Archive for October, 2008

Letter: “Send a no message”

October 30, 2008

From the MN Sun-Post:

To the editor:

Recent literature left on my doorstep promoting the District 281 referendum points out “Property Tax Relief is Available.”

Are we to infer these existing state programs negate the yearly $222 per average home the 281 referendum will cost?

The Legislature has increased school districts’ funding to make voters think they are “working hard” for property tax relief, still the school district says the vitality of the community depends on millions more from a referendum.

Who are state tax relief programs intended for, the school district?

I recall Channel 5 news reporting last year on the consequences of the failed referendum coming up with a student contriving to convince viewers that if he couldn’t play golf he wouldn’t be able to concentrate on other studies.

Does the vitality of the community really depend on students playing golf at taxpayers’ expense?

In the presidential debate, Sen. Obama referenced that a family must budget by looking at income and then determining what they can spend. It’s time for taxpayers to insist that school districts and city councils do the same, as opposed to calling a list of things they want a budget and inevitably when there is not enough tax money to pay for everything, present it to the public as a crippling cut to that “budget.”

This referendum is not about educating children. It is about ever higher property taxes making housing unaffordable.

Voting no on the District 281 referendum is a chance to send that message.

Mike D.
Brooklyn Park

281 enrollment declines, but not your taxes

October 30, 2008

Enrollment continues to decline in 281 schools, according to the October 29 issue of the MN Sun Post.

As of Oct. 1, the district’s total enrollment is 12, 308 students, a decline of 1,600 students since 1998, according to Dennis Beekman, District 281’s executive director of technology.

“That’s a significant number,” Beekman said.

Since October of 2007, the district has lost 404 students, he said.

Further into the article, mobility is discussed. (more…)

281’s fuzzy math

October 27, 2008

Speed Gibson digs into a fuzzy math claim on RSD’s claim, “The 67 Percent Solution:”

You may remember some legislative proposals to require that at least, say, 65 percent of K-12 spending go “directly” to the “classroom” – whatever that means. As I recall, these never got beyond the guidelines stage, probably because everyone realized how difficult this would be to calculate, let alone enforce.

Take for example the Robbinsdale School District’s claim that 67 cents of every tax dollar goes for instruction, specifically “teachers teaching our children and the books and other supplies needed to educate our students.” This is from a recent mailing from the District. Is this really true? Let’s try to find out.

First, let’s look at the tax dollar. Per the chart on page 37 of the 2008-2009 budget which supplies most of the figures below, 90 percent of the revenue comes from state, property, and federal taxes, in that order. You could argue that the other 10 percent is largely for meals and non-academics like sports, but I’ll use the worst case value of 90 percent below.

Now, how much are we spending? The total budget is $ 187 million, from which I’ll subtract meals and Community Education (including ECFE) to get a net $ 173 million a year. Applying the 90 percent figure above says that $ 155 million tax dollars are being spent this year. The flyer says that 67 percent of that is for instruction, which is $ 104 million. Dividing that by the enrollment of approximately 12,300 gives us $ 8,462 from taxes per student.

Going back to the flyer, the lowest class size shown in 25.4, for fifth grade if both Referendum questions pass. That works out to about $ 215 thousand dollars per class. One teacher with benefits costs about $67,000, but since the average teacher only teaches during 4 of the 6 hours, I’ll flex that up to an even $100,000. Subtracting another $ 5,000 for books and supplies leaves another $ 110,000 in taxes allegedly being spent on “instruction.” Where, pray tell?

Now I’m sure the District can show us how they came up with the 67 cents of every tax dollar figure but given the language they attached in the flyer, it has to be rather contrived. I requote the flyer’s definition of Instruction: “Teachers teaching our children and the books and other supplies needed to educate our students.”

The flyer does cite the preliminary District Audit Report as its source. I read the previous year’s Audit Report and Management Letter which shows Instruction as 56.6 percent of 2006-2007 expenditures, 55.6 percent for 2005-2006. I therefore infer that the 2007-2008 percent is almost certainly under 60 percent. Their definition of Instruction appears more broad, possibly including some Community Education I believe, yet their percentage is significantly less than claimed on the flyer. Why, pray tell?

I offer this to again say that District communications need significant improvement, as the Strategic Planning process has identified as Priority 4.

Where then does the money go, if not for “teachers teaching our children and the books and other supplies needed to educate our students?”  I’d guess that it’s not where it should be going, and that 281 administration will not answer (because they know it won’t support their fuzzy claims).

