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

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Teachers are devastated.

I had occasion to talk to a teacher friend this week after they were cold-cocked by the administrative staffing proposal on Monday. This person is the personification of an ideal teacher. She is kind and respectful and lives for that "aha" moment when a kid really gets it. She is humble and quiet and always thinks the best of every person. She really reminds me of my dad in that way and would never speak ill of anyone. I admire her so much that it pained me greatly to see her so devastated by this turn of events. A few of our kids had the privilege of being in her classroom and some of our kids are similar ages. When I went to their house on Friday, she looked like she had been drawn through a knothole backwards, as my grandma would have said. I learned that a number of items in the admin. proposal violated the DPI and legislative instructional minutes. I also learned that the proposal of cutting 6th grade language arts nearly in half and 7th and 8th grade language arts by about a third made no sense because the student achievement in those areas is so low that the State Report Cards are in jeapordy at the Middle School.

(On another note, I was also confused by the  elementary proposal to cut PE by 35 minutes a week (apparently one of the DPI violations) and the simulataneous increase of 120 minutes in core curriculum without saying what else is being cut).

I was nearly in tears telling this teacher how appalled I was that this administration had the gall to start a board meeting asking the board to approve the addition of a coach and ended the same meeitng asking the board to consider a plan and be ready to approve in two weeks a plan that laid off 10.14 instructional positions. At least Brodhead has a plan to share the pain across employee groups if their referendum fails next week.

And these are the people who get paid the big bucks in this district, and who just "coincidentally" happened to ask the board to approve their (mostly) one year contracts last month. How convenient that they locked in their overpriced contracts before they took the hatchet to the teachers. Only a select few admin got 2 year contracts this year and I agree only with a subset of those. Paula Landers is the most professional and most competent person I've had the pleasure to work with and she deserved her regular 2 year extension. I depend on the board to have a very good memory of this incident and how overpaid this group is on the whole. I pray the board keeps all of their feet to the flames until every one of them is either annealed by the heat or leaves.  I can promise that if I am one of those board members, I am up to the task and will remember this last in a long line of atrociously incompetant actions taken by our administrators.

There are supposed to be public and staff comment sessions scheduled after spring break regarding the staffing proposal. Please go and register your thoughts about how you think the district could save money or alternatives to the current proposal located at the link below. Also, please vote on April 2. It's my mantra these days.


Friday, March 29, 2013

All the Signs and Fliers are Distributed! Time to Enjoy the Holiday Weekend with the family before they disperse.

Today was such a beautiful day for walking around town and distributing my fliers and signs. 50 degrees is much better than 15 degrees with a 20 mph wind for this job. Let's not even talk about being able to put the wires into the ground without my patent pending sign installation kit (size 8 knitting needles and a hammer). Thanks to all my supporters for their tireless blogging, leaflet distribution and sign hosting. I really appreciate your dedication guys and gals. So far, only one sign has gone missing out of 50. Not so bad considering some of the wind we've had in the last month. 

Please Vote on April 2nd and bring a friend with you to the polls. There's an important Supreme Court choice to make and the usual local politics to address, though nobody seems to want to run for alder in this town anymore. See you at the polls and Happy Easter!

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Real Coffee Forum was pretty well attended!

Thanks to my friends and acquaintences who attended the budget forum I had this morning at Real Coffee. I got to speak with 5-10 folks about some of the district's financial woes. It was more timely than I ever thought it would be, coming on the heels of the administration's staffing proposal for next year. The news just went from bad to worse for the district, with an estimated $950,000 deficit expected prior to any cuts. Four scenarios were then presented with increasing levels of cuts and differing levels of bottom line. Option 1 cuts 6.14 staff, mostly teachers, pushes back cash in lieu to $4314 for everyone (saving $42,000!) and, if no increase is factored in for either salary or benefits, results in a $104,000 deficit situation. Option 2 radically changes the middle school to a traditional schedule, cutting another 4 teachers and option 3 adds a GT position to the block and option 4 a reading specialist. Review the plan on the district website noted below.

The administration noted to the board that their timeline was tight (lay off notices are due April 15) and they wanted board action on the proposal on April 8. Board president Kathi Swanson noted that if they have public and staff listening sessions, the technology implementation plan completely laid out and the staff development plan to implement the changes budgeted and planned by then, then that will be fine. Also, the board needs the information well before April 8 to study and fully understand the final proposal. My guess is that the vote will be delayed until the April 29 meeting (April 22 is the reorganization meeting and the committee meetings are the 29th). The administration can issue the notices and rescind any that are unnecessary by June 15 or something. It yanks around folks unnecessarily, but this board has failed to take a meaure to vote for lack of information through two different administrations. Nobody should be surprised that they weren't willing to vote without public and staff input. They have been about the community and the kids since day 1 and I for one am ready to back these kinds of moves. Nobody should have to vote on 10 peoples livelihoods without proper feedback. Good job school board for sticking to your guns on this issue.

Please vote on April 2, no matter who you support. I'm all about democracy in action. Let's shoot for a 50% turnout. Let your voice be heard! There's also a supreme court choice to be made that could very much impact the work done on schools in the future because Act 10 is headed there, I'm pretty sure.


Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Welcome Lily Evans Hammann

We picked up our new puppy Lily on Saturday. She's a golden doodle baby and is surprisingly calm for an eight week old puppy. She is an "F2" cross, which I gather means her mom is a medium sized poodle and her dad is a smallish first generation golden doodle (poodle X golden). Dad has a curly ginger coat and mom has a black and white coat. She's "buff" colored, but looks like she'll have ginger points on her ears and paws. Here she is smooching my daughter!

The kids chose her name allegedly from Harry Potter's mother and daughter Lily (hence the Evans. Since we live in Evansville, I thought it was a nice touch). There's a rumor that they really named her after Lilith, a demon on Supernatural. She has already shown some signs of demon behavior like chomping with those needle puppy teeth. We have missed our sweet Winnie so much, it was nice to meet a new baby this spring!

Sunday, March 24, 2013

What's at stake in this election?

