Saturday, October 18, 2014

Robbinsdale 281 Referendum

RDale Referendum Information

My Views on Question 1
  • Voting YES is a no brainer, it just extends the existing locally supplied operating funds.
  • Without it, our district would need to make extremely painful cuts in 2 years.  This would be really bad for our community.
My Views on Question 2
  • Anyone who maintains their own home network and computers understands that it is not cheap or easy in this ever changing world.
  • In the old days, a school system did not need routers, servers, hubs, antennas, security, computers, etc to be a premier school.  It is not the old days...
  • If you want our community to compete with Wayzata, Minnetonka, Hopkins, etc for excellent citizens, and if you want them to be willing to pay good money for your home at some point, our schools need to be technologically equal or better than them.
  • So a YES vote is a vote to maintain your community and home value, a NO vote is vote to give up and let your neighborhood degrade and your home value drop.
  • I guess Voting YES is a no brainer in this case also.
The unfortunate reality is that much of the housing stock in our communities is not highly desireable in the eyes of modern higher income buyers.  However if we maintain excellent schools, we can attract young middle class families who don't want to spend money commuting in from St Michael, Elk River, Hanover, etc.  To do this we must invest in maintaining modern highly desireable schools and safe communities.

To say... "They are spending too much" is to deny the simple reality that this is a contest and the communities with the best schools / communities win.  Smart responsible parents/citizens simply will not move to and invest in a community where the current citizens are unwilling to do the same!!!  Would you?



jerrye92002 said...

It all seems very reasonable as a competition, and it is for those with the financial resources to choose (and not for those without them), but the competition isn't on which district can spend the most, or tax the most. It's on which can deliver the best education for the kids of these "better off" citizens, and to do that you have to deliver a better education for those who are "stuck" in your district first. It's a real challenge, and just adding technology to an already-broken process simply makes the failure more apparent. I hope you have some good ideas for this technology money, first among which would be some teacher productivity tools, and then I would look at some self-driven learning in some subjects. Both of those are highly cost-effective because they reduce the number of teachers required, saving money. Therefore, none of these measures will be adopted. Cost will go up and achievement will stagnate. Just my prediction.

That said, of course, I would be inclined to vote in favor and then be all over the School Board like a coat of paint to use that technology wisely.

R-Five said...

We open enrolled our children out of 281 (c. 1992), not to wealthy district to perhaps the poorest - tiny Brooklyn Center, and this was before Earle Brown was replaced. 281 (then) was an unfocused mess. 286 couldn't afford little beyond the basics, but they did them well. We'd do it again.

Forget language immersion, STEM/STEAM and millions in hard cash for the softest of unaccountable goals. And forget trying to make 1/2 tier districts as attractive as 2/3 tier districts. Robbinsdale maybe once was "Wayzata" but it never will be again. Get over it. Schools are there to educate whoever comes, not recruit.

Tell the 281 Board to go back to the drawing board on #2. This time, get that long overdue external IT audit, to see where we truly are, how we got there, and where we truly need to go. Quantify the goals, such that we can hold the Board and Administration accountable.

Do this and yes, I will support such a proposal.

John said...

It would be interesting if we could get Dennis to weigh in on this.

I would enjoy learning why a lot of this server, routers, etc have not been out sourced like the transportation. Or is some of it?

RDale Technology Plan

John said...

"Schools are there to educate whoever comes, not recruit."

Now I know you are not that naive... The way MN Public Education funding and Family choice works, recruitment and retention is job 1.

Districts have a large amount of fairly fixed costs that need to be covered.(ie Administration, Building Maintenance, Legal Reporting, etc, etc, etc) With every child that leaves, the District or School lose the money tied to that child.

If this wasn't true, Beacon would have been leasing the Pigrim Lane Elementary building. Not up in a church in Maple Grove.

To be a highly sought school and community, you need to offer something "special" to attract those who can go anywhere.

John said...

I do wonder what our district and community would look like if RDale had not implemented:
- the East/West district split
- Spanish Immersion / STEAM
- In school academic splits (ie pre-AP, AP, IB, etc)

I am pretty sure my family would have been gone long ago. Along with dozens of our semi-well to do peers.

I am happy to give time and money to help our community, schools, and unlucky kids however I do insist that the girls are in classrooms where most of the kids are engaged, behaved and interested in learning. It is bad enough that they had to learn how to avoid fights and bullies in the hallways.

Diversity is great, the girls don't see their friends as being a different race. They are just their friends who are smart and interested in learning.

Diversity isn't all that great when well behaved kids are forced into close proximity with really poorly behaved kids. The girls know the "ghetto" / "juvenile delinquent" kids and work to avoid them, no matter their race. School is probably the only place in one's life where a person is forced to mix with people that are that behaviorially different.

jerrye92002 said...

"If this wasn't true, Beacon would have been leasing the Pigrim Lane Elementary building."

