MINNESOTA SCHOOL BOARDS ASSOCIATION
Volume 63, No. 6
A Vision From the Top A Perfect Mathematical Storm: Changing the Face of Education Planning and Executing Successful Referenda in The New Normal: Overcoming Economic, Political, and Demographic Challenges
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The purpose of the MSBA Insurance Trust Denise Drill (MSBAIT) is “to provide for its members 800-324-4459 and their employees and officials various forms email@example.com of insurance, including any forms of permitted Amy Fullenkamp-Taylor group insturance, for the benefit of school 800-324-4459 districts which are members of the MSBA firstname.lastname@example.org and to effectuate cost savings in the procurement and administration of such programs.” John Sylvester For more information about MSBAIT, visit 800-324-4459 www.msbait.org. email@example.com Property, Inland Marine, and Crime Workers’ Compensation School Leaders’ Legal Liability Automobile
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VO L U M E 6 3 , N U M B E R 6
Calendar M AY 2 0 1 1 4–6 .........MASBO Annual Conference 16–30 .....MSBA Election Webinar with Secretary of State 19–20 .....MSBA Board of Directors’ Annual Meeting 25 ...........Minnesota School District Liquid Asset Fund Plus Meeting 30 ...........Memorial Day (no meetings)
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QUOTES OF NOTE MSBA Staff
STRAIGHT TALK Bob Meeks, MSBA Executive Director PRESIDENT’S COLUMN Kent Thiesse, MSBA President ASK MSBA Gary Lee, MSBA Associate Director of Management Services
JUNE 2011 13 ...........Before Your Board Webinar (The 2011 Legislative Wrap-Up) 16 ...........MSBA Insurance Trust Meeting
J U LY 2 0 1 1 4 .............Independence Day (no meetings)
AUGUST 2011 7 .............Early Bird Workshops 7 .............MSBA Board of Directors’ Meeting 7–8 .........MSBA Summer Seminar 9 .............MSBA Phase I & II Combination 9 .............Charter School Training 9 .............MSBA Insurance Trust Meeting 9 .............Minnesota School District Liquid Asset Plus Meeting
C O N T E N T S M AY / J U N E 2 0 1 1
A VISION FROM THE TOP Bruce Lombard
A PERFECT MATHEMATICAL STORM: CHANGING THE FACE OF EDUCATION Jen Hegna,Troy Faulkner, Rob Warneke, Jen Green, and Jeremy Baumbach
PLANNING AND EXECUTING SUCCESSFUL REFERENDA IN THE NEW NORMAL Don E. Lifto, Ph.D. and J. Bradford Senden, Ph.D.
COMMUNICATING TO YOUR COMMUNITY Janet Swiecichowski and Jake Sturgis
FOR GUARANTEED ENERGY SAVINGS PROJECTS, IT’S BUYER BEWARE Deb Metz
The MSBA Journal thanks the students of Spring Grove Public Schools for sharing their art and the students at Park Rapids for sharing their dioramas with us in this issue. COVER ART: Katie Schleich, Spring Grove
OFFICERS President: Kent Thiesse, Lake Crystal Wellcome Memorial Past President: Jackie Magnuson, Rosemount-Apple Valley-Eagan DISTRICT DIRECTORS District 1: Kathy Green, Austin District 2: Jodi Sapp, Mankato Area District 3: Linden Olson, Worthington District 4: Betsy Scheurer, Hopkins District 5: Marilynn Forsberg, Spring Lake Park District 6: Kevin Donovan, Mahtomedi District 7: Roz Peterson, Lakeville Area District 8: Elona Street-Stewart, St. Paul District 9: Karen Kirschner, Mora District 10: Dana Laine, Frazee-Vergas District 11: Walter Hautala, Mesabi East District 12: Ann Long Voelkner, Bemidji Area STAFF Bob Meeks: Executive Director Barbara Lynn: Executive Assistant/Director of Board Operations John Sylvester: Deputy Executive Director Tiffany Rodning: Deputy Executive Director Greg Abbott: Director of Communications Denise Drill: Director of Financial/MSBAIT Services Amy Fullenkamp-Taylor: Associate Director of Management Services Sandy Gundlach: Director of School Board Services Bill Kautt: Associate Director of Management Services Grace Keliher: Director of Governmental Relations Katie Klanderud: Director of Board Development Gary Lee: Associate Director of Management Services Bruce Lombard: Associate Director of Communications Bob Lowe: Director of Management Services Kelly Martell: Director of Technology Cathy Miller: Director of Legal and Policy Services Sue Munsterman: MSBA Advertising Kirk Schneidawind: Associate Director of Governmental Relations Mike Torkelson: Elections/Management Services Specialist
Quotes of Note captures some of the more interesting statements MSBA staff have read in local, state and national publications.
Inequity in school funding
Response to a student putting a hit list on Facebook
“Some districts are going up to the plate with big 40-ounce bats, while other districts oftentimes have that little souvenir bat.”
“Some people are extremely upset, and I have others who haven’t even approached me. It’s how the hit list is perceived by people. The bottom line is that we’re trying to make the school environment safe for everyone.”
Brad Lundell, director of Schools for Equity in Education
Responding to a school threat “I don’t like the idea of being the Big Brother and staring at our kids, but we’ve reached that level.” Alden-Conger Superintendent Joe Guanella
Chisholm Superintendent James Varichak
Placing ads in schools to raise revenue “The kids and students have been extremely respectful. They are pretty used to having ads. I don’t think it is anything out of the ordinary to see it.” St. Francis director of community education and maintenance services Tom Larson
School board recognition week “I appreciate all that you do. Not a lot of people understand that being a school board member is more than attending one- or two-hour meetings. There is a lot of preparation involved and outside meetings and plenty of tough decisions. You have a great understanding of what the role involves.” Monticello Superintendent Jim Johnson
Increasing enrollment “People would love to have this problem and growth is good, until you get to the point where you have to stick a shovel in the ground. Then all of a sudden it’s, ‘How are we going to pay for this?’” Elk River Area Superintendent Mark Bezek
The MSBA Journal (USPS 352-220) is published bimonthly by the Minnesota School Boards Association, 1900 West Jefferson Avenue, St. Peter, Minnesota 56082. Telephone 507-934-2450. Call MSBA office for subscription rates. (Opinions expressed in the Journal are those of the writers and do not necessarily represent MSBA policy.)
STRAIGHT TALK EDUCATION FINANCE GROUP TAKES ON HUGE CHALLENGE
The 2011 session will be remembered for how it handled (or mishandled) a whopping $5 billion deficit. And with education funding making up a big part of the state’s budget, Gov. Dayton asked Commissioner Brenda Cassellius to call an Education Finance Working Group to develop recommendations for school finance reform. I am one of 23 members in the group that includes school leaders, civic leaders, citizens, parents and sitting legislative leaders.
Bob Meeks MSBA Executive Director
The true balance is finding a formula that is fair, but also a formula that is simple enough that you don’t have to be a college calculus major to figure it out.
Our basic tasks are to improve education, equity and stability of preK–12 funding; simplify the funding process; preserve local control; close the achievement gap; promote high achievement for all students and direct state resources closest to students and teachers in the classroom. It will be a challenging task, but members in this group have the ability to create a plan that will find a better way to fund Minnesota’s schools. And by having some sitting legislators in the group, there should be some buy-in when it comes time to present the plan to the governor and Legislature. We are also not going to create a new plan from scratch. Over the years, there have been many groups trying to find an answer to this problem – remember PS Minnesota or Gov. Pawlenty’s task force on school financing? We’ll be reviewing those documents and studies from other groups as we look at the funding system in hopes of finding a new solution.
The problem with any type of funding is that the more people want a system to be fair, the more complex it becomes. That’s part of the reason our funding system has special revenues for schools with high numbers of students who don’t speak English as their first language, why there is revenue for large geographic districts that have additional busing costs, or why there is compensatory revenue for schools with high poverty. The true balance is finding a formula that is fair, but also a formula that is simple enough that you don’t have to be a college calculus major to figure it out. Some cynics may say that this “task” has been done before – for every governor. And it has ended up in the political circular file. But I refuse to be cynical about the task of funding our children’s education. However the Legislature comes out of the session, we have to make every effort to find a new, simple, fair way to fund schools. The result affects our children and the future of the state. So on your behalf, I’m rolling up my sleeves and getting to work. This group has some very talented, smart people – such as RosemountApple Valley-Eagan board member Art Coulson and St. Paul Board Chair Elona Street-Stewart. If there’s a way to solve the funding problem, Commissioner Cassellius’ group can do it.
PRESIDENT’S COLUMN FEDERAL ADVOCACY IS MORE IMPORTANT THAN EVER
In a perfect world, education decisions would be made solely by locally elected boards. MSBA has long been a proponent of local control of education, but has also realized that the federal government is playing an increasing role in the operation and funding of public schools.