There are so many critical issues at stake throughout the state in this election. The news is humming with education issues on every front. No revenue cap increase proposed by the governor combined with more private school voucher money for certain districts in the works. Act 10 is in legal limbo, tying the hands of all public employers in the state with fault lying on both sides of the aisle. In addition to these problems, closer to home, we face an $840,000 deficit next fall so far, with unknown insurance savings, unknown enrollment and unknown equalized property value in the equation yet, not to mention the final reckoning of this year's budget, which Ms. Treuden noted seems to be on track to be underspent again this year. Until they fix the phones, that is.  And that is just a glimpse of the budget challenges. Add to that a layer of increasing student achievement expectations and assessing educator and administrator accountability starting next year and this could be a year of unprecedented trials and tribulations in the district. I think that I am a person whose skills and abilities could make a difference for the board this year. I wouldn't campaign for the job otherwise. Please write VOTE on your calendar for April 2. If you won't be available, vote absentee. Act 10 is likely going to the supreme court and that race is important as well. Please let your voice be heard!

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

What Degree Does Your Kid's Middle School Math Teacher Have?

Click on the link below to read an interesting summary of teacher preparation for Math and Science in public schools.

The most disturbing sentence jumped out at me in only the second paragraph. "Just one-third of middle school math teachers have a degree in mathematics or math education, for instance, according to the national survey of nearly 7,800 educators, including elementary teachers as well as secondary math and science teachers, issued last month. Fewer than half of elementary teachers feel "very well prepared" to teach science. And just one in five K-3 educators teaches science every day." This is so disturbing on so many levels that I am somewhat speechless. You all know how hard it is to render me speechless. So why do we keep blaming the uncooperative parents, the unsupportive home life and the poverty of the student when two thirds of the teachers instructing your middle schooler in Math don't have a degree in Math or Math education.

Then there is my passion, science. Wonder why so many kids are left behind there? Again, the proof is in the data and not in any slacker parents out there. "Another issue the report identifies was how little time science gets in the early grades. Averaged across a week, it amounts to 19 minutes a day in grades K-3, compared with about 90 minutes for reading/language arts and 54 for math. "We have to get more time for science," Mr. Reiser said."

We take a subject that children are naturally adept at, Science, and allot anywhere from about a third to about a fifth of the classroom time devoted to the other core subjects. Anybody who disagrees that children are natural scientists need to spend an afternoon watching a baby struggle as he or she learns to turn over, crawl, walk, climb your bookshelves, use your computer when you think they're napping. I only discovered this after becoming a parent and it was an amazing discovery. It sure made parenting a lot of fun. That natural curiosity is extinguished unless there is some counter effort by parents and the schools to celebrate the wonder that our kids embody. I think this study begins to reveal why that could be. As an instructor of fledgling college Chemistry students, I can tell you that there were some times I was uncomfortable teaching certain materials and I had a degree in Chemistry. I cannot begin to fathom somebody with a degree in oh, say English, feel comfortable teaching seventh grade math.
This is very likely where all the math and science phobia comes from. They are simultaneously depriving our children of enthusiastic instruction in some of the most exciting areas AND passing along their own fears about these subjects. This needs to stop and I hope the common core initiatives in Wisconsin puts the kibosh on this practice if it is currently going on here.


PSA for those going somewhere warm for Spring Break!

If any of you are headed for warmer climes March 29-April 8 (Evansville's spring break), please consider voting absentee ballot so your voice is heard. I don't know why this happens every year, but the election is during spring break about 90% of the time. You can register at city hall during their banker's hours and then vote right away if you wish. Other options are also available. The window of opportunity closes Friday March 29 for register and vote at the same time option. Thank you for your attention. We now return you to your regularly scheduled blogging.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Get 'Em While They're Hot!

Only 13 of these beauties remain. They are at a premium!  Very cute and low maintenance. Easily installed with a hammer and a knitting needle to pre-bore the holes in the frozen tundra. Short term commitment only needed! Election is Tuesday April 2. I will fetch them all the following week. Whoever your preferred candidate, please vote on April 2! Bring a friend to the polls too and make your voices heard.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Meet and Greet March 27 at Real Coffee at Daun

Melissa M. Hammann, 2013 Candidate for Evansville School Board, invites you to a “Meet and Greet” session to be held at Real Coffee at Daun on March 27  

Topic: Fiscal Responsibility and District Budget Awareness

Come explore the fiscal challenges the district faces now and into the future. Find out the approach I advocate for helping to close the predicted $840,000 deficit next year. Bring your fresh ideas to the table to enable the district to stop reeling from annual financial shortfalls.

Date: March 27
Time: 7-10 AM at Real Coffee at Daun, 18 E. Main St., Evansville

Ad endorsed and paid for by Melissa M. Hammann

Final Review Question Answer

In the flurry that has ensued since I attended the Union Forum on March 12, I forgot to post the last response to the Review series. So here it is.

Question 6: As parents of school aged children (either now or in the past!) please share with Review readers, a favorite (or most meaningful) shared Evansville School District experience you've had with your child/children. Adding too, your opinion of the District's encouragement level toward parental involvement. If you feel they do a fine job-say so and why. If you feel they need to do more-add what you would recommend they do.

We have actively partnered with ECSD in educating our children for over thirteen years. Last year our oldest child graduated from EHS, which was by far our most meaningful shared experience in the district to date. Our family motto has always been, “Do your best work, no matter what the task.” Teachers who went out of their way and often their job function to mentor our children have contributed untold value to their education and perfectly complemented our educational philosophy. They have been the highlight of our family’s educational journey.

Bill and I spend lots of time and effort every year to convince teachers and administrators that we are active members on our children’s educational teams. In a district the size of Evansville, one has an expectation that this effort would naturally wane as the younger siblings enter similar situations over the years. That has not been our experience. In our case, efforts to advocate for our children’s best interest continue to remain very high. I know I am perfectly equipped to do the job for my children, being self-confident and capable of expressing myself as needed. I also know many other parents are unable for a number of reasons to get in the ring every year to insist on an education that meets the needs of their child. It is for this reason I believe the process is flawed. Every time an occasion arises where I have to intervene to prevent complacency in my child’s education, I think of the kids whose parents can’t challenge the system and how underserved they may be. This is unacceptable to me.

