Sunday, April 3, 2011

Clarification and Apology

I published a piece Friday about a story published in the student newspaper of Bradley High School - The Reporter.

I am guilty of violating one of my own principles: keeping the governance debates between the adults of our school district, and leaving the students out of it. In this emotional dialog about SB5, a piece of legislation which I have been publicly critical of, I put a student - a student writer for The Reporter - in the line of fire.

To Ms. Haworth, the reporter:  I apologize to you for doing this.  My comments were never meant to criticize you or question your integrity. I'll endeavor to not repeat this mistake.

Paul Lambert


  1. I applaud you for posting this apology, but I also have to wonder why you handled this situation as you did in the first place? I am the mother of the "student journalist" who posted a comment on the story thread. It seems to me that had your intention simply been to point out bias in the story and call attention to a lapse by the advisor, you would have simply stuck with sending the letter you mentioned. Instead, you opened up a student writer and a dedicated teacher (one who has won journalism awards with her newspapers) to public castigation. I hope you will be more careful in the future, especially as a member of the Hilliard City Schools administration. I realize YOU weren't necessarily ridiculing the student or the teacher, but many of your followers did because some of them clearly lack your communication savvy and critical thinking ability. I certainly hope this incident does not make student writers afraid to tackle tough story topics--topics like SB5, which with its hundreds of pages of legalese are often way over the head of even the smartest high school student to understand--or make teachers afraid to become newspaper advisors. Help me understand your reasoning in presenting this in a public forum, because all I can assume otherwise is that it was to get noticed finding something else to criticize about Hilliard schools. Are you hoping the levy passes? I have to wonder this too because posts like this seem to fan the anti-levy flames, even if that is not your intention.

  2. Fair questions.

    I've been fighting for a number of years to promote an informed and comprehensive dialog about the intersection of economics and politics in our community. I fear that our community is in danger of going completely off the rails, and believe - perhaps naively - that if the people would just get a little more engaged, that we could solve some of these issues before its too late.

    We have a city government (Hilliard) that seems eager to facilitate the construction of more and more homes in our community, when when doing so significantly increases the fiscal stress on both the city and the school district. I recently heard a presentation from the city planning department about their vision for how a couple thousand new homes could be accomodated on lands annexed into the City of Hilliard in the past couple of years. The question is why the city annexed that land in the first place - there certainly was no requirement that they do so.

    It seems to me that the primary beneficiary is the developer, and it's going to cost the rest of us a ton of money to subsidize the cost of educating all the new kids that will come with those houses. Why would a city government choose to benefit developers and harm the community?

    I've also pushed for many years for more discussion and debate in our school board. In years past, our school board would meet for minutes in public, then routinely go into executive session for hours. Perhaps my reporting on this changed this behavior, but there still isn't much discussion.

    I believe that our school district needs to do a much better job of educating our community about the basic economics of our public schools. Clearly the approaches used to date aren't working. School officials will say that they've tried with the occasional presentation, but no one shows up. But that's like a retailer saying they run ads every once in a blue moon, and yet don't understand why no one shows up in their stores the rest of the time. This is a retail marketing challenge, and we should be attacking it at such, with much repeating of a simple message. It can be done.

    I've also expressed the opinion that the information coming out of the school district is sometimes biased and manpulative in regard to fiscal matters, and doesn't always tell the whole story. The information about levies often fall into this category.

    The school funding system in Ohio is designed to give communities great control over what they offer (provided they meet minimum standards) and how much they spend. The State grants us a certain amount of money - passed out in amounts inversely proportional to the affluence of a community - and expects local school districts to take it from there. In these tough times, the state leaders are clearly going to solve their problems by passing it on to the local government. It has never been more important that the people of our community understand what's going on.

    When our costs go up, it's because decisions have been made that allow those costs go up - in particular the 88% of our budget that has to do with compensation and benefits.

    Does that mean I think teachers are paid too much? No, not in general, In fact, one of my kids is a teacher and I wish she were paid more. But there is no 'right number' for what to pay a teacher, any more than there is a 'right number' to pay a lawyer. Compensation is worked out between an employee and an employer, a provider and a client. Most workers in this country represent themselves in that negotiation. Some, including our school employees, choose to unionize and bargain collectively. I have no problem with that.