Kent Thiesse MSBA President
Twenty years ago, school board members’ advocacy efforts were primarily targeted toward state legislators. But as the federal government takes on a bigger role in testing requirements and funding for schools, we need to also remember to advocate at the federal level. 6
That’s why a small group of MSBA directors and Kirk Schneidawind, MSBA Associate Director of Government Relations, participated in the National School Boards Association Federal Relations Network (FRN) Conference in February. During the FRN event, school board members from across the nation give local input to members of Congress on complex federal education issues. With Minnesota Congressman John Kline heading up the House Education and Workforce Committee, the time spent with his staff and K–12 education specialist was very important. From our conversations, we know that Representative Kline wants to overhaul the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) law; however, he wants to revise the legislation in several pieces. We were there to advocate for more flexibility, a rethinking of sanctions and the assessment methodology, as it relates to NCLB. Our group was also pleased that Congressman Kline is a big proponent of the federal government living up to its promise of 30 years ago for 40 percent funding for special education (IDEA). He wants Congress to fully fund its IDEA commitment before creating new programs. Current federal funding for IDEA is at only about 18 percent, which leads to a huge unfunded mandate for local school districts across the nation. In Minnesota alone, cross-subsidy amounts are projected to reach $631 million in 2012. This means our residents’ property taxes will continue to be used to backfill the IDEA funding that the federal government has failed to provide. In fiscal year 2010, the federal government shortchanged states and local districts by more than $13.2 billion. We were also able to meet with Senator Amy Klobuchar and Congressman Collin
Peterson to discuss concerns about the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, such as degree requirements for food service directors and the underfunding of new requirements in the act. We’re hoping the Department of Agriculture will involve school board members and superintendents in the design and implementation of the new law. We had a good discussion with Congressman Tim Walz, a former teacher from Mankato, who understands the concerns about No Child Left Behind and why it needs to be reauthorized, as well as IDEA funding and other federal education policy issues. We also had an excellent conversation with new Congressman Chip Cravaack about the importance of federal education policies and funding to Minnesota school districts. Meetings were also held with legislative staff for Senator Al Franken and Representative Betty McCollum. It’s nice to be able to make those connections with federal policymakers in Washington, D.C., but MSBA would also like to strengthen connections with school board members and the congressional delegation when they are back in Minnesota. MSBA has set up a committee, led by Director Walt Hautala, to develop a strategy on how MSBA can enhance our efforts with U.S. Senate and House members at the state and local level. MSBA members will likely hear more about these special efforts in the coming months. Twenty years ago, school board members’ advocacy efforts were primarily targeted toward state legislators. But as the federal government takes on a bigger role in testing requirements and funding for schools, we need to also remember to advocate at the federal level. Hopefully our efforts at the FRN Conference and MSBA’s new federal advocacy committee will make a difference in helping the congressional delegation understand our concerns, so that when federal laws are enacted, they will benefit students and public education.
Chelsea Swenson, Park Rapids Public School
A Vision from the Top Education Commissioner touts early childhood education, tells how school boards can help close achievement gap
Lea Emery, Spring Grove Public School
Minnesota Department of Education Commissioner Dr. Brenda Cassellius has had a full plate since Gov. Dayton appointed her to her post December 31, 2010. The commissioner took time out of her hectic schedule in March to discuss some key questions of importance to school board members. MSBA: What is your vision for improving K–12 education?
Brenda Cassellius: I want to attack it on two ends: one is the end-around-skills gap and the other is the gap between students.
I want to increase the excellence category for kids and get all of our higher-end kids to achieve even more while bringing up our lower-end kids. Not that I’m forgetting about the “middle kids,” 8
because everybody is going to ask…we are going to move those boats for everybody, but really it’s a concentrated effort on moving kids from the “middle ground” to “excelling,” and to also moving kids who are underperforming to performing at proficiency or better. I think our state has begun to lag. You look at our NAEP science scores, we have only 1 percent of kids scoring in “excelling,” and that’s a problem. We need more kids to be excelling to be competitive and have a competitive edge. The real vision is for Minnesota to become the “education state” again and become a nation leader for innovation, for solutions to close the achievement gap and for leading the way in teacher effectiveness.
MSBA: What is the best way to close the achievement gap? BC: (Through) early childhood education. I’m a Head Start baby. I believe the earlier we can start, the better. I think that gives everybody the same step up. If we can start on equal footing, we have better chances with our kids. Outside of that, I want to get all kids reading by the third grade. …We also have to pay attention to the unique needs that kids bring us. Some kids come from poverty, not having had opportunities – and remember those opportunities every year are cumulative – so they come to us with issues of race, they come to us speaking other languages, some come with high mobility…and several of those things impact our ability to meet that challenge, and our demographics are shifting quite a bit here in Minnesota. Also, I think we have to look at the concentrations in certain schools across our state – either rural, inner city or suburban, because there are quite a number of students who live in these communities…and there’s a larger level of challenge at those schools. Often we have our leastexperienced teachers teaching at those schools. So how do you create systems that incentivize teachers to want to teach in these schools, and reward them and support them so that they stay there and create stability for these kids who are often highly mobile, and often have much greater challenges and less opportunity to be able to accelerate their achievement? MSBA: How can you close the achievement gap with less funding and resources? BC: You don’t. That’s why Gov. Dayton has said that we need to invest more funding, and that’s why we’ve come out strong against the two (omnibus education bills) in the House and Senate. Because what they do is take aim at the most vulnerable of our youth. The governor has said in his proposal that we believe in early childhood education, all kids need to read by third grade, and we need to fund poverty (through compensatory funding) and we need to fund integration. Segregated schools are inherently unequal. ...And as our communities become more and more diverse, are we going to turn our back on integrated schools? Or are we going to continue to support our schools being integrated so that we don’t have inherently unequal and inadequate schools for some kids? MSBA: What other thoughts do you have about the House and Senate omnibus education bills? (Note: The commissioner’s response was recorded March 29 and doesn’t reflect any new developments, compromises or changes to either omnibus education bill.) BC: I don’t like them, basically because they cut funding for integration and special education. How do you cut funding for disabled kids? When we know the number of special education students is growing 4 percent every single year, why would you cut funding for special education? It makes no sense at all.
Photo by Bruce Lombard Gov. Mark Dayton appointed Dr. Brenda Cassellius as the state’s new education commissioner December 31, 2010. Cassellius worked as a teacher, administrator and superintendent in both Minnesota and Tennessee during the past 20 years.
Then school districts have this cross-subsidy that they have to do: Let’s say it costs $500 more per kid, but the state doesn’t fund you for that. Now you either have to go out for a referendum and ask for that $500, or you have to cut programs to other kids. To think that (cutting special education) doesn’t impact everybody – it does. To think that if you cut integration or if you dismantle public education in Minneapolis, St. Paul and Duluth…if people don’t think that’s going to be felt in the state, all they have to do is wait two or three years. …(The omnibus bills) are plumb full of things like tenure, contract issues and penalties, the 2 percent (staff development) set-aside (repeal), vouchers, school report cards, and I could go on and on. There are at least 35 proposals within the two bills in terms of policy, and it’s quite overwhelming. MSBA: How important is school board members’ role in closing the achievement gap, and what can they do to help? BC: School board members can work with their superintendents to set policies. There are specific policies that school boards can start looking at in terms of an equity lens around the achievement gap. We often have to look at achievement policies. (They can also) put in measures requiring the superintendent to have clear course guides and pathways to graduation, so that parents clearly understand how their kids get from sixth grade to 12th grade and on that stage and collecting that diploma. They can do that by MAY/JUNE 2011
A Vision from the Top
disaggregating and regularly reviewing data, and by holding the superintendent accountable for closing the achievement gap. Most school board members should be getting the MAP data. The superintendent should be reporting that interim data to the board. And the board should be looking at that data, because the board is ultimately responsible and they need to hold the superintendent accountable for that. It’s also very important that they look at what the graduation requirements are. Are they requiring that students take rigorous course work? That can be something that boards look at in terms of policy – what are the requirements you have for kids to graduate with a high school diploma? So they must raise that standard, raise that expectation for all kids, look at the data regularly and then hold principals and superintendents accountable for that data. If the board sees two elementary schools in the same district are disparate in their achievement, MAP scores and growth, then they need to find out why. The school board has full direction of the resources, so they should be able to work with the superintendent about redeploying resources to those schools; and it has to be an immediate, continuous improvement approach. And they have to care about every kid and settle for nothing less. Unless they get to that point where they are caring about every single kid, and they’re holding their leaders accountable for that, we won’t see any movement in closing the achievement gap. School boards should also go out and talk about the great things going on (in their schools). They should have reward programs for exceptional growth and highlight those schools that are getting exceptional growth. And then they should commit funds to help those teachers that are getting high exceptional growth to share it across schools and across hallways. (Those teachers) know why they got the achievement gains, and they should be held responsible for sharing that with other schools in that district. School board members have to get to the point that the achievement in one school doing well is not good enough. It matters when all of them are doing well and the board won’t settle until every single school has the Education Commissioner Brenda Cassellius said that Donald McAdams’s What School Boards Can Do should be required reading for all school board members.
