Archive for Thursday, August 4, 2005

Chat transcript with Supt. Randy Weseman

August 4, 2005


Welcome to our online chat with Supt. Randy Weseman.

The chat took place at 1:30 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 4, and is now closed, but you can read the full transcript on this page.

Moderator: Welcome to our chat with Supt. Randy Wesemen, who is here in the News Center today to answer your questions about Lawrence public schools. We have several questions in the hopper already, but feel free to ask a question.

Randy Weseman: It's good to be here.

Lawrence: With the additional money given to the schools this year, are any of the fees dropping?

Randy Weseman: The board has had a preliminary discussion about lowering fees. Given the late action by the Legislature, fee rates had already been approved by the board for this year. I anticipate a future discussion about lowering all fees.

James, Lawrence: How can the district attract and retain qualified "para-professionals" and to what extent are these positions replacing certified teachers?

Randy Weseman: Many of our certified staff started as paras. In fact that's how I started my tenure in Lawrence. I believe that we can attract paras by offering a competitive salary. We just completed a market study for classified employees and are in the process of raising salaries to regional market value as resources become available.

Kathy, Lawrence: Is it appropriate to give teachers large salary increase, as proposed, in the wake of tight budgets, just because you have more money to spend? Does high salaries translate into better education, no child left behind? Throwing money at a poor system will not improve education, you have to rethink, retool the way you educate.

Randy Weseman: I agree that constant improvement is a given. I don't think we will ever be in a position to say that the job is complete. Regarding salary for teachers, you get what you pay for. There is a good research base to support the notion that higher salaries attract (and maintain) quality teachers.

Roger, Lawrence: In regard to performance pay, please explain what it is to be nationally board certified as a teacher, how many such individuals are teaching in Lawrence public schools, and how they are rewarded by the district and the state.

Randy Weseman: At last count I believe we had three nationally certified teachers. These teachers had to complete a rigorous course of study over a number of years. They were required to pass a thorough examination to be certified. Presently, these are awarded about $1,000.00 a year from the state. UDS 497 does not have a compensation package for these teachers in its master agreement with the teacher's association.

Debby, Lawrence: Why does our school system have early release instead of late start for teacher collaboration? From what I've learned, late start is better for student learning. Plus, it seems that it would help alleviate some of the social problems of early release (unsupervised children downtown, for example).

Randy Weseman: The current system was formally negotiated in our collective bargaining process. After looking at all factors, it was determined that afternoon release would best accommodate all the concerns presented. High schools have late start.

Donald, Lawrence Thanks for chatting.

Mr. Weseman, would you support a policy change by USD 497 to discontinue district sponsorship of extracurricular athletics? Couldn't the district convert its athletic facilities from a liability to a source of revenue by selling or renting the space to private or city-sponsored athletic programs? Could you also provide the reasons behind your position on this question? Also, how do you think such a policy change would affect the school district and the community as a whole, both for better and for worse? Thanks again for your time.

Randy Weseman: I doubt this idea would be embraced by our community and parents. As you know, there is a long history of extracurricular athletics in Kansas and the nation at large. In any event, any movement to private sponsorship would most likely draw the ire of the Kansas Activity Association and result in our disqualification from competitive events. We do rent out all our facilities to various groups in the community such as parks and rec...KU...scouts etc.

Peggy, Lawrence: I supported both bond issues completely. However I'm a bit concerned that the first bond issue included a new building for the Lawrence Alternative School, and now we are closing LAS. I could understand if the reason were lack of funds, but the reason you give is that research shows that issues are better dealt with within the home school. Isn't this a huge contradiction?

Randy Weseman: I believe that our decision to change the way we deliver educational services to alternative as well as many other students will prove to be a success. First, the former alternative school only served about 50 students on any given day. We have several hundred other students who were not interested in the alternative setting, but...need alternative approaches to instruction. In short, I decided to expand the possibilities into a research-based instructional model that would reach more students. In the first bond, the facility was to be designed as a vocational/technical facility that also housed an alternative program. At some point, the district will still need some kind of facility to house a voc/tech program. Your question is a good one, and one that is most often misunderstood.

