Archive for the ‘Budget’ Category

281 Not Too Happy With DFL Legislature

April 19, 2013

The Sun Post has an interesting article written by the district’s finance director Jeff Priess.

Robbinsdale Area Schools has worked hard over the past several years under difficult economic and state funding conditions to ensure students receive an excellent education. We are proud of our student and staff accomplishments at local, state and national levels.

yes we already know 281 is the best at everything.

However, this hard work is in jeopardy and could hinge on several key decisions by legislators over the next few weeks.

The work of our district is to meet each student where they are academically and provide the knowledge and skills they need to pursue whatever form of post-secondary education they choose. Over the past five years, the Minnesota legislature has made decisions that froze the funding formula for three years (2008-2011), and provided $50 increases for two years (2011-2013), not nearly enough to even cover inflationary costs.

Ahh, what did we pass in 2008?

Our school board and administration have made difficult decisions to reallocate resources to both invest in new programs and stabilize school finances.

To make investments in new programs that ensure our students are competitive in the 21st century required rigorous assessment of opportunities and choices about the level of resources to be allocated between educational and operational programs. These efforts included efforts to rein in health care costs and transportation costs, while still maintaining an excellent level of service to all.

Due to those efforts, we were able to open the School of Engineering and Arts (SEA) this past fall, and will open a STEM magnet program at Robbinsdale Middle School in the fall of 2013.

We have piloted hybrid classes that combine online and classroom learning, and integrated technology more fully into instruction and learning. We initiated extension math and reading classes at the middle schools in order to help students who needed more instruction in those areas.

Can this district do anymore chest beating?

Currently Gov. Mark Dayton’s proposed budget provides school districts with a 1 percent funding increase for next year. The Governor’s proposal provides school districts additional funds for special education to help defray every district’s “cross subsidy” – the amount that a district has to take out of its general fund to cover costs for mandated special education.

(For our district, that’s approximately $9.5 million of regular education dollars for special education.)

However, there are two proposed legislative areas that will actually set our district back.

The first is the Public Employees Insurance Program (PEIP), which allows employees to become part of a statewide insurance program that, sometimes, helps to keep costs down. Districts can choose to enter the PEIP program even without the legislation.  While PEIP is good for some districts, for others, it is not.

If Robbinsdale Area Schools is required to participate in PEIP, we estimate that we will incur an additional $3 million in insurance premiums, it will result in a reduction of employees’ network of physician choice, and the district will be forced to close the in-house NeoPath Clinic that is saving the district more $100,000 annually.

The second concerns integration revenue, which is in jeopardy. Our district receives approximately $2 million annually, providing funds for additional teachers, tutors and help for families. Because the 30 percent integration levy was not reinstated in the Senate bill, 30 percent of the integration revenue for our district would be eliminated.

The precious DFL wants to get rid of integration aid?

Our school board has worked hard to be excellent financial stewards. The state must be a partner in these efforts. I urge you to contact your legislators and tell them to ensure the House PEIP bill (HF573) is amended to be voluntary and the 30 percent integration levy is reinstated in the Senate bill.

Sun Post Story

1% Not Enough

March 28, 2013

It’s funny seeing the Robbinsdale Legislative Action Coalition complain about the governor’s plan for education. The LAC finally elects their people and they still complain.

From the LAC;


Governor Dayton’s budget plan calls for a one percent increase in the general education formula.  That 1% equates to approximately $52. per student.  There are 170 school days – is $0.31 a day really enough?  With budget targets on the horizon, you as a constituent, can make an impact.  Email or call your legislators today and tell them that the proposed 1% increase in the general education formula isn’t enough. 

OK they what should we cut to increase that? Should we cut transit? How about Health and Human Services? LGA? It would be nice to see some ideas, rather than just complaining.

Here are some other “features” in Dayton’s budget;

Governor Dayton’s budget  

Investments in E-12 learning – an increase of 1% in the general formula for FY2014


Increase in special education funding -$125 million investment beginning in FY 2015 by adopting the recommendation of the Education Finance Working Group.  

Teacher Evaluations – $10 million budgeted to create and implement a system that supports teachers and will continue to benefit all our student achievement.

With Dayton and the DFL in charge, you know these won’t have much bite to them.

Early Childhood Education Scholarships to ensure more children attend high quality preschool and child care. 

Fulfilling another liberal obsession.

English Learners – ensuring longer access to language skills to fully participate classroom learning. 

Investments to provide education, training and support for the prevention of school bullying.   

