Texas is in the midst of a local debt epidemic, one that’s primarily driven by bonds issued by government schools. In fact, K-12 debt is the largest single debt sector in Texas, which continues to increase at a rate greater than enrollment growth, after adjusting for inflation.
Not only are schools amassing unsustainable debt, they’re also using it to purchase items they shouldn’t.
The long-term debt voters approve is supposed to finance large, one-time capital expenditures like school construction over 25-30 years. But many governments are using bond proceeds, instead of operating revenue, to pay for short-term consumables that depreciate in 5-10 years, such as band equipment, uniforms, security devices, school buses and other technology.
Sometimes this debt is retired early…but all too often, it isn’t.
The latest trend in public education is a push towards “1-to-1”, where laptops or IPads are purchased and distributed to every student.
In late 2013, Coppell ISD launched multiple initiatives including Club21 (limited 4th & 5th grade iPad pilot), iWest (limited middle school blended learning pilot) and CG3 (1:1 iPads at the high school). While praised by the district, these programs have been a source of concern from parents, teachers and students.
High-school students have been caught accessing pornographic and offensive material. They have also allegedly been caught “sexting” and sending inappropriate pictures to each other. Students also use the devices for entertainment, either by playing games or watching movies, causing parents to question the academic value of the program. Parents contend that the use of technology doesn’t automatically translate into academic benefits. Nor does it make fiscal sense to buy every student his or her own device.
There are privacy concerns with data collection from student activity on the Internet. Parents also have expressed difficulty accessing student assignments and reviewing curriculum. Some are concerned over the use of online resources, whereby teachers could more easily implement curriculum aligned with Common Core (which is prohibited by state law).
The glaring problems have largely fallen on deaf ears. Although increased firewall protection now prevents students from visiting certain websites, they can still access inappropriate content through apps. And students can still distract themselves with devices in the classroom, and at home, by pretending to study or work on assignments.
In spite of rampant problems, central admin was effectively indifferent to parent and teacher concerns for months and has refused to freeze the programs. They eventually formed a Parent Advisory Committee to recommend and adopt a few, positive changes.
But they’re aggressively moving forward with pilot programs for students in other grade-levels, with the expansion of another program pending approval at the next board meeting on June 23rd.
Nearly six months after parents expressed concern, the district conducted previously planned parent, teacher and student surveys for all three programs.
Interestingly, the results were never fully released to the public.
In fact, the comments sections from all the surveys were fully excluded from presentations at board meetings. Many suspect this was done to hide negative feedback from stakeholders, including teachers, and to protect the programs from any criticism that would validate concerns. Several people have allegedly submitted open records requests to obtain all of the information collected, including the open comments.
A new group, the Engaged Parents of Coppell, formed last year to petition changes from the district. They’ve conducted their own survey, the results of which are posted on their website. They’ve also created a Facebook Page to communicate and share information with community members.
The board’s aloof attitude and collusive relationship with a non-transparent central admin has raised more questions and caused some to dig deeper into the motives of both. There’s growing concern with a much broader scope of issues, such as the direction of CISD’s teaching philosophy, the sources of curriculum related to the Common Core State Standards Initiative (again, prohibited by State law), an elevated preoccupation with environmental issues related to a new construction project, as well as misguided priorities that place “career readiness” ahead of traditional educational and character development.
Texans need to remember that school board trustees are fiduciaries of the public, and are elected to oversee the superintendent’s management of the district. The unelected bureaucrats and public officials charged with oversight are not co-equal authorities.
If certain board members are unwilling to respond to public inquiry, or take action to answer questions and address concerns, then it’s incumbent upon the voters to find new trustees who will.