If I understand you correctly, you are pointing to an obvious solution to the problem of academically failing schools. That is, the District would operate as general contractor, supplying the space, maintenance and general organization for things like sports and arts, while the individual academics were sub-contracted out into the leased space, based on cost and performance. The perfect fusion of vouchers, charter, private and public, with no need for duplicate facilities, extra transportation costs, or having a student switch schools away from the neighborhood.

John said...

May work. HCZ started that way.

Unfortunately the personnel from the different systems did not play nice together, so HCZ had to build their own facilities.

In the case of RDale's resistance to Charters,I think they see them as a Magnet without the benefits. The Charter schools would bleed off their low cost students without the benefit of supporting the "cross subsidy" to other schools and the "fixed costs".

And of course the charter can not pay the district much because they have their own administration costs to pay.

That is why RDale tries to run so many variations within the district. A method to meet the diverse wants of a diverse population.

Anonymous said...

For an example of the havoc charters can wreak on a school system, check out what's happening in Minneapolis.


John said...

Would you please be a bit more specific? I think MPLS has many many challenges.

R-Five said...

John, yes funding is all about recruiting these days, more than I suspect even you know. But that doesn't make it right.

I also think you're overplaying how much homeowners (and renters) value public education. Those who really know what's going on know the differences are actually quite small, and not unilateral. I can't imagine sending my kids to a mega-school like Wayzata or Champlin-Park. I flat out refuse to send my kids to Language Immersion, STEM/STEAM, Common Core, International Baccalaureate, pre-Calculus, or other such nonsense.

Sure enough, we found that we the parents are more important than picking this school or that school. And if you pick a smaller system/school (like BC), you get to know the entire staff if you want.

Sorry for the rant, but let's focus on our kids first, not the ones just over the border who might join them.

John said...

You miss my point. I agree that we need to focus on OUR kids first.

One of the best things for ALL of OUR kids is to keep good solid families in the schools and the district.

They are the ones who volunteer, donate money, donate books, etc. The children of these families provide good examples and positive peer pressure at school. These are the parents that show up at conferences and hold teachers accountable.

I still remember when the administration held an informational meeting in ~2009 at Zachary Lane Elementary. For better or worse, they explained to us that those meetings were not being held in Northport, etc because no parents ever showed up.

It is an interesting conundrum.

John said...

Just curious, would you send your kids to Brooklyn Center as it is today?

R-Five said...

Would we open enroll to BC again? Tough call. Part of what made BC work for us was a number of "old school" teachers allowed to teach their way. They resisted much of the political correctness, but even they couldn't prevent the forced firing of a very successful and popular principal because of NCLB.

And 281 is certainly in much better shape now, but if it came down to Cooper (or 279 Park Center) vs. BCHS, give me BCHS.

John said...

FYI MDE BC Secondary vs Cooper

Your kids at the BC Secondary Arts and IB World School. Name sounds too politically correct for your tastes.

R-Five said...

It's called blackmail, John.

John said...

Please elaborate, I missed something here.

Blackmail to me is when one is pressured to pay money to prevent a secret from being made public.

I don't think the challenges our communitees face are very much of a secret.

jerrye92002 said...

John is right. The correct word is "extortion."

John said...

Still confused... Who is extorting who for what by using what pressure?

I mean the district is totally at the mercy of the local voters in this case. All 281 can say is that if citizens reduce 281 funding by $20 million... 281 will need to cut their spend by $20 million... And since 80% of their spend is people costs... People will be cut, including many teachers.

And by Jerry's theory that class size does not matter... This isn't even a bad thing.

As for computers and a modern infrastructure, it seems they are saying that if citizens don't want to pay for it. Then we will limp along with our out of date systems.

Our do you mean that the community is trying extort 281 in someway by withholding funding?

Personally I think this is an open and above board deal. 281 has stated the facts and asked for funding. Now the community needs to determine if they want a lower dollar school system in their community or if they want a moderate dollar school that can compete with the schools in the neighboring communities.

Choices, Choices, Choices...

jerrye92002 said...

Are you going to tell me that the District has not warned of TERRIBLE, TERRIBLE consequences if these levies do not pass? That they haven't invoked the "good for the kids" to pressure folks, indirectly condemning them as "hating children" if they don't vote yes? That is extortion. Has anybody suggested finding savings elsewhere in the budget to fund these priorities, only to be dismissed out of hand so that the levy MUST be passed or the highest priority things will be cut, rather than the lowest? These are all the tricks that districts use (I know, it's largely because they aren't paid to make sensible decisions, not because they're inherently evil) and together they amount to extortion. The nice kind, where they don't burn your house down, but they do threaten your kids. What would YOU call it?

John said...

"Just the Facts"
From their perspective..

jerrye92002 said...

Did you know that the schools have a legal obligation to provide ONLY factual information to the voters, and that district resources may not be used to promote one side of a ballot issue? How far over that line do you think 281 has gone? I can almost guarantee they've crossed it several times. It was 18 times in the complaint I filed with the county attorney. All innocent and well-meaning, of course, but illegal, self-serving, and not in the best interests of the kids just the same. After all, if they could deliver a better education with the money they have, they should be doing it.

