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Posted at 11:13 AM ET, 02/11/2011

Texas district schools chief issues plea in Alamo-like letter

By Valerie Strauss

This is an open letter issued by John Kuhn, superintendent of the Perrin-Whitt Consolidated Independent School District. Addressed to Texas legislators, this plea for help is modeled on the famous letter that William Barret Travis sent from the Alamo right before it fell in 1836 (the text of which follows Kuhn's). Kuhn refers to plans by Texas Gov. Rick Perry to cut billions of dollars from public school funding.

From: John Kuhn, Superintendent, Perrin-Whitt CISD
To: Senator Estes, Representative Hardcastle, Representative Keffer, and Representative King during these grave times:

Gentlemen,
I am besieged, by a hundred or more of the Legislators under Rick Perry. I have sustained a continual Bombardment of increased high-stakes testing and accountability-related bureaucracy and a cannonade of gross underfunding for 10 years at least and have lost several good men and women. The ruling party has demanded another round of pay cuts and furloughs, while the school house be put to the sword and our children's lunch money be taken in order to keep taxes low for big business. I am answering the demand with a (figurative) cannon shot, and the Texas flag still waves proudly from our flag pole. I shall never surrender the fight for the children of Perrin.

Then, I call on you my legislators in the name of Liberty, of patriotism & everything dear to the American character, to come to our aid, with all dispatch. The enemy of public schools is declaring that spending on a shiny new high-stakes testing system is "non-negotiable"; that, in essence, we must save the test but not the teachers. The enemy of public schools is saying that Texas lawmakers won't raise 1 penny in taxes in order to save our schools.

If this call is neglected, I am determined to sustain myself as long as possible and fight for the kids in these classrooms like an educator who never forgets what is due to his own honor & that of his community. Make education a priority!

With all due respect and urgency,

John Kuhn
Superintendent
Perrin-Whitt CISD


Here's the text of the 1836 letter:

Commandancy of the Alamo------

Bejar Fby. 24th 1836

To the People of Texas & all Americans in the world------

Fellow citizens & compatriots------

I am besieged, by a thousand or more of the Mexicans under Santa Anna ----- I have sustained a continual Bombardment & cannonade for 24 hours & have not lost a man ----- The enemy has demanded a Surrender at discretion, otherwise, the garrison are to be put to the sword, if the fort is taken ----- I have answered the demand with a cannon shot, & our flag still waves proudly from the wall ----- I shall never Surrender or retreat

Then, I call on you in the name of Liberty, of patriotism & every thing dear to the American character, to come to our aid, with all dispatch ----- The enemy is receiving reinforcements daily & will no doubt increase to three or four thousand in four or five days. If this call is neglected, I am determined to sustain myself as long as possible & die like a soldier who never forgets what is due to his own honor & that of his country ----- Victory or Death

William Barret Travis
Lt. Col. Comdt


P. S. The lord is on our side- When the enemy appeared in sight we had not three bushels of corn--- We have since found in deserted houses 80 or 90 bushels & got into the walls 20 or 30 head of Beeves---

Travis


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By Valerie Strauss  | February 11, 2011; 11:13 AM ET
Categories:  Educational leadership  | Tags:  alamo, gov. rick perry, school reform, texas education, texas legislature, texas schools  
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Comments

"....that, in essence, we must save the test but not the teachers..."
_____________

Alright, John Kuhn!!!

Great to see a superintendent able to take a strong stand, and to voice that stand by referencing an event that illustrates the peril that public education faces, and by helping to identify true enemies of public education.

Posted by: PLMichaelsArtist-at-Large | February 11, 2011 1:15 PM | Report abuse

Great letter! Thanks for publishing it. I know Rick Perry will try to ignore it - but publishing it in the Washington Post will help Mr. Kuhn.

Posted by: resc | February 11, 2011 1:16 PM | Report abuse

Not sure if it is legal, but certainly more visible; send them the bill for the overage. That's what some contractors provide when they have cost overruns for requirements the customer required yet didn't fund.

It may not get him a cent, but it may get more attention when the public is provided the bill and finance sheets.

Posted by: jbeeler | February 11, 2011 1:22 PM | Report abuse

Good luck Mr. Kuhn.
Very creative.