same performance as the best-achieving school in their district. MSBA: What changes would you like to see in the No Child Left Behind law? BC: The ESEA law has to be changed. One, they could fully fund special education. They also need to get to the next generation of assessments – assessing on growth rather than assessing on this invalid, ridiculous accountability that they have. States need to have more flexibility on how to use their federal funds. We need to be funded on innovation. They also need to require some kind of state reporting around teacher effectiveness. The biggest things I’d like to see changed in ESEA are more local control, flexibility for states in using federal dollars, fewer mandates, a totally different AYP accountability measure and new assessments focused on growth. I do like the Promise Neighborhoods piece. I like being able to engage parents and community and the whole neighborhood. School boards can help with that engagement in their communities. Expanding that parent engagement Promise Neighborhoods piece would be wonderful. MSBA: What are your expectations for schools currently on the “Needs Improvement” list? BC: That they would take it very seriously, and that school boards would work very deliberately not only to resource those schools, but also to make sure that those teachers at those schools are very well prepared and highly effective, and that those schools have a highly effective principal. If school board members don’t take personal responsibility for turning around schools, it won’t get done. So they need to work with their superintendent to ensure, one, they have a great principal; two, they have a very experienced, capable staff; and three, that they are getting district-level support…specifically on instruction, because usually it’s about teachers who, in schools that are chronically underperforming, are usually really tired, they have tried everything and they can’t seem to find the right match. So, what we have to do is match up the right teachers, match up the right strategies and get that whole community again rallied around that school; and that’s really what works. MSBA: If there is another round to the Race to the Top, what would you change in the state’s application to give them a better shot to be finalists? BC: There won’t be another (Race to the Top for states), but there are going to be school district Races to the Top. If the money is reauthorized, it’s going to go to school districts; so it’s going to be very
Meet Brenda Cassellius Minnesota Department of Education Commissioner Dr. Brenda Cassellius was appointed to her post by Gov. Mark Dayton on December 31, 2010. Cassellius was selected by Gov. Dayton in part for being known and respected throughout her profession and across partisan lines as an innovative problem solver who is dedicated to serving the public interest. During her 20-year career as a classroom teacher, administrator and superintendent in school systems both in Minnesota and Tennessee, Cassellius led reform, redesign and change efforts that put students first, focused on achievement, and have resulted in better outcomes for all students. Cassellius believes that change can happen quickly if it is purposeful, collaborative and grounded in effective strategies. Cassellius was most recently the superintendent of the East Metro Integration District, where she led an achievement agenda with the 10 district superintendents. Previously, as an Associate Superintendent in the Minneapolis Public Schools, she led 19 middle and high schools and was responsible for the implementation of the Minneapolis Secondary Redesign. As the Academic Superintendent of Middle Schools in Memphis, Tennessee, under the leadership of former Minneapolis Superintendent Carol Johnson, Cassellius was responsible for middle school and district reforms that led to accelerated gains and the narrowing of achievement gaps among students in Memphis. Information courtesy of the Minnesota Department of Education.
interesting for school boards because they’ll be engaged with that process quite closely.
with the MCA; but if you don’t pass the MCA, then you’d only take the GRAD portion of the test for a retake.
The things I would ensure would be a strong principal evaluation component; a strong teacher evaluation component; a strong recruitment, retention and development component for teachers; and a strong data component to help teachers use a query model with professional learning communities in order to turn around data and look at it quickly and do timely interventions and flexible grouping, and give teachers the tools they need to be able to personalize and differentiate instruction in their classrooms, because that’s the only way you’ll get the kind of school turnaround that you need.
We’re still under that kind of moratorium of wait-and-seetry-three-times-get-remediation-if-you-don’t-pass-then-youstill-get-your-diploma. It’s currently being proposed in the House, and possibly the Senate, to repeal the GRAD and go back a year earlier. Well, that kind of goes back on the promise for the ninth-graders coming in to say “now you are going to be in under a new rule”…which isn’t fair.
That’s really what the Race to the Top money is: it’s about setting up the end-place systems to help schools succeed and help your most underperforming schools succeed. MSBA: What impact does the MCA-III math test have on the GRAD standards? Are the standards going to get more relaxed or harder? BC: The standards aren’t going to get more relaxed. The standards are the standards. You do have to pass both the GRAD portion and the MCA in terms of accountability, so kids are taking those tests. Depending on if they pass or not, the GRAD is imbedded within the MCA. I think they are still planning on the next iteration for the GRAD to be imbedded
We have to figure out something with our math exam because nearly 60 percent of our kids don’t pass it. Half of our kids not passing – what do you do? What’s Plan B? …I think when you look at the GRAD test and you think about possibly nearly 60 percent of your kids not getting a diploma after 13 years of teachers saying “the kid’s ready”…they’ve given 13 years of their life to school and because you take a one-hour test, and you don’t pass it, you now can negate all of that. And remember, we license our teachers…we say they’re professionals and they can give a grade for kids and pass them on. These are kids that have already received their credits, they’ve taken all these courses, and maybe the kids have gotten an A or a B, but maybe they don’t take standardized tests well – and we’re saying they don’t get a diploma. MAY/JUNE 2011
So, essentially we’re saying you don’t go to college, because you can’t go to college without a high school diploma. Then you’re also saying you can’t go to the military because you have to have a high school diploma to go to the military – they don’t accept GED any longer.
A Vision from the Top
So what is left for me to do for more than 50 percent of our kids? That’s 30,000 children…what are they going to do? The workforce doesn’t have that many “McDonald’s jobs.” When I was testifying last year on this, I asked “What’s the Plan B?” …I’m not supportive of any solutions unless they have solutions for what to do with the number of kids that are failing. I’m not saying lower standards (is the answer), but let’s figure it out how kids are going to meet these standards. If people want to keep these standards this high, then let’s be realistic about what that means. MSBA: Do you have any final messages to school board members? BC: This is a time in education when everybody’s deliberate involvement matters. It’s a time when school boards really have to be reform-minded. They need to be thinking about their governance structures and how involved they are with their superintendent, the policies they are setting and the resources they are casting out for the district in that leadership role.
The superintendent is the chief executive officer that they hired. They have to trust that individual to do the job and hold him or her accountable to do the job. There’s a great book called What School Boards Can Do by Donald R. McAdams. It talks about reform governance. It’s an urban school perspective, but I think it could be used anywhere. I would love for all board members to read this book. When I was studying to be a superintendent, I read this book. It’s such a great book for school districts to understand about reform governance, setting that strategic direction and organizing your district for success. It gives great step-by-step ideas about how to do that. When I was interviewed to become the superintendent at East Metro, I was asked, “What do you think the role is of the school board and the superintendent?” I said, “Well, the role of the school board is to set policy, to hire the superintendent, to set out the strategic direction and to dedicate resources – it’s the superintendent’s job to do everything else.” When there’s a really clear line like that, I think school boards and superintendents work really well together.
School boards have to be very clear with the superintendents about the strategic direction and the setting of the goals – and then they need to get out of the way and let the superintendents do the work. They need to set the strategic direction, set the goals, be very clear on mission…and create the systems and provide the resources so that the superintendent is set up for success.
blic School Spring Grove Pu Mariah Stone,
A Perfect Mathematical Storm: Changing the Face of Education Byron High School sophomore Emily Harris, watching a lesson video from a PLD.
