Friday, May 29, 2009

Facing Reality vs Honoring Promises

First, thanks to Christine for sending me these links. To others, please send me informative/interesting links when you find them and I will happily post and/or discuss them. Summer is here and I don't have as much free time available for this particular hobby. I really appreciate the help. (

RAS, Minnesota and facing reality
I will be going into detail regarding this one during the next few weeks, however here is a summary.
  • Board members dislike making students, parents and citizens unhappy. It is the best and worst part about truly caring and sensitive people. Not to mention it being an election year for board members. (ie live up to promises)
  • The referendum was adequate assuming MN funding kept pace with inflation, which it will not. (ie 0% increase for 2 yrs) Impact at 3%/yr is ~$3.7 mil/yr of lost funding...
  • So here is the choice, keep the promises even though the circumstances have changed drastically, or be fiscally responsible, cut early and delay the plea for another referendum?
  • I thank heavens the referendum passed, their are people who actually want to be board members and that the school closures were acted on.
  • More later
RAS and the new school
I truly hope RAS can secure funding for the combined elementary school. It would greatly help those communities to draw more students/families. Also, Northport and Lakeview have probably outlived their useful lives. (ie too old and too small)

Now for my venting... The "MEGA ELEMENTARY" was termed "TERRIBLE" during the facility discussions... Yet they will build one.... RAS alienated a good portion of the SW RAS families by closing 2 solid elementary schools, which is motivating more families to "escape". (equity or separation...)

I still think the RSI, Northport and Lakeview at RALC, and Sandberg as the second middle school made a lot more sense. I truly hope the NE communities appreciate the risk the district is taking to support them, and come forth with whatever land and funding is needed to make this work. If not, it is likely the district is going to face big financial trouble soon. (ie fewer students, less funding, decimated referendum support, etc)

Thoughts welcome as always ...

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

To Offer or Not to Offer...

In a world where you could volunteer or "help your neighbor" 24 hours a day 7 days a week, how do you decide when to offer your assistance ? Or more challenging, when to turn down volunteering for a worthy cause ?

This topic arose because while at my parent's lake home this weekend, I very happily kept eating and just watched a neighbor struggle to put in his boat lift. At which point, one of my family members told me that "not offering" to help was not very giving.... (ie not to give2attain'ish) I still didn't help and felt no guilt... Well here are some of my simple questions regarding such:
  • Is the person enjoying the challenge and making acceptable progress?
  • Do I have some special knowledge or tool that could help them?
  • How full is my plate? Is there something less important that can be removed?
In this case, I have watched the gentleman move the lift into position for several years, he seems to enjoy the challenge and is very capable. And though my plate was full of food, the personal balance challenge was that my schedule was "full" of our own Summer lake front prep activities. (ie lifts, boat, jet ski, yard maintenance, etc.) I was on my break...

So with this in mind, I made a conscious decision to just watch. I did not make up stories regarding whether he deserved my help or not, or if I was was right or wrong. I just accepted that I had chosen not to act. (ie no guilt, no anger, no frustration, etc...) So:
  • Was I just rationalizing or living by my principles?
  • When does helping the neighbor become "meddling"?
  • Do good fences make good neighbors?
  • How hard is it to accept choosing to not help, without dehumanizing, blaming, etc the other party for our choice?

By the way, this is another topic covered in the "Anatomy of Peace" and "Leadership and Self Deception". Sometimes we choose to not give and that is okay, we do not need to make up stories to justify our behavior. We can just accept that their is only so much of us to go around. And try to help out where we can... Thoughts?

Friday, May 22, 2009

RAS "Local" Funding

Well, with the state shirking its duty regarding school funding. (ie 0% increase for the next 2 years) Thank heavens we passed the referendum last year !!!

