Friday, February 26, 2010

Healthcare Cost Control 1

Ok, we seem to agree that health care is a big expense in the United States. Beyond that we have not gotten very far. Therefore I will post a few questions and comments during the next week or so. First:
  • Why are so many Americans OBESE and/or out of shape?
  • Why do people still drink excessive amounts of alcohol and/or smoke?
  • Why do people continue to participate in "risky" behaviors?
  • What can be done about it?
  • Should these actions be taken?
After decades of being told that a good diet and regular exercise are key to being healthy and happy, we don't seem to listen or change our behaviors. Some folks want to tax our twinkies, raise our insurance rates, sue fast food restaurants, nudge the farmers/food companies to grow/make healthier foods, etc. Of course the conservative folks see these changes as a violation of their rights and civil liberties. And no one wants "their" favorite junk food to become limited, expensive or unavailable.

By the way, I have linked a BMI calculator below. Remember, if your BMI is over 25 and/or you get winded climbing a few flights of stairs. You are or will be likely contributing to our healthcare cost problem. Using a treadmill, reducing portions sizes and/or cutting back on your processed sugars would be a very good thing for America. Being an Engineer, my simple math formula is:
Weight chg = Calories in - Calories out

And of course we all know that smoking, excessive drinking and being stupid increase America's health care bill. However, this does not seem to stop too many people.

Now if you are angry with me for unintentionally acusing you of being a burden on the American society and all your neighbors. Remember:

  • My BMI is ~26
  • I do minimal exercise and my diet is poor
  • I ride motorcycles, snowmobiles, jet skis, down hill ski, etc
  • And I love my beer and wine (rarely to excess. now a days...)

    Okay... Your turn...
BMI Site
OECD Health Site

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

USA Spending Priorities ?

Well, J and I were recently having a rousing discussion regarding "why" American citizens have to pay for things they do not actively support? Or worse yet, being forced to pay for things they truly oppose... (Speed Something's Happening)

This got me thinking, what am I actually paying for and does it make any sense? A few things I remembered from past conversations:

  • Much of the military spend is actually retirement, health, etc payments. It is an obligation like Social Security.
  • If the USA did not play "Global Policeman", the USA GDP would decline due to increased Global unrest. (ie look what happens when gas prices go up $1/gal...)
  • Most of the Agricultural subsidy goes for food programs, not farmers.
Even with this in mind, it does seem that a relatively small portion goes to Education, which is the second most important factor in ensuring the USA's continuing global dominance in a knowledge based world/economy. The first being our capitalistic society of course... If you disagree, see what being smart in China, Cuba, etc gets you...

Then again, given the variation between these sources... I may need to study this for the rest of the year and reconsider that statement !!! Besides ... is it better to pull Education Excellence by funding the Military, NASA, Research, etc than trying to "push it" by funding academic personnel for no clear reason? (ie Atlas Shrugged)

What are your thoughts regarding our spending priorities? Please discuss any area of personal interest... Be it Military, Healthcare, Education, Welfare, etc.... Any "better links I should add?

By the way, I am not planning on moving or crashing a plane.(WSJ) So it looks like I'll keep paying either way....

US Government Spending
Visual Economics
Nation Master
Congressional Budget Office Outlook PDF
Congressional Budget Office
White House Budget
Forex Budget Explained
Smarter Spend
Census Statistical Abstract

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Enabling Change in RAS

Annie had an excellent point !!!

At some point, even the best blog comment string has to take form in the real world. Otherwise we are just typing to see ourselves type. Therefore I have added links to the RAS Board and Administration contact information sites. Email and phone info is provided on these sites.

Please use these whenever you have questions, concerns or praise regarding RAS. Remember, you are paying all of them and they can not read your mind. Therefore you have the right/responsibility to contact your employees/representatives to help them understand your views and opinions better.

Email or call now !!!!

G2A Book List

Use the "G2A Book List" link to check in once in awhile. Please note I start with Self Awareness, because without this the rest are just academic exercises....

