Archive for July, 2011

Highlights From the Budget Resolution

July 22, 2011

With budget resolved and their state back in action, here are features from the education portion og the agreement;

*Repeal of the January 15 negotiation deadline and penalty

This is big.  It gets rid of the unfair union advantage in negotiating.

*A $50 increase in the per pupil formula in each of the two years

This is something the so-called Education Party didn’t do in the previous years.

*Not cuts to special education

*Alternative Teachers Licenses

Though the governor and his union buddies took some of the teeth out of this idea, it is still important that this idea get a foothold in our districts.

*More Teacher and Principal evaluations

We aren’t sure about the details here.  We like the idea but only if a bad evaluation has consequences.

*No more shifting our borrowing from the schools

If we understand this right, it means and end to the shifts or holdbacks and other budget gimmicks.

All in all it was a good session for reform, now we just need vouchers.


Yet Another Great Letter to the Editor

July 22, 2011

From the Sun Post;

Ask more questions

Someone was wrong and blew it big time.

I could believe the June 30 issue of the Sun Post which quotes District 281’s School Board when they credited Superintendent Aldo Sicoli with “outstanding performance,” or I could believe the July 7 issue of the Sun Post where we’re told the “Four in five Dist. 281 9th-graders pass Minnesota writing test,” as compared to 85 percent or above during the past four years.”

I believe both. What I cannot believe are the circumstances that led to these stories. When the school board conferred its glowing review, they did it on the basis of “strategic plan and results, employee relations, community and external relations, operational management, financial management and board relations.”

None of these items, except maybe strategic plan and results, appear to be related to academic performance and intellectual development. And this is the pitfall of trusting the system to educate children: you have insular, bloated, bureaucratic spendthrifts who heap accolades on one of their cronies for reasons only casually related to the educational mission. Meanwhile, we get 20 percent of our kids who cannot write and probably cannot read either.

Thanks to the Sun Post for running these stories. The paper should follow up by asking the school board some very uncomfortable questions. As for the school board, they all should be fired immediately for managerial malfeasance. Parents should stop sending their children to these schools and citizens should stop paying their property taxes that prop up these miserable failures.

Matt Rothchild


District 281 Purchases House by Lakeview

July 21, 2011

From the Sun Post

District 281 approves purchase of house adjacent to Lakeview Elementary

A proposed $11.4 million remodeling project at Lakeview Elementary School in Robbinsdale now has an added dimension: acquisition of a house on the west side of the school.  The acquisition, plus Review and Comment documents to be submitted to the Minnesota Department of Education, were approved at the July 11 Robbinsdale District 281 School Board meeting.

Boardmember Mark Bomchill cast the lone dissenting vote. The board voted to approve purchasing the property at 4202 Lake Drive Ave. N., Robbinsdale, for $299,900. The house has been on the market for eight months.  According to Hennepin County tax records, the 88-year-old house was purchased in June 2005 for $317,500 and the property owner currently owes $3,425 in taxes. The property’s estimated market value, according to county records, is $223,000. “Obviously I want the kids to be safe,” Bomchill said. “But the school is in a position to be rehabilitated in its current state. Now we’re looking at an additional $300,000, money that could be used elsewhere. I question the appropriateness of this. We should work with what we have at Lakeview. I would like to move forward without the purchase of the property.”

So the property is worth $223,000 but we are paying $300,000? Though we largely think Mark Bomchill has been a disappointment, we thank him for his vote in this case.

Lakeview, at 4110 Lake Drive, is one of two remaining unrenovated buildings in District 281. Lakeview and Northport Elementary in Brooklyn Center were spared when the School Board selected three buildings to close in the spring of 2009, despite the fact that both facilities have significant deferred maintenance issues.

“After the decision to keep the schools open, virtually everyone at the table preferred to have new schools, but there was a good reason not to go that route,” Supt. Aldo Sicoli said.

Yes we know what the good reason was; it would have required a public vote which you didn’t want to give us.

“We preferred deferred maintenance, though we knew it would be difficult. We went through a lot of work to explain our decision to keep Northport and Lakeview open. Now, to have a property adjacent that could really help with storm drainage and traffic pattern seems like quite an opportunity.”  According to Jim Gerber, District 281’s Buildings and Grounds facilities program director, the current Lakeview property is less than half of the recommended size for an elementary school. The six-acre site has no side street parking, he said.