Posted by: georgia198305 | February 11, 2011 4:52 PM | Report abuse

This is the exact opposite of Houston ISD's supe. He wants to use test scores as 50 % of a teacher's evaluation, even though tests are composites that include material from previous classes that were not taught by the teacher, i.e. a biology teacher of 10th grade kids is responsible for the physics and chemistry learned in the 9th grade IPC course.

Posted by: peonteacher | February 11, 2011 5:02 PM | Report abuse

Dear Superintendent John Kuhn,

We fully understand your dire situation and want to provide you with as much assistance as we can.

Mr. D. Crockett will be visiting you office next week. Mr. Crockett will provide you with the SantaAna software, and training in this software. The SantAna software will allow you to on a cost/benefit basis to select which teacher should be let go.

Mr. D. Crockett will always provide you with information on the latest contract we have signed for sophisticated standardized testing and computerized systems to evaluate these tests.

We are happy to be able to provide you assistance at this time.

Texas Forever,

Mr. Bumblebush

Posted by: bsallamack | February 11, 2011 5:15 PM | Report abuse

For Valerie Strauss.

A reader posted the following in regard to your article When Children Should read.

The national percentage for achieving basic or above in 4th grade is 67% and 75% in 8th grade. 83% of 4th graders at schools with Free and Reduced Lunch(FRL) percentages between 0-25% scored basic or above. 45% of 4th graders at schools with FRL% greater than 75%(high poverty schools) scored basic or above. About 20% of public elementary schools are identified as high poverty.

http://nces.ed.gov/programs/coe/2010/section2/table-rgp-3.asp

http://nces.ed.gov/programs/coe/2010/analysis/section1a.asp

Posted by: sammann
..............................
The table information is great.

The totals are really shocking for the 8th grade reading with 3 percent advanced in 1992 and 3 percent advanced in 2009.

This means no difference for almost a 20 year period. At some point there needs to be the recognition that if you want improved education large numbers of students have to start reading above their grade level.

Also the fact that 25 percent of students can not read at the 8th grade level is alarming.

At some point the entire priority of our educational system has to be focused on reading. It makes no sense to believe one can improve education when there are such obvious problems in the reading skills of students.

The fact that 33 percent or one third of all students can not read by the 4th grade is not comforting.
.............................

It would be great if there was another article. Hopefully it would include this information and perhaps information regarding national reading tests since the introduction of NCLB.

I have a feeling that scores for advanced reading since the introduction of NCLB have dropped and that the schools are turning off students from reading by the emphasis on the lowest common denominator.

Given the reading scores on the national tests it is absurd that public education will be improved by more local standardized testing. How does a student who can not read receive any benefit by given tests that the student can not read?

Posted by: bsallamack | February 11, 2011 6:19 PM | Report abuse

It is so refreshing to read an elequently stated and forceful stand from the level of superintendent. Many a teacher wishes that their own superintendent would take a forceful stand instead of trying to appease teachers with comments like... "these are awfully tough times and I feel for you but... we must increase class size again this year etc... etc... Joun Kuhn... I hope more superintendents follow your lead!

Posted by: teachermd | February 11, 2011 7:07 PM | Report abuse

That is one of the major problems of the schools: An educator with the education, talent, and wit to come up with an idea like this is a principal instead of teaching students! I wonder how many of his teachers even recognized what he was paraphrasing?

Posted by: sideswiththekids | February 12, 2011 9:22 AM | Report abuse

Marvelous piece of writing. How many of the teachers in the Perrin-Whitt district recognized what the Superintendent was doing?

One of the problems of education is that in order to reward really good teachers we have to promote them right out of the classroom. Could Texas find money for an assistant for Superintendent Kuhn so he can occasionally teach a class in writing or history?

Posted by: sideswiththekids | February 12, 2011 9:33 AM | Report abuse

@sideswitthekids:

In reference to your points about a superintendent or principal teaching: It used to be a practice for the administrators to also teach a seminar-style class along with their admin. duties to 'keep their hand in'..at least in private schools. That has fallen, unfortunately, much to the wayside.