Self Awareness
- Anatomy of Peace (Arbinger)
- Leadership & Self Deception (Arbinger)
- Life's Greatest Lessons (Urban)
- The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People (Covey)
- Strengths Finder 2.0 (Rath)

People and Communication Skills
- Emotional Intelligence (Coleman)
- How to Win Friends & Inluence People (Carnegie)
- Crucial Conversations (Patterson, etal)
- Crucial Confrontations (Patterson, etal)
- Influencer (Patterson, etal)
- Difficult Conversations (Stone, Patton, Heen)
- You Just Don't Understand {Women/Men} (Tannen)

- Whatever It takes, Geoffrey Canada's... (Tough)

Decison Making
- Yes or No, The Guide to Better Decision (Johnson)
- Decision Traps: The Ten Barriers... (Russo, Schoemaker)

Change Management
- Our Iceberg Is Melting (Kotter)
- Who Moved My Cheese (Johnson)
- Who Killed Change? (Blanchard, Britt)

Morale Building at Work
- Fish! (Lundin, Paul, Christensen)
- Fish! Tales (Lundin, Paul, Christensen)
- Gung Ho! (Blanchard, Bowles)

Anxiety and Stress Management
- Transforming Stress (Childre, Rozman)
- How to Stop Worrying and Start Living (Carnegie)

Management and Leadership
- The Servant Leader (Autry)
- Leadership is an Art (DePree)
- The Secret (Blanchard, Miller)
- 1 Min Mgr meets Monkey (Blanchard, Oncken, Burrows)
- The One Minute Manager (Blanchard, Johnson)
- First, Break All The Rules (Buckingham, etal)
- The Deming Management Method (Walton)

Creativity and Customer Focus
- The Power of Impossible Thinking (Wind, etal)
- Raving Fans! (Blanchard, Bowles)

- Atlas Shrugged (Ayn Rand)
- Sophie's World (Gaarder)

Relationships and Kids
- The Wonder of Girls (Gurian)
- Men, Women and Relationships (Gray)
- Men from Mars, Women from Venus (Gray)

Friday, February 19, 2010

The Teacher or the Bus ?

Well, given a good opportunity to correct what I thought was a poor choice last year. The Board and Administration once again chose buses over teachers. If you are puzzled by this statement, please review my posts from a year ago.

Wednesday night they approved increasing the number of kids in each class. 1 student more in Elementary and 2 in Middle and High School. Which means there will be fewer teachers in the district classrooms and more class disruption.

By my simple math and the RAS Adjustment sheet that is linked. It looks like it could have been 0/1/1 or less if the district would get out of the cross district transportation business. And yes, this would mean that RSIS and IB/AP "out of boundary kids" would need to be driven by their parents to "their school of choice".

Also with almost half the buses, wouldn't the bus garage and too much bus traffic issues become mute points. Currently the AHS, CHS, RMS, PMS, ZLE and RSIS buses pass through our neighborhood, how can a cash strapped district think this makes sense?

And yes, there would be a risk that some parents would leave the district. And yes, the poor folks would be most impacted, the few that are in these programs. (based on demographic data)However all of our kids are going to be negatively impacted by the higher ratios.

Please remember this slogan:

"We want money spent on
Teachers and Classrooms,
NOT on Buses and Fuel !!!"

I've never seen a bus teach a child... Thoughts?

RAS Budget Adjustments

RAS 17Feb10 Board Mtg Minutes
RAS Student Teacher Ratio Memo
RAS 2010-11 Budget Page

G2A RAS Transportation 2
G2A RAS Transportation 1
G2A Wheels on the Bus 2
G2A Wheels on the Bus 1

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Monkey Business

Who would ever buy a book called "The One Minute Manager Meets the Monkey"? Well, I guess you know the answer if you know me...

The book is written by one of my favorite common sense authors, Ken Blanchard, along with William Oncken, Jr. and Hal Burrows. And as usual, Ken made a difficult topic easy to read and understandable. (ie lessons in short fiction books) A subtitle on the cover helps you understand why this book is so valuable.

"Don't Take on the Problem If the Problem Isn't Yours.
That Monkey does not Belong to You!"

Now you may have figured out how to say NO to the care and feeding of other people's monkeys and take really good care of your own monkeys, however most people I know do this inconsistently with mixed results. Then they end up with way to many monkeys for their own good. This then leads to:

  • The actual owners are waiting, bored and nagging you
  • The actual owner's skills and self confidence suffer
  • You are stressed out and frustrated by the actual owners
  • All relationships suffer
  • You choose micromanagement, non-delegation, etc
  • You are too busy and don't spend time caring for your monkeys
  • Your choices actually starve the important monkeys
  • People view you as a poor performer

Now I do a pretty good job of monkey management at work, however historically I have done terribly at home. This is because helping my spouse, kids, parents, etc ranks very high on my care meter. Then my being a workaholic that is capable at pretty much everything from sewing to cooking to car repairs to large scale remodeling to whatever, makes me an incredible monkey collector.

