Thursday, July 3, 2008

If a Tree Falls at Camp Joy…

… will anyone care?

An article in this week's Northwest News reports that the general reaction to the effort to preserve the Camp Joy program for Hilliard 6th graders is being met with thunderous apathy.

It's not that no one cares. There is a group of parents who are working hard to keep the program alive for next year, after the School Board cut the program from 2008-2009 budget in response to the failure of the operating levy last March. To do so, the parents must raise the $50,000 which was the School District's contribution to the $220,000 total cost of the program (the rest is paid through the $140 registration fee required of each camper). They have a fundraiser scheduled for July 12, 11am to 1pm at Carrabba's on Trueman Blvd. No information was released as to how much of the $50,000 has been raised to date. I suspect they still have a long way to go.

They also need the parents of the 1,200 6th graders to submit their registration forms along with the $140 registration fee. So far they have just 75. With school out for the summer, it will be very tough to get the word out to all the parents, much less collect the money. Information sessions will be held at the Hilliard Branch of the Columbus Metro Library at 7pm on July 7 and July 14. Parents are being told to bring their checkbooks. District officials have set July 14 as the deadline for raising the money and receiving the registrations.

This will be interesting to observe. The most likely outcome is that insufficient numbers of parents and community members will care enough to allow the committee to reach the registration and fundraising goals, and the program will be cancelled. What happens next?

The School Board will feel vindicated in their decision. We can expect them to use this approach to test other cost-cutting decisions they'll have to make in the future. Pay-to-Play thinking will begin to encroach into academic areas as more and more programming takes on the appearance of being optional in the face of funding shortfalls.

We're caught in a political and economic Twilight Zone, and it seems clear that fundamental changes need to occur in the way our schools are organized and funded.

The folks of one extreme already have an answer: Turn it all over to the State of Ohio. Let state-level officials make decisions about how much tax Ohioans are going to pay, how that money gets distributed, and how it gets spent. I can get behind such a notion in principle, but in practice don't trust the politicians not to muck it up. As with so much of American politics, the agenda will be set by the lobbyists, not the people. The big winners would be the teachers' union and the construction industry.

My preference is to go to the other extreme: privatize our schools completely, but use tax money to ensure that every kid can attend an effective school, as defined by state standards. I liken this to the way food stamps work, and wrote a post on this back in January 2007, but here's the idea:

If food distribution worked like public schools, we would all be required to obtain our food at the closest neighborhood commissary. We wouldn't pay directly for the food – it would be paid for via property taxes. Regardless of the amount of property taxes we paid, we would each get a pre-loaded credit card which holds exactly the same amount of 'food credits.' When we get to the commissary, we have to use most of the credits for a basic food list deemed by the government to be appropriate for our healthy nutrition. We would have a few credits to spend on stuff we really like.

Of course, a black market would develop, and the folks with money would buy whatever food they like without regard to the fact that their government food credit card would go to waste.

Sounds stupid right? But it's exactly the way our public school system works.

What if we said that there are no more public schools, and parents are required to fund their kid's education directly? How apathetic would the parents be if they were writing checks for $1,000 per month per child to send their kids to school? Would all schools look the same, or might the school specialize – some for arts, some for science/math, some for athletics, etc. How much would they invest in buildings versus staff? I bet there would be a lot of creative variety, just as we see at the college level.

What about the families who can't afford $1,000/mo/child? As is the case with food stamps, each family's resources would be supplemented by public funding as needed.

I suspect School Boards (local and State) use the Pay-to-Play approach because they feel it's a way to imprint their will on the district: "We'll tell you what your tax money pays for, and you have to fund the rest with your own money." But maybe it's actually increasing the possibility that the public will cease being apathetic and instead engage in creating a more efficient and responsive school system.

Or not.


  1. The Camp Joy decision was made before school got out. It's too bad that the word of a fund-raising committee and needing to send in the fee did not reach the parents of incoming 6th graders before everyone left for the summer. It seems fair to set a deadline for raising the $50,000 funded by the school, but when, in the past, was the $140 due from parents? Certainly it was not in July of the prior year. The district should give some slack on that part of it. Perhaps get a commitment from parents the first week of school. It will be interesting to see how this turns out.

