Archive for December, 2008

After referendum passes, three schools now on the chopping block

December 31, 2008

Near the end of this 281 press release, you’ll see stats of Robbinsdale School District’s declining enrollment. We used the stats to justify voting no on the referendum. They use the stats to justify closing three schools.

School closing recommendation made
Robbinsdale district to hold public meeting Jan. 13

New Hope, Minn. – A facilities study team led by Wold Architects and Engineers recommends closing Sandburg Middle School and Pilgrim Lane and Sunny Hollow Elementary Schools at the end of this school year to right-size Robbinsdale Area Schools. The recommendation is one of four options that the team will present to the school board on Monday, January 5. Selection of one of the options is intended to help the school district run more efficiently by solving the district’s excess capacity problem. A December report indicated the district has enough excess capacity to consider closing up to two elementary schools and potentially one middle school due to recent declines in enrollment. The facilities study was identified by the community as an important goal in the district’s 2008 five-year Strategic Plan.

“We will keep our referendum promises to lower class size and restore the programs and activities that were cut over the last two years,” said Superintendent Stan F. Mack. “We can sustain these restorations for a longer period of time by right-sizing our operation.”

The four options that will be considered by the board propose closing different combinations of schools. The “Two Phases” option would close Pilgrim Lane and Lakeview Elementary Schools in 2009-10 and close a middle school in 2012-13. The “K-6” option moves 6th grade to elementary schools, closes Northport and Lakeview Elementary Schools and Robbinsdale Middle School in 2009-10. Most Northport and Lakeview students would move to the former Robbinsdale Middle School space alongside Robbinsdale Spanish Immersion School (RSIS). The “K-5” option closes Pilgrim Lane and Sunny Hollow Elementary Schools and Sandburg Middle School in 2009-10. It also moves RSIS to Sunny Hollow. A “K-5” option variation would close Pilgrim Lane and Noble Elementary Schools and Sandburg Middle School in 2009-10. It moves RSIS to Sandburg.

The Wold team chose the K-5 option as its recommendation because:

  • It is the most efficient as it achieves the highest percentage capacity of any of the options;
  • It produces immediate savings  in operations costs;
  • Enrollment projections indicate the district will likely be right-sized for the next 10 years;
  • Preserves and potentially enhances current education initiatives for all grades;
  • It aligns four elementary schools and one middle school with each high school attendance area which aligns all schools to potentially offer International Baccalaureate or Advanced Placement programming;
  • And it relocates the popular Spanish immersion program (which has a large waiting list each year) to a building where a decision to grow the program by one section at each grade level is possible.

“The other options don’t deliver the same scale of benefits, and they don’t support as efficient a delivery of educational initiatives,” said Scott McQueen, project manager for Wold.

No matter which option is chosen by the school board, the popular International Baccalaureate Middle Years Program (IBMYP) and the pre-Advanced Placement programs at the middle school level would be kept intact, and in some options would have an opportunity to expand.

“We understand that closing facilities is very hard for families, students, staff and community members,” added Mack. “We wish there were other alternatives to closing buildings, but this painful process has been something we’ve needed to do every few years since the 1970s after our enrollment peaked.”

Assumptions and criteria
The Wold team evaluated various options to solve the district’s excess capacity problem using the following assumptions and criteria:
Assumptions:

  • Recommend creative solutions equal to the scale of the excess capacity problem
  • Focus on options that save the most money or provide added value at the least expense
  • Recommend buildings to be closed and sold

Criteria:

  • Solutions must geographically balance schools across the district
  • Solutions must preserve remodeled buildings and divest of unremodeled buildings when possible

Sub-criteria:

  • Close smaller schools before larger schools; smaller schools are less efficient to operate than larger schools
  • Close schools with small attendance before those with larger attendance; schools with small attendance are less efficient than schools with larger attendance.

Timeline
The public is invited to ask questions and provide input at a meeting Tuesday, January 13, 2009, 7 p.m. at Robbinsdale Cooper High School, 8230 47th Ave. N., New Hope.

The school board will hear the presentation of the options by the Wold team at its 7 p.m, January 5 meeting; will discuss the options at its 5:30 p.m., January 12 work session; and is planning to make its decision on which plan to implement at its 7 p.m., January 20 meeting. All meetings are held at the Education Service Center, 4148 Winnetka Ave. N., New Hope. The meetings of January 5 and 20 will be carried live on Ed’s TV Cable Channel 22, and will be replayed at the following times during the week of the board meeting: Wednesday at 8:30 p.m.; Thursday at 8 a.m. and Sunday at 7 p.m. The Wold team’s Facilities Study report, including the problem, the solutions, possible attendance boundaries and the enrollment report are available on the district’s website at http://www.Rdale.org <http://www.Rdale.org&gt; .