Since the local funding is even more critical now, here is a summary of how the process works:
  • We voters approved the board/admin to levy up to $1360.35 per residential pupil unit w/ inflation adjustment.(question 1) And $119.46 per residential pupil unit.(question 2) The state used to limit district levies to 16% of the per student state funding, however they increased this to 26% a couple of years ago. I assume this is because politicians knew they were not growing state funding adequately.
  • In the fall, the board/admin estimate the number of students that will "live/reside" within the district boundaries during the next year.
  • The board/admin will then decide what to levy per student. (ie typically the max allowed by the citizen's mandate)
  • The district converts this into a total dollar value and notifies the taxing authorities.
  • The taxing authorities then apply that total across all of the properties within the district. They will collect that total, whether valuations are up or down. I assume they either use a complex set of factors or some pixie dust....
  • We pay our taxes and the money is transferred to the district.
  • Now here is the tricky part, the district only gets to keep the money based on the actual number of students that "lived/resided" within the district boundaries . So the taxing authorities once again use complicated formulas or pixie dust to adjust collections and payments as necessary.

In summary, unless you get kids to "live/reside" out of the district boundaries... You will pay ~$1480 per student, whether they go to RAS or not. And this will not vary with property values.

The impact of open enrollment... State dollars go with the kids... Local dollars stay in the district... However, I am a little fuzzy on how charters work and will need to take that on at another time.

Though I tried to do this justice, please contact with any new questions. Or leave a comment and I'll get you the answers...

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Early Childhood Education

Questioning the value of early childhood education programs makes little sense to me. (Besides: It could earn me a night or more on the couch....) I am a huge fan of the "I learned everything important before kindergarten mantra!!!"

Please checkout this post and add comments there or here. Thanks

Speed : Head Start

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

School Funding Forum TONIGHT !!!

Forum Info

First Things First

While on the topic on Priorities and Urgency, here is the classic view of how to live a happier and less stressed life... It is a key learning point from Stephen Covey's "The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People" and "First Things First" books. They are definitely worth reading !!!

The goal is to focus your efforts on quadrant 2 (proactive: important and not urgent) in order to reduce the amount of time you need to spend in quadrant 1 (fire fighting: important & urgent). You get this time by becoming more self disciplined and spending less time in quadrants 3 & 4. (not important)

This sounds straight forward and simple in theory, however it is HARD in reality... This is why Covey wrote a whole book on it... The biggest challenges from my perspective are:
  • determining what is IMPORTANT vs unimportant
  • letting some of the "Import Urgent" go (maybe they aren't so important)
  • keeping focused and active (not procrastinating and avoiding)
By the way this works for companies as well as individuals !!! So what is important and how are you going to proactively pursue it, while side stepping the snares that keep you unhappy and stressed out in quadrants 1, 3 & 4?

Is this concept working for others?

Tool Link

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Howitzers and Cruise Missiles

Before you start to think I have changed my focus significantly.... This is just a catchy title / analogy I have been thinking about for a few months. Also, it is a continuation of yesterdays post...

Now, things are tight all over. Companies have fewer employees that are expected to attain similar results. ( due to layoffs, work force reductions, early retirement offerings, etc) Companies have fewer dollars to invest due to tighter margins, fewer sales, etc. Competition is absolutely intense as everyone works to survive. So should we be doing more "planning/executing" or "just doing it" ?

Here's where the first analogy comes in. The cruise missile is an incredible weapon that can be launched haphazardly into the air... You really do not need to know exactly where you want to hit until it gets close to the destination. This is because you can always significantly adjust its objective. The cruise missile is the ideal tool for significantly changing markets, "just do it" managers, etc.

Now compare this to a howitzer that fires smart projectiles. With this weapon, you really need to know where your target is located and need to take some time to get it dialed in. This is because you can only make minimal adjustments once the projectile is in the air. The big question is why does the military use the inflexible howitzer???

Well if money, resources, people, etc were unconstrained, the cruise missile would be the ideal weapon !!! Unfortunately this is not the case with many companies at this time, and often should not be the case for most companies. (ie invest wisely & make money for shareholders) Therefore it is my opinion that companies really need to dial in their low cost, low variability and incredibly effective howitzer.

