Tuesday, October 7, 2014

District 281: Vote YES Info Mtg

I have been so busy with the work and the MinnPost topics that I have been neglecting my local duties.

District 281 Referendum Info Page
League of Women Voters Info Mtg: 8Oct14 at ESC at 7 PM
Robbinsdale Vote YES Org
Robbinsdale Vote YES Facebook
SUN Letter 1
SUN Letter 2
SUN Decrease in Levy

In case you are curious given my fiscal conservative leanings, I will be voting YES on both questions.  My logic is pretty simple, I believe in funding our communities at the lowest and most efficient level.  So as a resident of the Robbinsdale school district, I believe it is critical to make sure our schools are well funded by us.

And if you need a selfish reason for voting YES.  If our schools are not Good to Excellent, Good to Excellent families with financial means will leave our community.  Which will leave a void to be filled by others who are less particular, which makes it harder to maintain Good to Excellent schools, which degrades our community, which reduces your property value, which reduces your safety, etc.

So remember to Vote YES on both questions !!!  And if you want to make sure it passes for the good of the children, community or your property values.  START VOLUNTEERING NOW !!!  Only ~4 weeks until the vote.

As always, this a blog.
Anybody out there have a reason for voting NO that they want to raise?
Or kinder and less pragmatic/general reasons for voting YES?

As time permits, I will be digging into the details and discussing further.


Jennifer Griffin-Wiesner said...

So glad to hear it, John!

jerrye92002 said...

Only vote Yes if you believe the money will actually make the schools better and that there are specific and reasonable plans for that; if you believe the levy will "last" for the life of the levy based on (realistic) long-term financial plans; and if you believe that (almost) every dollar they currently have is being wisely spent-- i.e. not huge chunks of waste.

As I recall, one of the questions is a levy renewal, and I almost always vote yes on such questions. Because of the silly way these levies operate under state law, taking away money they are already spending is doubly troublesome. And I understood the second one was new money for "technology"? I'm all for technology, but again I would want to make sure it wasn't just throwing money away in hopes of some wondrous outcome. Get to the specifics and make a REASONABLE assessment. We did that here, and the "asking" was cut by 60% before submitting it to a vote, and then passed.

John said...

"money will actually make the schools better"

Better is an interesting choice of words...

Thoughts anyone on what Better means to you?

John said...

I'll start this with the pragmatic community view.

The school district is such that it attracts and retains responsible, financially stable, community minded, law abiding, charitable, academically focused, arts focused, sports focused, etc families and their children...

To do this the district needs to offer a challenging and diverse range of educational, artistic and sporting activities.

The district needs to have modern, well kept facilities, tools and classrooms. And in this high tech world, the technology needs to be kept current.

The administration, staff and teachers need to be pleasant and very good at their profession. (ie parents and students are satisfied, and the kids are learning)

The district must also be able to maintain a safe environment, without making the children and parents feel like they are in a police state. Classroom discipline must be such that the kids enjoy being there and yet it is controlled and supports learning.

John said...

Now please note that as sad as it is, most "desireable" families who are often affluent enough to locate where they wish as noted above do not move into your school district to help low performing or unlucky students improve their academic knowledge or their lives.

John said...

And though being middle class or more affluent isn't that important in being a good community member, it sure helps when it comes to fundraising, having enough free time to volunteer, etc.

John said...

Where I am going with this is...

Though I am more of a Math, Science, English, Technology, etc kind of nerd, and I really want to raise the test scores of the less fortunate, I appreciate that it takes more to attract and retain the types of families described above.

John said...

So please give that some serious thought as you question Robbinsdale's dedication to the Spanish Immersion magnet, the STEAM magnet, AP, IB, a Wide Range of Courses, Technology, Orchestra, Band, Choir, Sports, etc.

The reality is that they are necessary in our modern society and they do not come for free. So remember to Vote YES.

John said...

This is an oldy but a goody.
G2A Why Pay More

As we discussed back when I created it, it was based on guesstimates. However it helps to explain that the more lucky kids we bring into the district, the more money we have available to help the unlucky and special needs kids via the cross subsidies.

Or... Kids that have extra challenges cost more to teach than kids who do not have as many challenges to overcome.

Anonymous said...

I think money makes schools better. It's the rare teacher who is willing to teach for free.


jerrye92002 said...

"The reality is that they are necessary in our modern society and they do not come for free. So remember to Vote YES."