About the district’s excess capacity problem
The Wold team said in a mid-study report in December that the district currently has excess capacity of 1,450 students at the elementary level and 800 at the district’s middle schools. According to demographer Hazel Reinhardt, the district’s enrollment is expected at the elementary level in the next few years, and will not see an increase in enrollment in the next 10 years. “The district is doing a good job of retaining students from year to year, but there are simply fewer children entering kindergarten each year primarily due to lower birthrates which will lead to a continuing decline in enrollment,” she said.

School closing history
Robbinsdale Area Schools’ peak enrollment was 28,101 students in 1971. Since then, the school-aged population has declined, and the district’s enrollment has dropped. In 2005-06, enrollment was 13,087. This year’s enrollment is 12,349, a drop of nearly 750 students since 2005-06 when the district last closed a facility (New Hope Elementary). Since 1971, the district has continuously evaluated its facilities needs and closed facilities when necessary. In 1972, prior to the inception of the community education and special education programs, 31 buildings were open. Currently, 15 buildings are used as schools; five are used by community education, special education, administration and other programs; four have been leased to other organizations; and seven have been closed and sold.

Robbinsdale Area Schools operates 11 elementary schools (K-5), three middle schools (6-8), two high schools (9-12) and an alternative high school in the northwest suburbs of Minneapolis, including all or parts of Brooklyn Center, Brooklyn Park, Crystal, Golden Valley, New Hope, Plymouth and Robbinsdale.

Here’s the chart we showed before the November election: Total enrollment (blue line) & General Fund Revenue (green line)…

What’s wrong with this picture? More revenue for fewer students and now fewer schools!  We agree with the closing of  schools, not the referendum and spending by the district. By all means, attend the January 13 meeting.

Input encouraged at 281 community meetings, not at 281 website

December 26, 2008

Here is your chance to give input to the school board on the superintendent search. From the Sun-Post:

The community meetings are scheduled for 7 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 7, at Robbinsdale Middle School, 3730 Toledo Ave. N., and at 7 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 8, at Armstrong High School, 10635 36th Ave. N., Plymouth.

School Exec Connect, which will lead the search for a new superintendent, began work immediately after being hired by the board Monday, Dec. 15.

Residents who are not able to attend one of the meetings may fill out an on-line survey by going to www.Rdale.org

We visited Rdale.org, but are unable to find any link to an online survey. Make plans to attend one of the meetings if you can, since the survey is MIA.

UPDATE: Their website now says the online survey will posted by January 5 (two days before the first meeting).

281 Referendum: Bait and switch advertising

December 17, 2008

Remember the dire predictions advertised by the district and Yes281 if the referendums didn’t pass? Enough unsuspecting voters took the bait, and now it has been switched with reality. This 281 resident from FreedomDogs blog writes:

Now it’s time for reality, something Education Minnesota and ISD 281 steadfastly ignore.

Parents in the Robbinsdale School District will get their first look Tuesday at a plan to close up to three schools.

Last week, a consulting firm presented their study findings on Dec. 6, which showed the district has enough classroom space to close up two elementary schools and one middle school.

“I do not see an increase in enrollment in the next 10 years,” said demographer Hazel Reinhardt, a partner in the study.

Robbinsdale Area Schools’ peak enrollment was 28,101 students in 1971. Since then, the school-aged population has declined, and the district’s enrollment has dropped. In 2006, enrollment was 13,087. This year’s enrollment is 12,349, a drop of nearly 750 students.

That’s right. After winning their tax increase, the District wants to close three schools anyway. What a shock. Can you say “bait and switch”?

The levy referendum was in two parts. Part one was to rescind the existing levy. The one they put in place to replace the last levy that just wasn’t enough. Part two was a voter authorization of the new, higher levy that would save the district from calamity. As I said, it passed, and we are all saved. Oops! Details ommitted from the District propaganda.

They always planned on closing schools, cutting jobs and trimming services. To anyone with a brain, that was obvious. When floating a levy referendum, you depend on those not versed in critical thought.

So here’s the punchline. ISD 281 floated a referendum to augment a bad estimation of their financial requirements in the previous levy referendum. Two years from now, they will present another levy referendum to augment their bad estimation of the financial requirements they promised would be met by the current referendum. Anyone see a pattern? It’s no wonder Stan Mack is hanging it up. I don’t know how the man can look at himself in a mirror.

