Waiting Now is the Smart  Option

Information for Guilford CT Taxpayers by William G. Quirk, Ph.D.  wgquirk@wgquirk.com

Links to Sections of this Essay

Building for the Past, Not the Future

The conceptual design of the proposed new GHS facility assumes that education in the future will be very similar to  education in the past. The classroom size decisions have been based on State guidelines that were last revised in 1997.  But a large number of such classrooms won’t make much sense when interactive tutorial software becomes the dominant method for student learning.  We will still want students to gather in buildings for some academic activities, social reasons, team sports, and group activities in  music, art, and theater.  But  students in the future won't be limited by today's school-based methods for teaching academic content. They'll be able to learn when they want, where they want, and at their own pace. They won’t need to meet in classrooms, and they won’t need large lockers for today’s large textbooks.  Such textbooks will eventually be obsolete. 

Information technology will make the proposed new GHS facility obsolete just a few years after it is built.  The power and low cost of interactive tutorial software will greatly reduce the need for both teacher-centered direct instruction and student-centered collaborative learning.  It will happen first in home schools and charter schools.  And the word will spread.  Public school parents will demand interactive tutorial learning for their children. They will start using it at home and public schools will be forced to adapt.  The education establish will resist in the most intense way, because they will see this as a threat to jobs, but it's not a threat for good teachers.  They will still be needed, but the way they will teach will be very different, and their pay, benefits, and job satisfaction will be much better than today.  The power of interactive tutorial software will go well beyond the needs of school age children. It will be the educational method of choice for the unemployed, veterans returning from war, and anyone who wants to learn any subject matter.

A New GHS Will Cost at Least 107.8 Million Dollars

Emails from Sheila Villano, Guilford's Finance Director, state that the cost of bonding over 30 years will be $43.4 million.  This assumes that Connecticut taxpayers will provide a $25.6 million school construction grant, allowing the principal for the Guilford bond to be $64.4 million, not the full $90 million cost of construction.  So if the State grant is $25.6 million, the 30-year cost for Guilford taxpayers will be $107.8 million.  This has been acknowledged in an email from Matt Hoey, Chairman of the Guilford Board of Finance.  

But the cost may be higher.  The State of Connecticut school construction grant may be less than $25.6 million, and the bond principal would then be higher than $64.4 million.  The June 14th referendum authorizes the principal to be any amount up the full $90 million cost of construction.  If X = the amount of the State grant, then the 30-year bond principal is $90 million - X.  In the worst case, X= 0 and the bond interest would be $65 million for the $90 million bond principal.  The total cost to Guilford taxpayers would then be $155 million.  But even this isn't certain.  Sheila Villano has assumed that a 4% bond interest rate will be available when bonding occurs in 2015 or later.  Not to worry about inflation.  And we don't actually know the cost of construction, because Guilford voters didn't authorize the $400 thousand requested last June for a detailed design of a new GHS facility.

June 9, 2011 Update:  Good News! According to Sheila Villano, it's $148 million, not $155 million.

On page 18 of the June 9th Guilford Courier, the reporter wrote:  "Villano noted that Quirk might have used a higher percentage interest rate to reach the $155 million estimate.  After the meeting, calculating on a four percent interest rate, she reached a total of $148 million, should the town not receive reimbursement."  

The conventional way to find the total 30-year interest for a $90 million principal is to use a mortgage calculation program to find the total 30-year interest for a $90 thousand loan at 4%. Then multiply by 1,000. The result here is $64,682,560 or approximately $65 million. How did Ms. Villano get $58 million? 
She has assumed an amortization model that retires principal at a faster rate than the conventional model.

The June 9th Guilford Courier quote from Ms. Villano is the first public acknowledgment of the cost of bonding over 30 years.  In the New Haven Register on June 13th she gave the first public acknowledgment that the minimal cost of New Construction will be 107.8 million dollars.  On June 9th she said the maximum possible cost will be 148 million dollars.

Waiting Doesn't Mean Doing Nothing About Current Problems

We will need to wait until there's an emerging consensus that building traditional classrooms no longer makes sense.  In the meantime we need to invest in the current facility.  Heath, safety, and security concerns should have been eliminated long ago.   Let's look to the wise investments at Adams for a guide.    Now Michael Ayles describes Adams as “sturdy,” “well constructed,“ and “ worth preserving.“   Upgrades at Adams included roof replacement, new windows, ventilation, HVAC upgrades, drainage, replacement of electrical systems, new lockers, and lavatory renovations.  

In a 2002 letter to me, Bill Bloss wrote "I am convinced that the Adams building simply cannot continue to be used as a school with anything approaching the number of students who are there now, much less the number who are likely to attend as a result of increases in enrollment." [See item 5 in my reply to that letter].  Mr. Bloss predicted that the enrollment at Adams could be 780 in 2011.  It's now 570.  Back in 2002 Mr. Bloss said Adams couldn't be saved.  Now he says Adams is the best building we own. He was wrong about Adams.  Why should we believe that he's right about GHS now?   Let's not trust his judgment and build for the past.  Let's intelligently invest in the current facility and wait to see what the revolution in educational technology reveals we will need in the future GHS. 

