"High Achievement always takes place in the framework of high expectation." - Charles Kettering

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

What's with Slovenia hits exceeding US hits?

OK, I have been mystified for months by the demographics of my readers. The all time stats are listed below. Seven countries that aren't even native English speaking outpace the UK! You can see that the US outpaces Slovenia by about 10 to 1 since the beginning of the blog. This week, however, Slovenia has outpaced the US 38 to 36. This is interesting if nothing else. This week began the Slovenian Surge! You Slovenian readers, I'd be interested in finding out what drew you to my blog. Send me a message. Enquiring minds want to know!

United States
South Korea
United Kingdom

Monday, December 27, 2010

"Disquiet" on the Janesville Front

Click on the post to see the GazetteXtra article and comments about nervous Janesville teachers worried about layoffs. Well, good grief, what the heck did these teachers think would happen? Ten million in the hole, nothing left to cut, balanced budget required. I'm underwhelmed with the level of brilliance on staff in Janesville. It seems the teachers can't follow the clues to the inevitable conclusion. I repeat, what did they think would happen? Another bailout? Well, I've been wrong before, but that "blood from a turnip" ship has already sailed twice. The comment thread is all over the map on this one. It's interesting to see the level of misinformation regarding education and funding out there in Janesville, which I believe is representative of any old town. There is no option about funding special education, yet people post hateful remarks about that on blog forums. It would be almost amusing that one poster considers foreign language and arts to be unworthy of public education funds, but for the deep abiding assurance I have in my heart that the selfsame blogger would rail at any cuts to sports. Ah well, the year of the axe has begun. I am completely empathetic to the role of school boards and adminstrations all over the country this year. I hope you can budget with the least carnage committed to actual educational programs. I pray that you have strength to do what has to be done, and damn the political consequences. I plead with you to avoid special interests from here until your budgets are done in the spring so you can do the right thing regardless of the fallout. That's my New Year's Wish to school board members everywhere.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

An Upside to a Down Economy

Last week, my kids wanted to go Christmas shopping for their friends. Naturally, this involved going to at least four stores in addition to the shoe store we had to visit to buy b-ball shoes for the two younger kids. Every store we went to had stellar customer service. I didn't even notice this, my 16 year old did. As I thought back on this experience, I could honestly say that I never had such good service in my whole life! She was right. Two stores even apologized for not having what we were looking for, but directed us to the nearest store to purchase it. That's what I call service.

My friends believe it's because of the economy forcing employers to be more mindful of the "service" aspect of their job. I'm more inclined to believe it's because the employers can be so picky about who they hire when they get 50-100 applicants for one job opening. Whatever the reason, the sheer pleasantness of the shopping experience was incredible. I was sick and not really feeling in the holiday spirit. Shopping is a task I normally avoid at all costs but that's not an option this time of year. The realization after we collapsed at Rocky Roccoco's that the shopkeepers were trying to make our experience the best possible one while we were there really picked up my spirits. That and laughing at the woman who was complaining about how spicy the pizza was. Really!?! You order pizza and complain when it's spicy? What did you expect? Sheesh woman.

So, if you really want to get good service at the mall, go to Hot Topic, The Finish Line, The Pottery Barn, Wisconsin Craft Market, Hancock Fabrics and don't forget to finish it off with the family meal deal at Rocky Roccoco's at Westgate Mall. These people know how to lure customers back to their store, truly the meaning of customer service.

How exactly does this connect to education? I'm willing to wager that a lot of these kind folks who helped us last Friday are college students and maybe college graduates. They are getting another important part of their education working at a department store during the holidays. People skills, problem solving under duress, kindness were all delivered with a congenial appearance. Any employer will be lucky to keep such employees. As these young folks grow in their careers, they may not realize how important this part of their career was to strengthening their overall marketability. They might even complain bitterly about how hard working with the public was back in the day. But to these young men and women who helped us all so much last Friday, thank you for your kindness and thoroughly professional way you helped us make the perfect purchases. Merry Christmas to you and yours.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Expanding on Chasin's Post on 4K

I can't blinking figure out how to comment on Chasin's blog anymore, so I'll expand on her posting on 4K here. Sorry chasin'. I'm not trying to steal your thunder. A lot of people don't grasp that from the moment that little bundle of joy draws a breath, and even before, he or she is a sponge for information. Sitting in a classroom is not the only way children are educated. When you read to your child, they learn more than reading. You are willing to spend time with them to share a love of the printed word. You interact with them. "What color is her hat? Is the puppy BIG or SMALL?" All of this teaches. Baking cookies with them teaches infinitely more than learning fractions in school. Taking them with you to the grocery store begins a lifetime of connections. Pictures on food with printed word, printed word on the list corresponding to the one on the food. WOW, people. You are your child's preschool, whether you're ready or not. Step up to the task and DO IT! AND, just because your kid sits in 4K every day doesn't guarantee that they will learn. It must be important to you for the child to have a chance at a love for learning. It all starts at home. Everyone is capable of providing this love of learning at home. It's only a matter of priorities. It doesn't take a lot of money or formal education to instill a work ethic that includes lifelong love of learning. I still love it and I'm an old bat now. My mother and dad read to me and we read to our kids from the time they were babies. My daughters read to the kids they babysit for. One of them has a friend in the child development class at school. Her friend came back from observing a toddler/baby room at a local child care facility absolutely appalled that the teacher read to the babies with headphones on and was grumpy the whole time. Now, the parents of these babies are paying plenty to provide a quality preschool experience for their kids. Do you think they are getting it? Of course not. I reiterate, just because they are in a formal program does not guarantee a kid will get an education. It's up to you. It always has been.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

4K Discussion Subdued, and This and That

Well, there wasn't really much discussion regarding 4K. I was glad because I wanted to attend my daughter's choral concert. It has been brought back on the agenda because of a petition brought forward from a group of parents in the district. They're working on getting up to date research on it as well as a summary of the previous 2006 extended discussion on 4K. They are only investigating at this time. Do not panic.

The program based budgeting process is about to go into full swing with a vote next month on the parameters to use as they go forward with each "cost center" budget. I hope to do at least one article, maybe a series, for the Review, addressing each cost center to help citizens better understand the process. School finance can be an elusive concept and I think the series could be informative.

Check out my tax bill article in the Review tomorrow. My goal in summarizing the tax bill was not to open a wound, but to begin the program based budgeting process with this stark reminder of the bleak economic outlook. At least we didn't get a 13.1% increase like Madison Property Taxes, according to a letter to the editor in today's Wisconsin State Journal. Holy camoli, that's an enormous increase. Those poor people. Keep the faith. Our 3.1% was relatively tiny compared to Madison. Doesn't make you feel better, but some perspective is instructive.


Wednesday, December 8, 2010

12/13/10 School Board Meeting at 4:30 p.m.

Click on the post to view the agenda for Monday night's board meeting. Note the early start time of 4:30 p.m. There is a 7 p.m. choir concert at the high school and the early start time is intended to enable board members (the majority of whom have kids in the high school choirs) and administrators the opportunity to attend the concert.

There are a number of items of note on the agenda for discussion. Most controversial is 4K. The open enrollment class size limitations will be proposed and the program based budgeting parameters will be introduced. I hope they finish the business by 6:45 because I also have a kid in choir.

If any of the agenda items pique your curiosity, I encourage you to attend the meeting if you can.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Sending Energy to the Family of Samuel Hengel

Click on the link for a discussion of how this school and community had done all it could to prepare for the unthinkable situation. I send positive thoughts and energy to this family in their hours of sorrow and unmitigated grief. Clearly a mental health emergency had suddenly developed in this young man, unless some deep dark secret arises. He seemed to have a lot of positive things going for him, strong community and family support and involvement, responsibility and much more. I hope some answers can be found for the family's peace of mind.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Parkview considers consolidation

Click on the post to read about the latest small local school district to face excruciating choices in the budget wars. Parkview District is reluctant to destroy "family feeling" in their small elementary school by consolidating schools that are half empty with one another.

OK, OK, so it's not my district. But these people are asking taxpayers to do what they themselves probably would not do if it was their own money. Is "maintaining a family feeling" worth more than ensuring the best possible education for your kid? Really?!? The district is nearly half a million in the red, seeking federal funds for relief and yet there is a SMART board in every classroom. I know, I know, they were a PTO donation. But that 5 grand was misspent, in my opinion. These interactive whiteboards are coveted in the ESCD. They are parceled out with great care and, I might add, rarely. They are expensive and require a great deal of training for teachers to get the most benefit from them. How much money did Parkview have to spend to train the teachers? Or did they just present them and leave it at that? Are they used as glorified white boards? I don't know the answer to these questions, but I do know that a district so deep in the red needs to learn to prioritize. I know that that good old country charm isn't in the budget. When textbooks are 10-20 years old and outdated and students have languished in performance on the ACT, the district needs to tighten their belt and wise up the citizens to the realities of school finance. Things will only get worse under the new governor, who is intent on making a spectacle of himself even before he takes office. "You better not do this in your lame duck session or I will undo it posthaste." So do it you so and so. You don't have the right as governor ELECT to dictate the current administration's actions. And a little charm would go a long way in smoothing the transition. Threats simply raise hackles. Mine are raised, did you notice?

So, Parkview school board, please stop worrying about "family feeling" and start considering things like student achievement, in which you trail the conference on ACT scores. Think about how many textbooks you will be able to purchase so those kids can have current science information or even a book to bring home with them with which to do their homework. Make the hard choices and let the chips fall where they may before you end up a million in the red. If they vote you out of office, then their budgetary foresight stops at the end of their collective nose.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Achievement Article Part 3 of 3 will run tomorrow

The final article on Evansville student achievement will run in the Review tomorrow. To see how we stack up on the ACT and AP classes, please see the article.

My muse is getting pretty well exhausted with my day job now. I like this blog and hope to continue posting pertinent items here.

I was extremely saddened to see that Michael Pierick will not run for school board again. His younger son is graduating this year, so it's understandable. He has been a very good board president and a good job of keeping the administration accountable. He will be missed sorely.

