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

Saturday, April 13, 2013

ECSD Press Release Link Below

The official press release from Jerry Roth is linked here: ECSD Press Release.  Mark your calendars now if you plan to attend the public listening session next week, April 18 from 6:30-8 PM in the TRIS LMC. Let the administration and the board hear the voice of the community.

There are some philosophical questions that might help you prepare to provide feedback at the meeting. The first one is: Should the District strive for a balanced budget at this point in the cycle? Many factors are as yet unknown. It irks me to the core of my being when public entities plan to spend more than they make, so my answer is always yes on this one. However, a brief tour of the last four budgets for ECSD will show that there's a lot of slop built into a budget and it can easily swing plus or minus $100,000. Seems unfathomable to we who could pay for our kid's ENTIRE college education with that "slop," but it's true. Two of the last three years showed deficits at this stage of the budget process and ended up surpluses of about the same magnitude (a swing of about $150,000). Last year was the year the board promised to pay the $672K deficit from the fund balance and three long term sick leaves reduced that deficit to "only" about $160K. So, I'm willing to amend my former unyielding "No deficit budgets" to "Within a half a percent, or about $100,000," as my personal line in the sand.

Another question to ask yourself, as did the board and administration, is how do you prioritize what must be cut, because believe you me, barring some kind of miracle, cuts must be made. Strange as it was to me the first time I experienced this pain as a board member, this isn't as straightforward as one would think. Education means different things to different people. It means "the three Rs" to some while others believe strongly in the "educate the whole child" concept (mental, physical and social). So prioritizing within the curriculum to meet an entire community's needs is close to impossible. One can, however, believe in a fairness and whole picture approach equally applicable in times of famine and plenty.

Last year, the board took the administrative team to the woodshed for looking to cut curricular positions to the tune of about 13% while co- and extra- curricular activities budget saw only a 2.5% cut. The preliminary budget was not approved until after July 1, making everyone cranky because they had to come to the board to vote on all expenditures until the preliminary budget was approved. The HS principal mentioned "equal isn't necessarily fair" and proceeded to pontificate that the curricular budgets had seen years of plenty when the activity budgets were stagnant. And of course that was the time when Bob Flaherty decided to tell the board why the  administration established this sacred cow. "We all learned our lesson from Brodhead!" You all remember that ignoble moment when Brodhead threatened to cut ALL activities. Once the powerful sports conglomerate in our district got  hold of that analogy, they've been like a dog with a bone, continuing to proliferate this false representation DESPITE THE FACT THAT THE BOARD REPEATEDLY TOLD THEM THAT NOBODY WAS TALKING ABOUT CUTTING ANYTHING. Finally, board members just quit trying to correct their inaccurate propaganda because, "why waste my breath?" This continues to this day. (As evidence, please refer to the February 27 co- and extra-curricular committee report presented to the board. Halina Zakowicz wrote an excellent article for the Review summarizing the findings of the committee and was criticized by administration because it sounded like she said the committee proposed laying off one teacher to keep all the activities. In fact, the administration proposes to lay off over 10 instructional positions in its vaunted Option 2 without touching the co- and extra-curricular budget. I guess she wasn't so wrong after all, was she? Ah, but don't let those pesky little facts and data get in your way. Just be indignant and make it seem like your precious sacred cows are being threatened by the mean old school board and EH VOILA! Let the caving begin). But I digress from the topic at hand. I'm sure you're all just shocked at that.  Anyway...

I interjected myself into the question of the "equal vs. fair" can of worms that Everson opened during round 1 of the "cut teachers but not our activities" debate because they made a reference to my participation on the original committee reviewing contracts in that area. Since I did all the contract comparables for the first committee in 09 and had exact figures for how much of an increase the co- and extra- curricular activity contracts had enjoyed since that time (15%), I took exception to his uninformed remarks. I noted that I was not in possession of the data for the curricular side of the equation, but I highly doubted that the salaries for teachers from 09-12 had increased by 15%. I was even nice, noting that Scott could be excused for being uninformed about this since he was hired right after the committee implemented the new salaries to make our district competitive with its conference mates.