What is Interactive Tutorial Software?

2014 Update: See Math Education Game-Changer:  Khan Academy Math  
This is a topic for a book.  The key idea is a question/answer dialogue, where the software asks the questions and the student answers.  A typical learning session would cover one topic, such as the concept of equivalent fractions.    When the student answers a question, the software responds with another question, but this next question depends on how the student answered the last question.   If the student answers rapidly, with right answer after right answer, the software can shift to more advanced questions, leading such an excellent student to a richer understanding of the topic, potentially well beyond what is possible in today's group learning environment.  On the other hand, if the student selects too many wrong answers, the software will attempt to diagnose the problem, perhaps leading the student back to questions from an earlier topic.  If the student gets lost or confused, he pushes the HELP key.  The software may also prompt the student to press HELP.  Pressing HELP opens a connection to a live, expert teacher.  Such a teacher can be anywhere in the world.  This teacher will be able to see the Q/A sequence that led to the request for HELP, and this teacher will be able to see the student's computer screen and take control of this screen, if that makes sense.   The teacher will then engage the student in a short Q/A dialogue.   This may be with text messages, but voice is also possible.   This teacher/student Q/A dialogue is captured to be used in later analysis.  Why did the student need HELP?   How can we modify the software so that the request for HELP is less likely in the future?

The Future GHS:  A Meeting Center for Music, Art, Theater, and Team Sports

For a few more years, the primary purpose of student activity in the high school facility will continue to be knowledge acquisition in the major academic knowledge domains, such as English, math, science, and history.   At the May 31, 2011 Guilford Town Meeting, most speakers talked about the importance of programs in music, art, and theater.   No one mentioned academics.   This perfectly  points to the natural "activity center" for future Guilford high school age students.   Eventually, more and more students won't need to meet in classes for academic reasons, so the need for large classrooms will gradually decrease.  Students will continue to want to meet for some academic activities, social reasons, team sports, and group activities in   music, art, and theater.  

Let's not rush to build for the past.  Let's live for a while with the current facility, and plan for something much more exciting.   Guilford could actually lead the nation with such wise thinking.   Once a large amount of traditional academic classroom space is no longer needed,  ample space for music, art, theater, and team sports will be provided without complaint from taxpayers, because community support for such activities will become the primary purpose of the new GHS.  Without the need for so many large classrooms, the overall size the the future GHS can be smaller, and 
smaller means less expense for Guilford taxpayers.  They will smile.  But if the new facility plan passes on June 14, the space for non-academic activities won't be as currently desired, and it won't be as much as will be possible in a few more years.  If we build now, too much space will be necessarily devoted to traditional classrooms and other academic space.  At 205,000 square feet, the proposed new GHS is already 6,450 square feet larger than desired by the State of Connecticut.  

The Future GHS:  A  Training Center for Blue Collar Jobs

Our society has elevated the importance of a college education and not adequately supported the educational needs of so-called "blue collar workers."  Blue collar jobs include automotive technician, carpenter, electrician, HVAC technician, aviation mechanic, plumber, painter, pipefitter, welder, and other skilled trades.   The "blue collar" designation has the ring of disrespect, and this is unfortunate.  Many with advanced academic degrees would be ill-suited to a skilled trade.  Mastery of most trades requires aptitude, intelligence, attention to detail, and endless hours of hands-on practice.  We desperately need such people, and we should do our best to support their educational needs.

For some of these jobs, state-of-the-art tools and equipment rapidly change.  It might make sense to join forces with surrounding towns and provide a regional training center.  But if Guilford takes the initiative, such a regional training center could be connected to GHS, and students from other towns would pay tuition to attend.  

We Don't Need to Wait Until the Classroom-based Academic Era is Over

The future GHS could  evolve as an extension of the current facility.  For example, new space for music, art, theater, and team sports could  be connected to the current two gyms.  Taxpayers will be pleased if these gyms can be saved.  Such a gradual transition could begin as the classroom-based era winds down.  Once classrooms are no longer needed for traditional academic reasons, they can be torn down or modified for the needs that we don't currently foresee. 

What About the NEASC Accreditation Report?

The NEASC visit was not required by the State of Connecticut.  It was requested by the BOE.  The last NEASC visit for the Hand High School in Madison was carried out in 2001.  The NEASC "team" consisted of teachers and school administrators, 13 from Connecticut and 2 from Massachusetts.  In this 82 page report the physical plant is mentioned in 2 sentences on page 8 and in a long paragraph, beginning at the bottom of page 73.  

NEASC did not carry out an analysis of the GHS physical plant.  They reported back what they were told by GHS faculty and staff.  For example, on page 74 they report: "Despite a May 2008 indoor air quality report that returned 'minimal amounts of identifiable fungi,' numerous faculty members express [sic] concerns regarding temperature, mold, air flow, and air quality."  

We've been told that the science wing was rapidly built in a less than careful way, because these science classrooms were "required" to satisfy the NEASC.   But the NEASC is an independent for-profit organization and can't require anything.   If you want their blessing, you can pay for it, but participation is voluntary. 

