Archive for March, 2012

New York PC Police on the Warpath in Public Schools

March 28, 2012

From the usual government bureaucrats come this story out of New York;

War On Words: NYC Dept. Of Education Wants 50 ‘Forbidden’ Words Banned From Standardized Tests

Folks we are aren’t making this up! Here is the full story;

NYC Department of Education Story

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — George Carlin is rolling over in his grave. The New York City Department of Education is waging a war on words of sorts, and is seeking to have words they deem upsetting removed from standardized tests.

Fearing that certain words and topics can make students feel unpleasant, officials are requesting 50 or so words be removed from city-issued tests. The word “dinosaur” made the hit list because dinosaurs suggest evolution which creationists might not like, WCBS 880′s Marla Diamond reported. “Halloween” is targeted because it suggests paganism; a “birthday” might not be happy to all because it isn’t celebrated by Jehovah’s Witnesses.

Julie Lewis’ family celebrates Christmas and Kwanzaa, but she told CBS 2′s Emily Smith she wants her children to appreciate and learn about other holidays and celebrations. “They’re going to meet people from all walks of life and they’re going to have to learn to adjust,” Lewis said. Words that suggest wealth are excluded because they could make kids jealous. “Poverty” is also on the forbidden list. That’s something Sy Fliegal with the Center for Educational Innovation calls ridiculous.

“The Petersons take a vacation for five days in their Mercedes … so what? You think our kids are going to be offended because they don’t have a Mercedes? You think our kids are going to say ‘I’m offended; how could they ask me a question about a Mercedes? I don’t have a Mercedes!’” Fliegal said.

In a throwback to “Footloose,” the word “dancing” is also taboo. However, there is good news for kids that like “ballet”: The city made an exception for this form of dance. Also banned are references to “divorce” and “disease,” because kids taking the tests may have relatives who split from spouses or are ill.

Some students think banning these words from periodic assessment tests is ridiculous. “If you don’t celebrate one thing you might have a friend that does it. So I don’t see why people would find it offensive,” Curtis High School Sophomore Jamella Lewis told Diamond.

Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott said the DOE is simply giving guidance to the test developers. “So we’re not an outlier in being politically correct. This is just making sure that test makers are sensitive in the development of their tests,” Walcott said Monday. To which Fliegal responded: “It’s all of life! I don’t know how they figure out what not to put on the list. Every aspect of life is on the list.” There are banned words currently in school districts nationwide. Walcott said New York City’s list is longer because its student body is so diverse.

Here is the complete list of words that could be banned:

Abuse (physical, sexual, emotional, or psychological)

Alcohol (beer and liquor), tobacco, or drugs

Birthday celebrations (and birthdays)

Bodily functions

Cancer (and other diseases)

Catastrophes/disasters (tsunamis and hurricanes)


Children dealing with serious issues

Cigarettes (and other smoking paraphernalia)

Computers in the home (acceptable in a school or library setting)


Death and disease



Expensive gifts, vacations, and prizes

Gambling involving money



Homes with swimming pools


Junk food

In-depth discussions of sports that require prior knowledge

Loss of employment

Nuclear weapons

Occult topics (i.e. fortune-telling)





Rap Music


Religious holidays and festivals (including but not limited to Christmas, Yom Kippur, and Ramadan)

Rock-and-Roll music

Running away




Television and video games (excessive use)

Traumatic material (including material that may be particularly upsetting such as animal shelters)

Vermin (rats and roaches)


War and bloodshed

Weapons (guns, knives, etc.)

Witchcraft, sorcery, etc.

So the solution to a better education is to ban birthdays, dinosaurs, Rock N’ Roll music, politics, Halloween? These are the idiots in charge of educating our kids. Just one more argument for vouchers, tax credits, and home schooling.

Education Minnesota Man Lyndon Carlson to Run Again!!!!

March 22, 2012

Bad news for education reform coming from the Sun Post;

State Rep. Lyndon Carlson, DFL-Crystal, said last week he is seeking re-election to the Minnesota House of Representatives in District 45A. He will seek endorsement at the District 45 DFL convention on March 24.