Add to this travesty of justice the willingness of the teachers to reopen their contract last January after the CPI of 3% threatened to shut down the budget before it even got started. They took  about a million dollars worth of concessions and the district cut another $600K in expenditures, including teacher lay-offs due to declining enrollment and economies in other areas. And still we arrived at this January staring down the maw of another near million dollar deficit next year simply by factoring in a set of realistic increases in salary, benefits, utilities and whatnot. Then the dear old Guv took away the piddly $50 per kid increase in revenue cap everyone had put into their budgets and we found ourselves $90K more in hock than we had been before that little nugget of information was released.

No matter what model the administration uses to arrive at its various budget forecasts, the ECSD is in deep fiscal trouble. In the midst of both of the discussions of the administration's latest budget recommendations, Dennis Hatfield remarked, "I notice there are only instructional positions being cut." Finally, at the April 8 meeting, he suggested that he was looking for shared sacrifice across the board. I am completely on that bandwagon. As I said at the April 8 meeting and what needs to be repeated ad infinitum, ad nauseum: "Where's the excellence?" This district can do better and those of you with ideas should share them. Be persistent and do not be put off by the usual response of "We can't do that because..." Our district has the instructional talent to be on the cutting edge of area education, but with administrative decisions that whittle away at the core of that talent, the options have been reduced to a rock and a hard place. Come out and let your voices be heard and give your best for our district!

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Look for the press release in the Review regarding public comment session on the budget.

Last night Jerry Roth discussed when the public comment session on the budget proposals would be held. Tentative plans are for April 18 (Thursday) from 6:30 - 8:00 PM in the TRIS LMC. If you have some words  of wisdom to impart to the administration, please plan to attend or email your favorite administrator today. I asked staff members at the meeting last night if Mr. Roth is coming to their meetings and was told me he was going to attend their staff meeting this week at grove campus. I heard through the grapevine that the "listening session" at the middle school consisted of him telling them, "I'm going to recommend Option 2." Nice listening there, Jer. Way to go. And he wonders why staff didn't bring him their information that they inundated the board with. Hmm. After pointing out that if the admin produces a budget for the board without presenting it to employees first so they can help maximize the chances for success, they will be right back where they were last night, admin decided that the staff will be the first to see the final product at the April 24 staff meeting. The board will see the draft proposal on April 29 and decisions can be made in time for the June 5 layoff due to budget deadline. That was probably one of my biggest bones of contention regarding this complete FUBAR. The deadline for layoffs due to enrollment declines is April 15. A group of competant educators ought to be able to do this without aggravating all 140 teachers in one fell swoop. The budget dependent layoff notification deadline is June 5. Per contracts signed last January. Dolts. As always, carry on school board. You guys are overworked and seriously underpaid for all the grief you get from all comers. Keep you chins up and most of all, stay steadfast to your guiding principles.

Where's the Excellence?

It took two and a half hours to complete items that were slated for an hour in the board meeting tonight. I left after I learned the proposed process for application for the open board position. President Kathi Swanson created a schedule and a set of screening questions to select those the board wishes to interview for Sharon's seat. That item was the third discussion item on the agenda. The time consuming part was the public comment section regarding the budget proposed by the administration two weeks ago. Many teachers spoke passionately for the middle school model at JCMcKenna. There were also remarks about the handbook sections about pay schedule and Cash In Lieu (CIL). The people complaining about the proposed pay schedule change noted "This seems trivial compared to all that!" The person complaining about CIL indicated 60 people select CIL currently. That brings the total expenditure for CIL down to $258,840 when all employee groups are reduced to the lowest benefit level of $4,314 per employee as opposed to a range from $4314 for lower paid employees to $5820 for administrators. She made the point that if only half of those choosing CIL selected insurance instead, it would cost the district over a half a million dollars. This begs the question as to why they choose the CIL instead of insurance. One would presume it was because the insurance offered by their significant other's employer was superior to the district's offer. Right now, teachers pay 8% of that 17 grand, or about $1400 a year for a family plan. What if the employee contribution is increased to 12% and the insurance rates increase to $20,000 as predicted in the next few years? Will they be willing to pay $2400 to stick it to the man? Are they willing to even pay the current $1400 a year to keep a benefit they don't need? Some may do so, but it's unclear to me that fifty percent of current CIL beneficiaries would choose to spend their hard earned cash this way. I could be wrong.

