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

Saturday, April 12, 2014

April 9 Board Meeting Highlights: My last local issue blog entry

The April 9 board meeting was another SRO affair with a chock-full agenda. I hope to see better meeting management with the new board to be reorganized April 28. This many hot topic items should not come to the board at one time. 4K approval, Referendum discussion, Alternative Education program presentation, are each a large enough discussion to dedicate a full meeting to. Add to that staff continuing to present arguments for pay period choice and Senior project disgruntlement and you have the recipe for a 4 hour meeting.

Referendum: Lack of specific information and seating a new board on April 28 brings this back for discussion April 30 and decision in May. Information regarding precise plans and costs for each section was requested.

4K: The unfunded first few years of this program is to be taken out of the fund balance. State law allows up to 3K per kid in year 1 and 1.5K per kid in year 2 to get a district up the the fully funded year 3 without taking money out of the fund balance. Administration noted that there is a chance that there will be funds in this grant for the year 15-16 up to 1.5K per kid. They will be applying for these funds. It will significantly reduce the depletion of the fund balance. The board approved the implementation of 4K in ECSD in 2015-16.

Alternative Education: Much information was given but much remained in question. The board will bring it back for discussion next meeting on April 30.

Teacher contracts: Board approved all but Alt Ed folks, as they have not yet approved the Alt Ed. Program. Nobody loses a position as this is expected transfer of students and staff.  Seems admin. should know that the board won't approve a contract for a program that isn't approved yet. Hmm.

On top of all of this, there was a boatload of policies at third reading and handbook change requests to refer for second readings, the process of which was a bit murky as it was the first time they'd done this. Curiously, the Virtual School policy that was approved April 9 at its 3rd reading indicates that singleton students enrolled must pay HALF of the fee. So how come we have been paying the full fee? Hunh. Just another question for me to find an answer for.

This will be my last blog entry regarding the ECSD. I may yet blog about my take on national trends in education, but I'm going mum on local issues after this. Thank you all for following me through the years and most of all thank you for your support for me in the election. I promise I will bring my A game to every board meeting and endeavor to bring our kids excellence in education. It's been real. M

My Remarks to the BOE: Senior Projects Part 2

As promised, I am sharing my remarks to the BOE on March 12 about the newly minted Senior Projects, an additional graduation requirement for students beginning with the class of 2015. They are near and dear to me as our middle child is one of their guinea pigs. When these projects were first presented to the BOE in 2010, I believe, the board sent administration back to rework the proposal. They noted that it was too vague and without sufficient detail to be successful. By Fall of 2011, they had approval to add it as a requirement but still had to come back "by January of 2014" with a detailed plan. They told the class of 2015 at Freshman orientation that  this was a new graduation requirement with their class. Fast forward to November of 2013 and Scott Everson finally brought the Senior Graduation Project Handbook back to the board for approval, which was granted.  The projects gone through a number of iterations since they were first proposed as a former staff member who was on the original committee noted that the final product was "discouraging."  

In the process of working with other concerned parents on this mess, I came across my article in the August 17, 2011 edition of the Evansville Review. This was discussed in Senior Projects Part I. The communication on this new program has been abysmal and little if any guidance has been offered to the kids. The kids are expected to create a resume as part of the final product with no formal training. Any time they need help, they are supposed to get guidance from their advisor during the 22 minute advisory period when the teachers are supposed to be guiding their core course students. Teachers have declined to become advisors "because we don't know how much work is involved," parents have repeatedly asked for clarification and pointed out potentially dangerous situations that can result from poorly supervised experiential projects, etc., etc., etc. Questions were not answered at the "optional" parent meeting. The head-in-the-sand, Pollyanna approach to this FUBAR has been awful so I picked two of my most frustrating aspects of this boondoggle and spoke at the March 12 board meeting. I focused on what I thought would be the minimum number of hours to adequately support each student in an advisory capacity, with no additional compensation (1.2 Full Time Equivalents). I also spoke about how ridiculous it was that the Boy Scout Eagle Projects and the Girl Scout Golden projects were originally rejected out of hand by Scott Everson. Once he faced incensed scouting parents, he decided that they would count if and only if the work done for the projects commenced after Graduation Day the summer before their Senior year. This was never stated in the handbook or to me personally. Since I emailed Everson about this in November and he agreed they needed to reconsider how to include these projects, I would have expected him to contact me with the committee's decision. Here were the remarks I planned to make to the board, only about half of which I was able to get through because the meeting was SRO and they needed to keep the time manageable. I submitted a hard copy for Kelly Mosher to distribute to the board and administrator.

My remarks to the board March 12 regarding Senior Projects: 

QEO repealed: 2009

Act 10 implemented: 2011

ACA enacted: 2013

With each of these momentous decisions by our political leaders, more and more uncertainty has been introduced into the world of education. Those most affected by the consequences, both intended and otherwise, are our teachers. These are the people who shape the destiny of our children, so it could be argued that those who are really most affected are our kids. People who are constantly distracted by when the next shoe will drop cannot be present in the here and now, passionately guiding our children toward their potentials. Our district has added yet another burden to this group in the guise of the Senior Projects.  Let’s just suppose that the average time required to advise these students is one hour a month for twelve months and further presume advisors will be present at each student’s 10 minute presentation. For the 139 students in the class of 2015, this represents nearly 1700 hours of time required for Senior projects alone.  A teacher’s FTE is 1440 (8 x 180) hours, adding the equivalent of 1.2 FTEs to an already burdened staff.  If one limits the pool of advisory candidates to the HS teaching staff of 37, their work load increases by more than a week, or about 3%. Who here is surprised that several students were told by staff members that they weren’t agreeing to advise Senior projects until they know how much work is involved? I urge the board to carefully scrutinize the process by which the projects are unfolding.

In addition to the time burden on teachers, a particular concern I have regards the time restriction placed on these projects. Though it is not specifically prohibited anywhere in the handbook, students have been told that no work for the project can take place before graduation day prior to their senior year.  The reason given for this added time restriction was that the EHS Site Council felt strongly that this should be a “capstone project that is self-contained within the senior year.”  Think of all the other capstone classes in our school district and how the students’ successes in those programs are dependent on the cumulative success in their foundational classes.

When students were first informed about the project guidelines in November, they were informed that Boy Scout Eagle Projects and Girl Scout Community Service projects were immediately disqualified with no discussion within the community about their breadth and depth. When I questioned Mr. Everson about this, the reasoning was to avoid kids using a “two-fer-one” approach.  He noted, "The Scouts projects, however, appear to go way above and beyond my ‘two birds with one stone loophole’ as some of the projects are hundreds of hours of work as I understand it." He added that several parents had expressed concerns about this and that he would “be taking input I’ve received from parents (yourself included) to my committee and see what type of revised guidelines we can create when it comes to Scouts projects and similar extraordinary examples of service to our community."

Eagle Projects are often two years in duration from proposal to completion and must be finished by the boy’s 18th birthday in order for him to earn his rank. Therefore, especially for boys with early birthdays, they often begin this work in their Sophomore year. This unstated time restriction for the Senior Projects will disqualify most Eagle Scout Projects as they currently stand.  As I originally told Mr. Everson in November and again last night, Eagle projects are of a much larger scope and magnitude than any examples given in the handbook or at the parent meeting.  Last night he seemed to reverse his stance of revising the guidelines to make Eagle projects eligible for Senior Projects. He asked if these Eagle projects could somehow be planned to encompass a separate and distinct sub-project to be done in the time specified and I said I didn’t know. It’s a little late for the class of 2015 Eagle Candidates to be able to do this, and could even affect the class of 2016. I have emailed adult scout leaders to give them this idea with new Eagle Plans.