Jen Hegna, Troy Faulkner, Rob Warneke, Jen Green, and Jeremy Baumbach
A perfect mathematical storm hit the Byron High School math department in the 2009-10 school year. We did not raise any alarms, but we are hoping it will raise student achievement. When the factors of needing to buy textbooks, not having money, seeing the push and benefit of online instructional tools, and creative teachers all combine, anything is possible, including bidding adieu to textbooks. We are a 9â€“12 high school with approximately 550 students, and three full-time and two parttime math teachers. Our old curriculum consisted of basic algebra, integrated math for 9th and 10th, Algebra 2, Accelerated Algebra 2, Pre-Calculus, Calculus I, and Statistics; we also offered intervention courses for Minnesota Comprehensive Assessments (MCA) preparation. An analysis of our student performance data and state standards prompted us to decide to return to more traditional Algebra I and Geometry curriculums, which would require purchasing new textbooks; minor content changes were planned for the upper-level courses. Our MCA
test scores were going up, but we wanted to continue that upward trend. As a data-driven district with a strong culture of continuous improvement, Byron High School received a 2010 Blue Ribbon Award for Excellence for our academic achievement. We were and are fortunate, but to be complacent with our performance will not continue our success. The storm began to build in the spring of 2010 when the math department began our curriculum writing cycle. As part of this cycle, we took a hard look at the current Minnesota math standards; we spent time determining which standards should be placed in which courses in order to ensure all standards were being taught. Ellen Delaney, former Minnesota Teacher of the Year, suggested that 70 percent of any textbook will actually cover Minnesotaâ€™s standards; we conducted our own survey and found this to be pretty accurate. This raised the question of the practicality of purchasing books that would not truly meet our needs. We also noted that our students really only used textbooks for
homework, instead relying on notes and the teachers for information. At this same time, the financial reality of not having money to purchase books hit home. Our math teachers had already attended a comprehensive Facilitating Online Learning with Moodle™ class and had been dabbling with Web 2.0 tools and SMART™ Board lesson recording. These two factors, along with a progressive IT department and supportive administration and school board, allowed the idea of ditching textbooks and creating our own blended curriculum to become a real conversation. This leap of faith wasn’t without serious consideration. What would be needed to actually make this idea become a reality? Internet access, logistics of learning management systems, and quality materials for homework and testing were necessary considerations; time, money, resources, and more time were all immediate obstacles we faced before moving forward. If they could be conquered, then the idea could become a reality. Technical considerations were the first defining factors in moving forward with this project. We knew from previous student surveys that 95 percent of our student body had high-speed Internet access. We also knew that we needed to house the content on a learning management system (LMS); previously, when working with other LMS vendors, quarterly student enrollments, drops, and adds were tedious and time consuming. To effectively implement online learning opportunities for the entire student body, we knew that we needed our own server to integrate with our internal Active Directory so that students’ usernames and passwords were synced automatically. It was also important that the district have full administrative privileges over any LMS so that plug-ins and add-ons or new features could be installed at the discretion of the district, not the LMS vendor. We chose Moodle, an open source LMS, to
house our courses. Establishing our own Moodle server and having a large student population with broadband Internet access propelled us to continue to move forward with our plan of creating blended courses without textbooks. While technical considerations were successfully addressed, time and feasibility remained concerning factors. Our planning and discussions started during weekly Professional Learning Community (PLC) meetings before school ended. In a typical curriculum writing cycle, each department member receives 32 paid hours of time to meet and work during the summer, but because of budget reductions, we were only given 20 hours of paid curriculum writing time in June. Additionally, we were awarded 12 paid hours from a local Best Practice grant. We were also awarded a Byron School District Fund for Excellence Grant from our school board to purchase materials and additionally compensate for some of our time. Beyond this paid time, we continued to meet every Friday all summer long to collaborate, problem solve, and encourage one another. By no means was this time enough; each department member worked a significant number of hours from home. The work continued during the first semester as we made videos and piloted the curriculums. Despite the time commitment, we agreed we were doing the right work for the right reasons. In searching the Internet, the growing availability of open source materials was a gold mine and one more obstacle conquered. Several key resources, such as HippoCampus™.org, cK12.org, GeoGebra interactives, and totallyfreemath.com (GetMath®.com), are available without copyright restrictions and provide quality materials free of charge. Our plan now began to seriously evolve. Algebra I and Geometry would be designed from scratch based on the state standards; lesson materials would be created using the available open source materials. While only minor content changes would be made to upper-level courses, all courses would receive substantial changes in delivery. Each course would have a Moodle site to house teacher-created video lessons, solution manuals, lesson notes, homework, and additional support materials. Video lessons were created by our instructors by utilizing the SMART Board SMART Recorder and uploading those videos to YouTube™. YouTube allowed us to stream our lectures to students for free. While we felt confident that lessons could be designed, developing quality homework sets was still a concern; therefore, with a portion of the Excellence grant, we purchased a three-year site license for Kuta™ software to generate homework and assessments.
Byron High School juniors Andrea Gilbertson and Janie Briggs, utilizing PLDs to watch videos and check online solution manual.
A Perfect Mathematical Storm: Changing the Face of Education
With our new courses in place and three-fourths of the year complete, the initial results have exceeded our expectations. Our students have completely taken to the new opportunities; 95 percent of students report they find the site helpful. They are regularly accessing the site for solution manuals and videos. We initially expected the videos to be used for making up missed classes and reviewing, but we have actually found that students are frequently using the videos for pre-teaching and reteaching. The availability of these materials in the privacy of students’ homes empowers them to take ownership and utilize the resources without worry of peer perception. Another surprising result is that Moodle and the videos have also opened the door for us to begin teaching with reverse classroom strategies. The reverse classroom approach has students watch the video lesson as homework and then utilize class time, where peer and teacher help are available, for the homework problems. This increases the learning by maximizing student access to teacher and peers while working. What really does this mean for instruction and education? These sites make learning available to students 24/7; the lesson videos actually make teachers available 24/7. The learning is available for students when THEY are ready for it, and this represents a huge shift in educational thinking. In our surveys, the top three times students reported using Moodle were in the evenings, after school, and on weekends; this allows students to learn on their schedule rather than being dependent on a teacher and the confines of the typical school day. Our students are downloading the videos to their smart phones and iPod touches; their lives are mobile, and we are packaging our curriculum to meet the needs of their lives. We have taken into consideration the students who may not have access to Internet or personal learning devices: our media center is open before school, after school, and during lunch. Video lessons can be put on flash drives or burned to CDs for students if necessary. We want these materials to be available to every student, and we will find ways to make that possible for our students. Another unexpected result has been the domino effect across grade levels and disciplines. Our middle school math department teaches a section of Accelerated Algebra I for eighth grade, so that instructor became a part of our evolution. As a result of his involvement, he is expanding the concepts to the rest of his eighth-grade classes, and in seeing his work, the seventh-grade team completed a five week Facilitating Online Learning with Moodle training and is currently implementing online instructional pieces. Presentations at the elementary and middle schools have sparked conversations about what these
ideas could mean at those levels. At the high school, other departments are beginning to look for places to add online components for their courses. The success and increased engagement of students and teachers continues to build interest throughout the entire district in expanding online opportunities. We are nowhere near the completion of this journey; in fact, there is no “completion” – which is the beauty of this process. We have created a living, breathing, flexible curriculum which can quickly and easily be modified to changing state standards and/or student needs. Our changes have also spilled over into the use of personal learning devices (cell phones, iPods, personal laptops, etc.), and our school is now reevaluating our policy toward these devices and considering their educational application. Now that our basic “frames” are built for all of our classes, we can all see ways to continue to build interactive components and collaboration within our sites that will only grow exponentially. As we emerge from the storm and flurry of our first year in this new curriculum, the work has been hard, but it has been the right work for the right reasons, which makes it all worthwhile. We are looking forward to the 21st century educational horizon, which looks innovative indeed. Writers for this article work for Byron Public Schools: Jen Hegna, Director of Information and Learning Technologies; Troy Faulkner, High School Mathematics Instructor and Data Coach; Rob Warneke, High School Mathematics Instructor and Data Coach; Jen Green, High School Language Arts and Mathematics Instructor; and Jeremy Baumbach, Middle School Mathematics Instructor and Data Coach.
The following dioramas are from Park Rapids Century Middle School, made by Mrs. Friborgâ€™s 6th grade Social Studies class studying a unit on the Dakota and Ojibwe Indians. The dioramas depict the lifestyles of the Native Americans as they adapted to living in Minnesota during the different seasons.
Olivia Fischer, Park Rapids Public School
PLANNING AND EXECUTING SUCCESSFUL REFERENDA IN THE NEW NORMAL: Overcoming Economic, Political, and Demographic Challenges
Challenge of 2011
Don E. Lifto, Ph.D. and J. Bradford Senden, Ph.D.
Planning and executing a successful school operating or bond referendum is one of the most multifaceted, daunting, and high-stakes leadership challenges faced by school leaders. Not only are school districts confronted with the increasingly vilified “T” word (taxes), but there are also myriad complex moving parts to manage, all within the byzantine mix of economic, demographic, political, and technological challenges. Success at the ballot box today will require that school leaders not only work hard, but also work smart – what political scientist and communication consultant Hal Malchow characterizes as moving from the “shadows of instinct and misinformation…into the sunshine of information and knowledge.” In this article we will discuss these four powerful drivers – the economy, demographics, politics and
Ally Vaudrin, Park Rapids Public School
technology; their affect on referendum planning in 2011; and some strategies and approaches to plan for success.
“It’s the Economy, Stupid!” Bill Clinton’s campaign advisor, James Carville, made this poignant statement forever part of the lexicon of political language and strategy that helped Clinton prevail in the 1992 presidential election. Within the context of referendum planning, responding to the economic challenges can be highlighted with a time-honored “good news/bad news” joke. First the good news: Consumer confidence has improved four of the past five months, with the index now sitting at 63.4 as of March 2011. Now for the bad news: Consumer confidence dropped in March to its lowest level in a year, and for most of 2004-2007 the confidence
Rachel Palmer, Park Rapids Public School
Enna Boos, Park Rapids Public School
index was over 100! Things are improving, but the economy has a ways to go. Unfortunately, current economic challenges also go well beyond the psyche of the voters, resulting in eroding state support for public schools, more stress on relationships with employee bargaining groups, and school districts that are increasingly pitted against local units of government at both the legislature and the ballot box. On the heels of an anemic, protracted recovery, we offer a few suggestions to consider as you plan your referendum within the context of the current economy: • If you have the option to wait for better times, then by all means wait. • Use survey research and other data collection strategies to get a better understanding of what residents most value and how much they are willing to invest in their public schools. The goal is to achieve optimal alignment between what the school board ultimately puts on the ballot and what is potentially achievable. • Focus on “meat and potatoes” proposals and keep your ballot proposal (and corresponding tax bite) as lean as you can. • Translate messages in terms of impact on students. (For example, the message that the district had to cut $3 million in the last two years in and of itself means nothing to the average voter.) • Remind voters that this is a local tax; every dollar raised within the school district will be spent on educational programs in the district and benefit local students.
