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

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.