Now I know maintaining the required discipline is hard when people think the sky is falling !!!! Yet what is the alternative, launch a bunch of cruise missiles and hope they have enough fuel to see them to their destination ??? Especially when you can't afford cruise missiles in the first place...

Another analogy: The river level gets lower and there are more sandbars and rocks. Is this the time to push ahead full speed? Or a time to make sure your plan's are SMART and can be executed effectively.

Final analogy: You are going to war against a foe that has more soldiers and weapons... Do you need to have better battle plans? Or do you just send in the soldiers and assume they will survive because you sent them into a desperate situation ? (ie they are motivated)

Thoughts ?

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Manager or Manager

This post is general and for my benefit, so bear with me and see if you can help me understand people better.

After years of managing projects and teams to successful results, I have come to strongly believe that the early hard work and facing reality is what guarantees results. By this, I mean:
  • the project expectations are SMART and agreed to by cross functional stakeholders
  • the project is part of a larger plan, people understand the implications of this and the relation to sister projects
  • the necessary resources and people are available
  • roles, responsibilities and ground rules are in place
However, repeatedly I meet Managers that believe in BOLD goals or wishful thinking. These managers are often heard saying:
  • We have to act now (ie no time for planning, ensuring feasibility, etc)
  • I think we can get more out of the employees (ie employees are slacking and the Supervisors have not addressed the problem.)
  • We have to think outside of the box. (ie work smarter not harder...)
  • "Scotty, we don't have 1 hr !!! You have 5 minutes to bring the warp engines back online !!!"
  • Other
Now I am not recommending "paralysis by analysis", however I recommending that Managers be accountable to their employees, customers and shareholders by creating and launching well planned initiatives and projects, or at least listening intently when the teams come back with concerns or questions. (ie trust your employees)

Now charters, planning and resource management is really hard work, not too flashy, requires some analytical capability, etc. However, without it we doom our:
  • employees to higher stress levels and frustration
  • customers to disappointment when we fail to deliver in some way
  • managers to extra work as they try to manage all the failing projects
  • shareholders to lower profits as projects fail and resources are squandered
I do understand:
  • the need for BOLD long term goals that are backed up by a portfolio of shorter SMART projects (ie help employees get out of that box and see the dream)
  • Managers are short on time and feel the need to ACT, and many do not have a talent for analytical/planning work
  • Employees need to feel some sense of urgency in order to perform at their best and to challenge their own beliefs
However, the way many of us choose to work will give Scott Adams and Dilbert ( many more years of excellent content.

So, any "Just Do It" managers out there that want to help me understand your perspective?

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Joy, Heroes and Leverage

I have tried unsuccessfully to promote readers to leave comments in several ways, including Joy of Blog, Super Hero, and now Leverage. My stats say that the site had 118 unique readers during the past month....

From my view: If you want your opinions and ideas considered by RAS area citizens. Taking 5 minutes to comment here returns 118 listeners that are interested in similar issues. This is equivalent to speaking up at approximately 6 of the typical RAS meetings I attend !!! Now that is leveraging your efforts to attain more gains/exposure...

Thanks to the many who have helped the dialog happen by leaving comments.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

School Funding Forum and Notes

Remember to mark your calendar and make time to attend the School funding forum.

"Education Funding 101"
Tuesday, May 19
6:00 to 7:30pm
Golden Valley Library
830 Winnetka Avenue North

I think it would be an excellent use of your time. Especially if you think your taxes are too high, and you think the money is being poorly used by your public school district. Besides, bring your questions and challenge the experts....