“Parking is a very high need on that site,” Gerber said. “There are a lot of walkers to the school that have limited site visibility. Pedestrian site lines and traffic on the site are very high needs there. We really need to push this to a higher priority for that site.”  Officials at the Minnesota Department of Education also have discussed a need for a pond for storm water management on the Lakeview site, Gerber said.  “It’s important to consider this land acquisition to help mitigate some concerns,” Gerber said. “It will be a significant return on investment for the district.”

It is spending, not investing!

Acquisition of the property will help address storm water management issues, improve site circulation and safety of bus and car traffic, and also provide additional staff parking, according to Jeff Priess, District 281’s executive director of business services. “It has become a pretty important piece of our Review and Comment,” Priess said. He said the district plans to close on the property Aug. 1.

Greg Dehler, a representative of Wold Architects and Engineers, St. Paul, noted that no property was available for purchase when the school district made its initial report to the Department of Education in 2010 on proposed renovations at Lakeview. “When property like this in a landlocked situation becomes available adjacent to a school, the Department of Education thought it would be an ideal situation,” Dehler said.

Boardmember Patsy Green said she recalls many informal conversations about the constraints on the Lakeview property because of its size. She said she didn’t recall “any promises that we would work within the limited constraints of this property.”

Well of course!  When do we ever promise to work within constraints?  If there is chance to spend another person’s money, then spend it!

“MDE had a lot of concern about our spending time on a property that small,” Green said. “We talked about whether there would be any way to expand the site, and there was no thought that anything would come up. This is an opportunity that’s essential for us to act on to make that site better.” Green noted that traffic at Lakeview “is the worst of any of our buildings.” “This is one of those unique opportunities presented to us,” Green said. “I don’t recall a promise not to enhance any of our properties.”

Boardmember Linda Johnson said the board in the past did promise that unrenovated schools would be remodeled to the same level as previous schools had been. “We promised those two schools [Lakeview and Northport] they would have the same opportunities as the rest of the schools,” Johnson said. “I see this as fulfilling that promise. The extra piece of property allows us to renovate Lakeview similar to the rest of the schools.”

“This enhances the property for our kids,” Boardmember Sherry Tyrrell said. “If we can make it better, that’s a plus.”

Changes at Lakeview, slated to take place during the summers of 2012 and 2013, will include expanding and modifying the entrance to be more secure, as well as shifting location of a loading dock. “We consolidated from three years to two years to save additional money,” Dehler said. “I still think the market is good for construction and that we can get decent bids.” Lakeview’s renovations will be funded through alternate facilities allocation and district capital funds.

Yeah when is that public vote again?

Incorporating the land now occupied by the home at 4202 Lake Drive will provide space for storm water drainage, Dehler said. Priess said district officials have talked to city of Robbinsdale about possibility of moving the stucco house. However, he noted that it was built in 1923 and would have to be brought up to code before it could be moved. It is possible components of the house could be sold at an auction, Priess said.

A Review and Comment document for the maintenance options was approved by the board for submittal to the Minnesota Department of Education for input. “We are ready for final state review,” Dehler said. “If they would just get back to work, we would be all set. We had a good meeting with the DOE. We presented our initial findings, so they’ve already seen a draft. It should go fairly straight forward once they get back to their desks.”

Dehler said officials are hoping from a response from the state by September, so the project could be bid in the first few months of 2012.

MDE has 60 days to provide a response to the documents the district submits. Once the school district receives a response from the state, the district has two years to enter into a contract for the work it outlined to the state.

Edina Asks for Two Levies

July 21, 2011

Think we are overtaxed in Robbinsdale?  Check out what the Edina school district is asking for;

From the Sun Post;

Edina taxpayers will be asked to approve a $45 million technology referendum this fall.

The Edina School Board voted 6-0, member Idith Almog absent, Monday, July 18, to place the capital project levy on the Nov. 8 general election ballot, as well as a renewal of its general operating levy.

Wow, look at all that dissent on their school board!  Isn’t it amazing how all school board members seem to always reach the same conclusion.

The technology levy would collect $4.5 million annually for the next 10 years. It would more than quadruple the existing taxpayer levy for technology, which expires in 2012.  Currently, Edina collects about $1 million a year with its technology levy. That provides approximately $122 per pupil, falling behind several area districts.

Quadruple the levy?  Quadruple!

Boardmember Peyton Robb said the increase would help the district remain competitive.  “It’s not something that we take lightly. It’s very well thought out,” he said.

