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In one of the biggest understatements in St. Cloud School Board history, Superintendent Willie Jett said that “We know we have more listening to do as part of this referendum.”

Actually, they need to start listening. I’m not proposing doing nothing. What I’ve consistently said was that the School Board consistently planned to overbuild. The original plan called for twin schools that each held 1,800 students. Student enrollment as of a year ago was 2,800. I’m not a rocket scientist, just like I’m not a demographer. Still, it doesn’t require a rocket scientist or a demographer to figure out that an aging school that’s getting surrounded by growing schools won’t grow 25-30% in enrollment over the next 25-30 years.

It’s far more likely that Sartell and Sauk Rapids will see significant enrollment growth over the next quarter-century than it is to expect significant enrollment growth for Apollo and Tech HS. The truth is that Jett and the School Board haven’t done any significant listening thus far. They’ve listened to people that they’ve wanted to hear from but they haven’t listened to the average voter. They’ve avoided those voters. Without them, the referendum fails.

If Jett and the School Board don’t learn from last year’s defeat, which appears like they haven’t, they’ll wind up with a defeated referendum and major turnover on the Board. The board needs a shakeup. They’ve become arrogant, which means they’ve stopped listening. It’s time for them to go.

Barbara Banaian’s monthly column highlights the arrogance of the St. Cloud School Board while highlighting the fact that the school board hasn’t examined all of the different options available with regard to Tech High School.

If I sound like a broken record on the subject, it’s because the School Board hasn’t changed its plan much. They haven’t explained why a new Tech High School needs to be built. Based on some of the comments by a school board member, it’s apparent that they don’t think they need to justify their actions.

Mrs. Banaian nails the crux of the problem when she wrote “We can all agree they can’t make do with Tech in its current condition. But should we pay to build a new high school? The proposed new Tech is slightly smaller and slightly less expensive than the one rejected in the 2015 vote. The school board and interested parties have invested time and money in a detailed design for a new building. But what have they given for the option to renovate Tech?”

Then Mrs. Banaian drops the hammer:

A scant “cost opinion” based on what contractor R.A. Morton said was “limited information.” “A complete facility assessment would be required to accurately assess the mechanical, electrical and structural conditions of the existing building. An educational assessment would be required to assess the flow, function and viability of educational programming of any renovations completed,” Morton wrote to the board June 2.

When the contractor indicates that they couldn’t do a legitimate estimate because of “limited information”, that’s proof that the School Board isn’t interested in finding out how much a Tech renovation would cost. When the Board cites a “cost opinion”, it should be rejected as worthless.

This is the same problem that Claire VanderEyk and Sarah Murphy ran into when they looked into the situation.

There’s a two-step solution to this situation. The first step is in voting no against the Tech referendum. The other step is in electing members to the school board that will actually address citizens’ questions. The School Board, as currently configured, is nothing more than a rubber stamp for the ‘education community’. We need citizen leadership, not vested special interests. This group should be voted out of office ASAP:

Eliminating the Board’s institutional arrogance is the only way to fix this problem.

I hope I get to meet Dr. Darrell Downs someday, hopefully soon. Dr. Downs’ op-ed is the most thoughtful, yet provocative, op-eds I’ve ever read. Having written more than a few LTEs and op-eds myself, I know what goes into writing something of this length and quality.

First, I’d like to thank Dr. Downs for his avoidance of using euphemisms and sugarcoating. It was refreshing to read Dr. Downs say “Minnesota State College and University (MnSCU) or ‘Minnesota State,’ as it has recently renamed itself, is in need of real change. It does not need re-branding gimmicks, new statewide strategic planning, or re-alignments that ignore campus input. As Minnesota State’s June report on financial sustainability said, ‘Houston: the system has a problem’ – I would agree except I would clarify that the system ‘is’ the problem. It’s time to face the reality that the broad authority granted to it by the legislature in 1991 has left the Minnesota State trustees with little formal allegiance and no accountability to the campuses they were appointed to govern.”

This identifies MnSCU’s bad habits quickly. The structure was flawed from the start. It established a bureaucracy without establishing who was responsible for ensuring accountability to the taxpayers. That’s likely because accountability wasn’t that high of a priority. Then Dr. Downs cuts to the heart of the matter of what’s broken:

Minnesota State is led by 15 trustees appointed by the Governor and is run by a central bureaucracy comparable in size to the largest of our state universities. The trustees possess overall governing authority, as well as the authority to set academic policy. Bit by bit, this authority has imposed uniformity on how the campuses are managed and increasingly on how the courses are taught, with rare, if ever, meaningful input from campus communities.

Let’s examine this a bit. Let’s think of this from the standpoint that different communities and different regions of the state have different workforce requirements. Top-down bureaucracies don’t specialize in customization. They specialize (if that’s the right word) in one-size-fits-all ‘solutions’ that are frequently counterproductive.

