District’s Milken plan stinks | VailDaily.com

District’s Milken plan stinks

Have you ever had words linger in your head from a previous conversation? One comment remains to this day. It was from John Brendza, superintendent of Eagle County Schools. I called him last year regarding a column that I was writing for The Vail Trail. It was a bit on performance-based pay.

As the inquiry rolled along, he interjected a remark that stuck to my skin. In reference to my hard knocks questions, he said, albeit out of the blue, “what are your qualifications?” Not one to be backed into a corner, I told him that I wrote commentary for The Vail Trail. And yes, this was my first stint at a paper, and my intuition is that he wasn’t too concerned … perhaps I was to him a stale wind in a sail from a small craft.

But guess what? My boat is a bit bigger now, and my hull is still sore from your misguided remark. My qualifications shouldn’t matter. I am a concerned, taxpaying parent. I think that the school district is involved in a game of Texas Hold’ Em. I call your bluff, John.

Our current performance-based pay structure, the Milken Plan, stinks! As every parent prepares to send their child back to school, I encourage them to inquire about Full-Time Equivalents. Each school is allocated a certain amount of dollars to staff their building. My hunch is that Milken, our new performance-based-pay system, relies heavily on those equivalents.

A call to our director of curriculum, Carolyn Neff, helped me to clarify this. She is a huge asset to this district ” direct, forthright and believing in our schools. I asked her about those FTE’s. She explained how they are varied in each building. Site-based differences are a nuance of our valley. Agreed.

But digging deeper, she had to explain that we were once “teacher rich” back some years ago. In probing this, I asked if those Full-Time Equivalents were used as relief time for Master/Mentor Teachers. Yes. That can be a use of the FTE’s in a building.

By now, I must sound like I am speaking a foreign language. But I encourage all parents to learn these buzzwords and acronyms. Back in our days of being teacher rich, I gather that monies did not have to be allocated to relief time for teacher mentoring. Those monies could have been used for other teacher assignments such as more PE, art, music, media, enrichment and certified teacher positions.

If you have one question to ask of your neighborhood school this year, I advise it to be, “how are your FTE’s being utilized?” If you love your child’s teacher, and you hear that he/she is fabulous, be wary. If you are too good a teacher in our district, you may be pulled out of your classroom to do the administrative duties of mentoring other teachers.

What a mess! Initially, my call to Ms. Neff was to reassure that art, PE, and music aren’t being shortened due to the FTE allotments at our schools. She earnestly told me that ECSD values all of these pieces to a child’s education. And I believe her.

But where I become skeptical is with the pullout of classroom teachers’ contact time with students. Should teacher assistants or other building teachers be covering classes to offer relief time? In doing so, do other departments of the school suffer? It seems plausible that vital components of a balanced program get compromised, along with our kids. And then there’s a whole new itch that bugs me: “relief time” ” a new educational buzzword that seems to be synonymous with the Milken Plan!

But then I am straying from my original intent. A letter back to John Brendza. What are my qualifications to inquire and write about our school district?

Instinct. History. My gut. I have been in this valley more than 15 years. I stood by as our district turned over superintendents like pancakes on a hot griddle. I also observed the loss of former directors of curriculum Peg Portscheller and Millie Hamner. They were amazing, one-of-a-kind leaders. But our district didn’t promote them. They became superintendents in nearby counties. Our profound loss from these dynamic leaders exiting may not ever be fully known. If they’d stayed on The Good Ship Eagle County RE50J, where would we be now? Happier, I suspect. More unified. Even, perhaps, leading the state in quality education. I only hope that we hang on to our current curriculum director, Ms. Neff.

But where are we instead? We are a district dictated by a performance-based-plan that we cannot afford. Our teachers are pulled from students to assist other peers in the art of teaching. We are notorious. But not for leading educational performance in Colorado. We are noted for being alone in buying off the Milken Plan in all of our schools. Will we be the Titanic of performance-based pay ” a good idea but a bit cocky in what our ship can handle? I foresee some icebergs ahead.

Women and children first.

Indeed it sounds a bit poetic to have teachers helping one another. But this is just a re-invention of the wheel. I saw it done in our schools prior to the Milken Plan. Before and after school, teachers would gather to collaborate. After conferences, principals would have attendees share strategies that were learned off-site. Teams educated students. Monies were allocated by needs, not the Milken Plan. All good teachers were in the classroom and were rewarded for doing so.

Funny thing about that word, Milken. Seems like ECSD is being milked. Is there grant money involved for us to be the first-in-the-nation district to be such a guinea pig? For as small as we are, why are we jumping into this alone? Doing so certainly stretches our resources. Is this plan about what’s best for our kids or was it simply an easy answer to finding a structure for performance-based pay?

Elizabeth H. Chicoine writes a weekly column for the Daily. This column, as in the case of all personal columns, does not necessarily reflect the views of the Vail Daily.

Vail Daily, Vail, Colorado

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