Yes, isn’t every tax increase well thought out.

According to the district, Edina’s existing technology referendum is less than measures in Hopkins, Minnetonka, Eden Prairie, Wayzata, St. Louis Park and Bloomington districts. At the top of that group, Hopkins collects $719 per pupil each year. At the bottom, Bloomington collects $273.

Really?  Is this a spending contest?

The renewal and increase would bring Edina’s per pupil amount to $549. That would include about $600,000 a year in capital expenses, as well as $3.9 million a year for maintenance, staff training, software and server enhancements.  If approved by voters, the estimated impact on an average $400,000 home in Edina would be $220 a year, an increase of $173 from the current $48 collected for technology.

And when that home is worth $300,000 is a few years the tax will go down too right?

The increased referendum would also free up general fund dollars now being spent on technology for other uses. While the district collects $1 million a year in taxes for technology, it actually spends closer to $3.3 million through a combination of the referendum, capital and general funds.  Also up for renewal is the district’s $400 per pupil operating referendum, currently at the maximum amount allowed by the state. It would provide about $3 million a year for the next 10 years if approved by voters. It would continue to have a $158 annual impact on a $400,000 home in Edina.

Supt. Ric Dressen said the district would provide more specifics on the measures leading up to the November election.

“We have a full plan we’ll roll out in August to share information with community,” he said.

More specifics later?  Shouldn’t you have the specifics before you ask for the money?

Ups and Downs for 281

July 4, 2011

Recently some good and bad news has come out on District 281 performance;

First the bad, from the Golden Valley Patch;

Robbinsdale District Test Scores Dip

Only 81 percent of Robbinsdale students passed this year’s GRAD state writing exam

By Amy Mattson

The percentage of Robbinsdale students who passed a state-mandated writing test has dropped by 4 percent, according to the Minnesota Department of Education.

District results for the Graduation-Required Assessments for Diploma test released Wednesday show 81 percent of students passed, which is down from 85 percent last year.  The state average dropped 1 percent over the past year, from 90 to 89.  “While we are disappointed with results this year, they highlight the need to intensify efforts to improve writing skills at every grade level,” said Robbinsdale Area Schools Superintendent Aldo Sicoli in a news release.

The district plans to increase writing requirements in all subject areas, the superintendent said. Staff members hope this will help students understand the relevance of strong writing skills.  We take the GRAD test seriously,” said Robbinsdale Area Schools Communications Director Tia Clasen. “Having an assessment of proficiency in writing is a good thing, and our district is continuing its work of creating powerful and effective writers.”

When compared across ethnic groups, Robbinsdale’s GRAD scores were equal to or higher than those reported statewide, according to the district.  The GRAD written composition test is given to ninth-graders and scored based on style, sentence formation, grammar, mechanics and spelling, according to the Minnesota Department of Education. Students must pass the exam prior to receiving a diploma.

Those who did not pass will have an opportunity to take the test again later this year.

Yikes, that’s not good.  On the other hand, MAP test scores improved in the elementary schools;


Every single elementary school in District 281 had above average growth from fall 2010 to spring 2011 in both math and reading on the spring Measures of Academic Progress (MAP), an assessment designed to monitor student learning.  Individual grade levels across the district enjoyed an average increase of over 6% in reading and 7% in math. The news was just as good for students at all levels of proficiency.  The percentage of students at every level of proficiency across all nine elementary schools in the Robbinsdale Area Schools making at least average growth increased over 7% in reading and 6% in math.

“We are committed to eliminate the academic disparities that exist among different groups of students,” explained Aldo Sicoli, Superintendent of Robbinsdale Area Schools, “but we are just as committed to make sure that all students grow in their learning at all levels. We are raising the bar for all students.”  In fact, those students district-wide whose fall MAP scores were above the 75th percentile had the largest increase in growth at or above target level in both reading and math, with an increase of 9% and 7%, respectively.

Elementary schools across the district have implemented new ways of doing things, from new curriculum to strategies for acceleration, and have focused intervention and enrichment time for students.  Differentiated instruction, along with purposeful assessment for small group instruction, is paying off, as is the infusion of strategies throughout the day to build a strong sense of community schoolwide.

The students are growing.  Average growth for a student translates into a year’s academic growth in a year’s time.  If a student has achieved above-average growth in a particular subject area, the student is making more than a year’s growth in one year’s time.  In Robbinsdale, those efforts are turning the entire district’s elementary students into a successful community of learners.

