Archive for January, 2010

Bleak Financial Situation or Golden Opportunity?

January 29, 2010

The Sun Post reported this week that “District 281 faces (‘bleak’ in print, or ‘dire’ online) financial situation.” Despite passing a referendum in 2008 and closing three schools, our district like others around the state are looking at serious budget cuts. 281 has to cut $5.7 million. The state may be dipping into districts with funds and Robbinsdale might be one source to borrow about $2.4 million. Remember, borrowing means it will be paid back eventually.

Dr. Sicoli advised the school board to “begin thinking about areas in which they are willing to make budget reductions.”

Turn to the editorial section in the Sun-Post and you’ll find an editor there making valid points on reform. Paul Wahl wrote,

The reason we need reform is because we’ve reached the end of what can be cut. It’s no longer a matter of doing more with less, it’s doing less with less.

…Reform might mean eliminating a department that isn’t state or federally mandated.

Think of the freedoms and money districts would have by chopping those unfunded mandated programs!

For schools, reform often centers around choice – charter schools, open enrollment and similar plans. Those many have started their lives as reform, but it’s hard to argue too strenuously either represents reform in light of today’s education challenges.

We’ll buy the argument with open enrollment, as we’ve seen the issues with security and mobility expenses “The Choice is Yours” program added to the budget – despite getting money ($12,000) for each student who enrolled. However, a charter school would attract district students back and neighboring students. And, a charter school decision is our choice – we set the rules, unlike CIY which was a forced government ruling from a lawsuit.

But what comes after the last budget cut finally severs the bone? When and how are we going to make the tough decisions that shape what schools and cities will look like 10 years from now? When do we start the conversation?

The divestiture committee met this week, and we’ll post updates. For us, selling unused properties is a glaring golden opportunity to get funds in. Allow a charter school here and bring back fleeing students going to other districts. Be brave, district leadership! Think outside of the box, beyond 2010, and government and union strong-arming which has drained too many district, city and state coffers. The choice is yours.

Check out Give2Attain’s article with links to the spreadsheet and comments:

Budget Reduction Announcement
Budget Adjustment Worksheet

Some things to remember when looking at the linked worksheet:

  • $1 million = ~83 student drop at ~$12,000 per student (09/10)
  • $3.6 million = ~300 student drop at ~$12,000 per student (10/11)
  • The 10/11 student reduction is an estimate which could easily vary higher or lower. (ie guesstimate)
  • This is why schools are interested in enticing the students back to the district, or pulling open enrollees into the district.
  • This is variation across ~12,000 students, so though the numbers are big, the percent variation is fairly small. (300 kids = 2.5%)
  • $5.7 million gap = $5.9 million fund bal goal – $ .2 million forecast
  • As DJ pointed out: apparently ~$3 million of the gap created when the latest contract was signed. (G2A S and L) Now is this labor or mgmts fault… Either way, all of us will pay in the coming years.
  • This is operating dollars, not capital… Selling facilities will not raise funds that can directly offset this. Though, it would result in reduced maintenance, heating, etc expenses.

Meetings on surplus schools and legislative advocacy

January 21, 2010

Two meetings to put on your calendar:

Jan 28 – The Robbinsdale Area Schools’ Divestiture Plan Advisory Committee invites the community to a public information meeting 7 p.m., Thursday, Jan. 28, in the media center at the Plymouth Middle School, 10011 36th Ave. N., Plymouth.

Superintendent Aldo Sicoli and Chris Gibbs, facilitator and community member, will provide an update on the work of the committee to date, and solicit input from community members on ideas for the appropriate use of surplus school property.

The divestiture committee is responsible for providing a recommendation to the school board by the start of the next school year for long-term use of surplus school facilities/property. The committee is made up of community members, city representatives, school district staff and school board members.

More information: 763-504-7998 (Sherry Tyrrell), or

Jan 21 – Advocacy forum (a.k.a. “Help us ask legislators for more money from taxpayers so we can spend more!”)

