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

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Education or Social Services: What is the "prime directive" for Public Schools?

WARNING: Can of worms to be opened here. If you don't like controversy, step away from the blog, please step away from the blog!

This post was hard for me to rein in. I'm sure it shows. I even tried printing it out to slash and burn it twice and only succeeded in saving another half of it for a later date. What remains for today is a mixed bag of my definition of Education, my take on how and why public schools became responsible for providing social services, how we complacent parents enabled it and how our entitlement attitude propagated it while societal changes have complicated the whole process of public education.

My post summarizing the finance committee highlights got me thinking about where on the list of priorities "education" now lies for the average public school district. Before I became active with the school board in 2006, I always believed education was the first and foremost goal of any school, public or private. This deceptively simple word means many things to many people. When I refer to the word "education," I envision it in capital letters and it conjures feelings of awe and reverence : EDUCATION (dramatic organ music, please). I'm pretty sure I got that from my father, who cherished the educational ideal. He never pursued college because WWII inconveniently broke out when he was in high school. But he fiercely embraced the ideals and opportunities represented by EDUCATION with a capital E. He married my mother, a teacher who spoke five languages and he encouraged her to earn her Master's Degree while surrounded by five heathen children ages 1-12 who had no appreciation whatsoever for her first loves of Faust, Goethe, Homer and Chaucer. So when I opine that I thought education was at the top of the list of school priorities, I'm talking about EDUCATION in it's purest, most classical form. Teachers teach concepts about things like math, science, literature, art, shop, etc. and students learn and show what they've learned by taking various forms of learning evaluation tools. No practical purpose is necessary for "Education." The "reason" to learn is the sheer joy of knowledge and the well-rounded people our children become when exposed to concepts that encourage independent thought. We support this with our taxes because of the remote possibility that this child or that could be the one who puts it all together. Maybe little Johnny Doe will devise a solution for the mess we have left for them through our greed and shortsightedness. I was not only surprised at how low a priority this concept of education is, but astonished at how hostile the current educational establishment is to EDUCATION with a capital E.

Talk about an education (no capital E)! In my three years on the school board and year of public activism prior to being elected to the school board, I learned quite a bit about the legal and moral obligations of a school district towards its community. There are so many competing agendas, I wonder if the pure concept of "education" (as defined above) can even be seen from the top of the priority list now. The first priority of a public school district is now social service. Some may argue that public education IS a social service. Each social service agency has as it's primary goal a particular set of services to render, be it CFS, Medicare, Medicaid, etc. The Department of Public Instruction gives one the impression that Education is their mission. Instead, the DPI has become a catch-all for services other social service agencies rationalize out of their own jurisdictions. Once government studies establish that providing an education is difficult if not impossible without first providing social service XYZ, it is tacitly understood that such services will become part of the school districts' budgetary responsibilities instead of the agency to which is rightly belongs. Examples are numerous, but I present a few here for your consideration.

Schools provide breakfast and lunch because it has been discovered that kids can't learn without nutritious food to bolster their braincells. Assumption made by the school officials : some small percentage of parents can't or won't provide a nutritious meal for their child so the school must intervene by providing these meals. The next thing you know, everybody wants to buy breakfast and lunches for their kids because it is convenient. The school lunch program is born, but the food is so abysmal that it runs at a deficit. To be profitable, food service must offer "ala carte" food choices every day, usually involving pizza and french fries, directly contributing to childhood obesity. Result: more gym class is needed, with more teacher salary necessary. Also, somebody has to referee lunch, so teachers are paid for that too!

Some parents aren't able or willing to spend money to send their children to preschool, so the state says "The physiologically prime time to learn in a child's life is ages birth - three. Everyone should have formal preschool opportunities, and we will implement universal 4K to solve this dilemma." The governor remains oblivious to 1) age four is already too late and 2) how far astray from the original High-Scope preschool criteria the impotent state 4K programs have wandered. The student teacher ratio far exceeds the 6 to 1 used in the study and the minimum teaching credentials of a Masters in Early Childhood isn't even close to the current practice. The societal measures of improvement were based on extremely economically disadvantaged children, not the average student. Oblivious that the 4K initiative has failed to "level the playing field" because it did not follow the protocol defined by the study, our poorer neighbor Michigan has started providing universal birth-three programs. I was stunned when my niece, a teacher in Michigan, told me of this development. Michigan has even less money than Wisconsin does.

Schools and day cares and parents complained bitterly about transporting kindergarten students back and forth between day care and kindergarten. "It's too much stimulation for the little kids going back and forth from day care; I STILL have to pay full day care cost for only a half-day of care," etc., etc., etc. VOILA: full day 5-year-old kindergarten was born. Many people were so blase about kindergarten they sent their child to school intermittently because the half-day schedule presented such an obstacle to them. Nice example you're giving your kid in prioritizing school. In an effort to get kindergartners to school on a regular basis, and to placate parents who wish to further abdicate their parental responsibilities to the state, full day 5K has become the standard.

Where else in the world do you find employers that encourage their employees to take twice the time to do the same job they did less than 10 years ago? There was much hoopla focused on going to full day 5K to support increased educational expectations in grades 1-5. This change (locally, anyway) has not wrought the expected benefits. The state test scores, at least in Evansville, have not only NOT improved, but have deteriorated. Ironically, the "Blue Ribbon" designation given to the High School in 2006 was earned by students who were all half-day kindergarten attendees. This observation is courtesy of Kim Miller during the first kindergarten wars.

Some of these initiatives began as a need for a few and were universally applied when folks got to feeling entitled to such and such a school service. Others are specifically targeted at children in need. All distract school resources from the prime directive of Education.

Some children come to kindergarten without expected socialization, often without "common" expectations of communal behavior. Teachers complain bitterly about having to teach proper behavior and not the "three Rs." How can you teach content when chaos is descending on you from all corners? So first they have to teach "don't hit, don't bite, don't push, don't punch, don't shove." As Mr. Hoffenberg used to say, "keep your hands to yourself. Do come to school on time, ready to learn every day. Be kind to each other and follow the 'golden rule.' " This is probably where the melting-pot nation of America has set schools up for failure in the last 50 year or so. Prior to about 1960, for better or worse, the "majority" agreed (more or less) to a common set of standards for living communally. Most kids came to kindergarten with an agreed-upon standard of behavior. By no means am I nostalgic for those days. I'm just trying to explain why I think it's so much more complicated for schools now than it was then.

With the sixties came revolution. This let in a much needed breath of fresh air and ushered in a more flexible attitude about what was acceptable communal behavior. Thankfully, that whole "be seen and not heard" thing went away! Schools continue to struggle to define behavioral expectations in neutral language that does not favor a culture or a religion. There are still people who don't agree with some of the changes wrought by the 60's (women and people of color having increased opportunity and influence, more relaxed sexual roles, blurred sexuality and an ever changing landscape regarding sexual orientation). To protest this turn of events, some parents encourage their children to violate the rules set in place by the school. I don't believe these parents instruct their kids to be blatantly disrespectful, but a parent's example under duress will guide a child's attitude.