    As for funding of vouchers, and charter schools, I would support that if the schools followed a state-established curriculum. I have always disagreed with vouchers being used for religious or idealogical schools where I as a taxpayer would not have control of what my money is going toward teaching. And that is coming from a Catholic with 12 years of Catholic school!

  2. How did we get to this frame of mind that when the state takes money from me in the form of taxes, then gives (some of) it back in the form of school funding, it somehow has been rendered unusable to pay for religious schools, as though the government treasury exists to filter out all ideologies other than those approved by the state?

    Should we prohibit the use of food stamps to buy kosher meat? Of course not. Food stamps are used to buy food in privately owned markets, and religious affiliation is not a restriction. The only concern is public health.

    Same thing with education. Let's make sure all kids can attend school, even if financial assistance is required, and let's be sure those schools teach established basics, enforced by curriculum standards and standarized testing.

    Beyond that, it's the parent's choice where their kids go to school and what ideologies are taught.

    The more we Americans sit back and let the government take our money and limit our choices, the faster our liberty evaporates.

    The answer is not more government, it's less.

  3. If my money is going to be used to fund schools, I want to maintain my "say" in the curriculum. This is why I disagree with vouchers being allowed to be used in private schools. I lose the opportunity to monitor the curriculum. I agree completely with the idea of funding the individual child to attend the Public school of his choice. I don't really get the food stamp example. What you choose to eat is different from what you are taught.

  4. Really?

    Are you saying I should have less control of what gets fed into my kids' brains than what gets put in their stomachs?

    I agree that there should be curriculum standards, and that schools and teachers should be licensed with the state. But these things should specify the minimum curriculum, not what else the school chooses to include. If the kids have a free choice where to attend school, there is no forced religious education.

    I bring food stamps in as an illustration because I think we would all agree that food is one of the basics of life, more important than even education. Yet people are free to choose where to buy their food and what food to buy. For those who cannot afford to buy the food necessary for basic nutrition, we supplement their own money with food stamps.

    Why can't education be that way? Instead of taxing me and telling me which schools my kids have to attend, let me choose and pay for it out of my own pocket.

    For those families who can't afford it, we'll provide some or all of the tuition with a scholarship. We already know how to do this. With two kids who have completed college, I know all about the FAFSA process.

  5. *Sigh* Great blog & post. Why can't we have politicians like you instead of the losers we have?

  6. I have mixed feelings about the charter and private schools, as I was also educated in the Catholic system.
    It would appear in many instances that there is even more waste in some of the charter schools than with the public ones. No doubt some great academies would be created, and as long as everyone would have access,
    not just gifted, athletes etc I can support that. No matter what the system we do have a spending problem, an unfunded mandate problem, and a bloated education dept in this state. The bureauacrcy
    sorry about the spelling, in our stated education dept is way over the top. New rules, more money to be spent. The gov. asked each dept in the state to submit some ideas for cuts. Guess which dept chose zero !

    I am also torn by Camp Joy. An absolute great experience without question. But given the economic uncertainty is it absolutely necessary. I think the "effort"
    to keep it by very positive parents and well meaning supporters was purposely torpedoed to show us the pain. Except the pain is not equally spread. I feel badly for the parent group who have put in a valiant effort. They should be
    congratulated. I also hope they remember who sold them down the river, and it was not the voters.

    The smart play would have been
    a reduced 3 year deal, a 5 mill levy that would be an easier sell.
    instead of premium compensation.

    The heavy hand is coming, athletics,music, busing etc.
    Never a thought about a smaller pay increase.

    The raises handed out will be remembered by the electorate like an elephant. The actions of the HEA this year and the district puts the "its for the kids" as moot.

    Of course all of us are to blame for voting for names on the ballot instead of ideas. Quit voting
    for the name folks, in fact if you see a familiar last name, vote NO

    On an encouraging note, the city council president did mention growth as it affects schools and expenses in the This week article.

    Anyone want to join the Peoples
    Revolutionary Task Force ? Name taken from an old Clint Eastwood movie lol

  7. But if you think the school you send your kids to is wasteful, the approach I'm advocating gives you the freedom to go find another school.