No. If I thought more money made better schools I would move to Minneapolis. But look at any real estate listing and right near the top, written or unwritten, is the phrase "good schools." Yes, that covers a whole host of things that you describe, but foremost is some notion of academic excellence, derived from a challenging curriculum and "good teachers" (and believe me, we know who they are, we just don't pay them accordingly).

So, if your school wants more money, find out WHERE that money will be spent and whether you believe that will improve academics first, or free up money for additional "enrichment activities," or whether it's just going down some administrative rathole or towards some educational fad. Better yet, take a look at the whole district budget and find all the administrative ratholes and frivolous spending. It's there, but in the better-managed districts it's smaller.

jerrye92002 said...

"I think money makes schools better. It's the rare teacher who is willing to teach for free."-- Hiram

Let's do a little math. Take an average MN school district that spends about $10,000/pupil/year. Take an average class size, as published by the district, of 23 (divide total students by total teachers and you'll get a much smaller number). Consider that the average pay and benefits for a mid-career teacher is some $75k/year (for 9 months work). So, each classroom receives 23*$10K or $230,000, of which the teacher gets $75,000. WHERE did the other $155,000 go?

John said...

I think Minneapolis schools are an excellent example of what can happen if the community does not take care of their schools / community / housing stock.

Parents who have some money and/or really value "great schools" are free to move to a home in another district, open enroll to another district, go to a charter school or go to a private school.

Parents who are short on money and/or don't value "great schools" are often forced/choose to live where they can afford to live.

Now which children are more expensive to teach and care for?

On one hand, we have parent(s) who are just struggling to get by and/or are not interested in or academically capable enough to help their kids academically, behaviorially, etc.

On the other hand, we have parent(s) who have extra money and time, and are interested and capable of helping their schools and children succeed.

I never understand why you want to stereotype kids/families as kids/families. Even I can see that my family and I are blessed, as is the district who has lots of families like us in it. We give time and money to the schools. We have the time, money, interest and capability to guide and mentor our children. We were blessed to have no special needs to address.

Where as many schools are dealing with kids who have little parental support, have special needs, don't eat regularly, don't bathe regularly, etc.

Denying that reality makes no sense.

John said...

You did not look at my spending link... That $155,000 goes to counselors, special ed resources, administartion, security, etc. That is exactly why districts with more unlucky kids are more expensive...

By the way, I do agree that the community should not give their district a blank check. That is why I'll be at the learning session tonight.

jerrye92002 said...

I will agree that some kids (excluding special ed, to make comparisons easier) may cost more to educate than others. The question is, how MUCH more? Since Minneapolis spends twice the average for half the results, while nearby private schools get twice the results for half the money from the same demographic of kids, I conclude that the schools are largely responsible for the results they get and the money they spend (or waste) getting them. The same is true to a lesser degree in every school system.

I'm sorry, but did your "spending link" include access to the full school budget? That's where you find out if there is any justification at all for spending twice as much on overhead as we pay a teacher. Normally, a service business would run something like 65% direct labor, or about $150,000/year for teachers and $80,000/year for everything else. Ask tough questions tonight. If you're lucky, you'll get good answers. If not, you'll get publicly accused of hating children and find that your kids are suddenly having trouble in school.

Anonymous said...

I will agree that some kids (excluding special ed, to make comparisons easier) may cost more to educate than others. The question is, how MUCH more?

A lot more. Schools end up spending a lot of money on the problem kids, problem here defined to include not only kids with behavioral issues, but various other issues as well. The decision not to throw away kids is expensive, but it's the right decision to make.

Private schools have the advantage of public subsidies for those problems kids. Since they can lay those expenses on taxpayers, that results in quite the cost savings for them.


John said...

"nearby private schools get twice the results for half the money from the same demographic of kids"

Put your source where your comment is.

John said...

"I will agree that some kids (excluding special ed, to make comparisons easier) may cost more to educate than others. The question is, how MUCH more?"

First of all... One can not exclude special ed since that is 10+% of the student population in our district...and likely accounts for 30+% of the spend.
RDale Special Ed FAQs

RDale Demographic Presentation

RDale Budget - see page 16

John said...

ELL is 10.0%
Special Ed is 13.3%
FRR Lunch is 50.4%

Rdale Demographics

R-Five said...

I'll agree on #1 (Op. Levy).

But NO on #2. The stated goals are all mush and unmeasurable. No external audit on their IT has been done, which would seem to be the first step in fixing a district that has allowed such a technology gap to develop. And should those responsible for the gap now be assumed capable of fixing it? At any price?

John said...

