Archive for January, 2011

Enrollment Report Part 2

January 30, 2011

Here is some more information on enrollment for the 2010-2011 school year;

There are 14,896 school age children living in the Robbinsdale School District.  Of those 10,665 go to RAS schools.  Another 1097 students who don’t live in District 281 attend RAS schools.  Here is how it breaks down.

*5197 students attend Elementary Schools

*2664 students attend Middle Schools

*3801 students attend High Schools

Of the kids who don’t live in District 281 here’s the breakdown of where they are from;

*88% of the students are from Minneapolis and Osseo  (955 total)

*There are a very small amount of kids from Brooklyn Center, Wayzata, Hopkins, and, and Anoka Hennepin.

Of the kids who live in RAS 281 and attend another public school district the vast majority attend three districts;

*353 attend Hopkins

*298 attend Wayzata

*280 attend Osseo

Here is some other important data;

*1467 kids attend non-public schools like Sacred Heart, St. Raphaels, Breck, Good Sheppard, and Benilde-St. Margaet’s.

*650 kids attend those EVIL charter schools, the Beacon Academy having the most kids with 170.

*249 kids are home schooled.

*213 kids go to ISD 287

*90 kids go to Highview

*142 kids go to WMEP

Here are the projections of enrollment in the future;

2012; 11,587

2013; 11,554

2014; 11,503

2015; 11,425

There it is everyone!

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A View From 30,000 Feet

January 26, 2011

District 281 is not populated by bad people.  But, it is represented by MFT, the Minnesota Federation of Teachers.  The district cannot conduct business without the blessing of the union.  The union sets the pay scales, the benefit packages, influences school curricula and, to a large measure, elects the candidates for the school board. 

Like most districts, 281 relies on MFT to keep day-to-day operations running.  If the union decides to go on strike for whatever reason, the district and the school board members will fall out of favor with their customers, the taxpayers of the district. 

In this scenario no one wins. 

Or do they?

Imagine if you would, MFT making demands which could simply not be agreed to.  Imagine they went on strike.  Instead of rows of buses lining up at school house doors we began our school year with picket signs and teachers walking the lines.  Imagine, too, the strike was not resolved in short order and was ongoing, with each party at an impasse. 

Imagine the disruption for parents who would have to scramble for emergency daycare for their kids and the angry citizens talking in backyards and street corners about the way A) the teachers are getting screwed or, B) the taxpayers are getting screwed.

As a parent, what would you do?  On which side of the debate would you fall?  Would you seek to open-enroll your child in another district?  Would you home school?  Would you talk to your church (assuming you have one) about enrolling your child in a faith-based school?  Would you look to enroll your child online?

District 281, in concert with the unions and the educational establishment, have parents painted into a corner.  It is only a matter of time before MFT makes another play for more money or more benefits.  What will be your response?  Would you march across the street from the picketers in a counter-demonstration?  Would you storm the school board and demand A) the district give the teachers what they want or, B) the ability to place your child in a private/charter/home or religious school?

Is this scenario even possible?  If it is, how far off into the future do you see us reaching a tipping point between schools and parents?  Five years?  Ten years?  Tomorrow?  Can you foresee a time when taxpayers will draw a line in the sand and bounce every politician in the state out of office if they don’t support true school choice?

Now, take all this “supposin’” and consider that the new Republican-led House and Senate are considering freezing teacher pay in order to balance the budget and bring some sanity back into the K-12 equation.

Is this example still pure fantasy?  Or, is it inevitable?

RSIS or STEM Part 1

January 23, 2011

With all the discussions about the possibility of re-opening Pilgram Lane Elementary or Olson Elementary for a magnet school (either expanding Spanish Immersion or creating a STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math), we’ve been pondering what to write about this.  The Sun Post did an interesting article summarizing the options for the district from a presentation on December 13.  Here is a part of the article;

– RSIS expansion beginning in 2011-12 with kindergarten at the current Sunny Hollow site, and 50 percent of the expansion seats (33 of the 198 total) reserved for students open-enrolling.

– RSIS expansion beginning in 2012-13 at Olson with kindergarten and first grade, and with 50 percent of seats at each grade level (33 of 198 seats per grade level, with both sites combined) reserved for students open-enrolling.

– RSIS expansion beginning in 2012-13 at Olson with kindergarten and first grade, and with one-third of seats at each grade level (22 of 198 seats per grade level, with both sites combined) reserved for students open-enrolling.

– Combination alternative of RSIS expansion at Olson as well as expansion of Spanish immersion and/or dual Spanish immersion program at selected sites (school within a school).

