Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Budgetary Boundary Lines

Boundaries. The older I get, the more I understand the importance of boundaries. Physical boundaries matter. When we bought our house, the property line was drawn two different ways on two different documents; that was a problem if we wanted peace with our new neighbors. Personal boundaries matter, too. Wielding coffee breath, close talking, and knowing when a hug is appropriate are all part of the when-is-close-too-close shuck-and-jive.

When one has a supervisory role over children, boundaries are paramount. If we suspect a child has been abused or neglected, there is a legal protocol for who is notified and how. If an emergency situation occurs in the building, there is a protocol for where we go, what we do, and how we account for each child’s location. We have rules for grades and hall passes and lunch and dismissal. We are responsible for the well-being of nearly 16,000 young lives. Boundaries matter.  

Boundary Issue 1: MOE
When it comes to money and the county education budget, the two Angry Ones running for Board of Education seats, Ron Lobos and Kevin Emmerich, do not draw clear boundary lines. They have publicly made many statements about the law concerning MOE (or “Maintenance of Effort”). Their public writings lack clarity on exactly what they want to do about MOE itself, but they are using the law as a rallying cry for what they claim is wrongdoing on the part of CCPS in creating the annual budget. Let’s examine MOE and what it really means.

Funding for public education comes from three sources:
  • usually a little less than half from the local government,
  • usually more than half from the state government, and
  • the rest of it from the federal government (as illustrated this year in the CCPS budget).
MOE law ensures that state governments don’t try to unload state public school funding onto the feds and that county governments don’t try to unload county public school funding onto the state. It attempts to maintain the existing balance among these three funding sources.

MOE funding in Maryland originated back in the 1980s. In simple terms, MOE was designed to make sure that state and local governments don’t react to the immediate financial pressures of the day by gutting public education budgets. No matter what financial crisis is occurring in a locality, children still need to go to school, and an educated populace is—always—one of the best strategies that an economically troubled area can have to limit the long-term damage to the local economy. MOE focuses on the long-term needs of a community, not on the short-term panic of the day.

MOE requires counties to fund schools at least at the same level they were funded the year before. But this is important: MOE does not take into account inflation, at-risk student population needs, program expansion, and unfunded mandates, and it excludes the costs of preschool and pre-K. Note what those exclusions mean for any locality: Contrary to the way in which Mr. Lobos and Mr. Emmerich have tried to construe this situation, funding schools at the MOE level is a budget cut because it does not take those factors into account.

MOE levels of funding are for emergency situations. During the economic crisis of several years ago, Cecil County funded the schools at the MOE level in FY2010, FY2011, and FY2012. 
Source: Cecil County Public Schools
The effect of these budget cuts was thus:
  • the majority of the jobs that have been cut from the school budget since 2010
  • halts on all program improvements (instructional programs, extracurricular programs, instructional support for teachers—the whole shebang) in the school system
  • reductions in facilities maintenance that have led to our agonizing facilities crises
  • “robbing Peter to pay Paul”: cutting from one budget area to shore up another (for example, addressing inequities in middle school staffing by slicing high school staffing—when high schools were not overstaffed but were less understaffed than middle schools)

Funding schools at MOE levels is dangerous. In fact, funding schools at MOE levels is a nightmare. Why is MOE funding bad even though its intent is to prevent long-term nightmares? BECAUSE MOE FUNDING IS A CUT IN FUNDING. Look at the bullet list above. Exactly which parts of that list are “needed cuts for fiscal responsibility,” and which parts are just completely awful? Face it: The entire list is completely awful and detrimental to the quality of public education in Cecil County. 

Of course, Mr. Lobos and Mr. Emmerich’s primary intent is not supporting quality public education; instead, their intent is to focus on MOE as a vehicle to accuse CCPS of participating in a scheme to get more money from the county government.