Kathi Swanson does a good job and will run again. I haven't heard if Dennis Hatfield will run again. He and I were of like mind on many issues. He's passionate about classical education and so am I. He sees the value of GT specialist adminstrators in a world more interested in providing to the least common denominator. I share his pain that 15% of the children in our district are considered academically gifted in one or more subjects and have less than 3% of the staff dedicated to their needs. And that's only numerically. In 3 of our 4 schools, the GT person (there's only one) is 50% GT and 50% remedial services. The remedial needs often take precedence and it easily can become a 40/60 or 30/70 distribution of services. Because GT students have no law defining in depth the specific services required for them, the kids are left in limbo. Just a nebulous "gifted programs will be provided" clause in the statutes. The legislators allow each school to define the way a kid is identified and what enrichment they are deserving of. ARRGH! The final blow is the many people who think "gifted kids will do just fine without all this hooha. Why should we expend so much energy challenging them when we don't have enough money to meet other basic needs?" And it's not just the average joe on the street with this archaic attitude. These kids have special needs on the other side of the spectrum. It is a crime to deny the needs of the 15% of our students on the left side of the curve, but the kids on the right side of the curve are perpetually left hanging out to dry. Unless their parents pay to supplement their education. This is a travesty. Not every gifted kid has parents with disposable income sufficient to spend the sometimes considerable dollars to provide them with adequate challenge. Without this challenge, a potential Einstein could become bored and drop out of school. Or worse, figure out a way to be really destructive. And then all the people who think providing minimal GT services to students deserving of it would be standing around wringing their hands saying, "we never saw THAT coming!"

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Part 2 of 3 Achievement Article in the Review on Wednesday

See the Review next week to continue with my series on Student achievement in the Evansville school district. Editorial comments will take place at the end of the series, so stay tuned on that!

So much has been happening in the world of education that it's hard to pinpoint a specific issue to tackle here. Probably one of the most significant in terms of budgetary impact has been the Milton school district's arbitration win in choosing a less expensive insurance carrier. The union looked like dolts in fighting this issue. They have their hands in the pie of the former insurance carrier and didn't want to lose the business.

Since compensation packages always include insurance coverage, I'm not sure how the district will actually see use of those nearly half-million in funds. When I first was elected to the school board in 2007, the district had just successfully negotiated for less expensive insurance. The complete balance of the savings simply went into teacher salaries because the contract called for the package deal. This is unconscionable. What is the incentive moving forward for the district to practice due diligence in spending taxpayer funds if they can't realize the savings of a cost-savings move? So, it's not clear to me how the Milton district will have use of these savings for "improving and maintaining educational programs." It's my hope that the district can access the savings after paying retroactive raises and legal bills that the rest can go for the kids.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

November 22 Committee Meetings of the Whole Agenda

Click on the post to view the agenda for the Committee Meetings of the Whole November 22 at 5:30. Highlights include discussion of the new board meeting structure, revisiting the Evening, Weekend and Wednesday cocurricular schedule with protection of instructional time policies, discussion of several items on the Finance agenda including establishing fund 80, parameters for Program based budgeting, Building and Trades house update and in Facilities, discussion of repurposing the current Creekside place for district use after they move into the community center next year. If these or any other agenda items appeal to you, please join us for the meeting on the 22nd.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

November 13 already? Sheesh!

I have been busier than a one-armed paperhanger, as my mother used to say. It's entirely possible that this phrase is not PC and/or offensive. If so, I apologize. But I always thought it conveyed a true sense of being overextended in one's schedule. I cover the school board meetings for the Review now and am thoroughly enjoying the experience. I can't get snarky like I can here, but as long as I don't specifically post the same stuff, Kelly was OK with me blogging too.

Look for my article about district data analysis coming soon in the Review, possibly this week. This week should have a brief report on the Nov. 8th meeting, which had some newsworthy information.

The sheer mountain of data provided to the school board in preparation for the November 8th board meeting leads me to believe that the administration is not clear on what parameters they want to monitor, so they monitor them all. Just look at the administrators' reports on the website to become glassy eyed with data overload in minutes. Demographics about enrollment, EEN population, Economically disadvantaged data, WKCE, MAPs, ACT, alphabet soup heaven all neatly presented in a table to compare to three different sets of schools: those our size, those in our conference and those in the area. My God in Heaven, UNCLE! It took me 2 days just to digest it to the point of deciding how to begin the series of articles describing district student achievement. Yikes! TMI if ever there was TMI. And I love data.

I'm sorry I have neglected my blog lately. I need to find a balance between my paying job and my fun blogging. Given the choice, I do prefer to be snarky whenever possible. I also like being paid, so I need to balance my world. I haven't even had time to take down the Jamboree posters at the elementary and intermediate schools.

I'd like to plug the 8th grade careers unit on this blog. They have begun in the last few years to focus the 8th graders on career exploration. I have volunteered the last 2 years to do the exit interviews for the kids after they explore their 3 top choices with presentations by people in their chosen fields. I am once again struck by the self-confidence exhibited by the modern 13 year old kids. Last year I interviewed kids who ranged from barely coherent they were so nervous to completely engaged and at the "you're hired" level of confidence and awareness. This year most of the kids were in the mostly aware and very comfortable chatting with a strange woman. (Except for the notable exceptions of 2 of my daughter's soccer teammates who already knew me). If the modern educational system takes a lot of flak for its many drawbacks, one thing it should proudly take credit for is the ability to foster this self-confidence and self-awareness in today's youth. Yeah kids. Good show, JC McKenna!

Friday, November 5, 2010

11-8-10 School Board Meeting Agenda:! NOTE ADDED ADMIN REPORTS!

Click on the post to view the agenda for Monday's School Baord Meeting. There will be a discussion regarding testing in the district and the administrator report will include the annual comparison of ECSD with similar districts. This typically includes numerous comparators and is a nice check on the system.

I'm working on an article for the 11-10-10 edition of the Review regarding Open Enrollment. It's kind of long, so it might be a two-part article continued the following week.

I'd like to take this opportunity to shout out a big THANKS to everyone who came out to support the K-5 PTO at the 5th annual Jack-O-Lantern Jamboree. It was a big success and the little goblins had a blast. It's only with the support of such dedicated community members that a school can truly shine.

11-8-10 update: View administrator reports at:

Sunday, October 31, 2010

All Halloween all the time this weekend.

Jack O Lantern Jamboree was a hit last night and the little goblins are knocking at my door tonight. I love to see them in their costumes and see the creativity flowing from some folks. Be safe out there!

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Public Comment Protocol for Tomorrow's meeting.

I have asked and discovered that for the Tax Levy agenda Item only tomorrow, public comment is possible. If you have any final words of wisdom for the School Board before they set the tax levy, tomorrow at 4:30 pm in the District Board Room is the place to be. The committee meetings of the whole do not have a public comment section, so you can leave and go get supper after the vote!

In news on other fronts, look for my byline in the Review. I have decided to give it a whirl at being a freelance reporter. After I discussed the challenge I had with taking what was an editorial full of opinion about the proposed tax levy and making an article of it a few weeks ago, my good friend said, "Melissa without an opinion? Huh!" Thank you so much. Some of you liked my article and gave me encouraging words. Thank you kindly for the encouragement. My editor says I can still blog, just not the same thing I write for the paper, naturally. I told her my blog is more of a commentary on district policies and procedures. She told me to put in a plug about my new gig, so here it is.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Tax Levy to be Set Monday Night, 4:30 pm, District Board and Training Center

Please note that the tax levy is slated to be set on Monday night at 4:30 pm. The state aid should be available (which I haven't seen yet) which will allow them to calculate the final levy needed to meet the budget forecast. I did a quick search online and have not found updated figures.

Nobody on the school board has contacted me about the protocol for public comment prior to setting the tax levy. I hope to be able to make a statement, but I won't hold my breath in anticipation. As one friend put it, that opportunity was at the annual meeting, which everyone basically blew off. Indeed.

There will be a state DPI representative at the meeting to discuss open enrollment with the board. I hope I can stay long enough for that. I have to stay for the duration of the "Board Development" meeting to get to that part of the meeting. Again, not my forte. But I'm curious about the vision statement they have agreed upon. This has been a difficult task and needs acknowledgement for their persistance, if nothing else.

Policy also has a few controversial items up for discussion, including the policy governing evening and weekend activity time restrictions and protection of instructional time. In a valiant but undoubtedly pointless effort, some of the members of the board are trying to enforce policies CURRENTLY IN PLACE that essentially tell the adults involved that they can't monopolize these kids every afternoon and evening, sometimes until midnight and expect this to have no effect on a kids academic standing. Please. Yes, it's a choice the kids have to make. Be in the play and lose class (academic) standing or stay out and lose a vital part of the school experience. Play soccer and miss some 20% of the last part of advanced biology or sit out of soccer for the sake of understanding the class. These are not really choices teenagers should have thrust on them. Adults should know better than to ask so much of these kids. The system is broken in so many ways, I can't begin to speak coherantly about this problem. The ones in charge are clueless. "But we have no control over who's in our conference. If we leave to be home by 10:00, we'll have to forfeit the game." When the hell are the adults in charge going to begin acting like adults? What Einstein runs WIAA anyway? Why would you have kids routinely going 1.5 hour-2 hour drives away for conference games? Stop the insanity. IT'S A GAME!!!!!

Drama is no better. Owning the kids for a week before the play or musical causes impact on their academic standing. You cannot expect students in a block schedule to eschew homework more than 10% of the quarter and escape with an unscathed GPA. "Oh, they have plenty of time to work on their homework in the green room." Are you for real? That place is bedlam. Plotting multivariate equations is probably best done in peace and quiet.

Sadly, the "battle lines," if you will, are firmly drawn in the sand, complete with stereotypical personality types. Protectors of academic achievement are cast as unidimensional people overly focused on GPA (nerds). Sports enthusiasts are cast as dumb jocks who never grew beyond their "glory days" as the high school sport star. Drama is and always has been, well, dramatic. You'll NEVER change that thinking. Has anybody thought to ask the kids what they think of this? They couldn't do any worse than the adults "in charge."