I ask the board to consider the Mission Statement of the projects (This culminating self-selected project will serve as the capstone demonstrating  students’ ability to seek knowledge through inquiry and experience, which in turn will allow them the opportunity to apply their knowledge and growth in all of their future endeavors, benefitting our local and global communities). Eagle Scout projects truly embody the stated mission of the Senior Projects.  I wonder why our administration would want to force an Eagle candidate to go through the motions of an additional lesser project with no community service component simply to get a Senior project done within some arbitrary, unstated time restriction. Some kids have been given dispensation on time, according to the meeting I attended last night. Why not the Scouts?

One parent noted at the meeting last night that, “We need to support this program and figure out how to make it work, not change it. If they fail spectacularly, so be it!” The bulk of those present were not eager for our children to be the failing guinea pigs.

I realize that the district is entering a new, untested program that will evolve over time. These could be life-changing experiences for some, but many of our kids already volunteer in our community and give back in significant ways. A better model for the Senior Projects would be to take advantage of the existing volunteer infrastructure to strengthen it rather than tear it down to reinvent the wheel. Thank you for your time.

Since I submitted my concerns to the board, I have thought long and hard about this issue. I believe what we have here is a case of unmet expectations combined with a moving target. The board approved the Senior project graduation requirement in August of 2011 in concept with "final criteria clarified and approved by the board by January 2014." I wrote an article about them and recent review of that article shows that they changed considerably in the two-plus years it took Scott to return with the final criteria. Clearly he failed to clarify and may have even muddled the waters. If you're interested, my article ran in the Review on August 17, 2011.  Every scout parent in the scouting community with a child of the applicable age to qualify were very happy that their kid might be encouraged to try for their Eagle or Gold ranks by this opportunity. Those of us who were pretty sure our kids were on track to earn an Eagle rank fully expected these amazing projects would count for their Senior Projects. Enter Scott with an arbitrary time restriction and you have completely invalidated every early birthday scout Eagle Candidate, who will have to do some bogus make-work Senior project in addition to their Eagle project, their other Scout obligations and apply for college.

My final concern for this is based on how the Senior Projects were approved by the board. There is no hard copy in the public board packets from either October 30, when it was presented or November 13, when it was approved. Scott referred the board to the school website for their information. This sets up the board to have approved an ever changing document, which is not what they are supposed to do. If nobody is willing to set clear standards and criteria for who and when they will advise, how it will play out and who is responsible for what, it's not ready for prime time.

I have told my child that this is her project, not mine. I refuse to be that parent at the science fair who builds their kid a nuclear reactor. My kids always sat next the them with the potential energy project made with a spool and a rubber band. But they did all their own work. I will support her and make sure she is safe, since the district seems to be unaware of their responsibility in this matter, but she is responsible to complete and document her project with the required criteria. She's a big girl and I am confident she is capable. I pray all the other 138 kids in the Junior class find the resources to support them in this new endeavor. If they don't, the district is directly responsible for their failure. I don't know why the board is so resistant to placing on the agenda potential liability for these projects, but burying their heads in the sand is not going to help the district if some kid gets hurt at a clinic offered in the guise of senior projects because there was insufficient infrastructure in place to avoid the injury.


Friday, April 11, 2014

A Trip Down Memory Lane: Senior Projects Part I

In the midst of all the Senior Project hoopla, I did what many scientists did. I stopped and thought about what I knew and how I knew it. The projects as they existed when the board approved the new graduation requirement in August of 2011 have morphed into something nearly unrecognizable as approved in November of 2013. Here's what I wrote in the August 17, 2011 edition of The Evansville Review:

Evansville School Board Approves New Graduation Requirement
Community Service Senior Projects Will Be Required beginning with Class of 2015
By Melissa Hammann

Nearly eighteen months have passed since EHS Principal Everson first proposed to the Evansville School Board a new graduation requirement. Each student in the Evansville School District would be responsible for designing, implementing and presenting to a committee a Community Service Project in their senior year. “Non-negotiable” components of the projects include 30 hours of service and a multimedia presentation to a committee comprised of a primary teacher and a community mentor. The board was concerned about a number of details and Mr. Everson agreed to run a pilot program in 2010-2011 to demonstrate the feasibility of such a program. Six students originally volunteered for the projects and three were chosen to present their projects. One student even changed her career aspirations to include a four year college degree in order to work with disabled students. More pilot programs will continue in 2011-2012.

This concept has been implemented in schools around the country in various forms. EHS would not grant credit for this requirement in the spirit of community service for the sake of itself, but completion of all the project requirements would be necessary for graduation. Board Member Sharon Skinner asked “What if a student refuses to complete a project?” Mr. Everson noted that students in danger of not graduating are routinely taken under the wing of a teacher mentor.  Most students wish to participate in the graduation ceremony, which would only be allowed upon timely completion of the Senior Project.

Board Member Tina Rossmiller expressed concern that parent involvement will be critical. Principal Everson noted that if the board approved the new graduation requirement, he could begin that process with the Freshman Orientation night in a few weeks. Regular communications could be built in throughout the high school career and reminders sent that are effective and include parents or guardians of students.

The new civics class “Project Citizen” program can be viewed as kick-starting the process. This may be the first time students think more globally to identify areas of need in their community, make a plan and implement it to effect improvements. Senior projects are a perfect bookend complement to this process.

It is not expected that this new requirement would necessitate more resources from the district. Social studies teachers at the school could share the advisory role for students during normally scheduled contact time. Any costs associated with the project itself would be client funded (for example, a kitchen remodel like one of this year’s students did). 

Final criteria will be clarified and approved by the Board by January 2014.  The vote was 5-0 in favor of the new graduation requirement, with board members Dennis Hatfield and Nancy Hurley absent.

Breaking News with Board Meetings: There will be a new feature of the Business Board Meetings effective with the September 12 meeting.  Each month, two board members will be available for “community comments” from 6:00-6:30 PM just prior to the start of the board meeting. It is thought that this less formal atmosphere would be more conducive to citizen input and allow dialogue to progress. Board Members scheduled to appear in September are John Rasmussen and Tina Rossmiller. Please come and chat with them if you have “questions, comments or concerns.”

Reviewing this article was such at surprise to me. I am sure that the article accurately portrayed the events of the project approval in 2011 as I used a recorder to capture quotes for my articles.  I was disappointed in myself for not remembering the details before we were already fully engaged in the questioning of the project. This should have been reviewed before the board even approved the process. I invite you all to review the Senior Project Handbook at the website link below to see for yourself the stark contrast between how it was envisioned above with the final approved document.


The only resemblance between the Senior Project Handbook approved by the board on November 13, 2013 and the proposal presented to the school board in 2011 I see is the title "Senior Project." The "non-negotiable 30 hours of service" has become 30 hours to complete, including documentation and presentation. What was originally envisioned as a strictly community service project has expanded and now kids can choose some lame "experiential based learning" project. You actually have to look on the school website and see example suggestions to fully grasp its lame-inosity. The 6 pilot programs became 2 and apparently never included any further pilots in 2011-12. I challenge you all to ask for the documentation of these pilot programs but already know the answer: "We threw it out." How in the world do you do that if you're running a pilot program to inform future decisions?

