Harrisonburg Superintendent Kizner addressed funding in his opening comments, saying that if legislators want to put money into charter schools and other private education initiatives, then public schools should not be subjected to more mandates while receiving fewer state dollars.
Supporters of expanding charter schools in Virginia, including Sen. Mark Obenshain, R-Harrisonburg, say it’s needed to give parents of children in underperforming schools more choice.
But Kizner, who serves as the legislative chair for Region 5 of the superintendents association, said it works to undermine public education.
“Localities are picking up more [expense], but mandates [are] driven by Richmond,” he said. “Public education is a public investment for the vitality of the commonwealth.”
He also called the 2 percent raise for educators that Gov. Bob McDonnell asked for in his budget proposal “misleading” because it only covers certain employees, leaving localities to pick up 50 to 75 percent of the cost to provide an across-the-board pay hike.
Educators also had a bone to pick with two pieces of legislation approved during the just-finished 2013 General Assembly session that are now headed to McDonnell’s desk for his signature.
One is the bill giving schools an A through F grade based on test scores. The system, part of the governor’s education reform package, will assign schools a grade based on standardized tests and state and federal accountability benchmarks.
“Children are more than test scores,” Kizner said.
Gena Keller, superintendent for Fluvanna County Schools, said that Virginia’s public schools aren’t afraid of ratings but implied that the system is too subjective and will become a distraction for teachers.
The central Valley’s statehouse delegation, all Republicans, supported letter grades for schools. They also backed the second piece of legislation the educators took issue with, one allowing the state to take over failing schools.
Staunton City Schools School Board member Jody Grogan and Fulk provided comments about what’s called the Opportunity Education Institution, another governor-created initiative expected to be signed into law. The institution would be a statewide school division that would have a board with the same powers as a local school board and would govern failing schools.
While only a handful of Virginia schools — and none locally — would be subject to a takeover now, more could find themselves under the control of the institution as standards are raised.
The educators said the proposal is an overstepping of boundaries on the part of state’s part.
The fact the system is based partly on a similar one set up in Louisiana — which Kizner pointed out consistently is ranked as having a less effective school system than Virginia — also is troubling, educators said.
“Is this the change we really want for the commonwealth of Virginia?” Kizner asked.
Contact Emily Sharrer at 574-6286 or firstname.lastname@example.org