Robbinsdale School Board Unanimously Approves November Referendum

May 22, 2014 at 12:12 am 2 comments

by Jason Bradley

Yes, folks, it’s that time again. It’s time for Robbinsdale Public School District 281 to approach us all with their hands out. I’m going to try and channel our own Andrew Richter a bit here, as I think that the best approach is to take it apart bit by bit:

“Based on a thorough review of district finances, the district’s technology needs and the newly approved Strategic Plan, the Robbinsdale Area School Board voted unanimously to place two school funding questions before voters on the November 4, 2014 general election ballot:”

I’d like to know how much they reviewed reducing what they spend in other areas to make up the difference, because I don’t feel like I’m getting a good deal. I’m paying far more in taxes than the value my children are getting from their “education” in District 281.

“Request to renew the existing operating levy that funds school operations and helps maintain some of the lowest class sizes in the region. This is a no-tax increase levy renewal.”

First of all, a “no-tax increase levy renewal”? Our taxes were increased the first time you collected on this levy, and you are merely deciding to continue taking that same amount of money for a longer period of time that what you said you needed it for at the outset. Secondly, I’d like to know how having some of the lowest class sizes in the region are benefiting us. District 281 still has terrible scores compared to other schools in the state, and an ever-present “achievement gap” that can never seem to be closed. What, exactly, are we getting for our money?

“Request to approve a new capital projects levy for technology, which would provide approximately $3.5 million per year to increase technology access for students and staff, support personalized learning and enhance technology for teaching and learning. If approved, the tax impact on the average district home would be less than $10/month.

Again, I’d like to know what we are getting for our money here. Is this part of the Common Core data collection technology and test prep? New computers for teachers? I’d like to see an itemized list of your plans. You want my money? Show me you plan to be good stewards of it. I don’t know about you, but I don’t have a lot more “$10/month” to give. I’m about tapped out. This is not just $3.5 million; it is per year. For how many years are we talking?

“For the past several months we have been reviewing our finances, surveying our community, discussing options at school board meetings and working with our Financial Advisory Council,” said School Board Chair Sherry Tyrrell. “This thoughtful, deliberative process brought us to the unanimous decision to ask our voters to support these two levy requests.”

My, how thoughtful. I think that the word you wanted was not “deliberative”, but “debilitating”. We keep pumping money into District 281, and keep getting a poor product. It’s almost like sinking your life savings into a ponzi scheme. We invest into our children’s futures, and all we got was this lousy t-shirt. You keep requiring more money of us, and there are no results to show that it has helped at all. But hey, at least the retirement packages are getting pretty sweet over there, and Education Minnesota seems to be doing pretty well for themselves. I sure wish my daughter’s History teacher had enough note cards to allow her to finish her project, though.

“Almost all Minnesota school districts rely on voter-approved operating levies for a portion of their annual operating budget. Robbinsdale’s operating levy provides the school district with approximately $20 million annually to fund daily operating costs, such as classroom supplies, staff salaries, building maintenance and transportation.”

If your friends jumped off a bridge, would you do it too? Again, $20 million and no note cards?

“Our operating levy provides a significant portion of the budget we use to educate Robbinsdale students every day,” said Jeff Priess, Executive Director of Business Services. “We need those funds to maintain the existing level of programs and services to 12,000 students, support our talented staff and preserve safe learning environments.”

Let me call you on this one. First, there are some great teachers in 281. There are also some terrible ones propped up by tenure. Secondly, you tie the hands of the good teachers. I know because I’ve talked to them, even if they are too scared to come out against your destructive policies. What destructive policies? You say that you want to maintain the existing level of services, but the primary level of service, teaching, has been handcuffed. Parents, please pay attention to this: are you aware that grading in District 281 is now based solely on the formative and the summative (Thanks, Common Core!)? Let dumb it down 281 style: tests, quizzes, and the occasional project. Remember that Beastie Boys song with the line, “You’ve missed two classes and no homework”? It’s now a reality! This year homework made up 10% of a student’s grade at Cooper High School. Next year it will make up a whopping 0%! No homework! Are you kidding me? Someone over there thought that this was actually a good idea? Oh, of course there will be opportunities for students to work on concepts outside of class, but you show me a student that will work on material outside of class with no grade or deadline attached to it, and I’ll show you someone already getting “A’s” in their classes. As for safe learning environments? Please show me the tallies on in-school fights and theft and then tell me that their safe. Anyone with a student in middle or high school in this district knows better.