How many times a day do you hear some little urchin call a kid gay, or an idea gay, or a circumstance gay, meaning lame or horrible, not the original meaning of the word (happy) or the cultural meaning of the word (homosexual). Where do you think these fine little citizens learned to subvert the cultural word for homosexual to mean lame or horrible?? I've heard hair curling stories from families in our district of how their children endured any number of unacceptable racist epithets for two hours on the bus every day. The parents addressed it with school officials and there was no improvement. In the end, the parents just told the child to ignore it and provided their own transportation so she could avoid the brunt of the little racists' abuse on the bus. While the parents were protecting their child by doing the only thing they had control over, this response reinforced to the child of color that she must tolerate this bigotry and, worse yet, emboldened the little racists' behavior. Some very young children will believe that this is somehow all their fault, as little ones often do, beginning the self-loathing many children of color carry with them in life. This kind of harassment language is clearly in violation of district policy, but a good percentage of the district would be in detention if it were routinely enforced.

From the view of a frequent volunteer in the lower grades, it would appear that many children aren't taught the basic "golden rule" anymore. People are fast to connect this to religion, but all people like to be treated with respect, regardless of their religion or lack thereof. If you treat others the way you want to be treated, no God or Goddess is invoked. Behaviorally, it's an all-encompassing rule. But it eludes so many children and their families. Staff are abused by angry parents and even angrier students. Children are bullied unmercifully. Schools must spend many hours a week on "character education," something that used to be taught by families and reinforced by the community at large. I have witnessed and corrected inappropriate behavior and occasionally gotten the universal stink-eye from children and their parents alike for daring to try to enforce a standard of behavior. The message from those who resent this intrusive reminder to act kindly is clearly, "It's none of your business, lady!" Anti-bullying legislation is necessary because people don't think it's important to teach their children to be kind and thoughtful. Many families embrace The Lord of the Flies passive child rearing mentality because it's easy. "Kids will be kids, after all!" Why some of these people procreate is beyond me, especially with the advent of reliable birth control. If you are going to relinquish your parental responsibilities, why even have children?

If you are content to let the schools shoulder these social service responsibilities, and much, much more, it is your tacit agreement that the school can do a better job than you can in providing this service to your kids. It is also tacitly agreed that you will be happy to pay for it with your property taxes. Some educators are convinced that the general public is "a ass," (apologies to Charles Dickens). There is a palpable attitude on the part of school officials that they believe they do a better job than ANY parent does with mundane parenting tasks. They have arrived at this conclusion in part because we parents continually cede our responsibilities to public schools. When is the last time anybody at the school called you to tell you your kid was acting like a brat at school? What was your response? Did you tell them,"My baby would never do such a thing. I'm sure you're mistaken." Did you try to blame some other child for your own kid's rotten behavior? Can you remember the last time your son or daughter was not feeling well at school? Did you yell at the health attendant when she called you to pick up a barfing kid with a 102 fever? Did you act as if your child was an imposition? Did you send them to school knowing they were sick, hoping nobody would notice that little fever thing? Can you blame people who have dedicated their lives to children for arriving at the conclusion that the American public is "a ass?" Is it any wonder that they are sure they can do a better job than we parents? Can we fault them for failing to tell us when our kids have the little problems, which then develop into big problems without parental support to help the teacher deal with it while it's still a little problem?

Please don't get your knickers in a knot, stewing over the idea that I don't understand that there are kids out there in dire need of all of these services and more. I have volunteered in the schools and witnessed students who have fallen through the cracks, despite the myriad services provided by the DPI. I firmly support providing these services, but I just as firmly believe that the onus of paying for such services lies with social service agencies. Then schools could stop diluting their resources and focus on Education first.

Parents must also take on their fair share of education responsibility. If you want the schools to treat you as an equal partner in your child's education, you have to step up and own it. You have to pound tables and seek help wherever you can. You have to shake the teachers and principals out of their Weldschmerz to show that you do care. Volunteer, go to every single parent-teacher conference, attend board meetings, ignore the attitude from those who give it to you and ask questions until you're blue in the face. The plain truth is that the school will not automatically give your child what she needs. You have to be his advocate. If you are a new "school-ager" parent, seek the guidance of veterans of the school district to maximize your child's education. If you are a veteran of ECSD, offer guidance when asked. Give new families to the district the benefit of your experience so they can avoid your mistakes and maximize the precious time available for learning. Each building in our district has its own distinct rules and culture, so continue to seek guidance from the veterans each time your oldest kid graduates to new school. Even after you do all of this, there will be a negative experience that convinces you that public education is headed the way of the condor. Treat it like the anomaly it is and keep trying. Eventually, all the hard work will pay off with a son or daughter bound for some form of higher education and a sigh of relief as you send them on their way.

Friday, July 30, 2010

August 2 Special Board Meeting: Vision Drafting plus the rest of August.

Monday, August 2, 2010
5:30 pm – 8:00 pm
J.C. McKenna Middle School Cafeteria
307 S. First Street

III. Information and Discussion:
A. Review – Community Input Thus Far.
B. Review – What is a Vision Statement?
C. Review – Current District Mission Statement.
D. Generate Ideas for a Vision Statement.
E. Draft the Vision Statement.

This is the planned discussion for Monday night's meeting. Please note the location for the meeting will NOT be in the sauna next to the district office, but in the cool Middle School Cafeteria. YEAH! On that note, this is also posted on the district website:

LOCATION of Board Meetings - The August 9 and 23 board meetings will be held in the High School Media Room. If you have any questions, please feel free to contact Kelly Mosher, 882-3387.

I guess they don't want to risk people fainting after they find out how much they plan to raise the mill rate.

The Aug. 9 meeting is at 5:30p.m. and will be the regular business action item board meeting. I'll be unavailable for that meeting, so I hope nothing exciting happens there! Unless they change their plan between then and now, the August 23 meeting will begin at 5:30 with the Committees of the whole. If that meeting is not finished by 7 p.m., they will switch over to the Annual Meeting at 7 p.m. After the business of the Annual Meeting is complete, they will return to the Committees of the whole to finish that agenda. Another busy summer month for the school board.

Monday, July 26, 2010

7-26-10 Finance Meeting Highlights and Annual Meeting Date

I only stayed for the Finance section, which ended about 8pm. There are perks to not being on the board! Here's a list of Finance discussion items.