Remember my simplified and totally unverified Student cost accounting:
  • Avg cost per student: ~$11,000/yr
  • Avg cost per "normal/typical" student: ~$6,000/yr (little variation)
  • Avg cost per "at risk/challenged" student: ~$12,000/yr (moderate variation)
  • Avg cost per "special needs" student: ~$25,000+/yr (high variation)
Why does relative cost matter:
  • Privates and charters often have fewer of the higher cost students... Watch out so you do not compare apples and oranges.
  • Public school funding should probably be increased so that the "normal/typical" student funding is closer to private schools. (ie ~ $8,000 to $10,000/yr)
  • The public schools should be able to take advantage of some benefits of size/scale... If the state's schools worked together... Which they do not do very well at all... Many folks seem to want "their/special" local school with all its inefficiencies...
  • Bringing all students into the "mainstream" of public education is really expensive. Do you have a better idea?

My biggest problem with raising school funding is it seems to me that many schools have no clear boundaries / priorities / goals / metrics. (priorities, fallout) The reasons why this is problematic:

  • There are an unlimited number of techniques, programs, levels of training, etc that can be requested or offered. (ie wants)
  • How do you stop program proliferation as the budget is raised, if you do not have clear stated boundaries / priorities / goals / metrics?
  • I am pretty sure we could quadruple public school funding and the educators, parents, politicians, etc would find a way to spend it. It is human nature to spend what is available on that "good" program.

As always, thoughts and corrections are encouraged !!!

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

The Greatest Pyramid

I explained a number of concepts from "The Anatomy of Peace", however I just noted a critical one I missed. Do you ever wonder why people / kids don't listen to your:

  • guidance
  • criticism
  • orders
  • wisdom
  • other....
I mean I am sure "you" can see the wisdom of your comments, complaints, points, etc... And you "know" you are right. Or maybe you feel you are older and therefore must be respected and listened to... Why can't they understand? What is wrong with them?

Well, the following Pyramid and "How to Win Friends and Influence People" would infer that:

  • You have not spent enough time building credibility, mutual respect, understanding and trust...
  • You have spent too much time at the top of the pyramid (correcting, lecturing, fixing, etc), and far to little in the base (building, listening, learning, etc).
  • Therefore, You have little or no capacity to influence. (ie other than positional or financial authority...)
By the way, this is ideally suited to parents that want to influence their kids behaviors and beliefs, since authority and fear don't go too far once the little darlings are out of our site.


Monday, May 11, 2009

The Precious Stone

Well as discussed previously, I am a big fan of the 10% rule. Pretty key to the Christian teachings, though I am not terribly religious. I believe in giving because it is the right thing to do and it makes me happy when I help others.

In our family giving takes the form of volunteer labor hours, donation of property and donation of cash. This is distributed between my Lutheran church, United Way, Robbinsdale Area Schools/ Students, PRISM and all those other miscellaneous fund raisers. So though my church will never see 10% of my income, I thought the following "Tithe Sunday" story they sent out was worth posting:

"A monk in his travels once found a precious stone and kept it. One day he met a traveler, and when the monk opened his bag to share his provisions with him, the traveler saw the stone and asked the monk to give it to him.The monk did so readily.

The traveler departed, overjoyed with the unexpected gift of the precious stone that was enough to give him wealth and security for the rest of his life. However, a few days later he came back in search of the monk, found him, gave him back the stone, and entreated him, "Now give me something much more precious than the stone, valuable as it is. Give me the wisdom that enabled you to give it to me."

So what do you think? What keeps you from tithing? Some typical excuses I hear are:
  • I give through the government provided social services. (ie high taxes)
  • I don't make enough money as it is.
  • I don't have enough time to volunteer.
  • Those people are just lazy and don't deserve my money / effort.
  • Other ???

Any others you plan to use at those pearly gates?

Thursday, May 7, 2009

The Tale of 2 Houses

This is for the enjoyment of my conservative friends and family. Enjoy and have an excellent day !!! (by the way, ironic humor of it was not wasted on me...)

Remember Tolstoy's quote: "Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing themselves."