I would love to see that practice not only come back, but be embraced. Another thought is that administrators teach seminars to new teachers, so they stay in touch with the current issues new teachers face.

Posted by: PLMichaelsArtist-at-Large | February 12, 2011 10:30 AM | Report abuse

I don't know how good of an educator this guys is, but I doubt he taught history.

A lot of people outside of Texas will be reading this who don't know the rest of the story at the Alamo. Sam Houston refused to send reinforcements (mainly because Travis was disobeying a direct order to retrieve the cannon and burn the mission to the ground).

Juan Sequin delivered the message to Houston, and was no allowed to return to the Alamo, where many of the men he commanded died. He was allowed to return after the massacre to bury the dead.

Maybe this time history won't repeat itself???

Posted by: chadhoes | February 12, 2011 7:09 PM | Report abuse

A lot of people INSIDE Texas may not know the story, either. Back in 1961, Attorney General Robert Kennedy agreed with a foreign student criticizing America that the Mexican War was not a noble adventure in American history but an example of imperialism. His office was inundated with letters, from Texans as well as others, attacking him for denigrating the brave heroes of the Alamo. The Texas War for Independence and the Mexican-American War, of course, were separated by ten years and hundreds of miles. Not to mention the U. S. Army had no part in the first.

Posted by: sideswiththekids | February 13, 2011 5:00 PM | Report abuse

Very well written Mr. Kuhn. For the last 5 years Texas Legislators have had their heads in the Texas sand on school finance. State Reps. don't even want to address the problems that face us.

I personally know Mr. Kuhn. he is a young Supt. with fire, and I have great respect for him and the work that he does locally.

I find your letter ironic however. As a Trustee of a local Texas School Board, the very historical letter that you reference, seems to bear some comparisons in our present times. As Mexico attempts to take over our fair State without firing a shot, when will the Texas people stand up and realize that we cannot afford to educate the illegal residents of our state? Our current budget crisis is due in great part to having to educate the almost 30% of our students who have entered our country and State illegally.

Look at the budget situations in Arizona and California. They cannot afford to educate, hospitalize, and provide social services for illegal residents of their states either. Now they are paying the price, although they cannot afford to.

I implore the State of Texas Reps. and Senators to demand an accounting from the Federal Govt. of the impact of illegal students on our local School Districts. I also implore you to make education a priority. You have not done so in the last 6 years.

Rick Perry thinks we are living high on the hog. Mr. Perry we have cut all we can cut at the local level. I am a Republican, and I consider myself to be fiscally conservative. Our only option now is to raise taxes. Education cannot take a step backwards. We owe it to our children and we owe it to the Great State of Texas.

Remember our children and remember the Alamo. I think our elected Legislators have forgotten both.

Posted by: Alamo69 | February 15, 2011 10:56 AM | Report abuse

Great letter from the superintendent. Rick Perry has done more to damage education in Texas for the foreseeable future than any single person or event in living history. Folks who want to quibble about the interpretation of the Alamo in history are missing the point. We are now engaged in a battle for a civilized future in Texas, and the generalisimo who needs to be defeated happens to occupy the governor's office. The man seems to be made of teflon, as none of his numerous offenses seem to stick. Maybe when we have 40 kids in classrooms designed for half that many desks, perhaps then the voters will wake up.

Posted by: BMilliganWingsPress | February 15, 2011 11:03 AM | Report abuse

Thank you for giving our state educational crisis national attention! If Rick Perry is going to throw his name in the ring for Republican candidate / Tea Party candidate/ whatever, it's time he was exposed. Our state services are in a hell of a mess because of this Republican takeover. Our educational testing that he touts everywhere is a joke -- the bar is raised every year, the test is changed to be more rigorous, yet the way the passing scores are calculated are changed to "look better." We are very much helping out the testing companies, though! We want everyone to be college ready, but the governor wants massive cuts to public and higher education. He's insane!

Other services that we've ruined: Mental health, child protection, and public highways (toll roads are our system now.) It's a mess, and people need to know.

