Posts Tagged ‘281’

Budget reductions approved, jobs cut, unnecessary programs stay?

March 11, 2010

The Sun Post reports that the School Board approved $3.8 million in budget reductions March 1 and seem reasonable:

Reductions at the administrative level next year will include 29.5 full time equivalent administrative and support staff positions, reducing travel and conference fees and moving school board elections to even years.

Cuts are needed because of declining enrollment and reductions in state aid to school districts, officials have said.

“This is an important decision you are making, but it’s not necessarily a final decision, ” Superintendent Also Sicoli said. “If there is anything you choose to remove, there is nothing to prevent the board from adding it back.”

Cue the “Hokey Pokey” song and dance after that last sentence. Further into the article, we found this:

Closing three school buildings in the spring of 2009 avoided a $2 million annual cost, and passing a referendum in 2008 enabled district officials to restore $5.6 million in programs and staff for the current year. In addition to reducing class size, preserving the arts, saving gifted and talented programs, partially restoring middle school activities and avoiding cutting media specialists.

Note the numbers and programs saved from cuts:

The total $5.3 million in reductions represents 4 percent of the district’s operating budget, Smith said.

He noted that 80% of the district’s operating budget goes to personnel costs.

The board agreed at a work session Feb. 8 not to cut most of the elementary programs on the list of proposed reductions, including full-day kindergarten, visual art specialties, instructional assistants all district choir, band and orchestra and elementary orchestra and band.

To paraphrase an old expression, some on the School Board fiddle while Rome burns. Students are failing AYP and in the basics, but they can draw and sing about it. 
Play on!

We are pleased that Tom Walsh said “we are maintaining a fund balance in case additional state cuts come down the pike.” The teachable moment here is that self reliance makes you stronger: if you can budget without state dependence you stay above water, not sinking in the sea.

We are interested in the school board’s discussion of moving school board elections to even years, saving the district money in odd year elections. This could mean board members agreeing to stay on a year longer (Tyrell, Basset and Van Heel) for a re-election vote in 2012 instead of 2011, and shortening others’ terms (Green, Walsh, Bomchill and Johnson). Putting them up in even years makes sense, when voters are paying attention. Despite parent and voter frustrations last year, a tiny percentage cared enough to come out to vote and change course.

Bleak Financial Situation or Golden Opportunity?

January 29, 2010

The Sun Post reported this week that “District 281 faces (‘bleak’ in print, or ‘dire’ online) financial situation.” Despite passing a referendum in 2008 and closing three schools, our district like others around the state are looking at serious budget cuts. 281 has to cut $5.7 million. The state may be dipping into districts with funds and Robbinsdale might be one source to borrow about $2.4 million. Remember, borrowing means it will be paid back eventually.

Dr. Sicoli advised the school board to “begin thinking about areas in which they are willing to make budget reductions.”

Turn to the editorial section in the Sun-Post and you’ll find an editor there making valid points on reform. Paul Wahl wrote,

The reason we need reform is because we’ve reached the end of what can be cut. It’s no longer a matter of doing more with less, it’s doing less with less.

…Reform might mean eliminating a department that isn’t state or federally mandated.

Think of the freedoms and money districts would have by chopping those unfunded mandated programs!

For schools, reform often centers around choice – charter schools, open enrollment and similar plans. Those many have started their lives as reform, but it’s hard to argue too strenuously either represents reform in light of today’s education challenges.

We’ll buy the argument with open enrollment, as we’ve seen the issues with security and mobility expenses “The Choice is Yours” program added to the budget – despite getting money ($12,000) for each student who enrolled. However, a charter school would attract district students back and neighboring students. And, a charter school decision is our choice – we set the rules, unlike CIY which was a forced government ruling from a lawsuit.

But what comes after the last budget cut finally severs the bone? When and how are we going to make the tough decisions that shape what schools and cities will look like 10 years from now? When do we start the conversation?

The divestiture committee met this week, and we’ll post updates. For us, selling unused properties is a glaring golden opportunity to get funds in. Allow a charter school here and bring back fleeing students going to other districts. Be brave, district leadership! Think outside of the box, beyond 2010, and government and union strong-arming which has drained too many district, city and state coffers. The choice is yours.

Check out Give2Attain’s article with links to the spreadsheet and comments:

Budget Reduction Announcement
Budget Adjustment Worksheet

Some things to remember when looking at the linked worksheet:

  • $1 million = ~83 student drop at ~$12,000 per student (09/10)
  • $3.6 million = ~300 student drop at ~$12,000 per student (10/11)
  • The 10/11 student reduction is an estimate which could easily vary higher or lower. (ie guesstimate)
  • This is why schools are interested in enticing the students back to the district, or pulling open enrollees into the district.
  • This is variation across ~12,000 students, so though the numbers are big, the percent variation is fairly small. (300 kids = 2.5%)
  • $5.7 million gap = $5.9 million fund bal goal – $ .2 million forecast
  • As DJ pointed out: apparently ~$3 million of the gap created when the latest contract was signed. (G2A S and L) Now is this labor or mgmts fault… Either way, all of us will pay in the coming years.
  • This is operating dollars, not capital… Selling facilities will not raise funds that can directly offset this. Though, it would result in reduced maintenance, heating, etc expenses.