There has been essentially no communication to parents since we were told of the new requirement at freshman orientation in 2011. This contradicts Scott's reassurance that "Regular communications could be built in throughout the high school career and reminders sent that are effective and include parents or guardians of students."  Effective reminders could have been sent but were not.  The first I heard about this since Freshmen orientation in 2011 was when my kid came home and told us a week after the board approved the Handbook in November. "Mr. Everson told us that Girl Scout Gold projects and Boy Scout Eagle projects can't be used for the Senior projects."  I was stunned. I had a set of expectations of this project back in 2011 which were completely overturned when Everson initially disqualified Eagle Projects from the Senior Projects. My husband and I remember saying, "If Will goes for his Eagle, this is a slam dunk Senior Project for him!" I challenged Everson on this and was placated by lies and half-truths, answers to which he never bothered to communicate to me directly. At the "optional" parent information meeting he held last month, I was stressing the point and he noted that the committee insisted that the project be self-contained in the Senior year and couldn't an Eagle project be broken down to have some part of it done beginning the summer before Senior year? I said I didn't know and it likely depended on how early a scout's 18th birthday was. If it was in September, probably not (Eagle projects are typically 18 months or more start to finish and must be earned prior to the scout's 18th birthday). If it was in June, maybe. I told him that the handbook does not forbid beginning work early and wondered why this was suddenly being invoked.  I went on the website and read the nebulous, unclear document called Senior Project Handbook several times to see where the time restriction was indicated and never found it. There is a reference to "work can begin after graduation day the year previous to graduation," but there is no specific restriction noted. More importantly, I was appalled by the complete lack of clarity that embodied the document. Even at the parent meeting, the only date that had been decided was when the kids had to hand in their proposals. No checkpoints have been defined, the final presentations have not been scheduled, etc. etc. etc. Even worse was that it would seem that our board approved this FUBAR without a hard copy in hand. So they have approved a web-based document which is ever evolving and has morphed into an unrecognizable document as compared to the original proposal. The final criteria has been clarified. Scott Everson is the gatekeeper and what he says goes. "If I approve it, you can do it. If I don't, you can't. And even though the handbook doesn't specifically prohibit working on the project prior to the onset of your official Senior-ness, you can't. Unless I say you can, like if you have to train to do a marathon or something. If you're dedicating hundreds of hours to the betterment of your community, you cannot begin a minute prior to graduation day prior to your senior year. The Pubah has spoken!" When my daughter's project partner went to him to get his approval because Ms. Buttchen told her to, he said, "Why are you coming to me with this?" "Because Ms. Buttchen told us to." She reported to our daughter that he just rolled his eyes. Of course, that could be teen drama too. It's in the dang handbook for gosh sakes.

A critical issue was brought up by a concerned parent very well versed with liability issues as regards service groups. She and her family are singlehandedly responsible for many many service projects in our community and she knows the necessary systems for safe operation of programs with children. Is liability incurred with certain kinds of projects, like training camps and community betterment work involving ladders and other potentially hazardous conditions? How at risk is the district? The kid running the projects and the kids enrolling in the camps? Their parents? After being told repeatedly that the board could not discuss these projects at the board level without it being on the agenda and then refusing to put it on the agenda, the parent who raised this issue left the April 9 board meeting after making their remarks only to have the board engage in a discussion on the Senior Projects after they left. First Mason had to take a crack at the parents for spending so much energy questioning a project that "teaches kids good work habits." He slammed a person who arguably donates the most hours I have ever seen one family donate to community service ever. Then he had to commend Scott on "this awesome program. Since Scott broached the topic and I'm not on the board after this." This likely violated open records law. Another board member asked about the liability issue and she was told, by Scott, "This can be handled with a disclaimer form. If we all worried about liability so much we'd never get out of bed in the morning." No reference to a discussion with legal counsel and how a kid running a cheer camp in the summer and the lack of infrastructure compares with the built in infrastructure of a school in full session. Just snide, obnoxious remarks that simply indicate their defensiveness and do not protect the district. I hope nobody ever gets hurt at a summer camp run as a Senior Project. The lack of foresight on the part of the administration and the board could well make a small injury become a very serious issue for the district as a whole. Just because people sign a waiver does not mean the district should cavalierly approach implementing a strong infrastructure to minimize the injury in such incidents.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Soon I Have to Stop Blogging and Meeting April 9th at 6 PM

I have only a few weeks before I officially take my oath of office on the ECSD board of education. After that, I have to shut down my blog because it would be unseemly to try my case in the court of public opinion while a board member. Now it's time to put my money where my mouth is, so to speak. I have one more post I will make regarding the Senior Project FUBAR beginning with the class of 2015 and then School Scoop will go silent. If you're wondering about what's happening on the board after that, please come on down to a board meeting. They are held the second (business meeting) and fourth or last Wednesday (committee meetings) of the month. It's been a long four years, and I'm happy to be back on the board where I believe my talents can be put to good use. There will be heavy lifting to do, and I'm up to the task! Thank you for supporting me all these years.

Look for my post about Senior Graduation Projects after the April 9 meeting.


Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Thank you to all my amazing supporters!

The unofficial results are in and I won the third seat on the school board. I have a very narrow margin over the 4th place candidate. If that remains after canvassing on April 8, I have a three year seat. If not, I have to run again next spring. If so, I hope all my peeps will be ready to do the same thing again next year. There's a lot of heavy lifting required and I'm up to the task. First up, a strategic plan! That will clarify all ensuing decisions. It won't make it easy, but it will certainly prioritize where to spend limited resources, human and otherwise. And now, to make up for all the sleep I have lost in the last few weeks! Goodnight all!

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Election Coverage Today in Both the Gazette and The Evansville Review!

Please take the opportunity to read the Janesville Gazette and The Evansville Review comments from Spring Election candidates. There's only one contested seat on city council, which happens to be in my District 3, so there's info about that if you're so inclined. At least half of the School Board candidates emphasized the need for a Strategic Plan, so please read the articles to best inform your vote!

Friday, March 21, 2014

Look for the Candidate Statements and Interviews March 26th

The Evansville Review will publish statements from all of the School Board Candidates in the March 26th edition. The Janesville Gazette will publish an Election Special Section that will also feature interviews of the School Board Candidates with Gina Duwe. Please take the time to learn about these six candidates and inform your vote on April 1!

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Top Ten Signs the Spring Election Season Is Upon Us

The signs of the Spring election season are upon us, even when the signs of spring tantalize us one day only to dash our hopes the next. In many ways, my mood regarding my campaign reflects that of our fickle Wisconsin spring this year. I have been agonizing about several aspects of my campaign for the last week or so, where I felt brave and confident before. As a result, I've lost a lot of sleep over this second-guessing process. Always one to use my time wisely, in those sleepless hours I generated a list of the top ten signs that the Spring election season is upon us.

1 Signs, signs everywhere the signs!  This is a natural for #1. I put up my signs this weekend, with more to come. Thank you so much to all my supporters for agreeing to let me put a sign in their yards. These poor old beat up signs have been through 7 years and four elections. Nobody can accuse me of not using my signs to their maximum life expectancy, which seems to be about 7 years. A number of my wires have lost their welds as I've tried to insert them into the frozen tundra. I've seen a few of Amanda Koenecke's newly minted signs as well, but nothing from the other four candidates. One told me they don't have any signs.

2 Political ads. Even though I only ran last year, I didn't remember ad costs being so high, even in the Review. The Gazette prices were astronomical for a cheapskate such as myself. Holy politics Batman! I'm sticking with the Review even though I haven't figured out how to reach the outlying precincts at all.

3 Political computer spam: I'm not even going there, but some candidates in larger, more statewide platforms, are.

4 Political mass mailings: I'm considering this venue, but have not yet researched the costs. I would consider this as an alternative to accessing the rural outlying areas with fliers destined to litter the landscape once they manage to escape the rubber bands to which I have attached them in past years.