Based on the number of times staff has expressed surprise at our unwavering support for our children’s education, it seems to me that instead of expecting ALL parents to support classroom efforts at home, the district expects NO parents to support classroom efforts at home. I presume that this shift happened because it’s so painful when people disappoint you, especially where children are involved. It’s much more psychologically soothing to expect nothing and get scraps than to expect everything and fall short. From there it is a very short trip to give the impression that parental involvement is considered parental interference and it is undesirable in the district. A number of our friends have received the same “butt out” messages in many ways over the years. In reality, they are “we can’t do that because” messages, but “butt out” is what we hear. “Please don’t walk your five-year-old to class anymore; it’s disruptive of our educational process.” “Parents are to wait in the lobby for their student” “Your child does not meet the criteria to receive services at this time.” “Medically necessary and educationally necessary services are not the same” “You will have to sign a waiver absolving us of responsibility if your child fails to excel in this class.” “Your kid lost achievement level because they started out higher than their peers.” “Your kid is already on the accelerated English and Math track, now you want them to have science enrichment? That will make them stand out too much, which is terrible to a middle schooler.” These may or may not be valid statements, but the experience would be much more positive if a can-do approach were accompanied by phrases like, “Welcome! It’s so nice to see so many moms/dads/grandmas/grandpas here today!” “It must be so nice to be able to walk home with Aunt Ann!” “Let’s see what we can do to serve your child.” “I’m sure that we can come up with a plan to help with this issue.” “Let’s give him or her a chance to flex those brain cells and see where their limits are in this safe and FREE environment.” “Let’s challenge your child so he or she has the opportunity to gain achievement level as does his peers!” “Let’s celebrate your child’s abilities and skills and help them continue to build on the joy of learning they already have.” After we hear these words, we’d like to know what we can do to help the teachers make it a reality. Finally, we want to see tangible evidence that the plan is coming to fruition.

Parental involvement is a factor that has shown positive correlation with student achievement, which is currently a factor in District and School Report Cards and will comprise fifty percent of teacher and principal assessments in 2014-2015. It is in the district’s, the teachers’ and the principals’ best interests to seek better ways to encourage and respond effectively to parental involvement and concerns. Done well, perhaps the number of families leaving the district will decrease, revenues will increase and everyone wins. Especially the kids. 

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Union Questions Begin Here! Question 1

Hi all! I'm attending a forum this afternoon hosted by district union staff at Creekside Place: Staff only, I'm sorry to say. My best efforts to get somebody to host a forum for the general public have failed. A few weeks ago a union rep contacted all board candidates to ask if we would be willing to answer a series of questions. The reason given was that the union leadership decided to invoke its PAC option and select two candidates to endorse, which apparently comes with a small campaign contribution. This has been happening with more frequency in the last few years, I've heard. These are the questions they posed. The forum tonight will likely focus on elaboration of the answers given to fully understand the candidates' postitions on these topics.

Q1: Why are you running for school board?

Before I answer that question, I’d like to address the purpose of a school board. I recently read a comprehensive survey regarding the history, current state and research based evidence for future direction of school boards in the United States.(1) That document notes that an initial reason for creating an elected school board was to establish local governance of public education, governance which reflects the values of the community.  There is evidence to support that the current school board has done a good job taking the community pulse for critical issues such as creating the district Vision Statement. They continue to seek community input on topics ranging from open enrollment to creating a new employee manual for the district. I would like to help the board continue that important aspect of governance.

I’m running for school board because, while I believe that the Evansville Community School District has many good attributes, I envision its excellence. Every child deserves a public school education that prepares them to successfully pursue their dreams, whether those dreams are to attend Harvard Medical School, to become the most outstanding carpenter in the tri-state area or to enlist in a branch of the Armed Services.  When I worked at Wisconsin Energies in Milwaukee many years ago, a vendor who was trying to sell me a million dollar piece of equipment asked me if I was from Missouri “because you don’t believe anything I tell you unless I show you.” That effectively summarizes my approach to everything: Trust but verify.  School board members that provide an independent analysis of educational initiatives are valuable assets to their districts. I believe my data analysis skills were beneficial when I was on the board previously and will continue to be an asset to the board if I am elected again this spring.

The coming years of increased expectations in student achievement through Wisconsin’s new Agenda 2017 combined with widespread budgetary challenges will require board members who are capable of evaluating enormous quantities of data and drawing conclusions from that data. I come before the voters ready to take on that challenge. I am well informed as to the inner workings of often convoluted public school finance. I stay abreast of what’s happening with the state budget and either figure out how it affects the district revenue stream or ask questions until I am satisfied that I do understand it. I make it a priority to stay current with educational trends and seek information regarding the efficacy of those trends. One common problem that often surprises new school board members is the relatively long learning curve on the way to becoming an effective board member. Some board members have noted that they were finally becoming comfortable in their role just as their seat was up for re-election.  I have been continuously monitoring ECSD board business since 2006, first as a citizen activist, then as a board member and finally as a free-lance journalist.  The seven years I have spent in these endeavors exceeds some current board members’ tenures. This will enable me to hit the ground running while preserving an essential eagle’s eye view of where ECSD has been and, more importantly, where it is going and how it can achieve its vision of excellence in all aspects of education.

(1) http://www.csos.jhu.edu/crespar/techReports/Report56.pdf

Union Question 2

Q2.  In what ways might you foster stronger communication between the school board and all school staff?  The school board and the community?

During the process of creating a Vision Statement a few years ago, problems with communication were identified as a pervasive problem facing the district.  Even prior to that time, the board recognized this problem and tried a number of initiatives to encourage meaningful dialog between themselves and their various stakeholders. The board began to host listening sessions preceding the first board meeting each month, rotating board members responsible for this task to better encourage a diverse public attendance. The board carefully planned and executed a comprehensive mechanism to solicit staff and community input to create a comprehensive Vision Statement that reflects the values of the Evansville community. The board encouraged district business manager Doreen Treuden in her efforts to increase the transparency of the budget process by providing public presentations and soliciting community input at various stages.  District Administrator Jerry Roth has reinforced the concept of open and honest interaction in many initiatives he has implemented in his short tenure. I believe the board and the district is on the right track and has shown ownership and a desire to improve in this critical area.  I would encourage them to continue on this path while seeking new ways to foster positive interactions with staff and community. I would recommend a column in the paper by rotating board members with a catchy title like Board Buzz. Or maybe someone else should be in charge of the name… I would encourage the board to reach out through electronic means on the school website, or establishing a blog or something that is interactive with a “FAQ” section, for example. It would require some extra effort on the part of the board to create a product everyone is comfortable with that is both useful and easily utilized by the public.  These are small but concrete ways to help establish a multipronged communication plan that casts a wide net with various media that appeal to different groups of people.

