Archive for October, 2011

Decision Time is Coming!

October 28, 2011

November is a big month form District 281 with STEAM and contracting out the bus service on the agenda as reported in the sun post;

Decision time is nearly at hand in Robbinsdale District 281. The District 281 School Board continued consideration of budget adjustments for 2012-13 at an Oct. 10 work session. According to Jeff Priess, District 281’s executive director of business services, at least two of the items under consideration will require decisions in November, including:

– Contracting bus transportation services, for a savings of between $800,000 and $1 million per year.

– Opening a STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and math) magnet school in the fall of 2012 in which one-third of the enrolling students would be non-residents. The $2.17 million expenditure would be partially offset by $1.25 million in open-enrollment revenue.

Yes one-third of the students MUST come from students not currently enrolled in District 281!  That’s THEIR words not ours, though we will probably get blamed.

An alternate option to contracting out bus transportation services now under consideration is to keep the system in-house and make changes, Priess said, adding that the district has studied seven different models and identified between $150,000 and $250,000 in annual savings that could be made in the present in-house system. “We would go after eliminating overtime,” Preiss said. An optimum model, one that would provide the most savings, would be a split shift system, which would impact full-time drivers, Priess said. “We will keep looking at efficiencies in the system,” he said. “There are more things we can do to make the total system more efficient.”

Quite frankly, these things should have been done by now.  Studying seven models?  How many models do we need to study to cut back on overtime?

Board Chair Barb Van Heel said feedback she has received from the community indicates that quality is a concern. “Is there a way to measure quality through turnover of drivers, how often they have substitutes, whether the buses are on time?” Van Heel said. “What is the longevity of our drivers? Do they stay on the same route and develop relationships with the kids?” Boardmember Tom Walsh questioned benefits for part-time drivers, noting that if the service were to be contracted out, drivers would not receive any benefits. “Should part-time drivers be getting reduced benefits, or no benefits?” Walsh said. Boardmember Patsy Green said, “I really struggle with this.” She noted that contract drivers are paid less than District 281’s salaried drivers.

“Our bus drivers’ rates have gotten higher than what’s now out there,” Green said. “But the benefit of having our own bus drivers is the relationships that are intangible and hard to measure. I would like to see a lot of work done on the contract before we have to make a decision.”

The current bus driver-custodian union contract in District 281 expired June 30, 2011. Negotiations are in progress between union representatives and school district officials on that contract, as well as the other five union contracts that expired June 30, 2011. The current contracts stay in effect until new contract settlements are reached.

We aren’t wild about contracting out the busing.  Again we think the best way to save money in the long run in through reforming the pension system like the private sector has.  What we are spending on employee benefits is not sustainable.

“We can’t make a decision until we hear more about contract negotiations and what the possible savings are,” Walsh said. Stephanie Crosby, District 281’s executive director for human resources, said it will take “several times at the table” to discuss some of the issues during contract negotiations. “I hope to get at least an idea where we are within six to eight weeks,” Crosby said.

Well at least we don’t have the stupid pro-union January 15 deadline to worry about.

Robbinsdale Area Schools is one of six large metro-area districts that own and operate their own buses. The district now owns 105 buses and leases five small buses that deliver students to and from school via 74 regular education routes and 17 special education routes. The district also contracts with an outside company for an additional 59 routes. The Bloomington, Eden Prairie, Edina, Richfield, and Rosemount-Apple Valley-Eagan districts also operate their own bus fleets.

Most other area districts rely wholly on contracted services to bus students to school. Priess said earlier that District 281 now spends $4.8 million on non-contracted services, and $3.9 million on contracted services. If the busing were contracted out, the contractor would lease the buses and the district’s garage at 4148 Winnetka Ave. N., New Hope.

The district currently has 135 transportation employees, including full- or part-time bus drivers, bus assistants and mechanics. Not all of them drive buses all day long. Twenty-seven of the employees are full-time bus drivers/custodians; 90 are part-time drivers. Full-time bus drivers/custodians earn about $20 per hour. Part-time drivers earn about $17 per hour. Contractors generally pay between $12 and $17 per hour.