5 Surprise School Board vote: There was recently a very contentious subject brought before the school board in which only one of the three candidates up for reelection held firm to previously stated remarks and rationale.

6 Campaign Schmoozing: There's always a component of this happening and it's one I don't do so well. Any suggestions about improving this aspect of my campaign would be greatly appreciated!

7 Grossly Exaggerated Claims in TV Commercials: At least none of us ECSD BOE candidates have to worry about this problem! Unless somebody has unlimited wealth they've been hiding until the last minute! The outrage of the Republicans about Mary Burke's stretching the truth in her ad regarding economic indicators this spring was equally matched by the Democratic outrage regarding the Republican ads using unstated tiny print disclaimers in their ads last fall.

8 Rampant Use of the "R" Word.  For somebody who was not even willing to say the word "referendum" prior to the survey, Mr. Roth has certainly changed his tune. In fact, the entire survey seemed to have too much focus on referendum when I first took it. However, there is a depth of information to be plumbed from this data if one knows that averages only tells you one part of the story and if you want the whole story, you're going to have to ask for and receive the raw data in order to create an effective strategic plan. Just a little word to the wise: Stoughton. Here is a district which obviously has an amazing new fabrications lab to boast (one of only two HS in the US to have won this lab grant by the manufacturer), went to referendum in 2010 and is going back to referendum again this year. You see, they seem to have become dependent on those funds by using them for more than one-time only expenditures. Without them, they have predicted dire lay-offs and class size increases. If they had been using referendum dollars how they are intended to be used, the end of the short term referendum should not signal the need for massive lay-offs and the resultant class-size increases. No referendum money should ever be used for recurring costs.

The problem became very clear to me when I helped put together the financial portion of the 4K presentation. Ms. Treuden, business manager extraordinaire, came up with the idea of putting a side by side comparison of budget impact with and without 4K using the Baird Budget Forecast model the BOE is used to reviewing. One of the assumptions she used was a 1.1% wage and benefits increase annually and the other was the maximum revenue cap increase schools have gotten the last two years ($75 per kid, which for our district is about $135,000). Assuming all other factors remain the same, the "Without 4K" column, which started at a balanced budget, was at nearly a $400,000 deficit by year 5.  The lesson I came away from that was that the maximum increase in the revenue cap will not even sustain an annual 1% salary/benefit increase. This seems so minimal and yet is not sustainable. I don't know what minuscule increase would be sustainable, but I'm thinking it would be well below a half percent. How in the world does this show staff they are valued? The hands of the BOE and the district are tied unless other changes are made in how the budget is done, which can't be done effectively until a strategic plan is in place. They are stuck on some evil merry-go-round in which they are damned if they do and damned if they don't.

9 Jockeying for Position I haven't ever been very good at this part of campaigning either, being similar to, but not the same as Schmoozing. There is an alpha human component to this portion of a campaign in which candidates claim their experience A makes them best suited for the job because of B. I am not shy about taking credit for my strengths, or even admitting areas that challenge me. But my marketing consultant (freely advising me) tells me I need to relate more to the regular Joe on the street. I really appreciate the feedback and have been wracking my brain to come up with concrete ways in which to demonstrate what a fun character I am! It's true, I am a barrel of monkeys, but that's hard to convey when demonstrating my strengths. I guess I need to be more present in the joy of the moment, to which my yoga practice has helped me remain aware. If my readers have more suggestions in this department, I'm all ears!

10 Spring Break is Nearly Here! In fact, our UW-Madison child has already returned for that annual week-long sleep-fest, bringing with them their homework and the flu. It has so happened that election day and spring break have coincided for several of the last spring elections wherein I have pleaded with my readers to make sure they have filled out their absentee ballots and mailed them before they go away to a tropical climate. This year, the ECSD has their spring break March 21-30. Everyone should be back in plenty of time to vote so my only plea is that you take me with you to the tropical climate so my feet can defrost in time for the election. But if you ARE planning to be gone on April 1st (it still cracks me up that election day is April Fools Day), please please please get your absentee ballot in before you go! Especially if you plan to vote for me...

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Other March 12 Board Meeting Observations

There was such a full agenda at last night's board meeting and it really ended up to be an emotionally draining 3 hours. The two big items were the 4K presentation and the CAC recommendations based on the community survey results. I was part of the 4KIC and proud to have been part of the most professional, thorough treatment of any new program research I've seen to date. Kudos to Paula Landers, facilitator extraordinaire!

The CAC recommendations for referendum were a small section of the list. I was amused to see the BOE suddenly take up the drumbeat for creating a strategic plan and Jerry jump right onto that bandwagon. I've been advocating, cajoling, pushing, you name it, I've tried it, for this august body to do this for YEARS. At least they're talking about doing it now.

Other recommendations the CAC made was to implement 4K (outside of referendum), to consider renovation/replacement of the MS no later than the 18-19 school year. Clarification of that point was asked for by the BOE because the HS won't be paid off until 2020. The answer was that the planning should begin at that time.

The new principal contracts were approved, with Joanie Dobbs as the new Levi Leonard principal and Jason Knott from Edgerton at the Middle School. Mr. Cashore's contract was revised to separate out his AD stipend from his AP duties and change his post retirement benefits to align with current administrator contracts, adding costs to be placed into an HRA to "catch him up" in this regard.

Several policies were approved as well, with further discussion about 521.1 Board Staff Communication policy in which Jerry indicated that the intent was to preserve the chain of command and not to discourage staff from contacting individual board members with concerns. That was important to the passage of this policy.

An interesting conversation came about when Jerry was discussing using part of last year's fund surplus for salary and benefit increases. It wasn't until the motion was made that I realized that this was for this school year and would be retroactive to last July 1. It comes from the $165,000 surplus in the 12-13 budget. Going forward, this change could have implications and the BOE encouraged the compensation committee to come back soon with next year's recommendations. Folded on top of this discussion, muddying the waters from my perspective, is the concept of one time stipend awards to staff. The reasoning was that a percent increase of a lower salary is naturally lower and the stipends would help equalize that. Rewarding staff for all their hard work was at the heart of the discussion.

Teaching staff were strongly represented to advocate for a choice of 20 or 24 pay periods. It was a very emotional discussion fraught with discussions of the survey that was done, who it was sent to, how it was presented, the history as to how it came about in the first place, some reference to focus groups that were never held and general unrest. 77% of the staff surveys returned supported 24 pay periods. The cost for maintaining two pay schedules has been variously reported and ranges from $10-50K in addition to the current wages in the district office. The discussion included how closely related student achievement was with school climate, and did the board not believe that increasing achievement was worth this additional cost? The history lesson included aspects of the discussion during handbook meetings that were supposed to communicate the change to staff but apparently did not. The process was put into place just last July and the BOE voted 4-3 to keep 20 pay periods this year and noted that the handbook change process forms were in the handbook and that the next version of that would be addressed in June. God bless her, Mrs. Oswald, awesome MS teacher, filled one out on the spot and handed it to Jerry right in the middle of the meeting! I understand both sides of this question and why the board voted as they did. It's unfortunate that this has taken so much of the board's energy when the question was asked and answered last year. The entire debacle highlights the abysmal state of communications in all areas of our district, not just the board. It is imperative to repair this problem if the ECSD wishes to have a positive staff.

Thanks to the BOE for clarifying that the resignation of the 0.5 FTE Gifted and Talented Resource Teacher Mark Simonson at JCMM (he was only on a one year contract) doesn't signify the demise of the program at the MS. The 0.5 position will be replaced with a 1.0 FTE next year! It was a joyous moment for me to behold.