That is a point. However did you look at the demographic shifts over the past decade?

What are we willing to do to keep our "lucky families" from fleeing our community?

Or do we let the schools fall behind our neighboring districts, and encourage those folks to flee.

Anonymous said...

jerry said,
"So, if your school wants more money, find out WHERE that money will be spent and whether you believe that will improve academics first, or free up money for additional 'enrichment activities,'..."

My questions to you: Which are the essential components of academics and which do you consider 'enrichment activities'?

Let's make a list.

English (Reading and Writing)

Are these all core academic disciplines? Why or why not?


jerrye92002 said...

I think core academics is a pretty well defined list-- math, English, history, science, all of various stripes, of course-- and the "enrichment activities" are the non-core subjects like music and art and drama and PE, followed by "co-curriculars" like sports and choir and on and on. IF we can keep academics afloat and "enrich" the student experience with extra money, it might be worthwhile, but my objection is to all the "stuff" outside of these broad categories, where we should be spending less, but which somehow seems to suck up all the extra funds. It's just a matter of good financial management and, face it, school boards are not only generally unqualified, but temperamentally unsuited for that task.

jerrye92002 said...

"What are we willing to do to keep our "lucky families" from fleeing our community?"

How about this: stop raising their taxes and then throwing the money away on things that do not improve the schools. Good intentions do not make good policy, and results matter. These people are already eager and willing to pay more to get better schools. You can deliver that, or they will find some district that can.

John said...

Do you really believe that good families will move to your community because "the property taxes are low" and the schools focus on reading, riting and rithmetic? Really?

jerrye92002 said...

Not what I said at all. I said that academics must be the first priority, followed by the arts and then the (partly self-funding) co-curriculars. It all comes down to a "good school." The problem is that school boards have no sense about "bang for the buck" and they don't want to tell anyone "no," so they spend dollars foolishly on things that few people care about, at the expense of things that LOTS of people care about. And nobody digs into the budget to find those things.

John said...

Well, the reality is that we could spend all of the district's funding to eliminate the achievement gap... The problem is that most of the families who had the freedom to leave would be long gone, as would be the dollars attached to their children.

Therefore the school board and administration are constantly trying to seek a balance between academic excellence for everyone, and keeping everyone excited to be in the district.

jerrye92002 said...

"Well, the reality is that we could spend all of the district's funding to eliminate the achievement gap..."

Yes, you could, which would make you just like Minneapolis-- spending twice as much and STILL having a huge achievement gap. At some point, these public schools are going to have to figure out how to spend smarter, not just spend more. They might have to get innovative, since what they've been doing for the last 30 years isn't working.

John said...

Still waiting for a link to these folks who work magic.

"nearby private schools get twice the results for half the money from the same demographic of kids"

Please make them visible so we can learn from them.

jerrye92002 said...

Best example off the top of my head is Cristo Rey. You've mentioned Harlem. I'm sure there are others. And if you don't count demographics, there are dozens across the state, just in public schools alone. There are some reasons why the inner city schools may not look as "good" as the suburban schools, transience being a big one, and having the failure start in 1st grade prevents correcting it senior year.

John said...

Cristo Rey apparently:
1. Requires people to register and submit to an interview.
2. They turn down ~25% of applicants?
3. The students must fulfill requirements or they are out?

Cristo Rey FAQs

I am hard pressed to see how that is the same demographic. We have magnets that do pretty good, of course the only kids in them are those with parents who are interested in academics and capable enough to submit the application.

HCZ spends a LOT of money on the parents and the kids. They start training and working with them before the child is born. HCZ Programs

jerrye92002 said...

You observe correctly that schools that do better do it differently than schools that fail. Isn't that what we've been saying all along? WHAT will your district do differently if you simply give them more money, as if that solved anything? Again, schools that concentrate on inputs vs schools that concentrate on outputs...

John said...

Cristo Rey is focusing on the inputs...
They reject or expel the expensive kids...
This is not an option for public schools..

I agree that public schools and unions have room for improvement.

Can you see that you are trying to compare apples and oranges?

Teaching people that are determined to learn is easy, Teaching people who are resistant or indifferent to learning is real real expensive.

jerrye92002 said...

"Teaching people that are determined to learn is easy, Teaching people who are resistant or indifferent to learning is real real expensive."

So, wouldn't it be cheaper to create an educational environment where those resistant to learning are "turned around" and want to learn, and segregating those few dead-heads actively preventing learning from the rest? Seems to me an effective universal voucher system accomplishes that.