    But the voters/taxpayers of the community have to play a part in this adversarial negotiation process, and they can't do so without information and analysis - and motivation.

    So here's goes: (see next)

  3. There are only a few big knobs we can adjust:

    1. How much we spend, and at what rate our spending grows. This chart, drawn directly from data published in the official Five Year Forecast answers that question. Our spending has grown at a much higher rate than the rate our student population has grown, and nearly all the growth has been in compensation and benefits. So we had better talk about this.

    2. How large of a levy will the majority of voters in our community will support The conventional wisdom by folks who specialize in levy strategy is that these days this number is about 6.9, which is why we have a levy of this size on the ballot.

    3. How frequently will levies be put on the ballot? As this chart shows, since our rate of spending growth has been accelerating, it has forced levies to be spaced at ever-shortening intervals. We are now entering a period of having a levy on the ballot every two years, if spending - personnel spending - is allowed to continue growing at the current rate, and there is no appetite for levies larger than about 7 mills.

    And this has little to do with the acceleration of the Personal Property Tax Reimbursement Phaseout - we were on this course before this deep state funding cut was announced. We might now easily be in a position where we have to put another levy on the ballot NEXT year, or seriously cut some programs, even if the levy passes in May...

    ...unless we can do something about the growth rate of compensation and benefits costs. Many districts in Ohio are facing similar situations, and SB5 is the crude tool the Governor and the General Assy have made available so that local governments, including school districts, can try to deal with state funding cuts.

    I think it can be solved with an informed and engaged conversation involving all the stakeholders - homeowners, business owners, teachers and staff, and the municipal governments. It won't be solved by pointing fingers or worse yet - failing to take action until it is too late.

    So on this story - some very smart and concerned people feel SB5, crude as it is, may be the only path to gaining fiscal control over their local governments. Those are the people I want to be heard as well, because they make some very good points. It is not appropriate for any official publication of the school district - including student newspapers - to give coverage to only one side of the issue, and it smacks of propaganda, not the journalistic integrity and critical thinking skills our students should be having taught.

    Unfortunately, SB5 took on a vindictive and partisan nature, and in doing so seriously jeopardized the ability to have a rational conversation. The emotionally-charged debate over this that will take place over the next seven months will be incredibly harmful to our state.

    Lastly - I remain conflicted about this levy. I pushed for passage of the last levy saying we needed to protect our school district while we try to get things under control.

    It seems to me that we're in the same place, only three years later. If the school leadership won't engage in meaningful strategic dialog about the economics of our district because they believe they don't have to, how else do we change their mind?

  4. My replies did not fault the student writer of the article either - I criticized the content as being opinion rather than news and the fact that it contained errors and extreme over-exaggeration. I will admit to criticizing the teachers - for both presenting the writer with the inaccuracies (Ms. West-McLinn) and for allowing the piece to published as is (Ms. Sayre) I stand by those criticisms. To
    As well, the students were brought into play due to the quote from the senior Bradley student - I don't believe Paul was in error for bringing the article to our attention.

    Concerned Mother - constructive criticism is NOT castigation. I feel your daughter was taken advantage of, and I feel well within my rights to state such. I am NOT a fan of SB5 either, but that doesn't mean it should be opposed based on misstatements of fact, and in this case, it was. As a reporter, your daughter is going to face criticism for her writing on a regular basis should she write about politics - it goes with the territory, right or wrong. And again, that was certainly NOT my intent. Had the facts been correct, I would have assigned a B+ to the article.

  5. @Concerned Mother -- One of my kids has taken this particular class, so I am well versed on what is taught. On more than one occasion my child's news story was rejected for being one sided, but her editorial pieces were fine.

    This was a page one story. It was supposed to be news. It wasn't. Mrs Sayre violated her own rules, and lost an opportunity to teach this student reporter the difference between news and opinion.

    No one is criticizing the student who wrote the piece, but I can tell you from my own kid's experience that this piece had to get through 2 editors -- the section editor and the editor in chief (Mrs Sayre).