Friday, October 22, 2010

Administrator Evaluations

There is a topic of conversation that routinely arises this time of year. "Why is the administrator evaluation on the agenda every month for 4 or 5 months and intermittently throughout the year?" Click on the post to view the policy regarding Evaluation of the District Administrator. It is a pretty inclusive process that is time consuming when the board members remain the same. With the addition of new board members, the level of complexity rises exponentially. New members want history and help with the process. The evaluation paperwork is extensive and when done correctly, takes about 20-30 hours to complete. Research into the goals and results must be done. Data must be compiled and presented and, most challenging, result in a consensus united front to present to the administrator. This process is mind-numbing when there is only one boss. Now think of it being done with 7 bosses, all of whom have been around less time than the administrator and each of them with a different slant on their priorities as they pertain to the district. Seven people arriving at consensus on the sometimes contentious issues in an evaluation is always difficult, if not impossible, to achieve. Mr. Pierick takes a very methodical approach in the evaluation process and the resulting package presented to Ms. Carvin in the three years I participated in the process was thoughtful and produced a useful working document. I'm not sure everyone agrees with that, but at least there is a monumental effort to make the process meaningful. This is why it gets on the agenda so frequently. There is no issue beyond trying to provide a useful administrator evaluation to help the district run as smoothly as possible. Every time the board personnel changes, another level of challenge is introduced. So be patient and trust your board to be the good bosses they are by doing the thorough job we ask them to do. Don't read anything into the evaluation popping up frequently on the board agenda. They are following policy and taking their boss roles seriously!

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Early Start Time of 4:30 for October 25 School Board

Click on the post to view the agenda for Monday's meeting. Please note the early start time. They are trying to accomodate the board members with high school choir students so they can attend the choral concert at 7pm. First item will be setting the tax levy in light of the latest budget information from the state based on the third Friday in September enrollment figures. I don't know what the protocol will be for public statements prior to the board vote. I will attempt to find out and post the information prior to the meeting, as well as the figures that will be used for the state aid contribution for the 10-11 budget.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Administrators' Reports for Tonights Board Meeting

Click on the post to view the administrators' reports for the meeting tonight. I would have provided these earlier, but as of 9pm last night, they weren't available. Speed reading is called for. The third Friday count was 20 less than expected, 9 less than last year. I haven't had time to read them all yet, so I'll have to power read before the meeting. Enjoy.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Teachers' Unions Skewered in "Waiting for Superman"

In today's Wisconsin State Journal, there is a good review of the documentary "Waiting for Superman." Click on the post for the review. The author tries to paint a balanced picture of the movie, but it's clear that public education fares poorly and teachers unions are the culprit. The premise the director offers is that getting a good education is like winning the lottery. Mr. Guggenheim stated that his own children won the lottery because he could afford to send them to private school. I have not seen the movie nor read much about it, but I have made similar statements in this blog. The quality of public education ought not depend on the luck of where one lives. High quality education is an intrinsic right of every American child whether they live in Massachusettes or Louisiana. A country with the ingenuity to put a man on the moon ought to have the sheer fortitude to solve school finance woes. Perhaps putting a man on the moon is precisely why we cannot provide equitable high quality public education across America. It is, after all, a matter of priorities. A second review (http://host.madison.com/article_4f91a6a8-1179-5e4e-9212-4f0641507d12.html) is available as well that warns that the film is flawed because of its simplistic approach of demonizing the unions. An article in the Sunday paper featured Virtual Schools in Wisconsin and how the Madison School District projects to lose about $700,000 this school year in open enrollment out to virtual schools alone. (http://host.madison.com/wsj/news/local/education/local_schools/article_8710534e-d2f4-11df-98d6-001cc4c03286.html)
A third article last week featured parents of Madison West gifted and talented students who filed a complaint with the DPI charging that the school violates their childrens' right to an education by denying them access to gifted programming.

( http://host.madison.com/wsj/news/local/education/local_schools/article_0b363c3e-d0b0-11df-8157-001cc4c002e0.html )

Madison needs to wake up and smell the coffee. All of these news items point to a powderkeg waiting to blow in the world of public education. The underlying issue is money, even if the movie director points out that is not the issue. I know it doesn't solve every problem in education, but everybody has to make tough choices when spending limited funds. Do we buy textbooks to replace the 25-year-old outdated biology texts or purchase PT equipment? Do we hire a 5th grade teacher or a reading specialist to increase test scores? These questions are usually brought to the board one at a time, not diametrically opposed to each other. But ultimately, these are the kind of questions that must be answered during the Program Based Budgeting process. The Board relies on experts to help suss out these tough questions. These experts often stand there wringing their hands, explaining that they need it all. Then they tell the board that not providing this or that resource may result in a law suit. For this, they get paid the big bucks. That effectively settles the question and some very useful program or resource is cut to make way for a litigation free public school experience. This may be good guardianship of our tax dollars, but is it good guardianship for our childrens' education?

Then there's the teacher compensation package. I remember right after I was elected to the board, the district switched to a much less expensive insurance provider. I was thrilled thinking of all those thousands of dollars the district saved. Then I discovered that the district saved no money in this move at all because money saved on insurance cost went right back into the salaries. What the heck is the motivation for the district to find the most cost effective insurance provider if the district doesn't realize the savings? Why should they try to be good stewards of tax funds if the teachers get it either way? The only ones who benefitted were the teachers, who effectively got a raise because of Deb Olsen's hard work in finding a more cost effective insurance provider. It was a harsh but instructive introduction to the world of school finance.

In anticipation of teachers who wish to take umbrage with my position, it's duly noted. I am not very sympatico with your desire for free insurance. The last time I had fully funded health insurance with my employer was in 1985. And schools tout 21st century skills! Sheesh!

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Agenda for 10-11-10 Board Meeting

Click on the post for the agenda to be addressed at the Board Meeting on Monday October 11 at 5:30 in the Board and Training Center located next to the District Offices in TRIS. Highlights include the discussion of a possible Band and Choir trip to Florida in the spring, second reading of several policies, third Friday count, Board Goals Action Plan presentation, and much more. Please join the board to get the skinny on these and other topics happening in your school district!

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Jack-O-Lantern Jamboree on October 30 Will Keep Me Occupied This Month!

I wanted notify my readers that October is my busy month. I usually help with two projects every October which keep me very busy. This is the third year I have helped to fit the dresses for the young women in the formal high school band and choirs and the 5th year I have lent a hand with Jack-O-Lantern Jamboree publicity. The Jamboree is the big Fall Festival fundraiser sponsored by the K-5 PTO. Either one of these activities will keep one occupied and both of them strain the resources. Fortunately, it is at the beginning of the school year when I have more enthusiasm!

Anybody who wants to volunteer to help with the Jack-O-Lantern Jamboree, please let me know and I'll get your name to the volunteer coordinator. It will be held October 30 from 6-8 in the Grove Campus Field House. Who could resist food, games and seeing all those little goblins in their Halloween attire?

If my posts are fewer this month, all this fun volunteer work will be why. I do love getting into the schools and seeing all the students in their element. It's a good perspective to have. Scrutinizing the budget sort of depleted my resources and blog fever in the last month. The next board meeting is scheduled for October 11. No agenda has been published yet, but should be available by the end of the week. I'll post a link to the agenda when it's available.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

2010 Annual Meeting Summary

Click on the post to view the packet provided at last night's Annual Meeting. They also met as "committees of the whole" for Facilities and Transportation, Finance, Policy and Board Development, the link to which agenda is posted below:


They completed the finance section of the committees of the whole before breaking and coming back into session in the Annual Meeting. I arrived just in time for the tail end of the "future land purchase" discussion. The relatively new board is unfamiliar with the past history of investigation and needs more information before moving forward on any recommendations. The population study used at the time of the PR study is five years old and therefore obsolete. They agreed to get a quote for a new population study and review past data from PR, population study and the Long Term Planning Ad Hoc Committee. They will revisit at the October Committees of the Whole meeting.

Many questions surrounded the Health and Nursing Services Report and Heidi will research the answers and put them in her October report to the school board. The next FT committee report will be in January. By then, all the board members ought to be up to speed on the land purchase past data to decide the next step.

Next up was Finance. They usually do the discussion items first in all meetings, so they did items marked "B" first. There were 4 items up for discussion. Nancy Hurley gave an update on the status of the Education Foundation, which is moving forward at a good pace. Heidi Carvin gave an update on the Building Trades House. The offer expires September 30, at which time the buyers can rescind, continue the offer as it stands (contingent on sale of their home) or decided to just buy outright regardless of their own home sale. Fat chance on the last choice, I thought to myself...The BT class is hard at work getting the new house going. As for the newly available stimulus funds, the plan for spending the three hundred some odd thousand in federal superman funds is up to $77,000 for sure, with a question as to whether they will include another 23K that was already in the budget under the federal umbrella. It was my thought that the reason for this was more due to wanting to hold it back in case of disaster in the state budget next year. The discussion during the Annual Meeting that follows later makes me think it's something else at this point. More to do with "if we don't spend it, our state aid will decrease" kind of thought process, my least favorite public service budget arguement of all time. More on this later. The final discussion item, "Process Administrative Staff Raises; Merit/Cost of Living" was brought up by Nancy Hurley. She was curious as to how to address bringing this into the compensation discussion. Heidi's response was that in the last few years, she hasn't even given COLA raises to her staff. I don't think that's correct, but I'd have to check out the raises vs. COL increases in our area to verify. The discussion revolved around the mechanism for review having to change in order to bring merit to the table for non-union employees (like not just saying "the teachers got this raise, now so do we.."). It was interesting to see how Ms. Hurley reacted when she was told that "any merit pay for teachers would have to be written into the contract." When she asked how do they award their good teachers, Heidi told Nancy to nominate them for a Kohl's Award. Nice.