That hits most of the high points. I did speak about Senior Projects, but will write a separate post on that later. Signing off from Hammann Campaign Headquarters!

CAC Referendum Recommendations in Light of Survey Results

If any of you read this morning's Gazette, you will know that the CAC has recommended that the BOE proceed to referendum on three questions on September 9 or one big question in November. The 3 questions in September option would pose a tax impact of 1.305 million dollars year for four years, as envisioned by the CAC. Instead of separating out Safety and Security from building maintenance, as was done in the survey, they recommended lumping them together into one question, with the total expense for those two items being no more than 2.8 million, whereas the survey indicated that the expense to do this would be 3.1 million (Safety at 300K and Maintenance at 2.8 million). The curriculum would be separate at a total of 900K and the Technology would be separate at 1.52 Million. The one big question would have the same tax impact, but the reasoning and timing was important. If questions are separated out, funds have to be spent only on the items specified in the referendum question and earlier voting would enable earlier purchase of services, particularly in outdoor building improvements. In Wisconsin, after November outdoor work is not an option, sometimes all the way until May. That would leave very little time to expend those funds if done in November. If all questions are lumped into one, November would be better, getting a higher voter turnout and giving flexibility for the fund usage where needed. The downside is that those adamantly opposed to one or another item in the one big question may or may not vote against the whole enchilada. The survey didn't really measure how much additional tax burden the community was willing to take on for a limited time.

So what did the survey say about the likelihood of these particular items succeeding on referendum? Important contextual information to have while reviewing the survey results are as follows:

  • The non-parent, non-staff subgroup represents 70-75% of the voters in a district.
  • The undecided survey results typically break negative at 80% no and 20% yes.
  • Our survey results had an inordinately high "undecided/need more info" result across the board, according to the School Perceptions presentation.

63% of all residents responding to the survey said they would support a referendum of $900,000 over four years to improve curriculum. 52% of the non-parent non-staff group said the same. Clearly, there is community support for this item. One need not even perform the weighted average to see that this is likely to be a win at the ballot, but performing that math indicates that initiative would garner 55.3% yes votes, and even with a 2.9% margin of error would likely pass a referendum.


54% of all residents would support this at the ballot with 22% undecided and 44% of the big voting block "non parent non staff" would do so, also with 22% undecided. This is less clear cut. Doing a straight weighted average on these numbers indicates that the likely outcome of a referendum regarding this item alone is only 47% yes. If you include 20% of the undecideds changed to yes in each group, the weighted average is now predicted to be 51.4%, which may encourage the optimists among you, but I just want to remind everyone that the margin of error for the survey is +/- 2.9%, placing this question firmly in the grey area of "it depends on who comes out to vote."


49% of all residents would support a referendum for this item with 31% undecided and 39% of the non-parent non-staff group supports it with 32% of that group undecided. As with the curriculum question, it's clear that a straight weighted average would fail to garner support at the polls. That result would be 42% yes. Adding in 20% of the undecided votes for each category would increase the support level to 48.34% yes. Again,  margin of error puts this even further into the questionably successful category.


57% of all residents supported the technology initiative with a 21% undecided group. 44% of the non-parent non-staff group supported this question with 23% undecided. The straight weighted average indicates public support at the polls would stand at 47.9%, again in limbo. Changing 20% of the undecideds in each group and recalculating the weighted average results in 52.38% support for improving technology and its infrastructure.

What does all this mean? It means that if the BOE decides to take all four of these questions to referendum that Curriculum is likely to be a clear winner and the other three are a crap shoot at this point in the conversation with the community. Two may break positive and one negative. It doesn't seem wise to lump in one that is breaking positive with one that is breaking negative just to get them all on the ballot. I don't know how voters would react to lumping everything into one question, but it seems likely that that strategy, while it has good reasoning, could backfire based on this statistical analysis of the survey results.

How will this affect your property tax bill.

CURRICULUM: 23.2 cents per thousand, increasing the mill rate to $12.53 per thousand in property value, a 1.9% increase in the current mill rate. All of these calculations only include these initiatives and do not take into account the increases that will be seen due to other increases in the revenue limit and debt payment.

SAFETY and MAINTENANCE: 72.2 cents per thousand, giving an individual mill rate increase of 5.9% and a cumulative (including CURRICULUM) rate increase of  95.4 cents per thousand, or a 7.8% increase.

TECHNOLOGY: 43.8 cents per thousand for an individual mill rate increase of 3.6% and a cumulative (including both items above) increase of $1.39 per thousand, or an 11.3% increase.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Link to Tonight's Board Meeting Packet

Here's the link that includes both agenda and packet contents for the school board meeting tonight at 6. Lots of information is included. A third reading of policy that has flown under my radar until now (so sorry) is Policy 521.1, wherein all communications between board and staff are to be through the conduit of the District Administrator. I am appalled at this and now understand where the staff got the idea they weren't to talk to board members at all. Unbelievable. Come early to snag a good seat!



Thursday, March 6, 2014

Thank You For the Endorsement EEA!

I am very happy and humbled to announce that the Evansville Education Association has given me their endorsement. I got the call last night after attending parent teacher conferences at the High School and trying to do so at the Middle School and attempting to feed 5 people in between. Any of you who have had a 14 year old taking messages at your home can appreciate the years of training required to get my son to take a message (huge progress getting it on paper!) "Mrs. Koph (sic) 6:45." Since there are two nights of conferences, I didn't know which night he meant. He was sure it was last night. It wasn't. But we're happy there was an actual message recorded. It's all good.

Back to the endorsement. With this endorsement comes a pretty significant stipend donation to my campaign. It will help pay for ads and fliers and any other items I think will help my cause. Fortunately, I still have signs from 2007. This is the 4th campaign they've been through, so nobody can accuse me of being a spendthrift! Some of them need new wires, but it's all good! Next week, with the 40 degree weather coming, they will probably even enter the ground smoothly! No knitting needle and hammer required! (I had to use that technique last year to get the signs to stand up). Since I don't write for the Review anymore to avoid conflict of interest and appearance of partiality, this endorsement stipend is especially appreciated. Thanks again teachers and carry on!

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Update to the School Perceptions Update

Here's an up date to the survey participation rate question, hot off the presses. Chelsea Davis from School Perceptions sent me this email literally the minute I posted the first update. I will wait a few days to post this so new data isn't made obsolete in minutes.  

Hi again, Melissa.

There is one correction I need to make.  We are working on updating the report and noticed that the total percentage of surveys taken was based on an incorrect number of surveys mailed.  In addition to the 3,552 surveys mailed via Every Door Direct Mail, there were 471 additional surveys mailed to individuals who do not live on Evansville Post Office routes, but are considered District residents.  Therefore, the total number of surveys mailed was 4,023 and the overall response rate as of last Monday (1,148 surveys taken) was 28.5%.

We apologize for any inconvenience.  This percentage will be corrected in the updated version of the report that will be provided to the District.

A 28.5% (1148/4023) response rate is better that the 27.3% using the Gazette's reported 4200 surveys distributed and a heck of a lot better than the paltry 400 (9.9%) the committee, with the input of School Perceptions, had determined would give them sufficiently rigorous statistics to extrapolate the results to the entire district.

Then today, I got a call from Janesville Gazette's Gina Duwe to ask me for information regarding my board candidacy. In the course of that conversation, I was able to ascertain where the original "4200" came from. Gina follows my blog and wanted to clear up her source of the total number of surveys. She told me that her source of surveys being sent to "all 4200" district homes was Mr. Roth in a previous context, which she logically extrapolated to this situation and, honestly, is pretty close to the actual number of surveys sent. I told her that even the new estimate doesn't capture the total available surveys, so don't sweat it. With the additional surveys distributed from the office (and other sources?) as well as additional codes emailed to survey respondents who requested one for each voter in the house, it's likely that there were even more than 4200 surveys made available to folks. I also told her that I wasn't criticizing her report, it's just that my analytical brain went into spasms trying to do a calculation that wasn't computing.

