Archive for October, 2010

Enhancing Security?

October 27, 2010

Here is an interesting post about putting in security cameras at our schools.  Apparently the district has received a grant (ie; federal tax dollars) to “enhance security” at the schools in New Hope.

From http://www.rdale.org

Federal SOS grant to enhance safety at New Hope schools

New Hope, Minnesota—The City of New Hope, in partnership with Robbinsdale Area Schools, has been awarded a “Secure Our Schools” (SOS) grant in the amount of $112,620 from the U.S. Department of Justice Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) program.

Co-authored by Robbinsdale Redesign Program Director Melodie Hanson, Robbinsdale Area Schools Safety & Security Director Brian Koch, and New Hope Chief of Police Gary Link, the grant will fund the installation of needed school safety and security equipment at Robbinsdale Cooper High School, Meadow Lake Elementary, Sonnesyn Elementary and Robbinsdale Spanish Immersion (RSI), as well as several ongoing crisis prevention and response programs. The funds will provide infrastructure updates for the security camera system at Cooper, upgrades to the exterior gymnasium doors at Cooper, and additional interior hallway cameras at RSI, Sonnesyn and Meadow Lake Elementary Schools.

This year’s grant for New Hope schools represents the fifth year an SOS award has been received by the district in cooperation with local municipalities. The SOS grant received in 2009 funded safety improvements at Robbinsdale Middle School and Lakeview Elementary School in the City of Robbinsdale, while the 2008 SOS grant funded improvements for schools within the City of Plymouth.

“These funds demonstrate the importance of collaboration in ongoing safety and security planning,” said Koch. “The grant will assist the district and local law enforcement in advancing their ongoing commitment to ensuring safety and security for students, staff and community.”

Now we realize that Federal money (which is still our money or at least the 53% of us that actually pay federal taxes) comes with strings attached.  Perhaps we have few options here.  You want to upgrade doors at Cooper’s gymnasium?  Fine with us.  Should Cooper have a security camera?  We suppose.  But cameras at Meadow Lake, Sonnesyn, and RSI?   Is there a gang problem at these schools?  If there have been issues please feel free to comment here but we don’t think that spending money on cameras at elementary schools is a good way to spend our money.

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Questions for Candidates

October 24, 2010

The District 281 Legislative Action Coalition released a sample of questions that questions that may be asked at Tuesday’s debate.  We are going to have some fun with this and answer some of these questions as though WE are the candidate…

1. In 1997 Minnesota’s per pupil education spending was 8 percent above the national average. By 2007 Minnesota’s per pupil spending had dropped to 1.3 percent below the national average. What will you do to restore Minnesota’s historic commitment to education?

Answer: Talk about a misleading question…first off does “Minnesota’s spending” include local spending as well?  The state’s formula was reworked in the 2001, how is that factored into to the equation?  Also public school enrollment has decreased in Minnesota over the past ten years so are these figures a per pupil equation or as a percentage of the budget?  Sounds like a great question for a public school apologist.  Either way I’m sure it’s Pawlenty’s fault.

2. Do you support vouchers or expanded taxpayer subsidies for non-public schools?

Answer: Of course, why does it matter where a kid goes to school if “getting a great education” is what matters?

3. What strategies and investments will you support to ensure all children enter kindergarten
prepared to learn?

Answer: Investments? I’m not sure there is any way possible to ensure that “all children enter kindergarten prepared to learn.”  More nanny state anyone?

4. In recent years legislation has been proposed that would create a mandatory statewide health insurance pool for all school district employees. Do you support this proposed new mandate?

Answer: No, mandates make St. Paul look good at the expense of the locals.  The real solution is get the government out of the health care business and out of tenure and defined pensions.

5. Do you support granting levy authority to locally elected school boards to help stabilize education funding?

Answer: No, not without a public vote.  It’s OUR MONEY not theirs.

6. Do you support allowing locally elected school boards to renew an existing operating referendum by a majority vote of the school board after a public hearing?

Answer: HELL NO!!!!!!  Don’t let these people take away your right to vote!!!!

7. The February budget forecast projects that the state is facing a $5.6 billion budget shortfall in the 2012-13 biennium. How do you propose to balance the budget? Are there specific spending cuts or tax increases you will support to bring the budget into balance?