Lori Simon, executive director of educational services, said a decision on whether to open a STEAM magnet school is needed in November, so a committee could work on development of programs for 2012-13, if the STEAM school is approved by the school board. A decision on whether to open a STEAM magnet school is expected to be made at the Nov. 21 School Board meeting. “Obviously, we’re recommending it,” Superintendent Aldo Sicoli said. “We think it would be a good thing for our district and our families.”

What’s the over/under on whether there is a dissenting vote?

Sicoli added that “Forest [elementary] is bursting at the seams, and our other school are very full. It would help to open another school.” The new Forest School, built with a program capacity of 600 students, now has an enrollment of 680 students, Beekman said. “There are no empty classrooms at Forest,” Beekman said. Options under consideration include building temporary space, renting space or redoing the elementary school boundaries, Sicoli said.

Boardmember Linda Johnson said the biggest concern she has heard is how a new magnet school would look in terms of demographics and student makeup. “Some type of affirmative statement is important for the community,” Johnson said. “I would like to see a policy so that the demographics [at a new magnet school] are fairly close to the district before we make a decision on STEAM.” Boardmember Helen Bassett said, “There is a perception that we have special schools in our district, when we should be beefing up for everybody. Who gets the benefit, and at what cost?”

Affirmative statement? Though we share the concern over creating another “special school” as Helen Bassett  puts it, we are adamantly against any kind of affirmative action.  If we want more students of color in the program, then we need to get more minority families to APPLY!  The more strings you attach to a lottery, the less it is a lottery.

Simon agreed that it would be essential to have active recruitment of students for a new magnet school, inform families about the new program, and get the word out early. Sherry Tyrrell said she believes a new magnet school would enhance what the district already offers. “It would be an investment in our community and the rest of our schools,” Tyrrell said.

Expansion of the district’s Spanish Immersion program to both middle schools, at a cost of $36,000, is still under consideration. Currently, about one-third of Robbinsdale Spanish Immersion fifth-graders drop the Spanish program when they move to middle school, according to Dennis Beekman, District 281’s executive director of technology. A committee is discussing ways to restructure the middle school day so that time is used more efficiently, Sicoli said.

How many committees do we have????

Abolishing study halls is being discussed, as well as “double-dosing” on math and reading. “We think this is really a high priority,” Sicoli said. “We want more instructional time and assistance for students who need it.”  The ongoing cost would be significant, about $575,000, Sicoli said. Another large, albeit one-time cost, would come if the district adopts an online learning proposal, at a cost of $429,000. “I’m not sure we have the money to do it,” Sicoli said. “We can’t do all of this. STEAM has more benefit.”

Though we don’t like STEAM (we’d prefer the “school within a school” option rather than opening a new school) or contracting our the busing, we have to say that more on-line opportunities is an interesting option and may be the wave of the future.  Perhaps that is worth cost but we don’t have enough information on it to endorse it.  Either way, November will be an interesting month so stay tuned!

District 281 Has a Slight Increase in Enrollment

October 28, 2011

From the sun post;

It’s only 46 students – a 0.4 percent increase – but enrollment is up slightly in Robbinsdale District 281 schools as of Oct. 1. District enrollment is 11,821 students, according to Dennis Beekman, District 281’s executive director of technology. This is the second consecutive year when fall enrollment exceeded prior year levels, he said. Beekman gave his first in a series of three annual reports at an Oct. 17 School Board meeting. He attributed the enrollment increase to a larger kindergarten than last year, more open-enrolled students attending Cooper and Armstrong high schools, and better K-5 retention levels than the last few years, resulting in increased elementary enrollment. Sixty-four more seniors graduated last year than the number of kindergarten students enrolled this fall (867), though this year’s kindergarten class is larger than last year’s.

However, Beekman said a structural decline still is present, driven for years by lower birth rates in the community and by increased school choice options. “There has been a significant decline of 1,800 students over the last 20 years,” Beekman said. “That was a major factor for reorganization and boundary changes in 2009.” Since 2000, the district has closed New Hope and Pilgrim Lane elementary schools and Hosterman and Sandburg middle schools.

