Straight Talk by Baker Kurrus, May 15th, 2015


Straight Talk, by Baker Kurrus

May 15, 2015

I woke up at 2:33 a.m. this morning with my mind racing. It is now 3:28 a.m. I gave up on getting any more sleep. I fed the dogs, made some coffee, and now I am getting started with my work.

I have been on the job for about a week now. I want to give you a report on where I think we stand as a school district. I will give these reports weekly, and I think it is best if I give you the unvarnished version of where I think we are and what we are doing.

We have a lot of organizational weaknesses, but they can be fixed. We have allowed our administrative organization to lose some of its sense of purpose and connection, and most departments operate in relative isolation. We are task-oriented, rather than purpose-driven. We need to manage more toward our objectives, and less toward isolated task accomplishment. These problems can be improved by better management focus and more communication. Before we undertake any task, we need to understand how it will have a positive impact on teaching and learning in the classroom. If the things we do have no positive impact on teaching and learning, then we are not going to pursue them. We must also push authority downward in the organization, so that routine decisions are made by persons most capable of understanding the issues associated with the problems. This will improve morale, improve results, and promote accountability.

We have to do a better job of working together. Many of our schools do not have positive working atmospheres, and this must improve. I am not blaming anyone, and I am not going to get in the middle of every misunderstanding, but we cannot allow our students to pay the price for our failure to work together in our buildings. I am going to ask that we begin to resolve the issues that have caused some of our schools to fail to reach their potentials. We will focus on school culture and climate.

We must align our income with our spending. We have a strong tax base, and a substantial millage rate of 46.4 mills. We need to cut about $40 million in spending. We receive our state funding under a matrix which provides levels of funding for various positions, based on enrollment. We must align our spending to this matrix. This will result in a much leaner district. In order to balance our budget, we will need to spend our money generally in accordance with the rules under which we receive it. We really do not have much choice. This is going to be a difficult process, but we can do it together. We will not be able to afford to fund positions which the state does not fund, and we will be required to operate generally under the same assumptions which are used when our revenues are allocated. These metrics apply to other districts, and we can be successful under them. If you have a money-saving idea about how we can do our work more efficiently, please send it to me.

The things that I have discussed are organizational weaknesses. These problems do not reflect negatively on our people. These problems grow out of a lack of consistent management and a lack of mutual trust. We can fix those things if we all work together.

What are our strengths? We have great people who work hard every day, and we have committed parents who contribute to the successes of our students. We have wonderful, curious students, and much more community support than I have ever imagined. We have many schools which excel. We are in a people business, and we have good people who are committed to our mission.
I am completely energized by our challenges, and fully committed to our success. We will need the best that we all have to offer, and we will need to pace ourselves. We are going to work together and get the job done. We can all do something every day that strengthens our organization, and moves us toward our goals. I am “all in” on our work, and if you are in, send me an email with “I’m all in” on the subject line. I want to know where we stand.
Thanks for everything you are doing for our students. That is why we are here.
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