Archive for November, 2009

Back-door referendum coming?

November 26, 2009

Or is it a “back-page” referendum? Legal Notice found in the back of the MN Sun-Post:

School District 281
NOTICE OF INTENDED CAPITAL IMPROVEMENT PROJECT AND TAX LEVY AUTHORIZATION INDEPENDENT SCHOOL DISTRICT 281 (ROBBINSDALE), MINNESOTA

Notice is hereby given pursuant to Minnesota Statutes, Section 123B.59, Subd. 3a, that the School Board of Independent School District No. 281 (Robbinsdale), Minnesota has declared its intent to levy taxes to finance (part of) the District’s approved facilities plans as authorized by Minnesota Statutes, Section 123B.59. The projects intended to be financed by tax levies are the renovation projects at Robbinsdale Armstrong Senior High School, Robbinsdale Cooper High School, Education Service Center, Bus Garage, District Wide, Lakeview Elementary School, Meadow Lake Elementary School, Neill Elementary School, Northport Elementary School, Plymouth Middle School, Robbinsdale Area Learning Campus, Sonnesyn Elementary School and Sunny Hollow Elementary School. The total estimated project cost of these facilities is $6,550,609.

Dated November 26, 2009
Helen Bassett, Clerk
Independent School District 281
4146 Winnetka Ave. N.
New Hope, MN 55427

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Things that make you go “huh?”

November 20, 2009

An opinion article at the StarTribune this week outlined one of the many problems that face school districts. St Cloud School District Administrators Union voted 25-1 to reject a school board proposal to end an interesting early-retirement benefit that has local impact also. The union voted to retain the benefit that will pay for medical insurance for district administrators, principals and assistant principals who retire before they are eligible for Medicare until they are 65. That’s a pretty expensive benefit for any taxpayer-funded entity — especially for school districts struggling with unfunded mandates, unstable revenues and restrictions on raising taxes without voter approval.

To bring this closer to home, District 281’s former Superintendent Stan Mack retired last year at age 58 and took advantage of this union benefit. His severance package includes medical insurance coverage for him and his family, for which the 2008-09 premiums equal $29,220 as a portion of his extremely generous package of $215,456.00.

We also learned that Mr. Mack is actively seeking new employment,  and made it to one of the top six applicants for Superintendent of St. Paul School District. This reinforces the question we asked last summer: Did Mr. Mack retire from public service in the school district or did he quit with a platinum parachute?

Unions & School Board Candidates: Conflict of Interest?

November 18, 2009

281 Care and Give2Attain both posted on our winning school board candidates and a conflict with their Robbinsdale Federation of Teachers endorsements. Give2Attain posted candidates’ campaign finance reports:

Here are the incomplete funding numbers. Apparently another reporting is due in 30 days. Also, they report for periods of time. So funds may have been there earlier or given later. Still this makes the point, special interests apparently fund the winning campaigns….

  • Patsy Green ~ $2,602 raised ($500:Women Winning, $500:Union, $200:DFL 45th)
  • Tom Walsh ~ $1832 raised (DFL 45th:$200, DFL 43rd: $500, Union:$500
  • Linda Johnson~ $1,054 raised (Union: $500, Private Couple: $200)
  • Mark Bomchill < $750 raised (Union: $500)
  • All others <$750 or not reported yet.

Is this good or bad? Is the conflict of interest sufficient enough to be concerned? If we did something similar in business, would it warrant further review?

Maybe I should offer my Supervisor $500 because he is so nice… Maybe I’ll get a bigger raise.

Here’s 281 CARE’s take:

The Robbinsdale Teachers Federation Union endorsed School Board candidates won all four seats up for election November 3, 2009.  Two questions; Is the RAS community better off with the status quo maintained? And more importantly: Is there a conflict of interest when the RTF endorses and funds school board candidates?

Let us cover the facts first.  The School Board approves all union contracts and is part of the negotiations of employees’ contracts.  The union contracts are negotiated every two years, which is the same year that School Board members are elected.  Therefore, RAS employee union contracts are being negotiated during the same period that School Board elections are taking place.

Where else can a group of employees influence who is going to be approving their contact (pay and benefits)?  The RTF union paid for advertising in the Sun Post and made contributions to their endorsed candidates.  The total amount of their influence of this election can’t be measured but is probably the LARGEST SINGLE GROUP in the RAS District.

Remember this in 2011 when the other three seats are up for election. It’s up to parents and residents to overthrow this monopoly of special interests. If the RFT cartel keeps getting their picks on the board, expect more gains for union employees and losses for student performance and safety. Andrew Richter and Richard Brynteson (without much money or endorsements) almost won the fourth seat. Moral of the story: if you truly want change, you have to support the other candidates – and get out the vote.

