Archive for the ‘Academia’ Category

The St. Cloud and Sauk Rapids school districts sit side-by-side geographically. Despite that geographic closeness, they’re heading in opposite directions enrollment-wise. Kirsti Marohn’s article on the Sauk Rapids school district shows a vibrant, growing district. Jenny Berg’s article tells the story of a stagnating, shrinking district.

Marohn wrote that as of Oct. 1, “the district’s total enrollment is 4,459, up from 4,294 at the end of last school year. That’s an increase of almost 4 percent.” Berg wrote that “The number of elementary students attending St. Cloud schools dropped by approximately 10 percent from last year’s numbers, according to enrollment data released by the district Thursday.”

Additionally, Marohn wrote “The growth is due to a combination of higher birth rates in the Sauk Rapids-Rice area new families moving into the district and students from other districts choosing to attend Sauk Rapids-Rice schools through the open enrollment option, Bittman said. A demographer’s report predicted the district will grow by as much as 17 percent n the next five to 10 years.”

Then there’s this:

Januszewski predicted Tech would gain even more students in the coming years if the referendum passes and a new school is built on the south side of town. The new school would most likely lure students from other districts, he said.

That’s wishful thinking. People are moving into the Sauk Rapids-Rice district in droves. They don’t have a shiny new building. What’s attracting these students to the district? It might be that parents are using open enrollment to abandon the St. Cloud district’s sinking ship.

Recently, a memo was sent out talking about the need for SCSU to embrace “diversity and encourage the celebration of multicultural traditions.” The email says that “two Meditation and Prayer Rooms are available on campus to students, faculty, staff and visitors for reflection, prayer and meditation. The rooms, located in Atwood Memorial Center and the Miller Center, are open to all and cannot be reserved.”

While that sounds fine, what LFR has learned is that Semya Hakim, a Human Relations and Multicultural Education professor and adviser to the Muslim Student Association, pushed this initiative. LFR has also learned that SCSU has spent over $11,000 thus far on the prayer and meditation room in Miller Center and that that price will definitely go higher. Prior to Prof. Hakim’s intervention, SCSU showed no signs of caring about religious diversity.

Considering Prof. Hakim’s background as an adviser to the Muslim Student Association and their ties to CAIR, it isn’t exactly a stretch to think that Prof. Hakim wasn’t that worried about the civil rights of people of other faiths.

In this article about CAIR, Hakim said that the definition of Islamophobia is the “extremely strong dislike or fear of Islam and the people who practice it.” Prof. Hakim then said that Jaylani Hussein’s talk would “likely talk about definitions of Islamophobia, incidents that have displayed it and what people can do in response.”

SCSU is running another deficit this year, especially since headcount enrollment dropped another 2.4% this semester. The fact that budgets were cut while this project was approved is disturbing. It’s disturbing that SCSU put a higher priority on displaying their diversity than they put on getting the University’s finances in order. Unfortunately, it isn’t surprising.

It’s unfortunate that the special interests run SCSU. Until it changes, its struggles will continue.

Thank God for Jenny Berg’s article on enrollment in St. Cloud’s elementary schools. According to Ms. Berg’s article, “This year, 534 fewer students are enrolled in kindergarten through sixth grade. Kevin Januszewski, executive director of business services, said some of the change is due to students moving to a different district or state. But some students also left public schools to attend charter schools.” Further, the article states that “The district’s total enrollment is down by 276 students — about 2.7 percent — bringing the total enrollment to 9,881 students.”

In this post, I noted that Apollo had the capacity to hold 2,400 students when the district offices didn’t take up a significant portion of Apollo’s space. Let’s shrink Tech and Apollo’s enrollment by 2.7% even though it will be more than that within 10 years. That brings total enrollment down to 2,640 students. Are we really going to build a state-of-the-art new high school for 250 students, especially when the cost of that state-of-the-art school will exceed $100,000,000?

The ISD 742 School Board is tax-happy and fiscally irresponsible. If they want to spend $100,000,000 because Apollo doesn’t have the capacity to hold 250 students, then it’s legitimate to say that the ISD 742 School Board is fiscally irresponsible and utterly incompetent.

