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 Articles of Interest - Gongwer News Service

Watkins Earns Pay Increase, Not Keeping It

Gongwer News Service, 8-9-02


With an average B+ grade from the State Board of Education, Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Watkins earned a pay increase for himself.   But he said Friday he was not going to accept the raise and instead would donate the money to charity.


In a review on Thursday that was delayed from previous meetings, the State Board of Education Thursday unanimously agreed that Mr. Watkins' performance over the past year had been satisfactory, entitling him to the average pay raise awarded to the other 19 department directors effective October 1.


Department of Education officials had not yet determined what Mr. Watkins' new salary would be (he now makes $165,000, among the top pay for department directors), but spokesperson T.J. Bucholz said, "Whatever that salary increase is, he is not going to accept it. ... It's his intention to set an example:   It's not about the money; it's about the job."


Susan Shafer, spokesperson for Governor John Engler, said reviews for the other department directors would be conducted in November or December with pay raises, if any, announced in January.


Mr. Bucholz said Mr. Watkins had not yet decided which charity would receive the funds.


On a five-point scale, the board gave Mr. Watkins an overall 4.3 for his work since June 2001.   "Mr. Watkins has met the criteria and challenges head on," the board said in a published review read by Board President Kathleen Straus (D-Detroit) at the meeting.   "As we begin our second year together, we expect that Mr. Watkins will build on his accomplishments of his first year and be able to concentrate even more of his efforts on the necessary Department restructuring and implementation of Board policies and goals."


Mr. Watkins' highest score, 4.8, was for spokesperson and advocate.   "He has generated great excitement in much of the education community and in many citizens concerned about our public education system," the review said.  


The lowest score, 3.75, was for "implementation of state board policies".   "Several members of the board feel that the superintendent should focus even more on implementing the board's goals and policies, although much progress is being made," the review said.


ACCREDITATION:  One policy of the board that is still in process is "Education: YES", the state's coming new accreditation system.


Though Paul Bielawski, one of the key architects of the new system, said the proposal was behind schedule, "we are absolutely still on track to meet the December timeline."   The board had demanded as part of the new system that schools receive their first grades by December.


The original timeline for the system had the board setting cut scores for the various grades (A, B, C, D Alert, Unaccredited) at its June meeting.   But Mr. Bielawski said the advisory committee the board appointed in May asked to delay presenting proposed cut scores until September to allow it to work through work groups to test the cut scores it is proposing.


"Rather than being arbitrary, it will be grounded in something defensible," Mr. Bielawksi said.


Board Secretary Michael Warren Jr. (R-Beverly Hills) said the delays left him concerned that the December deadline would also have to be delayed.   "We were assured that each and every timeline could be met," he said.   "We spent the last year doing cutting edge, great policy work.   The surest way to undo all that good work is to miss that December deadline."


Board member John Austin (D-Ann Arbor) also wanted assurances that the work groups were not intended to test public reaction to the final grades.   "Are we testing the palatability of the end product?" he said.   "I don't want to do that."


Mr. Watkins said he would not withdraw the system simply on the basis that too many schools fall into the low grade categories.   "It's my goal that we not back away from high, rigorous academic standards. ...We will not bring wimpy standards to this board," he said.   "We want to make sure when we put out Education: YES we can defend it."


Mr. Watkins expected that most of the protest would be not from the schools with D and unaccredited scores, but from those with B and C score that thought they would be As.


But he said he would hold it back in December if there are structural problems.   "If it's not the right thing for children, if it's not the right thing for schools, if it's not right, I won't bring it forward," he said.


MI-ACCESS:  The board did make one more move toward implementing Education: YES on Thursday by approving cut scores for the MI-Access test for special education students.   The test, also required under new federal law, provides students not able to take the Michigan Educational Assessment Program tests even with assistance an alternative assessment.


The test as currently structured is for the most severely disabled students, but officials said additional tests are being developed for the less severely disabled.


Board Hears Calls for Early Childhood Funding

Gongwer News Service, 8-9-02


The state needs to put more money into early childhood reading programs and into training programs for principals, the State Board of Education heard from its final two task forces Thursday.


The state needs to put more money and effort into reading programs for children before they reach kindergarten if it is going to improve reading performance in the long run, the Ensuring Early Childhood Literacy Task Force told the board Thursday.   And the Elevating Educational Leadership Task Force said improving schools requires better-prepared principals and other administrators.


There are some reading preparedness programs being operated in the state, but many are part time and so unavailable to parents who are not able to leave work to transfer their children to another care situation, literacy task force members said.


They also urged more training requirements for those who work in childcare centers to ensure children at those facilities have proper reading instruction.


"We have children who need these services across the continuum," said board member Sharon Wise (R-Owosso), chair of the task force.   "We're trying to get the service to any child that needs it."


"If 85 percent of brain development is between 0 and 4, why do we have education policy that begins at age 5?" said board President Kathleen Straus (D-Detroit).


Principals also need some additional preparation, and should be required to have an endorsement that assures that they are prepared for the job, members of the leadership task force said.


"Tier upon tier has been added to the position until it's become an impossible position that very few want," board member Marianne McGuire (D-Detroit), chair of the task force, said.   One principal on the task force said he had waited to move up from teaching to administration because of the inordinate additional time the position takes.


The task force also asked the board to create an advisory panel that reviews the job requirements for principals and suggests how schools might staff differently to allow principals to concentrate more on educational leadership.


Members also sought more authority for principals to be able to hire and oversee the people in their buildings.


TASK FORCES:  The board is expected to adopt some or all of the policy recommendations of the two task forces at its September meeting, after which it has directed Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Watkins to combine the various reports into a single document.   The new publication would eliminate some of the duplication of recommendations and is to be sent to legislators and the various candidates for office.

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