    Both should have rejected this because there was no other side to the story presented and regardless of which side we may agree with, there are two sides to this issue.

    There's a teachable moment here; sadly I don't think anyone will learn from it.

  6. Hillirdite: Just to clarify, I am not the mother of the Bradley reporter. I am the mother of another student reporter at another Hilliard high school. And you might "stand by" your criticism of the teacher, but you do so without knowing ANY of the facts regarding the publication of the story, which is hardly impressive. Perhaps the teacher was out sick when that had to go to publication. You wouldn't know because you made assumptions based on the published story alone. You claimed that this isolated case is a good argument for merit pay. You might want to check the new SB5 law because this teacher wouldn't even be eligible for merit pay based on the definition, unless the legislature decides to make journalism a state-tested subject so students can show "value added growth" on it. Making sweeping general statements like you did about this teacher without even knowing the teacher's track record over years of advising a student publication hardly makes you credible in this case. Hence my remark about the lack of critical thinking.

  7. Concerned - perhaps you should read SB5 - ALL teachers would be subject to merit pay since "steps" would be eliminated. I don't think I need to know any more facts than what the opinion piece showed - that liberal bias is highly evident in our schools, and students have been dragged into the fray. A newspaper, and it's staff, is judged on it's publication; in the case of a student newspaper, it is the teachers who are also judged.
    Not only that, both of my kids spent K-12 in the HCSD and they both experienced the divisive tactics during the last contentious levy vote. The students were force-fed "pro-levy" propaganda, and they also experienced the effects of teachers "working the rule". While those are entirely different subject matters than this, the net effect is the same, which is why I stated that Paul should not feel like he dragged the students into the debates. The students are already forced to be in the debate and the least that advisor should have done is make sure of the facts. (Out sick? Really? That's the best you can come up?) She failed to do that, and Ms. West-McLinn failed to give the writers accurate facts to start with. I don't call that isolated - I call it a trend.

  8. Paul, can you clarify the discrepancy on Merit Pay here? Everything I have seen certainly does not suggest that all teachers will be eligible for it. I think Hillirdite might be confusing Merit Pay with "performance-based evaluation measures," which all teachers' salaries must be based on under SB5. But my understanding of the Merit Pay provision is that teachers will be eligible for $50 per student in state-tested subjects if that student shows greater than one year's worth of growth using value-added data.

    Hillirdite, all I can say is that I have two high school students who also have attended Hilliard schools K-12, and they have never experienced any of the "divisive tactics" you mention. I am so glad my husband and I chose to make Hilliard our home 20 years ago. I have never for one minute regretted our choice, even though I sometimes worry about the incredibly high level of competition in both sports and academics. My kids, both of whom are high achievers who needed extra challenges and participated in a wide variety of activities, have had a FAR better education than my husband or I did at their age. The opportunities for HS students to earn college credit are unparalleled in Hilliard. My kids have consistently had outstanding teachers. I can't wait to vote FOR Issue 7 to hopefully "pay it forward" so the next generation of Hilliard students are as fortunate as my sons have been.

  9. I suspect Hillirdite is using "merit pay" and "performance pay" interchangeably - which would be my inclination as well - and he's referring to the notion that a teacher's compensation would be based on several criteria, including the catch-all "any other criteria established by the Board."

    I recall hearing about the $50 kicker you mention, but don't know that this made it to the final bill. It's not mentioned in the official analysis, nor have I found "$50" or "fifty dollars" anywhere in the Bill text.

    There was indeed a "work to the contract" action taken by the teachers' union during the last contract negotiation, as well as wearing black on Fridays. None of this is against the law or a violation of the contract, but it was designed to use the kids as a conduit to the parents.