The solution to this insanity is to vote to reject the bonding referendum, then elect a voice of sanity to the board so the people are heard. Once those immediate needs are accomplished, then we can start from scratch by asking the right questions. (Think questions like whether we need a bigger building. Hint: We don’t.)

This article further undercuts the School Board’s argument that we need to spend $104,500,000 on a new Tech HS. With enrollment dropping, their argument now has to shift to being ‘renovating Apollo isn’t good enough.’ Getting people to vote to spend $104,500,000 on a school that they don’t need and will never need is foolish in the extreme.

I haven’t hidden the fact that I’m voting against the St. Cloud Tech bonding referendum because the School Board started with a vision of a new school rather than doing its homework on whether a new school building is needed. I think I was clear in stating that the only school board candidate asking the right questions was John Palmer. Now it’s time to talk about what questions voters should ask the school board candidates.

First, it’s important to ask each candidate why they’re supporting the building of a new Tech HS. Tell the candidates that if they say something generic like ‘we have to invest in education’ or ‘Tech is 100 years old’ will disqualify them from getting your vote. These aren’t reasons. They’re empty platitudes. We already have enough School Board members who speak in empty platitudes.

It’s worth noting that anyone who speaks in these empty platitudes isn’t willing to do the work of providing legitimate oversight on the District’s finances. Speaking in empty platitudes is proof that they’re part of the education community, the equivalent of the GOP establishment. That type of groupthink isn’t what’s needed.

Next, it’s important to ask each candidate what the high school enrollment is for ISD 742 and what it’s projected to be for 2020. If the candidate can’t answer, that should be eliminate them from getting your vote. If that candidate doesn’t know that the District’s enrollment is shrinking, they aren’t fiscally conservative enough to properly manage a school budget.

Finally, if only one candidate answers the questions thoughtfully, then you should only vote for that candidate. Candidates need to earn your vote. Sending that signal to the education community will let them know that you expect substantive, responsive representation.

The constant drumbeat from the St. Cloud Times and the ISD 742 School Board is that a) Tech is ancient and falling apart and b) we have to build a new Tech HS at the cost of $104,500,000. What they don’t want voters to know is that Apollo a) currently houses the district offices and b) can hold 2,400 students if they were the only occupants of the building.

The Times and the School Board definitely don’t want voters to know that the combined enrollment for Tech HS and Apollo HS for SY2015-16 was 2,715 students. They definitely don’t want voters to know that enrollment is declining and is forecast to continue shrinking.

What that means

Those statistics mean that Apollo’s campus will likely soon be able to hold all of the district’s high school students within 5 years. That means that the School Board and the St. Cloud Times are pushing voters to spend $143,500,000 on facilities that won’t be needed within 5 years. What’s puzzling is that renovating Apollo would cost a fraction of that $143,500,000 and suffice in housing the District’s high school students for the next half-century.

Decision time

ISD 742 residents have a decision to make. Do they want to spend $39,000,000 on renovating a facility that will meet the district’s needs for the next half-century or whether they’ll approve the building of a new Tech HS at a cost of $104,500,000 plus an additional $39,000,000 for renovating Apollo. ISD 742 residents will have to decide if they’re willing to spend $104,500,000 on a building that isn’t needed. ISD 742 residents will have to decide whether they want the accompanying property tax increases for the next quarter-century.

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I don’t know if the St. Cloud Times realizes that it gave School Board candidate John Palmer a boost when it published this article on the front cover of Friday’s paper.

The Times’ reporter identified Dr. Palmer as the only candidate left in the race for the ISD 742 School Board who has announced that he’s voting against the Tech HS bonding referendum. When asked if he’d vote Yes, Yes on the bonding referendum, Dr. Palmer said “I have not been convinced that we have a capacity need for a second, comprehensive large high school … so I’ll be voting no.” Dr. Palmer is right. There simply isn’t a need to build another high school.

In the interest of full disclosure, I’ve counted John as a friend for the past 10 years. He’s one of the most intelligent people I’ve ever met, too.