After redistricting, District 45A includes parts of Crystal, New Hope, and Plymouth. First elected to the House in 1972, Carlson serves as the DFL Lead on the House Ways and Means Committee. He also serves on Capital Investment and Taxes.

Yes 1972! Richard Nixon was president! Elvis was alive! Barack Obama was 11!

A retired teacher, Carlson said education is one of his top priorities. 

Have you ever earned a private sector paycheck?

“Quality education is not only a right in our society, but also the most important responsibility we have to the next generation,” Carlson said.

A right? You have the right to the opportunity to get a great education but an education is earned! Yes it is earned!!!! And of course the DFL definition of a great education is more money, more money, more money!

“We must provide an educational system that prepares students with the skills and knowledge to excel in a rapidly changing world.”

Then instead of the “one size fits all public schools” why can’t we have vouchers and tax credits so we can go to school where we want and seek out the kind of education we want? Oh wait, we forgot; then your financial backers at Education Minnesota wouldn’t be in charge anymore would they Mr. Carlson? And it’s all about the children.

Carlson has maintained perfect attendance in every legislative session since being elected.

Isn’t showing up for work your job?

“My experience and leadership have provided the citizens of northwest suburban Hennepin County a strong and consistent voice at the State Capitol,” Carlson said. “I’d be honored to continue working for the residents of this district – and for all Minnesotans in the next legislative session.”

And we’d honored to throw you a retirement party!

Carlson and his wife, Carole, live in Crystal. They have three children and six grandchildren. He is a lifelong resident of the area and is a member of the board of directors of the Northwest YMCA in New Hope. Carlson received a bachelor’s degree in social studies from Mankato State University and has done graduate work there and the University of St. Thomas.

Come 45A, elect someone else!!!!

Barb Van Heel’s Letter to the Editor

March 20, 2012

In light of the transportation issue being voted on at the March 5 board meeting, RAS chair Barb Van Heel decided to write an article in the Sun Post explaining the decision. Trouble is, it cleared up very little;

At the March 5 board meeting of Robbinsdale Area Schools, a majority of the board voted to contract out our student transportation operation effective July 1, 2012. This decision was made after nearly a year of detailed study comparing our current in-house transportation operation, which includes some contracted services, to the cost and level of service we could receive from contracting out all services.

Yes, we had a committee, then a committee to watch that committee, and then another committee to watch that committee.

Thank you to everyone who worked diligently to provide information needed for the board to make a careful and informed decision. Thank you to everyone who provided valuable opinions and feedback to the board on both sides of the issue. Several articles and letters appeared in this newspaper, and I would like to clarify some information.

It was recently stated that our administrative costs increased 18.75 percent in one year. It is true that administrative costs increased by that amount in 2010-2011, but this was not due to exorbitant increases in salaries or benefits. Administrators received the same 1 percent salary increase as other employees during the 2010-2011 school year. The increase occurred because the school board restructured contracts to decrease the amount of years of service pay that employees could accrue and decided to pay administrators for years of service they had already earned that were over the new threshold.

So then it is true that costs went up 18.75%? Restructuring is probably a good idea and it will hopefully save money in the long run, but still that is a large increase. And notice Van Heel says that the administration employees got a 1% raise but didn’t say what their increases were in benefits.

The restructuring also moved money from nonsalary items, such as expense allowances, to salaries, which increases the transparency in contracts.

So we moved the money from expense allowances to salaries? That may increase transparency but it isn’t a cut. They are simply shifting the money from one thing to another.

This restructuring started with our current superintendent’s first contract, which had more money in salary and less in other areas, including significantly less in severance pay than our prior superintendent’s contract. The restructuring actually saves school district and taxpayer money over the long term.

Again, while paying out less severance is good, that doesn’t do much for us now. With Dr. Sicoli signed on for the next three years, the earliest severance pay would be paid out would be 2015. And we are considering this a savings now?

