Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Ben Foster's Response

First, an apology for not publishing this sooner. I forgot I'd said I'd post it, and I apologize.

Second, I wouldn't have voted for Mr. Foster anyway, but I do think that his opponent's campaigning was out of hand today. Larry Hujo seemed to have signs every 5 feet and had two people that were dangerously close to the polling place waiving his signs. For a job that pays so little, that is a lot of money and turnout.

So I called the elections hotline about how close the people were, and I wrote my own name in.

I appreciate your comments. First, Farmer Elementary School is public property. According to JCPS headquarters, candidates may pass out literature and talk with parents as long as they are not within 10 feet of a door to the school. (I asked the Principal of Cochrane Elementary the first time I visited a school in my District.) I will also address your other comments. I don't expect to convince you to vote for me, but I hope I do demonstrate to you that I have reasons for my positions and am interested in many important issues facing Jefferson County Public Schools. Considering the complexity of issues facing the school system and the attention the average voter pays to school board races, I necessarily kept my brochure brief.
(1) Jefferson County students, parents, and taxpayers need an objective and independent voice on the School Board. My parents were poor farmers who sent eight children through Daviess County public schools.—I know the benefits and importance of quality public education. My wife attended JCPS and has nieces and nephews in the JCPS system, one that has graduated, and some that have dropped out of JCPS for various reasons. The fact that someone does not have their kids in public schools does not mean they do not have the best for kids at heart. I have spoken with many parents who have experienced many problems with JCPS and have had very bad experiences dealing with JCPS administrators. For example, a group a Black Pastors is extremely concerned about the high dropout rates among African-American students. A group concerned about special-needs children has fought with JCPS Administrators for years to get the education required by law for their kids. Many other parents believe the school assignment plans are too complex and limit their ability to be involved in their children's school--and believe that their JCPS schools don't want parental involvement. Essentially, many parents like you who have not had any problems with their children's education are well satisfied. However, everyone I have spoken with who has had issues with their child's education has had a frustrating experience dealing with JCPS. Many parents have pulled their children out of JCPS for many reasons, and people with no knowledge of their situation cannot know the full rationale for their choice. (2) One of my campaign issues is that of the addition of "sexual orientation" to the JCPS PERSONNEL, EQUAL OPPORTUNITY/AFFIRMATIVE ACTION EMPLOYMENT policy and that my opponent wants to add "transgendered" to that section of the Policy Manual. That portion of the Policy Manual not only mentions that JCPS "shall not discriminate in recruitment or employment", but also that “The District shall promote equal opportunities through a vigorous affirmative action program as an integral part of personnel policy and practice in the employment, development, advancement, and treatment of employees of the Jefferson County Public Schools."
http://www.jefferson.k12.ky.us/Departments/GeneralCounsel/boardpolicy0702.pdfThat issue is very important to many parents and taxpayers in my district and they communicated their disagreement with the new policy to my opponent. Last fall, with the support of the teachers’ union, the Board added sexual orientation as a specially protected category in their employment policies anyway. In comments before the Board, Kat Crawford, a teacher and teachers’ union officer, said she mentioned her lesbian orientation to a middle school girl during a “teachable moment.” The new policy may lead to more similar discussions between teachers and children in JCPS.

What teachers do in private is their business, but all teachers should resist discussing their sexuality with students. In fact, state regulations prohibit teachers from making “sexual remarks” to students. The teachers’ union publicly supported Crawford’s comments just as they recently sued to reinstate teachers not rehired due to inappropriate behavior. Will JCPS administrators enforce the prohibition on “sexual remarks?” Because bi-sexuality is a “sexual orientation,” can teachers place pictures of a man and a woman on their desks (like married people have pictures of their spouses)? If elementary students ask about those pictures, will these teachers feel compelled to answer questions honestly in such “teachable moments?”