Finally, they got around to the action item: "Approval of a Non Union Position," which was moved (TR)and seconded(EB). This is when the first round of sparks flew. I don't know the details, because apparently this position has been on the down-low for a while. There's this guy who has been doing a "cleaner" kind of job for the district, funded by some Rock County work initiative for some unclear amount of time. Rock County Human Services (I probably have all the details wrong here, so don't quote me) asked the school to help out employing him when his Janesville job was eliminated. Previously, his entire salary was subsidized by Rock County. Now, that is being cut, so the administration asked the board to approve about $6600 to finish funding this position. After discussion that included things like, "in the Program Based Budgeting process, we were told they could do without this cleaner position," and "we are just about to vote in the annual meeting on a budget to which this is not added. What do you plan to cut to provide this service?" and "If we do need this position, I'd rather give the money to our current employees!" Michael Pierick moved to defer the vote until the October 25 Meetings of the Whole when they will know exactly what they plan to cut to include this position in the budget. Dennis Hatfield seconded. The discussion that ensued pointed out the problem. Apparently, his employment will end this week without board action last night. "I'll have to tell him he is no longer employed if you don't act now!" "So be it." said the board. "Since he currently is not under contract, I assume that his pay has been provided out of some discretionary fund that the administration has access to. It's their decision whether to continue use of those discretionary funds or not." Vote to defer passed 5-2 (Rossmiller, Busse). WHOA! Way to go Michael, Dennis, Sharon, Kathy and Nancy. Don't let them push you around. If the administration can't plan any better than this, you need to push back and remind them that THE BOARD is in charge of the district!

Next up 5 minute break followed by the Annual Meeting. I had a chance at this time to talk briefly with Deb Olsen about how the 2.1% decrease in property value was arrived at for our district. Somebody emailed me about this figure in light of the 3% reduction used for the city meeting. If you search Property Values in Rock County, you can find all the various communities and the projected declines in property value for each municipality comprising the school district. City of Evansville figure is projected at a 3% decrease, so it is accurate for the city to use this figure. To calculate a value for the school district, it is a matter of prorating all the values to arrive at a final figure of -2.1%. I was pretty sure this was how it was done and Deb verified it for me.

First order of business was to elect a Chair for the meeting. Dennis nominated Michael Pierick, Tina seconded, motion passed unanimously. I was the only non-school related person at the meeting. Attendees included the board, Heidi, Kelly Mosher, Deb Olsen, Vicki Lecy-Luebke, Lou Havlik and yours truly. 13 people to set the levy of a school district comprised of over 2000 voters. This is a sad statistic and brings shame on us all. Packer game or not.

Critical business included a motion (MP) and second (DH) to maintain board officer salaries at $1300 and board member salaries at $1200 for 10-11. Motion passed unanimously. Each separate Fund comprising our budget was then reviewed. I asked if the 13 million in state aid was final, answer was no. This means they don't know how much the state plans to kick in this year. I asked if the SAGE grant was really going to remain the same as last year (word on the street was no), and Deb used a middle value between the projected values. It could go down by as much as about 20K depending on how many districts apply for the grants since the total grant amount remains the same and more districts applying means less per district. I asked about the huge increases in our Special Education fund revenues 27 seen last year (9.7%) and this year (3.9%). They are from ARRA funds (round one of the stimulus package) and will disappear next year. I asked why the Debt Service Fund 30 value used for the Property Tax Levy summary on page 27 of the packet was lower than the value in the Debt Service Schedule on page 15 of the packet and it has to do with the difference in payment schedule (October) vs. fiscal year ending date (June 30).

Finally, it was time to vote on the proposed property tax levy. KS moved and EB seconded "Mr. President:I move that there be and hereby is levied and assessed against the taxable property both real and personal, within the confines of the Evansville Community School District, to be raised during the coming year taxes in the amount of $7,681,714, including $2,564,637 for debt service." Michael Pierick moved and I seconded to amend the motion to everything the same except that the total value of taxes raised would be reduced to $7,485,253. The missing $196,461 would be paid out of the fund balance, reducing the fund balance from the projected 11.01% to 10.00%, as is required in the current policy. I was astonished by his motion, because when I discovered the projected fund balance of 11.01%, it was my thoughts exactly to use the excess funds in this way. It was like we were twins or something. Eerie! Anyway, the district projects to end fiscal year 09-10 with 11.75% in the fund balance, 1.75% higher than the "schedule" in policy. The reduction to 11.01% for fiscal year ending June 2011 is because they expect to spend more than they get in revenue next year. Ideally, we want to see 10.5% in the fund balance next year to meet the goal of a half percent increase every year until 2020 when we plan to have the recommended 15% in our fund balance. But as Michael said, if every there were a rainy day, this is it. Monsoon season is my take on it. Apparently, there are homeless people sleeping on our park benches now. Many people have been profoundly negatively affected by the economy. Raising the mill rate by 9.25% is not the way to make friends in the community. The result of Michael's motion would reduce the Mill rate from the proposed $11.46 per thousand (a 9.75% increase from the current $10.49 per thousand. I incorrectly identified the current mill rate in prior posts as $10.80 per thousand) to $11.17 per thousand. This would be a 6.5% increase in the mill rate. The discussion that ensued was classic government speak and just aggravates me to even repeat it.

Our wise government would penalize our school district for trying to lift the tax burden from our citizens by using our "rainy day fund" to reduce the tax burden. That was even part of the discussion. Tina pointed out that she thought the fund balance was only for emergency purposes and as such shouldn't be used for tax containment purposes. I suppose if her house went into foreclosure because she couldn't afford her property taxes, she might sing another tune. The school taxes are only part of our tax bill. The city will raise taxes and the county will raise taxes. This is going to be a complete nightmare to see the tax bill in December. So, even though the fund balance is ahead of "schedule" to meet the 15% by 2020, using it in this way would reduce the state funding in 2011-12 from what it would be if we levied the whole thing. Since exact values of expected state revenue reductions from this action weren't known, the board wasn't willing to take a chance in this way. This was pretty dang frustrating for me. It's not like his proposal gutted programs or even reduced the Fund 10 local tax support. It just reduced the magnitude of the increase from 7.6% to 3.48% with the balance being paid from our "savings" account, the fund balance. Holy hemlock, when will these people understand the house of cards they have built on? I thought Michael's proposal was well thought out. Maybe if he had brought the idea to Deb so she could run the numbers before the meeting, it would have been more successful. Since Deb has been sick, he probably felt uncomfortable asking her to do even more for the meeting. The bottom line is that they are banking on money the state doesn't have and probably won't be giving anyway. The whole budgeting process is one big giant SNAFU. The timing doesn't allow for precise values to be used. Business managers have to be ouija boards and prognosticators of the highest order to keep their districts from going bankrupt and school boards tend continue to the "use it or lose it" taxation mentality that has placed them in the precarious predicament in which they currently find themselves mired. Anybody up in Madison paying attention? Fix this problem. Cross it out and start over because the current system is broken beyond all recognition.

But I digress from the business at hand. Michaels amendment failed 2-11 (you probably already surmised that) and the original motion passed 11-2. I can't wait to see what the city plans to levy next year. Yikes, is all I can say.

I didn't stay for the Policy or Board Development part of the meeting. The Packer Game beckoned. Policy brought back the "Wednesday and weekend activities" and "Protecting Instruction Time" policies that promised to be controvesial and lively discussions. I'll get the rest of the story for a later post. I think most people are looking for the Annual Meeting results and I want to get them out now. More later on developing stories.

Monday, September 27, 2010

ECSD Annual Meeting Tonight! Come on Down!

Click on the post for a link to the materials provided at the annual meeting tonight. This is your chance to vote on board members' salaries, vote on raising your mill rate by 9.25% (the property values are only expected to drop by 2.1%, not the 3% I used in my original post), and have your voice heard on these and other issues. Every member of the ECSD school district has a say and a vote. If you don't participate in the process, you have no right to complain later. (Melissa's first law of politics). Please join us tonight at 7pm in the High School Media Room for a lively meeting. OK, that might be a stretch to call it lively, but it will be instructive and they provide you a copy of the budget to scrutinize while it's discussed. It makes it so much easier when a hard copy is available to look at while they discuss particular line items.

See you tonight.

Critiquing the Annual Meeting Materials.

Click on the post to see a summary of information being presented to the public at the annual meeting tonight. I know it's early to start the criticizing process, but this is an issue that I have had with the administration of our district before I ran for the school board. Selected use of data to paint the situation in whatever light the administration wants to portray for their own agenda is really annoying. I prefer the unspun data to arrive at my own conclusions.

As an example, look at page 14, which summarizes district income and property value data as well as student achievement data. I am disappointed that the most recent data are not used here. I don't know the exact information for the income and property values for this year, but the finance section projects a 2% decrease in value, not the 3% I used to extrapolate our cost per thousand on our school tax bill next year. So at least that value could have been used for the finance section. I know for a fact that 09-10 ACT data are available because I posted about it in August. We are no longer 2nd out of 10 "conference or local" schools, as is suggested in the data packet, as we were in 2007. We placed 3rd out of 6 schools in our conference in 09-10 ACT composite scores. Since I don't know what other 4 schools were included in the 10 used here, I cannot comment further. This is the kind of "spin doctoring" that annoys the daylights out of me from our school district. Yes, we were 2nd out of 10 conference and local schools 2 years ago, were being the operative word here.

Similarly, we could have had the most recent report regarding the WKCE data, but they chose to use 08-09 data. The three data points they chose to report out of dozens they could discuss didn't change a whole lot. But I'll bet a dollar the placements did. There are WKCE downward trends that are concerning, just like there are ACT composite data downward trends that should prompt some curriculum evaluation. Showing a single point in time is of no use whatsoever. Spinning it to make the district seem better off than they are is disingenious. And once again, the ACT state data are being touted as "third highest in the nation." This is simply untrue. Wisconsin's ACT composite results are tied for 17th with Nebraska nationwide. The "third highest" value comes when you restrict your data base to "states in which over 50% of the students take the exam." Which lops off the 14 highest scoring states, Massachusettes being one of them. Massachusettes is the gold standard in US education and we don't even compare ourselves to them because the local schools in Massachusettes prefer SAT data for college entrance exams. Please! This is simply a ploy to make Wisconsin seem better than it is. While the Wisconsin state composite ACT score has fluctuated by about one percent in the last 5 years (gone up then back down), the Evansville score has steadily decreased by 3.5% in the same time period. The state has increased the percent of students taking the test by 4.4% while ECSD has increased by 5.9% the ACT participants in the same time period, so that statistic is relatively stable. I would prefer to see the unvarnished truth revealed by raw data or an unbiased number cruncher. This is the only way to take the bull by the horns and make progress. I will continue to be a critical observer of this aspect of our school district until they present data without an agenda. Most people are intelligent enough to arrive at their own conclusions without being manipulated by spin doctors.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Budget Review for 2010-2011 is complete. See Below

In case you don't scroll down because you think you've seen it all, please check out the finance discussion that says it posted on September 19, but took me all week to finish. I can't figure out how to change the date of the posting when I save material to post later. Some topics are harder and require more research than others. If anybody knows how to change the date posted to reflect the actual date an item is posted and not the date the post was started, I'd appreciate a heads up! Thanks, M.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Breaking News From the Observer! Youth Center Board Unanimously Recommends Staying Under City Budget This Year

Click on the post to hear the audio from the Observer Blog regarding the Youth Center Board Decision. They have decided not to seek placing the Youth Center funding under the auspicies of the School District using Fund 80 to fund outside of the revenue caps at this time. It sounds like they are planning to come forward to be included in the program based budgeting process for next year, and that's an appropriate place for them to start the process of Fund 80 discussions. I still plan to attend the Annual Meeting on September 27th just in case they decide to change their mind, or if the two board members who voted to place it on the Annual Meeting Agenda decide to do so, I will be there for my rebuttal.