The Demographics of Counting Although there are exceptions, most school districts are being hit with a demographic “triple whammy.” The number of children under 18 is smaller than in the past, as is the percentage of households with school-age children. The baby boomlet of the 1980s and 1990s has finished its K–12 education and moved into the workforce. At the same time, their parents – who had been a large, reliable source of “yes” votes on school proposals – have new concerns. Now in a category we will label “alumni parents,” their primary focus on public education has shifted to concerns about the cost of college and retirement. As the parent cohort of registered voters shrinks, the potential impact of the reliable “yes” voting bloc has continued to weaken. At the same time, the alumni parent population often demonstrates its new priorities by voting against operating and bond proposals. While these factors are out of the control of school leaders, their presence will require more thoughtful and thorough planning. There are a number of strategies related to effective use of the voter file and counting including these: • Obtain a voter file from the Secretary of State’s office and then “annotate” it by merging other databases into the voter file (e.g., parents, education foundation contributors, pre-school families, and past supporters from other school finance campaigns). • Once the file is annotated, prepare a “count book” so that you know the numbers and percentages of all registered voters and demographic subgroups. • Complete a scientific, random-sample survey of registered voters drawn from the annotated file to evaluate the MAY/JUNE 2011
Planning and Executing Successful Referenda in The New Normal
feasibility of a ballot proposal across all key demographic groups, including alumni parents. • Based on the survey results, construct a targeting structure (e.g., Target 1 is the group of voters most likely to vote “yes” who are also more likely to show up on Election Day, while Target 2 is the second most positive bloc.) Count each of these targets to determine how deeply into the voter file the campaign must penetrate to win. • Develop and implement a well-designed canvassing, communication, and get-out-the-vote plan based on the identified target structure.
Politics of Tea The TeaParty.net website states the core values of this movement, which was spawned in aftermath of the 2008 general election and in reaction to increasing federal deficits and the health reform debate. Key principles emphasized at this site include the values of a limited federal government, individual freedom, personal responsibility, free markets, and the return of political power to the states and the people. These values have long been associated with conservative voters. While none of these values are, on the surface, incompatible with supporting the financial needs of public schools, those leading this movement clearly are more likely to be critical of the quality of public schools and public employee unions, more reluctant to provide funding increases, and suspicious of laws or policies that are believed to shift power away from parents to “government schools.”
The problem for school districts, of course, goes well beyond the Tea Party, and more generally can be characterized as a political shift to the right. Welldesigned, scientific, random-sample surveys can be used to test messages to see how different demographic groups differ in terms of their reaction to specific arguments, words, phrases, and factors relevant to a ballot question. What elements of your proposal resonate most positively with different groups, including older and more conservative voters? A good survey can help answer these questions by processing respondent data using the classification tree features of SPSS for Windows. (See “School Tax Elections: Testing Messages and Targeting Voters,” in the December 2010 issue of School Business Affairs, for more information on this strategy.) While the reaction to the local and state political climate will differ from district to district, good planning should consider how to manage this evolving political environment when planning a ballot proposal. • Develop communication plans that include both core messages with broad appeal (i.e., for everyone) and targeted messages for different types of voters including the growing conservative base. • Look for strong endorsers from traditionally conservative groups (e.g., Republican, Chamber of Commerce, etc.). • Encourage diversity in terms of demographics and political orientation in the makeup of an advocacy group organized to support passage of your proposal.
One example will illustrate. We conducted a scientific, random-sample survey in a suburban Minnesota school district in November 2010. One of the questions asked respondents whether they considered themselves part of the Tea Party movement. Although only 10.3 percent of registered voters self-reported as Tea Party advocates, their reaction to the district’s potential operating referendum proposal was starkly different from that of the rest of the voters in the district. Four hundred respondents were asked if they would support a tax increase of $200 on an average-priced home. Overall, 47.2 percent responded “yes.” Among voters aligning themselves with the Tea Party movement, however, only 25.3 percent said “yes,” a whopping 21.9 percent difference to the negative. Lydia Christensen, Park Rapids Public School
• Seek professional help as needed to maximize the effectiveness of message development and media, recognizing the attention span of many parents and other supporters is limited. Harness the power of technology to more effectively execute a comprehensive, aggressive, and research-based get-out-the-vote campaign. In particular, review the work done by the Yale University Civic Engagement Project for research and successful practices to improve get-out-thevote performance. Lydia Kantonen, Park Rapids Public School
From Research to Practice About Face or Tweeting to Victory In promoting The Social Network, an advertisement read, “You Don’t Get to 500 Million Friends Without Making a Few Enemies.” How true that is with the escalating impact of technology on school referenda. One day you launch a new Facebook® page with referendum information complete with YouTube™ video links, and the next day the campaign is attacked by 10,000 negative robocalls and a vicious viral e-mail. Such is the opportunity and challenge of our rapidly changing technological resources. From a positive point of view, technology provides the school district and campaign committee with an opportunity to reach a broader audience (e.g., younger voters) and deliver key messages more effectively with improved graphics and broader media including video. From a negative point of view, one critic on a shoestring budget can do significant damage using applications such as robocalls, social media, blogs, and viral e-mail. A campaign’s e-mail response to a citizen’s criticism can be edited and distributed massively in seconds at no cost. Planning to use technology to the district’s advantage while minimizing the negative use of the same technology is an essential part of effective referendum planning. • Always start with a comprehensive, data-driven communication plan identifying core and subordinate messages. Then select the most appropriate traditional and technological media to deliver each message. In other words, don’t let the technology tail wag the message dog. • Using the analogy of graduation requirements, effective use of technology to deliver your message via multiple media is now a required – rather than elective – course. • Campaign committees will need to pay increasing attention to monitoring the technology applications of detractors (e.g., blogs) to ensure negative messages are immediately responded to with positive posts.
The reality is that unsuccessful operating and facility referenda adversely impact students, staff, and the community as a whole. In the wake of the “pain and blame” aftermath, failed elections can also take a significant toll on the leadership roles of the school board and superintendent, making it even more difficult to pass an election in the future. As the number of school-age families continues to shrink and voters are more tightfisted with their hard-earned dollars, school leaders will have to increasingly be students of research and successful practice. Planning and executing a successful operating or bond referendum in 2011 within the context of unprecedented economic, demographic, political, and technology obstacles will demand thoughtful and strategic planning to minimize and ameliorate these four powerful forces. Understanding that the margins will be slim between winning and losing, success on Election Day will require better planning and execution and a focused investment of time, talent, and treasure directed “…toward strategies that actually produce votes” (Yale Civic Engagement website). Don E. Lifto, Ph.D., is senior vice president and director of the Public Education Group at Springsted Incorporated. Lifto previously served as a superintendent for 25 years in rural, suburban, and intermediate school districts. He has had more than a dozen articles published by NSBA, AASA, and ASBO and is coauthor of School Finance Elections: A Comprehensive Planning Model for Success, 2nd Edition. J. Bradford Senden, Ph.D., is managing partner at The Center for Community Opinion. He has more than 20 years of experience as a survey research and campaign planning specialist working with school districts planning school finance elections. He has had more than a dozen articles published by NSBA, AASA, and ASBO and is coauthor of School Finance Elections: A Comprehensive Planning Model for Success, 2nd Edition.
Communicating to Your
The Minnesota School Public Relations Association (MinnSPRA) recently awarded Minnetonka Public School Board member Pam Langseth with the Excellence in School Board Communications Award; and West St. PaulMendota Heights-Eagan Area Superintendent Jay Haugen with the District Leadership for Excellence in Communication Award. Here is some of their insight on using communication effectively with your community.
Janet Swiecichowski and Jake Sturgis
As a board member, how important is it to have good communication with the public?
Pam: Communicating with our public is vitally important to our success as a school district. It is important that our community understands what our district is trying to accomplish, understands how they can be engaged to be supportive of kids and understands where weâ€™re headed so they can support the initiatives overall. What is the role of a board in supporting school communications?
Aly Deneen, Spring Grove Public School
Pam: School board members are important to establish a vision for where the district is headed. Partnering with the communications team is vital to develop strategies and goals around what we want to communicate about. Most importantly, really helping to put together key messages, working together to get out in the community, talking with people, sharing the message, listening to feedback coming back to the organization, and then truly being supportive of whatâ€™s happening within the communications team so we all know what is happening. During tough budget times, how important is the investment in communications?
Pam: Communication is so important no
Minnetonka School Board Chair Pam Langseth was awarded the Excellence in School Board Communications Award by Minnesota School Public Relations President Robin Smothers. Accompanying Langseth is Minnetonka Superintendent Dennis Peterson.
matter what is going on, especially in tough times. People have so many questions around why we are doing what we are doing. And communication is really the key to unlocking the information for people so they understand what we are doing, why we are
doing it, when we’re doing it, and how can they be involved in making things happen. Probably in times of challenge, communication is more important than ever, so the investment we make in communications is vitally important at that time.
What makes for a good communications strategy?
Pam: Putting together a great communications plan is about understanding the audience that you are going to communicate to, understanding the issues that they are concerned about, understanding what it is we need to explain to them and helping them understand. Putting all of these pieces together allows us to create a good communications strategy and plan so that people are well-informed. They understand what we are doing, why we are doing it, when are we doing it and how it impacts them. That’s very important for a communications strategy.