The bottom line is this: since School Perceptions has been doing this for over a decade with many districts, it's likely they consistently calculate the percent response rate for their survey results. So no matter what value is used, the nearly 30% rate of return was calculated in a consistent manner and, compared to surveys in other districts, is very high. I am satisfied that the values of the ECSD have been recorded in this process and can guide the district in their future decisions. I hope the board will use this data to come up with a good Strategic Plan to help them all stay focused on the vision of Excellence in all aspects of Education.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Come Early to Get a Good Seat at the March 12 School Board Meeting

I know the agenda has yet to be published, but as they summarized the agenda coming forward to the school board meeting on March 12 at the Feb 26 meeting, I knew this meant 1) March 12 is going to be a long meeting and 2) a lot of interested parties will attend that don't normally do so. The district has already anticipated this and changed the normal venue to TRIS LMC (library for us old farts), entrance through the Fair Street (bus) doors. The staff has been planning to bring food and hunker down for the duration. Start time is 6:00. Come early for best viewing!

The two top drawing cards for attendance will be:

1). The Citizen Advisory Committee presentation of its recommendations to the school board based on the recent community survey.

2). The 4K Investigative Committee's presentation and recommendations to the school board based on their research and the survey results.

Either of these two presentations would increase attendance, but both items will likely increase public comment time and fill the library with interested parties. If you have something to say about either of these items, come have your 5 minutes of fame. The lousy weather has shifted the timing on the 4KIC presentation from 2-26 to 3-12, but given that the information from the survey wasn't available until two days prior to the expected presentation date of 2-26, that was probably a hidden bonus. Now there is time to put together a well-designed presentation that reflects all the hard work of the committee. The 4KIC is practicing on March 10 in the TRIS library for those interested in a preview. Paula Lander's leadership of this committee has been the epitome of professionalism and has made all the difference to the final product. Our district is very lucky to have her as curriculum coordinator and I hope they recognize that.

I don't remember all the other agenda items coming forward to the next meeting, but they will probably approve the Girl's Hockey co-op with the Stoughton (currently) 4-op, again with parents shouldering the burden of (really high) costs here. Pay periods, Press Box, Budget updates this year and next, Insurance updates, etc. will probably reappear. Basically all the items on the Budget portion of the last meeting might come up again in the discussion section of the next meeting. I don't know if the paperless board packets will come to this meeting, but Doreen said she would do a cost analysis of the various forms of what "paperless" means. I'll try to remember to post the agenda when available later this week!

One disturbing comment came up when discussing the pros and cons of changing to a policy governance model (only 12 districts out of 426 currently use it in Wisconsin). "Their meetings seem to be shorter," was mentioned as a perk. Some of the current board members seem to rate productivity of board meetings with how quickly they are finished. Too bad for our district. I always thought how well a board advocates for the education of ALL of its students was the most important measure of productivity for a school board. Taking a peek at the open enrollment net deficit alone, I'm thinking a few more hours might be called for. That is all, except if you want this attitude to be challenged:

Monday, March 3, 2014

Response from School Perceptions Folks about the Response Rate

Here's the response I got from Chelsea Davis at School Perceptions when I asked about the reported participation rate for the survey.

Hi Melissa,

Thanks for your patience on this issue as I was out of the office last week.  To answer your question, the District’s postage order was for a total of 3,552 surveys.  As of last Monday, 1,148 people had taken the survey, which is the 32.3% response rate we reported. 

Because the District did not have an official community-wide mailing list, they used the US Post Office’s Every Door Direct Mail program.  This is a typical mailing format we recommend if a district does not have a mailing list.  A number of extra surveys were available at the District Office for anyone who did not receive a survey or requested an additional for another eligible voter in their household.

I hope that helps.


Chelsea Davis
(main) 262.644.4300 ext. 7003
(direct) 262.299.0325
(fax) 262.299.0333
319 East Washington St.
Slinger, WI 53086

She notes that an unspecified number of additional surveys were made available to people who requested one for each voter in the household, and the district had copies available. So this response rate is best case scenario, which I believe is still pretty good. In discussing matters with the CAC chair, she noted that they were targeting 400 surveys as the minimum acceptable response rate, and they got nearly three times that, so looked at in this way, it's a win all around. I don't know where the 4200 number came from that the Gazette used in their article, but it was good to get the data from the source.

Thanks to School Perceptions for their quick turnaround time on this question. Now to formulate more questions now that I have digested all the data! 

Friday, February 28, 2014

My Answers to the Union Questions.

    1).       Why are you running for school board?

I am a passionate proponent for public schools and have witnessed a precipitous decline in the quality of the ECSD education over the last decade, both personally and collectively as a community. I have unique skills and abilities that are not routinely evident on the board. I believe that my skill set of school finance expertise, data analysis of all kinds and research persistence to become fully informed regarding school issues would be an asset to the ECSD Board of Education. That skill set combined with an unwavering dedication to speak my mind will help alleviate two glaring board deficiencies that have worsened over time. I addressed both in my campaign last year. The first and most destructive of those shortcomings is the absence of a Strategic Plan for the district. A Strategic Plan is a roadmap of priorities by which successful businesses reach their goals. It serves organizations in both good times and bad by helping prioritize which programs they should support with limited resources. It’s all well and good to have a vision statement wherein the district vows support for excellence in every area of the business model. However, without a plan by which it plans to execute this lofty goal, any governing body will be buffeted by the political winds du jour.

The Board has consistently stressed over the last five years that any Strategic Plan they implement must have the unique Evansville community values imbedded within it.  The district spent a lot of money, time and effort in 2010 to implement a Strategic Planning process that included community input. Mr. Roth was uncomfortable using this data and rightly noted that the community input was limited to around a hundred individuals. The Citizen’s Advisory Committee was formed to create a survey to take the pulse of the community values with what I understood at the time to be a goal of creating a comprehensive Strategic Plan that involved a greater community component. The survey I received was long on referendum questions and short on prioritization. I don’t know if or how they plan to use this information to help the district prioritize implementation of programs and initiatives. When elected, I plan to encourage fellow board members to vigorously pursue creating a Strategic Plan that uses the data the community so kindly provided. One example of an issue that could be ameliorated by a Strategic Plan is the districts Open Enrollment net revenue loss, which has increased every year for five years and currently accounts for a net loss of over three hundred thousand dollars. Once implemented, this plan could help the district dig itself out of the open enrollment deficit it has placed itself in by minimizing the importance of the problem for years. This is just one example of how the district will benefit from a well thought out Strategic Plan.

This brings me to the second way in which I feel I would be an extraordinary asset on the ECSD Board of Education. I have a very good grasp of school finance. It is a complicated subject to which I have made myself a dedicated student since 2006. I have learned much and continue to learn with each budget proposed by the board. I have drilled down into the budget and spent hours in Ms. Treuden’s office learning the nuances of how programs are supported and how rolling averages work to change the revenue cap. Ms. Treuden is an outstanding business manager and deserves to have somebody on the board who can appreciate the complexity of her work and understand the nuances of how revenue is generated. The public deserves to have a board member who can do all of that as well as anticipate the effect change x will have on program y. I have done budgetary iterations by hand for the 4K Investigative Committee Operations sub-committee which has been a very informative exercise. I have analytical skills and abilities and a great deal of curiosity that are also not evident on the current board. That is not to say that these characteristics are absent on the board, but I have been to nearly every board meeting for eight years and the present board doesn’t consistently exhibit these traits. I will respectfully direct questions to the pertinent person before the meeting, as I did in my former term on the board, so they can be prepared to answer in public. Because I am a strong proponent of a completely transparent governing body, I will repeat the questions in a public forum. Those present will then see that the board has addressed an issue.