Eric, Lawrence: Who did you appoint as your Assistant Superintendent? The J-W ran a big story that you were getting ready to appoint someone, then nothing happened as far as I know.

Randy Weseman: No one yet. I am still looking at how to best structure administrative services for the district. Please remember that this will not be an add-on position. I will carve it out of existing budget and current staff. I hope to have a recommendation to the board by the Aug. 22 meeting.

Karen, Lawrence: Some parents and I are concerned with the lack of response from our school's principal and teachers to our suggestions and inquires given by parents. These include things such as plans for improved student progress as well as discipline issues such as a no-talking policy in lunch that we do not agree with. Would the goal of improved professionalism include this aspect? If so, what steps, such as professional development training, would be taken to achieve this?

Randy Weseman: Excellent question.....and one I am very concerned about. It is important that the school be a partner to parents. It is not always possible to accommodate individual requests; however, through site councils, parent forums and individual meetings I believe the principal can, and should be responsive to the parent community. We know that a major factor ensuring student success is parent involvement. Perhaps we should integrate a formal process that allows parents to serve as data sources for principal evaluation. We do use an instrument for organizational health, administered randomly (you may have not been in the random sample), that allows parents the kind of input you refer to.

Donna, Lawrence: Mr. Weseman, My daughter witnessed a fight at one of the high schools this year in which a student was seriously injured and it came to my attention that there were no security cameras in the high schools. I was then informed that the police department has recommended them in the safety surveys completed last year, but it has done no good. I know it is a political environment, but do you not think this should be a top priority with the day and time we live in if the police recommend it. It is a concern to me as far as liability issue. I have talked to the district safety director and keep getting told it is in the works. Does it take a serious incident before we act hastily. I hope it is not my daughter that gets hurt. Thanks for you response.

Randy Weseman: We have completed the bids for security cameras for both high schools and they are scheduled to be installed. I agree that they are long overdue. Its been a function of budget.

Lori, Lawrence: Are there going to be anymore future schools closing? It seems that the classroom size grows larger at each school with the closings of the other schools.

Randy Weseman: I don't see any school closing in the near future. Although it's hard to predict what the configuration of the community will be 5 or 10 years from now. We tend to focus on class size and its relationship to the overall operational costs of the schools. We are much more efficient today and our class sizes are lower than 5 years ago.

Bob, Topeka: Hello, there. Can money be saved, state-wide, by consolidation of school districts?

Randy Weseman: I have advocated this for many years. It's not a popular idea out where I grew up in Western Kansas, can be saved because of economy of scale.

John, Lawrence: I would like to see the school district save money. The majority of our taxes go to education, yet the common cry is "education needs more money!" - even after the recent court ruling.

Since there will be new schools going up, wouldn't it be MORE fiscally responsible if the same architectural design was used? For instance, Southwest Jr. High's architectural design could also be used for the new South Jr. High. This goes for grade schools as well. The design was already paid out to the architectural firm, and surely they could take a nominal fee. Engineering costs would still be there but the savings would be substantial - hundreds of thousands of dollars.

What would you say to an idea like this? Wouldn't this benefit the taxpayers who fund education?

If you don't like this idea, I'd like to know why?

Randy Weseman: Many school districts use the approach you suggest. The closest example is Olathe. Their schools look more or less the same across the district. Your idea has been suggested in planning meetings many times. For some reason, it is not a popular notion in Lawrence and doesn't seem to have much of a constituency. Personally, I have no problem supporting your rationale and approach; however, my influence is limited.

Moderator: Have you heard many concerns from the public regarding the change in graduation dates for next year? Is there any chance that the district will change that date?

Randy Weseman: I have heard from one person. I suspect that there will be other inquiries but once the rationale for the decision is known I think people will understand. For example, the person I refer to wanted graduation held on May 14. If we were to hold graduation on the 14th our seniors would not have the necessary state-mandated hours to graduate. Of course, as one looks at other dates...other constraints emerge. Stay tuned...(the Journal-World's) Sophia Maines will be doing an in-depth story on this interesting problem.

