Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Statement from the National Superintendents Association on the Tax Bill

Alexandria, Va. – Dec. 20, 2017 – AASA Executive Director Daniel A. Domenech issued the following statement following the House and Senate passage of the tax bill.

“AASA is deeply frustrated with and disappointed by today’s actions on Capitol Hill. Adoption of the tax bill is an affirmation of failed federal policy that exacerbates the wealth gap, does nothing to address inequities, and fails to support and strengthen our nation’s middle class. This policy may be a win for the wealthy, but it is an absolute defeat to our nation’s public schools and the students they serve.

“Today’s action on Capitol Hill is an example of failed public policy, and a missed chance for leadership and economic opportunity. It challenges historically foundational policy premises, including supports for the middle class and sovereignty of state and local governments, all to ensure and deliver tax cuts. The limited benefits that do exist for the majority of Americans are modest and short lived, while the consequences to our nation’s schools will be long term.

“Our public education system represents one of our nation’s original forms of infrastructure: the backbone of our civic society, our economic growth and vitality, and American creativity. The partisan vote on this bill highlights a deep and pervasive disconnect for more than half of Congress: those voting for this bill demonstrated a clear lack of understanding of or basic consideration for its impact on schools, and their ability to adequately and appropriately prepare our students for their future.

“This vote is a significant pivot toward aggressive partisanship and tax cuts paid for by the middle class. We remain committed to representing our members, the nation’s public school superintendents and will work tirelessly with our allies on Capitol Hill to mitigate the damages of this bill, to repeal and replace the most damaging aspects of this bill, and to expand recognition of the importance of our nation’s public schools.” 

For specific questions, please contact Noelle Ellerson Ng, AASA associate executive director, policy and advocacy, at

OPS Superintendent Dr. Nick Brake is a member of the AASA National Governing Board. 

Monday, November 6, 2017

Shared Responsibility Plan is the Best Option to Address Kentucky's Pension Issues

The Shared Responsibility Plan, released today by a united group of Kentucky educators, is designed to address challenges and financial shortcomings of the current state employee pension fund while also ensuring the long- term stability of the many areas of public service that provide the foundation for life in the Commonwealth of Kentucky. Those include the areas of public education, law enforcement and emergency response, and all aspects of city and county government, such as roads and infrastructure, municipal utilities and judicial processes.

Dr. Tom Shelton, executive director of the Kentucky Association of School Superintendents, said the Shared Responsibility Plan demonstrates the willingness of the state’s education organizations and members to implement changes that will strengthen the pension program and maintain its sustainability.

“We must protect the ability of public education to recruit and retain quality educators,” Shelton said. “Teachers and education professionals build the foundation upon which every other area of public life in Kentucky stands. We often hear that children are the future, and that is true, but it is also true that as leaders, we stand at a pivotal moment in time as the decisions we make today will directly impact the future of our children.”

Representatives from the Boone County Education Association, the Council for Better Education, the Jefferson County Teachers Association, the Kentucky Association of School Administrators, the Kentucky Association of School Superintendents, the Kentucky Education Association, the Kentucky Retired Teachers Association, the Kentucky School Boards Association, and others will share highlights of a Shared Responsibility Plan, which has been presented to state legislative leadership in draft format for their consideration as an alternative to a plan previously released by Gov. Bevin. The Governor is expected to call a special session that will consider changes to the existing state employee pension program. 

