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

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!