Bullying should be handled at the local level, no one size fits all policies.

So LAC should we cut some of the governor’s other “features” to increase the general formula? Again, it would be nice to see some real ideas.


$1.5 Million in Savings

January 17, 2013

From the Sun Post;

Buses transporting students in District 281 are more technologically equipped this year – and, it seems, cheaper to operate. Changing bus service providers has saved District 281 more than $1.5 million dollars, according to information presented during the school board’s Jan. 7 work session. Director of Business Services Jeff Priess said the district’s total transportation budget is forecasted to come in around $7.9 million by June. In comparison, the district spent $9.6 million ($9.5 million, minus the severance payments) on transportation costs last year. The savings is due, Priess said, to the district outsourcing its transportation system services to First Student. The savings could be closer to $1.6 million when the final numbers come in. 

“We had a very expensive model in place (before),”  he said. More than $3 million was spent this year on the First Student contract, which  provides regular transportation to-and-from school, midday Kindergarten transportation, shuttles, late activity buses and summer school special education transportation. Contracted special education transportation services provided by Adams Services and the Metropolitan Transportation Network, come in at around $2 million. Management, operations, leasing, and special education driver and monitor salaries make up the remaining $2.9 million. The district currently runs 71 bus routes per day. Priess said two routes have been eliminated from the midday drives, with 19 routes remaining. More efficiencies like that could be made for next year, he said.Jared Reid, a First Student location manager, outlined some of the technological changes on buses this year allowing buses to be tracked, drivers to be kept accountable and students to be monitored. First Student is leasing the district’s buses, and has provided the technological upgrades for each. Every bus now has GPS in it, allowing First Student to track each bus using software called Ground Traffic Control to within two minutes of its last position. That delay is due to the time it takes for a signal to bounce of the satellite, Reid said. This allows First Student to track each stop the bus makes, down to the exact second. Timing and bus speed reports are also generated.

An electronic “pre-trip” checklist requires drivers to scan 11 inspection zones on the bus before departing for a route. If a repair need is detected, it is routed to maintenance for repair. Prior to this, drivers used a sheet of paper, Reid said, and the new electronic system not only records every inspection but allows for faster repairs. This same scanning device plugs into a cradle on the bus, where it automatically downloads information. Drivers also use the device to punch on and off the clock.Some of the technology, like a dual camera recording system with sound, is meant to record both route driving and the half-hour after a bus has been shut off for the day. To date, more than 115 requests for tape to aid in correcting student behavior have been made since September, Reid said, and video downloads are available the same day.“Some of this footage I will tell you is the most boring video you will ever see,” Reid said.Finally, A Child Check-Mate device requires drivers to go to the back of the bus at the end of a route to press a stop-and-check button. This verifies that the driver has checked the bus for sleeping children. An accompanying device, Theft-Mate, contains a motion detector, which tells anyone not authorized to get on the bus that the authorities have been notified, Reid said.The GPS and cameras fit with no modifications,” Reid told the Sun Post. “I do not know what the cost is per bus, but we expect the technology to last for the useful life of the bus. This is all new technology that First Student added to service the school district. Some of the buses did have cameras, but were not all live. 

Now, every bus has two cameras and (both are) live whenever the bus is operating.” The report also contained information on accidents and incidents recorded between September and December. With the exception of a hit and run incident in October (Reid declined to provide exact details, save to say that the incident was not the driver’s fault as someone had hit the bus and left), the majority of the 11 accidents reported involved side-swiping or tail swinging. An accident was defined as any incident which caused damage in excess of $100.

Full Article

Levy Fails in Osseo

November 17, 2012

From the Sun Post;

When the numbers came in, voters had narrowly rejected both proposed levies, and only 83 votes separated the school board candidates in third and fourth place. That’s less than a tenth of a percent difference.

Because voters rejected both proposed levies on the ballot, the school district expects to cut about $14 million from the budget over the next two years. That includes $2 million of reductions to “align staffing with enrollment” that were projected to occur regardless of the election’s outcome.

“One of the things that’s frustrating about this is that our expectations for our work and the accomplishments of our students doesn’t change,” Supt. Kate Maguire said.

One of the levies voters rejected was a 5-year operating levy that would have provided $9 million per year. The other was a 10-year technology levy that would have raised $5 million per year. The operating levy received 33,792 “yes” votes, or 49.9 percent and 33,908 “no” votes, or 50.1 percent. That’s a difference of 116 votes.

