JPS Board Must Allow Teachers To Catch Up

What is more important – positions and programs or the training to carry out those programs effectively?

The $75,768,676 budget for 2014-15 approved Tuesday by the Jamestown Public Schools board carries a spending increase of $338,996. After the vote, board member Patrick Slagle found himself asking that very question in regard to the district’s plan to spend an additional $300,000 on teacher training.

“I’m not saying that we shouldn’t increase (professional development spending), but I thought that we could keep some other programs and retain some full-time positions to make everyone happy; and, unfortunately, I just couldn’t support a budget that I thought could be better.”

Slagle’s head was in the right place. Programs are one of the district’s biggest selling points, and those highly regarded programs do require staff. Slagle also well-understands the importance of keeping the district’s tax levy as low as possible. Taxpayers should be happy to have Slagle looking out for them on the school board, but ultimately it appears the additional teacher training money is necessary.

It may have been possible to limit spending on teacher training were it not for the state’s tougher education standards. Teachers already hadn’t been given enough time to understand the Common Core and to master the skills needed to teach under the standards because of how quickly New York implemented the standards. That problem is compounded by the fact professional development has been slashed in school budgets around the state as school boards and school superintendents looked for any and all cuts they could make to keep their budgets under the state’s 2 percent tax cap.

Not only was Jamestown not spending enough on professional development, but Tim Mains, district superintendent, told board members the old ways of training the district’s staff weren’t working either.

“The system of training a few and hoping that they can get the job done with everyone else just isn’t working,” he said. “We have professionals that work for us that we’re asking to do their job in a very different way, and they are all entitled to the same level of support and professional development. I think it’s a matter of professional respect, but it’s also a matter of getting them where they need to get by giving them the tools to do that.”

The Jamestown Public Schools District has implemented the Common Core State Standards quickly. Teacher training is not only late, but very necessary for teachers and, more importantly, the children who attend school in the district.

The state Legislature and Gov. Andrew Cuomo correctly slowed some of the Common Core’s implementation – in part because the state recognized more time is needed to train the state’s teachers. It would be easy to advocate cutting the additional teacher training money in this year’s budget. It simply isn’t realistic given how rapidly education in New York state is changing right now. Education in New York is changing rapidly. Without spending on teacher training, Jamestown’s teachers will never be able to keep up.