It’s important to know that Apollo is capable of accommodating 2,400 students. They don’t have that many students there now because the district offices are housed in their building. It’s important to know that the high school enrollment in ISD 742 is less than 2,700 students and shrinking. Renovating Apollo would give the District the room to house all of the District’s high school students if the District also moved their offices into a renovated Tech facility.

It’s foolish to have 2 buildings that could have capacity for 4,000 students when enrollment will be less than 2,500 students 5 years from now. It’s the definition of insanity when the School Board would pay $140,000,000 for those buildings.

In fact, it’s important to ask what they’re thinking when they’re willing to spend that much money on buildings that aren’t needed. It’s foolish for the Board to spend 5%-10% more than they should. This isn’t that. This Board is willing to spend 250%-300% more than they should. That isn’t foolish. It’s virtually criminal. There’s something more to this than just building a new school.

If you live in ISD 742 but aren’t familiar with John, follow this link to get to know him better. If you have any questions for him, feel free to contact him. John’s contact information is at the bottom of the page.

It’s time to tell the elitists on the Board that their arrogance isn’t needed. What’s needed is someone who will challenge the elitists’ views. That’s John.

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It’s time for the corruption at the ISD742 School Board to end. Recently, Board member Al Dahlgren called into Dan Ochsner’s Ox in the Afternoon program and told Ox’s listening audience that the School Board had already purchased the land where the proposed new Tech HS would sit. That’s interesting since that purchase isn’t mentioned in any of the School Board minutes. Considering the fact that the purchase of the land was a large expenditure, why wouldn’t that be noted as its own line item?

For instance, the minutes for the June 23 Board meeting mentions “The Administration recommends approval of the payment of bills and other financial transactions in the amount of $4,903,906.24 (Check Numbers 224405-224995 and ACH Numbers 151602548-151602828).” I don’t need to know that they approved the payment of that month’s electric bill but I certainly expect them to highlight special purchases, especially if they’re 6- or 7-figure purchases.

Why is the board hiding this purchase?

Similarly, the minutes for the May 19, 2016 School Board meeting says “The Administration recommends approval of the payment of bills and other financial transactions in the amount of $1,158,169.22 (Check Numbers 224117-224404 and ACH Numbers 151602359-151602547).” Again, there’s nothing to indicate a major purchase.

Thanks to the minutes, we know that “The Administration recommends approval of the Monthly Treasurer’s Report for April, 2016.” Unfortunately, the itemized “Monthly Treasurer’s Report for April, 2016” is nowhere to be found. This is public information. We have a right to know. If it’s posted on a different webpage, the link should be highlighted in the minutes.

The fact that the School Board didn’t tell us that they’d purchased the land highlights the fact that they aren’t into transparency. The fact that they routinely don’t include the details of their Monthly Treasurer’s Report re-emphasize the fact that they’re a secretive bunch. What other things aren’t they telling us about the Tech-Apollo proposed projects?

At this point, I’m not willing to vote to write the District a 9-figure blank check. That’s foolishness.

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Thus far in this series, I’ve highlighted the fact that the ISD742 School Board hasn’t talked about St. Cloud’s high school enrollment forecasts for the short-, medium- and long-term. They didn’t tell voters that they’ve already purchased the land for a new Tech HS. That wasn’t announced on the District’s website. It was announced this past week on Dan Ochsner’s radio program when a current school board member called into Ox’s show and blurted that information out.

Last year, voters found out in the newspaper that there wasn’t a finalized set of blueprints for people to look at because, according to Barclay Carriar, “with the cost of designing a building, 80 percent of it isn’t going to be designed until after the referendum. And the plans we’ve got now are still tentative.”

Last year, taxpayers didn’t know that the plans were “still tentative.” This year, we didn’t know that the District had already purchased the land where the new Tech HS is supposed to be built at. The next logical question that taxpayers should demand answers to is what other information the School Board hasn’t disclosed. At this point, taxpayers don’t know where the money came from to pay for the Tech HS land. That’s certainly something that we should know. Did the District have enough money tucked away to pay for the land? At this point, taxpayers don’t know.

