Leaving Finland

Lake Jyvasjarvi I have never lived anywhere for 5 months other than Jyvaskyla, Finland. As my Fulbright journey concludes, there is so much to still digest. It will take months, if not years, to truly assimilate all the learning. Before I left Southern California, I wrote about the what I would miss the most from home and what I  looked forward to experiencing in Finland. It is safe to say I met my goals. Top 7 Goals 1. Discussing Education Helsinki Workshop Through professional development programs, Fulbright Finland connected teachers with scholars and researchers, for the purpose of putting inquisitive minds together. The Making Democracies Resilient to Modern Threats seminar provided participants with fascinating research and presentations. 2. Nordic Model Bus station in Espoo What does an efficient and earnest country look like?  It looks like Finland. Yes, people pay higher taxes, but get so much in return. I for one appreciated the well-maintained ro

What Happened to the $200,000,000? Will the School Board Be Denied Tenure Over This?

Teachers in South Central are shocked and aghast at hearing that the school district cannot account for $200,000,000 in money spent on salaries, the Los Angeles Times reported today.

"The Los Angeles school district paid $200 million more in salaries than it budgeted last year even as it laid off 2,000 teachers and hundreds of other employees, according to an internal audit" writes Howard Blume, a Times education reporter who sometimes gets things right.

Two. Hundred. Million. Dollars.

How many jobs could that have saved? At the average new teacher salary of about $40,000, that could have saved 5,000 jobs. At our school, it could have easily preserved our young teaching force, 23 teachers, who were fired and let go in order to "right-size" the district. Over 1,000 students have been affected by having a substitute teacher this year. This could have been avoided.

Let's see where this went wrong. Someone was crunching the numbers. Theoretically, LAUSD had enough credentialed teachers to man all posts throughout the district, and the surplus pool of teachers that was created when elementary class sizes went from 20:1 to 24:1 was deemed expendable, and teachers in this group were consequently terminated.

But schools like mine DID NOT receive the credentialed teachers we were promised. Why? Because its scary to work in South Central. Imagine a kindergarten teacher who has never set foot into a middle school campus, suddenly gets reassigned to primo inner-city territory. Some kids like to play the "give the new teacher a nervous breakdown" game and do not give these teachers a nice reception, especially when they are angry at having lost teachers such as Ms. Sanlin and Ms. Umber, whom they were looking forward to having this year.

So the displaced/reassigned teachers don't show. Now, you are not only paying them their salary while AWOL, but you are paying another teacher to substitute in that very class. Are you getting this? TWO ENTIRE SALARIES PAID FOR ONE SINGLE POSITION. This situation may offer a clue to where the $200,000,000 went.

At our school, substitutes have manned almost all 23 of these positions as the displaced teachers finally began trickling in. Although our school year started July 1, 2009, we did not receive teachers until late August, September, even some in December. Then, just when we thought things were settling down, some reassigned teachers were given their old jobs back and left the school, once again, with unfilled positions. Clearly, this situation is not good for students, and it surely doesn't make sense financially either.

Further, if this expensive error adds to the current deficit, this means even more teachers will be laid-off to make up for it. Since we continue to have a large amount of teachers with low seniority, we stand to lose even more personnel next school year. There is no end to how many ways South Central is bearing the impact of budget cuts and BUDGET ERRORS.

And one last thought: its easy to focus attention on the sketchy teacher who was fired for his scurrilous acts towards others..."Bad teacher! Get rid of him!" But to comprehend the actual amount of $200,000,000 is more abstract. Who do you get angry at? Deloitte Consulting, which continues to give us a poor payroll product that is costing people their livelihoods? The school board, for allowing this to happen? The AWOL teachers who took advantage of the district's dysfunction to take an extra-long summer vacation? The Superintendent?

In December, Superintendent Cortines made the following statement about the consequences for new teachers who aren't making the cut:

“The days of coddling ineffective teachers, or allowing them to be moved to another school, are over,” Cortines said. “So are the years of brief—if any—observations of teachers in the classroom and a refusal to provide either the support needed to help struggling teachers improve or the documentation needed to usher those who don’t belong in a classroom out of this District. Mediocrity is no longer acceptable. No more excuses. Yes, it takes time—time our students don’t have to waste.”

I wonder if this new evaluation policy only applies to the single, classroom teacher, whose firing would go unnoticed by anyone, or if it will apply to leadership at Beaudry as well. I wonder whether anyone will take responsibility for this vastly, damaging error whose repercussions will be felt by an entire generation of students.


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