That being said, one must recognize that any successful strategy to foster stronger communication between two groups hinges on the free exchange of ideas and the full disclosure of information in both directions. The board cannot make informed decisions in the absence of either of these components. In order to form a collaborative, unencumbered communication process, an environment of unconditional trust must be established. With trust as the foundation of a relationship, people feel safe to engage in the innovative thinking that is essential to solve the considerable issues that the district continues to face. The board has collaborated with staff, administration and the community to hold the district together through countless blows and financial challenges since 2010.  I would work with the board to continue to build on that growing trust between the board and its many stakeholders. This should be an ongoing goal for the board because, while it takes a lot of energy to create a trusting environment, a startlingly small incident can destroy it. Once implicit mutual trust is established, the board, staff and community are positioned to move from “holding things together” to excellence in all aspects of education as defined in the district Vision Statement. 

Union Question 3

Q3.   In absence of collective bargaining, how would you like to see the board address the concerns of employees about their working conditions and salary?

If Act 10 survives legal challenges, collective bargaining is set to end on June 30 this year. Base salary remains negotiable within the confines of the Consumer Price Index. Limited working condition issues are addressed in the Handbook. The current board is working with staff and administration to create a “Policy and Procedures” manual, or Handbook, to define worker rights, rules and responsibilities in the absence of a comprehensive contract. Mr. Roth created an aggressive schedule to complete the Handbook in a timely fashion so as to provide a seamless transition to the post-collective bargaining era. The process has been collaborative and has included many opportunities for input from all stakeholders. It has rightly dominated board business for the better part of a year. The path has been accompanied by thoughtful dialog wherein board members, staff and administration have engaged in philosophical discussions necessary to arrive at a balanced end product. The grievance procedure laid out in the new Handbook reflects state law, which permits grievance for allowable events concerning discipline, termination and workplace safety.  All of these can be construed to fall under working conditions. The Handbook procedure includes the right to appeal to the board.  I strongly believe every employee should have the right to petition the board in these matters. In addition, a thorough knowledge of employee grievances would inform the board as to employee morale and has the potential to further improve the board-staff communication dynamic.

Even though it’s hard to envision after the last few years of economic hardship, the nature of the beast suggests that “this too shall pass.” I would continue in the current board’s footsteps to help create a Handbook that guides the district equally well through both good and bad economic times.  Producing a thoughtful, comprehensive employee Handbook is the most effective way for the board to address employee concerns under the constraints imposed by Act 10.     

Union Question 4

Q4.   Do you think teachers and other school district employees should receive merit pay?  If yes, how should merit pay be measured?

The shift in the model of public educator reimbursement toward aligning salary and benefits with those of the general public has gradually eroded teacher take home pay. The private sector provides the opportunity for many employees to earn a bonus for performance “above and beyond.” The only pay increases many folks have had in recent years have been from these bonuses. It is therefore my belief that if the public sector compensation model is heading toward that of the private sector, then teachers should be eligible to receive bonuses as well. How it is funded and implemented is the bigger question here.

Agenda 2017 has included in it a section that includes a very detailed pathway to increase educator and administrator effectiveness.  To remain eligible for federal funding, Wisconsin public schools have to create an educator assessment instrument that “substantially includes student achievement as a measure.” Pilot programs are ongoing to provide opportunities for improvement prior to full roll-out in 2014-2015. As such, this would be the perfect starting point for any evaluation process that would result in teacher bonuses.

A webinar available on the DPI website defines the processes being put into place to create a fair, standardized assessment of teacher and principal effectiveness. (1) Wisconsin professionals from every part of the process contributed to creating the prototype currently being piloted in volunteer districts. The rubric includes multiple measures to accurately gauge educator performance. The committee decided that a model comprised of 50% student achievement and 50% educator practices was equitable and met federal requirements. The state has worked hard to create an objective, standardized, data-driven system by which all educators and administrators will be evaluated.  The good news is that the board does not have to reinvent the wheel to come up with a fair evaluation tool.

Even better news seems to be that the Governor plans to make a pot of money available for high performing schools to distribute to teachers as they see fit. The board’s role would be to decide how that cash would be distributed, likely by creating a policy to detail the process. I envision such a policy to include something like this. “X% of bonus pay will be distributed to teachers with evaluation scores of Y or higher. A% will be available to principals with evaluation scores of B or higher. Values of Y and B will be directly related to achieving Greatly Exceeds Expectations on the school report cards. (100-X-A)% of the bonus will be equally distributed to all employees in the district with documented exemplary performance because excellence in every area of the district contributes to increased student achievement.”

(1)   http://dpimedia.wi.gov/main/SilverlightPlayer/Default.aspx?peid=c39e53f1f6ee44728808b0966a5a24db

Union Question 5

Q5.   Where would you look for new revenues?  What criteria will you use when faced with budgetary cuts?

Achieving a new revenue source for public education has limited options. The revenue cap was decimated two years ago and only had a slight increase this year. The governor has frozen the cap at current levels until 2015. The only realistic way for the district to increase revenue under these circumstances is by increasing enrollment. The open enrollment data for the district has become increasingly problematic over the last six years. The net loss of enrollment from open enrollment has increased from 3 in 2006 to 43 this year. The cumulative loss in revenue amounts to over $838,315, eerily similar to next year’s projected shortfall of $840,000.
Increasing enrollment must be approached using a balancing act to work within the framework of the current facilities’ capacities. The community is adamant about being unwilling to face another referendum any time soon. But even if the district only achieves a net zero change due to open enrollment next year, that would add about $280,000 in revenue. This goal would require a concerted effort on the part of every district employee and board member to actively promote the district. It would be of enormous help to know which group or groups to target that would maximize results. Once we recapture that lost enrollment, we must walk the talk of excellence to keep them here. It’s a buyer’s market out there and people will go to great lengths to get their children an outstanding education, as evidenced by the 85 people who are willing to spend considerable time and resources to send their kids to schools outside of this district.