Information was also recently stated regarding the special education depreciation aid. It is correct that we have not received any depreciation aid since the law was changed in 2005, which allowed districts to receive the aid. Instead, our district uses a cost allocation method to recoup additional aid through the state special education funding formula. This method is allowable under the special education funding formula, and it has been more advantageous to the district, as the district received more aid than would have been realized using the depreciation aid method. A district is not allowed to use both methods in one fiscal year. This aid calculation does not flaw any comparative study that the district has done; we will continue to generate the revenue regardless of the way we operate our transportation system in the future.

Sounds like a wash.

This decision will provide us with an estimated operational savings of more than $5 million during the next four years. These are savings that can and will be used to maintain class sizes and programs and services that directly benefit our students.

$5 million? Pardon us for being skeptical whenever government tells us they’re saving money, but we just voted to contract out busing even though we don’t have a contract to do so yet. How do we know what the savings are going to be exactly?

Budget dollars will be freed up to provide such things as additional staff development, curriculum resources and expanded use of technology, items that have been shown to make positive gains in academic achievement for all students.

It would be nice to actually see a plan and it would probably add more credibility to this decision. The bland statements about putting “money in the classroom” does little for people. How much staff development to we really need to “invest in?” What curriculum resources are we lacking? Expanded use of technology shouldn’t cost that much. It may cost some but technology is cheaper than ever. Think about what $1000 bought in technology 20 years ago versus today in terms of quality and use.

In addition to the operational savings, the planned capital investment dollars set aside for new bus purchases will be redirected into the classroom, as more than $2.6 million had been planned for bus purchases over the next four years. Just as important, this decision will reduce the magnitude of future budget reductions. I am confident that our administration will be diligent in their efforts to ensure that our students are safe and are provided high quality transportation services. No matter the economic environment, the board and administration are committed to good financial stewardship of our resources to deliver the best possible education to our students.

Count us as skeptics.

Barb Van Heel is chairwoman of the Robbinsdale District 281 School Board. She lives in Robbinsdale.

Well, were your questions answered?

Union Files a Grievance

March 16, 2012

Sounds the local union isn’t going down without a fight! From the Sun Post;

In response to the Robbinsdale School Board’s March 5 decision to outsource its bus transportation beginning July 1, a representative from the bus drivers’ union has filed a formal grievance. Shelly Johnson, a contract organizer for Service Employees International Union Local 284, said she filed a grievance March 8 with Supt. Aldo Sicoli on behalf of the bargaining unit, “indicating the violation of subcontracting bargaining unit work.”

Johnson said union officials would follow the grievance procedure outlined in the contract. According to attorney Sara Ruff, the first step is for the superintendent or his representative to discuss the grievance with a union representative within five days.

A response must come from District 281 within 10 days, according to the grievance timeline. “Hopefully, that will satisfy the grievance,” Ruff said. “If not, there are additional steps we can take.”

Johnson said the final step would be arbitration, if the grievance proceeds that far. A court case also could be an option, if the process continues, she said. She said the bus drivers were expecting the School District’s decision last week to privatize its bus service.

“They are disappointed and sad,” Johnson said. “This is their livelihood. There are people who won’t be able to pay their mortgages and who will lose their health insurance. No one was thinking about the larger impact on the community.” However, Johnson credited the bus drivers with “taking the high road,” despite last week’s outcome. “They continue to show up for work; I would not tell them to do anything different,” Johnson said.

The labor union, which represents 8,000 school service employees, including the District 281 bus drivers and custodians, is still in negotiations with the district on its two-year contract, which expired June 30, 2011.

Unions Flustered About Contracts

March 8, 2012

With the January 15 deadline to negotiate teacher contracts now gone, teacher unions are going nuts! From the Sun Post;

Beth Schultz, a kindergarten teacher at Earle Brown Elementary in Brooklyn Center, was scheduled to complete her master’s degree March 1. Normally teachers get raises when they finish advanced degrees. But Schultz doesn’t know if or when she’ll see that money. “My (students) are benefiting, but I’m not getting the recognition of financial compensation from that,” she said.