Well, that’s the good, the bad, and the ugly.

Setting the Record Striaght

July 4, 2011

A recent opinion piece in the Sun Post rebukes union apologist Sandra Peterson (DFL 45A).

Residents need to look further into budget

To the editor:

Now that the weather has started to behave like summer, I think most people find themselves busy with parties, picnics and yard work.  The weather is too nice and time is too precious to do research into the details of the state budget. That’s why I think the letter last week from Rep. Sandra Peterson does a disservice to your paper’s readership.

She claimed that the budget passed by the Legislature contained cuts to K-12 education.  But the facts are that the Omnibus Education Bill, vetoed by Gov. Dayton, increased spending by almost $1 billion. Any “cuts” were either a reprioritization of spending or a reduction in the rate of spending increases.

Furthermore, based on the conference report from this bill, all five school districts within Senate District 43 would have seen additional dollars by 2013. These amounts proposed to come to our area ranged from $212 per pupil in the Wayzata district up to $434 per pupil for Robbinsdale.

I don’t think it’s accurate to call an additional $212 per pupil – or more – as a “cut.”  In addition to increased funding, the Omnibus Education Bill also included many educational reforms, such as repealing the Jan. 15 deadline for contract negotiations, categorizing teachers as essential employees, and allowing local control of staff development funds. These are reforms that the schools districts requested.

We’re all busy, myself included, but I respectfully request your readers look beyond undocumented claims and allow facts to shape the budget discussions.

Norann Dillon Plymouth

Yes, the Republican budget included INCREASES in the general fund (something the “education party” didn’t do in the previous legislature, must have been Pawlenty’s fault) and provided much needed  mandate relief especially removing the pro-union January 15 deadline and the 2% set aside for staff development.  Integration Aid is being changed and special spending is being frozen (remember that’s money on top of the general fund).

But, to union apologists like Sandra Peterson and the LAC-DFL any freeze is a cut, any reform is a cut, and one nickel short of what the unions think they are entitled to is a cut.

Board Gives Sicoli High Marks

July 1, 2011

Yet another one from the sun post;

Robbinsdale Area Schools Supt. credited with ‘outstanding performance’ in 2010-11

At the end of his second year at the helm, Robbinsdale District 281 Supt. Aldo Sicoli’s performance has been outstanding, according to the School Board.  Board Chair Barb Van Heel summarized the board’s June 7 closed-door evaluation of Sicoli at the regular meeting on June 20.

“During our discussion, board members repeatedly expressed how pleased we are with the outstanding performance of Supt. Sicoli and the great things that are happening in our district for all our students due to his collaborative leadership style and excellent communication skills,” Van Heel said.  The board considered Sicoli’s performance in six areas: strategic plan and results, employee relations, community and external relations, operational management, financial management and board relations.  Ratings could be unsatisfactory, basic, proficient, distinguished, or not applicable.

Board members rated Sicoli in each area and also listed commendations and opportunities for action for each category, Van Heel said.  “The board’s evaluation indicated that Dr. Sicoli has consistently demonstrated expertise and skill in all evaluation areas and has exceeded expectations,” Van Heel said.

Strategic Plan and results

Improvement in schools is occurring, Van Heel said, noting that student achievement is up, the climate is improved, and a variety of new systems are in place. The district also has set “stretch” goals for closing the achievement gap, she said.  The board would like to see continued marketing of the school district and focus on targeted staff development, as well as efforts to keep the strategic plan front and center, improvement of academic achievement (especially at the secondary level) and continued efforts to improve school climate and a safe learning environment.

Employee relations

Sicoli was commended for excellent communication skills and “positive, productive relationships,” as well as excelling at empowering the staff.  “The school district has an improved collaborative environment,” Van Heel said. “Supt. Sicoli shows genuine appreciation and great recognition of staff accomplishments, large and small.”  The board would like to see more staff members spotlighted at board meetings, and continuing work on performance evaluations at all levels, as well as professional development where needed, Van Heel said.

Community and external relations

Sicoli’s highly rated communication skills mean that he is visible throughout the district, honest and open, communicates the district’s vision, and promotes the district well, Van Heel said.  The board would like Sicoli to get data on stakeholder satisfaction and “continue to improve customer service at all levels.”