The ultimate goal of the visioning process a few years ago was to create a community oriented District Strategic Plan to help guide the many decisions and oft-times difficult choices the board must make. With the retirement of Ms. Carvin and the hire of Mr. Roth, this project was put on the back burner. I believe the district’s lack of a Strategic Plan makes the board and the administration vulnerable to making hasty, reactionary decisions imposed by the political issue du jour. It detracts from the board’s true goal of working in collaboration with all stakeholders to attain its Vision of excellence. To solve this issue, I would encourage the board to use the data collected at the many public listening sessions during the visioning process to complete a Strategic Plan for the district to help guide them in both good times and bad.

In the absence of a strategic plan, the board urged the administration to define the cut criteria early in the budget process in anticipation of a substantial shortfall. The administration proposed and the board approved on January 28, 2013 a document entitled “ECSD Budget Development Process 2013-2014.”  It provides sort of a triage procedure to best preserve functions serving the life sustaining organs of the district, the kids. I have reproduced most of the document below to facilitate my comments.

“Budget Reduction Principles
The Board of Education and the Administration have established a set of guiding principles that will shape options available to the District to prudently manage a reduced operating budget for next year.
Budget Reduction Principles
1. Act in alignment with District Mission/Vision
2. Address sustainability: both financial and programmatic
3. Consider attrition and realignment in staff reductions rather than layoffs
4. Staff in alignment with enrollment
5. Focus college and career ready instruction over other instruction
6. Implement program delivery efficiencies vs. program elimination
7. Assess program or activity elimination where multiple data sources support (e.g. enrollment, class
8. Reduce or freeze non-instruction budget centers before instructional
9. Reduce where trends/data warrant in large budget centers (e.g. salaries, benefits)
10. Engage in good faith decision making based on multiple data sources (e.g. budget listening sessions,
online comments, survey responses)

Process for evaluating budget expenditures – The Administrative Team will review each expenditure using the principles from above for building the 2013-2014 Budget”

I agree that such a document is essential to help make “the best bad decisions” to paraphrase the movie Argo. I also agree with the philosophy to minimize negative impact to students embraced by the document. The board and the administration have done their best to minimize the impact of the harsh economy on the students in our district by using a similar approach for the last two years. This approach is necessary but does not inspire confidence that the district can achieve its Vision of excellence in all areas of education. Three consecutive years of financial deficits approaching or exceeding a million dollars have left only grim choices to make unless revolutionary ways of doing business are discovered.

Albert Einstein once defined insanity as continuing to do the same thing over and over again and expecting a different outcome. The district has investigated a number of ways to plow new ground. The staff and administration are evaluating insurance plans to save substantial money. A new Handbook is being implemented that may result in savings. It’s possible to increase enrollment by discovering and providing or enhancing services to groups as yet to be identified. I would add one more idea to that list. It is not a new idea but a reevaluation of an old idea:  explore a return to the traditional seven-period instructional day. Studies consistently indicate a savings of 5-10% can be achieved while continuing to provide identical class offerings. The data also suggest that student achievement could improve under a block schedule, but it’s inconsistent and requires further scrutiny. After the last few years, the district must be brave enough to explore new frontiers to achieve the magnitude of savings necessary to balance the budget while striving toward instructional excellence.

(1)   http://www.ecsdnet.org/subsites/Doreen-Treuden/documents/2013-2014%20Budget%20Information/ECSD%20Budget%20Development%20Process%20for%202013-14%201-28-2013.pdf

Union Question 6

Q6.     How do you perceive the support staff in our buildings and their importance to how the school functions?

Every employee group in the district provides a unique and indispensable service in the Evansville Community School District.  In most of my previous workplaces, the support staff was the cornerstone of the company. I have had the privilege of working with many of the district support staff for fourteen years as a parent, a board member and a journalist.  That experience has largely reflected my previous work experience. Many groups have been consolidated into “support staff” as a result of the Handbook development process. These people are the first ones to greet children as they enter a building. They take care of them when they get sick at school and wait for a parent to take them home. They help maintain building security as they monitor people entering the building and remind them to sign in and fetch a name tag. They are often the first and last impression new people to the district have when visiting. They provide invaluable service to our most vulnerable students. Their kindness and love for their charges is palpable. They keep the building clean and sanitary to help keep our kids healthy. They provide nutritious meals to students and staff. And they accomplish all this while performing a long litany of tasks to keep the building humming smoothly, with a “whatever it takes” attitude. This group has made countless contributions to past district success. Achieving the increased expectations set by Agenda 2017 will depend on this group’s continued dedication to excellence.

I have followed the Handbook development process and hope that the end product works to make compensation for all support staff commensurate with other area districts. I would work toward that goal if elected this spring. Through this small act, the board and the district conveys to this important group that their continued loyalty and hard work is valued.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Q5 Why should the voters hire you?

Q5 Four of you are running for two open seats. Why should the citizens of the ECSD hire you? (Published on page 6 of the March 6th edition of the Evansville Review).

Thanks again to The Evansville Review for the opportunity to outline my platform to your readers over the last few weeks. A compelling reason for the voters to check my name on the ballot is that I present a complete package to the voters of the ECSD, ready to engage in board business from Day One. I have been actively engaged in board business for seven years, first as a citizen activist, then as a board member and finally as a journalist.  I understand the fundamentals of finance, student achievement data and how board business must be conducted by law. The board won’t have to spend time training me on these basics. If I am elected, that time will be used instead to immediately focus on the many challenges on the horizon, such as Agenda 2017 initiatives, the deficit, Strategic Planning, open enrollment issues and school security.

Agenda 2017 promises to revolutionize public education in Wisconsin in the next five years. I have the experience, skills and desire to help guide the district through the turbulent times ahead. I am passionate about catering to the abilities of the children in the district to empower them to reach their potential. The board must have unwavering dedication to its Vision of excellence to enable the district to lay this foundation for our children. I am fully vested in that Vision and I’m ready to help the board push toward that goal while grappling with financial concerns.  I will encourage fellow board members to complete the Strategic Plan for the district in order to realize the Vision of excellence on which so much future success relies.