I'm working on a post regarding "School Finance 101: School Budgets for the Layperson" in preparation for the Annual Meeting on September 27th.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

2010-2011 ECSD Budget Highlights

Click on the post for a link to the ECSD Fund summaries posted in the Review last week in compliance with posting of the budget prior to the Annual Meeting to set the Property Tax Levy. I'm going to attempt to explain school finance here. It may be a complete failure, but here goes:

ECSD budget is composed of six funds:
  • Fund 10, the operating budget which defines all transactions both as revenue income and expenditures from all sources to operate the schools.
  • Fund 21 which describes transactions regarding donations.
  • Fund 27, which describes Special Education funding. It is a "flow through" fund because it never really parks itself in our possession. It flows in as revenue and flows out equally as expenditure.
  • Fund 30, which describes our Debt Service transactions (how we pay off our High School and other loans).
  • Fund 50, Food Service Transactions.
  • Fund 90, Package Cooperative Fund (I think this is the Fund from which our CESA 2 cooperative service shared programming is funded). This also operates as a flow-through fund.

To give a very broad brush summary of all of these funds, only one of them (Fund 21, Donations) is projected to operate in the black for 10-11. Two of them operate in a flow through capacity and are therefore budget neutral (Fund 27 and Fund 90). Fund 10, the school operating budget, projects to spend $66,492 more than it collects in revenue. The debt service Fund 30 has stemmed the hemorrhage of over-spending next year from over $30,000 in each of the last 2 years to only $5544 next year. They managed this through refinancing a portion of the debt over the summer. About blinking time, I think. Food Service Fund 50 projects to spend $2401 more than it takes in revenue and fees this year. Last year the deficit was a little over $7000. I guess that alacart thing isn't working out so well for them after all. Even raising the lunch fees twice in three years hasn't helped this Fund. All in all, expenditures are projected to exceed revenues by $74,437 for those three funds. This just goes contrary to my inner miserly soul. It's never acceptable to spend more than you make. Take into account the bleak budget projections for the next state biennium budget and you're asking for budget misery and an empty fund balance in short order.

Fund 10 is the "budget" that the school board works with all year long to track spending and revenue. Expenditures from this Fund have accounted for 76-79% of net total expenditures in ECSD for the last two years. It is this Fund that the finance committee of the whole scrutinizes and approves transactions for every month. Over the summer, the finance committee approved refinancing part of the district loan, which changed some parameters in Fund 30. But the day-to-day fund that the school board focuses on is Fund 10. This is the fund to which the state aid and local property tax is deposited. Every year the brainiacs in Madison decide what "per pupil expenditure" they will shell out for each district. That process alone requires a PhD in finance to adequately understand. The state furiously attempts to "equalize" school aid through a complicated equalization formula. For the last three budget cycles, the state aid to ECSD ranged between 67 and 68% of all revenue flowing into Fund 10. Property taxes make up the bulk of the balance of revenue flowing into Fund 10. Federal funds, open enrollment and other state sources also contribute to Fund 10, but usually comprise only about 5% of the revenue streams for Fund 10.

The decision as to the magnitude of state aid to the district is not usually finalized until October, after the Annual Meeting. Once this is known, then the School Board is able to set the final tax levy. The Annual Meeting seeks permission from the electorate to set the levy. My experience on the board has been that the budget placed in the paper and brought to the Annual Meeting is a "worst case scenario" budget so that the district can request of the constituents at the meeting permission to levy a certain amount that would be the MAXIMUM required. Other districts don't have such a gifted business manager as we are lucky to have in our own Ms. Olsen. If the state contribution is higher than the "worst case scenario" brought in August, the local dollar contribution can be reduced to set the tax rate. As I understand it, the proposed Total Levy couldn't be increased without another meeting for taxpayer approval.

Last year, the state unexpectedly increased our aid by 4%, which allowed a decrease in the Local Revenue portion of the Fund 10 revenue stream, from 4.795 Million Dollars to 4.755 Million Dollars. Many of you may be wondering "How is the magnitude of the local tax levy calculated? If the local property tax total contribution to Fund 10 for last year went down, why the &*^() did the tax levy go up last year?" That is a good question, grasshopper. There are two parts of the tax levy for ECSD and, I suppose, for most school districts. The first part is the property tax required to maintain the Fund 10 district operating budget. The second part is the funds required to meet our Debt Service Fund 30 obligations (pay off our loan). Even though the unexpected boon from the state allowed the district to reduce the property tax contribution to Fund 10 last year, the amount due on our loan increased by about 5% last year, causing a net increase of 1.18% in the total levy in dollar amount.

In anticipation of a dismal state contribution next year, Deb Olsen has wisely projected less than 1% increase in state aid to Fund 10 next year. Even if every budget line item remained the same next year, the 5.8% increase in the Debt Service portion of our finance obligations would increase our total Tax Levy by 1.95%. Now take into account that the district anticipates spending $645,909 more this year than last year. This is more than double the magnitude of the increase in spending between school years beginning in 08 and 09. $478K of that $646K (74%) increase this year is in the "Instruction" line item, which includes all parts of the salary and benefits. That may seem high until you see that instruction between the previous 2 years increased by $290K among total expenditures that increased by only $317K, accounting for over 90% of the increase in expenditures last year. I surmise from this data that our district insurance rates are skyrocketing. The good news that can be taken away from perusing the budgets is that last year seems to have ended with $168K less spent than expected, which went into the Fund balance, immediately to be nearly completely decimated by the deficit budget written for this year.

The final piece of the tax puzzle is property value because tax bills come based on the calculated "mill rate" for the district, expressed in dollars owed per thousand in property value. Mill rates are calculated by a lengthy but straightforward procedure. First, the total local revenue value required to meet district obligations is determined. We'll call this R. Next, the sum of the total district property value from all cities and townships within the district is divided by 1000. We'll call this P. R divided by P will give you the mill rate owed by each property owner as local revenue to support the school district. Our current mill rate is 10.80. A home valued at $200,000 cost its owner $2160 in taxes for the school district only last year. The rest of your property tax bill supported city services, county services, U-Rock, Blackhawk, etc etc etc. I looked up the 2010 equalized value for Evansville online, which showed a decrease in equalized property value of 3% both last year and this year. If we assume that the rest of the district has a similar decrease in value, that means that a home considered to be worth $200,000 last year was considered worth $194,000 this year. If the total tax levy was unchanged, that home would still be responsible for supporting the district with $2160 in revenue. The mill rate has now increased from $10.80 per thousand to $11.13 per thousand. Same tax bill in dollar value, but the rate has increased because the property value fell. Now let's increase the revenue provided by this theoretical house by 6.99%. The new tax bill for the school district only comes to $2311. The mill rate is now $11.91 per thousand dollars of property value. The local school district portion of your property tax bill has gone up 6.99% when expressed in dollars, while your rate has increased by 10.29% due to decreasing property values. While it's sobering that the property values have decreased again this year, most of us are only concerned about the dollar value owed for taxes. Unless the state has a miracle discovery of billions of dollars somewhere and sends us more money than expected again this year (unlikely!), I predict that this preliminary budget that Ms. Olsen has prepared will remain and the 6.99% increase in Tax Levy will be necessary.

I hope that helps explain some of the mystery of School Finance. It always perplexed me and continues to find new ways to seem unnecessarily complicated to me. The goal of public education ought to be to provide equivalent education (which implies equivalent funding for every school) for all students from Alaska to Florida and all points between. One need only view the results of national standardized tests like the ACT and SAT to be disabused of this quaint notion. It is a sad truth in this great land of opportunity that some kids, who by sheer dumb luck live in Massachusettes will get one of the very best public educations in the nation while other kids who are unfortunate enough to be born in Missouri will get one of the worst educations in the nation. We in Wisconsin should count ourselves lucky to be in the middle of the pack, even if they'd like us to think we're "tied with third with Nebraska on the ACT." That's only true if you qualify the data to exclude all of the highest performing states. We are really tied for 17th place with Nebraska on national ACT performance data. It seems that the land that has produced so many marvels throughout history, both sociologically and technically, ought to be able to come up with a plan to solve this inequitable distribution of one of our nation's most prized cornerstones: public education.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Musings from a "Recovering Board Member"

My last posting got me thinking about what perks I enjoy as a citizen participant at school board meetings. I stole the phrase "recovering board member" from another former board member from several years ago who commiserated with me shortly after my election loss:

Top Ten Perks of Attending Board Meetings in a "Citizen Only" Capacity After Getting My Butt Whupped in April:

1. Board Meetings are Optional.

2. You don't have to stay for the topics/sections guaranteed to raise your blood pressure, but perversely you do because that's who you are. Also, you have low blood pressure that could use a little boost once in a while.

3. You can write a school issues blog without worrying about conflict of interest.

4. People don't call you to complain about prom anymore.

5. People don't call you to complain about Poms anymore.

6. You don't have to sit through any more excruciating Policy Discussions in which 20 minutes is spent finding exactly the right word or phrase to accurately express the intention of the policy at hand. I know it's very important to do this. It just drove me crazy. It's the whole numbers vs. word dichotomy with me. Give me numbers every time. Typically, they don't have nuances associated with them.