Some simple examples:

  • Anything breaks, call Dad
  • Computer behaves funny, call Dad
  • New program is confusing, call Dad
  • Math homework is hard, call Dad
  • Want to build something, call Dad
You get the idea. (and yes, Mom has her own list...) Now I started to slowly start pushing back about 5 years ago when I pushed myself over the edge... Which was a hard adjustment for those that had grown accustomed to handing off monkeys. However after reading this book and gaining a better understanding of what I am robbing these folks of. And with my daughters getting older. I am going to renew my efforts to follow the Monkey Management rules. Wish me and them luck !!!

By the way, one of my favorite quotes deals with the problem of kids, peers, team mates, employees, etc that come up to you often and say. "We have a PROBLEM" Here is the answer:

"We do not have a problem, and we will never again have one. I'm sure there is a problem, but it is not ours, it is either yours or mine. The first item on the agenda is to neaten up the pronouns and find out whose problem this is. If it turns out to be my problem, I hope you will help me with it. If it turns out to be your problem, I will help you with it subject to the following condition: at no time while I'm helping you with your problem will your problem become my problem, because the minute your problem becomes my problem, you will no longer have a problem and I can't help a person who does not have a problem!"


Workstar Monkey
Ed World How I Handled
Ed News Monkey Mgmt
Exe-coach: To DO

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Random RAS Thoughts 2

Since I vented yesterday, I want to remind my readers that I am still a huge fan of the RAS schools, personnel, programs, etc. I just disagree occasionally with miscellaneous things.

My daughters have loved their time in the district schools and are adamant that "we" will not change homes, schools or districts... My wife and I volunteer and donate often in order to do our part to keep the schools strong.

With this in mind, I link to the following reminder posts. How are your school donations in time and/or cash going? We are over half way through, is it time to give some "make up" payments...

G2A Parents Pay for Perks
G2A Precious Stone

Remember, your neighbors are paying as much as you for your child's education and experience. I think us Parents can and should sweeten the pot.... My personal goal is $400/child/year, which is so much less than if they attended a private school. And remember, sports and arts fees are not donations... They are reimbursement for specific extra expenses generated by your child.

Last Thoughts: If you are not a parent and are still appalled at the flat school funding. Please feel free to give your own time and/or money to help the students. Here are some useful links:
RAS Volunteer Page
Seven Dreams Foundation

Friday, February 12, 2010

Random RAS Thoughts

Well if you caught my thoughts on Speed's Live Blogging post, I am frustrated by some of the statements being made by RAS personnel. Here are my favorite pet peeves:

The sense that this financial problem is unexpected.... Let's see:

  • Budgets were going to be flat at best, and we gave all the employees a raise. Not only the steps and lanes raise, but additional healthcare funding and raising the "steps/lanes" in year 2. Do we really think pay grades are going up in most companies right now?
  • Hazel said enrollment was going to drop. Then we closed the schools of the citizens with the means to move. Where is the surprise, they left...
  • The decisions were made with good intent, just stop saying the consequences were "unexpected".
RAS Enrollment Info Jan10
Hazel's Enrollment Projections Dec08 pg 4

Supt Sicoli's comments that the "student's deserve as good of an education as we got". Now I come from a rural school system and graduated in 1984, so please help me understand what I am missing here. Here are my thoughts:

  • My district offered one curriculum and one foreign language in High School.
  • If you were gifted, you may move ahead one level in some subjects.
  • We had band, choir, wrestling, basketball, football, cross country, track and a few other activities.
  • And remember my poor Grandfather that had to "walk uphill to school, both ways.." (hahahaha)
  • With this in mind, when did AP, IB, Spanish Immersion, Orchestra, multiple languages/levels, multiple sports, etc, etc, etc become the threshold.
  • It is good to have them, however I think Supt Sicoli should say we want to have things 3 times better than what we had while growing up...
Most RAS students that stay in the district make 1+ yrs progress per years attendance
  • Thank heavens. If they did not, we would have to do some deep introspection.
  • The reality is many of the kids need 2+ yrs progress per years attendance. How can we make this the goal?

And one of my favorites, implying or saying that "we have a facility plan in place, completed, etc":

  • Luckily I don't hear this much anymore
  • If you don't know where the money is coming from to renovate 2 schools, or when you can consolidate programs, or when you can put a for sale sign on the empty buildings?
  • You do not have a facility plan...