Talk about the role of marketing and its effect on open enrollment.
Pam: Public education is very challenging and the state is facing a funding crisis. Part of what our board is focusing on is, how can we create a great education system, how can we create excellence for all children in all different areas? As a result, it’s allowed families to see what we are doing, to see excellence that we are allowing our children to achieve and the types of success they are having. It has attracted students to our district. Open enrollment is important to us maintaining the programs we have in place, keeping the buildings we have open, and retaining all of the staff we have. Without those students and the funding that comes along with them, all of those things would be at risk. So it’s an important piece for our model to maintain the success in our school district.
What is the most critical part to communicating about change?
Jay: Communication is critical even to the school improvement process. It doesn’t matter how good your plan is, doesn’t matter how good your resources are to do that, it doesn’t matter how good your implementation is – if your parents don’t buy it and your community doesn’t value it, it’s not happening. They’ll find a million ways to stop you from doing what you need to do – even if it’s a good improvement for students. So we need communications to get out in the community and get them to value it, to get them to understand the change we want to make and understand why we think it’s important and believe it is important. If they do that, they will
start demanding that we make the change we actually want to make. It’s just a natural way to make sure we are successful with the things we need to change to make all students successful in the 21st century.
How do you deal with resistance to change?
Jay: Making change in schools is difficult. There is a lot of resistance. We need power, force and leadership to promote change. One thing that can help with that is our community. If parents were demanding the change they want to see and it is the change our leaders see we need in our schools, then if parents expect that change and talk to teachers about that change and other education professionals and are energized about the change, it just makes the change happen much more readily. It actually makes something hard to do turn into something easy and natural. And it’s communication that gets you to that point. Talk about communication in a large and a small district.
Jay: You start as a superintendent in a small district without any kind of communications team. In a small district, you ARE the communications team. I didn’t know about getting out in front with messages or even creating messages. And sometimes you have missteps. So you put a lot of resources and efforts into planning for something that will be good for your community, but they don’t understand it. And next thing you know, there’s a groundswell to end something that you put time, resources and a lot of yourself in that change. That’s happened to me more than once. Now that I’m in a district with a great communications team, I’m really able to get out in front of some of those messages. We’ve gone through some terrific change. It’s causing excitement, it’s causing growth in enrollment, it’s causing a lot of parents to be thrilled with the education their child is getting. And that has come about because we led with good communication. So I really understand both sides. No matter what the size of the district, you need to pay attention to good communication and have a plan for it. And if you are in a small district, you can always call on MinnSPRA to provide some of that leadership. Janet Swiecichowski is the executive director of communications for the Minnetonka School District. Jake Sturgis is the visual communications coordinator for the Minnetonka School District. You can contact them at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.
School boards all across Minnesota are looking for ways to trim costs, particularly with education budgets stretched like never before. So when that salesperson comes knocking with promises of big energy savings from facilities upgrades, it’s hardly surprising that school officials perk up their ears.
But here’s a word to the wise: look (closely) before you leap. Don’t believe just because that salesperson is representing a familiar firm that he has your school district’s best interests at heart. And, most of all, don’t assume anyone else – including state officials or your own legal counsel – has you totally covered either. Ultimate responsibility falls locally on local school boards. Unsuspecting school districts all over the state are falling victim to overblown promises of reduced operating costs as a result of costly energy projects. What starts out as a simple facility assessment can easily turn into an energy conservation project (“the hook”), and morph from there into a multimillion-dollar mechanical system replacement project that can quickly have taxpayers in your community up in arms.
Kelsey Bratland, Spring Grove Public School
For Guaranteed Energy Savings Projects,
it’s Buyer Beware 24
Companies, including major companies your district may be working with right now, are luring school boards in with offers of facility evaluations for a fee that ranges from $15,000–$30,000. Nobody would disagree with the usefulness of a good evaluation, and it seems like a good deal for school districts, particularly in an era of rising energy costs. But keep in mind that the so-called “evaluation” is the bait. Once you bite, you can get hooked, because those evaluations are quickly followed up with plans to upgrade your energy efficiency, often with promises of savings that pay for it all. And if districts promise to hire the same company to complete the work, they will even waive your evaluation fee (the cost of which they bury within the larger project). It can all seem too good to be true – and often, it is. Representatives of such companies may come with fancy titles and a winning personality, but that shouldn’t stop school officials from doing their due diligence, and that means finding the unbiased expertise to help school boards understand the often complex contracts these companies will offer. While they may claim big energy savings, school officials need to check the fine print and question assumptions. Watch for savings estimates that are skewed with unrealistic inflation rates and unmeasured savings figures that are typically not verified by anyone. As for savings that are supposed to be verifiable, these contracts typically require school districts to hire the same company to do the measurements. It’s the fox guarding the henhouse, and school districts have to pay the fox to do it! And even if the company reports that savings didn’t measure up, public entities, like school districts, may have trouble getting the company to make up the difference. The contracts usually come with a long list of limitations and parameters that virtually guarantee the company can wiggle out of their commitment if and when actual savings fall short of their
promises. If you adjust thermostats at any time, or operate your buildings and equipment beyond the hours or parameters of the contract, your guarantees might not be worth the paper they’re printed on. To top things off, if a school board catches on after the contracts are signed, there are often no termination clauses, even for cause.
Projects can carry hefty price tags Many energy savings projects include the installation of new boilers, controls and building envelope work – and range in cost from $1 million to $4 million, although they can go much higher. Most professionals in the industry agree that moving from steam to hot water is a good energy conservation idea, as long as those existing systems are no longer functioning properly and beginning to cost more to maintain than to replace. While a school district’s desire to reduce maintenance costs is understandable, school officials need to be sure that those savings aren’t eaten up by unexpected fees or big-ticket addons. These energy contractors are charging fees that range from 17 to 25 percent – even on work that is traditionally done by the owner. The use of these “one-stop shops” should actually cost districts less, given the fact that it should eliminate duplications of effort! And that’s not all you lose. This program management contracting methodology eliminates all project “checks and balances” – a huge necessity in public work. Not only that, it’s rumored that these companies are using non-disclosure agreements with those who sub-contract with them, such as engineers, architects, construction managers and even the commissioning agents who are not allowed to speak freely to the clients themselves. Boards are not told of other options available that can save millions – options such as using the more traditional project delivery method of hiring separately for engineering and construction management, which typically totals around 10 to 14 percent and includes reimbursable expenses, etc. Not only is the more traditional delivery cheaper, it leaves intact those imperative project “checks and balances” to ensure boards get everything completed “above board.” Often, energy contractors require that customers install the mechanical and heating systems they sell, and guarantees that supposedly come with those systems require that customers hire that same contractor for ongoing maintenance of the systems. The fees associated with this service can be steep, and if you check the fine print, you’ll often find they come with automatic annual price escalators that can quickly devour any operational savings. School districts right here in Minnesota have signed contracts that promised annual savings, but included maintenance agreements that cost three times more than what districts stood to save.
Unfortunately, it can get much worse. When school districts opt for a boiler upgrade, they may find their contractor coming at them with yet another even more costly pitch, including claims that code requires districts to upgrade all mechanical ventilation systems if a new heating system is installed. This can push project costs far higher, as much as eight times higher. If you’re not careful, one small boiler replacement can soon turn into a multi-million-dollar project and before you know it, you’re signing contract(s). Just imagine how taxpayers will react when they discover the news! While your ventilation system may or may not meet today’s standards, state code does not require that ventilation systems be updated simply because a new boiler is installed. Often, claims to the contrary are made by energy service companies in hopes of qualifying such projects for the health and safety exemption on school district bonding. School boards may be tempted because this doesn’t require voter approval, but lack of a choice often makes taxpayers all the more upset. And when such projects aren’t well-designed, or when school boards have been taken for an obvious ride, taxpayers have a right to be angry. While all agree that a certain amount of air per occupant is a good thing for students and teachers alike, school boards need to balance such considerations against the impact of higher local taxes at a time of economic stress. The bottom line for school officials is this: Don’t take a salesperson’s word for it. A healthy bit of skepticism is in order. Be aware of the following: • Just because the MDE gives the green light to a school district’s project through their Review and Comment process doesn’t mean they have reviewed the fine print, or that they have verified the claims made by a consultant. That’s not their job. • Your attorney may review the legal terms of your contracts with a contractor or consultant, but he or she may not be knowledgeable on the fees, standards and conditions typical in the construction industry. Just because an attorney approves a contract doesn’t mean it’s a good deal. • State officials who oversee licensing and codes will only review plans and specs to verify what work is actually being done and that it meets code. Don’t look for them to alert you to projects that are too costly or unnecessary. • Districts can realize substantial fee savings by using more traditional project delivery methods. Energy savings are still realized and districts gain back transparency and checks and balances. • Districts may utilize services from the Department of Commerce who will verify energy savings promised. More often than not, these services aren’t utilized by school districts. Finally, school officials should ensure adequate separation between the various components of any major project. Just as school districts must ensure segregation of duties in financial affairs, school boards must strive to avoid contracts where MAY/JUNE 2011
every aspect of the project is overseen by a single entity. To avoid conflicts of interest, school districts should ensure that all the major players in any project work directly for them, not for the energy services firm.