RFT and RAS reaches 2-year tentative agreement

January 13, 2010

The Sun-Post reported the agreement on Tuesday:

Robbinsdale Area Schools and the Robbinsdale Federation of Teachers (RFT) reached a tentative agreement on a new two-year contract following a mediation session Jan. 8. The contract, retroactive to July 1, 2009, calls for no salary increase for 2009-10 and a 1 percent wage increase for 2010-11. The RFT negotiations team was expected to present the tentative agreement to its 980 members beginning Jan. 11. A union ratification vote is scheduled for Friday, Jan. 15. If union members ratify the proposal, the District 281 School Board could consider approving the contract at a special meeting shortly thereafter. The state has set a deadline of Jan. 15 for school districts to settle teacher contracts. Districts without a teacher contract settlement by Jan. 15 will be fined $25 per pupil.

It’ll be interesting to see where RAS might cut the budget to pay for the increase.

“Race to the Top” or Race to the Loan Sharks?

December 29, 2009

Who knows more about extortion, me or you? – Tony Soprano

Here’s another example of government dictating over local districts with money on a string. If 281 is qualified for and takes this money from MN Race To The Top, they can’t back out and will be forced to comply with their requirements. From the Sun-Post:

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan earlier said, “Race to the Top is the equivalent of education reform’s moon shot.”

Districts who are interested must comply with stringent requirements, including a promise to ratify Q-Comp, a tool to reward top teachers, by July 1, 2012.

The catch is that school districts are being asked to sign no-escape contracts by Jan. 13, 2010, without knowing the specific details.

“There are an enormous number of strings attached,” said Peter Eckhoff, president of the 990-member Robbinsdale Federation of Teachers (RFT). “The most daunting is that we need to sign an agreement by Jan. 13, 2010, if we want to participate, and there’s no opt-out clause.”

Eckhoff said teachers’ union attorneys have advised him not to sign any documents until more information is available.

In addition, he cited “excessive reluctance from my [union] leadership,” given the large number of unknowns.

“At this point, I find myself beyond overwhelmed with the amount of detail and the enormous mountain we need to climb without the ability to escape,” Eckhoff said. “I have no authority from my members to sign a non-binding contract at this time.

“I’m getting nothing but caution signs and ‘slow down’ at every turn.”

Did you catch that red flag above?

The catch is that school districts are being asked to sign no-escape contracts by Jan. 13, 2010, without knowing the specific details.

Boardmember Patsy Green seems cool with taking the money and dealing with the loan sharks later:

“Any money we get has strings,” Green said. “I’m not going to be deterred by that. We tried Q-Comp four years ago when it was new. We were taken by surprise; we’ve been interested in Q-Comp. A lot of other districts have developed plans that are being very successfully implemented. Where are the roadblocks within our own school district community?”

But, according to union president Eckhoff:

The teacher’s union and District 281 School Board have explored Q-Comp in the past, and have not yet been successful in implementing the plan.

There’s the rub. Unions don’t like merit over seniority.  The Wall St. Journal digs a bit deeper on union resistance:

The Administration can expect more such opposition to “Race to the Top.” School choice is anathema to the nation’s two largest teachers unions, the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers, which also oppose paying teachers for performance rather than for seniority and credentials.

NEA President Dennis Van Roekel told the Washington Post last week that charter schools and merit pay raise difficult issues for his members, yet Education Secretary Arne Duncan has said states that block these reforms could jeopardize their grant eligibility. We’ll see who blinks first.

The Patsy Green who’s willing to grab the money is the very same who opposes charter schools in our district (as the unions who supported her re-election). That could badda-bing the whole deal. Would 281 ratify Q-Comp, bring in charter schools and raise the performance, along with a chance of getting this award, with unions against this?  Students would benefit greatly from Q-Comp and reform, but not the unions. Now we understand why Tony Soprano saw a psychiatrist.

Charter schools a threat to some on 281 School Board

October 23, 2009

“I would not put a charter school in a residential area to compete with our schools,” Boardmember Sherry Tyrrell said.

But Boardmember Jonas Beugen said he is more concerned about the district losing additional students.

“I think there is a place for charter schools,” he said. “They provide an opportunity for creativity and opportunities for doing things differently. We should keep our options open. Having charter schools in the community isn’t necessarily bad for our community.”

Boardmember Patsy Green maintained it is not “a level playing field.”

“Charter schools can do things we are not allowed to do,” said Green, who did not support the district’s sale of the former Lincoln School to Prairie Seeds Academy charter school.

Why are Patsy Green and Sherry Tyrrell so against charter schools in the district? This stat from a MN Sun Post article may be why:

The charter school segment has grown from 105 students in the 2002-03 school year to 620 students in 2008-09, outpacing non-public, home school and other public district school choices, Executive Director of Technology Dennis Beekman wrote in a memo to the School Board that was reviewed at the board’s work session Monday, Aug. 10.