– STEM magnet school at Olson with 50 percent of seats reserved for students open-enrolling and with fourth and fifth grade sections full beginning in 2013-14 and 2014-15.

– STEM magnet school at Olson with one-third of the seats reserved for students open-enrolling and with fourth and fifth grade sections full beginning in 2013-14 and 2014-15.

Though we think he is a supporter of a new magnet school, Superintendent Dr. Aldo Sicoli cautioned the school board about a possible expansion;

“Do we want to commit to something we would start in one building and move it to another without knowing about the budget?” Sicoli said. “We don’t want to create something that’s not in the financial best interest of the district. We need to look at it from all sides. Anytime we open a new building, it costs money. It’s easier to bring in students if you have a building with space.”  The board also needs to consider the political reality of saving 50 percent of the seats for non-residents, Sicoli said.

Now we are not universally opposed to magnet schools in general but we have some serious reservations about this expansion, not the least of which is who and how we will pay for improvements on these buildings (we’ll get into that in a future article).  The board makes a big deal about wanting to keep kids here and using a magnet program as an idea.  The Sun Post reported the following;

One of the issues the district is addressing is how to attract and bring back resident students who have left to attend classes in other districts.  Last year more than 100 families failed to be chosen in the lottery for RSIS, and 52 percent of them subsequently left the district.

So let us get this straight; about half of the families who didn’t get into RSIS left the district but the district wants to “reserve seats” for kids who don’t live here!  How will that work?  What does the district think will happen if open enrolled kids get priority over kids who live here?  Does anyone think these families will stay then?  It seems to not make sense.

If RSIS is expanded or if a STEM program is adopted, then at minimum we call for NO SPECIAL PROVISIONS.  No automatics for siblings, no automatics for the children of staff members, no affirmative action, and no special spots for kids who don’t live here.  At least then it will be a fair lottery.

Then again, maybe the better idea is to stop trying to be everything to everyone and PAR DOWN and offer the same educational opportunities to all of our students.  Should getting a better education depend on where you live ,or if your name gets picked in a lottery, or if you meet some other special provision?  Let’s give EVERYONE equal opportunity!

New Enrollment Report Out

January 22, 2011

District 281’s mid-year enrollment report came out at the January 17 board meeting.  Here are some highlights;

*There are 11,662 students enrolled in Robbinsdale Area Schools as of January 1, 2011 excluding ALC , tuition, EC and RTC students. Enrollment is 21 (0.2%) students more than enrollment January 2010. Enrollment represents 3.5% more students than original 2010‐11 enrollment projections.

*Enrollment since the beginning of the school year has remained relatively strong at the elementary and middle levels. Enrollment since the beginning of the school year has dropped at the high school slightly more than it did in 2009‐10.

Now here are some trends….

*The predominate driver of declining enrollment in the district (14% since 2002‐03) is the decline of school‐age children residing in the school district (9% since 2002‐03). The percentage of resident students attending Robbinsdale Area Schools is currently 71.6%, slightly higher percentage than in 2009‐10.

*28% of resident students do not attend district schools. Resident students attending non‐public schools, other public schools, home school, charter schools and WMEP schools have all decreased slightly compared to 2009‐10 levels. Charter schools have realized the largest gain of resident student enrollment since 2002 (545 students). Beacon Academy (charter school) enrolls 170 resident students and has experienced the largest enrollment gain of resident students since 2005 although it has not gained residents in the last year. Prairie Seeds Academy, located within the district, has realized the largest percentage enrollment gain of resident since 2007‐08. Charter schools are a relatively new public choice for resident families. Of the seven charter schools enrolling the most resident students, only two were operating in 2002‐03.

For the kids who live in District 281, here is some data on where they attend;

*71.6% attend Robbinsdale Area Schools

*9.8% attend non-public schools

*9.2% attend other public schools

*4.4% attend those EVIL charter schools

*1.7 % are home schooled

*The rest attend WMEP or ISD 287 Special Ed or Highview

Here is the prediction for the 2011-2012 year;

*The district projects 11,586 students will be enrolled January 2012 based on historical data, trends and birth records. The projections indicate a modest decline of 0.7% with most of the decline occurring at the middle school level. January enrollment projections are used to approximate next year’s ADM. These projections will be used to develop the 2011‐2012 revenue budget and to staff the schools at board‐established ratios. Enrollment for school years 2012‐13 is projected to level reflecting only a minimal decline.

We will post some more on this in the coming days and weeks.