7. People don't accost you at the Piggly Wiggly anymore to explain in gory detail exactly what a moron you are for voting such and such a way on an issue of great importance to THEM.

8. You don't have to try to make sound decisions after a 5-6 hour meeting marathon leaves you bleary eyed and exhausted.

9. You get to observe board meetings from a different perspective, which is a real eye-opener after facing the audience for three years.

10. And the top reason bears repeating: Board Meetings are Optional.

To balance this list, there is also another list that must be shared:

"Top Ten Things I Miss About Serving on ECSD School Board"

1). I miss signing the diplomas. As Clerk, I got to sign every diploma. It never failed to make me all teary eyed remembering these young adults as gap-toothed grade schoolers. My oldest child was really looking forward to having me sign her diploma in two years.

2). I miss being well informed about school news. The only people who really know what's going on in the district from a birds eye view is the school board and the administrator. They have to read about 200 pages of material every month that gives information from all parts of the district. Even going to every meeting as a citizen does not give you the data you need to get that firm grasp on the many nuances of intricate school business.

3). I miss being a voice for the underserved student-scholars of our district. As I have mentioned a hundred times or so, I am passionate about good, solid, classical educational values. In an effort to be everything to everybody, public education has diluted itself so much as to be minimally impactful for most students.

4). I miss interacting with collegues of like (and sometimes not so like) minds.

5). I miss addressing issues that really are important to the administration of a successful public school, like student achievement, curriculum and setting an environment of high expectations for our students.

6). I'm sorry I didn't get the chance to serve on the board with Nancy Hurley. She effectively communicates concerns while remaining respectful, most of the time.

7). I really loved being on finance. School finance is hard to grasp and I really enjoyed working with Deb to learn more every year.

8). Similarly, I miss playing with the student achievement data every year to detect trends and use the data to predict future performance. I am a nerdy data hound, let's face it. But if the data are not used to some useful end, it's relatively useless to collect it. I think I provided a well needed set of critical eyes on this bottom line in our district.

9). I miss being a role model for public service to my kids. My oldest just got into the NHS. Her gradepoint was never an issue, but she got involved in public service projects, possibly because she saw me and her dad before me become involved citizens helping to shape the public policy in our city. I will have to be careful to continue to cultivate this for my younger two children to remind them of their responsibility as a citizen.

10). Finally, I miss going to the Wisconsin Association of School Boards annual meeting in Milwaukee. There was always some state of the art presentation at the cutting edge of education to go see. I got to see Mrs. Oswald get her "teacher of the year" award at the WASB meeting as well.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

9-13-10 Board Meeting Update

As I was afraid of, I had a conflict on Monday night and couldn't attend the board meeting. Since I wasn't there for a blow by blow account, this will be short. My contact says the meeting went well, ending about 9pm. They added a new GT person at the high school and a new resource teacher at TRIS with their stimulus funds.

I asked about the ACT scores discussion, and I sort of predicted Heidi's call that ACT data was promising as compared to the state scores. I already posted about that previously and you can decide if you agree with her assessment (see post on August 31st). She was particularly pleased with the increase in the percent of students taking the test to 66.4%. This statistic has gradually increased from about 59% five years ago to nearly two-thirds today. This is good news and places us 2nd out of 6 in our conference on percentage of students taking the test compared to third in our conference on actual results. The school taking third in participation rate did so with 66.2% participation, so it's not as if they had a big step down in number of kids taking the test showing only "the cream of the crop" took the test or something like that.

One hotter topic that came back up at this board meeting was mentioned over the summer. The middle school kids are acting up at the football games. I knew this was considered an issue because Mr. Everson broached the topic in July, I think. Because of his concerns, I wouldn't let my middle schooler attend the first game without a parent. The problem is not just kids whose parents drop them off to watch the game. Even responsible parents who accompany their middle-schoolers to the game get ditched by their kids, who then seek novel ways to cause mischief (to put it kindly). So a word to the wise parents: Make your kid stay in your sight at all time or don't take them to the game with you. Kids who don't come into the stadium or leave the stadium after a short time are causing grief outside of the stadium. I don't know what the answers are, but one of them might be "loitering" tickets on school property, or something like that. I hope it improves over time.

The Annual Meeting and the September Meetings of the whole are still planned for September 27 beginning at 5:30 with the Meetings of the Whole, breaking to the Annual Meeting at 7pm and continuing, if needed with the meetings of the whole after the annual meeting.
Sorry about missing the meeting last Monday, but duty called. This is the most exciting perk about getting my tail whupped in the election. The meetings are optional and I don't have to stay for the parts I don't like if I don't want to!

I plan to attend the annual meeting, if not the meetings of the whole. I'd love to see a huge turnout for this meeting. I'm 99% sure that establishment of Fund 80 in support of the Youth Center will be placed on the agenda at the meeting. I will make a statement against establishing Fund 80 in support of the youth center at that time. Since I think those in favor of this Fund 80 establishment will "stack the deck" in attendance, I'd like to see an equal turnout of those not in favor of this idea to rebut the remarks of those in favor. The discussion will be better balanced that way. I want to make it perfectly clear that my opposition to establishment of Fund 80 is not an opposition to the Youth Center. I just don't like how the city has played their hand here and believe a little push back by the school is called for at this time.

More later...

Saturday, September 11, 2010

A Moment to Remember

Though this blog is focused on education and schools, I'd like to honor those who lost their lives, both on this date 9 years ago and in the ensuing wars waged in pursuit of the evil architect of such human misery. May we soon see the end of these conflicts and earn the wisdom to avoid them in the future.

9-13-10 ECSD Business Action Item School Board Meeting

Click on the link for a copy of the agenda of the Business Action Item School Board meeting to commence at 5:45pm on September 13th in the Theodore Robinson Intermediate School LMC immediately following the 5:30pm meeting at the same venue to sell last year's BT house and buy a lot for this year's BT house. Click on the link below for details regarding that transaction.


There's only two items up for discussion at this meeting. The Board goals and the Annual meeting budget background. Heidi will discuss this year's ACT scores and academic excellence along with beginning of the year summary and middle school coverage. Please keep Mr. and Mrs. Flaherty and Connor in your thoughts. We wish a speedy recovery to him.

I hope to make it for the beginning of this meeting, but may have a conflict. I'm curious how Heidi plans to spin the ACT scores this year and really want to see the budget discussion. I hope the stimulus money is used wisely and with great care. There are so many competing needs in our district it's hard to make such a decision sometimes. That's why the Program Based Budgeting process is so important in our district. It helps keep the priorities in focus for when there is such a windfall. It also helps put into perspective things like the Youth Center which wasn't even on the radar until the end of July.

Please remember that the Annual Call to Meeting is September 27, 2010 at 7pm in the High School Commons. Click on the link below for the official posting:


Every citizen of the ECSD has a vote on the business at this meeting. Make that extra effort to come make your voice heard on the topic of the mill rate, board salaries, more than likely establishment of a Fund 80 to exceed revenue caps in support of the youth center. This means that the school will be allowed to tax you beyond the revenue caps. It also means that any program that qualifies as a Fund 80 program, like summer enrichment programs, are eligible to be funded in this way. Heidi made it clear that this is an important aim for her in establishing this fund. Don't expect the expenditures to end at the funding of the youth center.

That being said, the annual call is more like an advisory referendum. The board will take the result of the vote into account when it sets the final tax levy in October after the state contribution is known. Previous discussions of these kinds of advisory votes have centered on the demographics of the meeting attendees. For example, last year, there was such a vote regarding purchase of property to increase green space at the middle school. I think the vote was FOR purchase of the property at the August meeting. When the Board convened to finalize the levy in October, the personal interests of the majority citizens voting for the purchase were clearly recognized by the board and this minimized the impact of the vote in the board's mind. That purchase was ultimately denied by the board. The same kind of thing could happen this time as well. By all means, come have your voice heard for or against establishment of Fund 80. Just understand that the vote at the annual meeting is not binding and may differ from the board decision in October when the final levy is set. The Annual Meeting GIVES THE BOARD PERMISSION to set a levy up to a certain amount and establish a Fund 80 for a certain amount. It does not COMPEL the board to do so.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Another New School Year

Happy New School year to all! The kids were all so excited this morning. Even my "too cool" teens were enthusiastic to return to the familiar routine and, more importantly for at least one of my kids, see her friends more often. Enjoy the establishment of the new routine and encourage learning at every opportunity! Good luck to all the kids and the staff as well.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

ACT Scores Drop for Evansville Again.

Gina scooped me on this one. She's summarized it in the GazetteXtra. Click on the post to see our summary compared to our athletic conference, Rock Valley North. Our composite score is 3rd out of 6 schools behind East Troy and McFarland. By subject, we waffle between second and third. I guess Heidi's news isn't so good for the school board meeting on September 13th. But that's my take on it. I'm sure our administration will spin this as a good thing.

I evaluated the data by gender and Evansville's boys took second place in our conference, the girls took third for composite score. The girls took second in Reading, fourth (!) in English, third in Math and fourth in Science in the conference. The boys took 3rd in Reading, 2nd in Reading, 2nd in Math and tied with Jefferson for second in Science. The stereotypical gender differences have begun to creep back into Evansville's ACT results: The boys scored better than the girls in Math (1.9 points better) and Science (1.6 points better) and the girls beat the boys in Reading (0.7 points) and English (0.8 points). Just a few years ago, the girls were kicking the boys' heines by 2-3 points in English and Reading and had reduced the differences in Math and Science to less than 0.5 points.