And yes, I am happy that Newsweek selected AHS and CHS for an award because they cater to high achievers. However I am tired of hearing about it at every meeting I attend:

  • I want to hear how the achievement gap has closed significantly, because the majority of students are performing better.
  • Meaning their scores are getting closer to the AP and IB students.

Sorry for being crabby tonight !!! Maybe I'll be more cheerful now that I vented... Any corrections, opposing views or peeves of your own? The floor is yours.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

A Year of Data

In case you are curious what I see regarding my audience. Here is the data and graphs for the past 12 months. Though I am very happy that folks have accessed almost 14,000 pages, I am stumped regarding how to increase visitors and hits....

By the way, I assume the 1435 visitors is significantly overstated. Since I think google is counting computers via cookies or some other means... Which means the readers with multiple computers, or those that keep their computers really clean will be counted multiple times. My best guess is I have ~100 regular readers on blogspot, ~10 more via my facebook account....

Any good cheap marketing thoughts?

Advice welcome as always !!!

Friday, February 5, 2010

District Opinion Survey

First, I whole heartedly support this survey and asking the kids how things are going... Since they are in the school living it, and often the kids steer the parent's opinions.

However, it made me wonder why there are not Parent or Community Member surveys. With web tools available, it should be pretty simple and inexpensive. Of course it would be challenging to get a significant portion of these populations to participate. Though the results would probably be more complete, constructive and thought out.

Now I love my tween/teen age daughters and appreciate their opinions, however asking them about school or teachers given their limited perspective is likely to say as much about their mood at that moment, as the school/teacher. Besides it is "their" school and the only school they have known, and therefore they will likely see it as normal/great.

It will be interesting to see the results... Thoughts?

District Student Opinion Survey

Robbinsdale Area Schools will conduct a student opinion survey with students in grades 4-12 later this month. Surveys will be completed sometime between February 16 and February 26, 2010. Each school will choose a date and time during this two week time frame that works best for their schedule The survey focuses on goals set by the school board and will take about 15 minutes during the school day.

The purpose of the survey is to gain the perspective of students on issues related to their sense of belonging in school and their impressions of teacher expectations, diversity, school safety and fair discipline. The results of the survey will be used to determine the effectiveness of district programs. When results from the survey are reported, individual students will not be identifiable.

We value our students' opinions, and believe this survey is an important step in making certain that the district is meeting the needs of your family. As a parent, you have the right to decline your child's participation in the student opinion survey; however, we hope to receive input from as many students as possible. Please contact your school by February 12, 2010 if you prefer your student not participate in the survey. If you would like to preview the survey, please visit the district web site at or contact your school office.

Thank you for your support of this effort, and all you do to stay informed and involved in your child's education.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

RAS Area's Vanishing Children

I really enjoy the webcast capability that RAS is using. I can get the kids through homework and in bed, then relax and watch a soothing meeting. All the while skipping role call, etc... Kind of like Tivo.

Well there were 3 areas that I found interesting:
  1. The Superindent's report which discussed the reorganization and planned savings.
  2. The graduation requirement policy presentation which discussed recommended changes.
  3. The Mid-yr Enrollment presentation that does an excellent job of clearly describing where the kids within the RAS communities are going to school and how it has changed over time. It is worth watching the video and listening to Dennis Beekman present, and the Board Members discuss the topic. (go to 7. Operations Topic B) He did an excellent job as always.
A good chunk of the required budget cuts is due to declining enrollment. It is critically important for all of us to understand the topic and how to reverse it. (ie without stifling competition...) Why you may ask?
  • Potentially, the number of kids within the district boundaries are declining because families with kids are moving out to a "preferred" school district/community.
  • Potentially, families with kids are hesitant to buy a home within the RAS boundaries. Given the availability of "preferred" school districts/communities.
  • If this is part of the problem, what happens to home values and communities when young families are not moving in?
My opinion is that it will take a mix of RAS schools and Charters to turn this trend around. I mean, wouldn't the Pilgrim Lane Elementary community be more valuable if Beacon was located there. The reality is that though RAS schools are great for someone like me, others just want whatever it is they think the charters offer... If we don't have them in our community, they will look elsewhere.

What do you think "preferred" school district/community means to the folks that are leaving or avoiding our community?

What do you think RAS and ourselves can do to turn this around?

Nov 1 Board Minutes
Nov 1 Board Web Cast
Mid year Enrollment Report & Projections
Enrollment Supplement

For more on Charters and Magnets, checkout the comments at this link.
281 Exposed Golden Opportunity