Posted by: txtchlib | February 15, 2011 11:11 AM | Report abuse

I think Texas needs to wake up and decide what is important. Is it important to have an education? Yes, it is of the utmost importance. Well that being said ALL schools could cut out millions if they cut back, (not out), just back on the money used for extracurricular activities. I am sorry but there is a reason they are called EXTRAcurricular. I am a teacher but also a parent and I would be more than willing to take my own child to his/her extracurricular activities myself. I go to watch, so I am there anyway. It is time to take out the EXTRAS(saving bus gas, money from feeding students, and extra pay for drivers), before taking out the TEACHERS.
I just do not understand why Texas schools have to look at cutting teachers, which will increase class size or cutting salaries first or as an only resort. I want my kids to get an education. No one is talking about cuts that can be done that will not affect our children’s education.

Posted by: kll1 | February 15, 2011 1:52 PM | Report abuse

What is saddest to me, as a teacher, is that I have students that will be denied food, access to libraries, individual attention -- YET, any prisoner in a state prison gets 3 meals, cable, internet, library, education, medical care, A/C, heat ---- wow, and they say crime doesn't pay; these days, apparently it does

Posted by: KimG2 | February 16, 2011 10:11 AM | Report abuse

The economy is tough everywhere, in my professional field there is 30% unemployment across the country. Homes are being foreclosed on, business are strapped for capital, and household budgets are being tighted. Believe me Mr. Kuhn, we KNOW!! We have been living it for 3 years now, welcome to the party. I have seen people lose their homes, because the state adjusted the taxable value of their home and the monthly mortgage payment increase by $300.In my current employment, the company has had a wage and hiring freeze since 2008. I personally, because of my position, have not had a raise since 2007. My expenditures have increased but my income has stayed relatively the same. Yet the Perrin-Whitt cisd, as with every Texas isd, budget has increased every year. While people have lost their business, their jobs, and their homes (the reason why there is a decrease in revenue to the state....HELLO!!)We, the tax payer, are told - "times are good you need to give more", now we are being told "times are bed you still need to give more." Well some of us tax payers are tapped out! May be the P-W cisd school board should give classes on how to streamline budgets, because its seems that you have mastered it for your isd's budget to where there is absolutely nothing left to cut. Yet, in FY 2006 P-W cisd budget was $3,675,721 and it seemed to function just fine. Now, the approved FY2010 budget P-W cisd $4,469,005. That is almost a $1,000,000.00 increase over 4 years, approximately a 7% increase per year. Could P-W cisd operated if the rate of increase was reduced (or "cut") to 3.5%? (that's what we are actually talking about isn't it? a cut in the rate of increase, not actual REAL cuts, like reducing budgets to say 2006 levels?)
As for Governor Perry AND our elected representatives(psst it is our legislators that write the buget not the Governor, he makes his suggestions and either signs or vetos the bill). THERE SHOULD BE NO SUCH THING AS A RAINY DAY FUND!!! AND IT'S NOT ONLY RAINING IT IS TIME TO BUILD AN ARK! That is OUR tax money, either use it or give it back! It is way past time to be physically responsible on the national, state and local levels.

Posted by: tim88 | February 16, 2011 12:36 PM | Report abuse

Tim,

I wish the predicament Texas schools face was solely due to the economy. There's more to it. Our legislators provided property tax relief in 2005 by reducing the maximum tax rate school districts can levy. They didn't fill the gap they created, leaving a structural deficit.

Look at my budget more closely. How much has my Chapter 41 payment back to the state increased? Your post doesn't take into account that one expenditure in my 2010-2011 budget is a $900,000 payment to Austin for redistribution, which we didn't have to send in 2006. I don't dismiss the suffering of private industry. Please don't fall for the popular myth that schools are generally wasteful and reckless spenders. As far as your statement that we aren't facing actual cuts, I strenuously disagree. The Moak Casey law firm has estimated PWCISD as facing a cut in funding of up to $479,000. That is a real decrease, not just an insufficient increase for my luxurious tastes. That's 10% of my budget vanishing from this year to next, while my enrollment continues to rise. It's more than 10% if you don't hold the $1 million I merely flow to Austin against me as an expenditure. Please don't be fooled, Tim. We aren't quite as inefficient, petty, and spoiled as some would have you believe.