Key points of the proposal include the following:
  • The current bill (Governor’s Plan) contains several issues that are legally questionable, including potential violations of the inviolable contract and the potential loss of benefits already earned. We cannot support breaking the law to achieve reduction of the pension liability. Examples include, but are not limited to, forcing employees with 27 or more years of service out of the defined benefit plan into a defined contribution plan, and suspending pre-funded COLA payments to retirees.
  • The likely potential for expensive litigation and the protracted time involved with this litigation mean the Governor’s Plan brings with it unnecessary costs and risks, creating unhealthy discord in Kentucky. Our solution alleviates these issues while providing solvency in the pension funds.
  • We believe there should be no changes made to the system that would negatively impact current retirees. However, we are willing to make sacrificial compromises to contribute to the strengthening of the pension plan so long as those changes fall outside the inviolable contract and do not negatively impact benefits already earned.
  • We are willing to negotiate a new tier of benefits to be developed for future employees that would reduce risk for the state and achieve actuarial savings from the current pension system. However, we believe that the new tier of benefits should remain as a defined benefit plan with comparable benefits to the current system.
  • The new tier of benefits should include an increased level of service required in order to qualify for an unreduced retirement benefit, such as a Rule of 85 (combination of age and years of service).
  • If the new funds established to maintain the pension benefits plans become underfunded, we propose the board administering the system should be required to take action. This would include requiring an increased employee contribution and/or a contribution from the school district or local employer. The plans should be closely monitored and reviewed by the independent Public Pension Oversight Board, which is already in place.
  • For teachers, the new tier of pension benefit shall be governed and administered by the same system that presently administers the existing plan (TRS). This system currently has board positions elected by the system membership rather than political appointees. TRS already has vital systems and structures in place to manage the plan, such as internal investment managers and benefit counselors.
  • For CERS employees, the existing and new tier of pension benefit shall be governed and administered by a new CERS Board charged with managing CERS exclusively. The board would be represented by members reflective of CERS and elected by the system membership rather than political appointees.
  • Such a “Shared Responsibility Plan” was proven to work in 2009-10 with the retired teacher health insurance fund. This solution will work in this situation if we allow those who are significantly impacted by this issue to contribute to the development and design of these plans.
  • The Shared Responsibility Plan, as described, will be no costlier than the Governor’s Plan, when all factors are considered. The Shared Responsibility Plan also eliminates risk from the state.
  • The current unfunded pension liability must be paid regardless of the plans submitted, which include the Shared Responsibility Plan (our plan) or the Governor’s Plan. This must be accomplished through new revenue, budget reductions, or some combination thereof. We are certainly willing and want to work with the General Assembly to support tax modernization and other means of funding to pay off this unfunded liability.
  • Again, with the Shared Responsibility Plan, we have maintained a defined benefit structure. This allows us to recruit and retain high-quality teachers and support staff while ensuring the funds are financially and actuarially sound. We accomplish this through shared responsibility among all the affected parties, while eliminating risk and controlling the investment required of the state for these crucial systems.
  • Finally – Public education is not a cost. Public education is an investment in the future of our citizenry and for the economic vitality of Kentucky. Our children are the most worthy investment of our time, talents and treasure. 

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Helping students choose a course of study in a changing workforce is challenging for parents

I am often asked about how best to prepare students for the workforce of the future.   This is a challenging question, since technological change and globalization have accelerated the pace of economic change in our world.   In fact, about half of the jobs we will need in 2020 don’t yet exist.

To parents and others guiding students into key decisions as we start another school year, I have three simple pieces of advice.

First, postsecondary education is required of everyone.  Gone are the days of a high school graduate being guaranteed a job making a middle-class wage.  Nearly all jobs in the future paying a living wage will require some form of education beyond high school.  This does not necessarily mean college in the traditional sense.  In fact, many future jobs require postsecondary education, but not a four-year degree.  One of the best things we can do as families and as a community is to create the expectation that education after high school for ALL is the expected norm.

Second, do not advise your student to choose between a career path or a college path.  It is no longer an either-or proposition.  Students should be exposed to a curriculum that includes some of both paths.  All students should take advantage of opportunities to learn career and technical skills like coding, job shadowing, a co-op experience, internship, or apprenticeship.  However, students do not need to limit themselves to just focusing on a narrow career or set of technical skills.  Which leads me to my third point. 

Since many jobs of today will not exist in ten years, students will need to learn how to think, problem solve, and interact with others—these skills are part of the core liberal arts curriculum.  A few months ago, Owensboro native Bracken Darrell, the CEO of Logitech, told business leaders at the Chamber of Commerce breakfast that he would rather hire English majors because their education is never outdated by changing technology.  In fact, several Fortune 500 high-tech giants like Google and Facebook are increasingly turning to liberal arts graduates with degrees in English, history or psychology to focus on people-driven functions rather than just focusing only on tech-savvy engineers. 

The bottom line is that a balanced, well-rounded curriculum should be at the center of any educational experience.  That is a core reason we focus on the “whole child” in the Owensboro Public Schools with a strong academic curriculum along with the arts.  OPS also offers students a host of options with programs such as the Early College Academy, Bluegrass Scholars, Owensboro Innovation Academy, Advanced Placement courses, and several career pathway programs in programs as varied as masonry, carpentry and electrical technology.  If you have questions contact us and let us know how we can help you find the right pathway to your future!

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Olusola's segment on the powerful influence of teachers sets tone for district effort to empower educators

The recent segment on the OPS Youtube Channel  highlighting Kevin Olusola is a great example of the role educators play in the lives of the students we serve. 

