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Common Core workgroups report mediocre attendance

Common Core workgroups report mediocre attendance

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JEFFERSON CITY • Six months before workgroups established to develop Common Core replacement standards must turn in their recommendations, some still are struggling with attendance.

It's a problem the eight groups — a K-5 group and a 6-12 group each for math, science, social studies and English — have faced since their first meetings in September, which were fraught with arguments and confusion, exacerbated by vacancies in each group.

At a Board of Education public hearing Monday, group representatives reported about 10-12 active participants, lower than the 16-17 initally required under the law. Part of the problem has been group members from across the state have to pay their own lodging, mileage and other expenses to attend the meetings. Work schedules also have been an issue.

"We've had difficulty with meeting times, partly because there are teachers in classrooms and it's hard to get away from classrooms," said Myra Collins, K-15 math group member. Her group plans a robust meeting schedule in the summer because teachers are not working.

A measure working it's way through the Legislature could alleviate that problem. Rep. Kurt Bahr, R-O'Fallon, has written cleanup legislation to the measure he sponsored last session -- signed by Gov. Jay Nixon in July -- that tasked work groups with meeting to recommend new educational standards to take the place of Common Core. By law, the groups must make recommendations by Oct. 1., and the state Board of Education must adopt and implement new standards for the 2016-17 school year. The board does not have to adopt standards recommended by the groups.

Bahr's cleanup measure would require the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education to reimburse work group members for travel expenses, including hotels, meals and mileage,  at the state per-diem rate. Additionally, the department would have to reimburse school districts for the cost of a substitute teacher and the teacher's daily pay if meetings were held on a school day.

If passed and signed by Nixon, the measure would not go into effect until Aug. 28, leaving only one month of meetings before the recommendations must be submitted. Based on the department's per meeting estimate of $150 for a substitute teacher, $100 for a hotel room, $30 for meals and $.37 per mile, it would incur a cost of $88,740 in the 2016 fiscal year that begins July 1.

The work groups have incurred costs reaching nearly $750,000 to date.

Bahr's original bill did not require group members be paid for their time, but he grew outraged when the Post-Dispatch discovered department-appointed facilitators and note takers were being paid $500 per meeting plus necessary expenses. Facilitators no longer participate in group meetings, but the department spent tens of thousands of dollars paying the facilitators and note takers.

The cleanup measure also outlines what will happen when a group member's qualifications are called into question. By law, group members are required to have at least 10 years of experience but problems flared up last year when former House Speaker Tim Jones, R-Eureka, ousted one of his appointees to the 6-12 English Language Arts work group, Nick Kremer. 

Despite serious push back from the group, Jones replaced Kremer with Lou Ann Saighman, a special education teacher at Blue Springs School District, saying he lacked the necessary experience.

Bahr's bill would require a panel consisting of a department representative, lieutenant governor and House speaker to review member qualifications should they come into question. If a member's qualifications are deemed insufficient, the member is immediately removed and another person would be appointed in his or her place.

That same group disagreed so much on various issues that a smaller, splinter group formed, planning to submit its own report in October. Board President Peter Herschend made it clear that one report would be submitted but the splinter group could offer public testimony.

Bahr's clean up bill has not yet received debate on the House floor. 

The bill is House Bill 742.

Alex Stuckey is a statehouse reporter for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

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