The thing that taxpayers know, though, is that they aren’t writing any blank checks this year. This isn’t the time when people are trusting politicians. The School Board is asking taxpayers to approve the biggest property tax increase in St. Cloud history without telling taxpayers that they’ve already bought the land for the new high school. That’s terrible because the taxpayers haven’t approved the bonds yet. That tells taxpayers that the School Board is taking them for granted.

Just because the School Board is a rubberstamp doesn’t mean that taxpayers are a rubberstamp. Taxpayers don’t want a canned presentation. They want input from start to finish. That’s something that the School Board isn’t willing to relinquish.

In my estimation, the ISD742 School Board has transitioned from being public servants to being arrogant taskmasters. That’s why the bonding referendum must be defeated. That’s why we need new School Board members elected ASAP.

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In Part I of this series, I highlighted the fact that the ISD742 School Board still hasn’t told voters these important things: what the district’s high school enrollment is, whether the district’s high school enrollment is declining or increasing and whether that’s likely to continue into the future.

Another thing that hasn’t happened is that the School Board hasn’t told voters that they’ve already bought the land where the new Tech HS is to be built. We found that out because one of the school board members called into Dan Ochsner’s Ox in the Afternoon show and said that they’d already purchased the land. The first question that I’d ask is simple: where did they get the money to pay for a tract of land that big? The next question I’d ask is just as simple: Why didn’t the School Board announce this acquisition when it happened? That isn’t the type of thing that should’ve gotten inadvertently revealed on talk radio. It should’ve gotten announced.

Something that should be asked of every school board candidate is whether they support the bonding referendum. If they support it, they should be pressed on why they support it. I’d ask them if they’ve looked at the high school enrollment forecasts, too. If they haven’t, then they’re likely to rubberstamp Superintendent Jett’s agenda without questioning. Have they considered whether downsizing might be the better option?

This should be about doing what’s right for the students and the taxpayers. This shouldn’t be about what’s got the School Board excited. If it’s determined that the district doesn’t need this building, then it should be rejected handily.

Finally, the question is whether St. Cloud needs this type of facility or whether that’s too big:

Based on enrollment patterns, I don’t think it’s justified. That’s why the referendum should be rejected.

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It isn’t surprising that the Establishment has a different perspective on whether to build a new Tech High School. The title of their Our View Editorial is “Vote ‘yes’ twice to deliver best value for schools.” To be fair, not everything in the editorial is foolishness.

For instance, they have a legitimate point when they say “If you think it’s adequately built to educate today’s youth — not to mention future generations — you have not been in its crowded hallways between classes, especially if your mobility is impaired.”

The question isn’t whether doing nothing is an option. It isn’t. The question is whether the options on this November’s ballot represent the best value for students and taxpayers. They don’t. The current options are the School Board’s choice. The School Board started with a goal, then they tried figuring out how to make it happen.

They didn’t ask, in any meaningful way anyway, what the district’s enrollments would be in 2020. They certainly didn’t think of what the district’s need would be in 2050. It’s certain that ISD742 will look dramatically different in 2040 than it looks today. This argument is total foolishness:

If both questions pass, the monthly increase in taxes for a $150,000 home will be about $13. Approving just a new Tech costs about $9 a month.

So what? The important question that still hasn’t gotten asked is what the district’s needs are. Telling me that the payments on something are $13 a month for the next generation doesn’t tell me whether that something will be useful for the next generation.

The other question that hasn’t been asked is why these prices reflect prevailing wage bids. The cost of everything is increased with prevailing wage bids. The quality doesn’t increase, either. Why would taxpayers want to pay extra for something that isn’t dramatically better? The unions might howl about this but that isn’t my responsibility. My responsibility is to vote for the best product at the least expensive price.

For example, to address neighborhood concerns about the future of the Tech campus, the district has said it will move its administrative offices and welcome center to the older parts of Tech. Similarly, more thorough research was done — and remains available — about the costs of building new compared with rebuilding old.

There’s no question that more information is available this time. Still, there’s no question that the School Board still hasn’t answered the most important questions. There’s no question that building a new high school and renovating Apollo doesn’t represent a great value to students and taxpayers. It’s too expensive and it’s too big for our needs.

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