Compared to the state results, our composite score is just 0.3 point above the average state result for composite score this year. In individual subjects, Evansville scored from 0.7 ahead of the state average(Reading) to even with the state average (Math). Wisconsin's average composite score of 22.0 compares favorably to the national average of 21, which stands Evansville High in pretty good company nationally, which is how the administrators likely try to spin the data. But our graduates are competing locally in Wisconsin. While average Wisconsin scores have fluctuated between 22.0 and 22.3 since 1997, Evansville scores have gone through fits and starts, most recently showing a continuing slide downward from a district high composite showing of 23.1 in 05-06 to this year's 22.3. I would argue that this indicates that our graduates are becoming less competitive in the local Wisconsin Education and the job markets. I look forward to how the administration presents this data in September. It sure would be nice if we would try to compete with McFarland's excellent results (they trounce the whole conference in every category, both boys and girls). But I'm sure the company line will be "McFarland is a much different community than Evansville and we can't compare apples to oranges." But it would be great if everyone would at least ASPIRE to their results.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Should ECSD Have to Pay a Babysitter for Buses?

One item I forgot to mention in the discussion of planning for spending the new stimulus funds was an addition of $5400.00 for a bus aid. I thought this was for helping disabled students. Oh, no. This is because the bus drivers no longer feel it is safe for them to drive with all the shenanigans that transpire on the bus. Kathy Swanson was mortified that we have to hire a babysitter because kids and parents aren't abiding by the agreement to follow the bus rules at all times, which everyone signs with their registration forms. She figured it should be part of a busdriver's job and why isn't Ringhands dealing with this better? I'm with Kathy in some respects. Kick the hooligans off the bus. Unfortunately, according to Heidi, the perpetrators of bus bullying and other heathen behavior are often in situations where the parents won't make it a priority to get them to school. So what? They will become truant soon enough and get a ticket, at which point they WILL get that kid to school, or pay more fines and fees. You have to stop trying to save everybody. Let them be responsible or face the consequences. How in tarnation will they ever learn if you won't try the "Love and Logic" approach you keep touting at school? Why not try it for some routes. Tough love for half the routes, babysit the rest of the routes. See which routes get in line faster and take whatever data you want. Monitor habitual truants, behavior/discipline problems, happy parents calling in that you finally booted Jonny B. Bully from the bus, you decide what you want to follow and follow it. My gut tells you that you will have data that demonstrates the behavior on the tough love busses improved, the attendance may dip but surge back up and there will be many parents who will applaud the action that brings safety and order back to their child's bus ride. I know I would absolutely be thrilled that my kindergartener wasn't facing fear and mean nasty behavior every day.

Or how about this? I bet a dollar some parents would volunteer to ride shotgun for the bus drivers. There are probably a lot of parents who would love the opportunity to level the playing field for the victims of the bullies and show the well behaved kids there's somebody on their side.

What do my readers think? Does anybody know what the legal obligations are for booting some kid from the bus? I'm not sure what they are, but I suspect that the same bleeding heart who told school districts that they must provide education for the kids they expel would have a field day with the kids kicked off the bus... Have mercy!

On a more positive note, I just came back from a trip to the Madison's Children's Museum. Our friend had her youngest's 5th birthday party there today. Happy Birthday Julian! That place is fabulous. It is the epitomy of learning through play, a scientist's dream! When our first child was born, I was fascinated by what experimental creatures babies are. All three of our much older kids ages 10-16 had a blast the whole time. When it was time for us to leave, all of them said "Why so soon?" I felt compelled to give a donation because we got in for free with the party. Anybody who knows what a tightwad I am will appreciate the quality I perceived in this jewel of Madison. My personal favorite exhibit was the huge doll house. Miniature stuff has always fascinated me. The 10 year old loved the water play, the 13 year old thought the shadow room was AWESOME and the 16 year old sketched me in the Arts and Crafts Exhibit after I told her to sketch the guest of honor. He was darting all over the place and hard to pinpoint. I urge you all to check it out. And if you don't have any kids to take with you, just go and appreciate the awe and wonder in the faces of the patrons of all ages who are rediscovering the joy of experimentation.

Friday, August 27, 2010

In case you missed them...

I finally finished my commentary on the August 23rd Committee meetings of the whole. Since I started them way back on the 24th, part one is dated August 24th and part two is dated August 25th. Lots of good topics included. Sorry they're so long, but I had a lot of my own opinions to add here and there.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

And then the Janesville School District Caved...

The link is active now. Click on the post to link to the story. Poor Karen Schulte. She stands up to the good old boys and the Janesville School Board slaps her down. The Janesville school board came to an agreement with their Frat Boy principal to let him resign AND pay him a lump sum of 10 grand, as well as let him keep his insurance until the end of September, which amounts to another $2600, as well as not contesting his unemployment claim (I don't know what these costs are). All to avoid about $37,000 in legal fees and staff time to prepare, not to mention the potential appeals costs as well. This is really sad, because it sounds like there's a strong case against him. His denial in the accompanying article is so blinking lame. I'm so furious that our schools are reduced to making such deals with unscrupulous types because they can't afford to prosecute them in a court of law. If ever there was a case that needed pro-bono work, this is one of them.

The only light at the end of the tunnel is in the tiny third article on page 12A. The WI DPI has requested documents from Janesville to find out if Wolczak engaged in immoral conduct as defined in the statutes. It's not a formal investigation until the DPI determines it is possible that the jerk engaged in immoral conduct. The formal investigation could then lead to a revocation of his administrator's license. I was really glad to read this. The thing that bugged me the most about the district caving on this was that he is now free to seek a position with another unsuspecting school district and inflict his misogynist ways on other teachers. If the DPI can pull his license, this won't come to pass. We can only hope.

Janesville does good!

Click on the post to link to the article about Janeville's distribution of the pay increase for non-represented employees. They only got a half percent raise, but instead of giving each employee, they totaled the sum of this increase for all employees who are non-represented and divided it equally to give each employee a $400.00 raise. Very egalitarian and addresses many concerns about high administrator pay. Kudos, Mrs. Schulte and staff for that idea.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

8-23-10 Committee Meetings of the Whole, Part 2

A five minute break was followed by the rest of the finance agenda. Nancy gave an update on the Education Foundation which was put in place by a donation from Heidi Carvin a few years ago. Heidi shared that this was in honor of her Grandfather, part of whose bequest to Heidi's family was used to establish the Foundation. Thank you Ms. Carvin, for this generous donation. Hopefully, it can bring good things to our district. The Building Trades house has no update. There is an offer on the current house contingent on the buyers selling their house, so they are still considering unencumbered offers on the house. The purchase of another lot and sale of the house is on the special meeting agenda scheduled September 13 at 5:30 in the TRIS LMC. It needed 2 weeks of posting to meet statute, so couldn't be dealt with in this meeting. Click on the link below for details of the meeting:


The $300,000 (plus!) in stimulus funds was discussed next. These funds need to be spent by Sept. 2012, so that made it easier to spend with care. I was pleased to see that they planned to take 5 positions currently in the budget and fund them with stimulus funds, freeing up about $62K to put back into the depleted Fund 10 balance next year. Three more positions that were cut with the PBB process in February were proposed to be restored as well. Finally, a Learning Specialist at the High School to help guide AP test improvement and PSAT strategies will be considered. Studies show students who take 2 or more AP tests are better prepared for college than those who don't take the tests. Since Mrs. Hanson has requested half-time for the entire year for maternity purposes, and her full salary is in the budget, it's possible we could get a full time GT person at the high school for only half a salary more. Not a bad idea to try out. Michael Pierick voiced his concern that placing all of these items amounted to over half of the total federal funds. He wanted to save more than half for 11-12 because next year's budget outlook is worse than this year's. He has a good point too. This money is like a knight in shining armor for the school district this year and I was so proud to see the board propose conservative and responsible spending of that money. And I guess I was wrong in my "Top Ten" list. There IS more bail out money.

The teacher who resigned was a new hire 1st grade teacher who hasn't really even started. The contract approval was a replacement for a replacement, Miss Schlimgen. She may find, like Mr. Steve before her, that she becomes Miss Katy, or whatever her name is. Both personnel decisions passed 7-0.

The agenda for the 27th finance meeting will include the BT house update (sales details, hopefully), admin. salary process, federal dollars use and the final proposal to change how district officials are paid. It takes too much time and effort to pay them each by check on the day of each event. It seems every event has some change in officiating and that means one voided check and another reissue check for the replacement official. Deb will propose how to change this process to be more district-friendly. This has long been coming. Amen, I say. If it makes Deb's job easier, all the more reason to implement it. The labor it should save alone will be considerable in light of the number of checks issued each month for officials. On an editorial note, they have discussed the problem many times in the past, but not tried to really solve it before now because our AD repeatedly told them that the referees wouldn't like it. Big hairy deal, I say! Since when do employees get to dictate the terms of payment to employers?

Next came Policy and a contentious discussion about the Graduation Exercises Policy. Michael drafted a VERY DETAILED alternative proposal for 345.2 now on the books. It was not well received because of the detailed instructions included in his policy regarding graduation date and time, selection criteria for how graduates process, behavior expected, etc. I guess there was a great deal of concern expressed to Michael and other board members about the lack of decorum, the alphabetical procession, disrespectful behavior, and more shown at this year's graduation exercises. Michael and many citizens were "deeply offended" that the honor students weren't accorded the places of honor as in the past as the first in line and first recipients of their diplomas. He used the term "our best students" during this discussion and sent Nancy Hurley off on a tangent. She accused him of being elitist, that our best students aren't necessarily the ones who get all As, that she "knows a lot of honor students who don't have to work one bit for their grades and a lot of kids work their butts off for Cs" OK, Ms. Hurley, here's where I must disagree with you and challenge you. You are engaging in just as specious a generalization as you're accusing Michael of when you say you "know a lot of honor students who don't have to work one bit for their grades." What is your frame of reference? When do you observe this behavior? Do you follow their every waking moment and know how hard they apply themselves to a problem or assignment? Is working smart not working hard? You have two children whose study habits you can specifically address. You cannot make such a generalization to all students about this issue. Yes, fundamental ability may well be innate, but you cannot observe from afar and say "many honor students don't have to work a whit for their grades."

And by the narrow criteria inherent in any grading system, the honor students ARE our very best students. They get the highest grades, which is how the best students are defined in the current school hierarchy. Next thing you know, you're going to want the hardest working athlete to be placed on the first string varsity team even though he trips on microscopic elevations on the ground and the singer that practices the most to be given all the solos even if she sounds like nails on a chalkboard. Innate talent comes into play in every endeavor. Do you want an honor student processing your checking account or somebody who squeaked by with a D?