John said...

"if they could deliver a better education with the money they have, they should be doing it."

I love the word "better"... It can have so many meanings...

As far as I can tell, RDale does a pretty good job of sticking to the facts.

Of course you may see those facts as threats... For instance, is this a fact or a threat?

"Provides $20 million per year, which is equivalent to 225 teachers or the entire staffing costs of five elementary schools"

Anonymous said...

That's misleading advertising. If they had said that "we currently spend the $20 million that this levy renews to pay 225 teachers, the equivalent of 5 elementary schools" they would have been more clear and more convincing. The threat not stated, but implied, is that, "if we don't get this money we will close down 5 elementary schools" and that, of course, is utter nonsense. I'm sure it is a significant amount in their budget, but I can guarantee there are things in that budget LESS important than 225 necessary teachers (if they are necessary at all).

At the risk of excessive length, let me tell you an example. So, the District goes out and does a survey to find out what the "priorities" of the voters are with regard to the budget. I think teachers were first, with busing (we're semi-rural) second, and a couple dozen things after that. So, comes time for the levy, and they say, "if we don't get this levy, we will be forced to lay off 200 teachers and cut busing by half" (or something like that). OK, so the levy fails and they "find" the money to keep the teachers but cut back on the busing. Parents get together and charter a private company to bus the kids and it works, Sept-Nov. Then the levy passes, with revenue to flow to the district starting a year later (by law), and IMMEDIATELY the district restores the busing schedule, putting the private enterprise out of business! WHERE did that money come from? Was this levy really needed, and were the voters extorted for the additional money? You be the judge.


Anonymous said...

Time for a little back-of-the-District-flyer math.

$20 million spread over 225 "staff" is $88,888.88 per year each. That's a pretty expensive janitor you've got there. I know that includes benefits, but still...

225 staff spread over 5 schools is 45 staff per school. Assume 100 students per grade for a school population of 600, and that 70% of the staff are teachers (70% of spending in the classroom guideline), and you have a pupil-teacher ratio of 19. Not too outrageous, but I wonder what the District claims that ratio is? These are the sorts of things that a cost-conscious private business would be constantly tracking.


John said...

I assume compensation of the Principals and 20+ year Teachers raise the average. And the lunch ladies and janitors lower the average.

And of course the special ed and counseling staff who work with really low ratios drop the # of kids per Teacher very quickly.

John said...

"Provides $20 million per year, which is equivalent to 225 teachers or the entire staffing costs of five elementary schools"

After reading it closer, there was an "OR" in the middle. So there are no Lunch Ladies or Janitors in the $88,888.88 number, just Teachers apparently.

jerrye92002 said...

OK, so credit to the district for being deceptive AND confusing. So the 88 grand counts only teachers, which means that we are paying these teachers a LOT more than we think we are. Don't we always hear they're underpaid?

OR we could be looking at the whole staffing cost of 5 elementary schools, which is the other way to look at it but the calculation still applies. Take 19 kids per teacher, divide into 600 kids and you get the same $20 million, so there's something going on here that a well-managed organization OUGHT to have down cold as justification before asking for more money. If I were running the schools I would be insisting on program-based budgeting priorities, where required programs were at the top, followed by local above-requirement offerings and last, non-required offerings, all ranked withing those priorities by cost per active participant. THEN, when it came time to make budget decisions, it would be clear what could be cut first, or what tradeoffs would need to be made to keep that popular bottom-priority program. Maybe that would mean new revenue. If the school district said "our lowest priority is 8th grade girl's gymnastics, (cost $1133 per participant) and without additional revenue that program will be turned over to the community youth athletic program." See what a nice clear issue the voters could have?

John said...

I appreciate your idea, however how would one know the real cost of dropping a program or class?

It is somewhat like removing a feature on a car. It is a great way to save money until the customer chooses to stop buying your car because it is to spartan.

Then that feature looks pretty cheap.

jerrye92002 said...

Not sure what you mean by "real cost." To me the real cost is the salary, benefits, and direct materials required to operate the program. Building space, etc., is fixed cost overhead, but it makes a definite and costly difference whether you use it one hour to teach that elective class in Mandarin or six hours to teach the required class in Spanish, especially if it's two different teachers. This isn't really difficult, and there is software available for school districts to use, but the Districts don't like the extra work for better information, don't get rewarded for having the better information nor for acting on it if they had it, and the State effectively prohibits them from having it.

jerrye92002 said...

Here's another case for you. Typically, the District says that they will "have to cut" this and that and that "there's nothing else to cut" without ever showing anyone the real budget or justifying the real numbers or proving either assertion. You know, if you give the people the real information and justify the need, levies pass easily. That doesn't happen very often; it's usually a case of serious distortion and extortion.

John said...

Star Tribune article