I don’t know how many more ways CCPS can demonstrate its transparency and candor in these budget issues (Frances Bowman recently elaborated on this issue on her page).  I am starting to wonder if focusing on a complicated law like MOE is a way to distract the public from the very real concerns driving the CCPS budget by casting aspersions on the people who formulate that budget. I hope that the public is done with that nonsense by now. 

Meanwhile, back on Facebook…

Boundary Issue 2: Student and Parent Privacy
With the Angry Ones, boundary issues in one area are a red flag signaling boundary issues in another area. I submit an example for your consideration, an example that should give one pause before choosing a candidate for an office involving any oversight role with public schools and the safety and well-being of children.

Facebook pages for political campaigns are now part of the norm in American politics. These public sites are, ideally, intended to give the candidate a forum to rally supporters, to provide information on the issues, and to help voters get to know the candidate. During the month of February, four candidates for Board of Education (Fazzino, Doordan, Lobos, and Emmerich) launched public Facebook campaign sites. Mr. Emmerich and Mr. Lobos chose as their public campaign “cover photo” (the large banner photo that sets the tone for a Facebook page) a photograph of children and school buses that they took from the Cecil County Public Schools website. 

I will not link or post that photo here because, like most people on social media, I know that posting photos of minor children on social media without their parents’ permission (or even the permission of the owner of the photo--in this case, CCPS) is ethically reprehensible. Mr. Lobos and Mr. Emmerich apparently did not know that.

In school, responsible technology use policies are important. Every year, parents can opt out of having any school photos or videotapes of their children posted publicly on the CCPS website or anywhere else. Each school distributes that no-photo list to teachers so that teachers like me (who use videotape of lessons for professional development with other CCPS teachers) know which children to keep off of any kind of film. Teachers who post photos of students on their personal social media sites can get into big trouble for posting those shots. This ethical boundary is important.

Below are screenshots of the relevant sections of the CCPS Responsible Use of Technology policies that are publicly available on the CCPS website.

Source: Cecil County Public Schools
Imagine my horror when I saw that Mr. Lobos and Mr. Emmerich used a photo of children from the CCPS website on their very public pages. Posting the photo is a violation of Facebook’s Terms of Use (see the screenshot of relevant Rule #1 below).
Source: Facebook
Posting the photo is also a direct violation of the CCPS policy regarding use of their photos (see above CCPS screenshots). But, I told myself, these guys are new at this game. They’re used to trolling comment threads on other sites where they say and post whatever they like with little oversight or consequences. Someone will tell them not to post that kind of thing, and they’ll take it down.

Well, someone did tell them not to post that kind of thing. In the comment thread for the photo on Mr. Lobos’ campaign site, a Lobos supporter indicates that CCPS asked the campaigns to remove the photo. Mr. Emmerich has removed the photo from his page. Mr. Lobos, however, has not only continued to post the photo; he also dug in his heels in a particularly nasty exchange with Frances Bowman and the other gentleman when Mrs. Bowman rightly argued that removing the photo was a matter of common decency. 

(This is also the reason I have not linked you to their Facebook pages for their comments on MOE. You can easily search for that yourself, and I won’t link you to them while that photo remains in place.)

When Mrs. Bowman, a parent blogger about schools, indicates that Mr. Lobos is not following those standards, Mr. Lobos’ immediate response is not contrition and maturity; it is defensiveness and hostility toward CCPS. Because his campaign page is public and thus fair game according to Facebook’s Terms of Use, I took screenshots of that exchange and post them here for your edification. 

(I have posted them in the four segments in which I photographed them, with the photos of the comment-thread participants and other websites’ photos blocked out, because posting those photos without permission is wrong. Also, unlike Mrs. Bowman and Mr. Lobos, the Lobos supporter is not yet a public figure in this budget debate, so even though I do not need to block his name from the screenshot, I am doing so as a courtesy to him.)
Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4

Note that Mr. Lobos has no understanding of or interest in school system policy related to the privacy of public school children. Note the lengths to which he and his supporter go in trying to defend the indefensible use of the photo but then move on to calling for the complete privatization of public schools. 