Achievement gaps and affirmitive inaction

November 16, 2009

Speed Gibson has a three part series on the status quo’s repeated failure to improve on racial disparity in Minnesota schools and then he offers alternative ideas. Here’s a section from part one:

The Robbinsdale Area Schools, like so many surrounding districts, has seen enrollments fall and diversity rise.  Fewer students mean less revenue, putting pressure on class sizes and the relatively fixed costs of facilities.  Meanwhile, more diverse student populations require more specialization that also contends for those decreasing revenues.  Trouble is, that specialization, even when revenue was abundant, has not prevented disturbing, rising differences in results.  I speak of course of achievement gaps and graduation rates, Minnesota oddly scoring high in average results and wide in the disparity of those results.

At its November 9, 2009 Work Session, the District 281 heard reports from Board Clerk Helen Bassett and Tyrize Cox, newly appointed Program Director for Integration and Equity.  This included a report from Bassett on her trip to the Pacific Education Group (PEG) Summit for Courageous Conversation.  Before continuing, let me note that PEG has run into some controversy as The Activist Next Door has been chronicling.  Several Board members touched on this last night, apparently uncomfortable with following PEG’s programs too closely, as they should be.  PEG won’t blow up like ACORN did,  but their abrasive approach including some reverse racism could still prove embarrassing and counter-productive later.

Read Part One, Part Two and Part Three and join in on the discussion over there.

“Retired” Stan Mack a semi-finalist for St. Paul Schools Superintendent

November 13, 2009

Nov. 15 updated: the Pioneer Press reported Stan Mack did not make it to the final three picks. That sound you hear is a collective sigh of relief.

We noticed a high hit count this week from online searches about Mack and thanks to a reader we know why. They pointed us to this article in the Star Tribune:

When the board announced semifinalists Wednesday for the job of leading the state’s second-largest district, there was only one out-of-state candidate.

The semifinalists are Elk River Superintendent Mark Bezek, North Branch Superintendent Deborah Henton, recently retired Robbinsdale Superintendent Stan Mack, Deputy Superintendent of the Portland, Ore., schools Charles Hopson, and St. Paul employees Chief Academic Officer Valeria Silva and Chief of Schools Nancy Stachel. (more…)

Turning around failing schools – close and replace them!

November 10, 2009

Speed Gibson’s article on the failure of turning around failing schools is a good read – and so are the comments by his readers. Can you turn around a school with only incremental changes, or do you use the nuclear option (close it and replace it)?

Indeed, can you name a public school or school district that, once it fell back, later bounced back?  I can’t, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be done.  Here’s his solution:

Fortunately, findings from two generations of school improvement efforts, lessons from similar work in other industries, and a budding practice among reform-minded superintendents are pointing to a promising alternative. When conscientiously applied strategies fail to drastically improve America’s lowest-performing schools, we need to close them.

Done right, not only will this strategy help the students assigned to these failing schools, it will also have a cascading effect on other policies and practices, ultimately helping to bring about healthy systems of urban public schools.

He’s not saying don’t try incremental improvement at a “failing” school.  But if it doesn’t work, and work well, that school must be closed, i.e., replaced.  While he acknowledges the difficulty of getting this past the unions and the bureaucracy, I don’t think he acknowledges it enough.

Imagine an administration taking bold steps like closing and replacing failed schools without bureaucrat/union interference or allowing a charter school in the district. It’s easy if you try. District 279 United looks like a great group BTW. We suggested a similar idea (forming an online discussion group for parents, residents and 281 admin)  to new Boardmember Mark Bomchill. Maybe we join 281 CARE, Give2attain, Community Solutions, DJ Brynteson and Speed Gibson and start “281 United”? We’re probably too radioactive to be invited but we’re cool if you run with our idea.

Notice to 281 elected and current board members…

November 4, 2009

watching

The polls are closed

November 4, 2009

Robbinsdale Schools has an unofficial results page here.

9:15pm Update: 12/15 precincts reporting in… and the RFT alliance of incumbents is winning. The union machine is tough to beat, but we gave it our best shot. Looks like we’ll have plenty of material to work with the next four years. The fourth seat is a closer one… Bomchill leads with Richter not far behind.

9:30pm Update: Looks like Mark Bomchill is the 4th. Union mob rules! Mark, prove us wrong and be a voice of reason. We’ll hold you to your promise of stopping back door referendums (alternative facility funding). Northport’s roof replacement price tag is $5 million. We recommend this alternative funding source: Education Minnesota.

Our thanks to the 8 non-incumbent candidates who fought the good fight to turn our failing district around. We hope you consider running again in 2011.