Dave, Lawrence: Mr. Weseman, when will the Lawrence School District consider going to a more cost effective middle school? My understanding is that this is a more financially efficient model since the 9th grade requires the same facilities as the high school, therefore you have duplication of space. Due to the Districts financial squeeze, why hasn't this been explored?

Randy Weseman: Well...this is a question that has come up about every five years for the past 30 years. I have chaired three board committees to study a movement to middle schools. In fact, about 15 years ago one committee recommended 6-7-8 middle schools to the board, requiring 9th graders move to the high school. This recommendation was met by stern opposition from many parents and community members. In any event, I'm not sure that middle schools are that "cost effective" when you consider the fact that "teaming" of teachers is the most expensive part of the middle school concept and we are already doing teaming in our junior highs. I don't see any discussion for this change on the horizon.

Laurie, Lawrence: What are the plans for use of the playground for Broken Arrow students during the South Junior High construction?

Randy Weseman: Actually, until the final site/construction plan is voted on by the board I can't answer your question.

Bob, Topeka: In terms of education: if you were to testify before the Kansas legislature, what money-saving measures would you recommend for enactment across the state?

Randy Weseman: Several years ago I was asked to testify to the Senate/House committees on education about "efficiency." I directed my remarks to administrative efficiency and facility efficiency. I believe that standards can be set that quantify efficient personnel configurations and efficient size of schools.....any districts for that matter. Efficiency will never be achieved in this state until the political barriers come down. As long as everyone protects his own turf....nothing will come pass. This is why there is no serious discussion occurring about district consolidation. Let's face it, of the 300 school districts in Kansas, 150 are under six hundred students. In some areas it is impossible to effectively consolidate, but you don't need a degree in rocket science to see where it could happen.

Jim, Chicago: As a special education teacher, I am interested to know how the Lawrence schools are best meeting the needs of students with special needs. It is a very costly task, but also legally required. How would you assess the district's services rendered to the students with special needs?

Randy Weseman: Good teachers. We have them and we continue to look for the best, caring special ed. teachers available. In terms of overall programatic details, I have neither the time or space to articulate our approach. In any case, all federal and state audits offer evidence that our program excels. Give us a call and we can provide greater detail.

Kelly, Lawrence: How can the USD497 morally pass 7th & 8th graders who fail every class and then feed them to the sharks when they hit their freshman year?

Randy Weseman: I'm not sure what 'sharks' you refer to; but in any event, we try to develop a program for students who fall behind at all grade levels. Our most recent approach is to expand our alternative services so that a greater number of students will benefit. We do hold some students back for remedial services; however, the research is clear that retention does not work unless the delivery of program changes. Good question, there are no easy answers or cost effective measures that fix this problem.

JC, Lawrence: What are the chances we will have all-day kindergarten soon? It is unbelievable to me that in a community where education is so valued, we still are only educating our kindergarten children for half a day.

Randy Weseman: I hope very soon. The previous question asked about helping students who fall behind....full-day K is the one, sure fire, research-based way to mitigate student failure. A full-day K program in conjunction with our current school foundation sponsored pre-school program would make a huge difference in the long-term performance of kids. I do know this....if a student enters late junior high or high school several reading levels behind his peers, then it becomes very difficult to produce academic success for them, even with an influx of additional resources. The best place to put your tax dollars is in the early years. The best study done on this issue was the High/Scope study, conducted over 30 demonstrated that for every dollar invested in early childhood education, seven dollar are returned on the investment.

Randy Weseman: my mistake....."seven dollars'

Thanks for the questions. Feel free to call me at 832-5000 if you would like to chat further.

Moderator: That will have to be our last question, as we've run well beyond an hour.

Mr. Weseman, thanks for participating in today's online chat and for staying so long to respond to our readers' questions.

We hope you'll be back for more of these chats in the future.

Randy Weseman: I enjoyed this process. Ask me anytime, I work cheap.


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