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Melting Pots vs Ala Carte

Interesting themes I heard last night from some of the participants went something like this:
  • Teaching standard curriculum that prepares students to pass a standard test is bad. Their belief seemed to be that preparing students to meet the accepted common expectations prevented the teachers from holding the kids to high standards of performance.
  • Unique programs should be encouraged and provided to meet the unique needs of each child. This could be based on their culture, capability, family needs, etc. One individual even mentioned that the 3 schools should have been left open so that space would have been available for these unique programs.
  • RAS teaches too much to the middle, and does not focus enough on both ends of student capability, needs, etc. They ought to focus on the ends and the middles will be okay. (something to this effect...)
In the past, citizens melted into the American culture slowly. Many kept their own communities, schools, churches, etc. The reality is though that they did melt to some extent and that flavored our very unique American culture.

My concerns regarding these themes:
  • "Special", "unique", "tailored", "custom", "culturally friendly", etc are all synonymous with "more money". This is because more programs mean more overhead, more training, less efficiencies of scale, more quality variation, etc. They are great if you can afford them, however Priority 1 through 3 must be met first. (and we are not)
  • The district serves too many students from too many unique cultures, family situations, religions, etc to do this effectively. If it is important to the family, let them go to a charter school that meets their unique interests. (ie charters serve niches well)
  • The students will graduate and need to fit into the American educational and business culture. Why would we delay helping the kids adjust to this ? They are much more flexible when they are younger.
  • The students will graduate and need to pass standard tests, interviews, etc. Better to get used to this when they are younger, rather than when they can not get that job or pass that school entrance exam...
So my view:
Be sensitive to where the kids are starting out, however mainstream/melt and adjust their perspective / expectations as soon as possible. They will thank you later when they are ready and well prepared to pursue their "American dreams" in America.

They can honor and keep their culture outside of the public schools, by maintaining their ties to their chuches, communities, customs, etc. Just as most of us do. (ie lefse and lutefisk anyone...)

Thoughts? And if you made one of the comments, please correct my paraphrase if necessary.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Look: No Horns, Tails or Forks

Well, I went to the Community Solutions MN meeting and was quite pleased. Here are some thoughts:
  • I felt safer since there were no attendees with horns, tails or devil's forks... Just people who want their communities, schools and children to succeed.
  • I was pleasantly surprised that Dr Sicoli sat in, listened and made a few general comments regarding education policy in Minnesota.
  • I was disappointed as usual by the low attendance / citizen engagement. 70,000+ adult citizens in the community and ~15 were present. Hopefully it will grow.
  • I think it will be really hard for the diverse group to develop a common educational concept / platform, however the dialogue will definitely be beneficial to all who attend. You may find this surprising, however I think the majority were much more "fine arts good / every child is unique/ std tests bad" than I am. (ie oh no... maybe I am a "Conservative")

Overall, it was an enjoyable learning experience.

Improving RAS Communities

My perception is that many of the communities served by RAS are at a turning point:

  • Citizens can either go about their lives and potentially watch their neighborhoods decline.
  • Citizens can sit in their arm chairs Criticizing, Complaining, Comparing, Competing and Contending. (5 Relationship Cancers)
  • Citizens can forsake their neighborhoods and run to an outer ring suburb... (ie leaving the less fortunate to fend for themselves)
  • Or Citizens can get off their butts, get involved and help their neighborhoods thrive again.
It looks like there is a new group that is looking for volunteers that are willing to stay and fight for their neighborhoods. I am not sure of their make up, history or agenda, however I am certain that their stated goal is worthy. So please consider burying any axes you may be carrying and give them a listen.... You may be surprised that your goals are almost the same.... Only the words and methods are different...

And as I always preach: What makes you so certain that "YOU KNOW IT ALL"??? To grow we need to question what we believe, where did that belief come and does it really make sense ?? Or in Tolstoy's more politically correct words: "Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing themselves." (by the way, I am smiling as I write this...)

Besides the questionnaire seems pretty fair: RAS Comments

Monday, May 4, 2009

What is an Acceptable Fallout Rate ?

Just a note: Assuming it is still on, remember the Citizen mtg is tomorrow night... (Details) I haven't seen it advertised anywhere since that note on Speed's blog.

