The Blueberry Business (from G.W.)

Published December 6, 2011 by justicewg

First up from my old blog, a classic from 2005 about “running schools like businesses”. As the money gets tighter I’m sure the old arguments about running the schools with business strategies will be back. I’m in agreement with the people who think that using MBA strategies is not very helpful for running public schools.

However, in the post from 2005 a superintendent used an anti-business story to try to affect the results of a school board election. Not cool, and he should have been slapped down for doing it.

Story after the jump.

(From Oct. 2005)

“There is an interesting talking point that is in circulation about business skills and the finances of the school. It is being used in both the candidate discussions for the board and the levy debate. And blueberries, somehow, are also in the mix.

The two challengers to the board have said in their letters to the editors that they have better ideas about how to run the finances of the schools. They both have good experience in business finance, Brian O’Mara is a VP at a large company with skills in financial restructuring. Tom Roberts majored in economics and accounting at OSU. While Ron Cameron is a business owner, the rest of the current board members have no business experience to match the challengers.

In response to this criticism of the financial skills of the current board members, superintendent Allen wrote at guest column in the Oct. 20 TWG entitled “and kids are not blueberries”. This tells the story of a business executive who tries to give a speech to a school, stressing the superiority of his skills in TQM, continuous improvement, blah blah blah. A “razor edged” teacher is ready to pounce on him – she asks him what he would do if he received a bad shipment of blueberries. He replies that he would return them, she crushes him with the observation that schools can’t send their students back, to the thunderous applause of her fellow teachers.

The story end with the business guy learning his lesson – that schools are not businesses, they can’t control the students coming in, they have no control over the state and national funding cuts, and depend on the support of the community to be successful.

What do we learn from the story? First, that is is fun to see know-it-all business types get smacked down by old experienced teachers. Second, that kids are not blueberries, or widgets, or any product. They are the future, and we will be regretting it if we cut their education, only to produce a society that lacks the skills that are needed.

It is a story that sounds good, but what does it mean in specifics for Grandview? Do the current board members have some magic method to produce smarter kids? Are any of the challengers to the board suggesting that we need to produce less educated children?

Money that is cut from education will impact students in some incremental ways, no doubt. The problem is that everyone has a different view on the priorities. The current board thinks that giving 5% raises every year since 2002 to the administration was a priority. They though that replacing all the locks on the doors in the HS with card readers was a priority.

The challengers want to use their business skills to cut some fat from the schools. Maybe they will be successful, maybe not. They are not going to destroy the schools. I’m happy to put my kid’s education in their hands.

What I’m not willing to do is allow the current board to continue their business as usual. They seem oblivious to the recession since 2000, they don’t seem to be worried at all about what looks like a bleak economic future. When “the Grandview board can’t control costs” becomes the conventional wisdom, the community will stop passing levies. The school might win back the voters with draconian cuts – but it would be a better outcome if the school started making the hard cuts now, and didn’t lose the faith of the voters..

One final word on the blueberries – the story that Allen wrote in the paper was a pretty transparent putdown of the business skills of the board challengers. Do we really need a superintendent that takes sides in elections?
Oct.2005

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