We don’t either, but the real winners (unions) are sleeping fine with the infusion of your tax contributions. The district is holdong two meetings this week, Dec. 16 and 18 on closings. Attend if you can, get involved and consider running for school board. 4 seats are up for election in 2009. We’re deserving of honest, qualified leaders running this operation, who can stop fleecing district residents. Candidate information can be found here.

The Truth About Teachers Unions

December 11, 2008

From LaborPains.org:

“Big labor unions have destroyed countless American industries, including the Detroit automakers who are now begging Congress for a bailout. But these unions don’t just control factories and assembly lines. Our public education system is a slow-motion car crash, driven by the same union special interests that brought the auto companies to the brink of bankruptcy.

This insightful new video shows how teachers unions protect bad and incompetent teachers, block school reform efforts, and use their members’ dues money to support a radical left-wing agenda.”

Referendum passes, truth comes out about extra class space

December 10, 2008

Even though enrollment is down, we were told that classrooms were crowded. The district (with Yes281’s help) succeeded in grabbing more of our tax dollars to hire 40 more teachers. Now we’re told that we have extra classroom space, and they may close three schools. This from the Star Tribune:

The Robbinsdale School District has enough extra classroom space to consider closing up to three schools, according to district consultants.

The findings, presented to the school board Saturday, don’t necessarily mean three schools will be closed. But consultants Wold Architects and Engineers and demographer Hazel Reinhardt told board members that cutting down on excess space could allow the district to close two elementary schools and one middle school. In part, the extra space is because of lower-than-expected student enrollment.

Initially, the district had planned on saving $800,000, equivalent to closing one elementary school, despite getting voters to approve a levy request last November that gives the district $9.4 million a year over the next seven years.

Board Chairwoman Patsy Green said she was surprised the district had the space available to get by with three fewer schools. “In the past, the most we’ve looked at is one to two school closings,” she said.

Consultants will present cost-saving scenarios to the board next month, said district spokesman Jeff Dehler. Green said she wants to hear those before making any decisions on closing more than one school.

The board considered closing a school last year after coming up short in a 2007 referendum effort, but decided to make other cuts instead.

Public meetings next month will gather input on the cost-cutting scenarios, and the board has tentatively set Jan. 20 as the date when it will decide which and how many schools to close, Dehler said.

The consultants will present their findings at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 16, at Plymouth Middle School, and at 7 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 18, at Robbinsdale Middle School.

Thanks to a dedicated 281Exposed reader for sending the article above. They added in their e-mail:

Also, according to the school lobbyist, more cuts were planned, even with the referendum, so hopefully closing additional schools will prevent that — and another referendum.

Speed Gibson also questions the lower class size benefits myth:

The battle shaping up is again: neighborhood schools vs. lower class sizes. We now know quite a bit more about the former, both operationally and financially. Unfortunately, we know relatively little about the latter. It’s not a level debating field.

Instead, we have little more than supposition that the benefits of lower class sizes are significant. Are they? Which is the better investment of the $800,000 involved: keeping a neighborhood school open or slightly lowering the class sizes in the remaining schools?

To date, District 281 considers the the case closed, that the benefits of smaller class sizes are obvious and axiomatic. Apparently they have to be, because there sure doesn’t seem to be much actual evidence, you now, like a contracted study.

Before the District makes any further decisions, I’d like to see them spend a little more on a study quantifying the benefits of closing still more schools to lower class sizes.

Another paid study will help, since our school board chair Patsy Green was unaware of the extra space actually available in the district she’s making decisions in.

Must-watch TV: Minnesota Public Education-At The Crossroads

December 3, 2008

This local PBS documentary takes about an hour to watch, but gives a valuable insight into Minnesota public schools, and offers changes worth considering. Speed Gibson wrote:

A fellow 281 traveler was up North over Thanksgiving and saw a documentary worth watching: MN Public Education: At the Crossroads by independent producer Ray Gildow. I wrote him and he readily agreed there is more to tell. I’ve watched it twice and I don’t believe I heard the word “union” mentioned once. There were some suspect premises here and there, but it was still a good production given the limited time and resources Mr. Gildow had available.

The solutions aren’t more legislative money and referendums, or growing teacher unions. We’ve seen personally here the profound negative impact they’ve had, with worsening school performance. Removing sports from schools is a great idea.

One person, a “futurist” I believe, said that the schools will ultimately have to shed programs like sports. He also sees the school day lengthening to something like 9 am to 5 pm, which means no homework. Sports and other activities are done in the evenings, after dinner. It’s an intriguing thought.

Bottom line: It’s time to make changes for future success – and it starts with new leadership, bold direction, and futuristic decisions.