Robbinsdale is one of the few school districts in the area that does not currently have a voter-approved technology levy (officially known as a “capital projects levy”) to help pay for technology-related equipment, infrastructure and support. A recent district technology needs assessment determined that:

  • Student access to technology needs to increase
  • More wireless access is needed for both staff and students
  • Undependable technology is a barrier to effective use
  • More opportunities for staff training in technology is needed”

You mean someone else found a way to raise money, and we’re not doing it yet? We’ll fix that!

“Based on that assessment, a technology plan was developed to address four goals:

  • Increase student achievement through effective technology-based teaching and learning practices
  • Develop, sustain and recruit technology-proficient staff
  • Ensure students and staff have robust access to technology
  • Establish a reliable, cost-effective and secure technology network and system that support the goals of the district”

Just what are the “goals of the district? This tells me nothing! Again, is this the Common Core data collection system? Parents have a right to know if you’ll be collecting data on them and their children. They also have a right to know what exactly you are planning to spend money on. Pretend you are coming to a bank for a loan. We want to see your detailed plan.

“We have a comprehensive, research-based plan to provide effective personalized teaching and learning practices, improve communication, and streamline administrative operations; however, we don’t have the financial resources to fully implement this plan,” said Dennis Beekman, Executive Director of Technology. “Asking our voters to approve a technology levy is the only way we can provide our students and staff with the technology tools they need to succeed.”

…Or could you cut money from somewhere else? Because none of the other monies you are spending seems to address the poor scores and achievement gap. Your previous efforts and requests for money have yielded nothing. What makes this time different?

“The board authorized district staff to submit a “Review and Comment” requesting official levy approval to the Minnesota Department of Education (MDE), which has 60 days to provide its response. Once MDE approval is received, the board will finalize the election authorization process.  The school district will begin developing informational materials to share with the community leading up to the November 4 election.”

Let me break it down like this. In the past, Education Minnesota pours money into sending literature to the homes of teachers and putting ads in the newspaper to tell their dues-paying members who to vote for, and they win. People rationalize the money is “for the kids”, because the school district wastes money on a propaganda campaign in favor of the levy. They get their employees to attend school functions passing out literature in support of the levy, and it passes without as much as a second thought.

I’ve got another idea. Let’s say, “Hold on now, not so fast”. Let’s recognize that the existing School Board members have been elected and re-elected to solve a problem that they have only made worse. The poor scores and the achievement gap fall squarely on their shoulders. What do you say we think out of the box, and bring in a complete new set of School Board members to 281 that will approach these problems differently? Maybe if we don’t do what we’ve always done, we’ll get a better result. Then, after they’ve trimmed the fat, and done all they can with what they have, we can talk more money. Until then, do our kids a real favor and vote no until they clean up their mess.


Entry filed under: Education, Referendum, School Board. Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , .

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2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. speedgibson  |  May 22, 2014 at 9:33 pm

    I generally vote yes on Operating Levy referendums because I believe the Board should have this authority anyway. And assuming they pass, the Board cannot (honestly) claim lack of funding explains their disappointing results. I will vote yes.

    But Technology referendums are scams. One, technology isn’t all that expensive anymore. Staff training? Buy a book. Read it this summer. But the real problem, i.e. the real intent is to move technology spending out of the General Fund into a dedicated source. That leaves room to move in Common Core, STEM/STEAM and whatever else that is otherwise hard for them to justify. I will vote no.

  • 2. alex  |  September 16, 2014 at 7:49 am

    never vote yes to this stuff….the schools will always have their hands out, even though thousands or even millions of dollars are wasted every year….its a shame we have many uninformed voters…


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