I am aware of the substantial time commitment required to effectively serve on the board. My family supports my campaign for another term on the board of education. I am completely independent of the district with no financial or familial connections with the district staff or administration.  I will be able to engage in every vote without causing public concern for potential conflict of interest.  Because of that independence, I will be the advocate for your kids you expect a board member to be. I am persistent. My voice is strong and confident and I will always ask questions until I am satisfied that I have all of the information on which to base my decision. I am a hard and efficient worker. I am willing to put in the significant time and effort to do the job right.  I’ve missed less than 10 meetings in seven years, even when I was only attending as a reporter. That’s a 92.4% attendance rate and that doesn’t include the extra board meetings for committees, planning, retreats, conventions, negotiation and student expulsion hearings, none of which I remember missing. One of my great strengths is my data analysis skills, which are applicable to nearly every challenge facing the board. This adds a historical dimension to decision making that can inform where to concentrate limited resources, a consideration that has become increasingly important in the last three years.

Finally, and probably most importantly, I am a good listener and will represent the community values and concerns as I help the board direct policy that will guide the district to its Vision of excellence.  

Q4: Open Enrollment Impact on the District Revenue

Question 4:  Open enrollment policy in Wisconsin continues to expand the opportunities for students to attend public school out of their resident district. What, if anything, would you do to encourage your fellow board members to take advantage of this opportunity to increase district enrollment and revenue? (Published on page 8 of the February 27th issue of the Evansville Review).
Public education in Wisconsin has undergone a revolution in the last decade and now includes virtual schools, charter schools, voucher programs and open enrollment in addition to traditional brick and mortar options. Many of us who were educated more than twenty years ago struggle to keep informed of these modern educational concepts so we may best provide for our own children’s education. Folks might already know that Wisconsin families can apply to send their children to any public school district through open enrollment during a narrow time frame in February. The legislature recently expanded open enrollment opportunities to year-round for parents who apply and cite “the best interests of the child” on their petition to attend a non-resident district. The state aid portion of the per-pupil revenue becomes portable and follows students to their new district. The dollar amount changes annually and is based on state aid calculations. This year, each student attending a non-resident district brings with them $6447 in revenue to the new district, which is paid for by the resident district. Open enrollment presents an opportunity for the Evansville Community School District (ECSD) to decrease next year’s potential $750,000 shortfall in a student friendly way that helps preserve programs and teachers.
District business manager Doreen Treuden presented this steep deficit scenario to the board in January. The loss is predicated on a number of realistic assumptions: 3% salary increase, 8% benefit increase and 1-2% increases in all other areas. It also presumes that open enrollment figures for the ECSD will remain stable at the current levels of eighty-five resident students enrolled out of the district and 42 non-resident students enrolled in. Enrollment out has increased 37% since last year and 77% since 2006-2007.  The number of non-residents enrolling into ECSD has not changed significantly in the same time frame, causing the net loss of students through open enrollment to increase from 3 to 43 in six years. The net loss exceeded the number enrolling into the district for the first time this year. These trends suggest that the net loss due to open enrollment will not remain stable but rather increase.   If they do remain stable and if we presume a constant value for per-pupil state aid allocation, that imbalance of 43 students contributes over $277,000 to the projected 2013-2014 deficit, or 37% of the total.

A review of historical budget documents on the district website indicates that the deficit attributable to open enrollment has nearly quadrupled from about $78,000 in 2006 to about $280,000 this year. The cumulative funding lost since 2006 amounts to $838,315. Governor Walker’s next biennium budget calls for a freeze on the public school revenue cap, which further increases next year’s ECSD projected deficit to an eerily similar value of $840,000. The board has asked administration to explore this issue in depth on more than one occasion over the years. Last summer the board was provided with data that indicated the net loss of students due to open enrollment was projected to double this year and since the legislative expansion of the program enabled students to enroll out at any time, the numbers could get even worse. At that point, the board directed the new district administrator Mr. Jerry Roth to track open enrollment twice a year and report back to them with his findings. On February 11, the board was apprised of updated figures for this year which showed that the number out went up by two and the number in went down by two, further exacerbating the situation. Board President Kathi Swanson’s reaction to the news was to urge her fellow board members, “to find a way to keep over a quarter of a million dollars in revenue from walking out our doors.” In response to the board’s inquires over the years, the administration has noted that a majority of students enrolling out of the district have never attended Evansville and are not likely to attend under any circumstances. Ergo, it was implied, it is not worth the resources necessary to comprehensively explore the issue. That may be true, but it needs to be documented beyond word of mouth and gut instinct. The fact that the gap is widening over time shows there is some stress on the system causing change. An unbiased investigation could be very useful.

Gathering data through exit interviews and detailed tracking of programs to which students are going would be just the first step in reversing ECSD enrollment losses. The board has yet to focus on the “open enrollment in” side of the equation. In 2006, non-resident families enrolled 45 of their children into the ECSD and 28 of them had never attended Evansville. This year, 42 non-resident children have been enrolled into the district with only 8 new faces. The stories of people willing to go out of their way to enter the district year after year could inform the board as to which programs are attracting families. Once the data for open enrollment both in and out of the district is fully evaluated, trends and opportunities may come to light.

Current enrollment out data provides some insight, but more detail is necessary. For example, the number of outgoing students seeking virtual learning opportunities more than doubled this year from 7 to 15, with a tenfold increase in grades K-8. If this kind of growth out to virtual schools continues, it may behoove the district to investigate offering its own virtual school option to serve those students and attract even more families with alternative programming needs. Board Vice President Nancy Hurley noted at the February 11 meeting that it’s important to know why virtual learners are seeking this opportunity before the district spends money to create its own virtual school. If parents are unsatisfied with the district as a whole, simply providing a virtual option will probably not recapture this demographic.  However, if virtual schooling is ideal for the child and parents are otherwise happy with the district, then creating this new educational option could recapture some lost enrollment.  

“If you build it, they will come,” does not apply in today’s public education landscape. Parents who are determined to provide an education tailored to their children’s needs are no longer a captive audience obligated to remain frustrated with an unresponsive district. Districts that offer cutting edge programs accompanied by an unwavering commitment to excellence and community partnership will thrive as will their students. On the other hand, districts unable to keep pace with the rapid evolution of public education will continue to shrink, lose funding and descend into a self-perpetuating downward spiral, ultimately failing the kids. If I am elected, I will encourage the board to independently explore why students are enrolling out of the district at twice the rate they are enrolling into it. A comprehensive analysis of that information would enable the board to identify and actively support initiatives that will help recoup outwardly bound students. This in turn would make the district more attractive to non-residents. If the board applies their vision of excellence to this endeavor, the open enrollment deficit can become a surplus and everyone wins, especially the kids.

