Posts Tagged ‘Referendum’

Letter: Former 281 teachers appalled at administration’s spending on consultants

November 7, 2008

Two former educators scold Robbinsdale administration for wasteful spending in this letter to the MN Sun-Post editor:

We are two former District 281 educators who have always been extremely supportive of our schools and public education in general. We have a referendum sign in our yard. Our grandchildren go to District 281 schools. You don’t find more supportive people than us.

After reading [the Oct. 16] story about another two consulting firms that are being hired to do yet another study at a cost that would have more than paid for all of the fifth-grade choirs in the district for a year or some other valuable program that was cut, we are appalled.

Our district has many qualified people leading it. We have a knowledgeable board, a well-paid administration, principals and staff that are good resources for planning. It doesn’t matter where the money comes from to pay for these consultants, it is still taxpayer money. We don’t mind paying our taxes for teachers and supplies, but we have had enough studies and planning sessions at great expense.

We need to use the people hired by the district. It seems that everyone is afraid to make a decision. Threats are made to close schools if a referendum doesn’t pass and when it doesn’t, no school is closed. We need our hired district people to make decisions and stick to them. It is impossible to please all of the people on any one issue.

L&N Hammer
Golden Valley

We are appalled, too. Read the article on the $63,100 facilities study here.  Now that more of our tax dollars will pour in, expect a lot more wasteful spending by incompent administrators. Thanks to this vigilant couple who know of what they speak, and for their teaching service.

MN Sun-Post: The 281 Referendum Cheerleaders

November 1, 2008

If you haven’t seen the latest issue of the MN Sun-Post, you will have saved yourself the most biased edition ever for passing the referendum, and oddest placement of the Robbinsdale Schools’ declining enrollment and Stam Mack’s departure stories.

I wasn’t the only one who noticed two important stories buried in the middle of the paper. FreedomDogs highlights the story and another “adults behaving badly” quote from our departing Superintendent:

In the October 30 issue of our local Sun-Post a story about a Metro Transit re-route and a inconsequential story about a Section 1 Crystal City Council candidate were the Page One stories.

On pages 12 and 13 there were two stories a stinky cynic might view as slightly misplaced, given the tenor of the upcoming referendum.  On page 12, the local paper did a thorough analysis of District 281’s declining enrollment – with no mention, whatsoever, of the irony of a steadily declining enrollment needing more and more money.  On page 13, the very consequential story of Stan Mack’s resignation as Superintendent was covered with some juicy quotes in the middle. (more…)

281’s fuzzy math

October 27, 2008

Speed Gibson digs into a fuzzy math claim on RSD’s claim, “The 67 Percent Solution:”

You may remember some legislative proposals to require that at least, say, 65 percent of K-12 spending go “directly” to the “classroom” – whatever that means. As I recall, these never got beyond the guidelines stage, probably because everyone realized how difficult this would be to calculate, let alone enforce.

Take for example the Robbinsdale School District’s claim that 67 cents of every tax dollar goes for instruction, specifically “teachers teaching our children and the books and other supplies needed to educate our students.” This is from a recent mailing from the District. Is this really true? Let’s try to find out.

First, let’s look at the tax dollar. Per the chart on page 37 of the 2008-2009 budget which supplies most of the figures below, 90 percent of the revenue comes from state, property, and federal taxes, in that order. You could argue that the other 10 percent is largely for meals and non-academics like sports, but I’ll use the worst case value of 90 percent below.

Now, how much are we spending? The total budget is $ 187 million, from which I’ll subtract meals and Community Education (including ECFE) to get a net $ 173 million a year. Applying the 90 percent figure above says that $ 155 million tax dollars are being spent this year. The flyer says that 67 percent of that is for instruction, which is $ 104 million. Dividing that by the enrollment of approximately 12,300 gives us $ 8,462 from taxes per student.

Going back to the flyer, the lowest class size shown in 25.4, for fifth grade if both Referendum questions pass. That works out to about $ 215 thousand dollars per class. One teacher with benefits costs about $67,000, but since the average teacher only teaches during 4 of the 6 hours, I’ll flex that up to an even $100,000. Subtracting another $ 5,000 for books and supplies leaves another $ 110,000 in taxes allegedly being spent on “instruction.” Where, pray tell?

Now I’m sure the District can show us how they came up with the 67 cents of every tax dollar figure but given the language they attached in the flyer, it has to be rather contrived. I requote the flyer’s definition of Instruction: “Teachers teaching our children and the books and other supplies needed to educate our students.”