Next, let’s examine this situation:

Minnesota State’s June report reflects the same tin ear to the value of campuses. It even takes aim on labor agreements so it can more easily create “dedicated administrative structures.” Campuses and their instructional spending are apparently viewed as the key cost drivers while the administrative side of the house is somehow in need of protection. Pardon me for complaining that a system devoted to education now views administration as a fixed cost, while spending on instruction is viewed as a variable cost. This is the same wrong-headedness that led to the MnSCU faculty rejecting the Chancellor’s Charting the Future plan in 2015, and the state university faculty’s votes of no confidence in his leadership.

Think about this. Colleges and universities are where students go to learn, at least theoretically. Based on MnSCU’s ‘business model’, it sounds like the Trustees’ highest priority is to provide administration without providing a great educational product. That’s as foolish as I’ve ever heard.

If you don’t take anything else from this post, highlight this:

It noted that while administrative spending per student was presented by MnSCU to be low compared to other states, the audit found that it depends on how you count administrative spending, and if all administrative supports are counted, MnSCU ranks well above other states in spending per student. So who among the trustees is charged with protecting the instructional priorities on the campuses?

Like I said earlier, there is a bureaucracy established. Its priorities, however, aren’t established, or, more to the point, their priorities aren’t the right priorities.

Dr. Downs is right. It’s time to kick down the doors. It’s time for real change within MnSCU. This isn’t just a warning to the bureaucrats. It’s putting legislators on notice that we aren’t satisfied with the product MnSCU has been producing and we’re not going to take it anymore.

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According to this article, Jim Nobles, Minnesota’s legislative auditor, thinks the Board of Teaching is dysfunctional. He’s published this report, complete with findings of facts and recommendations.

One of Nobles’ finding of fact is that “the Board of Teaching (BoT) and the Minnesota Department of Education (MDE)—share responsibility for licensing teachers. In general, BoT establishes requirements for teacher licensure, and MDE reviews license applications, makes licensure decisions, and issues teaching licenses.” His recommendation that “The Legislature should consolidate all teacher-licensure activities into one state entity” certainly makes sense. Sharing responsibilities doesn’t work. Both parties point fingers at the other.

When I wrote this post, I highlighted the fact that “Ramsey County Judge Shawn Bartsh ‘blasted the state’s Board of Teaching'” for “suddenly stopping a program that allowed experienced teachers, often from out of state, to get teaching licenses through an alternate method called ‘licensure via portfolio.’ The judge ordered the agency to resume the program, as required by law.”

It’s clear that the BoT and MDE aren’t solutions-oriented. The people working in those departments clearly haven’t communicated the need to simplify the licensure procedures. They’re still pointing fingers at each other instead of fixing the problem or obeying clearly written law. Further, it’s clear that they’ve let different institutions decide what out-of-state credentialed teachers must do to get licensed in Minnesota.

When the U of M requires a teacher who’s taught 12 years in another state and who has a Master’s degree to do student teaching again, that’s ridiculous. Further, when Minnesota State University, Mankato says the same teacher doesn’t need to do a semester of student teaching, something’s totally off kilter. It’s one thing for the U to require different courses than Mankato requires. It’s a different thing to require a credentialed teacher to do student teaching. That’s more than a significant difference.

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It’s impossible to go a day without finding another example of the DFL’s culture of corruption. This time, the Minnesota Board of Teaching got cited for contempt of court after Ramsey County Judge Shawn Bartsh “blasted the state’s Board of Teaching for suddenly stopping a program that allowed experienced teachers, often from out of state, to get teaching licenses through an alternate method called ‘licensure via portfolio.’ The judge ordered the agency to resume the program, as required by law.” Judge Bartsh ordered the program to resume on Dec. 31, 2015.

In his contempt order, Judge Bartsh said that “the board ‘had no excuse for not contacting’ one of the teachers attempting to get a license” adding that “the Court does not take the granting of sanctions lightly and would far have preferred [the board] to simply follow the law.”

After reading this article, it’s pretty clear that the Board isn’t interested in following the law:

Kirstin Rogers taught history and English in Utah for 12 years. She has a master’s degree and a handful of other certificates. Still, when she moved to Minnesota the state gave her only a temporary teacher’s license. She learned she’d have to do a lot of work to get a permanent one.

State law is supposed to allow experienced teachers like Rogers to submit a portfolio demonstrating their competence instead of doing coursework. But the Board of Teaching stopped accepting portfolios three years ago. The board reopened the process under a court order last month but has appealed the ruling.

Rogers contacted the University of Minnesota to see what she’d have to do to gain a permanent teacher’s license. The answer was daunting. “I would be required to student teach again,” Rogers said. “And then all these additional courses.”