Including sexual orientation as a protected category in JCPS employment policies concerned many people. The teachers’ union, supported by Board members Larry Hujo and Steve Imhoff, wants to go further by adding transgendered employees as a specially protected group. Have union leaders and Board members Hujo and Imhoff considered practical implications of special employment protection for transgendered teachers? One group of transgendered people are commonly referred to as cross-dressers. If added as a specially protected group, a male elementary school teacher who started wearing dresses to work would be protected from negative repercussions. The dress code for students prohibits “distracting” attire; a man in a dress is usually distracting to children.
Also, according to some transgendered-rights advocates, a man dressed as a woman should be allowed to use the women's restroom. Citizens in Montgomery County, Maryland and Colorado now face this issue because of actions by their elected officials. Would a male JCPS teacher in a dress be allowed to use the girls’ bathroom? Could he demand a separate bathroom for himself?
People deserve to be treated with dignity and respect, but children also should be sheltered from some issues. Parents' concerns about the consequences of School Board policies are not just "religious" issues; these are common sense issues with moral dimensions. Apparently, only more citizen involvement can prevent further protections for teachers who use “teachable moments” to discuss their sexuality or want to dress as the opposite sex in public schools. (3) Things I do mention are that, from 1998 to 2007 enrollment was static, consumer inflation was 28%, JCPS revenues increased from $6,000 to $10,060 per student, nearly 68%, and JCPS revenue from property taxes increased over 100%. I agree that much of this was related to new housing starts, increased housing prices, and commercial property development. However, district-wide outcomes in student education do not indicate that taxpayers received improvements commensurate with the increase in spending. Property tax rates could have been reduced, relieving a burden on many hard-pressed taxpayers, while still maintaining adequate funding levels for our schools.One thing I did not mention is that Louisville/Jefferson County is known as a high-tax location. That hinders our ability to attract new businesses that will pay additional property taxes and provide jobs for the parents and future graduates of Jefferson County Public Schools.(4) The dollar amount spent on students in Jefferson County is far more than what is spent in many other successful school systems. In one debate, both John McCain and Barak Obama agreed that we spend far more money per student in this country than in other countries, and produce worse educational results. I believe what you say about Farmer Elementary. Keep in mind that Farmer Elementary is almost a brand-new school. Since filing to run for School Board, I have received unsolicited calls from people detailing some areas of waste in the school system. (They generally say that JCPS administrators are not receptive to suggestions for savings.) As a CPA, and as someone who has experience in educational institutions for many years, I can assure you that a tremendous amount of waste exists.(5) I have in no way implied that teachers in any school do not earn what they make. The question becomes from the taxpayers’ perspective: are the teachers paid more than what they would be under a satisfactory agreement if all members of the School Board were not elected through support of the teachers union? Years ago, the president of the American Federation of Teachers said something to the effect that, when students start paying dues, his union would start looking out for students.As a person who received a top-notch education from a public school system, and two state-supported universities, I do have much knowledge about what is important in the Jefferson County Public School System. I am somewhat surprised that someone would be morally and intellectually offended by the materials I distributed. Debate about issues should not be offensive. Also, assumptions about people's motives and beliefs frequently fall into stereotypical viewpoints from all sides of the political spectrum.
In the past, I probably believed more like you do regarding gay and lesbian teachers than I do today. I do not have time for the full debate, but I was more accepting of LGBT goals before reading the materials in the U of L Safe Space Training Manual produced by our LGBT Center and studying other materials. The Manual stated that nobody knows why some people are LGBT, that L women can transition to B or even H, and numerous other things that indicated uncertainty about the "people are just born that way" line usually espoused. The Guide also makes it clear that their goal is to make any type of sexuality considered normal, and from a diversity standpoint that different sexualities should be valued and "celebrated". Many studies have shown that as a group, homosexuals have more physical and mental health problems than the heterosexual population--even in cities where homosexuals are fully welcomed and valued. I would not want policies that would lead more children into less healthy lifestyles--similar to special protections for teachers who smoke. I view this as a common sense issue that has a moral dimension.
I also have studied some of the claims of excellence in our school system by JCPS administrators and the Courier-Journal such as: the Jefferson County Public School District has the highest market share of all large urban school districts, and "teachers in Louisville [are] the least likely to send their kids to private schools in the study's rankings of the 50 largest US cities". I examined the latest data from the US Census Bureau on the percentage of K-12 residents attending public schools. That data shows that Jefferson County ranks 14th lowest among the central counties in Greater Louisville Inc.’s 15 comparison markets. JCPS either must not include these counties in their comparison, or compares the market share of our combined city and county school system to inner-city school systems that do not include suburbs like that of JCPS. Either way, I believe JCPS must be making an inappropriate comparison when claiming the largest market share of all large urban school districts. The market share of most of the counties included on the chart would be well beyond any measurement margin of error when compared to JCPS. On July 13, 2004 the Courier-Journal ran a story about a study showing private school enrollments of children of public school teachers versus the general population. The storyline was that public school teachers in Louisville had the greatest difference with the general population, with only 15 percent of public school teachers sending their kids to private schools, compared to 25 percent of all families. The first paragraph of the story stated that this success applied to Jefferson County Public Schools, and a JCPS official was quoted saying the findings should 'inspire confidence' in public schools. To verify, I obtained a copy of the study, by the Thomas Fordham Institute. The Courier-Journal and JCPS were somewhat mistaken in their conclusions. First, the study was of the entire 7-county Louisville Metropolitan Statistical Area, and hence included teachers and other families in Bullitt, Oldham, Clark, Floyd, Harrison, and Scott counties, as well as Jefferson County. Second, the authors of the study estimated that public school teachers in eighteen other large metropolitan areas (among the top 50) were more likely than those in the Louisville area to send their kids to public schools. I am including another chart based on information included in the Thomas Fordham Institute study. Thus, the Courier-Journal's statement that "teachers in Louisville [are] the least likely to send their kids to private schools in the study's ranking of the 50 largest U.S. cities" is factually inaccurate. I have heard a JCPS Board member and others in our community repeat this inaccurate statistic. To disseminate fair and accurate information to the public, JCPS probably should not claim that it has the highest market share of any large urban school district. JCPS is a large urban and suburban school district and its market share should only be compared to other districts that contain a large urban and suburban area. Otherwise, any claim about market share should contain many disclosures and qualifications as to how that claim was derived. Also to disseminate fair and accurate information to the public, no one should claim that a higher proportion of JCPS teachers send their kids to public schools than any other large cities. Whether I win or lose the School Board race, I want JCPS to improve and better serve students, parents, and our community. Consequently, I believe JCPS administrators must be careful in the claims they make. Instilling a false perception in JCPS employees, county parents and students, policy makers and the general public that JCPS is superior to other similar school districts can reduce the impetus for needed change. If problems are not recognized, improvement is less likely. Sincerely, Benjamin P. Foster, Ph.D., CPA, CMA

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