The flyer does cite the preliminary District Audit Report as its source. I read the previous year’s Audit Report and Management Letter which shows Instruction as 56.6 percent of 2006-2007 expenditures, 55.6 percent for 2005-2006. I therefore infer that the 2007-2008 percent is almost certainly under 60 percent. Their definition of Instruction appears more broad, possibly including some Community Education I believe, yet their percentage is significantly less than claimed on the flyer. Why, pray tell?

I offer this to again say that District communications need significant improvement, as the Strategic Planning process has identified as Priority 4.

Where then does the money go, if not for “teachers teaching our children and the books and other supplies needed to educate our students?”  I’d guess that it’s not where it should be going, and that 281 administration will not answer (because they know it won’t support their fuzzy claims).

Questions to 281 Administration

October 23, 2008

281 CARE asks some very good questions in this Sun Post letter:

During a work session July 14, ISD 281 administration and the School Board were presented by the district’s director of finance a “Referendum Analysis,” with a five-year projection of the general operating fund balance.

This document showed our district will be required to make further cost reductions or ask us for more money between three and five years from now. Taxpayers should be asking some questions.

If the 2008 referendum/levy is only going to only last three to five years, why is the district asking for a seven-year term?

Is the district trying to use smoke and mirrors to get more money that is stated to last for seven years, knowing that the district will be back in two to four years?

The current referendum has three years left. Why didn’t the district ask for additional money for three more years and re-evaluate in two years when projecting that they need additional money?

Robbinsdale Area Schools provided their employees with an 11 percent increase over the last four years (2005-06 to 2008-09). This is approximately the same increase they received from the state of Minnesota in revenue. A good, fiscally responsible entity would know that it has other costs that will be increasing and not pay off all its revenue increase to its employees and still stay in business.

Can you trust this administration and school board? I say they have not shown a reason to trust them.

Vote no on Nov. 4.

Ron Stoffel

Letter: Send a “no” message

October 23, 2008

To the Editor at MN Sun Post:

Q: Why does District 281 keep coming back, year after year, begging for more money?

A: Because they can.

Hypothesis: Whatever sum of money public education is given, they will exhaust it. According to the legislative auditor, Minnesotans spend $10,308 per student – that’s a quarter million dollars per class of 25! We spend 26 percent more, in constant dollars, than we did a decade ago. If there is a crisis, it’s not a funding crisis as much as a spending crisis.

Those of us who oppose this referendum are not conspiring to make kids illiterate. What we are fighting is a large, bloated, inefficient government monopoly that has, over time, become paralyzed by its own titanic bulk and self-inflicted, agenda-driven insanity.

For that reason, I would ask anyone who is unsure about the referendum to answer a simple question: Does it fix what’s truly broken?

Many parents would take half of what is spent in government schools in the form of a tax credit or voucher – if we had the choice. We don’t. The choice we are gratuitously offered is Public School A or Public School B. That is the beginning, middle and end of their debate on school choice.

By voting “no” you’re not punishing kids. Rather, you’re sending a clear message to the local politicians who are trying their hardest to tune us out.

Jerry L

Letter to the Editor: Pay a Visit to Forest

October 15, 2008

From the October 15 Sun-Post:

To The Editor:

I recently received two separate mailings from the Robbinsdale School District regarding the tax levy referendum on Nov. 4.

They did not contain any information regarding the term of the levy, or the total amount of money the district hoped to realize.

After a number of phone calls, I learned that the term of the levy was seven years and would result in an annual tax increase of $9.4 million if both questions on the ballot were approved. This is an additional tax of $222 per year on a home valued at $245,000.

I would never vote for a seven-year tax levy. The school board or administration cannot predict with any accuracy what the future student enrollment or the government action on school funding will be.

One of the publications I received stated that approval of the levy would allow rehiring up to 40 teachers. I am not sure what that would accomplish because the student test scores were no better before they were terminated than they are now.

I suggest that instead of asking the taxpayers for more money, they visit Forest Elementary and find out how they consistently meet the Adequate Yearly Progress standards under the federal No Child Left Behind Act with the funds they have available.

Duane P.
New Hope

RSD 281: We’re excellent taxpayer dollar stewards, because we say so.

October 8, 2008

Speed Gibson asks where are the gatekeepers at Robbinsdale School District’s new website, as they proclaim themselves an “excellent steward of taxpayer dollars.”