      2)  In what ways might you foster stronger communications between the school board and all school staff? Between the board and the community?

In 2011, the Center for Public Education posted an article entitled “Eight Characteristics of effective school boards: At a glance” http://www.centerforpubliceducation.org/Main-Menu/Public-education/Eight-characteristics-of-effective-school-boards.  “Effective” in this case is defined as boards governing districts with high student achievement. Regarding communication, the brief summary states:

 “Effective school boards have a collaborative relationship with staff and the community and establish a strong communications structure to inform and engage both internal and external stakeholders in setting and achieving district goals. In high-achieving districts, school board members could provide specific examples of how they connected and listened to the community, and school board members received information from many different sources, including the superintendent, curriculum director, principals and teachers. Findings and research were shared among all board members. (Lighthouse I; Waters and Marzano) By comparison, school boards in low-achieving districts were likely to cite communication and outreach barriers. Staff members from low-achieving districts often said they didn’t know the board members at all. “

In the new open enrollment paradigm, public schools must become chimers of their own bells of success and delve into problems that hinder education at every level. They must be open to new ways of operating that meet the needs of all levels of learners. They must anticipate issues where possible. Excellence in communication and complete transparency is a crucial step toward meeting that goal. ECSD has a long row to hoe in this regard.

Poor communication was identified as an issue in the 2010 strategic planning process. To address this, last fall the Board of Education implemented an ad hoc Communications Committee comprised of two board members and two administrators.  Plans have been mentioned to expand the membership and step up the promotion of the community survey to increase the response rate. While the district employed a wide variety of media to inform the community about the survey and urge voters to complete it in a timely fashion, I am unaware of specific publicity steps taken to inform the community at large about the background information necessary to complete the survey in an informed way. I take this to be a sign that more work is needed in this area.  I would first assess where the communications committee was on their work before making any recommendations, but generalizations can be made.

Some School districts employ public relations professionals to execute well-organized and coordinated communication across all levels. Such plans place the onus of the communication on the district and minimize district conflicts such as programming during board meetings and planning simultaneous events at multiple schools. These firms or professionals utilize a multipronged approach in which a wide variety of media is employed in order to connect with the greatest cross section of the community.

Using this as a model, the district as a whole would reap many rewards. I am not promoting yet another layer of administration, but rather that the district use this model as they seek ways to improve. There is little that an individual board member can do to truly effect change, but one can envision encouraging certain programs that would improve the status quo. Extending this to the board communications with staff and the district community, there are a number of ways the board itself could improve the transparency of their business.  One of the best ways I can think of for this would be to record and provide public access to the ECSD Board of Education meetings. In that way, those who cannot attend the meetings can access them via computer or public access TV, or even at the district office. This would benefit both staff and the community at large. It could even be used as a student Audio Visual credit, or technology credit if a student records the proceedings.

I would encourage the board to return to the public listening sessions that seemed especially popular with staff but also attracted the general public. This is a way for unfiltered information to get to a few board members, who then shared with the board as a whole. It works for some folk who are reluctant to speak in front of a governing body as well as those who are intimidated by the presence of the entire board and administration. Working as an individual board member only, I would spend time with staff at each school to help understand some of the problems staff face. The public school landscape has dramatically changed and this would enable me to come up to speed with staff in all buildings, not just the ones our children inhabit. The information gleaned from these meetings would inform my decisions as a board member.

Another way to gain public trust is by using the survey data people spent time to provide to create a strategic plan and not just guide the creation of a referendum. I’m part of the public that worked hard on the 2010 strategic planning process, from which information has been largely ignored, leaving me to feel disenfranchised. If I feel this way, it’s likely others do too. “Why bother?” is the overall sense many have at any public information sessions the district has.

From my observation over the years, the Board of Education as a whole would benefit from improvement in their internal communication as well. There is a board development committee that should help address this issue, but has yet to productively tackle the problem. Stepping up the work of that committee would be the way I would encourage fellow board members to solve this problem.

        3). What do you believe employee compensation should be based on?

This question is very broad and I am not an HR specialist. A pat answer to that is usually “whatever the local market models recommend.” The problem right now is that there is an ever changing landscape of public school compensation models from which to choose. It is the responsibility of Administration to devise a compensation model that uniquely captures the Evansville needs. My observation has been that Administration is looking to other districts for guidance on this and a number of other issues and the protocols are just not established yet. I also don’t think that the Board of Education will be involved in devising any compensation models but rather in voting in support of or against the model proposed by administration.  So if you’re asking what kind of compensation model I’d like to see the administration create for Evansville, I can answer that.

The percentage of an organizations budget that it sets aside for salary and benefits should reflect the value it places on attracting and retaining outstanding employees. If that alone were the criteria for employee compensation, it’s safe to say that the ECSD would be among the top employers in education. The steady exodus of both experienced and rookie employees from our district says otherwise. Dramatic changes in public school compensation models began in 2009 with the repeal of the QEO and continued with Act 10 in 2011 and now the Affordable Care Act. The impact of these changes are possibly viewed negatively but could be used to design a cutting edge, state of the art compensation model that would reap rewards for decades if everyone (staff, board, administration) works together to envision and implement the new model. It won’t be easy, but things that are worthwhile rarely are.

Generally speaking, employee compensation models ought to fairly compensate employees with pay and benefits that are “usual and customary” to their geographical region and career choice.  It’s my belief that every compensation model should be based on the competency of the individual employee. Ideal models presume employees are competent but independently confirm this via employee evaluations. Such evaluations include measurable parameters pertinent to an employee’s job description as well as an unbiased evaluation of how the employee has executed his or her job duties in the last year.  Annual performance plans should be mutually agreed upon and include overall career goals that synergistically benefit both employer and employee.  Employees who consistently perform above and beyond the standards for their position should be awarded additional bonuses above and beyond salary increases for the average performer. An untouchable pot of money would be set aside for this purpose, as it is to the employer’s advantage to encourage such high performing employees. Those who consistently show a need for improvement through X number of consecutive evaluations even while direction and support is provided should ultimately be urged to move on to other careers and would be ineligible for any increases until improvement is documented.  Safeguards need to be in place to protect both employee and employer so that a balanced system is achieved.  This model presumes standards are set previous to the evaluation time period and in no way allowed to become a “moving target.” If administration wants to raise the bar for a particularly high achieving employee for the next evaluation period, that can be done, but nothing can be added to an employee’s job description in mid-cycle.

Short answer: Employee compensation should be based on the competence with which an employee carries out his or her job description. This is evaluated in a fair and equitable way via a comprehensive, measurable and agreed upon performance standard.
    4).   What criteria will you use when faced with budgetary cuts?

I refer to my answer to the first question posed. I would vigorously encourage fellow board members to create a strategic plan using the results of the recent survey. If that is not done, individual board members are forced to generate their own list of criteria based on a combination of public input and their own consciences, which not only won’t match other board members’ lists, but will likely conflict with them. This is a very poor substitute for a comprehensive, agreed-upon strategic plan because each board member cannot help but bring their own agenda to the table, which shows at every board meeting. Because the board lacks a strategic plan, what follows would be my personal approach to budgeting.