There were conversations about the increase in student load from 135 to 220 per day, breakdowns of time per student, research on the middle school model concerns about the loss of PE and health, brave anecdotes from parents advocating to keep the middle school model and even one grandma type who noted, "I've never been able to figure out why they need two principals at the elementary school." Bravo, she was my hero. Our oldest was in the first class through TRIS and, as much as I adored Vicky, I couldn't figure out why addition of one class (moving 5th grade back to the grove campus) warranted addition of an entire office staff and administrator. In light of the budget cuts happening then (2002), it was especially disconcerning. When Vicky retired, I don't know why they didn't change to one principal then as it happened in the midst of the fiscal meltdown. But they hired Joan Wick. There will be another opportunity to review this when Lou retires next year, so I hope the board seriously considers "Grandma's" remarks.

After all the teachers spoke their pieces, I stood up and said (paraphrased as I spoke extemporaneously. Maybe Halina will include some of my remarks in her article, but I doubt she'll have room for all of it), "I follow these many staff members who have taken great care and effort to provide the board with data regarding the flaws in the administration's proposals 2-4 today. I have known many of them for over 13 years, when our first child entered the district, and some of their stories brought me to tears. Two years ago, this board took great effort to collaborate with community and staff to create a Vision Statement for the district which, in short, states that you will strive for excellence in every aspect of education in the district. It is included on every agenda, every board packet, every board communication to reinforce the focus on excellence for the district. I ask you now, where is the excellence in proposals 2-4? Every person who has spoken here today has asked the same question in different ways. In what way is the administrators' proposal that violates state regulations a hallmark of excellence? How can the lack of staff and public input possibly honor excellence in communication with your staff and other district stakeholders? Quite simply, it does not.

"I know you face budget issues that seem insurmountable, having averaged over a million dollars shortfall a year for the last three years. Mr. Bethke noted that he was struggling to remain respectful but was trying hard  because he was told to be respectful. I have nobody telling me to be nice so I will ask you again. Where is the excellence in these proposals? I know the situation is awful, but you can do better for the community, staff and most especially our kids."

Many teachers came up at the break and thanked me for my words.  I said, "you're welcome" to all and went about my way midway through the meeting. I bit my tongue to keep from asking them if they voted for me. Conspicuously absent from commenting was newly elected Sandy Nelson. She was there, holding court with my other vanquisher, Eric Busse at the break, but she never uttered a word in defense of those who endorsed her. Busse parroted, "I agree with Nancy and Dennis and feel your pain the governor has caused us all."  I met up with Mr. Kopf at JCMC when I brought my son his water bottles for track practice this morning and he also thanked me for my remarks. I told him, "I thought it was really important and, well, I had nothing to lose, did I?" Snarky, but it was the last straw in a long line of straws. Sorry Mr. K. Wrong place, wrong time, I guess.