Who’s in charge? Who’s watching and coordinating the content? Who’s doing the proofreading and the fact checking? I point to a page titled “The District is an excellent steward of taxpayer dollars” in regard to the November 2008 Operating Levy Referendum.

Are they wrong? Is the district not an excellent steward of our tax money? I don’t know and neither does the District. I am not aware of any objective basis for making this statement, nor is any given on the web page in question. On many other pages, the phrase “We’re listening!” refers to the recent Strategic Planning process. One major outcome of that study was that more transparency and scrutiny of District spending are needed, which led to the creation of the Financial Advisory Commission in August. They have met twice, but have issued no such opinions yet.

I’m not saying that the District cannot take pride in handling tax dollars responsibly. The mechanics are sound, with the Finance Director having been recognized several times for his expertise. The Board and Administration have worked many hours developing budget cuts, before and after the Strategic Planning process, taking great care throughout. But say it another way. Simply proclaiming yourself as “excellent” is too easily perceived as arrogance.

As Dr. Frank Luntz says, it’s not what you say, it’s what people hear.

Note: I checked out the Referendum 2008 page, and clicked on this link: We’re Listening – Letter to the Community

Here’s what appeared:

They should re-word that link to read, “We’re listening, because we say so.”

Yes 281 Calls On Higher Power to Help Raise Your Taxes

September 20, 2008

That was my first reaction when finding out the venue for their rally September 20 reported by the Sun-Post:

A community group supporting more funding for Robbinsdale Area Schools District 281 through an increase in property taxes will host a rally at 10 a.m. on Saturday, Sept. 20, at Holy Nativity Lutheran Church, 3900 Winnetka Ave. N., New Hope.

Checking my Bible, I recall that Jesus sat and ate with Levi (a tax collector). He came to seek and save the lost, and even chose a tax collector (Matthew) as a disciple (note that Matthew gave up his tax collecting gig to pursue a much higher calling). I’d love to know why Yes 281 chose that venue for a rally to raise our taxes.

The next thing you might find is an offering plate going around at the next School Board meeting.

Educrats Never Sleep or, Get Ready For Referendum Round 2

August 13, 2008

A 281 CARE member writes at FreedomDogs (emphasis mine):

In May of 2006, as a prelude to a school bond referendum, District 281 hired Springsted, Inc., a public relations firm and paid them $36,620 to provide consulting, marketing, public relations and market analysis services to the District.

The referendum they helped construct was defeated and one can, in hindsight, say that the District threw the money down a rat hole – money, a radical might argue, that could have been used to feed a starving child!

They’re doing it again. Springsted has convinced the District that the rat hole needs to be replenished. They have hired Springsted again to do market analysis for a pondered referendum vote during the general elections this fall.

As a member of 281 CARE I can tell you that nothing close to $36,620 was spent by the opposition to defeat the last referendum. And, here’s the critical difference: The money spent by 281 CARE was private and VOLUNTARY. The funds used by the District to pay Springsted is, and was, public money. It comes from the District budget. I have studied their analyses and can see that they are toying with different ways to word their proposals so that they evoke the most public sympathy. Springsted has conducted extensive surveys and have concluded that the District 281 tree is ripe for referenda. (In reviewing their surveys it occurs to me that the way they worded their questions could have ONLY evoked sympathetic responses for the District – which is a kind way of saying that firms like Springsted know how to milk money from clueless educrats).

Now, this is not to say that the District shouldn’t hire a PR firm. However, the dishonesty of using public money to petition voters for more public money ought to discourage anyone who sees the growth of the public sector as counter-intuitive to our larger American destiny.

Let the public be forwarned. The full-court press is coming. They’ll be in your face again this fall. They will pull out all the stops, again, to wear the public down with the illusion that what they’re doing is ‘for the children.’ They won’t mention the words ‘school choice’ in any of their ads. They will not dwell on declining enrollment or empty schools or importing students from other districts in order to feed their huge bureaucratic beast. They will not mention the words ‘voucher’ or ‘tax credits.’ They will, instead talk of ‘investments’ and ‘sacrifices’ or improving the ‘quality of life’ or ‘increasing property values.’

I think they’re making a critical, crucial tactical error, however, in having the referendum voted on in a presidential election. The reason Districts always sponsor their referenda votes in off-years is so the general public can be minimized in their process. That way they can mobilize their strong union influence to make certain they pack the polls with those who have a vested interest in growing the education empire.

Well, like they said last week: Let the games begin!