Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Augusta supervisors - blinded by personal ambition

David Karaffa -
Blinded by the Light.
In a recent letter to the editor, Augusta County Supervisor David Karaffa sees a bit of light that evidently blinds him to political and educational reality thereby leading him down a dark tunnel of denial about supporting public schools. Let me try to explain his convoluted reasoning.

Karaffa, apparently awakened by his own children's experiences with Virginia's Standards of Learning (SOL), calls the tests "a fraud of the worst kind." He continues blasting the curriculum by pointing out that "vague facts and no working knowledge that can be put to good use once the student graduates from high school is not education." Karaffa even acknowledges the demoralizing and mind numbing effects of this hyper-mandated curriculum on educators writing, "these same teachers must be broken by a system that dictates what they can teach and how they can teach it, and then punishes them when the system that was forced upon them does not deliver the promised results." Karaffa urges the General Assembly to drop these mandates and return control of schools to localities. Bit late on this suggestion, Mr. Karaffa. When your letter was published only a few days remained in the General Assembly session.

If that were the substance of his letter, I'd find myself in substantial agreement with the supervisor. Many teachers and parents agree that the SOLs have reduced creativity and real learning by students, have reduced classroom instruction to teaching to the test strategies, and are at best a clumsy measurement of a school's or school division's performance in teaching all the students.

Karaffa manages to mangle some facts about the origins of the SOL testing program saying that "Educators and politicians envisioned the SOL tests as the answer to keeping public education accountable." Not exactly true. Few educators actually teaching in Virginia classrooms supported the notion of one-size-fits-all testing. The SOL tests were pushed through by then Governor George Allen and Republicans in the General Assembly and their appointed "educators" (like yucky Yecke) with a right wing agenda. These are the same politicians that Mr. Karaffa has a long record of encouraging and supporting.

Now totally blinded by the light, a few "invented facts," and perhaps his own political ambition, Karaffa concludes that "continuing to pump money in a failing system is not the answer." The logical interpretation of his words leads one to conclude that this supervisor won't be very willing to provide additional funding to help educate the children of Augusta County. So, lets get this straight - the state imposes SOLs and other expensive mandates on public schools and Mr. Karaffa's solution is to be sure the school board lacks funds to meet its constitutional and statutory obligations.

In an article about funding for Augusta County Schools, it appears the school board will send the supervisors an unbalanced needs budget and ask for money money to fund pay raises, technology, and other operational needs. Another supervisor, Marshall Pattie, is cited as wanting a more detailed strategic plan for the capital side of the school system before

As someone who has observed the Augusta County School Board, both the appointed and elected versions, and three superintendents, I can honestly say that Mr. Pattie's words sound good but are hollow, meaningless, and indicate a lack of knowledge about the workings of the school board. Much of the work of the school board and staff is long term strategic planning. Planning on how to keep salaries competitive with the surrounding area. Planning for staffing to meet instructional demands. Planning to use buildings and other resources efficiently and effectively. Planning to close schools, reassign students, and change bus routes.

Sometimes the plans go off the tracks through no fault of the school board. It is, after all, at the bottom of the political food chain (no independent funding) and is subject to the whims of all the political entities higher up the ladder. Plans for future classroom space can be upset when supervisors approve subdivisions outside areas anticipated by the Comprehensive Plan or when SOL mandates drive some parents to remove kids from public education. The General Assembly is fond of changing the mandates school boards must follow during each session. Rising costs for fuel, heath insurance for employees, VRS, etc. can play hell with budgets and strategic plans. And then there is the community input that can rise to a fever pitch any time the school board suggests closing a school or reassigning students - after all parents and families feel invested in their local school as they do for nothing else local government does.

So, Mr. Karaffa and Mr. Pattie your words might sound good politically but there is a definite disconnect with the reality found in our schools. Augusta County has never, ever, not even once funded schools as well a comparable jurisdictions locally and around the state. All of a sudden Mr. Karaffa "discovers" the inconvenient truth about SOLs and he uses that as an excuse to continue the underfunding. Mr. Pattie wants strategic plans before he will commit to operational funding. I have to wonder if he's ever sat down with his colleague on the school board (who is also democratically elected) to really listen and learn more about the planning process. The carefully couched words of these supervisors make me wonder - are they are driven more by their own future political ambitions than by doing what is right for the children and citizens of Augusta County?

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Bobblehead Bob shoots craps

Does he ever listen
to constituents?
Communicating with Bobblehead Bob Goodlatte is like talking to a pumpkin head - you can see light in the eyes but know nobody is home (or even in the neighborhood). I'd written him about some reasonable ways to curb gun violence in America. His canned response didn't directly address my letter (did the staffer even read it?) and it may have actually been penned by some hatchling at the NRA.

Usually I condemn his drool and dribble to the trash bin and forget trying to communicate with the GOP drone, but this time I felt the issue was important enough to the children and law enforcement officers of our great nation to respond. Below is my less than articulate email composed in haste but not conviction. I hope he will read it here since I am sure my email will never escape the clutches of his staffer.
Dear Congressman Goodlatte:
I received your reply to my previous email about gun violence. There are some areas where we find ourselves in agreement. Violence in culture, inadequacies in our mental health system, and loopholes in current state and federal laws all need to be addressed. But, with all due respect, your response was inadequate and read like it might have been drafted by the NRA. It totally ignored the common element in these horrific events - guns! 
I am a gun owner. Neighbors and members of my family hunt and own rifles and shotguns. We are all law abiding citizens and want to preserve our right to keep and bear arms for legitimate self-protection and hunting purposes.

But, neither I nor members of my family can see a justification for allowing assault-style weapons with huge ammo clips on the streets where, even if legally purchased, they can fall into the wrong hands. These guns are designed to kill people in large numbers. Assault weapons are a dangerous threat to school children and police officers alike. A couple of years ago a spate of gun thefts in our area resulted in these weapons now being bought and sold in the criminal underground. 
We should have nationwide background checks for all sales, gifts and other ownership changes of guns. No exceptions. No internet sales. Stiff punishments for those who violate the law. There is nothing about background checks that threatens the 2nd Amendment rights of law abiding citizens.

None of our rights are without limits or responsibilities. Just as 1st Amendment freedom of expression is not unlimited in all situations and 4th Amendment protections against unreasonable search and seizure are continually redefined by courts because of changes in society and technology, the 2nd Amendment right to keep and bear arms is subject to reasonable limits. I believe the measures I've described are among those that are both reasonable and have some prospect of saving American lives from an epidemic of gun violence. 
I hope to see your leadership as my representative and chair of the Judiciary Committee bringing forth meaningful legislation to address gun violence in America.
Will this guy ever retire as he promised he'd do? Will he ever act with courage rather than blind partisanship?