Answer: Tax increases?  I thought Ann Rest called it “revenue enhancement?”  Simple. Go to zero based budgeting, set priorities, and fund what is needed.  No more automatic increases to create phantom deficits!

8. Unlike many states, Minnesota’s education funding formula does not recognize the higher cost of labor in the metropolitan area. Metropolitan school districts face significantly higher labor costs than their rural counterparts. Do you support amending the education funding formula so it recognizes labor cost differentials?

Answer: No, kids should be treated equally across the board.

9. The state and federal governments fall woefully short of funding special education mandates. In the coming year, Minnesota school districts will be forced to spend over $500 million of funds meant for regular classroom instruction on mandated special education programs. Will you support fully funding the state special education formula?

Answer: Now here’s a question made for public school apologists.  Who would be against special education kids right?  If we get out of tenure and defined pensions and things like that we will HAVE MORE dough to spend on special education and won’t have to raise anyone’s taxes!

10. Will you be willing to vote against your caucus’ position if it is in the best interest of your local school district(s)?

Answer: Of course, but what exactly is RAS 281’s best interest?

11. Every year the education bill is the last or one of the last bills to be passed. Last year the legislature failed to pass an omnibus education bill at all. Will you be willing to demand that the education bill be the first budget bill passed in 2011?

Answer: How about if the majority party proposes a budget before the end of May?  It’s a but hard to talk about K-12 when we have no overall budget proposal.

12. If elected/re-elected, how will you work with your local school districts to address critical education funding and policy issues?

Answer: Listen to them; no more mandates and simply the formula!

Let’s see what the candidates say….

Enrollment up slightly in Robbinsdale district

October 23, 2010

This article is from the district’s website http://www.rdale.org

For the first time since 2001, there are more students enrolled in Robbinsdale Area Schools when comparing the current year to the previous year. As of the beginning of October, 11,755 students were enrolled in the district’s 13 schools, compared to 11,741 a year ago, according to a report on enrollment, demographics and class size by Dennis Beekman, executive director of Technology.
The increase in enrollment is likely due to several factors. There is evidence that some students who enrolled elsewhere after the 2008‐09 reorganization have returned, the economy has prompted more families to transfer from non‐public schools, and more open‐enrolled students are attending district high schools.
Future enrollment declines are likely for the next several years because families in the area are having fewer children. As an example of this structural decline, this year’s senior class has 931 students, but the kindergarten class has 833 students. Currently, each grade between 8 and 12 has more than 900 students, while each grade from kindergarten to 7 has fewer than 900 students.

OK folks, those are the raw numbers.  Now on to the district’s obsessions; race, free & reduced lunch, and class size.

Demographics
A number of key demographic statistics were highlighted in the report:
  • Fewer students enrolled into the district or left the district during the course of the school year (the mobility rate).
  • A higher number of students qualify for free or reduced price lunch.
  • This is the third year of a decline in the number of English Language Learners (ELL) in the district – this group represents approximately 12 percent of enrollment.
  • The district continues to become more ethnically diverse (48% minority).
  • Families with elementary‐aged students are more diverse than families with older children.
  • Black and Hispanic student groups have increased most in recent years.
Class size
Due to budget adjustments, student‐to‐staff ratios were increased for the 2010-11 school year, which resulted in higher average districtwide class sizes than a year ago. Class sizes are still lower than levels in 2007 or 2008. Classroom teachers were hired as needed to account for greater than projected enrollment keeping average class sizes at projected levels. Robbinsdale Area Schools’ elementary average class size still compares very well with neighboring suburban public schools.

There is another enrollment report due out in January that we will be sure to pass along to you.  It sure will be nice to not hear complaining about declining enrollment, for a while anyway!

Board Passes Levy and Agrees with Principals

October 16, 2010

From the Sun Post on October 14:

The Robbinsdale District 281 School Board on Oct. 4 approved a maximum proposed levy for 2011 of $55.5 million, a 2.68 percent increase over last year.


“We are recommending the maximum levy to allow for the state to adjust categories or because of changes,” said Lonnie Smith, District 281’s executive director of business services.  The board will have an opportunity to decrease the proposed levy before it sets the final amount in December, but it cannot raise the amount.