Educators stand at the entryway to the world for generations of children.  They stand for all that is fair and good.  In some cases they are the most morally impressive adults that many of our students will ever know. They represent to them the pillars of our free society: knowledge, justice, and the fairness of law.  Everyone celebrates a personal memory of individual teachers, yet collectively our society has developed a culture to affix blame on public schools whenever we experience an economic or social crisis. 

And over the past year to year and a half from budget cuts, pension crises, and talk our school voucher programs, the very idea of free compulsory public education for ALL is under threat.

I am beginning my second four-year contract as superintendent of the Owensboro Public Schools.  A major focus for me during the remainder of my tenure is going to be supporting teachers and safeguarding the public education we provide to this community.  I want to continue to build on the trust and confidence that our community has with OPS and continue to promote and advocate for public education.  Our community and this school district have long been a beacon for the state and nation for how to successfully provide high quality public education that serves a diverse population.

We know how important the role of a quality teacher is to the success of a student.  We know that teachers working together collaboratively focused on high expectations and best practice can make all the difference in the world.   I want OPS to be known as a place where teachers are supported.  Where a high standard of teaching and learning is found at all levels and expected of everyone we hire.  Where meeting the needs of the student are placed at the center of what we do every day.  We stand miles above the national rhetoric about public schools.   We have public schools that are also school of choice for our community with options for students in the traditional and innovation sectors with a thriving arts program and a strong focus on academic success.

I am excited about our new DRIVE initiative. It is an entirely teacher driven and directed effort. DRIVE—which stands for Developing Relationships and Inspiring Visionary Educators-- will work to improve collaboration between schools to produce the best educational methods possible to engage and support our students.

DRIVE will be working to benchmark the teaching profession in our district with the top performing education systems around the world and focus on ways to improve the work environment, make sure our compensation is more than competitive, and elevate the status of the teaching overall. 

Most importantly DRIVE will advocate to Empower Educators in our district, so that we can collectively fight for the continued existence of a strong, effective system of free public education for all children.  I believe public education is one of the most important social inventions in the history of civilization itself, essential to our democratic system of government and the economic competitiveness of our community, state, and country.  

As the educators of the Owensboro Public Schools, we should dedicate ourselves to upholding the sacred trust and ideals of public education as a service to our community.  Our district will support and empower OPS educators to do just that.

OPS students will enjoy eclipse in a safe, educational setting

On Monday, August 21, there will be a total solar eclipse for the first time since 1979 that will be viewable from Owensboro around 1:30 p.m.  This occurs when the moon moves perfectly in front of the sun creating a dark sky allowing a view of the sun’s corona.  We plan to use this rare opportunity as an educational experience for our students.  When it comes to actually viewing the eclipse, it’s dangerous to look at it without the proper eyewear protection.  Western Kentucky University has graciously donated glasses/viewers making it safe to view the eclipse for all students and staff.  

We are taking extra safety precautions to make this learning experience safe for our students and staff.  This includes giving you the option to opt your student out of viewing the eclipse.  They’ll still get to participate in all of the other fun learning experiences we have planned that day except for the actual viewing of the eclipse.  

A link with our opt out from and other eclipse information is below:

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Pick up a book and read this summer

The days of summer are here.  I hope all of our students and staff are enjoying a much deserved break.   That being said, with the summer, comes the slide.  I’m not talking about an entry to a pool or a playground but rather a time where students can regress due to a lack of reading.  The summer slide occurs because students are not actively practicing their literacy skills.  According to Oxford Learning, a student on average loses two months of reading skills over the summer. 
summer break.

Owensboro Public Schools offers many ways to avoid the summer slide through a combination of literacy camps.  In some of our camps, students are identified as having a need for more instruction.  Those students are invited to attend a camp over the summer where they get individualized instruction with a literacy expert.  We also have camps that are open to any of our elementary students that combine fun play activities with reading games.

Another great way to avoid the summer slide at a younger age is to take advantage of the district-funded app called Footsteps to Brilliance.  This app that can be used on pretty much any mobile device and engages students in literacy puzzles and games.  In just two years, our data shows our students have learned over 17 million words through Footsteps to Brilliance.  Another advantage to this program is it provides our teachers with individual data for each student that uses the app. 

I cannot stress enough how important it is for our parents to encourage their children to read during the summer months.  Take advantage of our little free libraries at each of our elementary schools.  Take a book, leave a book for another student.  The Daviess County Public Library is another place that offers wonderful summer programming for students.  I hope everyone has a wonderful summer filled with reading for at least 30 minutes a day!