1) Middle School Dean of Students Options
2) Report From Education Foundation Conference
3) Transportation Contract
4) Open Enrollment Update
5) HRA – Other Non-Represented Groups
6) Request to Establish Fund 80 to Support Evansville Youth Center

The first budget item has to do with staffing and funding absences Mr. Flaherty anticipates during Mrs. Flaherty's surgery and recovery in November and December, as well as financing the extra work staff will do to cover his routine absences as they did last year. The surgery is expected to give Mrs. Flaherty greater independence and lead to a more routine schedule for Bob second semester. Mary is making such great progress and this surgery will likely take a burden of worry from Mr. Flaherty's shoulders. The proposals ranged in cost from $8-34K, which weren't concisely defined (budget wise) for the board. First choice in this list was an age-old "half-time MS Dean of Students" option (about $35K), sort of like Mr. Cashore for the MS. The board has been asked to fund this since Jerry Roth was principal over there. Since Mr. F expects to return to a more routine schedule by second semester and next year will be even more sparse economically, the "Dean of Students" option was quickly dropped as a serious solution. But Mrs. Hurley and Mrs. Swanson "don't want to lose sight of this idea for future reference." One scenario seemed like it should have the least amount of impact, but had a big price tag ($34-37K). It sounded like it was entirely composed of moving people around who were already accounted for in the current budget, which should have a null budgetary impact, except for subs to replace staff as they fill in for Bob's absences. There was general discussion that ended in placing this topic on the August 9th agenda. The board expects to have a complete budget impact defined by then so informed action can be taken. In this economy, I think it's safe to say the administration can anticipate that the board wants a complete, concise budget impact analysis every time there is a suggested change in expenditures or revenue.

Mrs. Hurley had an interesting report from the Education Foundation Conference in LaCrosse, which she went to in the midst of all the storms on Friday. That's dedication! Evansville has an Education Foundation already established and Nancy Hurley and Heidi Carvin have taken the initiative to get a group of people together to discuss implementing this fund further. A local finance guy has volunteered to help out and a meeting is planned for August 3rd at 4pm. Education Foundations help pay for things the State can't or doesn't cover, or supplement that which has been reduced due to budget cuts. She called it the "wave of the future." I guess they have to get money from somewhere!

The transportation contract has an overall 2% increase, but because there will be efficiencies and reductions in routes, the overall contract amount will be lower next year. A final version will be available as an action item at the August Business Meeting on August 9.

Now for the fun agenda item : Request for Fund 80 Establishment to Support the Evansville Youth Center. Fund 80 establishment essentially gives the school districts the freedom to exceed revenue caps by the budgeted amount for community activities NOT associated with educational endeavors. Translation: The district may raise your taxes as needed for Fund 80 activities without worrying about the revenue cap. As with any tax change, it must be presented at the annual meeting and be put to a vote of the general public there.

The Evansville Youth Center (EYC) is a perfect example of proper use of Fund 80 revenue. Three of the EYC board members and Mayor Decker presented to the school board. EYC board members present included Mrs. Dixie Moll, Mrs. James (I don't know her first name, but I should), and Mrs. Sandy Konkle. They began with Mrs. James giving a nice review and distributing handouts about the youth center. Mrs. Konkle gave a nice summary of positive changes in the community impression of the youth center and Mayor Decker gave an impassioned plea of poverty to the school board for help. I nearly hurt myself trying not to laugh out loud at this last tactic. Mrs. Hurley summed it up eloquently. "This is like us coming to you for money. What would you say if the school board came to you and asked for money in this economic climate?" The following impressions will seem to ramble (so what else is new,? most of you may be thinking), but it was certainly an interesting discussion and I wanted to give you my take on it.

The mayor has read the writing on the wall and expects the EYC to be hacked out of the city budget. It's currently funded at $27K or so a year from the city, but they're asking for $40K a year to fund it. Might as well go for broke if you're putting the tax albatross around somebody elses' neck. That's exactly what the city is trying to do. Mayor Decker doesn't want to raise taxes on the city only because the per household amount would be greater than if it is spread out over the whole district. The volunteers stated that some of the kids who use the center do come from outlying areas and are bussed home, so expanding the tax base is fair.

Mrs. Moll addressed the discrepancy between their current budget and the requested budget as being a result of not having enough funding this year to be open as much as they wanted. There are many great ideas and a lot of positive energy coming from these tireless volunteers. But they are being manipulated by Mayor Decker with threats to cut the EYC out of the city's budget. When the question of who would maintain the building come up, Mrs. Decker immediately said that the city would do so. How does she know how much money she will have and how much it will cost? Mrs. Rossmiller rightly challenged this nebulous arrangement. The devil is in the details. While discussing this aspect of the idea, it was asked by Mr. Pierick if appointment of the board of directors would change from a city responsibility to the school board's responsibility. Mayor Decker nearly broke her arm patting herself on the back for the great job she did in appointing vibrant community leaders to the board (they are great people), as if issuing a challenge to the school board for questioning her authority in this manner. But if she's ceding financial responsibility, she's ceding the power too. I don't think she gets that part of it. Questions about who would employ the staff and much more were still very unsettled and not thought through sufficiently. The clear problem from the board's perspective was lack of a handle on what the scope of this entailed, and the fact that they are already in a deficit situation.

Mrs. Decker tried to pull even more heartstrings by describing the financing the city got in 2005 that was back loaded bonds and will place a bigger burden on the taxpayers going forward. Been there, done that, already there, Mrs. Mayor. The school district is in exactly the same predicament. You are asking for blood from a turnip. Good luck with that. I pity the city of Evansville taxpayers in about 3-4 years. They will be supporting back-loaded bonds both at the city and the school district levels. Just hand the tax assessor your December paycheck and then some.

Finally, as I stated in my comment to the board, this is beyond robbing Peter to pay Paul. The amount they're asking for this year would be $20K, which is assesses at 3 cents per $1000 value of home, or about $4.50 tax increase on a $150,000 home. That's just for THIS item. Next year, it would raise to 6 cents per $1000 of property value. The fiscal years differ between the city and the school district so the EYC is funded through Dec. 31, 2010. The the 20K they're asking for in the Fund 80 budget is only for half the year, Jan-June, 2011. The Fund 80 would have to come before the public again next year to approve the $40K for July 2011-June 2012.

Our current mill rate is $10.49 per $1000 of property value. Deb stated tonight that they expect to have to increase taxes this year to cover the shortfall in the budget, both ours and the state's. Those pesky back-loaded bonds are starting to make issues for us already. The city's asking the district to increase the mill rate by approximately 0.3% this year and 0.6% next year for one item only, with only a vague idea of who will handle what fiscal responsibility.

They finally got around to addressing the delicate issue that the youth center primarily serves youth at risk. There has been a big push this year to integrate kids from all socioeconomic spheres in youth center activities, and they have been very successful. Everyone benefits from this arrangement, it's true, but the youth center represents physical safety for children at risk who might otherwise be hungry, disenfranchised and have no place to go. These are the kids who benefit in a very concrete, basic needs way. Those presenting to the board gave anecdotal evidence that when the youth center is unexpectedly closed, trouble soon follows. Some of these kids, when left to their own devices, often find socially unacceptable, destructive outlets for their unsupervised time. This made me think about why I never let my own kids go to the center, though I have known of it's existence from the beginning.

