Does this outfit make me…

December 5, 2014

Dejected she tossed the outfit on the bed alongside the previous three that had not passed scrutiny. She let out a noise no culture anywhere would understand, further punctuating her point of total irritation. This job interview was what she had been waiting for; had trained for; was perfect for. With so much talent and so much on the line, why was a simple clothing selection so problematic?

It seems education has seen its share of wardrobe changes due to discontentment among stakeholders over the past several years. We jettisoned the Luna laws, are unsure about the concept of career ladder, common core, or incentive and leadership stipends. It seems the more we seek change, the more new ideas find their way to scrap pile of discarded drawing board dreams.

So, do we give up on the notion that cutting edge programs have a place in Idaho’s education system? Absolutely not, but to quote many a football coach; “We have to have a good appreciation for the basics before we do any gadget plays. Blocking, tackling, and execution might be boring but that’s what we are going to work on till we get it right”.

For Idaho school districts operational funds received from the state are that blocking and tackling equivalent. Today those funds are 45 million less than they were just six years ago. In fact at one point that line item was down 75 million. In all fairness part of this was recession related. That said, much of it has gone to fund pet projects or to specific line items which takes away a school districts flexibility and increases their workload. This is simply frills before basics and is equivalent to putting the same bald tires back onto shiny new chrome rims. We must prioritize better.

But it’s more than that. It’s about management, trust, and respect. While it’s true the state cannot dismiss its leadership and administrative responsibilities, we must be willing to respect and trust that local management dynamic. It’s critical that school boards, administrators and teachers have the flexibility and tools they need to be successful. Most importantly, it’s imperative they have our respect.

In my opinion the pendulum has swung to an unhealthy position and it’s not in the direction of local control. I find this ironic because as a state government our message has been rock solid consistent. We don’t like the heavy hand of the federal government. In the spirit of “what’s good for the goose is good for the gander” we need to let that philosophy resonate beyond the walls of the state capitol.

And it doesn’t have to always be about loosening the purse strings. I encourage you to ask your local school district officials. Many will tell you that although important, it’s not necessarily just more money that’s needed. It is however, very much about how they are able to spend the money they receive. Even if funding for education increases it’s unlikely we will have to worry about “education looking fat in that budget” anytime soon.

The lady finally settled on an outfit she felt confident in, nailed the interview, and was offered the job. I firmly believe we too can find the right fit and right administrative balance as we work diligently to develop sound education budget and policy strategies. We must remember if we have to scrap one idea for anther its okay. An early wardrobe change is better than waiting too long and having a wardrobe malfunction. We have the talent and we have a great deal on the line. The future of our economy, our state, and most importantly our children hangs in the balance.

Idaho State Journal 12/5/14