County schools oppose Constitutional Amendment 3

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Proposal offers drastic changes to each school district

If Amendment 3 passes, several school administrators say that action could weaken the authority of each local district, diminish job security for teachers and increase the funding burden for taxpayers.

A ballot measure in Tuesday's general election, Amendment 3 proposes changes to teacher tenure and standardized tests, among others.

"Amendment 3 is kind of one of those constitutional amendments that really redefines local control of school districts, which have for years been with locally elected officials," said Richard Asbill, superintendent of the Cassville School District. "So, I don't think the patrons of Cassville want their school district to be governed by other entities or an umbrella that may or may not be good for Cassville, or Barry County for that matter.

"When you look at the portion of Amendment 3, you have to start wondering about how it could remove the school board's authority to govern local school districts," said Asbill, who opposes the amendment.

Asbill is not telling people to vote yes or no from a school point of view, as there is a policy in place that limits what he can say as a school employee.

"I think that patrons have to look at if they have an issue [with the educational system, a teacher, a school building], and ask, do they want to have that opportunity to visit with their local school board members?" he said. "When you remove that grassroots level of control, that becomes difficult and can be dangerous for our local citizens because you are basically giving up the local control of [your children's education] and the value of that education."

The Cassville, Exeter and Wheaton school boards have passed resolutions opposing Amendment 3. Shell Knob No. 78 has also passed a resolution in opposition.

The Cassville and Wheaton resolutions said Amendment 3 on the November ballot is a state mandate that shifts local control for educational decisions away from parents, teachers, administrators and school; it is a poorly drafted and deeply flawed proposal that has many unintended consequences for teachers, administrators and school boards; it would prevent school boards from hiring, promoting, compensating or dismissing teachers in accordance with board policy; it would force taxpayers to pay for additional standardized tests at a time when our public schools remain significantly underfunded by the state; and it significantly changes teacher evaluations away from a tool to improve teacher performance.

The Southwest Board of Education did not sign a resolution because they wanted to stay neutral on the matter, said Superintendent Bob Walker.

Walker said he disagrees with Amendment 3, which was his personal opinion. He did not speak on behalf of the board or as a representative of the school district.

"I think it's got the potential to have some undesirable outcomes," he said. "My biggest issue is if the majority of [teacher's] evaluations are going to be based on how a particular student or a group of students progress, that's not a clear indication of how effective they are or how hard they work."

Different teachers work with students at different levels and potentials, Walker said.

"I think a good comparison would be if I'm teaching an advanced placement course at the high school level, then chances are the students I'm teaching may progress greater than maybe someone teaching remedial classes," he said. "I'm not being negative toward remedial students or positive toward AP students. I'm just saying that if you're just going to make that comparison based on student progress, then that's not fair."

Students throughout the state take the Missouri Assessment Program exams and the End-of-Course assessments to test their knowledge in communication arts, English, government, history, math and science.

According to Amendment 3, each school would test all students in every subject, Asbill said.

"Right now, we don't have any standardized tests for PE, art, music, woodshop or agriculture," he said. "So, when you look at it, how am I going to, one, develop it, and two, how do you hold an ag teacher accountable for what a communication arts teacher did or didn't do? And so, you would create a very awkward system of accountability."

Asbill also said developing standardized tests is not a cheap endeavor.

"Missouri has a contract to develop our MAP and End-of-Course testing," he said. "I don't know how many millions of dollars or thousands of dollars that it's worth. So, Cassville has to come out and develop standardized tests for all areas and all grade levels. Where is that money going to come from?"

In the Cassville School District, each principal can evaluate the honor roll list, the D and F lists, and trends in a particular course if there are many Fs. That is not an evaluation piece, but a why-students-are-struggling piece, Asbill said.

"You don't want to create a system that makes learning non-authentic," he said. "We want to know what you learned and what you didn't learn."

If voters pass the ballot measure, Amendment 3 would go into effect on Dec. 4, according to the Missouri School Boards' Association.

"There are still many unanswered questions as to how Amendment 3 will interact with the current Teacher Tenure Act," according to the Missouri School Boards Association.

Amendment 3 would still have probationary and tenured teachers, but teachers who become tenured on or after Dec. 4 would have fewer rights than teachers who were tenured prior to that date.

For example, the association said teachers tenured after that date will not have a right to an employment contract with the district at all, let alone the job security of an indefinite contract.

Each school district has its own salary schedule that provides the district a budgetary basis of how to pay employed teachers and any unclassified staff, Asbill said. Amendment 3 would do away with that schedule.

"Those salaries are based on the economic picture of those districts," he said "When you remove that, then it becomes arbitrary about how much is teacher A supposed to get compared to teacher B, and who is responsible for deciding that. When you remove that salary schedule piece, you also have to remember that in budgeting, it becomes very problematic because we are dependent on local, county, state tax dollars.

"Barry County citizens need to probably understand we're not going to get anymore money from the state. So, when Amendment 3 kicks in, how much money are we going to have to have from local dollars, county dollars?"

The Missouri State Teachers Association has also campaigned against Amendment 3.

In September, Teach Great backed away from its support of Amendment 3.

"While we still believe in this measure wholeheartedly and will continue to work to reward and protect good teachers, support struggling teachers and make it easier for schools to hire more great teachers, we will not be moving forward with Amendment 3 this year," said Kate Casas, a Teach Great spokeswoman, in a Sept. 9 release.

Purdy Schools did not pass a resolution in opposition to the amendment, saying there was no need because its supporters have backed away from the measure.

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