Mrs. Moll said she thought a big problem with the center was lack of advertising, that she didn't even know the youth center existed and she has seven kids. I knew about it long ago as well as the scary reputation that went with it. I never let my kids hang out there because of that. I can't be the only parent who thinks that way. So I see the EYC problems as being two fold: poor advertising and poor reputation. The EYC's new board is trying to address both sides of the problem, for which they are to be commended.

I'm very glad to see the direction the youth center is taking. That does not change the bleak reality of the district budget and every other school budget in the nation. Does the mayor even read the paper? I am still completely amazed at the chutzpah of Mayor Decker to come crying to the school district, of all places, pleading poverty and inability to support this noble project. If the problem behavior associated with closing the youth center are as dire as they predict from their own stories, maybe the Mayor should realize that funding $30-$40K for the youth center next year will save a lot more in police and court costs to send the kids to the clink, not to mention the costs to incarcerate them. That's on her budget and the county's budget, not the school district's.

At one point in the meeting, Nancy Hurley tried to explain how strapped for cash the school district was after the brutal rounds of cuts that have been made over the last 2 years. She illustrated it by explaining that we can't even provide summer enrichment programming for little kids anymore. Mrs. Konkle asked why they had to lose programming for the bigger kids simply because the little kids didn't have it anymore. Mrs. Hurley was not stating that since little kids didn't have summer programming, bigger kids' programs should be cut too! She was trying to ask where in the world they thought the district would get this money after cutting everything to the bone. The district had to cut out summer enrichment 3-4 years ago. This year they seriously considered proposing each family supply a ream of copy paper, for goodness sake. The school district currently has proposed a deficit budget anywhere from $80-130K, after making cuts of about $200K in March and expecting no increase in per student reimbursement and taking into account SAGE and Title I cuts endured this year. Somebody isn't living in the real world.

So I say to you good citizens of the ECSD: The Annual Meeting is once again upon us. It WILL be August 23 at 7 pm. Set aside time now to come and be heard. This could be part of that agenda. Any tax increase is part of that agenda. You even get to vote on the board's salary! The budgets will be published the week before the meeting in the Review. Mark your calendars now, come and cast your vote. EVERY CITIZEN OF THE SCHOOL DISTRICT MAY SPEAK AND CAST A VOTE AT THE ANNUAL MEETING. Now, that being said, the final vote is up the the school board when the mill rate is set in October once the third September count is official and the final state reimbursement is known and put into the budget. But what good politician votes for a tax increase against the wishes of their constituents? I suppose that's a stupid question. Dennis Hatfield and I alone voted against raising taxes at the last annual meeting: 2 lone votes amongst the sea of school staff and board members. Look where that got me. Maybe I'm misreading the good citizens of Evansville and all the complaints I got from disgruntled taxpayers. Maybe my vote against raising our taxes last August was my downfall because everybody does want a 10% increase in their tax levy. I don't think so.

If you are complacent, they will raise your taxes again. The usual cast of characters who show up for these meetings are teachers, administrators and the school board. Maybe 20 in all, but a stacked deck if ever there was one. Most of those people vote for the tax hikes as it's in their own best interest. We're going to have to attend in numbers to balance the vote. (As an aside, I do wonder how many of those people actually live in the city of Evansville and are subject to the double whammy of high city taxes and high school taxes? I'd love to see a break down of the percentage of staff and administration who live in the city of Evansville and in the outlying townships). Even if the tax levy is frozen by vote on August 23, the board might later be forced to raise taxes because of state shortfalls. Or they would have to decimate the fund balance they worked so hard to build up over the last 4 years and which was directly responsible for improving the terms of their partial refinancing last month. That option isn't likely now that the board has seen what good can come of increasing the fund balance. If you don't show up to vote, you've lost an opportunity to be heard. Also, you have no right to complain about it later. That's Melissa's Personal Tax Payer Philosophy. So show up on August 23 at 7 pm and sweat with me. Make them sorry they ever changed that blinking hot class room into a board meeting room. Spill out into the halls and be heard!

Friday, July 23, 2010

July 26, 5:30 pm: ECSD School Board Committee Meetings of the Whole

Click on the post to link to the agenda for the committee meetings of the whole for Monday, July 26th at 5:30 pm. Come with a water bottle and dress for the heat. They're still meeting in Mrs. Feeney's old classroom by the district office. (I'm sweating just thinking about it). My inside info says this move was made with no feedback from the school board. It probably makes it easier to schlepp stuff back and forth for district office personnel, but it would have been a courtesy to at least ask the board what they thought about it. I personally think this venue stinks as a board room.

Most of the committees are represented at this meeting, including Finance, Policy, Facilities, Board Development and ending with an executive session regarding the administrator's contract. I'm most interested in the Finance and Facilities sections, so must endure the Policy to get the data. Facilities will address the Building Trades House options and Finance is always interesting to me. This month they will address open enrollment updates, "Middle School Dean of Students Options," whatever that means, and the transportation contract, among other items.

I copied these meeting dates below from the school website. I sincerely doubt they are going to really have the Annual Meeting and the Committees of the Whole meeting on the same night. I can't come to the August 9 board meeting, so I'll be depending on eyewitness accounts for my information.

I thought the August 2 meeting was a board retreat to study student achievement data, but the school website says it's going to be the vision statement.

August 23, 2010 - Annual Meeting; Notice
August 23, 2010 - Regular Board Meeting (Committees of the Whole).
August 9, 2010 - Regular Board Meeting (Business Action Items).
August 2, 2010 - Special Board Meeting - Create Vision Statement - Agenda


Click on the link above for any updates by the district.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Anti bullying legislation. How many of you think this will make any difference whatsoever?

There's a lot of things on my mind lately regarding the school district's responsibility for providing a safe learning environment for all students. Bullying policies are garnering a lot of press lately because of the new state law that requires districts to enact policy to curb bullying. Click on the post to view one article about this new law.

The article states in part, "Now, a new law that requires school districts to enact policies prohibiting bullying could help curb such activities before they get to the point of involving police." Not to rain on anyone's parade, but I really think the legislature and the journalist live in some kind of vacuum, or their kids don't attend public schools. Our district has had a policy in place since I have been paying attention. The problem is that ENFORCEMENT is feeble at best. If parents have had it up to here with the abuse their child is forced to endure because the adults "don't see it," they have been instructed to bring the issue to the attention of the police and to press charges. I have had more than one person tell me that this is how they were told to handle repetitive bullying of their child. Grow a pair, district officials.