Talking 281 Again

January 22, 2011

Please tune to the Andrew Richter Show on Thursday night, January 27th on channel 19 at 6pm.  Guest host Dennis Holman, author Jerry Lindberg, and author and 2009 school board candidate Andrew Richter, discuss the possible expansion of the Spanish Immersion Program or a STEM Program, the budget situation, and give a legislative update.  The show will replay January 28th at 2 am and 10 am.  Then it will re-air on February 3rd at 6 pm and February 4th at 2 am and 10 am.

Republicans Move Quick on Education

January 18, 2011

We mentioned we were optimistic about the new legislature moving quick to address education.   And we already have something to report.  Senators Dave Thompson, Gen Olson, David Hann, Paul Gazelka and Dan Hall have introduced Senate File 0056.  This bill provides the following;

*Removing the safe schools levy set aside requirement for costs associated with licensed school counselors, psychologists, nurses(R.N.), and chemical dependency counselors

* Imposing a statewide school district and charter school employee salary freeze

* Repealing reserved revenue for staff development and school district contract deadline and penalty

Well this a decent start, especially the removing the pro-union deadline to reach a contract agreement.  Good luck to these senators on this bill.  We will continue to give legislative updates as often as we can.

The Case for Vouchers Part 2; Curbing Tom Dooher’s Union Power

January 18, 2011

Well it is that time of year again….where we are going to see Tom Dooher on TV whining and complaining that his poor little union isn’t getting enough money from us the taxpayers.  The real question is why are we listening to Tom Dooher or any of his demands?

The reason is that he is the head of this state’s largest monopoly; Education Minnesota with it’s 70,000 members.  And with his $1.2 million war chest  he holds tremendous power over you, your kids, and your money.

So what does Tom Dooher want with your money?

Well, here are Dooher’s priorities according to his bio page

http://www.educationminnesota.org/en/aboutus/governance/tdooher.aspx

Restoring Minnesota’s threatened reputation as a national leader in education.

Threatened reputation?  Oh that’s right we forgot that we aren’t taxed high enough!  Thanks for reminding us!

Developing academic standards that work for students and educators.

Oh and what are those standards you support and don’t try to fight……give us a minute we are thinking.

Ensuring school funding that is equitable, sustainable, predictable and sufficient.

And what would that be exactly?  Sustainable and predictable? How can we predict the what the future will hold?  Are schools entitled to more and more and more no matter what the budget situation, or economic conditions, or most importantly performance?  And like anything we ever pay will be sufficient!  What a joke.

Securing professional salaries so Minnesota students will continue to be taught by the best educators in the country.

No Dooher, you are sadly wrong.  We have no problem paying good teachers good money but that’s NOT what you want.  You want everyone paid the same and automatic raises every year regardless of performance.  Of course in the mind of the unions every teacher is great!

Finding affordable and accessible health insurance options for educators.

And this will improve our education how?  We thought Obamacare was going to save us all!

Tom Dooher and his stooges in the legislature oppose nearly everything that will change the status quo the slightest bit.  They remain opposed to vouchers, tuition tax credits, charter schools, alternative teacher licenses, merit pay, removing the January 15 settling deadline, moving out of defined pensions, removing steps and lanes, ending or changing tenure, any kind of mandate….you get the picture.  How do improve or change if the most powerful lobby rejects or waters down any proposal to change?

So how do we get the change we want?  The answer is to use vouchers to go around the union.  If people have choice (and choice is not choosing between Lakeview and Noble) and enough of them choose to leave the public schools, then it will FORCE public schools to change.  The way it is right now a private school HAS to succeed.  If it doesn’t then people will not go there but if the public schools fail (and even the most ardent public school apologists will concede that some are failing) they will still get more money and more money and more money.

We believe in empowering people….not unions.  Let’s give parents all across the economic spectrum the ability to go to a private school if they so choose, not just those who can afford it.  We’ve spent 60 years throwing money at schools and what has it solved????

Just to be clear…this is NOT a rant against teachers as individuals.  It is a rant against the teachers’ representatives.  We actually believe that vouchers will HELP teachers as well as students.  The best teachers will GET jobs and the market will determine wages so schools can COMPETE for the best teachers which may result in HIGHER salaries, not lower.  And best of all, the worst teachers won’t have their jobs protected anymore.  Gee, that’s almost how the real world works!

The bottom line is this; schools are about the kids.  They are not jobs programs.  Education Minnesota cares about employing adults and the kids come somewhere after that.  That attitude is unacceptable and we can use vouchers to change this or we can just pay more and more and more and more.

