Archive for December, 2009

“Race to the Top” or Race to the Loan Sharks?

December 29, 2009

Who knows more about extortion, me or you? – Tony Soprano

Here’s another example of government dictating over local districts with money on a string. If 281 is qualified for and takes this money from MN Race To The Top, they can’t back out and will be forced to comply with their requirements. From the Sun-Post:

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan earlier said, “Race to the Top is the equivalent of education reform’s moon shot.”

Districts who are interested must comply with stringent requirements, including a promise to ratify Q-Comp, a tool to reward top teachers, by July 1, 2012.

The catch is that school districts are being asked to sign no-escape contracts by Jan. 13, 2010, without knowing the specific details.

“There are an enormous number of strings attached,” said Peter Eckhoff, president of the 990-member Robbinsdale Federation of Teachers (RFT). “The most daunting is that we need to sign an agreement by Jan. 13, 2010, if we want to participate, and there’s no opt-out clause.”

Eckhoff said teachers’ union attorneys have advised him not to sign any documents until more information is available.

In addition, he cited “excessive reluctance from my [union] leadership,” given the large number of unknowns.

“At this point, I find myself beyond overwhelmed with the amount of detail and the enormous mountain we need to climb without the ability to escape,” Eckhoff said. “I have no authority from my members to sign a non-binding contract at this time.

“I’m getting nothing but caution signs and ‘slow down’ at every turn.”

Did you catch that red flag above?

The catch is that school districts are being asked to sign no-escape contracts by Jan. 13, 2010, without knowing the specific details.

Boardmember Patsy Green seems cool with taking the money and dealing with the loan sharks later:

“Any money we get has strings,” Green said. “I’m not going to be deterred by that. We tried Q-Comp four years ago when it was new. We were taken by surprise; we’ve been interested in Q-Comp. A lot of other districts have developed plans that are being very successfully implemented. Where are the roadblocks within our own school district community?”

But, according to union president Eckhoff:

The teacher’s union and District 281 School Board have explored Q-Comp in the past, and have not yet been successful in implementing the plan.

There’s the rub. Unions don’t like merit over seniority.  The Wall St. Journal digs a bit deeper on union resistance:

The Administration can expect more such opposition to “Race to the Top.” School choice is anathema to the nation’s two largest teachers unions, the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers, which also oppose paying teachers for performance rather than for seniority and credentials.

NEA President Dennis Van Roekel told the Washington Post last week that charter schools and merit pay raise difficult issues for his members, yet Education Secretary Arne Duncan has said states that block these reforms could jeopardize their grant eligibility. We’ll see who blinks first.

The Patsy Green who’s willing to grab the money is the very same who opposes charter schools in our district (as the unions who supported her re-election). That could badda-bing the whole deal. Would 281 ratify Q-Comp, bring in charter schools and raise the performance, along with a chance of getting this award, with unions against this?  Students would benefit greatly from Q-Comp and reform, but not the unions. Now we understand why Tony Soprano saw a psychiatrist.

RAS Facility Improvement Co$t Estimates

December 16, 2009

We’re working on a more detailed comment on Dec. 14 work session, and point you to Give2Attain’s blog article on the estimates of rebuilding vs. new construction:

The Agenda from tonight’s work session includes what to do with the Northport/Lakeview opportunity. Would a possible $39,000,000 to $48,000,000 bill get your attention and motivate you to read them ??? (14Dec09 Work Session Documents)

Here’s a screencap of the estimate (PDF):


Below the costs were notes including these:

4. The existing facilities have significant space discrepancies relative to current MDE guidelines. Compliance with MDE guidelines would require significant additional facility space. Additional facility space to address the educational adequacy issue has a significant influence on a project budget.
5. A new facility would be expected to address the issue of space programming for educational adequacy for consistency with MDE guidelines. The extent of that compliance would have a significant influence on that project budget.

What are current MN Dept. of Education (MDE) guidelines for space – and do they have the power to decide what could significantly increase those building costs to you?  We hope that our district can make decisions regardless of MDE “guidelines” (where they probably envision Tom Dooher mansion space on a group home budget).

While you recover from sticker shock, don’t forget the additional cost of transporting students and set-up of temporary schools during construction.

Marketing 101

December 6, 2009

“Effective marketing techniques paired with high-quality products is a natural formula for brand success.” – Entrepreneur Magazine

This article in the Star Tribune tells us that RAS is marketing its schools to local parents to help stop the bleed of students to other districts, charter schools or home-schooling:

Loss of enrollment is a concern to school districts because state education aid is allocated on a per-pupil basis; fewer students means less state aid.

Last year, Robbinsdale reported one of its biggest enrollment declines in a decade, totaling 477 students. At $5,174 in basic state aid per pupil, that equals a loss of at least $2.5 million in state funding. That was a major factor contributing to the closing of two elementary schools and a middle school at the end of the 2008-09 school year.

The district recently reported a loss of 567 students this year. Projections further into the future show enrollment levelling off.

For the most part, district officials said, those losses have been the result of fewer births and an aging population. But the district also is losing students to other schools.

Lesson learned: you can’t expect effective results without a quality product (as the old “lipstick on a pig” saying goes). Marketing one or two choices (like Spanish Immersion which has a waiting list to get into or IB in schools with student safety problems) will not bring kids in, but offering competition will keep students in our district. Sell some of our unused schools to charter or private schools: RAS earns money without state funding, students get a choice and stay here. It’s a win-win.

Attend board meetings on tax levy & buildings

December 2, 2009

Monday, Dec. 7: A “Truth in Taxation” hearing will be held at the ESC on 4148 Winnetka Avenue at 7:00 pm. It’s your chance to ask questions to the Board – such as “Why aren’t you selling unused properties?” or “Whatever happened to the Divestiture Committee?” The school board meeting follows at 8:00pm (see schedule)

Monday, Dec. 14: Work session at the ESC on 4148 Winnetka Avenue at 5:30 pm.  There is a planned discussion on northeast school buildings and use of current excess buildings. Bring your neighbors and hold their feet to the fire. Suggest that they sell off unused property! But leave the pitchforks home.

  • Download the November 16 work session “unofficial” minutes here.
  • Download the Strategic Action Plan here.
  • Read & discuss Give2Attain’s post on the recent PTA meeting with Sup. Sicoli here

The Dec. 3 Labor Negotiations Strategy meeting  is closed.

The November 30, 2009, Closed Meeting to Consider Labor Negotiations Strategy, including negotiations strategies or developments or discussion and review of labor negotiations proposals was continued to Thursday, December 3, 2009, 5:15 p.m., at the Education Service Center, 4148 Winnetka Avenue, New Hope, Minnesota.