First and foremost, any plan to further decimate the ECSD needs to minimize the effect on our students. The administration tried to implement just such a priority plan last year and it is my observation that it was not very successful. Enrolling my upperclassman daughter into college preparatory classes this year was unnecessarily difficult and anxiety producing for her. Furthermore, resources tell me that students were placed into classes for which they were woefully unqualified and teachers were told to make up the deficit. I’m sure there are many more examples of the failure of the student led priority system in use, but it seems to need a tweak.

Furthermore, I would stress that any plan for further cuts in the ECSD must be equitable in its distribution of pain. Why do I feel this way? It was unconscionable in my mind that a few years ago the curricular budget was cut by 12% while the co-curricular budget made only a 5% cut. This year, both budgets were increased, which gave a three year average change for the curricular budget at about a five percent decrease while the co-curricular budget has experienced an increase of about ten percent. I concede that these budgets are very different in magnitude, leading many to make remarks like, “$250,000 (approximate co-curricular budget) is pittance in a 20 million dollar budget.”

That leads to my next budgetary guide. I will never think a quarter of a million dollars is pittance. I always think of program costs in terms of “teacher units.” $250,000 translates to the salary and benefits that could support five (rookie) teachers in my head. After their budgetary analysis of what portion of the co-curricular budget is paid with state aid, the co-curricular committee concluded for the School Board that “For just the cost of a teacher, we can keep all of our activities.” That phrase aggravated me for both its insensitivity and deceptiveness. (Those who were there know that this meeting was followed the following month by a proposal in which administration recommended laying off ten teachers). It still costs the district $250,000 to provide the co-curricular programs in their entirety.  Local property taxes support a third of that and state aid supports two thirds of that. State aid is provided through other taxes residents pay and is not “free money.”

Which leads me to my fourth budgetary guide. Just because the state aids a program at about two-thirds, doesn’t mean it only “costs the district a third of the projected expense.”  It just means that local property taxes support a third of the cost and state aid supports two-thirds of it. Nearly every penny of support for public schools comes from taxes, hence the term “revenue” designating the income for public entities. I would like to see the board show equitable concern for being good stewards of these revenues. It is extremely vexing when the excuse for not cutting such and so or not increasing fees becomes, “It will negatively impact our state aid.” Unless a change decreases the revenue cap by decreasing enrollment, the revenue cap remains the same. If you don’t pay it in a state tax, you pay it in property tax and vice versa.  It would be a breath of fresh air if the board was as concerned about the negative effect on state aid from not spending the projected budget in five of the last six years as they are about increasing fees for co-curricular participation.

I hope the drastic budget cuts are behind us, but without a strategic plan, the only way I have to prioritize programs is to defer to those with which I have personal experience. Sadly, many of the programs that helped our eldest child prepare for and successfully attend our flagship state university have already been gutted. Our subsequent children have been forced to seek virtual schooling supplements because of this. The jury is still out on whether or not this approach will be equally successful for them. I would like to be part of a board that works together with staff, administration and community not to return to the successes of yesteryear but rather seek new and innovative ways to meet the needs of all levels of learners and ultimately exceed former halcyon days.

      5). In the past, to save money, non-teaching positions have been reduced from full-time to part-time, which has been significantly problematic for students and staff. What ideas and/or plans do you have to address this issue?

It’s my conclusion from the exodus of both teaching and non-teaching professionals from the district that general problems must exist in the district regarding budget cuts to staffing. However, there is insufficient information in this question to provide a cogent response directed at non-teaching positions.

I can give my personal impression of teaching staff insufficiencies from our family’s perspective.  It seems obvious from our experience with enrollment of our Junior student this year that there aren’t enough teachers at the high school. Evidence of this first emerged when the volume of scheduling problems exceeded the staff time to solve them such that only families of Seniors were notified of conflicts over the summer. In the past, it was every student. Not a single email was sent to students in grades 9-11 indicating problems and student schedules were simply posted online less than a week before school started. Many schedules had little or nothing to do with what students requested, even as alternate courses. Sources indicate that teachers were expected to accept students without adequate prerequisite training in their classes. These are additional indicators that the system is overwhelmed. It will only be exacerbated next year with a small (100) outgoing Senior class and a large (145 or so) incoming Freshman class. I would urge the board to question the mechanism of staffing and do what needs to be done as a board to reach a more optimum student to staff ratio.

Again, this comes down to an issue of poor communication. Families weren’t notified until it was nearly too late to solve the scheduling problems. Teachers were not consulted for lack of prerequisites but rather told to bring the kids up to speed because they had to “put kids somewhere.” Staffing problems go far beyond the non-teacher positions and while the board is usually not involved in the details of staffing decisions, they are responsible for holding administration accountable for results. These are not the kind of results a district wants to be known for and, in that way, the board can exert its authority in requesting an improved staffing process that would be generally applicable regardless of the position.

Union Forum Went Smoothly

Whew! Four school board activities in a week is a bit much for me. I haven't worked up to the board member endurance level yet, so WOW!

Last Thursday was the 4K Investigative Committee meeting at which we received a preliminary version of the March 12 presentation for input and comment. Monday was the survey presentation by School Perceptions, Wednesday was the school board meeting, where amazing board member Kathi Swanson reminded all present that $300K of the $335K surplus from last year is already spoken for via the phone system, a hundred thousand a year for three years. All the grand schemes presented by the administration for devising a "stipend" system for all employees (carefully avoiding calling it a bonus) was a little premature and could they not spend the surplus more than once? Also, since the CAC will be bringing recommendations to the board on March 12 for referendum, there's that to be considered for some of the surplus, and OH HEY 4KIC will recommend we start that program up to for 200-some thousand initial dollars that very same night. I too am guilty of forgetting about the phone system snafu last year, so all my carefully constructed analysis regarding the referendum stuff is off by a hundred thousand.

Then last night, the EEA invited all six candidates to a Q&A forum at Creekside Place to follow up on a questionnaire they sent to us earlier this month. Last year's election began a new tradition in which the EEA submits questions, hosts a forum for meet, greet 'n follow-up questions and decides who they plan to endorse going forward. Those chosen get a small stipend to spend on election costs. There wasn't as big a turn out as last year, probably because of the blinking cold. Many who were there sounded miserable with upper respiratory ailments and said about half or more of the staff sounded like they did. I asked Julie if they could also host a public forum, but she said taxing entity restrictions prevent them from doing so when they are planning to publicly endorse candidates. That's sad, because I don't think the Review will be able to get somebody to do the "Meet your school board candidates" series this year. Do any of my readers want to host a forum?

There were two follow up questions posed by DJ Redders this year:

1 What have you done first had to get to know how the schools operate?

2 How do you help show that your staff is valued?

A question from Tom Bethke followed those questions after this observation:
The board meetings have gone from a collaborative process to one that seems to focus on penny pinching. What could you do to return to the collaborative process?

These were all outstanding questions and once again, Kathi Swanson hit it out of the ballpark with the last question. "The reason we are stuck in penny pinching mode is because we have no strategic plan, which the board purposely put on hold but now needs to address." Kudos to Ms. Swanson for her laser focus on the most important problem in our district. From her lips to the boards ears!

The rest of our answers to the above questions were fair to middling, but not necessarily earth shaking. I focused on my analytical skills and finance expertise, identified my persistence and willingness to speak my mind and drill down to get answers, but I don't get a sense that the teachers necessarily value financial skills per se, but the overall sense from the teachers was strong appreciation for pointing out to the school board back in November that they need to make sure the district spends their budgets. I hope to get their endorsement!

I'll post the questions asked by the EEA and my answers with the next post.