So the district asks for the maximum of $55.5 million!  Come on, couldn’t you have asked for $55.4 or $55.3?

In other action, the board approved a two-year collective bargaining agreement with the district’s principals’ association.

The 2009-11 agreement calls for a 0 percent salary increase in the first year of the contract, and a 1 percent increase in the second year.  The district contribution for each employee’s health insurance will be increased by $50 a month in each of the two years of the contract.

The principals’ performance incentive has been incorporated within the salary schedule, according to Stephanie Crosby, executive director of human resources. The contract also provides for principals to file for mileage reimbursement for school-related business in the same manner as the superintendent and cabinet members.

The salaries for head principals in District 281 range from $95,448 for an elementary head principal, to $124,145 for a senior high school head principal.The district still has not reached a 2009-11 contract agreement with the bargaining unit for custodians and bus drivers, Crosby said.

Gee whiz; $95,000 to $124,000 for a principal?  Again, we don’t have a problem with good people making good money, we object to everyone making the same.  And if we increase the district’s (or should we say the taxpayers) health care contribution by $50 a month per employee isn’t that the same as a $600 a year raise?  We are also curious what the true cost of “mileage reimbursement” is.   And what exactly is “school related business?”  Is $124,000 a year not enough to put gas in your car?


Candidates for state legislature to field questions on education

October 6, 2010

LAC to host forum: “Your Vote Matters for Schools”

New Hope, Minnesota— The Legislative Action Coalition (LAC) of Robbinsdale Area Schools will host a public forum featuring area candidates for the Minnesota State Legislature on Tuesday, October 26 from 7 to 9 p.m.

This free forum will allow voters to hear candidates’ views on education, to consider their proposals for funding education in the face of a $5.6 billion projected budget shortfall, and to prepare for the upcoming election by meeting the candidates face-to-face. All legislative candidates from senate districts 43, 44, 45 and 46 who represent Robbinsdale Area Schools have been invited.

“Strong schools are the key to healthy, vibrant communities,” said LAC co-chair Kami Aho. “Minnesota’s students traditionally outperform the nation’s schools, but decisions made by state leaders are putting this tradition in jeopardy. This year’s election will be critical for the future of education in Minnesota.”

The Legislative Action Coalition is a group of community members (both parents and nonparents) established by the Robbinsdale Area School School Board to be an advocate for our public school district and the learners, families and communities it serves.

The forum will be held at Robbinsdale Area Schools’ Education Service Center, 4148 Winnetka Ave N in New Hope. For more about the LAC, go to http://www.rdale.org and click on Legislative Action Coalition, or contact Andrea Wiley at 763-504-4087 or andrea_wiley@rdale.org.

A Way Forward

October 6, 2010

We’ve spent the last three plus years criticizing RAS 281, or as we see it public school generally speaking, and we keep getting asked for suggestions on how to fix education.  So we decided to put some ideas or suggestions all in one article.  We won’t all agree and sorry for the length of this but here we go:

Here’s some ideas on what we can do here locally:

*We can’t spend more than we have

You’d think this would be obvious but this district continues to shell out more money to the employees than they are getting in “revenue” or as well call it “tax money.”  And, they’ve done it long before this most recent contract.  With 80% of our operating budget spent on people, there’s only so much we can cut from the other 20% before we have to lay off staff.  So let’s stop giving the unions more than we are getting!

*Get out of defined pensions

This could take a while to negotiate since Tom Dooher and his buddies will fight us tooth and nail, but it’s worth the fight.  Replace pensions with a 403B plan is a terrific idea.  Of course, we need to take of the people approaching retirement now, but we think younger people understand that there is no endless pot of money out there.  Let them invest their own retirement money so the public school system doesn’t become General Motors.

*This is a tough one, but perhaps we need to consider making some cuts permanent.

We think RAS 281 has to stop this business of having an activity or program, then cutting it, then restoring it, then cutting it again.  This isn’t fair to the taxpayers, the kids participating. the parents, and especially the staff that we hire, let go, re-hire, and then re-let go.  Again, what these programs and activities are is up for debate.  It could be a sport or band or orchestra etc..  We can’t be everything to everyone, no school can be.