Yes, we can still cut, Tim88. Last biennium, at my last school, I cut positions and budgets. We schools have not been exempt from pain as your post implies. But, we can still cut more. We can go back to a 1 room schoolhouse if you would demand it. Just tell me when we know we've cut enough? When does cutting our children's education stop being the wise thing to do?

Posted by: Jkuhn1 | February 16, 2011 1:56 PM | Report abuse

I seem to remember that the state of Texas voted in the lottery some years back and that money was supposed to go toward education, instead it is being put in a 'general fund.' Do I remember this as being correct or did I dream it? If in fact it is not a dream then where is that money and why is it not being used for education at this point and time?

Posted by: nancypeipelman | February 16, 2011 8:45 PM | Report abuse

Hey sideswithkids,
It just so happens we know exactly what he was doing, and are glad we have a sup that will take a stand and fight for us. But thanks for talking down to our staff like we were a bunch of IDIOTS. Much appreciated!

Posted by: btstaggs | February 17, 2011 1:59 PM | Report abuse

Hey sideswithkids,
Just so happens we know exactly what he was doing. Glad we have a sup that will stand up and fight for us. But thanks for talking down to our staff like we were a bunch of IDIOTS. Much appreciated!!!

Posted by: btstaggs | February 17, 2011 2:02 PM | Report abuse

Mr. Kuhn, I remember 2005 as well. The state may have reduced the maximum rate a school could tax, but my county didn't have any problem raising the taxing value of my plushious 1,800 squarefoot palace from $97,000 to $138,000 for tax purposes. That gift raised my esrow payment, changing my mortgage payment from $754.13 to $1,023.54. So, in 2006 I had to stop contributing to my retirement plan to make the adjusted mortgage payment. I have'nt been able to give to my retirement since! Can state employees, like the TEA members say the same? NO!! my taxes help subsidize state pension plans. I can't contribute to my own retirement, but I can lose my house if I dont pay my increased taxes that subsidize state pensions. So, people like myself elected leaders to stop this out of control spending at all levels of government. It would be one thing if the raised taxes actually went to help pay down the debt, but it doesn't! The policy has been overspend, overspend and overspend in all areas of government. When it comes down to keeping my house and feeding my family and state pensions, that's a no brainer sir, it's my family!

I think there may be at least one area of common ground, and that is the so called "rainy day" fund. It should be used to make up the difference needed, so the cuts can be phased in over the next few legislative budget sessions. But, if we as a state and as a country don't get a handle on spending now, when do we? My children now face upto 65% of their future incomes taken in taxes if we continue on this spending spree.

By the way, a lot of brilliant people that made this country great were educated in a one room schoolhouses.

Posted by: tim88 | February 18, 2011 10:50 AM | Report abuse

Tim88,

You are absolutely right--"property tax relief" didn't materialize anywhere because property values went up everywhere. I just want you to understand that when you and I were robbed, it wasn't local school districts holding the gun. In fact, school districts have been in the same pinch you and I as property owners are in since '05.

I am not for high taxes either. But I am for adequate education. You are right about the Rainy Day Fund, but there are other sources of revenue to minimize the gutting of education that our future-eating legislators are so giddy about. Please check this approach supported by sensible school leaders and tell me if it is offensive to you as a taxpayer:

GENERATE REVENUE
Utilize the Rainy Day Fund (9 billion)
Temporary Expansion of Sales Tax and/or Eliminate Sales Tax Exemptions (3 billion)
Delay August FSP Payment Healthy Tax Package (Tobacco, Alcohol, Soft Drinks) (4.4 billion)
 
LIMIT GOVERNMENT
Eliminate Unfunded Mandates
Suspend efficiency model until all districts are funded equally
Strengthen Local Decision Making (Tax Rate, Class Size)
Reduce State Mandated Testing
 
DECREASE SPENDING
Eliminate Discretionary Grants (1.9 billion)
As a last resort, an equitable reduction in FSP funding starting with districts with the highest target revenue

Tim, I appreciate your participation and input. Schools are not leeches. The legislators want schools to be the fall guy for their inability to govern courageously.

Posted by: Jkuhn1 | February 18, 2011 12:32 PM | Report abuse

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