So, that's how what could be considered the first public and staff comment session on the proposed budgets went. When the board members each made their remarks to Jerry regarding the budget proposals, Nancy Hurley, as always, in her quiet and self-assured way, pointed out what should have been obvious to even the densest amongst us. "I have issues with both the product and the process of this budget proposal." Dennis echoed the "How is this excellent?" lament, Tina said she couldn't grasp how else the budget could be managed because the only way to affect bottom line is increased revenues or decreased spending. John Rasmussen agreed with Tina and Kathi said, "Call me idealistic, but I am sure that once admin gets public and staff input, they will come back to us with a proposal we can all live with." Jerry then said, "Give me direction." Really. The taxpayers of this district pay you $127,000 plus a bunch of perks for this reaction? "So what I'm hearing is that the board wants me to come back with a proposal to freeze salary and benefits next year." Blank looks by the board members ensues. "No, we want you to collaborate with the staff and community to come back to us with another proposal." The conversation was very painful to watch and either Jerry was purposefully obtuse or he. just. doesn't. get. it. I'm leaning toward the latter. Even after this complete FUBAR, he thought presenting the next iteration to the board on April 29 without opportunity for staff review was how the next round should go. A staff member quietly pointed out, "Isn't that just going to land us here again in three weeks?"  Collaboration means collaboration! Carry on, my young padawan!

Sunday, April 7, 2013

My Analytical Skills Were Useful Before, During and After My Term on the Board

When I was on the ECSD board of education, I took my responsibilities very seriously. I read the packet cover to cover prior to the meeting. This often included 75-100 pages of reports, data and budget updates and often became a feat of endurance because the administration had issues getting the board members a packet by the Friday before the Monday meeting. Just prior to my winning a seat on the board, the administration and the board seemed to be in a contest of making each other look bad in public. Board members would blindside administrators with cold questions and adminitrators wouldn't bring reference materials pertinent to the topics at hand. I vowed that I would ask my questions by email first so the administrators would be prepared, but insisted on discussing the answers in the meeting so everyone would know what my concerns had been. When the packets weren't available until Friday, it made it very hard to discuss issues with the right people. This has been an ongoing issue for the board for six years. It's such a control issue that anybody looking on from the outside would be appalled by the inability of the administration to provide packets to the board members in the time they want them. On the flip side, it's also been pretty dang obvious since I left the board which board members read their packets before the meeting and which ones don't. It's a big effort for admin to produce the packets and one can't really blame them for balking at getting packets ready early to sit in the district office until five minutes before the meeting starts. But I don't think the majority of the board comes unprepared and the admin. needs to resist the urge to paint everyone with the same brush because of a few members who aren't engaged.

I'd like to run through a list of predictions I made before, during and after my term on the school board based on data I reviewed, extrapolated and shared with fellow board members and administrators over the years.

2006: The expected increase in enrollment will not come to pass.

Background: Admin. was convinced that the "surge" in enrollment threatened to exceed building capacity by 2010 with the growth from 05-07 of about a hundred. With much gnashing of teeth, chicken little declared a new building was required and NOW!

What was really happening: Full day kindergarten was introduced in 2002 and quickly, probably by 2006, became the norm in the district. This doubled the count of kindergarten students from a sixth to a third of a FTE student (new students are counted in a rolling average beginning with a third, two thirds and full accounting in year three). 2007 was the year when the new accounting system was fully realized. If anybody would have bothered to think it through, they would have noticed that the bump in enrollment was a mathematical state aid accounting thing, not extra kids. Sheesh.

The district experienced a false surge in enrollment due to the switch to full day kindergarten. Anybody who carefully evaluated the situation could have realized that this "increase" was not sustainable. Counting the kids for double what they had counted the year before simple gave the impression of an increase in 25 kids in the district. (1/3 of 150 instead of 1/6 of 150). By the time they were counted in full the third year, it seemed like a hundred more kids had entered the district in the past 3 years. The enrollment is now about sixty lower than the high of 1831 back in 2008-2009.