The Legislative Action Coalition of Robbinsdale Area Schools has scheduled an educational forum titled “Advocacy — YOU can make a difference” in preparation for this year’s legislative session 6:30-8:30 p.m. on Thursday, Jan. 21, at the Winnetka Learning Center, 7940 55th Ave. N., New Hope.

The 2010 legislative session will begin on Thursday, Feb. 4.

If you are interested in learning skills on how to advocate effectively, or you want to become more involved in education advocacy in general, attend and learn more about how state policies and funding dictate much of how schools educate our children, and how you can help make those policies and funding most effective.

The Special Education Advisory Council is co-sponsoring the event.
Kim Kang, public policy director for PACER Center will be the guest speaker.
More information: 763-504-4087 (Andrea Wiley), or

Discussing ISD 281 on TV

January 20, 2010

Watch The Andrew Richter Show Thursday night January 21 at 6pm on Comcast channel 19.  Vicki Lechelt is the guest host as 2009 board candidate Andrew Richter and Divestiture Committee member Ron Stoffel discuss the district’s plan for renovating Northport and Lakeview Elementary schools.  Richter and Stoffel also discuss the new contract for the teachers as well as the district’s plan for selling their unused property.  The show will replay Friday morning at 2 am and 10 am.  The show will also replay next week in the same time slot which gives you six chances to watch.  Also don’t forget the Legislative Action Coalition meeting January 21 at Winnetka Learning Center from 6:30 to 8:30.

Letter to the Editor: “Competition is Needed”

January 17, 2010

From the MN Sun Post, 2009 school board candidate Andrew Richter writes:

Monopolies are bad, competition is good. That is a principle of capitalism. If a monopoly develops in the private sector they are demonized and broken up.

Why don’t we then do the same thing in the public sector by breaking up the public school monopoly? We can do this by increasing competition through a system of vouchers and tuition tax credits.

To those who would oppose this, I ask you: what is wrong with taking the over $10,000 per year we are spending per student and giving it to parents in the form of a voucher or tax credit and letting them shop for the best education they can find?

If the goal of being in school is to get a great education, then why does it matter if it is a public employee or a private employee who is teaching kids?

To answer these questions, you must answer another question: who loses if there is a system of vouchers or tax credits? The answer is the teachers’ unions. The unions won’t be able to buy off legislators, illegally destroy competition, or elect their friends to the school board.

When casting your vote in the 2010 elections or in future school board elections, be mindful of any candidates that have thrown caution to the wind supporting failed administrations and their union cronies and vote them out.Our communities and children simply deserve far better than this. Remember folks, they are spending your money.

Everyone wins with competition, and with the school board willing to support Q-Comp with Race to the Top funding, we may yet see a charter school come to the district. Speaking of competition, we hope more school board candidates run in 2011 when three seats will be up for election. Richter, without union endorsement and very little funding, came within just 450 votes of getting one of four seats in 2009.

RFT and RAS reaches 2-year tentative agreement

January 13, 2010

The Sun-Post reported the agreement on Tuesday:

Robbinsdale Area Schools and the Robbinsdale Federation of Teachers (RFT) reached a tentative agreement on a new two-year contract following a mediation session Jan. 8. The contract, retroactive to July 1, 2009, calls for no salary increase for 2009-10 and a 1 percent wage increase for 2010-11. The RFT negotiations team was expected to present the tentative agreement to its 980 members beginning Jan. 11. A union ratification vote is scheduled for Friday, Jan. 15. If union members ratify the proposal, the District 281 School Board could consider approving the contract at a special meeting shortly thereafter. The state has set a deadline of Jan. 15 for school districts to settle teacher contracts. Districts without a teacher contract settlement by Jan. 15 will be fined $25 per pupil.

It’ll be interesting to see where RAS might cut the budget to pay for the increase.

Who Wrote This Agenda?