Governors Push Vouchers

January 4, 2011

Here’s a terrific story from http://www.stateline.org on how governors are trying to bring vouchers to more states.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010
Private School Vouchers Make a Return to Education Agenda
By David Harrison, Stateline Staff Writer

A decade ago, almost any discussion about reforming the nation’s public schools included vouchers. The idea of letting students use taxpayer dollars to attend private schools appealed to conservatives, who liked the notion of subjecting public schools to competition. Some Democratic mayors, frustrated with the slow pace of school improvement, also rallied behind vouchers.  Then, vouchers got overtaken by other ideas about how to shake up public schools. Unions vehemently opposed vouchers, arguing they would starve public schools of funding. Vouchers were left out of the 2002 federal No Child Left Behind law, making it difficult for programs to gain a foothold in school districts. More recently, the Obama administration left vouchers out of its Race to the Top grant program, even as it endorsed other reforms such as charter schools and pay-for-performance plans for teachers.

Now, private-school vouchers seem poised to make a comeback. Newly-elected Republican governors in Florida, Nevada and Wisconsin are pushing plans to give private school vouchers to thousands of families, as is Indiana’s Republican Governor Mitch Daniels. In all of those states but Nevada, Republicans control both houses of the state legislature, giving the voucher plans a good chance of passage.  Florida Governor-elect Rick Scott has proposed the most far-reaching of the new voucher plans. Most previous school voucher efforts were targeted at low-income students, but Scott wants to create “education savings accounts” that would help pay private school tuition for any student in the state. Under the plan, every family with a school-aged child could get 85 percent of the per-pupil cost in public schools — roughly $5,500 — to use for school expenses outside the public system. That could include private school tuition, materials for home schooling or other education-related costs.

Milwaukee launched the country’s first large-scale private-school voucher program in 1990, prompting a flood of similar proposals in other urban school districts. Today, there are 18 voucher programs in 12 states.  Vouchers are nothing new in Florida. They were a primary feature of the education agenda of former Governor Jeb Bush, who implemented the nation’s first statewide school voucher program. But the state Supreme Court invalidated that plan in 2006, saying it violated a constitutional mandate to create a free and uniform public school system. Other aspects of Bush’s program remain in place, however. Florida runs a voucher system for children with disabilities and gives tax credits to corporations that donate to private school scholarship programs.

A revived statewide voucher program “would be a really big deal,” says Lindsey Burke, an education policy analyst at the Heritage Foundation who supports school voucher programs. “Florida has been a leader on education reform.”  It’s unclear whether Scott’s plan would pass a legal challenge. It’s also unclear what its budget impact would be. Depending on how the plan unfolds, it could attract parents who already pay out-of-pocket to send their children to private schools. Last year, there were more than 300,000 Florida children enrolled in private schools.  At least 40 states have language in their constitutions forbidding them from funding religion or religious schools, a provision known as the “Blaine Amendment.” While Florida’s Supreme Court overturned the most high-profile parts of Bush’s voucher program, saying it violated the Blaine Amendment, the Wisconsin Supreme Court found that Milwaukee’s voucher system did not violate the amendment.

Currently, the size of Milwaukee’s program is capped at 22,500 pupils. Wisconsin Governor-elect Scott Walker says he wants to expand Milwaukee’s voucher program. He’s also called for lifting a statewide cap on online, virtual schools.  In Nevada, Governor-elect Brian Sandoval wants to make way for private-school vouchers by passing a constitutional amendment. Doing so would protect the program from being undone by court orders or a less friendly legislature in the future. Sandoval’s plan has met with resistance from the state’s superintendent, Keith Rheault, who argues that vouchers could cost the state as much as $100 million.  Some Democratic lawmakers, particularly those representing inner-city districts with struggling schools also have embraced vouchers. Illinois state Senator James Meeks, who is running for the Democratic nomination for Chicago mayor, has said he wants to offer a $4,500 voucher to 50,000 families.

The new voucher plans come as the Obama administration is winding down a federally funded voucher program in Washington, D.C. let funding expire for the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program, even as it embraced other controversial reform efforts through the Race to the Top grants.  Republicans have vowed to fight to restore the D.C. voucher program, which was created in 2004 to give low-income students $7,500 in tuition to attend private or parochial schools.   Voucher supporters point to a U.S. Department of Education study this summer that found that students in the scholarship program were more likely to graduate from high school than students not in the program. But the report also noted that students in the program did not do better on standardized reading and math tests.

We wish the best of luck to these governors!