Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Wasting stimulus funds on teacher meetings

Just in case you thought the stimulus funds were being well spent by states and localities to fight unemployment, here is this story of how Columbus, Ohio is spending stimulus money meant for education.
Columbus City Schools have more than 120 buildings designed for teaching.

But in a three-day effort to teach its teachers, the district is renting banquet halls, high-end hotels and conference centers -- using almost $145,000 in federal grant dollars.

Many schools also will be used as sites for workshops, but the external locations were needed because sessions will go on all day and cafeteria benches would have been uncomfortable, spokeswoman Kim Norris said. Also, classroom desks might have been too small for adults, she said.

The district will pay up to $8,000 to rent Villa Milano, a marble-clad banquet hall with enough "classic elegance" that "you will think you have been transported to a romantic Italian Villa," according to the hall's Web site.

Other sites include: the Hyatt Regency ($23,000); the Greater Columbus Convention Center and the Hyatt on Capitol Square ($25,000 each); the Quest Business and Conference Center at Polaris ($17,000); and the Aladdin Temple near Easton ($12,500).

The district will pay the speakers more than $1.4 million in federal stimulus money, part of $64.2 million that Columbus schools have been awarded from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.
This is infuriating in so very many ways.

There is absolutely no teacher training that is worth spending almost one and a half million dollars on. Nothing! The only valuable teacher training that I've ever had has been targeted to content so, as a history teacher, I've benefited from classes on subjects such as Abraham Lincoln and slavery or the Supreme Court. But Columbus is spending all that money on some sort of teacher training that includes over 80 different workshops for all sorts of varied topics. And isn't this cozy? An organization run by the School Board president gets the contract to talk about standardized college admission tests.
Sheridan WorldWise, a company run by former Columbus school board President Dave Dobos, will collect $84,500 to give several presentations. He will talk about the college-admissions process and the SAT and ACT exams, while other WorldWise-affiliated speakers will talk on other subjects.
It's not the teachers who need to spend all day talking about college admissions and the SATs, but the students who have to take those tests. Better to have spent the money on a test-taking workshop for high school students than for teachers.

And, even more irritating, is that they're taking off three entire days of school for this shebang.
Schools will shut down as all district educators attend the workshops, the first one this Wednesday. The other two will take place in February and May.
Then there is the ludicrous idea that they can't use school facilities because it might be uncomfortable for the teachers to have to sit on uncomfortable chairs or benches.
Asked whether the newly renovated South or East high schools -- with auditoriums, cafeterias, gymnasiums capable of seating hundreds, with scores of adjacent classrooms -- couldn't have substituted for the Hyatt and the like, Superintendent Gene Harris said no.

"We're talking about the entire staff -- we've got 4,000 teachers, but it's not only teachers. We've got instructional assistants and principals" and others, she said. "We don't have any space that is appropriate for professional development to have those kinds of large crowds."

None of the rented meeting rooms will accommodate more than 250 people, according to ordinances approved by the Columbus Board of Education last week.

A proposal for the district to convert an aging building at the Fort Hayes campus into a 2,500-seat theater might help reduce the need to rent outside space in the future, Harris said. The hall would be used for student theatrical productions and staff meetings. The school board voted 6-1 to table the theater proposal last week.

William Bainbridge, chief executive officer of SchoolMatch, a Dayton-based educational-research firm, agreed with Harris that because of the layout, acoustics and lighting in some schools, they might not be best place to hold a conference.

"I don't know that they need the Hyatt," he added.
Please. If the cafeteria benches are uncomfortable, how about just renting chairs for the day? That would be a lot cheaper than renting out all the hotels. And if the acoustics aren't ideal, big whip! In the 19th century, Illinois held the Lincoln-Douglas debates outside with no loudspeakers and people stood up for three hours to listen. While I'm sure the oratory at these teacher workshops won't be on a par with Abraham Lincoln, if 19th century audiences of over 10,000 people could hear two people speak outdoors with absolutely no loudspeakers or amplification, then I think that 250 teachers in a room can hear a presenter without needing special acoustics.

The bigger picture is that this has absolutely nothing to do with stimulating the economy. It doesn't even have anything to do with maintaining education jobs. Think of how many jobs could have been funded with that $1.4 million even if it were only for a year or two while Ohio waits for the economy to improve. But give a school district huge gobs of money and they'll just waste it.

This reminds me of when I taught in a magnet middle school. The school district got a federal grant to improve magnet schools. Our school took close to %75,000 of the money we received to hold 12 hours of teacher training based on The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. It was absolutely deadly. And the coup de grace of money-wasting was when they decided to give each teacher a copy of the manual, but not just any copy, but a leather-bound copy. I looked it up and it was going for $70.00 apiece. Apparently, paperback was not good enough for us teachers, at least when we had federal money to pay for such frills.

If I were a resident of Columbus, I'd be furious that they're taking time out of teaching so that they can have three days of district-wide teacher workshops. I'd be even angrier that they are wasting federal stimulus money on all of this. It would be bad enough if they were using school buildings for the meetings, but it's even more exasperating that they're using some of that money to pay for renting out hotel rooms.

Well, I guess that is their idea of stimulating the economy - give the hotel maids something to clean up after.