I recount an example of our 10-year-old son to illustrate just how impotent our district is to effectively address bullying. I don't want to make him look bad, but it's an informative anecdote. As a school board member, people often took umbrage when I used my children as examples of problems with the district. But I continue to maintain that if it's happening with my kids, it can happen with any kid. I will tell you how I handled it and pose to you a question afterward.

My son had a very rough fourth grade experience, educationally speaking. He had finally gotten his groove around January when his dad had to have emergency heart surgery. He went through a tough time emotionally and I alerted his teachers and principal about the issue. When it came time for the late winter conference, he seemed to be really blossoming and knuckling down to do his school work without any drama. I told his teacher this and was stunned when she essentially ignored all of the compliments I was heaping on him. She proceeded to tell me that my son, along with several other boys in class, had decided to single out one poor boy and bully him unrelentingly and unmercifully and that it had been going on for three weeks. I wasn't sure who to be more furious with, him or the teacher for not telling me immediately. At that point in time, I chose my son. In retrospect, I should have told the teacher she was a co-conspirator.

I looked my son in the eye and told him that he would not see the beloved glow from any screen toys for at least a month and all his privileges were henceforth revoked until such time as I saw fit to reinstate them, if ever. I yelled at him non-stop all the way home. I asked him, "How do you think that boy must have felt coming to such a terrible, unsafe place every day for three weeks. Do you think that he enjoyed coming to school, that learning was fun for him anymore?" When we got home, I told him his consequences. He had to do the following:

1-Write a letter of apology to the boy.

2-Present the letter to him in person and apologize verbally too.

3-Write a report on the long term effects of bullying both on the bullied and the bullier.

4-Lose screen time (TV, computer, video games) for a month. More if improvement is slow.

5-Grounded for a month. More if necessary.

The letter of apology was most telling. "Dear XXXX: This apology is very dear. I'm sorry I was mean to you. I was worried that if I didn't join in, they would taunt me too. But I will be strong now and stand up to them with you. Sincerely, YYYYY."

I got a lump in my throat when I realized that he felt if he didn't do this horrible thing, he would have to face their wrath himself. He was willing to go so far outside of his true character to keep that from happening. True group mentality at its worst. He is every kid. He is a genuinely easy-going fun kid. Most people enjoy having him around. But he was willing to perpetrate despicable behavior I never imagined him capable of to stay under the bullies' radar. Now before you think I'm just a mom who has idealized her kid, I had people look at me with the stunned "deer in the headlights" expression when I discussed this with them. "YOUR SON?" So, yes, I think he's the bee's knees, but so do other people.

I went to Vicki in tears and told her there was NO EXCUSE that this was allowed to go on for 3 weeks without my knowledge. I felt so horrible for that poor kid they ganged up on. I felt rage that I had not been afforded the opportunity to deal with my son in the way I knew would instantly curtail his rotten behavior. These incidents require immediate, multi-pronged, sledgehammer counterstrategies. Kids have to know that every adult in their sphere of influence expects them to treat others with kindness and dignity at all times. They need to know that parents and teachers will collaborate to enforce this expectation. So I hit my son where it hurt, swiftly and without mercy. "No screen time AAAAHHHHH. WRITE A REPORT? Mom, you're killing me. This is really hard! APOLOGIZE IN PERSON? ARRRGHHHHH!"

Of course, there are always parents who think their kids are perfect or who simply don't care. "Kids will be kids!" I hate that phrase. I think it was invented by a bully to make excuses for his or her own behavior. We had trouble when we first moved to town with the privileged kids in our neighborhood roaming around deciding which kid to pick on that day. It was always one younger, weaker, less influential kid who got targeted, often a different one each day. They would lull the victims into a false sense of security by pretending to be their friend one day after abusing them the previous day. On the "friend" days, the bullies would goad their new "friends" into bullying another victim and they would comply because kids will do anything to be accepted. The mother of the ring leader told me "kids will be kids," and I told her that she and all these bullies' parents took the "Lord of the Flies" approach of child rearing and to kindly keep their progeny out of my back yard. The reference likely fell on deaf ears. But I digress...

So, our son was essentially on lock down for about 7 weeks. His time was extended for a week for rudely calling one of his classmates a troll. The big time extension for his consequences was a result of him being brought home by the police one late winter afternoon. The fine 12-year-old kid down the street taunted him into walking out on the nearly melted Lake Leota by calling him choice words that challenged his sexual orientation. Really? He's ten. I don't think he knows what it is and is pretty much oblivious to anything that isn't part of a video game or Lego's set. But he knows he doesn't want people to call him that name. When asked why he would put his life in danger because some bully called him a name, his answer was short and sweet. "Because I knew if I didn't get it over with, he would continue on at school." So here's a kid who, even after severe sanctions were imposed for his own bullying, still couldn't face the prospect of these urchins taunting him at school. He was willing to endanger his life by doing such a stupid stunt. I'm sure he didn't internalize it that way at the time, but I bet he does now. "You could have been killed. Is it worth dying because some kid calls you a name at school?" I really appreciate the person who called the police (I was at a board meeting) and thank you Evansville's finest. You helped drill the lesson home and we need all the help we can get.

In light of this environment which our kids must face at school each day, whether real or imagined, do any of you really believe a state law will make a positive change? I have physically observed the some playground monitors, teachers and counselors alike take a "no blood no foul" approach to bullying, even though we have an anti-bullying policy. I'm sure there are also many who take this issue very seriously. The adults in charge, for the most part, are my age peers who grew up in a time when the mental torture currently inflicted on one another by first and second graders was the exclusive stuff of middle schoolers. The staff members, also like myself, are resistant to believe these gap-toothed cutie-petuties could wreck such havoc on each other. I quickly educated myself after observing hateful behavior that wasn't being effectively mediated at the elementary school. I also sent information and book titles to the counselors and administrators in charge to help educate them. Shortly after this time, the anti-bullying initiative began in our schools. I don't think it was due to me, but I was sure glad to see it.

The new trend is that municipalities are changing their statutes to make it easier to hold bullies and their parents accountable for the damage they do. Here's one approach Milton will try.


This may be the only way to effectively deal with this problem. If parents are threatened with financial consequences, they are likely to be less blase about the behavior of their little felons-in-waiting. Do teachers and school staff have time to document bullying and enforce consequences? No, but it's time they took a very serious view of this issue and say, "The buck stops here!" A good way to begin is with a good rapport with parents of both the bullies and the bullied. Reaching out to parents to solve the problem together is a strong first stride in beating this evil amongst us.

Friday, July 16, 2010

How About a Summer School District Musical?

(Click on the link to see a video of Janesville School District "Fame" cast interviews).

I went to see "Oklahoma!" last weekend with my eldest child. It was a fun production and I had an opportunity to see talent I hadn't had a chance to see before. Andy Soetart has a voice of an angel, and I had only seen his directing skills previously. Collin Rehfeldt was a pretty scary Judd Frye. Sarah loves theater and many of her friends were in the production, or behind the scenes. When I asked her why she didn't participate, her comment was, "Try-outs were the week after Anything Goes finished and I was not in the right frame of mind to think about doing another musical." About the only thing I remember her thinking about was sleep and catching up with Chemistry homework at that time.