Now, I see a problem with the priorities I proposed. (Details) Priority 1 is that:
All students graduate with the core knowledge necessary to pursue further education or begin employment at a typical American institution/company. (ie English reading, English writing, math, science, history, social studies, ~2 yrs foreign language, etc) (ie basic values, work ethic, citizenship, personal health, personal finance, etc)

The reality is that this is probably impossible. Just like when we take raw material and do work to form it into finished goods, there is almost always a "fallout rate". This refers to the parts that simply do not meet the quality expectations at the end of the production process. This flawed product is then scrapped, reworked or possibly sold at an outlet store...

In production, "fallout" can be caused by to much variation in the material, the wrong material, poor or inconsistent tools, poor processes, failure to follow processes, etc. In summary, to reduce fallout your processes and tooling need to be robust across the variation of material you expect to receive. And people need to follow the standard work / recipe.

With this in mind and given the wide variation in kids, homes, backgrounds, etc:

What is an acceptable "Fallout Rate" for the public school system?

Remember that:
  • These are children just like your own, just born into less fortunate circumstances. Stop NOW and envision your child or grandchild as "fallout". What would you do to prevent it??? What would you do to prevent other equally inocent children from falling into that hole???
  • The children can't be scrapped, melted down and recycled, so society carries the burden of our failure to ensure they succeed. (ie prisons, welfare, poverty, social unrest, etc)
  • Reworking the kids is even more expensive and unlikely to succeed. (ie bad habits are hard to undo)
  • Instead of helping us win relative to the foreign competition, they serve as an anchor in the boat.
I don't think writing blank checks is the correct answer. Yet I am certain the answer lies in raising the funding, cutting the fluff, prioritizing and having all citizen's getting actively involved in fixing this American embarrassment. (ie fallout rate that is too high)

The alternative is to look out for us and our own, and say that it is "their problem". Then we can all go down together as the growing anchor sinks the boat.

Thoughts ?

Friday, May 1, 2009

The Eulogy and Self Awareness

Recently I attended the funeral for my Great Uncle. (ironically he was a lifetime Robbinsdale area resident) Now I did not see him that often, however every time I did see or hear about him I perceived happiness, wisdom and fulfillment. Quite simply: Al had figured out what was important in life and cherished it.

During the service the family played a reflective video that helped people remember the wonderful man. There was one particular slide that really stuck out at me. It listed key words that described Al's beliefs and behaviors. The words were important, however it resonated with me because it aligned with a self awareness and improvement technique that I fully support. It is written about in several books, yet I'll try to describe it because I could not find a good link.

Eulogy and Self Awareness
  • Imagine that you are attending your own funeral
  • Imagine that you are listening to "important" people that matter to you speaking of their thoughts and remembrances about you. These can include your spouse, children, friends, employer, community members, etc.
  • Imagine and write down what you would like to hear them say. (key words describing your beliefs and actions)
  • Now comes the hard part: Evaluate seriously how your current beliefs, behaviors and actions are aligned to the key words you want to hear. (ie identify gaps)
  • If you are brave and serious enough, talk to these people and ask how they feel/think you are doing... Remember: DO NOT DO THIS UNLESS YOU ARE WILLING TO REALLY ACCEPT THEIR OPINION AS REALITY !!! You will gain only unhappiness and distrust if you ask them to open up and trust, just to have you tell them that they are SO WRONG or SO STUPID !!! The only way you change their perception is by changing your behaviors and maintaining them for a long time. Even then you may not undo past damage that your behaviors inflicted...
  • Finally, keep those key words in front of you daily and strive to live by them. Best start small by picking a few key changes and gaining confidence, instead trying to be a "new person" and failing... You can always add more later... And if you screw up, don't give up. Just try again. This will be hard at first because old beliefs, behaviors, habits, etc are hard to break. However, over time these new beliefs and behaviors will yield a happier life and new life long habits.
Please forward this link if you found the concept interesting. Part of my goal is to help people by spreading these kinds of techniques to as many people as I can. Because I think they can help many live a more fulfilling and happier life.