John said...

Or we do this... G2A 2 - 7 School Model

Same problem exists... What do we do with all the unlucky expensive kids?

Vouchers just continue what charters, open enrollment, privates, better neighborhoods, etc have already begun. They all leave certain Publics with the unluckiest of kids, which increases their costs.

Which enables someone like yourself to interpret with backwards logic that "more money yields worse results".

The best solution would be how do we decentralize our areas of poverty? Not just busing kids to the burbs, how do we make it affordable for people to live there?

jerrye92002 said...

You are confusing "vouchers" with "universal vouchers." If the vouchers are universal, then EVERY parent gets school choice, immediately. Since there are limited alternatives to the public schools in many areas, poor areas especially (no money to be made from poor kids), many parents will be forced to sign over $10,000 checks to the public school. You don't think that will create an interest in most parents and change the dynamic? Parents will be watching the school to see that it delivers value, and watching their kids to see they get it. Private schools and charters will be looking for opportunities to step in and grab a piece of the now-lucrative market. The number of "unlucky" kids will suddenly drop to a very low number, unlucky only because we have systematically deprived them over however many years they have been in a failed school.

And if you don't like that, here's another approach. Let's mandate that every school gets exactly the same amount of state aid (say the current average spending) per pupil. THEN, any school wanting to spend more can either raise local taxes (by vote, if possible) or go to the legislature with a proposal (and contract) for X$ for Y amount of student improvement. In the first years they would and should all be granted. After that, the State might start looking for new and better "contractors."

John said...

Where in these does any school want the expensive kids for $10,000? Where do they go?

jerrye92002 said...

First of all, the $10,000 is a rough average. My thought would be that the state aid would be whatever the current spending per pupil is in that district, so Minneapolis parents would be getting a $23,000 check, enabling them to go their current school, and allowing their current school to continue to do what they have been doing. The difference would be that parents and school officials alike would be looking for ways to get or to deliver "value" for that big check. (There would need to be a special provision for SE kids, and I think some reform of that whole program might be necessary.)

Besides, what makes you think an average kid cannot be educated for $10,000? Other countries do it for a lot less. So do many parents.

John said...

MPLS Budget Doc

MPLS Schools Wiki

Economic Demographics

MDE Demographics

John said...

I come up with $20,000 per student with a special ed rate of almost 18.2%... And a FRR of nearly 65%...

MDE MPLS Demographics

Please provide some examples of Privates that cost less. If there was a magic bullet, the charters like Laurie's should be thriving. They get public school funding without the Union issues from what I understand.

My local private, Providence Academy, has the smartest and best students/parents available, and their tuition is well over $10,000 per year.

jerrye92002 said...

Yes, and $10,000 is about half of $21,000. I assume Providence also does better academically?

John said...

I sure would hope they do exceedingly well.

By the time one adds transportation and fees, they cost almost as much as Minneapolis per student with almost none of the expensive kids.

jerrye92002 said...

OK, do it the other way. Say Providence spends the same as Minneapolis and gets twice the results. How is that not more cost-effective, and why can't Minneapolis do better? Are you really going to tell me that every single kid in Minneapolis is twice as hard to teach and requires twice the money as the average Minnesota kid? There is absolutely nothing the Mpls schools could do better for the same money?

John said...

I am the first to say that they can do some things differently, especially in the area of personnel evaluation, compensation and retention. Unfortunately the Teachers Union and Administration contracts make this impossible.

Here is some info on the Wayzata and Minneapolis Districts. Their data is easily accessible.
Wayzata vs Minneapolis Demographics
Wayzata vs Minneapolis Summary

Comparing costs is somewhat pointless, they face entirely different challenges. I mean 25% of the Minneapolis don't even speak English at the start.

jerrye92002 said...

"Comparing costs is somewhat pointless, they face entirely different challenges."

And yet the only "solution" ever advanced by these failing schools is that of more money. And the state aid formula supposedly fully accounts for all of these challenges. It's certainly possible that the state's assessment of the extra costs due to poverty, non-English-speakers, etc. is incorrect, but if that were true then the schools should be telling the state that they NEED x$ more to bring these students up to their potential-- which of course is NEVER what they do. The amount of additional money requested never comes with a specific plan or promise of how to improve results. That's just wrong and guarantees continued failure.

John said...

Technically money is the only thing they need community approval for, so it is the only change people like ourselves see.

RDale Offerings, techniques, etc have been changing occasionally as they try to balance the needs of the Lucky and Unlucky kids. Since the demographics are changing relatively rapidly, this is very challenging.

jerrye92002 said...