The technology levy garnered 32,470 votes in favor, or 48.3 percent, and 34,757 votes against, or 51.7 percent. The difference was 2,287 votes. “It’s heartbreakingly close,” Maguire said. “Certainly I’m disappointed, and I’m disappointed because I know what it means. We’ve been here before. And I know the good results we’re getting for students in our community. … It’s going to be difficult to sustain that progress with fewer and fewer (staff members).”

In spite of the disappointment, Maguire said she’s grateful to everyone who supported the levies and worked to inform others. The district has estimated cuts will result in the loss of the equivalent of about 200 full-time positions.

According to Maguire, the advisory committee that looks at long-range financial planning has already worked to identify essential services, such as those required by law. In November and December the school board will begin having work sessions to consider the budget. The board will provide direction to staff, and the district will begin identifying specific areas for reductions in next year’s budget.

Full Article

Enrollment Up Slightly in 281

June 28, 2012

From the Sun Post;

Enrollment was at 11,519 students in Robbinsdale District 281 schools on June 6, the last day of school, an increase of 69 students more than were enrolled on June 9, 2011. Dennis Beekman, District 281’s executive director of technology, on June 18 gave the last of his three annual enrollment reports to the School Board.

“We do monitor enrollment very carefully,” Beekman said. Elementary and high school enrollment is greater than 2010-11 levels, though middle school enrollment is less than last year, according to Beekman.

While midyear enrollment attrition rate was similar to 2010-11, the high school midyear attrition rate was “significantly lower,” Beekman said, primarily due to midyear enrollment option transfers.

Average daily membership exceeded the original 2011-12 enrollment projects by 1 percent, according to Beekman.

It’s so nice to not hear complaining about declining enrollment!

“The primary reasons for the variation are a slightly larger kindergarten and less midyear attrition than anticipated at the high schools,” he said. Whereas there was very little attrition at the elementary level and some reduction in middle school enrollment, there was more attrition at the two high schools, Beekman noted.

Mobility is still supposedly an issue;

Regarding mobility in the elementary schools, Meadow Lake in New Hope, Northport in Brooklyn Center and Lakeview in Robbinsdale had the highest rates of student turnover. Meadow Lake had a 25 percent mobility rate, Lakeview had 26 percent and Northport had 35 percent.

Secondary attrition rates were higher at Robbinsdale Middle School than a Plymouth Middle School, and also higher at Cooper High School than at Armstrong High School, according to Beekman.

Click here for full article

Bus Service Issue Still in the News

April 20, 2012

Here’s a letter from the Sun Post about the recent decision to contract out the district’s bus service;

Even before March 5, when five of the seven Robbinsdale School Board members voted to outsource bus transportation jobs, the district administration was telling drivers that they will be fine, they can go work for First Student. Parents were assured that there would be no change in service and that they very likely could end up with the same trusted driver.

Well, that remains to be seen. First Student has held meetings with drivers, offering the opportunity to meet First Student administration and apply for jobs. I went to one of those meetings out of curiosity. First Student could not tell us what the wages would be. We were told there will be no sick time, no retirement plan and no bereavement leave. Family health care is completely unaffordable.

So how many of our current trusted drivers will be able to afford to work for First Student?

Something else that I found interesting was what was said about the routes. Our union leadership has long said that the routes are not efficient and that The Center for Efficient School Operations made our routes that way from the beginning (a few years ago when the district hired them to put our routes together).

Part of the conversation we have been having through all of this is exactly the need to make the routes better in order to save money. Center officials were at the First Student meeting and now says that they will not be changing the routes after all. Really?

All along we have been trying to tell the board members that this is not going to be what you think it is. July 1 isn’t even here yet and we already are finding that to be true.

Jean Woznak


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.

AFSCME! AFSCME! Read All About It!

February 20, 2012

From the Sun Post;

The first of six employee bargaining units has agreed on a new two-year contract with Robbinsdale District 281 for 2011-13. The District 281 School Board on Feb. 6 approved a new two-year contract for American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), 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. The district contribution for health insurance will be increased b y 2.5 percent in the first year and 2.63 percent in the second year.

The district is still negotiating with five other bargaining groups: Robbinsdale Federation of Teachers (which also includes educational assistants); Service Employees International Union (SEIU), which includes separate contracts for bus drivers and custodians, and also for child nutrition employees; and principals. All of the district’s union contracts expired June 30, 2011. Employees in the bargaining groups have continued to work under the previous contracts.

All new two-year contract settlements will be retroactive to July 1, 2011.

It’s so nice to negotiate without that stupid January 15 Deadline!