Friday, January 15, 2010

Saline, Math, and the Retweet

Ten days ago I wrote up a summary of the rumors that were going on about Saline eliminating the high school math department.
I said at the time that I didn't know what was true. In fact, I retweeted the Saline superintendent's tweet that "no decisions had been made."

It turns out that, in fact, the rumors were true, as explained in this article by David Jesse.

In fact, the superintendent had met with the leaders of the teachers union and presented them with a list of potential layoffs--including the entire high school math department. Backpedalling, Scot Graden then tells that "the notice of intent was just part of a budget-cutting process he’s promised would leave nothing off the table."  And then--after the teachers' union rightfully raises a hue and cry, he says that he will not recommend eliminating the math department.

Oh, come on. Mr. Graden, you were being disingenuous at best. The honest thing to have done would have been to make public to the community that you had shared with the teachers' union a list of potential layoffs, including the entire math department, and that a notice of intent was required to give the district the maximum wiggle room. And while you were at it, why not make the notice of intent for possible layoffs apply to every single teacher in the district? THAT would give you wiggle room.

Funnily (but I don't mean that in a ha-ha way), just before Christmas, Scot Graden had blogged about the budget process in a post called Judgment. And in it, he writes,
The saying goes, with good judgment, little else matters and without good judgment, nothing else matters. Judgment is the essence of leadership.  In the face of instability, uncertainty and conflicting demands, the quality of a leader’s judgment determines the fate of the entire organization.
 He also questions the importance of process, writing "while the process is important, ultimately we are judged on the results."

Umm, yes. The process is important. Of course you are judged on the results, that is a GIVEN.
But when you use poor process, and (in this case) show poor judgment, what you end up doing is setting yourself up as less trustworthy. If you don't tell someone the truth, and they find out, the next time they are a lot less likely to believe you.

Leaving aside the issue of trust, I believe that with good process, you will get some better budget-cutting ideas than putting the entire math department online. And maybe this was just a maneuver to get the union to take a wage cut and enter into negotiations--union-busting seems to be popular these days--but an honest, open process would have shared the information with people, in a publicly accessible manner.

As for me--I am new to the twitter world--I retweeted Scot Graden's twitter that was essentially denying the rumors. In this way, I feel I made myself an accessory to the poor decision-making. Next time, I am going to be a lot more careful when I decide what to retweet.

I believe that process matters. And I would feel a whole lot better about the whole thing if Mr. Graden would write a note to the community apologizing for his poor judgment this time, and explaining how he will improve the process next time. Everyone makes mistakes, but (as my ninth grade math teacher used to say), it is best to make a different one every time.


  1. It was just a maneuver, a feint...
    of course he was disingenuous...
    all districts at this point would like to union bust, it's their only way out of the problem, the legislature aren't doing anything, the local millage failed, and the populations continue to decline with increasing costs.They are stuck.
    Unless the union gives big concessions.
    And that would be very difficult for the union to do. In fact, it goes against the reason they exist.
    I am neither for or against unions, despite having relatives in the Flint strikes of the 30's.
    They are good sometimes, bad others. It depends how the unions manage this crisis, whether they survive.
    It could be that big strikes are in the future...
    It's hard to take that you have to agree to do with less from the people who are your boss. It's humiliating and demeaning,
    yet the money's not there... and of course, everyone always needs more money.

  2. Anon, I think you are right. I've been a member of two unions, although I'm not one now. Unions brought us the 40-hour work week, and lots of other benefits. And nobody likes to lose benefits or money--at my organization we swallowed cuts this year. That said: I am an optimist. And I believe that if we are honest and open about the process, then people will be more accepting of cuts. And in my schema of the world, honesty and openness is not a side-effect, it is both a means and an end. Union-busting, and/or poor treatment of non-union employees, deserves NO place in the process. And I hope that community members will tell the school superintendents that!

  3. And Assorted Stuff has something to say about those "silly, hysterical parents"--not so silly after all.