Note: I am very passionate about this. I am holding a “Meet the Candidate” forum on March 2 to explore this issue (see my ad in this week’s Review).

Review Q 3: Budget considerations to save money.

Question 3: The budget challenges of the last few years could continue to be an issue for ECSD in the coming years. What one idea would you propose to the board to minimize the impact of the drastic reduction in state aid experienced in 2010? (Published on page 3 of the February 13th edition of the Evansville Review).

The state of Wisconsin spent 26 billion dollars in fiscal year 2012, 6.24 billion dollars of which supported public schools (1).  School funding represents the second largest expenditure in the state budget and as such is open to scrutiny during budgetary droughts such as we have endured since late 2007.  In an effort to balance the last biennial budget, Governor Walker cut public school aid by $550 per student in 2011-12. This slashed nearly a million dollars, or about 5%, from the ECSD budget. The district ended that fiscal year about $160,000 in the red. This year’s budget was the first balanced budget presented to the board in five years and was achieved only after a lot of sacrifice on the part of many. The administration recently presented three budget scenarios for next year, the worst of which predicts a shortfall of $750,000.  This is not a sustainable financial model.

Following the state’s model of seeking savings from the largest piece of the spending pie, one must first evaluate the district spending. Salaries and benefits account for over 70% of the ECSD expenditures and creative ways to deliver this part of the budget will likely be the only way to make a significant dent in this potential deficit. Currently there is a committee investigating lower cost insurance alternatives which could result in significant savings.  Another committee is looking at the co-and extra-curricular activity contracts compared with conference averages. The teachers’ union agreed to contract concessions last year that leave little to achieve here. The business management of ECSD has exhausted the traditional routes for fiscal responsibility in the area of salary and benefits since the recession started.

An idea that was rejected by the district about five years ago may be worth revisiting in these tight economic times.  School districts across the country have considered a return to the traditional seven-period day from the block schedule as a way to reduce costs.  Closer to home, Edgerton recently switched from the block to the traditional schedule to contain expenditures. A brief literature review suggests that a school can realize an average annual savings of 5-10% in this area, depending on the schedule used (2). Another advantage of the traditional schedule may well be in the area of student achievement. A number of studies demonstrate that a seven-period day enhances student achievement on the ACT and SAT. Edgerton has seen a gradual increase in ACT performance since 2009. I did an analysis a few years ago that also supports this conclusion. Among ten Wisconsin high schools with enrollments similar to ECSD, those that maintained the traditional schedule showed higher average performance on the ACT from 2000-2007.  Conversely, other studies indicate that block schedule enables increased student achievement. This was a primary reason touted in the 90’s to switch to a block schedule format in the first place. The contradictory literature suggests there is more to learn about the possible link between student achievement and schedule.

There are some drawbacks with the traditional schedule as well. Students in a block schedule can double up on their math and science classes, best preparing those that are college bound to take the PSAT in early fall of their junior year.  Students can only take one math and science class a year on a traditional schedule and any transition to a seven-period day would need to equally prepare students for the PSAT. Another downside to the traditional schedule is that more textbooks would be required because kids would all be in class year around.  Any change of this magnitude would cause growing pains in any district, but if returning to a seven-period day would cut expenditures AND could help kids improve their academic achievement at the same time, this is one idea whose time may have come. It is certainly worth further investigation.

(1). ftp://doaftp1380.wi.gov/doadocs/2012%20CAFR_Linked.pdf
(2). http://www.ncpublicschools.org/docs/intern-research/reports/blockschedule.pdf

I'm posting my answers to the Review Qs here.

So, I thought I'd get the word out on my platform here. I'm going to post a series of answers I put in the review. I don't have access to my opponents answers, but you can see the Review date and look it up at the library if you want. I was also sent a list of six questions from the Teachers's Union a few weeks ago. I'm going to post those too in second series. So here's the first two Qs with my answers that ran on page 7 of the Evansville Review:

Q1: Background information and motivation.

Work Experience:
Spouse’s Occupation:
Other family members:
Volunteer Service:
Previous Public School Affiliations:
Previous Public Service or Elected Office/Years Served:
Recreational Pursuits:

Answer 1:
Name: Melissa Hammann
Work Experience: I worked for fifteen years in the chemical industry, first as an organic synthetic chemist producing photoactive compounds for a novel new imaging system and then as an analytical chemist for Wisconsin Energies. I became a homemaker in 1997, after our second child was born and my husband Bill took a job that required more than half of his time on the road.  The Review needed a reporter to cover the school board proceedings in 2010. My previous three years as school board clerk uniquely qualified me for the job. I stopped covering the school board to run for this office. 
Education: I earned a BA in Chemistry and an MS in Organic Synthetic Chemistry.
Age: I turned 54 last September.
Spouse: I’ve been married to my husband Bill Hammann for almost 24 years.
Spouse’s Occupation: Bill specified and built a coating facility for D&K Coatings in Janesville, where he continues to serve as the plant manager.  We moved to Evansville in 1998 as the plant was completed and have embraced the many opportunities available to give back to the community. 
Other family members: We have three great kids. Sarah is 18, graduated EHS in 2012 and attends UW-Madison. Holly is 16 and is a sophomore at EHS. Will is 13 and attends 7th grade at JC McKenna Middle School. 
Volunteer Service: I began volunteering in the school system when our oldest started kindergarten. I helped with learning stations and acted as a reading buddy. I provided assistance as needed for classrooms such as food or supervision for parties. Once our youngest was finished at the elementary school we focused on other community volunteer opportunities as a family.

I served from 2006-2010 as co-chair for the publicity committee of the Jack-O-Lantern Jamboree, the largest K-5 PTO fundraiser in the district. This became a chance for our entire family to volunteer. The kids baked goodies and as they got old enough, ran games and volunteered to run the café.

The Eager Free Public Library provided foundational preschool programs for our kids from the day we moved here. We began volunteering for the summer fundraisers sponsored by the EFPL Friends group as a way to show our appreciation. The kids bake cakes and scoop ice cream while Bill and I do our best to outbid others at the Ice Cream Social auction. We provide muscle to help move what seems like a ton of books in preparation for the annual Sidewalk Days used book sale in early August.