Public school parents, please note the part where Mr. Lobos’ supporter says that, if you cannot afford to send your children to private school, then you should not have children. Can you see that someone “Liked” that post? The “Liker” of that comment is none other than “Ron Lobos for Cecil County Board of Education.” Here is that comment again with the cursor hovering over the “Liker” to reveal the name:
Just so we’re clear: Mr. Lobos is running for a seat on the Board of Education, which oversees public education in Cecil County, and he “likes” the idea of abolishing public education. Do with that information what you will.

Mr. Lobos made a mistake in posting that photo of children without the permission of CCPS or their parents. That mistake would be forgivable if he had just removed the photo as Mr. Emmerich did. The average adult, upon hearing that one should not post photos of minor children without their parents’ or schools' permission, would immediately remove the photo and feel quite embarrassed for having posted it in the first place. Mr. Lobos’s response to that information is not only to be completely unphased  about violating those ethical parameters but also to be rude in his response to Mrs. Bowman.

Boundary issues aren’t always cut and dry (especially with newer technologies). A candidate's personal (but still publicly accessible) Facebook page is riddled with disturbing memes and diatribes, and he doesn't understand that he should have set some privacy restrictions on that mess when he decided to run for public office? OK. But to have the school system tell him to take downagainon a public campaign sitea photo that is not his, of children who are not his, whose parents have not given him permission to use it, and then refuse to take it down? That’s not OK.

This situation begs the question of whether this candidate has any respect for the rules governing the safety of children or any respect for the parents of the children he wants a role in educating.

With their misinformed and confusing statements about MOE, Mr. Lobos' and Mr. Emmerich's only boundaries seem to involve how much of their own money they are willing to contribute to the community resources from which they benefit. Those boundary lines are punitive and detrimental to the entire county in the short term and in the future.

In addition, Mr. Lobos’ lack of boundaries in his political discourse and in the policies surrounding children and their rights should bother us even more.

Writing this kind of post does not make me at all happy. I hate it, and I want to write the positive stuff I am known for in the teacher world instead. I solely go after these candidates’ incorrect and/or mean-spirited public statements and public postings about education, and I do so as directly as I can with facts and publicly accessible (and thus verifiable) information. I question myself about these posts constantly:
  • Am I just reacting to these guys out of anger? (And the resulting irony of feeling anger when dealing with the people I myself named the “Angry Ones” is not lost on me.)
  • Am I being fair? 
  • Can I back up every single thing I say with facts?

I don’t post anything unless I know that my writing passes the test of these questions. The fact is that these candidates’ public statements about the school system are not true. Whether that misinformation results from a genuine misunderstanding of the issues or from maliciousness, I don’t know. But I do know this: This election is serious. This election matters. 

In this election season, ask yourself what your own boundaries are for yourself, your children, and your community, and then examine the boundaries of the candidates for office. Don’t be duped by public bluster and by candidates who are not telling the truth about these issues that matter to you and your family.
  • Save our schools with common sense.
  • Save our schools to make our community stronger.
  • Save our schools with your vote in the primary on April 26.


Speaking of voting...

Fun Fact: I have been surprised by how many citizens do not realize that they can vote on all of the contested school board seats regardless of where they live in the county. We all can vote on all of them (not just the seat for the district in which we live). So vote in the primary. You have until April 5 to register, and your vote has never been more important for the children of Cecil County.

Full Disclosure: Any post about the current election season will reiterate my earlier disclosure: I support Jim Fazzino for the Elkton seat on Cecil County Board of Education, and my husband is his campaign treasurer. I additionally support William Manlove for the Chesapeake City seat on the Board of Education. As you make choices this campaign season, evaluate everyone’s agenda in this situation and determine for yourselves who is giving you factual information and whom you believe to be trustworthy.

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