Since they need voter approval for a levy, yes, that is what we see. And so my guess is that that is about all they actually DO. Making substantial changes to the curriculum, discipline policy, teacher compensation, standards, offering and testing regimen are all hard things to do and tend to create battles for which the Board is not paid to engage, even were they qualified, informed and willing, and they generally are not.

I may have been wrong about something. I keep saying that if the public schools knew how to do better, they would have done it by now, and they haven't. I'm starting to think that at least some of them know how, but CAN'T because of the rules and pressures defending the [unacceptable] status quo. That's what comes of having government operate the school system, IMHO.

John said...

It is a nasty conundrum.

For profits that only want the profitable / lucky kids vs publics that do best with the profitable / lucky kids.

Either way the high cost / unlucky kids are likely screwed...

jerrye92002 said...

My problem is that most of the publics actually fail the "lucky" kids, just not to the same degree. That's why so many valedictorians from public schools flunk out of college, and why 30-odd percent of MN high school grads require remedial courses in college. The whole system is failing, and not because of "raw material." The system as is will not survive true competition, which is why that is fought tooth and nail.

John said...

NCES College Remediation

John said...

So many Valedictorians flunk out...

Please tell us what the percentage is and provide a source.

Though I do agree that sometimes people who always got A's in K-12 have a very hard time in college.

Especially if they move away from home and start partying or lose focus for some other reason. I was in the top 10% of my HS class and finished my first year in college with a 2.5 GPA...

My initial failure had nothing to do with my academic capability or preparation. It had a whole lot to do with keg races, pitcher nights, house parties, etc.

jerrye92002 said...

I think maybe your answer is in the item you already posted, confirming my assertion about the amount of remediation needed. It shows that remediation is almost independent of parents' education level, but increases greatly for minority students. Therefore, someone at or near the top of their class in a majority-minority school is much more likely to require remediation in college. The public high schools are NOT properly preparing (roughly) 37% of black students or 22% of white students. That's shameful and obviously not the fault of the parents.

John said...

"obviously not the fault of the parents"

How did you make that leap of logic?

We know that poor and minority kids have lower academic success for many reasons. (ie achievement gap)

I agree that it is interesting that whether Parents had a college degree or not did not make much of a difference. Then again, how many people with college degrees have kids who are getting free and reduced lunch?

I assume there are many people with degrees who end up as single parents in very low paying jobs.

A friend of mine's daughter got her LPN before becoming a drug addicted welfare mom...

jerrye92002 said...

I wondered whether that was a leap of logic or not, after posting it, but the difference in results was simply too striking to ignore. We're always told that those who get more education value it more and do better in life. And yet here we see that how well the kids achieve in school doesn't seem to be affected by these very same factors. Yes, there are dirt-poor college graduates, and millionaire drop-outs, but those are the exception, not the statistical norm. Saying that poor black kids can't learn is condemning them to misery and is the worst kind of bigotry. More challenging, sure. Requiring more money, probably, but they already GET that. So long as we keep our bigoted expectations so low and our range of excuses so high, the schools will never be responsible for their results and I'm incensed by it.

John said...

"Saying that poor black kids can't learn "

Who other than yourself is saying this?

jerrye92002 said...

YOU are! The DFL and Educrats are! You keep talking about the "unlucky kids" as being the ones from poor homes or on FRL, and we all know that's code for poor and black. And if it isn't code it's still the statistical reality. The poor and black are concentrated in the urban core and the schools that fail are in the urban core.

For years we have been told that these "unlucky kids" are disadvantaged before and during school and that more money is required to "educate them to their full potential." So they have been given more and more money but achievement has barely budged, so now it is the fault of the parents, or something, or simply that these kids can't learn. Nonsense. It's that these schools can't teach, period! I've tutored kids that exhibited massive turnarounds in achievement in a single year; I know it can be done, and I know too many schools aren't doing it. Time to demand accountability and to demand BETTER.

jerrye92002 said...

Let me complain less and offer a positive approach. If a public school would come to (the legislature) and say something like, "our basic skills score in reading is 34, and has been that way for years. If we could get another $5000/pupil for the next 3 years, we could raise that score above 50%, by instituting these three [specific] focused programs for all students," then I would say the lege ought to look seriously at doing it. That is, not a blank check, but a clear and cost-effective contract. Otherwise, we're just doing like now, throwing more money down the same old ratholes and getting more rats.