“Elementary and middle school facilities are fully utilized and the enrollment in several elementary and middle schools is at its highest level in recent years,” Beekman said.

Elementary school enrollment is 5,271, compared to 5,168 at this time last year.

The largest elementary school this fall, as it has been for several years, is Robbinsdale Spanish Immersion School in New Hope, with an enrollment of 727 students, Beekman said. “We don’t have a lot of excess capacity in grades K-8,” Beekman said. “There is a little more at the high school. Forest [Elementary in Crystal] exceeds capacity. Plymouth Middle School is much closer to capacity than Robbinsdale Middle School.”

Grade nine is the largest, with 1,043 students. Grade six is the smallest, with 833 students. Other classes range from 867 (kindergarten) to 989 (grade 10). Middle school enrollment is at 2,630, compared to 2,687 last year. High school enrollment is 3,920, exactly the same number as last year.

By school, enrollment is as follows: Forest, 686; Lakeview, 427; Meadow Lake, 644; Neill, 571; Robbinsdale Spanish Immersion, 727; Noble, 411; Northport, 574; Sonnesyn, 645; Zachary Lane, 586; Plymouth Middle School, 1,310; Robbinsdale Middle School, 1,320; Cooper High School, 1,918; and Armstrong High School, 2,002.

Five elementary schools have increased enrollment this fall: Forest, Lakeview, Sonnesyn, RSIS and Noble.

Four elementary schools declined in enrollment: Meadow Lake, Neill, Northport, and Zachary Lane. Plymouth Middle School and Cooper High School enrollments decreased; the numbers of students at Robbinsdale Middle School and Armstrong High School declined.

By city, the largest numbers of students come from Crystal, 2,413; followed by New Hope, 2,400; Plymouth, 2,062; Robbinsdale, 1,407; Golden Valley, 996; Brooklyn Park, 848; and Brooklyn Center, 819. Resident student enrollment has increased slightly in Brooklyn Center, Crystal and new Hope, and has declined in Brooklyn Park, Golden Valley and Plymouth.

“The district continues to be more ethnically diverse,” Beekman said, adding that it has increased from 47.8 percent to 49.6 percent minority students district wide. “This is a trend that follows the census patterns in first- and second-ring suburbs in Minneapolis and St. Paul,” he said.

The largest elementary minority enrollment is at Northport in Brooklyn Center, where 83.6 percent of the students are minorities. At Meadow Lake in New Hope, 76.3 percent of the students are minorities. The other nine elementary schools have minority enrollments ranging from a low of 23.7 percent at the Robbinsdale Spanish Immersion School in New Hope, to 58.5 percent at Lakeview Elementary in Robbinsdale.

At the secondary level, Cooper High School has a 60.9 percent minority enrollment, and Armstrong High School has 35.3 percent. “Armstrong had the largest increase,” Beekman said. Middle school minority enrollment is 38.6 at Plymouth Middle School, and 60.2 percent at Robbinsdale Middle School.

“Empty nesters are selling to younger families that are more diverse,” Beekman said. “Twelfth grade is less diverse that incoming kindergartners.” The district’s ethnic profile shows 50.4 percent white students, 28.1 percent black students, 12 percent Hispanic, 7.9 percent Asian, and 1.7 percent American Indian, Beekman said.

The number of students eligible for free or reduced price lunch is 44.9 percent, up 1.6 percent from last year. The number of students eligible for free or reduced lunch is a common means of measuring poverty. “Mobility and poverty increases are directly related to the adverse economic climate and its impact on families,” Beekman said.

At the elementary level, the numbers of students who qualify for free and reduced price lunches ranges from a high of 83.4 percent at Northport in Brooklyn Center and 73.2 percent at Meadow Lake in New Hope, to 10.6 percent at the Robbinsdale Spanish Immersion School in New Hope. At the secondary level, it ranged from 57.1 percent at Robbinsdale Middle School and 53 percent at Cooper to 31.9 percent at Armstrong High School.

