Regular readers will recognize the reference to Beetle Bailey, and General Halftrack's catch phrase when faced with the bizarre and inexplicable.
To what am I referring? Well, it could be one of several things, but I’ve already talked about Pennsylvania’s new teacher evaluation plan, so let's begin today with the Corbett administration's recent decision to place a moratorium on the PlanCon process.
There is just no way to say this politely: this decision is hare-brained on almost every conceivable level.
“PlanCon” is the procedure that school districts must follow if they want to receive partial state reimbursement for school construction projects. In State College, that amounts to about 9% of construction costs; in many districts, that number is considerably higher. It makes no economic sense for a school district to do a construction project of any significance without access to PlanCon funding.
At a time when architects and construction companies are looking for work – thereby creating a highly favorable bid environment - and interest rates are at historic lows, it’s nearly impossible to imagine a better scenario for undertaking a school construction project. It’s good for the economy because it “creates jobs” and it’s good for taxpayers because, well, it saves money!
But our Governor didn’t want to put the funding for PlanCon reimbursement into this year’s budget. Keep in mind that this won’t save any money in the long run; in fact, it only puts these expenditures off until later, at a significantly greater cost. Buildings will still have to be built or renovated, and in the meantime, districts will have to deal with the additional expense of replacing boilers, fixing roofs, and paying the high energy costs associated with pre-“oil-crisis-era” construction.
This is government at its dysfunctional worst.
On the other hand, I could be referring to the recently enacted legislation regarding school superintendents – another in a series of legislative initiatives that may appear reasonable until you look closely. This is becoming a pattern..
The new law requires that superintendent contracts now include "objective performance standards" mutually agreed upon by the school board and the superintendent. How that provision will be enforced is a mystery to me – how does one penalize duly elected public officials, and what precedent would this set if we applied the same logic to our representatives at the federal and state levels?
But more importantly, this requirement reflects a profound lack of understanding of the responsibilities of upper management in any organization, and how one effectively evaluates the discharge of those responsibilities. For example, how does one objectively determine whether the superintendent has implemented strategies to ensure fiscal stewardship? Or developed leadership capacity within the organization? Or established a process for aligning and updating curriculum? Or effectively communicated with the community?
Allow me to point out that merely assigning a number value to any of these goals in no way makes that evaluation ‘objective’. But that’s a point probably lost on legislators.
In addition, superintendent eligibility previously required a graduate degree in educational administration, and at least six years of education experience. But under recently passed House Bill 1307, that’s no longer necessary: anyone with a degree in business, management or law can now become a school superintendent.
A superintendent is - or should be - the educational leader of a school system: at a minimum, he or she should know what it’s like to have been inside a classroom! - just as the head of your business office should be someone with experience and expertise in school finance. This change makes sense only if you believe that becoming an excellent educator requires no specialized knowledge or training.
Which is precisely what many politicians apparently have come to believe about teachers; perhaps that explains their thinking.