Like teachers in nearly half the school districts in Minnesota, Schultz has been working without a contract for eight months and counting. Because the state legislature last year eliminated the deadline for school districts to settle teacher contracts, there’s no sure end in sight. “I’m frustrated,” Schultz said. “I feel like we deserve a fair contract.”

And what would a fair contract be? Removing a deadline doesn’t mean a contract is unfair!

Teacher contracts, which are negotiated every two years, expired at the end of June. In the past, districts faced a financial penalty if they didn’t settle by Jan. 15. But not this year. According to Education Minnesota, the state teachers union, about 47 percent of the 338 districts in the state had not settled contracts as of Feb. 14, about a month after the usual deadline.

Schultz, a member of the negotiating team for the Brooklyn Center teachers union, was one of 47 teachers who came to the Feb. 13 board meeting to encourage board members to settle a contract soon. Brooklyn Center teachers aren’t the only ones trying to make their voices heard. As a sign of unity, nearly 500 teachers in the Minnetonka School District met school board members as they arrived at a work session Feb. 24.

Not surprisingly, Education Minnesota opposed the elimination of the negotiations deadline. In a Jan. 18 statement, the group’s president, Tom Dooher, called for its reinstatement. “When contract negotiations drag on, a cloud of uncertainty hangs over the community,” he said.

Ahh, poor Mr. Dooher! Did you lose your leverage over districts and by definition the taxpayers? It’s funny how Education Minnesota wants local control yet they want an artificial deadline that benefits them!

But the Minnesota School Boards Association terms the Jan. 15 deadline artificial and says it makes negotiations unfair. “What the Jan. 15 deadline has done for years is really tilt the negotiations in favor of the teachers union,” said Greg Abbott, spokesperson for the school boards association.


Minnetonka Supt. Dennis Peterson agrees. “I think during these difficult times, for most school districts across the state of Minnesota, having the deadline taken away has been helpful in the whole process, because it created an artificial climate for negotiations,” Peterson said. Abbott said penalizing districts for missing the deadline hurt students more than anyone.

And we thought Education Minnesota only cared about the children!

Abbot also said it was sometimes difficult for districts to meet the Jan. 15 deadline because of uncertainty regarding their financial positions. Last year that challenge was exacerbated by the state government shutdown. According to Abbott, many districts didn’t negotiate during the summer because of the uncertainty.

“You can’t promise money if you don’t know if you’re going to get anything,” he said. Even in the absence of a government shutdown, school districts often don’t finalize the next school year’s budget until the end of June.

Brooklyn Center School Board Chair Cheryl Jechorek said it’s difficult to make promises to teachers without knowing what the budget will look like. That’s especially true in Brooklyn Center, which is struggling to climb out of statutory operating debt. The elimination of the deadline will help Brooklyn Center make more informed decisions. “It’s better for the district, but I understand it’s frustrating for teachers,” Jechorek said.

“You’ve got to negotiate with the resources that you have,” Abbott said. “So if your reserve is gone and the state gives you nothing, you’ve got to think twice before you start giving increases.” Teachers say they know times are tight for everyone.

“Our intent is not to drive the district further into debt,” said Scott Rykken, a science teacher at Brooklyn Center High School and a member of the negotiating team. But he said teachers are starting to feel unappreciated. “The longer it goes, the more we feel less valued,” he said.

Give us a break! You feel unappreciated with your defined pension and tenure? If you feel unappreciated then quit!

Peter Eckhoff, president of the Robbinsdale Federation of Teachers, called drawn-out negotiations a “distraction.”

A distraction for who? Did you miss a few DFL fundraisers Mr. Eckhoff?

“As we sit in this unsettled state, there’s always a lot of questions about what will be the ultimate outcome,” he said. Ekhoff said people in the business community are often shocked that teachers and districts don’t have another contract in place before the original expires. He thinks the deadline gave at least some impetus to get a deal done in a timely manner. He suggested, however, that the state should consider an incentive for completing contracts on time rather than penalty for missing the deadline.