January 13, 2010

We here at 281 exposed are all in favor of citizen involvement.  No community ever seems to have enough people who are passionate and well-informed about the issues.  That is why District 281’s Legislative Action Coalition’s agenda is so disappointing to us.  There agenda is as following;

The State platform included support for;

Funding framework for the New Minnesota Miracle, full funding of special education, reform of integration aid, more shared services, repayment of unalloted money, funding for early childhood programs.

At the Federal level;

Reform of No Child Left Behind, more special education money, funding for Even Start Family Literacy, more early childhood education, and more after school enrichment programs.

Let’s sum that up with four words; “We want more money!”  Let’s see, thanks to some idiot judge the Legislature is now facing $4 billion deficit this year and $5.4 billion deficit in 2011-2013.  The federal government now has a $13 trillion debt!  What are the odds were are going to get “more funding for early childhood or even start programs?”  Hell, we’ll be lucky if funding just remains flat!  Why don’t we ask for EDUCATION REFORM to SAVE MONEY instead of throwing money at the problem.  And before anyone makes comments asking us “What would we do” or “What should be cut” here are a few ideas;

First, get rid of the Choice Is Yours Program.  This way we don’t have to pay money to taxi kids all around the suburbs (by the way just because the state is paying for it doesn’t make it free like some people on our school board think).  This program isn’t about choice.  If it were about choice, then everyone could do it.  It’s about social engineering.  Second, perhaps some school districts need to combine with others.  The Brooklyn Center District has only about 1800 students.  St. Louis Park has about 4000.  Why can’t these districts  combine with neighboring districts (say Brooklyn Center with us or Osseo and St. Louis Park with Hopkins for example).  That way we can eliminate administration, eliminate a superindentant making an absurd $200,000 a year, and perhaps close a school or two (talk about shared services).  We could reform “free and reduced lunch.”  We at 281 exposed are sick and tired of paying for kids to eat lunch at school.  What ever happened to bringing your own lunch?  Who is paying for lunch for these kids when they are home for the summer or winter break?  If fewer kids ate lunch at school, then maybe we would need fewer people in the kitchen staff which would reduce expenses.  Also, something has to be done to break the Union stranglehold on education reform.  The best way to do that is to bring in more competition.  If that means more charter schools, vouchers, or tuition tax credits, then let it be done.  This way people have the power not the educational establishment.  Is that enough ideas to start with?

The bottom line is that we are not going to get more funding for what the LAC is asking.  It just isn’t going to happen, not in the short run at least.  So we need to be creative or face another referendum in 2011 or 2012.

“Economic Challenges” translates to “We need more money!”

January 5, 2010

With the new year brings another setup for a referendum, as we read between the lines from this Dec. 31 Sun-Post article:

Without changes in state funding for next year, he said the district’s expenditures are projected to exceed revenues.

“It looks like budget reductions, cuts are in our near future,” Sicoli said. “If nothing changes in the next few years – we know the state has a big challenge on its hands – if we don’t get some unexpected revenue, we are looking at some very significant cuts in the next few years.”

That might be translated as “It looks like we are looking for more significant cuts in your take-home pay via another referendum.”

There are no specific areas targeted for potential budget cuts, but with 80 percent of the district’s expenses personnel costs, Sicoli said it would be “pretty hard” to do significant cuts without looking at staff, which could increase class sizes.

“I’m not looking forward to this and I’m hopeful that we’ll be able to maintain our classes,” he said.

For community members wondering how they can help the Robbinsdale School District, Sicoli suggested one way would be to contact their state representatives.

Now there’s a strategic plan! This might be translated to “One way would be more significant cuts in your take-home pay via tax hikes.”  The referendum passed in 2008 was supposed to carry us through 2015, wasn’t it? And let’s not forget that student population decreases every year, so that alone should maintain classes. Whether it’s a referendum or a legislative bill, it’s residents who will pay for leadership’s lack of planning and willingness to cut spending.

Perhaps Robbinsdale Schools should convert one of their unused properties into a Budget Immersion School for Spendaholic Educrats, where we might teach responsible spending habits to district and state leaders. Or maybe a Real Estate Immersion School to help them sell off unused properties.  Now that would be a New Minnesota Miracle!