  10. Correct Paul - I do tend to use the two terms interchangeably, and I could be wrong in doing so. But I can't find that $50 figure either - I highly suspect it did not make it into the final bill, as many other things did not. And that merely reinforces my stance - the opinion piece posing as news read exactly like so many of the Topix posts from the Dispatch articles - everyone knowing what, exactly, SB5 was going to do before it even made it over the House side. Difference is the Bradley article was not a bunch of anonymous posters - it was using HCSD educators to make the same outrageous, inflammatory claims, and those same educators used the student writer to do so.
    I will also admit to making an error in judgment by lumping all teachers into one category - normally I am very anti "all", "always" and "never" since that is generally not the case. But I have been watching the HCSD closely for over 3 years now and I certainly know what the trends have been - and I am seeing pretty much a repeat of 2008. I hope that Concerned will be just as gung-ho for the 2013 levy, and then again in 2015 - both of which will cost more than 6.9 mils if something doesn't change. Concerned might also keep in mind that even with passage of Issue 7, those same cuts could come about if the new contracts mirror the last ones. Perhaps she could weigh in on that last contract - 7% raises for the majority of HEA members while at the same exact time, implementing most of the exact same cuts now being promised. A teacher at that time wrote to the SNP paper that she was actually facing a cut in pay when the math proved her dead wrong - part of that trend I refer to.
    I find it reprehensible that folks who could very well be on the edge of losing their home, or our seniors who have gotten no COLA in SS for two straight years, will have to come up with another $3-600 in order to continue increasing compensation for a privileged few. We rewarded them extremely well during the good times - these are no longer the good times. This isn't personal - this is fiscal.
    I'm still voting NO on May 3.

  11. I will always vote--and work--in favor of the schools, Hillirdite. So YES, I will be as "gung ho" then as I am now, provided I continue to witness the outstanding education outcomes I see now. And a vote against a levy in any circumstances does not help my property values. I don't have all the answers to the very real concerns we face, but I sure do not want to see us become the next South-Western, where the perception is the schools are weak and where home values continue to drop since they have failed so many levies. And I understand that to get the best professionals, we have to invest in our faculty. That's the extent to which I am going to weigh in on the HEA contract except to say that I feel it is an excellent investment of my money, and I certainly do not consider public school employees the "privileged few." My husband works in the private sector, and I see bonuses in his industry that FAR outweigh anything public sector employees receive. I applaud our district's employees for voluntarily taking a pay freeze this year. Some of my sons' teachers have multiple Master's degrees and even PhDs. They have achieved a level of education comparable to doctors and lawyers, and I'd argue the service they provide is just as important. Viewed that way, I consider their salaries (even with the steps) a hell of a good deal. Our kids in Hilliard get the level of education that in many public districts is only available in private schools at a much higher cost than this levy. So you are right that it is fiscal. But remember there are many ways to look at the fiscal side. Finally, I don't expect to post much on this site anymore as I know enough about persuasion and communication to know when I need to cut my losses with a certain audience. I think my time and energies will be much better spent working FOR the passage of Issue 7. If you re reading this blog and you are undecided, please join me in protecting our property values and programming!

  12. Concerned, you seem to harbour a great many perceptions that are not substantiated by facts. I will address one.

    Here is my opinion: Hilliard is at a tipping point in terms of property taxes. Additional assessments may actually undermine your property value. Our taxes are going to be noticably higher than other areas, thus reducing demand from central Ohio home buyers.

    Here are the facts: Hilliard has the highest school taxes in Franklin County. Comparing Hilliard's highest effective school tax rates to other districts in Franklin County (calculations assume Gahanna, Olenangy, and Hilliard all pass our May levies) yields the following:

    Our taxes will be +6% higher than Bexley's
    10% higher than UA
    14% higher than Olentangy and Worthington
    15% higher than Dublin and Westerville
    16% higher than Grandview
    30% higher than Gahanna and Pickerington

    I am certain that I will be voting no on Issue 7. That decision is grounded in facts and analysis. But I always keep my antenna out there for new facts that could change my mind.

    I would suggest you do the same.

  13. @ConcernedMother

    "Some of my sons' teachers have multiple Master's degrees and even PhDs. They have achieved a level of education comparable to doctors and lawyers, and I'd argue the service they provide is just as important."

    Irrelevant, and shows that you simply don't comprehend the problem we are facing.

    The question you should be asking is if any of those master's degrees and PhDs are *necessary*.