Why? Because she fell behind in her school work, especially in the last week before the play, affectionately dubbed "hell week" by the drama crowd. They're not the only ones who go through hell, let me tell you. It is expected that every kid in the production clear their calendars to stay until necessary (often 11:00pm) to get the play stage ready. Then they get to come home to 2-3 hours of homework. This approach to co-curricular activities is in direct conflict with district policy #370, which states "The total length of time of the activity is not so great as to impair the curricular achievement of the students involved." How can anybody reasonably expect kids to soft-pedal or cease school work for over 10% of the quarter without being in violation of this statement in the policy? To be fair, drama is only one of many co- and extra-curricular programs with this philosophy. Have homework? Why, you can do it back stage (or on the sidelines, or wherever the activity takes place). Really? Ever try to concentrate on a multi-variable plot of pressure vs. volume chart in Excel surrounded by a bunch of semi-hysterical drama afficionados who have yet to develop a sense of perspective? Not possible.

Most people with whom I've discussed this issue flatly state, "Drama has always been this way and always will be this way. You're fighting a losing battle." Truth be told, I well recall my days in drama, which after the 8th grade were confined to the pit orchestra for many of these same reasons. As I sat in the PAC waiting for "Oklahoma!" to begin, I was struck with one of those AHA! moments. I recalled reading an article in the Gazette a few weeks previous about Janesville School District's summer musical "Fame." How about if Evansville adopts Janesville School District's approach to staging their musical in the summer as a summer school program. My God, it's so simple! They could switch the ECT production to the spring and have the district program in the summer. Maybe some of the surrounding schools who aren't so lucky to have a great drama program would send some of their kids over for the play, too!


1). No competition with curricular activities.

2). Policy is being followed.

3). Kids often waste time in the summer evenings. This would give them something productive to work on.

4). Less stress on the kids (and parents), more fun on the set.

5). No competition for the music directors' time during solo and ensemble state season.


1). I don't know how this would go down contract wise. These activities are already compensated by co-curricular contracts, so this shouldn't be an issue. The maintenance staff are already paid for the time during the school year, so this shouldn't be an issue either.

2) It's possible kids would have a hard time working around all their summer activities and jobs.

3). To quote Tevye: "Tradition!" Most people consider it a right of passage or a badge of honor to "survive" musical season. Take away the challenges and what would they have to complain about?

If anybody has any other ideas to add to the pros and cons of trying this idea, please comment. I'd like to propose this idea to the school district and need some constructive criticism to strengthen my proposal. Thanks for the input!

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Board Meeting Highlights

Click on the post to see the agenda listing.

I got to the meeting at about 6:10, expecting the executive session to just be finishing and they were already finishing up with the Student learning results/year end goals, Item 7B on the agenda. Must have figured out those salaries and benefits a lot faster than I usually do.

Tina and Eric were missing from the meeting, but apparently Tina had a conflict and planned to arrive later.

I was sorry I missed the student learning results discussion, but there is a good summary in the administrators reports posted on the website. I'll write another post about that at a later date and include a link to the reports. It's 23 pages long, so be prepared.

Anyway, the business action items were soon underway. Right off the bat, they were talking about refinancing part of the debt, $1.14 million to be exact. The powers that be have restructured the ratings for schools to be similar to that of other businesses. The highest rating that can be achieved is AAA (Moody's). ECSD rating has been upgraded from A-3 to A-1. Click on the link below for a more thorough discussion of this rating system.


It seemed like there was a lot of work put into this re-fi, reducing our effective interest rate from 5.25% to 4.46% for the life of the bond (2021). Overall savings to the district over the life of the loan will be $31,829. While this seems a tad paltry considering the dollars we're talking about here, it's a new teacher salary (or so), not including benefits and perks. Well worth doing. AND it would not have been possible without the diligence and foresight of the board for developing, implementing AND FOLLOWING the fund balance policy 662.3 in 2007. Moody's specifically stated that efforts to increase our fund balance in recent years have improved our bond rating.

Which brings us back to the last post: Don't plan to spend more than you expect to earn in revenue. Continued deficit budgeting will raid this balance and diminish the district bond rating. Deb mentioned that since the meeting June 28th, the projected budget figures have improved by about $50,000 (I don't have the specifics). This brings the deficit down from about $136K to a mere $86K. I erroneously stated that they planned to spend only $50K more than they planned to get in revenue next year. The original plan in December was to spend nearly $200K more than they got in revenue. By June 28th, they had tweaked the budget to get that figure down to about $136K and now the deficit stands at about $86K. I reiterate: Planning to raid the fund balance every year to balance the budget is not a fiscally sound plan. It will come back to haunt the district and the taxpayers.

Next, they tackled the modified bell schedule at the high school, which was passed with Michael Pierick emphasizing that this must have dedicated staff to supervise bus students with no other way to school on those days.

The controversial discussion was about the Administrators Salary and Benefits changes approvals. This topic came up in the program based budgeting (PBB) process in February. It was suggested that the Administrators and the non-represented staff begin to contribute 5% to their Health Plans (or get 5% less cash in lieu, as the case may be). Apparently there was a 4-5% salary increase originally planned in the December budget with the standard district pay all health plans. By reducing the raises to 2-3% (2 for the Administrators, 3 for the admin. assists.) and requiring a 5% contribution to health plans, this ends up looking like a 16K savings from the original budget. That's how the District Office rearranged money to make it look like they reduced their budget to meet their 4% reduction plan. But do not be deceived! This still is costing the district 22K, which I emphasized when the plan was originally proposed during PBB. "But it's a savings from the original budget!" ARRGH! God save me from people who think like this.

Anyway, Dennis Hatfield echoed my own thoughts about this Houdini rearrangement of funds in this horrible economy. He thought everything should be frozen as it stands, with no salary increase and no 5% Health plan contribution. His point was that Doyle has asked all govt employees to make 10% cuts and even though he said schools were exempt, if there's no money, there's no money. Who knows what the per pupil reimbursement will be next year? Now is not the time for experiments, no matter how good intentioned.

I tend to agree with Dennis. I was even more Draconian than him. Give them no raise, ask for the 5% contribution. I see no purpose to ask for a 5% Health plan contribution and turn around and give them the money to pay for it. Bleed along with the rest of us, why don't you? Other ideas to float would be: "Whatever the school district is paying for your health plans now will be frozen for the foreseeable future. If the cost increases, you will incur that increase yourself. Your raises will not be considered any differently than before. We will not make sure the raise you get will cover whatever future increases may be seen for your health insurance." I was happy to see somebody carrying on the torch of rationality in this discussion in my absence. Also nice to see somebody else be the rabble rouser! Sadly, nobody else agreed with Dennis and the vote was 4-1 for the proposed changes. At least there is now an example of health plan contribution for future reference in the district.

