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

Monday, October 21, 2013

A Sobering Graphic of How Many Highest Paid Public Servant in the US are Coaches: What Does this Say About our Priorities?


Click on the above link to read the article that accompanies this graphic, but very little clarification is necessary. American people enable this inane reality by buying into the misguided notion that sports are self-supporting. I challenge anyone to scrutinize their public school or university budget data to determine whether or not your local school has self-sufficient activities. I evaluated the 2011 Big Ten data in response to a similar argument with a sports fan friend. Five of the ten (at the time) universities in the Big Ten, including Wisconsin had sports budgets that were subsidized by University funding to the tune of 4-10%, with Wisconsin falling at 7.5%. This is equivalent to about 7.2 million dollars of the general ed fund being appropriated by the UW athletic department, which has the temerity to claim a $665K profit after taking all that general ed funding. This at the same time that our flagship university struggles to provide for National Merit scholars, who rarely select UW for lack of funding. REALLY?

ECSD's co- and extra-curricular committee dispelled the notion that Evansville Sports are self-supporting when a complete budget analysis was finally provided to the school board, which they had requested for years.  They showed an unvarnished cost to provide each sport per student. As activity costs are "aided" at about two thirds, this makes the educational budget folks believe these  activities only cost a third of what they really do cost because "the state pays the other two thirds." REALLY? Where do you think the state gets that money from that pays for two thirds of your sports and other activities? Your taxes are paying for this one way or another, be it property tax or another tax. But at least they know there is a cost to provide them now.  $276K in this year's budget for the activities of the children in our district.

I have one last observation as regards ECSD's budget as pertains to curricular vs. co- and extra-curricular activities. Over the last three years, as previously reported, the curricular budget has lost 5 percent ($527K) while the curricular budget has increased by 10% ($26K).  Not exactly equal pain here. And how does our district support the vision statement of excellence in every aspect of every program? By having a GPA "requirement" of 1.5 to participate in said activities. "Because one F and three Cs is 1.5."  Never even a thought to insist that the kid who flunks a class has to off-set it by getting more than a C in another class. Excellence indeed!

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

"Tax Relief" at the Eleventh Hour

October 15 is the date for which school districts across Wisconsin wait in hopeful anticipation. This is the day that both official state aid numbers are released and equalized property values are finalized. This year, the legislature has stepped in to change the expected numbers by increasing school aid. The state has released final aid numbers, voting on a "tax relief" plan at the eleventh hour yesterday, October 15. Click on the link below for more information. To summarize, the legislature has established 100 million dollars in state aid for schools over the next two years specifically to reduce local property tax levels. It does not increase the revenue cap, so whatever extra comes in as state aid must be subtracted from the local tax contribution. Considering our ever increasing debt service bill, this is a welcome sight. ECSD will realize an increase of $69,652 as opposed to the expected decrease of about the same based on under-spending the budget last year by about $340,000. This $140,000 swing is certainly appreciated.

They were supposed to finalize the equalized property values as well. According to a September report (https://ww2.revenue.wi.gov/EqValue2/application), overall Rock county property value has decreased by 3 percent this year while Evansville's has inexplicably increased by 1%. There was some mystery $3 million dollar increase in commercial improvements that I don't recall, but then again, I spent a month in the hospital and might have missed it. While the municipality of Evansville comprises about 47% of the district, those in the 5-10% category such as Center, Union and Magnolia have seen modest increases in equalized property values as well. The estimated change in property value put into the budget for the annual meeting this year was about +0.15%. This seems low compared to the September estimates, but I cannot find the specific October 15 data. If the equalized property values do increase by more than that, the estimated mill rate will decrease, since that is based on the property value. Mill rate is defined as total levy needed to support the budget divided by total district equalized property value in thousands of dollars. If the denominator increases the mill rate will decrease compared to current estimate. This combined with the increase in state aid to the district may well bring our mill rate lower than last year's for the first time in five years. Holy moly! It's a miracle! But until the governor releases his stranglehold on the revenue cap, that extra aid won't buy you any books or anything remotely associated with learning. Let the Rube Goldberg school of education commence!


Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Minnesota Provides for all Students in Need

We picked up a Minneapolis Star Tribune on our trip home from my mother-in-law's funeral over the weekend. There was a feature article regarding Special Education services "draining" school budgets because Minnesota provides services for students that do not meet the federal requirements for reimbursement. The percent of kids getting services in Minnesota averages 18%. They noted that the average expenditure for special education in Minnesota is $22,000, compared to $8,000 for regular ed students. This leads to even more money being transferred to the special ed fund from the general ed fund. Even in Wisconsin, where they scrutinize every application for services and deny those that do not meet the federal guidelines, money has to be budgeted for this transfer. So I can imagine that this is quite a challenge for some Minnesota districts.

Part of the article noted that using RtI (Response to Intervention, a preemptive strike to identify and provide support for kids showing developmental delay and/or in need of enrichment), as has become routine in Wisconsin, has reduced the need for special education in a district that has been piloting RtI. Their grant money ran out. Even with the proof that RtI significantly reduced the need for special ed in that district, they can't get funding for RtI. The statement that was particularly telling to me was, "The government requires all these programs but fails to fully fund them."  This is the mantra of unfunded mandates you hear all over the education spectrum. RtI can throw a lifeline to a kid who isn't making the connections or who is bored to tears. It's nice to know that Wisconsin is on the right track with this program. It would be nice to see the data for how/if RtI has changed ECSD special education roles as well.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Chasin' Points Out Two Critical Differences Between Milton and Evansville School Districts

Click on the link below to see Chasin's take on the Milton School District eking out a surplus this year. That is the first big difference between MSD and ECSD. We were already at a deficit situation before the $25K press box insurance deductible was incurred in August. This is equivalent to half the average teacher salary in our district (we have a lot of experienced teachers). But the true question is how much does the district really intend to SPEND next year, not just budget. Two years in a row the people in charge of making sure the spending was on track with the budget dropped the ball and the ended up underspending three big areas by over $500,000 two years ago and $414,000 last year. The first year it happened, there was jubilation amongst the staff because they "saved" half a million dollars, as they conveniently forgot that the budget still ended up about $200K in the hole (started with a $670K deficit). Remember that the levy is based on the BUDGET, not the actual expense. So for those two years, our levy was based on an inflated budget, inflating your property tax owed. This is why the state dings districts for underspending their budgets. They're saying, "You don't get to solicit revenue on false pretenses. The surplus "unspent" funds go back into the Fund 10 balance but comes out of the revenue income the following year. Not really much of a savings.

The second important thing Chasin' noted about the Milton budget process was that they had 200-250 people involved in their annual meeting and budget process. That is huge! It is doubtful that ECSD has had that many people show up in aggregate to the annual meeting for the last twenty years (less staff, administration, press and school board). They whine about nobody showing up to be informed about the budget, they model pitiful communication skills and cherry pick the information that they do communicate that will place them in the most flattering light and/or support their cause as opposed to informing the public/school board. How about they go to Milton and find out how to engage the public in this process? Ask the Milton man on the street what encouraged them to get involved in that process. Don't try to reinvent the wheel, just do what they did. Bottom line is that nobody will support the district if they don't start communicating plans and vision to average Joe Evansville Citizen. Oh, that's right! They don't have a strategic plan yet. Kinda hard to communicate what you don't have.

Meanwhile, the district is floundering after a 42% increase in open enrollment tuition payments out of the district two years ago followed by a 33% increase this year. The amount spent two years ago was $384K, last year it was $548K and this year it is estimated they will spend $728K in tuition payments for people seeking to enroll their kids elsewhere. I'm still waiting to hear the summary of the reasons families opted for open enrollment out by Mike Czerwonka. I hope he gives the unvarnished truth and not what Jerry wants the board to hear. I just don't think they can ignore the fact that they have to spend three quarters of a million dollars to other school districts to educate our students anymore. That's over a hundred kids being enrolled out of the district, primarily at the Middle and High School levels. All signs point to the trend continuing, which predicts that the amount spent on the Open Enrollment Out line item in 2014-15 will top a million dollars. "But that's just people who want their kids to attend school close to their work," or "Those are people we don't want to attend our schools anyway." I think the ostrich needs to remove its head from the sand now and see the whole picture. See the annual meeting packet to view the budget figures yourself (p. 17 near the bottom of the page, "General Tuition payments"). http://www.ecsdnet.org/documents/Board%20Meetings/2013-2014/September/Annual%20Meeting%20Packet.pdf