    The answer is no.

    I got a considerably better education when I was growing up than anything I can possible expect HCSD to provide for my kids, even if they had a blank check. I accept that. I went to an incredible school. I was lucky.

    One teacher -- our Chemistry teacher -- IN THE ENTIRE SCHOOL (700 kids) had more than a bachelors degree -- a PhD.

    Ironically, his PhD was in Divinity (he was also a preacher).

    You should also understand the extra-curricular stipends which are based on a % of salary.

    Does the history teacher's masters degree really make him a better track coach, and therefore paid more?

    Lastly, your comment on property values is laughable given what we just went through in the past 3 years...

  14. Concerned - Just want to make sure you are aware that most of the increased money from all of these levies is going to compensation - not expanded services for the students. For you to say you will always and gladly vote Yes to keep that trend going puts you on the opposite side of the fence from those of us who have been around this blog for the past several years, or more. Your position also affects your neighbors who simply cannot afford to increase their taxes for such a selfish purpose.
    We (I think I speak for the majority around here?) don't wish you to think there is anything personal in this - not towards you nor to the staff of the HCSD. Many of us simply have a different fiscal perspective of how the district is being run and many of us do not see anything changing unless the purse strings are tightened.
    Again I would ask you - do you agree with the district imposing the cuts back in 2008 immediately after increasing compensation and immediately after a levy had failed? Does that seem to be the proper priorities? I see that as the defining moment in my views - what are yours? I STILL voted Yes on that levy when it came back on the ballot in the fall, stating I would work for change from within, and not be considered a No to any Levy person regardless of
    need. I refuse to make that mistake again.

  15. You do NOT speak for the majority "around here." I would consider your fiscal perspective to be quite selfish, not the perspective of Concerned Mother. The taxes will only be $18 total per month for $100,000 of home value. I am willing to venture that most people contributing to this blog pay $100 or more for their cable each month, but you're not willing to shell it out for education?
    This levy will only maintain the schools. Services cost money as Paul has pointed out, and this is how much the service costs. Prices are rising everywhere, and you seem to think this does not apply to schools? Are you going to stop buying groceries because the prices are going up? Of course not, because it is a necessity. Your opposition to Issue 7 only shows that you do not value education in this community, that good education is not a necessity.
    And as Concerned Mother pointed out, teachers are educated professionals who deserve probably more than what they are being paid now, yet they have taken a voluntary pay freeze. These people are preparing your kids for the future. Hilliard is not rated Excellent with Distinction by accident. It is important that we maintain that excellence.
    By not passing the levy, you are not going to teach anyone a lesson, as it seems most people on here intend to do. In fact, all you will do is hurt the kids. The services that will be cut for them will take a long time to replace. Not passing the levy will not cause anyone to reevaluate how money is spent, or make anyone spend money the way you want them to. It will result in the cutting of valued services. These kids deserve the same, if not better services as students who came before them and by not passing the levy, students will not have this.
    Also, districts that don't pass levies send the message to outsiders that the community does not support schools and yes, then the property values will drop lower than they are now. We'll see how hard you're laughing then, Hilliardite. $18 a month for education is too much? Your priorities are "laughable."
    And for those of you still attacking that poor teacher at Bradley, shame on you. Teachers did not go into their profession to use kids as puppets for their own political gain. A journalism teacher is a pretty easy target as the paper is published each month for anyone to rip apart. Bullies attack easy targets. Mrs. Sayre has established two award winning student newspapers at two different high schools, no easy feat. It is not only unfair, but wrong to crucify her for one mistake. She is an ethical person with the best intentions for her kids, and it is wrong to judge her without knowing her. It is even worse to assume that not only she, but every teacher in Hilliard is doing this. From my experience, teachers want the best for their students without any hidden agenda.
    This will be my only comment to this blog. I typically avoid getting tied up in these, but felt obligated to support Concerned Mother as she was also attacked by most of you. If you are on the fence about Issue 7, please visit and join me in voting yes on May 3rd.

  16. To keep this dialog from going the way of Topix, I've disabled further comments. Thanks to all those who have weighed in.