Comparing the Cost of the Baseline Option to the Cost of New Construction

BOE member, Dr. Alan Meyers, recently asked us to compare two options: Baseline vs. New Construction.  Baseline refers to maintenance of the current GHS facility for 30 years. For New Construction he included $2.5 million for maintenance over 30 years.  According to Dr. Meyers, the total cost for Baseline will be $67 million, while the total cost for New Construction will be a little less, $66. 5 million. Thinking fuzzy math?  Dr. Meyers failed to include the Guilford Finance Director‘s recent recognition of at least $43.4 million for New Construction 30-year bond interest.  And do you believe $67 million for 30 years maintenance of the current facility?  Do you believe only $2.5 million for 30 years maintenance of a new facility?  That's just $83 thousand a year for a 205 thousand square foot building. Tell that to Middletown taxpayers. They’re now living with a less than perfect new high school. Just the cost of construction for them was well over $100 million!  

There's a slide presentation at the end of the GHS tour.  Slide 29 compares "Average Annual Tax" for Baseline vs. New Construction: $339.93 for Baseline vs. $368.00 for New Construction.  Slide 42 gives Dr. Meyers numbers: $67 million for Baseline vs. $66.5 million for New Construction.  But slide 42 says this is for 20 years, not the 30 years stated by Dr. Meyers.  Now Dr. Meyers is most likely correct here, but notice the carelessness  about details. Also notice the inconsistency.  For slide 29, Baseline is approximately 92 percent of New Construction.  For slide 42, Baseline is approximately 101 percent of New Construction.  Note that if we compare the claimed $67 million for Baseline to [the acknowledged] $107.8 million for New Construction, Baseline is approximately 62 percent of New Construction.

Perhaps the prime movers here have been influenced by the fuzzy math programs currently being used in Guilford public schools.  Programs such as Everyday Math are best described as courses in math appreciation.   Students don't master standard pencil-and-paper arithmetic, and  without such mastery, they can't master algebra.  And algebra is the gateway to higher math.  Don't be fooled by today's high-tech algebra programs.  Students need to learn traditional algebra. For more click on The Key Fallacy Behind Fuzzy Math

About GCTV Pulling the Conversation with Bill Quirk Video

A Conversation with Bill Quirk originally appeared on GCTV, but was prematurely pulled at noon on D-Day, June 6th.  In an email, the GCTV Operations Manager wrote that the interview was scheduled to air three times after noon on June 6th, but it was pulled at noon on that date. Why this was done has not been explained. The interview had aired in the 1, 5, & 9  AM/PM slot and that slot was available going foward through June 10th, but a "rule" prevented a Conversation with Bill Quirk from continuing in that slot.  Subsequently, Bridge for Youth was inserted to run at 1, 5, & 9  AM/PM.  Since June 6th, only vote Yes GHS videos have aired on GCTV.  But Guilford taxpayer, Nils Dailey, stepped in and posted the complete interview at his blog.  

With a June 9th letter in the Guilford Courier and a June 10th letter in the Shore Line Times, it's clear that GCTV Board Member, Joe Goldberg, is pulling for a Yes vote on June 14th.   But it's disappointing that Joe and his fellow GCTV Board members appear to feel no responsibility to pull in No vote voices, so that Guilford taxpayers might have a more balanced view before the June 14th vote.  

June 9, 2011 Update:  
Good News! The interview is back on GCTV.  It was selected for a "second run" and is currently scheduled to be aired at 2 & 8 AM/PM, from now though the end of the day on June 13th. Thank you to those who decided to do this.  

June 13, 2011 Update:  Bad  News! The interview was scheduled to run at 2 PM and 8 PM today, the day before the referendum.  But it was pulled and no explanation has been given.

About Civil Behavior

I want to the acknowledge the assistance provided by Matt Hoey, Michael Ayles, and Whit Iglehart.  Although we disagree, they have treated me decently and always responded quickly to my email questions.  Society functions best when people behave like this.  Thank you gentlemen!

Who is Bill Quirk? (mailto:wgquirk@wgquirk.com

Bill Quirk is a Guilford CT taxpayer.  He is a graduate of Dartmouth College and holds a Ph.D. in Mathematics from The New Mexico State University. Over a span of 8 years, he taught 26 different courses in math and computer science at Penn State, Northern Illinois University, and Jacksonville University.

For a 15 year period, beginning in 1981, Bill developed and presented courses dealing with the design of interactive software.  His company, William G. Quirk Seminars,  specialized in software usability and served hundreds of organizations,  including AT&T, Bank of America, FDIC, Federal Reserve Board, General Electric, General Foods, Harvard Business School, Hewlett-Packard, Hughes Aircraft, IBM, MIT, Mobil Oil, NASA, NIH, Texas Instruments, The Travelers, and The Executive Office of the President of the United States.

Beginning in 1996, Bill embarked on a public service endeavor to help parents besieged with new "math" programs.  He is a major contributor to Mathematically Correct and a national advisor to NYC HOLD