The fundamental issue here is a lack of standardization into what constitutes A results, B results etc. across the disciplines at the High School. We won't even go into how lame the actual standards have become to earn an A or a B in our district. When a department representative tells me at a meeting that it is possible for a student to earn an A on effort alone in his department, I'm pretty sure the grading scale is effectively useless as an honors student indicator anymore, at least in the traditional sense of the words.

Michael made a very good point at this juncture. He said that the board is accused of micromanaging the administrators, but essentially is forced into micromanaging because certain issues continue to be brought up as problematic year after year, which shows that the administration is ineffectively dealing with those issues. (Poms, prom and graduation were cited). We need a graduation exercises handbook, somebody suggested. Somehow, the conversation turned back to the topic of honors graduates leading the processional.

There was clear tension between Michael, and Tina and Eric, who seem to view Michael as being hypersensitive to the perception that athletes are unjustifiably revered and honored in the district. Athletes have their awards night and so do the scholars, they said (I've heard that story before). Honors and high honors students aren't any more important than the other graduates and don't deserve special recognition at graduation, according to these two. Besides, they already have their honors cords and sashes which are specific to the academic honor they earned. There is some truth to the fact the everyone can see who the honors kids are by what cords they sport at the ceremony. However, their premise that there isn't any special treatment given to athletes beyond their banquet is false. Here's just a few ways in which our district kowtows to athletics. Number one, the abysmal so-called 1.5 GPA requirement for participation was set by the WIAA rules and by extension, the athletic department. Why does something as fundamental as our level of academic performance required to earn co-curricular and extra-curricular participation get driven by athletics, when all the other kinds of co-curricular activities combined exceed athletic participation? Our district is second lowest in our conference in this GPA requirement (yes, somebody has a 1.25 GPA "requirement, believe it or not), so this is not the status quo in Wisconsin. Number two, all the band and chorus concerts have to be on Monday night, the same night as the board meetings. When I asked why, I was told that it was because it's the only night athletics aren't held. "You won't have the athletes participating in music if you do it otherwise!" Well, OK, lets turn that thought process around. What if the athletic department had to work around the band schedule and chorus schedule? Let's say jazz band and jazz chorus have draconian rules about missing a practice leading to reduced participation IN SOMETHING THAT IS VOLUNTARY IN THE FIRST PLACE!!! Lets imagine that the musicians wouldn't participate in sports unless the sporting event were only held on their day 0ff of music. Who is it that plays at the games in something called the PEP BAND in support of sports? In what way is sports equally supportive of band? I have attended every band and choir concert at the HS for 2 years and don't remember seeing the coaches, ADs and non-musician athletes attending in droves. There is a clear hierarchy and sports calls the shots. Is anyone internalizing this yet? Number three, the board meeting is probably held on Monday night for the same reason: so the administration doesn't have to miss any games to attend a meeting. Enough already! The board makes it a priority to work quickly on concert nights so the many music parent board members can attend the concerts. This results in a very rushed meeting on concert nights. It also will be nearly impossible to rush through the Committee Meetings of the Whole if they coincide with band concert nights. Does anybody still wonder why some athletes have a sense of entitlement? They have been "worked around" all of their life and accommodated rather than taught to work athletics into the rest of their life. All of this accommodation to the schedule so kids can play A GAME. Number 4: Has anybody seen the hoopla surrounding the homecoming game? When's the last time there was a parade in honor of the AWARD WINNING JAZZ BAND? When does the High Mileage Vehicle program get their own pep assembly in the gym before competition (that they have won for the last 2-3 years)? When has the Musical Week been kicked off with a cook-out and ceremonial bonfire? Need I go on with the litany of the myriad ways in which athletics are revered in Evansville specifically and society in general?

Since Tina and Eric's premise that sports are not unduly accommodated in our district is incorrect, their conclusion that Honor graduates shouldn't have special honors at the graduation ceremony also falters. Graduation is absolutely the time when honor students deserve special recognition. Why should scholars be acknowledged at graduation above others? The primary reason I will cite, besides the fact that Education with a capital E should revel in its scholars, is that GPA is the first criteria used for acceptance into the National Honor Society. It is the first cut criteria used for acceptance into the college of choice. GPA is not the sole criteria used for either of these honors, but unless a certain level of GPA is met, everything else is moot. Honors Scholars have not only met graduation requirements, but met them with distinction. Why shouldn't the head of the class be honored at the head of the line? The reaction of people to this has been amusing to me and reflects the "don't dare hurt anybody Else's feelings" movement afoot in the country. Now students who thrive in academics should somehow downplay their accomplishments or not be proud of themselves for fear that somebody's self-esteem might suffer to see somebody get something they don't have. Good grief! And yes, there are nerds and nerdettes out there for whom this honor on this day is the ONLY special acknowledgement they ever had and why the hell does anybody want to take that away from them?

Even amongst the honors students, there is controversy. The kids who take AP and honors courses and earn an A rightly surmise that they're more challenged than those who earn As in the "cake" classes. They are often beat out in GPA by kids who get straight As in regular classes, classes we in Chemistry, Physics and Shakespearean Lit. used to call "underwater basketweaving." The true tragedy is the kid who takes these "cake" courses to pad his GPA, when he or she could fluorish in the rigor of the AP classes. They will get to college very likely unprepared, in shock that their A effort from EHS now earns them an F. The kid who doesn't make the top 10 in GPA, say with a 3.90 GPA, but takes AP classes is probably headed for college and will be better prepared when he or she arrives. If they earn college credit in the process, even better. It's an important consolation prize worth a lot both in money and time.

So, with all that fury floating around the room, Eric moved and Tina seconded to table the Graduation exercises policy until the High School creates a Graduation Handbook, which is to be brought to the December meeting for review. Then they can complete the Graduation Exercises policy. Motion passed 5-2, Pierick and Hatfield dissenting. We'll see what comes of it in December, I guess.

The next policy discussion was "Public comment at Board Meetings." They want to change the process to make it more manageable, but not so as to cut off the public. Some ideas proposed by administration were: reducing the per person comments to 3 minutes from 5 and total comment time per topic limited to 15, with which the board was not comfortable, as it seemed too restricting. Counter proposals upped the per person time back to 5 minutes and the per topic time to say, 30 min or an hour, at which point a separate "public comment" meeting would be recommended for that topic. Seemed a reasonable compromise. The board members seemed most interested in setting boundaries for the public comment time structure. The board doesn't want to limit the public in their comments or numbers, but after the public comment part of a topic is over, it needs to be over period, with no "rebuttals." There shouldn't be a dialogue with the board on the topic, but rather questions from the board for clarification after comment period. Once the comment period is over, then it's time for the board to have their uninterrupted discussion. This seemed a very good idea. Some people don't understand when it's time for the board to discuss amongst themselves and because of the more casual board dialog, these folks believe it's OK for them to chime in too. This change will help improve the flow of the meetings.

At last the final topic for discussion at Policy: Policy 324 Evening, Wednesday and Weekend Activities. Click on the link below to view it. This policy doesn't come close to describing the district practice. Evening practices routinely exceed 9:15 pm, there are regular soccer games on Saturday, athletes in particular leave school early to get to far-reaching venues from which they don't return until 11:30 pm, or later. After which they then have to do their homework for the class for which they just missed the last 30-40 minutes that afternoon. Mr. Busse stated, "We try to wait until 2:40 or 2:50 to leave, at worst the last 45 minutes of last block, which is work time anyway." When I made that same remark during my criticism of the block schedule two years ago, they bit my head off. "Many teachers are teaching the whole 90 minutes of the block!" Yeah, right. And those poor kids need that class work time to do their homework because they're getting home at midnight. Dennis Hatfield proposed that the students GET HOME by 10 pm from away games. Eric Busse was affronted that the athletic department be so criticized. "We don't set the conference, the WIAA does. It's not our fault! We'd have to FORFEIT games to leave in time to be home by 10pm." Imagine, if you will, the strength of the district that finally stands up and says NO MORE! OUR FIRST PRIORITY IS EDUCATION. MAKING OUR STUDENTS LEAVE EARLY AND GET HOME AT MIDNIGHT AND SPEND THOUSANDS OF DOLLARS IN TRANSPORTATION IN THE PROCESS IS NO LONGER AN OPTION, WIAA. FIGURE OUT CONFERENCES THAT ARE EDUCATION FRIENDLY.


The "avoid Wednesday" part of policy 324 has become more of a guideline also. It was requested by the faith community as a standard night on which faith education was held, so let's avoid regular school activities on this day. The policy specifically states that a student excused from practices for pursuit of faith education will not suffer any penalty for missing that practice (K-8). But when a kid is excused from an athletic practice for this reason, if it happens the day prior to a contest, the kid has to sit out the contest. "It's a WIAA rule!" rebuts Busse and Rossmiller, "not against the student himself." Who the heck is in charge of challenging these stupid WIAA rules? And if this is a WIAA rule, why the heck is something that violates WIAA rules in our own ignorant policy? Have Mercy!

And lest anybody think I'm picking on the athletes, the drama department is in gross violation of this policy on a regular basis. I made an issue about this when the play was held at the end of finals week one year, placing hell week smack dab in the middle of finals week. Either change the policy or change the practice.

After the myriad examples of activities that violate this policy, Heidi was most concerned with the frequency of early dismissals in order to get to a game on time. This has a direct effect on instructional time for these students. There was general agreement to collect information on how the policy is being violated. Heidi especially wants data with regard to early dismissal. Heidi didn't think that it would be feasible to collect all the examples of policy 324 violations. That alone should tell you it needs to be changed! The process for continuing with the revamping of the policy wasn't made clear. It may be tabled while data is collected.

A preview of September meetings was summarized. The interesting highlight for me for the September 13 board meeting will be Heidi's discussion of our ACT scores, which sounded promising. Let's hope so! There will be a call to annual meeting to sell and buy the Building Trades properties on September 13 as well. The 20th will be the Visioning process with the administration and the 27th will be the next Committee meetings of the whole and the Annual Call to Meeting.

The meeting adjourned with a motion by Dennis Hatfield and a 7-0 vote. Whew!