Organizational management

“Supt. Sicoli does not shy away from addressing issues directly,” Van Heel said, adding that “the decision-making process is more inclusive, leading to improved results and buy-in.”  “The work is getting done in spite of cuts,” she said.  The board would like Sicoli to “evaluate the overall effectiveness of all programs and continue to identify and develop leaders among the staff,” Van Heel said.

Financial management

Sicoli was commended for the six successful budget committees he created, for his proactive approach in providing options and making cuts that have “minimal effect to classrooms.”  “The fund balance has increased and he is watchful on expenses,” Van Heel said.  The board is asking that Sicoli “have the budget tell the story to our community.”

Board relations

Regarding board relations, Sicoli was commended for being respectful, genuine, “fun to work with,” and for having integrity, innovation, listening well and maintaining a good sense of humor.

In conclusion, Van Heel quoted a comment from one board member’s evaluation:  “Supt. Sicoli has again distinguished himself as a highly effective Supt. for Robbinsdale Areas Schools. Progress toward many district goals and objectives has surpassed expectations. He is continuing to provide the excellent leadership skills necessary to implement our strategic plan with clarity and focus. He works with staff in a collaborative style and promotes continuous improvement in all areas of the organization through teamwork and a positive attitude. He effectively partners with the board to look for ways to reach out to all members of our community. Our ability to deliver quality educational programs while staying within our financial means is impressive. He celebrates staff and student achievement while recognizing and addressing the need to improve.”

Prior to being hired in April 2009 to replace retiring Supt. Stan Mack, Sicoli was assistant Supt. in Burnsville-Eagan-Savage District 191.  Sicoli’s three-year contract in District 281, extending July 1, 2009 to June 30, 2012, specifies a salary of $174,000 in 2009-10; $177,480 for 2010-11; and $181,030 for 2011-12.

Though we’re not sure we’d give him “outstanding marks on everything” Sicoli has been a nice and refreshing change from Stan Mack.

Gay Agenda Being Forced on California Kids

July 1, 2011

This is scary;

Bill Mandating California Schools Teach Gay History Is a Lesson in Controversy

After suffering setbacks in the fight to legalize gay marriage, gay rights activists in California are moving closer to victory in the classroom, which, under pending legislation, would become “gender sensitive” zones, mandating history lessons about gays and transgender Americans.

The Fair Education Act passed out of the State Senate and is now headed to the State Assembly. Also known as SB 48, the bill was authored by state Sen. Mark Leno (D-San Francisco).  “It will require that roles and contributions of LGBT Americans, not unlike African-Americans, Mexican Americans, women, and other traditionally overlooked groups, be included in school curriculum.”  If the measure passes, the state would draw up guidelines for the districts, and then educators would get to decide who deserves inclusion.  

Supporters suggest slain San Francisco politician Harvey Milk would be an appropriate choice. Leno contends Milk’s fight for civil rights is as worthy of class study as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s. He adds this kind of “inclusive curriculum” will help protect students who may look, or act, differently.  But critics don’t buy the anti-bullying argument, and say SB 48 hijacks history class to promote a gay agenda.

“In the past, history taught about what people did, what they accomplished,” says Brad Dacus, head of the Pacific Justice Institute. “It didn’t focus on their sexuality and what they did in the bedroom. Yet that is what this legislation will impose on every public school in the state of California dealing with heterosexuality, homosexual role models, transgender role models, all the way down to the kindergarten level.”  Dacus adds, “It’s California tax dollars from parents who are paying for this kind of indoctrination that’s being put into public schools. That demeans them, their family, and their relationships.”  Leno says it’s the same criticism voiced years ago when schools embraced ethnic and women’s studies.

“We should not be afraid to teach our children of the broad diversity of human experience,” he says. “It’s not going away, it’s always been with us. We have different kinds of people, who are, under law, to be treated equally. Why would we not want to teach our children this?”  He says inclusive education is as important as the 3R’s. “This all goes together.”

But critics worry parents who object to this curriculum will be labeled intolerant, and that kids will start thinking about sexuality and gender identity at a very young age.   Despite those concerns, Leno’s bill is widely expected to become law, which would make California the first state to require gay history be taught in public schools.

Gender sensitivity zones?  Teaching homosexuality and trans-gender role models in kindergarten?  This just proves again that the public schools aren’t about educating kids and getting there ready to enter the work force.  It’s about indoctrinating them into liberalism.

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