For Guaranteed Energy Savings Projects, it’s Buyer Beware
While the “one-stop shop” approach being used by some companies may seem like the easy route, school officials often don’t realize how expensive such arrangements can be – and how their interests can take a back seat to the program management firm. Don’t let it happen to your school district.
At the very least, boards should hire someone with experience and expertise in matters of construction contracting to assist with the review and negotiations of such contracts. Such experts can be found simply by asking. If this all sounds complicated, rest assured, it is. But when millions of taxpayer dollars are at stake, school officials have a responsibility to make sure they are doing the best job possible for the public they represent. Taxpayers, and voters, expect no less. Deb Metz is president of Metz Construction Management, Inc. You can reach her with your comments at firstname.lastname@example.org
Katie Schliech, Spring Grove Public School
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MSBA’s VENDOR DIRECTORY MSBA’s Vendor Directory helps connect school districts with the products and services they need. The directory is always at your fingertips. You’ll find it printed in the back of every Journal magazine as well as on the MSBA Web site at www.mnmsba.org. Most listings in the Web version of this directory include a link so you can head instantly to a Web site or e-mail address. The directory includes everything you need to know to contact a company quickly—phone numbers, fax numbers and addresses—in an easy-to-read format. If you have a service or product you would like included in this directory, please contact Sue Munsterman at 507-934-2450 or email@example.com. Actuary Hildi Incorporated (Jill Urdahl) 11800 Singletree Lane, Suite 305 Minneapolis, MN 55344 952-934--5554, Fax 952-934-3027 www.hildiinc.com firstname.lastname@example.org Van Iwaarden Associates (Jim Van Iwaarden) 10 South Fifth Street, Suite 840 Minneapolis, MN 55402-1010 612-596-5960, Fax 612-596-5999 www.vaniwaarden.com www.gasb45opeb.com email@example.com Architects/Engineers/Facility Planners Architects Rego + Youngquist inc. (Paul Youngquist) 7601 Wayzata Blvd., Suite 200 St. Louis Park, MN 55426 952-544-8941, Fax 952-544-0585 www.aryarch.com firstname.lastname@example.org ATS&R Planners/Architects/Engineers (Paul W. Erickson) 8501 Golden Valley Rd., Suite 300 Minneapolis, MN 55427 763-545-3731 Fax 763-525-3289 www.atsr.com email@example.com Cuningham Group Architecture, P.A. (Judith Hoskens) 201 Main Street SE, Suite 325 Minneapolis, MN 55414 612-379-3400, Fax 612-379-4400 www.cuningham.com firstname.lastname@example.org DLR Group KKE (Jennifer Anderson-Tuttle) 520 Nicollet Mall, Suite 200 Minneapolis, MN 55402 612-977-3552, Fax 612-977-3600 www.dlrgroup.com email@example.com GLTArchitects (David Leapaldt) 808 Courthouse Square St. Cloud, MN 56303 320-252-3740, Fax 320-255-0683 www.gltarchitects.com firstname.lastname@example.org ICS Consulting, Inc. (Pat Overom) 5354 Edgewood Drive Mounds View, MN 55112 28
763-354-2670, Fax 763-780-2866 www.ics-consult.com email@example.com INSPEC, INC. (Fred King) 5801 Duluth St. Minneapolis, MN 55422 763-546-3434, Fax 763-546-8669 www.inspec.com firstname.lastname@example.org MSBA Playground Compliance Program (in partnership with National Playground Compliance Group, LLC) (Tim Mahoney) PO Box 506 Carlisle, IA 50047 866-345-6774, Fax 515-989-0344 www.nssi-usa.com email@example.com Paulsen Architects (Bryan Paulsen) 209 S. Second Street, Suite 201 Mankato, MN 56001 507-388-9811, Fax 507-388-1751 www.paulsenarchitects.com firstname.lastname@example.org Perkins + Will (Steve Miller) 84 10th Street S., Suite 200 Minneapolis, MN 55403 612-851-5094, Fax 612-851-5001 www.perkinswill.com email@example.com TSP, Inc. (Rick Wessling) 18707 Old Excelsior Blvd. Minneapolis, MN 55345 952-474-3291, Fax 952-474-3928 www.teamtsp.com firstname.lastname@example.org Wold Architects and Engineers (Scott McQueen) 305 St. Peter Street St. Paul, MN 55102 651-227-7773, Fax 651-223-5646 www.woldae.com email@example.com Athletic Sports Floors/Surfacing MSBA Playground Compliance Program (in partnership with National Playground Compliance Group, LLC) (Tim Mahoney) PO Box 506 Carlisle, IA 50047 866-345-6774, Fax 515-989-0344 www.nssi-usa.com firstname.lastname@example.org
Attorneys Kennedy & Graven Chartered (Neil Simmons) 200 South Sixth Street, Suite 470 Minneapolis, MN 55402 612-337-9300, Fax 612-337-9310 www.kennedy-graven.com email@example.com Knutson, Flynn & Deans, P.A. (Thomas S. Deans) 1155 Centre Pointe Dr., Suite 10 Mendota Heights, MN 55120 651-222-2811, Fax 651-225-0600 www.kfdmn.com firstname.lastname@example.org Pemberton, Sorlie, Rufer & Kershner, PLLP (Mike Rengel) 110 N. Mill Fergus Falls, MN 56537 218-736-5493, Fax 218-736-3950 www.pemlaw.com email@example.com Ratwik, Roszak & Maloney, P.A. (Kevin J. Rupp) 730 2nd Ave. S., Suite 300 Minneapolis, MN 55402 612-339-0060, Fax 612-339-0038 www.ratwiklaw.com firstname.lastname@example.org Construction Mgmt. & Products Bossardt Corporation (John Bossardt) 8300 Norman Center Drive, Suite 770 Minneapolis, MN 55437 952-831-5408 or 800-290-0119 Fax 952-831-1268 www.bossardt.com email@example.com Contegrity Group, Inc. (Pete Filippi) 101 1st Street SE Little Falls, MN 56345 320-632-1940, Fax 320-632-2810 www.contegritygroup.com firstname.lastname@example.org Donlar Construction Company (Jon Kainz) 550 Shoreview Park Road Shoreview, MN 55126 651-227-0631, Fax 651-227-0132 www.donlarcorp.com email@example.com ICS Consulting, Inc. (Pat Overom) 5354 Edgewood Drive Mounds View, MN 55112 763-354-2670, Fax 763-780-2866 www.ics-consult.com firstname.lastname@example.org
Kraus-Anderson Construction Co. (Mark Phillips) PO Box 158 Circle Pines, MN 55014 763-786-7711, Fax 763-786-2650 www.krausanderson.com email@example.com MSBA Playground Compliance Program (in partnership with National Playground Compliance Group, LLC) (Tim Mahoney) PO Box 506 Carlisle, IA 50047 866-345-6774, Fax 515-989-0344 www.nssi-usa.com firstname.lastname@example.org Educational Programs/Services Minnesota State Academies for the Deaf and Blind (Linda Mitchell) 615 Olof Hanson Dr. PO Box 308 Faribault, MN 55021-0308 800-657-3996/507-384-6602 Fax 507-332-5528 www.msa.state.mn.us email@example.com Employee Assistance Program (EAP) The Sand Creek Group, Ltd. (Gretchen M. Stein) 610 N. Main Street, #200 Stillwater, MN 55082 651-430-3383, Fax 651-430-9753 www.sandcreekeap.com firstname.lastname@example.org Energy Solutions Johnson Controls, Inc. (Arif Quraishi) 2605 Fernbrook Lane N., Suite T Plymouth, MN 55447 763-585-5043, Fax 763-566-2208 www.johnsoncontrols.com email@example.com Financial Management MSBA-Sponsored Administration and Compliance Service (A&C Service) Administration and Compliance Service (Paige McNeal, Educators Benefit Consultants, LLC) 888-507-6053/763-552-6053 Fax 763-552-6055 www.ebcsolutions.com firstname.lastname@example.org MSBA-Sponsored Lease Purchase Program Tax Exempt Lease Purchase Program (Mary Webster, Wells Fargo Securities, LLC) 800-835-2265, ext. 73110 612-667-3110 Fax 612-316-3309 www.mnmsba.org email@example.com
MSBA-Sponsored MNTAAB (MN Tax and Aid Anticipation Borrowing Program) MNTAAB (DeeDee Kahring, Springsted, Inc.) 800-236-3033/651-223-3099 Fax 651-223-3002 www.springsted.com firstname.lastname@example.org MSBA-Sponsored P-Card (Procurement Card) Program P-Card Program 800-891-7910/314-878-5000 Fax 314-878-5333 www.powercardpfm.com MSBA-Sponsored SchoolFinances.com SchoolFinances.com (Jim Sheehan, Ann Thomas) Sheehan: 952-435-0990 Thomas: 952-435-0955 www.schoolfinances.com email@example.com firstname.lastname@example.org PaySchools (Patrick Ricci) 6000 Grand Ave. Des Moines, IA 50312 281-545-1957, Fax: 515-243-4992 www.payschools.com email@example.com PFM Asset Management, LLC MSDLAF+ (Donn Hanson) 45 South 7th Street, Suite 2800
Minneapolis, MN 55402 612-371-3720, Fax 612-338-7264 www.msdlaf.org firstname.lastname@example.org Food Service Products & Services Lunchtime Solutions, Inc. (Chris Goeb) 717 N. Derby Lane North Sioux City, SD 57049 605-254-3725, Fax 605-235-0942 www.lunchtimesolutions.com email@example.com Taher, Inc. (Monique Navarrette) 5570 Smetana Dr. Minnetonka, MN 55343 952-358-2188, Fax 952-945-0444 www.taher.com firstname.lastname@example.org Insurance Minnesota School Boards Association Insurance Trust (MSBAIT) (Denise Drill, John Sylvester, Amy Fullenkamp-Taylor) 1900 West Jefferson Avenue St. Peter, MN 56082-3015 800-324-4459, Fax 507-931-1515 www.mnmsba.org www.msbait.org email@example.com firstname.lastname@example.org email@example.com
Playgrounds MSBA Playground Compliance Program (in partnership with National Playground Compliance Group, LLC) (Tim Mahoney) PO Box 506 Carlisle, IA 50047 866-345-6774, Fax 515-989-0344 www.nssi-usa.com firstname.lastname@example.org Roofing Four Seasons Energy Efficient Roofing, Inc. (Darrell Schaapveld) 1410 Quant Ave. North Marine on St.Croix, MN 55047 651-433-2443, Fax 651-433-2834 www.fseer.com email@example.com Software Systems PaySchools (Patrick Ricci) 6000 Grand Ave. Des Moines, IA 50312 281-545-1957, Fax 515-243-4992 www.payschools.com firstname.lastname@example.org Skyward, Inc. 868 3rd Street South, Suite 101 Waite Park, MN 56387 800-236-7274 www.skyward.com