How I confirmed my suspicions: I looked at building permits and extrapolated what that meant for the enrollment and I was spot on.  Not only does this lack of enrollment decrease projected revenues, it causes the increasing debt service to be in increasing burden on property taxes even when millions of dollars in revenue is cut from the district. Debt service is not encumbered by the revenue cap, but rather is stacked on top of the cap. This in turn decreases the chances of a referendum passing. We already have the highest mill rate in the area and, from what I hear, can't refinance the debt until 2015. Combine this issue with the ever widening open enrollment gap and the district is hosed.


AYP is at risk at TRIS and JCMC via WKCE trend analysis.

No Child Left Behind Annual Yearly Progress (NCLB AYP): I predicted TRIS and JC McKenna would fail to meet AYP goals on a number of occasions. I was right a few times and wrong due to large confidence intervals and "safe harbor" designation, but the values were still lower than allowed to meet AYP for at risk groups such as students with disabilities and students living in poverty. JCMC is currently on the cusp for achievement in Language Arts, if what I hear from instructors there is accurate. I haven't done a WKCE analysis in quite a while. Being designated in "safe harbor" simply says you have improved low achieving student scores by 10%, not that they have met the standard.

2007- Boy's ACT performance is stagnating while girls formerly abysmal performance shines. Could it be the block schedule?

ACT Trend analyses have illustrated declining performance across the board for EHS seniors on this primary midwest college entrance exam ever since 2007, so we can probably safely say "no."   Over 60% of recent EHS grads indicate interest in attending 4 year universities, 65% of our graduates take the ACT and the range of composite score considered by our flagship University 20 minutes down the pike is 26-30. Our average composite score was 22.4 last year. Hmm. Guess that eliminates a whole lot of folks.

Further analysis of ACT data indicate that, due to the way in which preparation for university is assessed by the ACT, as a product of Math, Science, English and Language Arts level of preparation, chances of EHS grads succeeding in Freshman Level classes at university level is down to an index of 12.5 out of 100, well below state average (US News). Six students from the Class of 2012 (about 142 strong) got into UW Madison this year and nearly all were on the Dean's list first semester. I know all of these kids and they have beat the odds by challenging themselves with rigorous classes and testing their limits. Good show kids! Glad you and your parents weren't satisfied with the status quo and demanded excellence of yourselves.


I opposed funding the implementation of 4K in the ECSD on the backs of the half day five year old kindergarten program. At the time the district began offering full day kindergarten, they could no longer offer summer enrichment classes and kindergarten round up was cancelled because somebody failed to count properly while building the HS. It was counterintuitive to me that they would double the kindergarten staffing and benefits in a time of financial concern.

I was also philosophically opposed to the watered down program offered by Wisconsin Public Schools because 4K proponents quoted all the societal gains from a longitudinal study called the High Scopes Perry Preschool project. Nothing irritates me more than uninformed politicians and administrators quoting the societal benefits of a new educational program based on a model that is unachievable. If anybody bothered to read the original study and it's ongoing checkpoints fifty years later, it specifically stated that those gains would only be realized by strict adherance to the original delivery of 3-4 year old preschool. To whit, it required 2 years of instruction beginning at age 3. Teachers had to have a Master's in early childhood education and student teacher ratio had to be 6:1 at most. What public school program can provide this product?

A quick review of available data for success with Wisconsin Public 4K is not encouraging, but I have detected a disturbing consistency of educational initiatives being undeterred by a silly little thing like data.  Exhibit A: Milwaukee Public School District has offered 4K for over 20 years. It hasn't done them much good in either achievement or enrollment. Exhibit B: While 4K offers a true opportunity for increased enrollment because you are actually adding a class (about 140 kids for our area), at least two area schools have seen that initial enrollment bump immediately followed by an enrollment decline at about the same rate they were previously experiencing. Hmm. Maybe kids aren't fleeing those districts because of a lack of 4K but for some other reason.

I now reluctantly agree that ECSD needs 4K because the lack thereof puts the district at a competive disadvantage. People need to understand that this diluted version Wisconsin offers will not solve all the issues for at risk children. Also, it will not fit in our existing buildings and will devastate area preschools if it is not implemented through the community coop model in places like LaCrosse. Some fence mending is required to revisit this idea.