Although the Robbinsdale School District announced a tentative agreement with its teachers Feb. 17, pending school board approval, Eckhoff thinks the lack of a deadline slowed the process. “Historically we had been driven by (the Jan. 15) deadline to get our work done early,” he said. “This time it certainly wasn’t the same sense of urgency, at least that was my perception.”

Stephanie Crosby, executive director of human resources for Robbinsdale Schools, downplayed the effect of the change. “We went a couple of weeks over,” she said. “It wasn’t like we said, ‘We don’t have a deadline. Let’s not meet.’ … We did it as timely as possible.” Crosby said negotiators still came up with “a decent package that shows good-faith bargaining on both sides.”

You mean that’s possible without a deadline?

Jechorek offered similar sentiments. “We want it done too,” she said of the Brooklyn Center teacher’s contract. “(Our teachers) deserve whatever we can give them, but we have to live within our means. … We really want to treat them fairly.”But in many school districts it’s not clear when a fair settlement may come.

At least districts don’t have their backs against the wall!

Robbinsdale Votes to Contract Out the Bus Service

March 6, 2012

At the March 5 board meeting the district voted 5-2 to contact out the bus service (thank you to Speed Gibson for his live blogging).

The meeting began with presentations by Superintendent Aldo Sicoli and Financial Director Jeff Priess in an attempt to answer some of the questions about contracting out. Priess said the district can save $2.2 million in capital costs and over $1 million in operating costs per year for the next four years.

The board members all then addressed the issue. They largely said the same things; thanking the bus drivers, saying this has been a tough decision, and then, as always, blaming the state for “inadequate funding.”

Voting yes;

Mark Bomchill, Sherry Tyrrell, Linda Johnson, Patsy Green. and Barb Van Heel 

Voting no;

Tom Walsh and Helen Bassett

We think (not 100% sure) the bus drivers are still under contract until June 30. The district will pay $12,500 severance to “any full time driver whose position is eliminated as a result of a decision to contract out.” The part-time drivers will receive $2,000. However, it sounds as though this is still subject to further negotiation with Local 284.

RFT and 281 Reach Agreement

March 1, 2012

According to the sun post the Robbinsdale Federation of Teachers and District 281 have reached a new two-year contract agreement;

Robbinsdale Area District 281 Schools and the Robbinsdale Federation of Teachers announced Friday, Feb. 17, that they have reached tentative agreement on a new two-year contract. The 900 members of the federation, the Robbinsdale Area Schools teachers’ bargaining group, are working under a contract that expired June 30, 2011. Peter Eckhoff, president of the organization, said the tentative agreement will be presented to the group’s executive board and then to the full membership for ratification, hopefully by Feb. 29.
If the teachers ratify the agreement, the District 281 School Board tentatively is expected to consider final approval and full ratification of the two-year contract at its March 19 meeting. No details of the agreement will be released publicly until it is approved by the School Board, according to Eckhoff.

A spokesperson for Education Minnesota, the bargaining group representing teachers throughout the state, said last week that 178 of 338 school districts have settled their contracts thus far. Metro area school districts that have settled their two-year contracts as of Thursday, Feb. 16, include Anoka-Hennepin, Columbia Heights, Eden Prairie, Edina, Elk River, Fridley, Hopkins, Osseo, Richfield, Spring Lake Park and Wayzata.

Districts no longer are penalized by the state for failing to reaching contract agreements by Jan. 15. Contract settlements so far are averaging salary increases of 0.92 percent in the first year and 1.04 percent in the second year, according to the Education Minnesota spokesperson. Those figures do not include increases that go with seniority or increases in educational attainment.

The District 281 School Board on Feb. 6 approved a new two-year contract for American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 5, Local 499, which includes office employees in District 281. The agreement, which is retroactive to July 1, 2011, includes a 1.25 percent wage increase in the first year, but no increase in the second year.

In addition to the RFT, the district still is negotiating with the Service Employees International Union, which includes separate contracts for bus drivers and custodians, and also with the child nutrition employees and principals bargaining groups.

Union employees in the bargaining groups have continued to work under the two-year contracts that expired June 30, 2011. All new two-year contract settlements will be retroactive to July 1, 2011.