Technology PaySchools (Patrick Ricci) 6000 Grand Ave. Des Moines, IA 50312 281-545-1957, Fax 515-243-4992 www.payschools.com email@example.com Transportation Hoglund Bus Co., Inc. (Jason Anderson) PO Box 249 Monticello, MN 55362 763-271-8750 www.hoglundbus.com firstname.lastname@example.org North Central Bus & Equipment (Sandy Ethen) 2629 Clearwater Road South St. Cloud, MN 56301 320-257-1209, Fax 320-252-3561 www.northcentralinc.com email@example.com Telin Transportation Group (Jamie Romfo) 14990 Industry Avenue Becker, MN 55308 866-287-7278, Fax 763-262-3332 www.telingroup.com firstname.lastname@example.org
Advertisers ATS&R...........................................................................Page 29 DLR Group KKE ..........................................................Page 17
Named Kennedy & Graven Chartered ....................................Page 13
2009 & 2010 Best Print Publication
Knutson, Flynn & Deans, P.A. .......................................Page 2 MSBA Capitol Compass ...............................................Page 13 MSBA Policy Services ...................................................Page 32
by the Minnesota School Public Relations Association
Cited for “Comprehensive Coverage” “Impressive Student Artwork”
MSDLAF+ .....................................................................Page 30 Ratwik, Roszak & Maloney, P.A. .................................Page 27 Skyward, Inc....................................................................Page 7
Brought to you by YOUR MSBA
Telin Transportation Group ........................................Page 26
Since 1984, the MSDLAF+ Fund has offered competitive investment options to Minnesota schools and related entities. As you proceed through the coming months remember that MSDLAF+ provides:
• Unlimited number of accounts and no minimum investment requirement
• Check writing, next day ACH, and same day fed wiring all at no additional charge
• Variable- and fixed-rate investment options
• Professionally managed investment portfolio
• A simplified manner of monitoring collateral
• A dedicated client service team Carole Loehr Senior Managing Consultant 320-202-1421 email@example.com
Richard Lorenz Senior Sales Representative 507-327-4144 firstname.lastname@example.org
Donn Hanson Senior Managing Consultant 612-371-3720 email@example.com
This information does not represent an offer to sell or a solicitation of an offer to buy or sell any fund or other security. Investors should consider the investment objectives, risks, charges and expenses before investing in any of the Fund's series. This and other information about the Fund's series is available in the Fund's current Information Statement, which should be read carefully before investing. A copy of the Fund's Information Statement may be obtained by calling 1-888-4-MSDLAF or is available on the Fund's website at www.msdlaf.org. While the MSDLAF+ Liquid Class and MAX Class seek to maintain a stable net asset value of $1.00 per share and the MSDLAF+ TERM series seeks to achieve a net asset value of $1.00 per share at its stated maturity, it is possible to lose money investing in the Fund. An investment in the Fund is not insured or guaranteed by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation or any other government agency. Shares of the Fund are distributed by PFM Fund Distributors, Inc., member Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) (www.finra.org). PFM Fund Distributors, Inc. is a wholly owned subsidiary of PFM Asset Management LLC. Member SIPC.
SMART INSURANCE FOR YOUR DISTRICT
Gary Lee, Associate Director of Management Services What types of insurance does a school district need? This question is first addressed by determining what assets and resources you want to protect. For school districts, these items are property and buildings, employees, students, community members and financial holdings. Additionally, many master agreements have insurance language that requires specific action by the school district. From this perspective, districts can purchase insurance products to fit their requirements. General categories of insurance that cover these identified resources are: Property and Casualty (P&C), Workers Compensation (WC), School Leaders Liability, Health, Life, and Long-Term Disability (LTD). This may look like a nice, concise list, but the issues that arise are in the details. Much like buying a car, they all come with standard equipment of varying quality, and they also have a seemingly endless list of optional upgrades. Many of these options are determined by the local requirements and environment of the school district. There is not a one-size-fits-all solution for buying insurance. The key to making this
decision is to be an informed consumer How does a school board make a and have a knowledgeable advocate that decision on selecting an insurance carrier with limited knowledge? can assist the school district in this decision. Many decisions that school boards The school district also needs to decide make require a level of trust in the administrator they have hired, and this which insurance coverage warrants an is probably one of them. investment in time and analysis of administrative staff and/or school board What the school board can do is ask the members. school district’s administration various general questions concerning the Life and LTD are relatively straightforward and, in terms of impact insurance company and the policy. In doing so, they are verifying that on the annual budget, they are not as administration has asked the similar significant. Even though Life and LTD questions of the prospective vendors in do not have the budget significance, school districts should not downplay the arriving at a recommendation. importance of an adequate LTD plan Also, having the agent or company for the 30 percent of Americans that representative address the board at a will need it before retirement. The key meeting will allow the school board to is having a trusted agent/advocate that get a general idea of the support they can direct the school district to the can expect. The “common points” listed right purchasing choice. earlier in this article are excellent starting questions for both What are some common concerns to administration and an agent. keep in mind for big-ticket insurance items? The school board should also Big ticket plans like Health, WC, and P&C remember that the car-buying analogy require additional discrimination. To fully applies here. It is tough to make a sideaddress the intricacies of selecting the big by-side comparison, because each plan ticket plans, school districts would need to can be so different. Also, if something is really cheap, a reason exists for it. The digest enough material for a small book. lowest price may not always be the right But a few common points to keep in choice. mind would be: • Don’t risk a lot for a little. Is the school As a service for member schools, the district saving a little on premium and, Minnesota School Boards Association Insurance Trust (MSBAIT) has vetted in turn, assuming a lot of risk? two organizations, of the thousands • What services are provided with the available that offer the needed types of plan? insurance for school districts. They are Riverport Insurance Company and National • Has the insurance company “been Insurance Services. Contact information there” for the school district and/or can be found on the MSBAIT website, neighbors when a loss occurs? www.msbait.org. • Is the insurance company financially The final question for a school board sound, and does it have a verifiable should be: “Which insurance plan fits track record? the school district’s needs?” • Is the insurance company active in Gary Lee is an Associate Director of promoting and assisting risk Management Services for MSBA. management and loss control?
NON-PROFIT ORGN. U.S. POSTAGE
PAID PERMIT NO. 47 MANKATO, MN 56001
1900 West Jefferson Avenue, St. Peter, MN 56082-3015 ADDRESS SERVICE REQUESTED
MSBA is here to serve YOU...
POLICY SERVICES Policy Manual Audit
MSBA will review the school district’s policy manual as follows: - Against predetermined criteria for compliance with current state and federal requirements, - For consistency and ease of use.
Minnesota School Boards Association 1900 West Jefferson Avenue St. Peter, MN 56082 800-324-4459; fax 507-931-1515 www.mnmsba.org
Custom Policy Services MSBA will review the following: - A school district’s policy manual, - School board meeting minutes for the past five years, - Student and staff handbooks, - Agreements that may contain policy statements or past practices that may have a legal impact. MSBA will revise the school district’s policy manual. These services are available only to individual school districts that are members of Policy Services.
Contacts: Cathy Miller, Director of Legal and Policy Services Sandy Gundlach, Director of School Board Services
The May-June Journal Magazine