Clearly, this teacher is qualified. The notion that she’d have to student teach again is silly. She taught for 12 years in Utah. What possible reason could the Board of Teaching have for not giving her a permanent teaching license? Rather than explaining their reason, they simply appealed the judge’s ruling. Instead, they stood behind political double-speak:

Board director Erin Doan won’t talk specifically about the case, but she said the state needs to be careful about whom it allows in the classroom. “We have one of the largest achievement gaps in the nation,” Doan said. “And we want to make sure every child in our state has a teacher in front of them that is able to be highly trained in their ability to look at reading difficulty, highly trained in their ability to diagnose math difficulties.”

Ms. Doan’s explanation is BS. Rather than accepting a qualified, experienced teacher, the Board cited Minnesota’s large achievement gaps, then saying that they “want to make sure every child in our state has a teacher in front of them that is able to be highly trained in their ability to look at reading difficulty, highly trained in their ability to diagnose math difficulties.”

Simply put, that’s politic-speak for saying that the Board was willing to defy a judge. Check back later today for more on this corruption.

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Dave Unze’s latest article about ISD742’s new bonding referendum is must-reading for the districts’ residents because of its multiple potential impacts.

First, it’s important to consider the impact the referendum will have on local property taxes. The impact will undoubtedly be gigantic, especially for people living on fixed incomes. Next, it’s important that residents question whether this is the wisest choice in terms of whether School Superintendent Willie Jett’s proposal fits St. Cloud’s and the area’s future. Many residents see the city and the region looking much different than it currently looks. Third, residents should tell the district that they’re voting no unless they see the blueprint for the proposed Tech High School. They should tell the School Board that the questions must be worded so that no changes to the blueprints can be made once voters approve the issuing of bonds.

Last year, when the proposed bonding referendum was defeated 8,460-7,393, many voters that I spoke with said that they weren’t willing to approve a blank check to the school board. They said that there wasn’t much information put out there about what the new Tech High School would look like.

Since then, the landscape has changed significantly. People question whether there’s a need to build a new Tech. Voters should question whether refurbishing Tech might not be a better option. Residents should also question the size of the new Tech building. Last year’s referendum called for Tech and Apollo to both hold 1,800 students. This past year, there were approximately 2,700 students attending the 2 schools.

It’s foolish to think that enrollment will increase by one-third over the next 25 years. If anything, it’s likely to continue shrinking. Here are the basics of the proposal as reported by Unze:

St. Cloud schools superintendent Willie Jett is recommending that school board members ask voters for $137.9 million to build a new Technical High School and renovate Apollo High School.

The vote would be Nov. 8, with two questions on the ballot. The first, asking for funding to build a new Tech, would have to pass in order for the money to renovate Apollo to be provided. The Apollo funding would be a second ballot question. Jett recommends asking voters for $100.5 million for a new Tech and $37.3 million for Apollo renovations.

Voters should keep this in mind when they vote this November:

School board members at a work session Thursday morning all voiced support for Jett’s recommendations.

What did these people base their support on? If they’re just going to rubberstamp Jett’s recommendations, why do they even exist? Seriously, it’s time to vote for new ideas on the board. I don’t care what age the people are. I care about whether they’re willing to question conventional wisdom.

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I’ve written lots of critical things about SCSU President Earl Potter over the last 4 years. People think that my comments were grounded in hatred for him. That was never the case. I wrote the things I wrote because I was critical of his actions and his decisions. Just moments ago, I saw this statement from MnSCU Chancellor Steven Rosenstone:

My sincere condolences to President Potter’s family, especially to his wife Christine.

Last week, I wrote this post about this St. Cloud Times editorial.

The Times owes the citizens of this community, especially Granite City Baptist Church, an apology for their vile, hate-filled editorial. Throughout their editorial, the Times used words that agitated. It started in the opening paragraph of their editorial when they said “And so it continues — this tour of anti-Islam, anti-immigrant, fear-mongering speakers who parachute in to St. Cloud, spread their messages of hate and misinformation and then (convenient only for them) leave.” It continued, saying that Usama Dakdok’s presentation has “become well-known for his evil schtick about how Islam is a “savage cult” and that Muslims will soon dominate this country.”

The Times instructed people to listen “to local faith leaders, not Dakdok.”

The Times covered the Friday night presentation relatively fairly in their news section. I wrote this article to highlight the vandalism visited upon Granite City Baptist Church prior to Friday night’s presentation. What’s missing is the Times’ editorial telling people to stand with Granite City Baptist Church in denouncing this vandalism.