Of the 620 resident students in the district who are attending 51 different charter schools, 507 (87 percent) attend 16 schools.

Green and Tyrrell don’t support giving parents options in our district. And we’ve seen the growing numbers of parents voting with their feet to other districts, charter schools and home schooling. Speaking of voting: unseat Patsy Green November 3.

Robbinsdale School board candidate forum

October 22, 2009

The forum was held Oct. 22 in a very packed boardroom at the ESC. You can watch it on Channel 12 (cable). Call 763-533-8196 for information or go to (more…)

Look for that union label

October 20, 2009

These signs have been popping up around the district:


We weren’t surprised to see Mark Bomchill added with the incumbents. He seems a bit over-confident that he’s bagged the job, as shown in these lines from emails sent to 281 Exposed:

  • If you knew me, you would vote for me.  I am still convinced on Nov 3rd, you will be checking my name.
  • When I am elected, I will need help to stop back door referendums.
  • Let me tell you this, when I win I will always hear what you have to say and take it into consideration.

Sorry Mark, but that sign tells us that you four are for more of the same. Union members, not students are priority one – and you’ll likely follow their wishes over citizens if elected. The incumbents’ track record has been failing our students and district. Again, we encourage those who want needed change to vote for candidates without the RFT endorsement. Visit Teachers Unions Exposed for some of the reasons why, or AFT Exposed where we found this quote:

After all, it was Albert Shanker, former president of the AFT, who said, “When schoolchildren start paying dues, that’s when I’ll start representing the interests of schoolchildren.” (more…)

Letter: “Seeking accountability”

October 19, 2009

Here’s another Sun Post letter that echoes our wishes to elect new leadership for Robbinsdale Schools:

Last year, I met with the former [District 281] superintendent and a number of school principals to learn more about the referendum that many championed.

When I toured two elementary schools, I noticed a phone, a TV, a DVD player and a computer in each classroom. I noticed fully supplied computer labs not being utilized. There was a nurse, counselor and social worker in each building. There were full-time librarians and music teachers.

When I was in school, I was not entitled to any of these amenities.

Now the district boasts about Newsweek’s ranking of Cooper. Well, what could Cooper be if more than 35 percent of 11th-graders passed math on last year’s No Child Left Behind scores?

Funding is not the problem. Robbinsdale Schools lack leadership. The change towards improvement started with the new superintendent and with the elections approaching in a few weeks, the change needs to be completed.

Since student performance is poor, we need new leadership on the School Board.

When I vote in November, I will cast my vote by not re-electing any candidate. The current leadership has enabled mediocrity long enough. We need leadership who can create a remarkable educational environment and academic success. We need an educational revolution in Robbinsdale, and it’s time to change the School Board. May accountability ring.

Todd M

Letter: “Vote Richter, Oathout”

October 19, 2009

This letter appeared in the Oct. 15 Sun-Post, and echoes our stance on local control and responsibility:

Last week, it was opined in the Sun-Post that Patsy Green understands municipal vs. state funding of District 281 schools. It was stated that she wants “to help eliminate the burden from the tax payers.”

Let’s think about that. The last few years have proven that with local referendums we have control over how our schools operate and how our money is spent. When our schools are funded through the state (still our tax burden, by the way) we have a level of bureaucracy that enforces mandates and places restrictions on our district’s capital and our education options.

What’s next, federal funding and federal control? No Child Left Behind is working great, right?

I’d like to suggest a different path, a path towards local responsibility. Let’s elect stronger local representation that will be brave for us. Let’s elect members who will fight to retain local control of our education dollars.

Let’s keep the tax burden local and elect new talent from within our community so we will be able to control spending while improving the performance of our schools. Let’s look for local solutions that actually work, rather than mandates from above that waste our resources.

Let’s vote this year to take our schools back from big government.

You know the answers lie here within our neighborhoods, rather than off under a state or federal dome.

Support Andrew Richter and Jim Oathout this fall for District 281 School Board.

Chris G
New Hope

Patsy Green to run again for school board

August 16, 2009

Green announced her candidacy in the MN Sun Post August 13. A section read:

My ongoing priorities are:
– Academic excellence
– Stable funding for public education
– Effective and efficient programs
– Lower class sizes
– Productive communication

Great schools are key to good communities. I will provide the continuity crucial to keep this district moving in the direction so many residents wanted through their input in the strategic plan and successful referendum.

The only continuity Green has provided our district is ineptitude, and we give her a failing grade on all of her “priorities.”   Read our archived posts for a history of Green’s performance as former Chair:

If there’s one candidate who doesn’t deserve re-election, it’s Patsy Green. The Sun Post announced Linda Johnson is seeking re-election, and we are hearing that Tom Walsh and Jonas Buegen may also run again.

We are also hearing that the field of opposing candidates is growing and we’ll post info on them as we get information. Candidates can file to run for school board Tuesday, August 25 through Tuesday, September 8, with a filing fee of $2. Two dollars and enough votes can buy a lot of healthy change in the district!