Along with other swim team parents, I provided transportation to and from Edgerton for daily practices, since the school board could not provide the funds necessary to support the new sport this year. 
Previous Public School Affiliations:  ECSD volunteer 1999-2010.
Previous Public Service or Elected Office/Years Served:   I was honored to serve as clerk of the Evansville Community School District Board of Education from 2007-2010. 

Q2:  A few years ago, the ECSD produced its Vision Statement in collaboration with the community:
“Creating a culture of excellence in:
• Academic achievement
• Character development
• Pursuit of arts, athletics, and other activities
• Community engagement
• Highly effective staff”
The Evansville Board of Education must balance the needs of many stakeholders in pursuit of this Vision. Who do you view as the primary customer of the school board and why?  How would you provide excellent service for this customer?

Answer 2: If we consider the district Mission Statement in combination with the Vision Statement above, a clearer answer to this complex question begins to emerge. The Mission Statement for the Evansville Community School District (ECSD) states “The Evansville Community School District, in active partnership with families and the community, will provide a positive learning environment that challenges all students to achieve personal excellence and become contributing citizens of the world community.”  The Mission Statement sets the stage to think of the ECSD as a business with the unique product of graduates who are well prepared to take the next step in their life journey toward becoming contributing citizens of the world community. If competent students are the product of the district and the school board is charged with governance of the school district, the primary customer of the school board is the collective of young adult employers: secondary education, the military and entry level employers. Each of these stepping stones comes with its own set of prerequisites that students must complete in high school. The role of the board of education in this case is to allocate revenue to support the programs and curriculum choices that will prepare students adequately for these challenges. Individual members of the Board of Education are responsible to inform themselves sufficiently so they can work with the board as a team to meet this objective.

I offer four strengths to help the school board provide excellent service to future employers of our students. First of all, my analytical skills are outstanding and are applicable to a wide variety of school board responsibilities from budget analysis to student achievement evaluation. I had many opportunities to scrutinize data as a former board member and, more recently, as a reporter.  I wrote a series of articles featuring the new Wisconsin District and School Report Cards that relied heavily on my ability to evaluate and interpret data. The Report Cards are required as a part of Agenda 2017, Wisconsin’s new school improvement plan that replaces the Federal No Child Left Behind Act. Fundamental understanding of the criteria on which the Report Cards are based will be central in helping ECSD achieve a number of state goals mandated by Agenda 2017.

A second area in which I am proficient is school finance. I have honed this knowledge by following the ECSD budget process for seven years and continue to be an active student of this often convoluted financial process. I will be able to join the board in April ready to help govern in this area. The experienced members of the board will be able to depend on my informed vote from day one. This becomes even more important in light of the recent economic recession, state aid cuts from Act 10 and increasing debt service obligations. It has been my observation that this perfect storm of financial challenges facing the ECSD has forced the board into crisis management mode. Proposed changes in programs and curriculum must be evaluated first in terms of budget constraints and then with regard to their educational value added to the district, students and our customers. This is not an ideal situation. The district vision of excellence will remain elusive until the board can stop reacting to daily budget fires and proceed to outline a pathway to excellence. My presence on the board would provide continuity in board financial expertise and may help the board get to the business of proactively governing for excellence even faster.

The third advantage I offer to enhance customer service in the district is the autonomous viewpoint of one outside of the vast public education apparatus. I am not an educator and I have no financial or familial connection to the school district. That independence helps maintain the concept of impartial governance intended by the legislature when establishing school boards in the first place. It can also provide some unconventional and creative thinking that will be valuable as budget pressures mount in the coming years. The worst case scenario budget forecast for next year predicts a deficit of nearly $750,000 only two years after facing a projected $672,000 shortfall. For a variety of reasons, the fiscal year ending in 2012 had a shortfall of only about $160,000: still problematic but much better. This is not a sustainable financial model for the district. Business as usual is no longer an option and novel ideas to provide funding will be necessary in order for the district to retain a competitive edge. History supports that creative thinking is enhanced when one adopts a new perspective such as I can provide.

Finally, and perhaps most critically, my personality will help serve the primary customers of the school board. I am confident in my abilities and will always seek information to aid in governing the district. My persistence coupled with my training as a scientist compels me to search for answers that can be independently verified. If I am elected, I will use all of my skills to actively partner with the ECSD Board of Education as it pursues its vision of excellence. 

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Turnout for my forum was a little more than expected!

I had more people attend my forum than family members who attended, so I think that can go into the plus column as campaigns go in this town. The topic was one that seems to inspire a lot of drama (open enrollment) and apparently not a small concern for retribution and other foolish rebound on those simply choosing to do what they think is best for their kids. I sarcastically suggested on my facebook page that I take the data from the six children represented by the citizens who attended and extrapolate to the 85 who enrolled out. Of course I would not do that in the effort to understand the full extent of the problem. But it would be fun to go to the board with this ridiculous data chart and make my conclusions.

Last year, that's what the district did when they surveyed outgoing families and used the data from 17 families representing an unknown percentage of the students. Presuming a one to one ratio, that is a 20% response rate. It's true that that is how all public policy data is collected, but this very complicated issue seems to have associated with it a big component of fear and desire for complete anonymity, limiting the participation of the ones who have bad things to say about your programs. I have begged, pleaded and otherwise groveled with my friends going out of the district to succinctly tell the board president AND the administrator the straight poop on why they are leaving. Because, you see, the stories I hear are from frustrated and angry people who often feel they wasted years of their kid's achievement gains trying to work within the system. That is never highlighted in a board meeting, never mentioned, never given creedance to. Disillusioned parents are not dealt with in a constructive manner, according to the stories of those who would share their pain with me. I have asked on facebook and will ask here as well: If you or any of your friends have enrolled in or out of the district, please email me with the reasons why! I promise complete confidentiality and representation only as a piece in a pie chart and a contribution in a "why I left" summary or "why we came here." Comments can be made to this blog or you can email me directly at mhammann@charter.net. I really do want data for this. I have never heard somebody come to me and say: We enroll our kid out because it's easier and closer to where we live, or it's near our parents, or it's where I went. I'm sure there are those that fall into that category and my goal is to try to establish the pie chart to begin the conversation about how to reverse the trends. I'd love a signal boost if to those folks if you know more who could help! Thanks blog folk!