The numbers of English Language Learners have increased to 11.4 percent, up .1 percent since 2009-10. “Immigrant trends are similar to the last few years where families are not moving into the community in large numbers because employment opportunities have been limited during the recession,” Beekman said.

The number of English Language Learners students, which totaled 520 in the 1999-2000 school year, increased significantly to 1,441 in 2006, and now is at 11.4 percent (1,343 students); last year it was 11.3 percent. The highest number of ELL students are at Northport, 41.1 percent., followed by 30 percent at Meadow Lake. Robbinsdale Middle School had a large spike in the number of ELL students it serves: from 9.9 percent last year to 14 percent this year.

Beekman noted that 17.3 percent of the district’s students go home to non-English speaking families. Among the 51 different languages spoken in the homes of District 281 students, 8.3 percent speak Spanish, 2.3 percent speak Hmong, and 1.8 percent speak Creolized English.

Mobility, the measurement of how often students transfer in and out of school during the school year, was at 19.4 percent district wide in 2010-11. At the secondary level, it ranged from a high of 33.1 percent at Cooper High School (an increase of more than 8 percent) to 23.2 at Robbinsdale Middle School, 17 at Armstrong High School, and 9.1 at Plymouth Middle School. At the elementary level, the mobility rate ranged from a high of 35.7 percent at Northport to 1 percent at Robbinsdale Spanish Immersion School.

Only Two Schools Pass Again

October 19, 2011

From the Sun Post;

Two Robbinsdale Area Schools make AYP. For the third consecutive year, two of the 14 schools in Robbinsdale District 281 met Adequate Yearly Progress or AYP standards in 2011 under the federal No Child Left Behind Act.

As in 2009 and 2010, they are Robbinsdale Spanish Immersion School in New Hope and Zachary Lane Elementary in Plymouth. The Minnesota Department of Education released its Adequate Yearly Progress report of statewide schools’ test results on Sept. 30. The AYP data is based on students’ performance on the Minnesota Comprehensive Assessments-II tests administered last spring. Students in grades three through eight took both reading and math tests. Tenth-graders took a reading test, and 11th-grade students took a math test.

The District 281 test scores “nearly mirrored the state results in math and reading,” according to a news release from the school district. Zachary Lane Elementary in Plymouth and the Robbinsdale Spanish Immersion School in New Hope continue to perform above AYP targets for all groups, according to the release.

Individual elementary schools that showed “great progress” in making their AYP targets included Forest and Neill elementaries in Crystal and Northport Elementary in Brooklyn Center, which collectively improved in 16 groups in math and reading, the release said. However, Lakeview Elementary in Robbinsdale and Northport Elementary in Brooklyn Center have not made adequate yearly progress for five years, and Meadow Lake Elementary School in New Hope has not made adequate yearly progress in one subject or the other for four of the last five years. Forest Elementary School in Crystal has not made adequate yearly progress for three years.

As a result, Lakeview and Northport are mandated by the state to prepare for restructuring, Meadow Lake must take corrective action, and Forest must offer supplemental services. Each of the four schools receives federal funding based on the number of students enrolled who are living in poverty.

Schools that receive federal Title I dollars and do not make AYP two or more years in a row in the same subject are identified as being in need of improvement. Depending on the number of years they do not make AYP, schools in need of improvement must offer a range of options to students, including school choice with transportation, supplemental services and restructuring.

In a letter being mailed home to families, Brenda Cassellius, Minnesota Commissioner of Education, said, “What matters more is how students are growing and learning …. it [AYP and NCLB] compares the performance of one group of students to the performance of a totally different group of students the following year. This is not a fair, valid or accurate way of measuring how students are really doing.” The state of Minnesota on Aug. 16 applied for a waiver from the NCLB law, but the U.S. Department of Education has taken no action on the request.

Robbinsdale Area Schools uses data from the Measures of Academic Progress to help teachers analyze the growth of their students in both reading and math throughout a school year, the release said. This has helped both teachers and the district make instructional and programmatic decisions based on the strengths and needs of students, according to the release. Such decisions have led to changes at the elementary level such as dedicated intervention and enrichment time for students, and flexible-grouping strategies, the release said.