Mack to pack at end of school year

October 24, 2008

Breaking news from the MN Sun-Post:

Stan Mack, superintendent of Robbinsdale District 281 Schools since 2000, has announced his intent to retire at the end of the 2008-09 school year.

The announcement came Thursday, Oct. 23, following a closed-door meeting with the school board on his quarterly evaluation. The session followed a regular board meeting.

Mack’s three-year contract expires June 30, 2009.

“I’m saddened,” Board Chair Patsy Green said. “We have a lot on our plates right now.”

In a letter to the board, Mack said he had been considering retirement for six months.

“Based on many conversations with my wife, Margaret, my sons Stashie, Mikhail and Kiehlor, and several close friends and colleagues, I have determined that nine years as superintendent of schools for Robbinsdale Area Schools is long enough,” Mack’s letter stated. “I am ready to open the door for new opportunities in my life.”

Compliance with the terms of his three-year contract will qualify Mack for severance, payment of any unused annual leave and other provisions, as well as full family health insurance at current benefit levels, until he reaches the age of 65.

Green said Mack distributed a letter to board members on the afternoon of Oct. 23, outlining his intent not to negotiate a new contract.

“When he was hired, Stan Mack was exactly what this district needed,” Green said. “He has always operated with the highest integrity and has always given us 150 percent of his effort. His open door policy has served the district really well.”

Green said Mack’s retirement makes passage of the upcoming referendum even more crucial.

“Now, more than ever, it is important to pass a referendum to make this district attractive for candidates to apply for the superintendent’s position,” Green said.

Mack’s letter noted that his nine years as District 281 superintendent make him “the third longest-serving school superintendent in the history of Robbinsdale Area Schools.”

“The past eight years have been a joy,” Mack said.

He will not retire from professional education, Mack’s letter stated.

“I will be considering pre-K-12 administrative opportunities and other higher education teaching opportunities, beginning in the fall of 2009,” the letter stated.

Mack, 58, is a resident of Fridley. His wife, Margaret Leibfried, is principal at Fridley Middle School.

Prior to coming to District 281 in July 2000, Mack was assistant superintendent for the Osseo District 279 and Burnsville school districts. He was the superintendent in the Northfield and Eveleth school districts, and a central office administrator in the South St. Paul School District. Mack began his career in public education as a special education teacher in South St. Paul in 1972.

It hasn’t been a joy for us, Supt. Mack. I suspect this announcement is a last-ditch effort to help pass the referendum. We’ll see if it makes a difference, as many on the school board are are also blame for the mess we’re in (Patsy Green is at the top of the list).  The search for a competent replacement is on. Our schools deserve better leadership.

Questions to 281 Administration

October 23, 2008

281 CARE asks some very good questions in this Sun Post letter:

During a work session July 14, ISD 281 administration and the School Board were presented by the district’s director of finance a “Referendum Analysis,” with a five-year projection of the general operating fund balance.

This document showed our district will be required to make further cost reductions or ask us for more money between three and five years from now. Taxpayers should be asking some questions.

If the 2008 referendum/levy is only going to only last three to five years, why is the district asking for a seven-year term?

Is the district trying to use smoke and mirrors to get more money that is stated to last for seven years, knowing that the district will be back in two to four years?

The current referendum has three years left. Why didn’t the district ask for additional money for three more years and re-evaluate in two years when projecting that they need additional money?

Robbinsdale Area Schools provided their employees with an 11 percent increase over the last four years (2005-06 to 2008-09). This is approximately the same increase they received from the state of Minnesota in revenue. A good, fiscally responsible entity would know that it has other costs that will be increasing and not pay off all its revenue increase to its employees and still stay in business.

Can you trust this administration and school board? I say they have not shown a reason to trust them.

Vote no on Nov. 4.

Ron Stoffel

Letter: Send a “no” message

October 23, 2008

To the Editor at MN Sun Post:

Q: Why does District 281 keep coming back, year after year, begging for more money?

A: Because they can.

Hypothesis: Whatever sum of money public education is given, they will exhaust it. According to the legislative auditor, Minnesotans spend $10,308 per student – that’s a quarter million dollars per class of 25! We spend 26 percent more, in constant dollars, than we did a decade ago. If there is a crisis, it’s not a funding crisis as much as a spending crisis.