The approval of the proposals for a HS Senior Project graduation requirement beginning with the class of 2014 was a lively animated discussion, with Nancy Hurley, Dennis Hatfield and Tina Rossmiller (who showed up just in time to discuss it!) thoroughly taking the administration to task for not answering the very specific questions and concerns they made clear at the June 28th meeting on the proposals. Specific questions include funding sources, grading rubrics, what happens if a kid doesn't fulfill the requirements, how can you make sure this is the kids' work and not their parents, how can it be equalized between students with means and students with no means, and many questions along those lines. The excuse was that they couldn't get the committee together because it was summer. Well, the board's message was loud and clear: Lack of planning on your part does not constitute an emergency on ours. That has been one of my favorite all time quotes since I heard it first as a young professional in my first job. It is universally applicable to any number of situations. The vote was 5-1 (Kathy Swanson) to table the topic until the questions and concerns of the board are addressed specifically in the proposal. Yay board.

All the other action items passed with unanimous votes.

The next meeting will be July 26th at 5:30 for the committee of the whole. The agenda isn't posted yet; I'll put it here when I see it.

Now wasn't that a more exciting read than those boring minutes you read on the school website? Not to mention more timely. But, nobody has to approve my version of the minutes.

Topics for future posts include student learning summary/district goals; Janesville School District has a summer musical, why don't we try this idea? Musings from a "recovering board member"; If you have any ideas regarding topics you'd like to see addressed here, please email me.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Top Ten Reasons for ECSD to spend no more than they make.

Click on the post for a link to the WSJ article on the number one reason to write a budget that does not project spending to exceed revenue.

1. (See article in the Wisconsin State Journal). 2.5 BILLION dollar deficit projected in the biennium July 1, 2011 to June 30 2013. If you think our per student compensation is bad now, just wait until next year.

2. There's no money left in the government to bail anybody out.

3. It's just wrong.

4. Students suffer when you have to make changes to the budget at the last minute.

5. The fund balance is supposed to be for emergency use, like a boiler that blew or a roof that fell in, not for continued plugging of the hole planned for in the budget.

6. The fund balance is also supposed to make it easier on the taxpayers when the district borrows money for future growth purposes. A healthy fund balance of 15% earns lower interest rates on borrowing, just like a healthy downpayment on a house can earn you lower interest rates on your mortgage. If the district continues to eat up the fund balance by plugging the planned deficit in the budget as they have done for 2 years in the current economic downturn, there won't be any left when the time comes and the district won't get the best borrowing terms.

7. Some day the money ECSD saves every year on the heating budget is going to come back to haunt them with a brutal winter. Every year, there is a large savings on the heat budget. This year they planned 250K for heating and only spent 170K, showing 80K less spent than planned. Next year they kept the value at 250K, using the conservative approach that some winter might come next year and we will get slammed with a brutal heating bill. Let's hope that doesn't come to pass, but as with all things budget, if you don't plan for it, it will surely happen. Also, there is the completely obtuse governmental approach to things that if one reduces the budget plan, one forever loses those funds. It's crazy, but this is the mindset that must be used to write a budget that doesn't end up skewering the district in the long run. It's not as if one mild winter in Wisconsin should set the precedent on what future heating budgets should look like, but that's just the goverenment way.

8-10. Please repeat the concepts in numbers 1-3.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Board meeting to begin with an executive session.

I forgot to mention that the meeting on July 12th will begin with an executive session to discuss the contracts listed in the action item section of the meeting. These meetings last for varying times, but a half-hour to 45 minutes is usually sufficient for this topic. If you get there at 6, you probably will be "on time."

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Mark your calendar: "Regular School Board Meeting" July 12 at 5:30 in the new Board Room and Training Center

NOTICE: Amended post complete with agenda for July 12th. Just click on the link.

I thought the new Board Meeting location (Mrs. Feeney's old classroom) was just for "committee meetings of the whole," but it looks like it's a permanent move to this site. I made it to the last meeting just in time for a discussion of policy and the room was brutally hot and stifling at 7:40pm. This was on a relatively cool (70s) day on which I was shivering after water aerobics class. I was unprepared because I wore capris and three quarter length sleeves because I was so cold after swimming. WHEW! I should have known better because one of our kids had Mrs. Feeney for a teacher and she often complained about how hot it was in there. So if you plan to attend, dress for the sweltering conditions and bring a water bottle!

Action items this month include approval of administrative and non-represented contracts, the new late start day twice a month at the high school, several policies, bond and much more. Discussion items include student achievement results/end of year goals and the second reading of several policies including policy 457 Suicide Prevention/Intervention as well as its companion policy 457.1. No date has been placed on the agenda for the Annual Meeting. It is often the last Monday in August, but may change because that should be the committee of the whole date now. We may not know that date until the July 26 committee meeting.

I'll keep you posted on that date. Remember, it's a time when every citizen of Evansville has a vote on the mill rate. Attend if you can!


Friday, July 2, 2010

Here's How One Small Michigan School District is Coping

The overall (May) unemployment rate for Wisconsin was 7.7% and for Michigan it was 12.8%. All rates quoted here are unadjusted for seasonal rates. My dad used to say that 5% unemployment was typical even in good times, reflecting a certain baseline of the population that remains unemployed and not seeking work. Some counties in Michigan are suffering with 20-25% unemployed citizens. The best unemployment rate in Michigan was earned by Macinac County at 7.8%, higher than the Wisconsin AVERAGE. Out of 83 Michigan counties, only nine of them registered single digit unemployment rates and seven of those were above 9%. Wisconsin, on the other hand has 72 counties with only five counties running into double digit unemployment rates.

Rock County was stung a bit more than the average Wisconsin rate in May with 10.4% unemployment. And Lenawee County, home of Blissfield Community School District has a full 15% unemployment. Blissfield is a small community close to my home town of Adrian Michigan. The school district has an enrollment of about 1300 students (about 70% of our enrollment) with a budget of about half our ours at $9.96 million. That's the first lesson to take from this. When the economy is really sour, per-pupil expenditures take a nose dive. The original budget Blissfield proposed in December predicted expenditures to exceed expected revenue by $1.6 million. Faculty and staff trimmed that figure to $1.2 million and the school board had to bring that down to a level that could be managed with their fund balance. This meant they had to cut over $930,000 from the budget and transfer about $280,000 from their fund balance.

There were five overpowering reasons Blissfield found themselves in this predicament. Number one is declining enrollment. Check for Wisconsin. Number Two is declining per pupil reimbursement from the state. Check for Wisconsin. Number three was some snafu with Michigan DPI in which the state overpaid Blissfield over 200 grand in recent years and they have to pay the piper now. OK, I hope that's not happening in Wisconsin. Number four is an increase in the amount the district pays into the teachers' pension fund. Check for Wisconsin. Finally, those pesky stimulus funds, to the tune of almost 300 grand, won't be around next year. Check for Wisconsin.