I don't think having 4K in our district will magically improve student achievement or necessarily serve children, but in the world of free market education, disadvantages are cumulative. Kicking out Headstart plus lack of 4K plus inability to adequately prepare students for the ACT plus decreased student achievement on the WKCE plus the ever widening open enrollment deficit for reasons that appear to be directly related to students not getting their educational needs met and parents getting fed up and voting with their feet all leads to the downward spiral into educational mediocrity.

How does all of this information honor the district Vision Statement of Excellence in all areas? Short answer: It doesn't. This district was once (2005) considered among the top 20 of over 400 in the state. Schooldigger.com ranks the schools separately and indicates the following for our area schools:

TRIS 458/1024 trending slightly up, but mostly the same after a huge drop from 2005 high
JC McKenna 202/565 trending down since 2004
Evansville High School 155/460 largely trending down since 2005 with a slight increase since 2009

Thanks to Karen Aikmann for pointing out much of this information. She wondered what happened in 2005 to cause this plummet? So do I, but I strongly suspect ditching the curriculum coordinator position in 2003 and distributing the duties amongst the other admin, finding out that nobody was doing it and then not filling it until 2009 was a contributing factor. But what do I know? I have no background in education so I must have flawed capacity to observe data and draw conclusions. 

I pray the district can overcome the bad hand it has been dealt. I would have liked it if more voters recognized that my skills are a valuable asset for the district. Skills that voters covet for elected officials in Evansville seem to skew in a different direction and that is their perogative. I'm just sorry that my dedication to education for my own kids, which I extrapolate to all district students, wasn't recognized or endorsed except for by a few brave individuals who were willing to take a risk and publicly throw their hats in the ring for me. Thanks again to them. I feel like I am in a Dale Carnegie class right now, where they encourage you to "hope for the best but prepare for the worst." Carry on!

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Thank you to all my steadfast supporters!

I lost the election, which is likely not news to anybody at this point. Spanton and Busse got 861 and 683. I was a distant 3rd with 566 and Schmidt got 320 votes. A friend pointed out that people get what they want. I cannot argue with that. I had planned to have a party soonish if I won a seat on the board. Maybe I should still have one anyway. Perhaps I'll feel a little more festive in a few weeks.

Nancy Hurley's decision to move on leaves a huge void on the board. Even though I am not as classy or as kind and thoughtful as she is, I thought I was the best candidate to try to fill Nancy Hurley'shoes. I would not have spent ad and flier money or walked countless miles in the freezing cold otherwise. Nor would I have invented the new Frozen Tundra Sign Installation Kit (patent pending) or spent all those hours preparing for and sitting through school board meetings informing myself of the issues at hand if I didn't believe that I was the best candidate.

There have been allegations of spendthrift ways lobbed at my campaign and I feel compelled to address them here. I'd like to point out that my 50 signs were purchased in late 2006 and have been used for 3 campaigns now. Amortized over 6 years, they cost $50 dollars a year, but the full amount of $300 was charged to my 2007 campaign. My entire campaign this year cost less than $250, including coffee at one forum and donuts at another.  Just thought folks would want the real story on my campaign finances.

Special thanks go out to my blog friends Chasinthenews (http://Chasinthenews.com) and Evansville Observer (http://evansvilleobserver.blogspot.com/) for their unwavering commitment, my ad artist Mindy Roys and the people who endorsed me, Karen Aikmann, Bill Connors and Joan Sorteberg. You guys rock!

Monday, April 1, 2013

Vote Vote Vote!

Please exercise your right to vote tomorrow! I'll spare you my rant about if you don't express yourself at the polls, you lose your right to complain at a later date. Please vote. Evansville polls open at 7 AM and close at 8 PM. City of Evansville votes at Creekside, Union at the fire station, I think. Let your voice be heard.