At the middle school level, analysis of data has led to a “double-dosing” in reading and/or math for students who need more targeted interventions, helping them to achieve at grade level, the release said. Overall in district schools, a concentrated focus on high expectations, building relationships and equity is beginning to reap results, the release said.

Supt. Aldo Sicoli said more work is needed.

“Our focus is on what is best for kids, every day, all day, not just once a year or for one grade level,” Sicoli said. “We fully embrace the philosophy that we are all partners in providing nothing less than an excellent education for our students.” District AYP results, along with the letter from Commissioner Cassellius, will be sent to families and are accessible at  AYP is a measure of each school’s year-to-year student achievement on statewide math and reading tests.

It is determined for the entire school, as well as eight subgroups including: white, black, Hispanic, Asian/Pacific Islander, American Indian, English language learners, students with disabilities and those who are economically disadvantaged as determined by participation in free and reduced price lunch. To make AYP, all students in every subgroup must be proficient in math and reading or show clear progress toward being proficient. No Child Left Behind requires 100 percent proficiency in reading and math by the 2013-14 school year.  

What’s Up With Brooklyn Center?

October 11, 2011

We’ve continued to say over and over that there are too many school districts in this state and the troubled Brooklyn Center district (ISD 286) is one of them.  The district has had eight straight referendums defeated but according to the Sun Post they are coming for another levy question;

District 286 to put second levy question to voters

The Brooklyn Center School District plans to put another levy question to voters in early December. This time it will ask for a renewal of the current levy of $337 per student, which expires after this school year. A renewal would mean no increase in school property taxes.

The board met Sept. 26 to canvass the results from the Sept. 20 referendum voters narrowly defeated. After reconciliation of a discrepancy found in the original count, the final result revealed 525 votes in favor of the levy and 632 against. The Sept. 20 referendum asked voters for an increased levy of $590 per student, which would have returned levy funding to 2005 levels. It was expected to add about $66 per year to the property taxes for the average residential property valued at $125,000. It was the eighth consecutive levy referendum defeated in the district. Without approval of a levy, the district will have no operating levies in place when the current levy expires after this school year.

According to Supt. Keith Lester, the district can hold a levy referendum more than once a year because it’s in statutory operating debt. However, the minimum required waiting period means the district wouldn’t be eligible to put another levy question to voters until late November. The board decided to wait until December to avoid the Thanksgiving holiday when many voters may be out of town. The board voted 4-0 to request a levy renewal in December pending approval by the education commissioner. Board members John Solomon and Greg Thielsen were not present.

Here’s an idea; eliminate this district!!!  This district has fewer than 2,000 students and is right next to four of the largest districts in the state (Osseo, Robbinsdale, Anoka-Hennepin, and Minneapolis).  Doesn’t it make sense to “annex” ISD 286 to one of them?

Town Hall Meeting

October 11, 2011

Sorry for the short notice here, but the local DFL representatives (Sandra Peterson, Lyndon Carlson, and Ann Rest) are holding a town hall meeting;

When: Wednesday, October 12

Time: 6:30pm – 8:00pm

Where: Crystal Community Center

Unfortunately it is the same night as the Spanish Immersion expansion meeting, but it important to challenge these representatives and demand education reform.

Spanish Immersion Expansion Meeting

October 3, 2011

FYI; there is a meeting about expanding the Spanish Immersion Program to Robbinsdale and Plymouth Middle Schools.

Location; Media Center at Robbinsdale Spanish Immersion School (the Sunny Hollow building)

8808 Medicine Lake Road, Minneapolis, MN 55427

Time; 6:30PM to 7:30PM

Date; Wednesday, October, 12, 2011

Description; Informational meeting for RSIS families on possible location of middle school Spanish Immersion program to both RMS and PMS beginning 2012-2013 school year.

OK there is the info! The district is asking our opinion on something so let’s give them feedback, for or against.