*Negotiate Merit Pay

Here’s another one that will be tough, but again we favor paying good teachers well and paying bad ones less.  Perhaps the Union will agree to some kind of formula.  The formula could consist of say a combination of test scores, experience, attendance, attitude, progress, and whatever else you find in any other job.  Unfortunately, we have Board members who were endorsed and funded by the unions so we may have to wait until we have a non-union majority for this to occur.

*Get rid of steps but not lanes

We don’t agree with automatic pay increases.  Raises should be earned not given.  However, levels of education mean something so we have no problem with a masters’ degree or a PHD getting more than a bachelor degree.  Automatic increases simply for teaching for X amount of years is something different.  This is where merit pay comes in.

*Shorter referendums

Given the unpredictability of state and federal funding, perhaps it would be better for school districts to go out for shorter operating levies.  Ten years is a long time to give a school district money.  Even seven years is a while.  We’d like to see 4-5 year levies.  We also like the idea of splitting referendums into two questions, that way people have more input on how much they want to “invest” as the district would put it.  A shorter referendum for less money is much less likely to be divisive and would probably pass easily.

Here are some ideas at the state level;

*End tenure

Again, experience an important aspect in a job but it shouldn’t be the ONLY aspect.  We need to give districts the flexibility to hire/promote good employees and remove the bad ones.  Are the schools about the children or are they about employing X amount of people?

*Simplify the formula

It shouldn’t take an army of accountants, IRS auditors, and finance geeks to figure out what a given district is going to receive in funding.  We can design the system so that more than five people in the entire state understand it.

*Level the playing field and end some mandates

We love Charter Schools and think it is very important to have competition (we’ll get into that in a minute) but RAS 281 has a point when they say that charter schools have more choices that other public schools.  Perhaps we need to extend some leeway to our public schools to allow more innovation.  We can also end some cumbersome and unnecessary mandates as well.  We can’t end all mandates.  That would be totally irresponsible.  In no way do we want RAS 281 to have a blank check, but we can’t demand results and handcuff the schools at the same time.  Let’s find the happy medium.

*Get rid of some school districts

Though we know there are some advantages to being smaller, do we really need the amount of school districts we have? Enrollment has actually declined state-wide by about 1% over the past nine years yet we have the same amount of districts.  If some districts can be combined, we can save administrative costs without increasing anyone’s taxes.  The Brooklyn Center district should go for sure.  They have only 1800 kids (fewer than we have at either Cooper or Armstrong).  Districts can combine on their own if both sides pass a referendum but we feel the state needs to show some leadership on this issue.

*Competition

Here’s an area that we know we’ll get flack on, but we strongly support vouchers and tuition tax credits so people can choose whatever school they want to go to.  Besides public education is not going to reform itself.  Outside pressure is needed to get change.  Most people don’t have choices when it comes to education while some can buy their way out.  This means kids have unequal opportunity.  We keep wanting parents to be more involved so let’s give them the incentive with a voucher.  We know some people disagree with us on this issue but vouchers, in our eyes, have never had a fair debate.  Usually it’s just trashed by public school apologists.  If you’re getting a great education, what difference does it make where you get it or who is teaching you?

Federal Funding

We are not big fans of the feds sticking their noses in our school districts and maybe it’s time to do a cost/benefit analysis of whether it’s worth taking federal dollars (which is still our money of course).  Is the funding worth the mandates and requirements.  It would be interesting to see the results of a study on this.

We wonder how many of these suggestions will make our LAC platform!

Now these suggestions won’t solve every problem or make up for bad parenting.  This is a beginning not an end.  These changes won’t be easy to do but we think advocating for these changes is worth the names we get called.

Now to be fair…..

The District has taken some baby steps in the right direction

*They switched to even year elections

*They are going to sell their unused property (we hope)

*We continue to like Dr. Sicoli who has been a huge improvement over Stan Mack especially in communication and future planning (even though we aren’t fans of creating a committee for everything).  We also like Lonnie Smith our new finance guru, though, again, at $156K a year, he can pay for his own cell phone.

*And we once again are happy to report that our ACT scores improved even with more kids taking them.

So let the endless debate begin…..