Saturday, October 30, 2010

Challenges for Change

I was recently asked about my opinion on Challenges for Change and its affect on the school systems. First, The Challenges for Change Bill specifies the broad areas from which savings must come and identifies those outcomes which agencies and programs must achieve. The Bill states the following about the bill itself;

Not Traditional Cost-Cutting

Although the initial impetus for the Challenges was a need for constructive ways to address part of our anticipated $154 million fiscal year 2011 budget gap, this is not a traditional cost-cutting exercise. In cutting, one starts with the way we do things today and asks: How can we reduce the cost? There is usually no consideration of the outcomes involved. The focus is on trimming inputs, e.g., the number of people involved, office equipment, travel, or other such expenses.

By contrast, this reform package starts with the desired outcomes and the amount of money Vermont can afford to spend and then asks: If we rethink how we do things, how could we improve our outcomes with this amount of money?”


In a nutshell, the bill actually demands school districts to achieve draconian cost savings targets without the support and coaching about how to achieve the cost savings.


Hence, this bill is one big boon dongle. First boon dongle mistake, the state didn’t help the school districts to define standard outcomes or how to accurately and precisely measure the outcomes. Subsequently, each school district probably had to struggle to define their own outcome measures. Not to be disparaging but, let’s be honesty here people, how many of our school board members are skilled and experienced at creating and defining “outcome” measures? That’s not what board members are typically elected to do. The odds are that most school districts have uniquely identified and unique measures for each outcome, if they have them at all.


Second boon dongle mistake (in a long list of many), the state didn’t provide the districts with the assistance or coaching about how to identify cost savings opportunities. Therefore, many school districts, using the state’s wonderful example, assumes that they have to lay off teachers and cancel programs. However, there are literally thousands of ways to cut costs besides having to lay off teachers, cancel programs, and etcetera but once again, not to be disparaging, how many of our school board members are skilled and experienced at identifying and cutting costs?


If the state is so hell bent on forcing the local school districts to cut their education costs, to compensate for the state’s inability to manage their own costs, they should minimally provide the school with standardized defined outcomes and the outcomes measures. Also, the state should provide the school districts with coaching on how to analyze, identify, and achieve cost savings without compromising that stated outcome measures. Or, at least that is what I would have done.

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