Of these five reasons, Blissfield had little control over four of them. They could have done a better job policing the over payments and correcting the state, but experience tells me that the state probably changed the rules as they went along to best minimize payments due. Scrutinizing their online budget analysis does not reveal that they used poor judgement in spending the stimulus funds on things like recurring costs, but if they began their budgeting process with those funds included, it wasn't too swift.

An analysis of the cuts the board made showed the distribution of pain to be relatively egalitarian. Instruction absorbed 34.7% of the $931,911 cut from the budget, Administration 28.1%, Operation and maintenance 20.8%, Technology 4.4%, Transportation 7% and Food Service and Athletics 5.0%. Now before everybody gets their knickers in a knot that instruction took the biggest hit AGAIN, we need to put it in perspective of what percent of the budget they are responsible for in the first place. Instruction in Blissfield accounts for 56.99% of the budget and in Evansville it's 59.7%. Administration accounts for 8.1% of the budget in Blissfield and 8.2% of the budget in Evansville. So these cuts certainly are disproportional, but in favor of the teachers because most educators have the best interest of the students at heart, even if we may disagree about the method by which that end is achieved.

The most interesting part of the article I read regarding this (in the June 24th Daily Telegram) was how some of these cuts were achieved. Naturally, there were lay-offs, outsourcing was used, retired administrators were rehired through third party groups to save pension and benefits. The administration was restructured and there was doubling up of jobs, like getting rid of the assistant principal position at the high school and reassigning him to the middle school. And of course, the almighty athletics has even been effected. I do not exaggerate when I say that athletics is a religion in Southern Michigan. They have eliminated reduced price athletic participation fees for students who qualify for free and reduced lunch and increased student ticket prices to athletic events to $5.00. Personally, I think this is a bit draconian in an environment of 15% unemployment, but it shows that the board is serious about making everyone pay the piper to balance the budget.

I learned from the paper that Blissfield has a policy requiring a 10% fund balance. From what I could decipher from their online data, it looks like they have more like a 30% fund balance (!). Michigan School Board Assn. recommends 15-20% of total expenditures plus operating transfers. So even though they have all this extra money in their fund balance, they recognize the fact that carrying forward a negative balance is not sustainable. Cuts were made and they ended up transferring about 10% of their fund balance to finish the job. Wow. What a difference in approach. Refusing to spend more than you make. Extremely refreshing.

Now let's compare that with Evansville's budget woes. I'll cover closing out this year's budget to start. The fiscal year ends June 30 and they closed it the best they could at the June 28th board meeting. On the revenue side, Evansville realized $29,282 less revenue than expected. Had they not recouped $50,000 from the insurance company for employee theft, it would have been that much worse. The big hitters here were reductions in high cost aid (-$33,244) and SAGE (-$19,992) reimbursements. The reason was not that we didn't qualify for these funds, but that more schools submitted claims for these funds. The pie remained the same size, so the pieces were smaller.

We also realized $12,202 less revenue than expected in open enrollment into the district. That was offset by $14,697 less in expenditures for open enrollment out of the district. This seems like a wash, but remember open enrollment out still leads open enrollment in by about $107,000. If one considers Mr. Pierick's comments this winter about open enrollment into the district and the funding that follows those kids to our district being about $3,400 less than the cost to educate each kid, maybe this imbalance isn't as bad as administrators and some board members are convinced it is.

On the expenditures side, the district spent $147, 055 less than expected! Yeah! So instead of the expected $60,000 deficit spending situation, they had $57,300 to put back into the fund balance. This ended the year with a fund balance of 11.15%, about the same as last year's fund balance percentage. This is a half-percent ahead of policy, but standing pat when policy calls for (half-percent) increases until 2020 when it should reach and remain at 15% probably isn't a good thing. Things that reduced spending this year were numerous maternity and medical leaves, mild winter reducing heat costs. The substitute costs rose to compensate for the leaves, but not to the extent of the reduction in salaries.

The year end closing of Evansville's finances has always been better than expected for one primary reason. Ms. Olsen is a very conservative business manager and she is careful to use this conservative approach in her budget designs. Case in point is the Madison School District getting caught with a 30 million dollar hole to plug last budget cycle. Their business manager must not have appreciated that the state had no money with which to increase the aid contribution by the amount they said they would two years ago. Our diligent Ms. Olsen used figures in which no increase was expected and the Madison business manager took the state at its word. Evansville only had a hole of about $120,000 to fill, most of which was not the fault of the district. Madison, on the other hand, was forced to scramble to balance their budget, ticking off a lot of residents in the process.

Next year's plan was tweeked for the June board meeting as well. Again, revenue projections are down by about $60,000 from what they were in December, due to many of the same reasons our revenue was down this year. Expected expenditures have been cut by about $110,000. Big hitters are faculty:$138,687 (retirements and loss of the TRIS one year special ed teacher and hiring entry level teachers for retirements, etc.);Custodians:elimination of cleaner position ($52,949);reduction of half-day kindergarten bus route along with EEN transportation savings ($26,039). You can see that these items alone total more than the overall cuts, so yes, there were increases in certain areas as well.

There was a transfer in accounting category this year for the HR director. Previously, this position had been categorized in the Administrative Assistant category for budget purposes. It has been switched to Administration for next year's budget, so it is a bit hard to tease out the details. It also makes the administrators section of the budget seem inflated upon first glance. I mention this in case somebody asks the school for a copy of the budget and I want them to better understand how this category changed. The administrator section of the budget shows a big "increase" and the Admin. Assist. category shows a big decrease, which is effectively a transfer of the HR directors salary and benefits from one to the other.

Once all the transfer stuff is taken into consideration, one can see that there is a 2% salary increase ($18,316) budgeted for the administrators. This year the district is experimenting with a 5% contribution to health plans or cash in lieu for non-union employees. After accounting for this contribution, administrators should expect to realize about a 1.26% effective increase. The administrative assistants are also being asked to pay 5% into their health plans this year. They were offered a 3% salary increase, which after paying the 5% into their health plans is an effective 1.35% salary increase. This is a good start to getting the conversation going about contributing to the health plans, but giving them a raise to cover the cost is not necessarily saving anybody any money.

In the end, despite all their best efforts, we still end up with a budget for the 10-11 school year in which we plan right from the starting blocks to spend about $136,000 more than we get in revenue (down from $186,000 in December). Our fund balance will have to make up for it AGAIN, reducing it to about 10.5%, officially making it behind the target value of 11% for this year. I just have a philisophical opposition to actually planning to spend more than you expect to make. I know organizations do this all the time, but who wants to end up like Michigan, outsourcing everything but the kitchen sink because nobody was willing to make the hard choices?