    In our current system, you get one choice - where to live. After that, all the choices are made for you: which school building, which teachers, which textbooks, etc.

    If you find you've made a bad decision about where to live, or the school district changes for the worse in your opinion, you have to move to fix it.

    We've gotten so used to this being the way things work that we're brainwashed into thinking it's the only way things can work.

    Just as $4/gal gas is forcing people to think differently about transportation (for the better I believe), I think the rapidly escalating cost of our public schools is driving us to a tipping point as well - when folks will begin to say "enough - let's do something different!"

    I think this is when Americans are at our best -- when we're shaken out of our apathy by a shared disaster, be it economic, natural or political.

    That shared disaster may well be our public school system.

  8. Paul, brief details in the Dispatch this morning.

    Canal Winchester teachers accepted zero regular raise, step raise intact, and teacher license reimbursement to help pass levy in the their district in the fall
    It has a reopener.

    So how does this get explained away ?

  9. The last official agreement filed with the State Employee Relations Board by Canal Winchester Schools indicates that their current contract is in force until June 10, 2010. It doesn't contain any language saying it may reopened for salary negotiation, but they may have a side letter to that effect.

    I've seen other contracts where multiple salary tables are included, with one set if a levy passes by a certain date, and another if not (see Hamilton Local)

    That's certainly an option our Board could have pursued. Who knows if they even considered it as an option...

  10. If a Tree Falls at Camp Joy....

    Just maybe someone will hear it... At least according to the Hilliard Northwest News. Perhaps Camp Joy isn't dead after all. We'll see.

  11. That's good for this year's 6th graders, but what about coming years? Will this set the precedent of making Camp Joy an off-budget program? If so, what else might the Board choose to make a Pay-to-Play program?

    Certainly, one way to preserve maximum dollars for salaries and benefits is to cut things that parents will rise up and fund anyway...

  12. You make a good point, Paul...

    Just a few thoughts rambling around in my head...

    Some critics would consider Camp Joy 'fluff' (I don't) and complained had it not been cut. Others complained that it shouldn't have been cut. HCSD is being criticized by some for the new HEA contract as being too kind to the teachers. I'm curious, how many of those same people would've been upset with HCSD if there were a long, nasty strike? If the new contract was so good for the teachers' pocketbooks, why did it (reportedly) narrowly pass?

    There are certainly valid criticisms to be made of the BOE and HCSD. However, I just thought I'd express a few thoughts & questions from a different point of view.

  13. Thanks for doing so. I don't think there has a official statement from the HEA as to the yea/nay count on the contract vote, nor do I think one is forthcoming. It may or may not have been as close as we have been led to believe.

    There are few occasions when a strike is desired - by either side - but sometimes that's what it takes. Note that a strike by employees isn't the only nuclear weapon on the battlefield - the employer can choose to lock out employees if there is no contract, which in the case of our schools would mean having the Board choose not to open the schools even if the teachers are willing to work without a contract.

    In other words, there is a balance of power.

    Either action would cause havoc in the community, and it would take years to recover, if recovery is possible at all.

    But as was the case in the Cold War, it does no good to have the weapons unless the other side believes you'll use them if sufficiently provoked.

    We have our own Cuban Missile Crisis developing before us. I hope the leaders on both sides are up to it.

  14. It was reported in the Hilliard Northwest News that Camp Joy for 2008 is officially dead. The numbers tell an interesting story.

    Camp Joy has always been primarily funded by the $140 participation fee paid by the kid's family. That part of the $188,000 needed to fund the program should have been the easiest part. I thought it would be the last $50,000 that the school district normal invests that would be the challenge.

    But it turns out that only 350 of the 1,236 6th graders paid their $140 fee by the deadline, leaving the fundraising effort $121,000 short.

    Certainly part of the difficulty was that this all took place during the summer break, but those 1,236 families had to know all this was going on - most if not all received letters from the fundraising group.

    So what does this mean? How can a program which has been seemingly so successful for so many years just die? Is there really that little support, suggesting the Board made the right decision in cutting the funding? Or did these families feel the $140 is money they could better use for other things (which doesn't bode well for levy passage)?

    Or is this just another example of chronic apathy? That's what I fear...