Those of us who oppose this referendum are not conspiring to make kids illiterate. What we are fighting is a large, bloated, inefficient government monopoly that has, over time, become paralyzed by its own titanic bulk and self-inflicted, agenda-driven insanity.

For that reason, I would ask anyone who is unsure about the referendum to answer a simple question: Does it fix what’s truly broken?

Many parents would take half of what is spent in government schools in the form of a tax credit or voucher – if we had the choice. We don’t. The choice we are gratuitously offered is Public School A or Public School B. That is the beginning, middle and end of their debate on school choice.

By voting “no” you’re not punishing kids. Rather, you’re sending a clear message to the local politicians who are trying their hardest to tune us out.

Jerry L

281 Referendum Show Airing October 23

October 21, 2008

From NW Community Television:

Channel 19

Vicki’s Parlour
Hold On To Your Wallets
Tax Grab Alert!

Thursday, October 23, 2008 11:30PM [30 minutes]

The program repeats every 6 hours through Friday, October 24th, 5:30 PM. View programming schedule here.

If you don’t have cable access, you can purchase a copy of the show by contacting NWCT.

Patsy Green: Arrogant and Partisan

October 17, 2008

Word in the halls and the streets after seeing this post is not complimentary of School Board Chair Patsy Green.

That Keith Ellison would call her out by her title and specifically mention the Robbinsdale referendum on his literature was not well received by many in the district and in Yes 281. Some also feel this move by Green hurts the referendum support cause.

Keith Ellison invite to Patsy Greens home.

One regarded Green’s blatant partisanship to be arrogant, while many parents are working hard to pass the referendum. Since Ellison does not live in (or is affiliated with) the Robbinsdale district), why did he publish this and why did Patsy Green allow it?

Ask Patsy Green: Is Robbinsdale School District 281 officially endorsing Keith Ellison, Al Franken and Barack Obama?

P.S. Green’s term expires next year. Let’s make sure she’s not re-elected.

Critics of Stan Mack Weigh In

October 17, 2008

To The Editor:

The SOS I refer to is “Save our Snacks.” The Robbinsdale schools have cut for the 2009 budget over $8,000 for “snacks for routine meetings.”

This means that it is still in the budget for this year and likely has been for previous years. Funny thing is, the Vote Yes person was not aware of this when I mentioned it; he interrupted my dinner this evening to stress the importance of voting yes for the upcoming referendums.

Oh, he knew all the talking points and assured me that everything has been cut to the bone. He did not know the superintendent did not even take his proposed bonus this year, a bit over $3,000. I told him not to worry. I bet he still has some left over from the $8,300 bonus that he took last year.

Between the bonus, his car allowance, 50 days of vacation and over $160,000 salary, I think he can buy something out of a vending machine before a meeting.

OK, some of you are fuming at the levity, but all the above is true. The school district is not a business; it is a public entity and is paid for by the taxpayers. So until they truly get costs under control, stop viewing themselves as a corporation, and address the performance issues they have in the schools, we should deny them the money that they are claiming is so necessary.

Or you could vote yes and truly “Save our Snacks.”

Shane P


To the editor:

Every lawn sign I see about the new funding increase proposed for District 281 is a reminder to me of something Superintendent Stan Mack said a year ago, when the funding referendum failed.

He referred to the majority who voted against the referendum as “adults behaving badly.”

If the referendum fails on Nov. 4, perhaps the school district should look for a new leader, who will rally, rather than chastise the taxpayers in this district.

David M

Letter to the Editor: Pay a Visit to Forest

October 15, 2008

From the October 15 Sun-Post:

To The Editor:

I recently received two separate mailings from the Robbinsdale School District regarding the tax levy referendum on Nov. 4.

They did not contain any information regarding the term of the levy, or the total amount of money the district hoped to realize.

After a number of phone calls, I learned that the term of the levy was seven years and would result in an annual tax increase of $9.4 million if both questions on the ballot were approved. This is an additional tax of $222 per year on a home valued at $245,000.

I would never vote for a seven-year tax levy. The school board or administration cannot predict with any accuracy what the future student enrollment or the government action on school funding will be.

One of the publications I received stated that approval of the levy would allow rehiring up to 40 teachers. I am not sure what that would accomplish because the student test scores were no better before they were terminated than they are now.

I suggest that instead of asking the taxpayers for more money, they visit Forest Elementary and find out how they consistently meet the Adequate Yearly Progress standards under the federal No Child Left Behind Act with the funds they have available.

Duane P.
New Hope