Perhaps, that’s because the Times’ editorial included this:

Based on news reports, it’s a classic example of Dakdok’s strategy: Pick smaller cities and rural communities where Muslims are new and few (if any) in number and deliver his toxic message. Plus, of course, collect the obligatory free-will offering. Then pack up and leave — quick, before the waves of hate he’s fostered can crest across the community. (And before people can research for themselves his message.)

Faced with such a despicable dump-and-run tactic, this board urges faith leaders across St. Cloud and all of Central Minnesota to speak up again. Use their influential voices, their powerful sermons, their compassionate followers and even the Times Opinion section to refute Dakdok’s divisive message.

The Times spent a bunch of bandwidth talking about Dakdok’s hateful schtick. Now that the protesters have committed an act of vandalism, it’s possible that the Times might want to get this episode behind them. This isn’t a proud moment for the St. Cloud Times or for Mark Jaede. Jaede issued this press release through the SCSU Announce listserv:

The next day, the Times published its hate-filled editorial.

What a surprise.

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When I wrote this article, I included an email sent out to the SCSU community through their Announce listserv. The email was sent by SCSU History Professor Mark Jaede. The email that Prof. Jaede sent out raised awareness of the fact that “Granite City Baptist Church in St. Cloud is sponsoring a presentation by a speaker who tours the country denouncing Islam and warning that Muslims are conspiring to take over America” and that “#unitecloud, an organization that seeks to support immigrants and bring together people from the St. Cloud area of different religious perspectives, is holding a counterdemonstration Friday at 5 pm.”

Then Prof. Jaede added this:

“This announcement is posted consistent with the guidelines for SCSU-Announce which can be found here:

http://huskynet.stcloudstate.edu/policies/announce_discuss.asp

and say in part:

“Examples of acceptable use:

  • Event announcements
  • Items that have been lost or found
  • Awards and recognitions
  • Community opportunities related to the university

As always, any comments, responses, or denunciations should not go to Announce, but should go either to Discuss or to me personally.”Interestingly, Prof. Jaede highlighted “event announcements” and “community opportunities related to the university.” What I’d be interested in hearing is Prof. Jaede’s explanation how a religious event at a church is related to St. Cloud State University. (BTW, the University’s spelling sucks. It shouldn’t be spelled “related to the university” because it’s talking about St. Cloud State University, which makes it a proper noun, which requires a capital letter. But I digress.)

Further, I can’t wait to hear Prof. Jaede’s justification for using government resources to talk about a counterprotest put on by a progressive political organization named #unitecloud. If you visit their missions page, it says “Who is your neighbor?

LGBT, Muslims, Christians, Immigrants, Disabled, Homeless, Poor, Women, Whites, Blacks, and on and on. We all have biases. They influence how we treat each other. You don’t have to agree with your neighbor’s lifestyle to promote a culture of respect. You don’t have to agree on anything to be kind. Our commonality is based in our humanness. Take time to look them in the eye, learn their story, and see how much we all hold in common.”

If that doesn’t sound like a DFL front group, then DFL front groups don’t exist. And I know DFL front groups exist because I’ve exposed more than a few dozen DFL front groups.

I’d love hearing President Potter’s or Prof. Jaede’s justification for using government resources to announce a political protest at a church on the opposite side of town from the University. I’m betting that they’d fumble their way through a justification if I asked them that question without notice.

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Chester Rorvig’s LTE sounds reasonable. It’s just missing one thing. First, let’s look at Mr. Rorvig’s LTE.

Rorvig’s LTE starts with “Legislators of both parties, along with transportation experts, agree that Minnesota needs $600 million per year for 10 years to get the state’s roads and bridges up to par.” That’s the conventional wisdom but I’m always skeptical of CW. It’s been wrong too often for me to think it’s reliable.

Rorvig goes wrong when he asks “Could not Democrats agree to divert this vehicle repair sales tax for half of the need, $300 million? Could not Republicans agree to a 10-cent-per-gallon gas tax increase, which, at the rate of each cent raising $30 million, would provide the other half of the need, $300 million?”

First, I’ve written many times that the last gas tax increase didn’t provide nearly the money the DFL predicted they’d need to fix Minnesota’s roads and bridges. The whole idea behind Chairman Kelly’s transportation plan was to provide a more reliable revenue stream.

This is the biggest point of contention I have with Mr. Rorvig’s LTE:

I find it hard to believe that not one Republican would agree to the gas tax increase and that not one Democrat would agree to the vehicle repair sales tax diversion.

It isn’t that Republicans didn’t see the opportunity. It’s that they knew a gas tax increase is an outdated method of funding road and bridge repairs. Couple that with the fact that the vast majority of Minnesotans don’t want the gas tax increase and you have 2 powerful reasons not to raise the gas tax.

After all, the will of the people being governed should be heeded. I know it’s a radical idea but it makes sense.

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