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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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The ISD742 School Board is trying to ram a $143,000,000 bonding referendum down its residents’ throats because they started with a predetermined destination, then put together a plan to reach that destination. In the Board’s arrogance, they’ve decided they didn’t need to listen to their constituents. That decision was the worst decision they’ve collectively ever made.

The Board decided they wanted to build a new Tech HS without first determining what the students’ and the district’s needs were. They made that decision without first determining whether the district was shrinking or growing. (It’s shrinking.) The plan that they’re promoting would equip St. Cloud with 2 high school buildings, each with a capacity of 1,800 students. The last full school year, high school enrollment for ISD742 was approximately 2,700 students.

The first question that must be asked by taxpayers is this: why the Board would overbuild the district’s needs. Claire VanderEyk, a Tech graduate who took an interest in last year’s referendum, wrote this post on her blog of Feb. 17, 2016. At the time, Claire wrote “I haven’t seen stats on this – but according to many people I’ve spoken with, District 742 is losing students. One cause of this, I’m told, is the quality of high schools in the neighboring districts of Sartell and Sauk Rapids. This is frustrating, I agree. It is difficult to maintain proper school facilities and high quality staff when the tax base that supports your district is dwindling.”

Claire stated that she thinks renovation is possible when she wrote “But, as I’ve said before, I have not been provided evidence that these issues cannot be overcome and would make the feasibility of retaining Tech High School as an educational facility for another 100 years impossible.” The truth is that there are parts of Tech that are quite usable.

The truth is that the Board hasn’t considered any option other than building a $100,000,000 brand new Tech HS that’s too big for the district’s needs.

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This St. Cloud Times editorial shows how out of touch the Times is with St. Cloud voters. The editorial opens by saying “Driven by residents’ input after last fall’s defeat of the bond referendum to build a new Technical High School, St. Cloud schools Superintendent Willie Jett is welcoming a reasonable potential solution to one of the biggest concerns residents have raised: What happens to the current Tech campus?”

That’s nothing but hot air. I’m betting that few people asked about what would happen to the “Tech campus” if the referendum passes this fall. (It won’t.) I’m betting that even fewer people care that “the district is willing to keep a school district presence there.” That’s a peripheral issue at best. Most people want to know if building a new school is necessary They’re questioning that because spending money on a new Tech HS will cause their property taxes to skyrocket.

The people that’ve contacted me or that’ve spoken out on this want to know if this is the best option going forward. Simply put, they aren’t certain it is. That’s why they defeated it last fall. The School Board has spent the past year making the same unpersuasive arguments that it made before. People want answers to specific important questions. They don’t care about answers to peripheral questions. This is their problem:

District leaders are open to the recommendation from a very high-powered panel that the district move its administrative offices and Welcome Center into the portions of Tech built in 1917 and 1938.

This “high-powered panel is just as out-of-touch with voters as the School Board. It’s a case of the blind leading the blind. This high-powered panel has spent years not listening to people. Now they’re expected to hear what people find most important? This high-powered panel couldn’t find the American mainstream if they had a GPS and a year’s supply of gasoline.

The plan came from a panel made up of outgoing school board member Dennis Whipple; St. Cloud Mayor Dave Kleis; Mike Gohman, president of W. Gohman Construction; Patti Gartland, president of Greater St. Cloud Development Corp.; Teresa Bohnen, president of St. Cloud Area Chamber of Commerce; and Henry Gruber, a longtime St. Cloud business owner.

I know these people. Of this panel, I’d only trust Mike Gohman and Henry Gruber. The rest, I wouldn’t trust as far as I could throw them if I had 2 broken arms and a bad back.

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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.

The truth is finally starting to trickle out about why the ISD 742 School Board wants to build a new Tech High School. The truth is that the ISD 742 School Board is planning on renovating Tech. According to the article, the “St. Cloud school district plans to renovate portions of Technical High School to house the district’s administrative offices and welcome center if a school construction bond question passes in November.”

What?

The district, from Superintendent Jett to the School Cartel, insisted that Tech was a mess than couldn’t be renovated. The St. Cloud Education Cartel insists that we have to build a new Tech High School at a cost of $104,500,000 and renovate Apollo at an additional cost of $38,750,000.

What’s insulting is that the Education Cartel insists it’s speaking with the voice of the people. Specifically, Superintendent Willie Jett said “One of the general things (we heard) was ‘we need to know what you’re doing with Tech High School, the future of that.” I’ve gotten dozens of phone calls from people throughout the district. The most frequently asked question I’ve received have asked why we can’t renovate Tech rather than build a new school. The most frequently stated statements have said that they won’t vote for that big of a property tax increase without the District first seriously considering renovating Tech.

This Board has insisted on killing Clark Field, one of the most charming football fields in the state, and killing Tech High School. I wrote this post last fall to highlight the Education Cartel’s arrogance:

Finally, it’s time that Ms. Starling understood that lots of citizens voted against the referendum because the School Board didn’t even have the decency of telling the taxpayers what the new Tech High School would look like. They couldn’t because, according to Barclay Carriar, 80% of the building wouldn’t be designed until after the referendum vote.

That sounds like what a political machine would do. It doesn’t sound like something a citizen-oriented board would do. A citizen-oriented board would start the process over rather than seek input on the plan they’re trying to shove down people’s throats.

The Cartel is scrambling in its attempt to get what it wants after voters emphatically rejected their initial proposal. This proposal is virtually the same proposal, just a little smaller. (The first proposal would’ve cost $167,000,000. This would cost $143,250,000.) Like last year’s referendum, this year’s proposal should be rejected until all options are seriously considered.

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.

This article offers proof that, for all their speechifying to the contrary, the Democrats aren’t the party of the little guy anymore.

We know that with certainty because they said no to a scholarship program that was helping minority and other low-income students escape the grinding poverty their parents endured. The opening paragraphs of the article says “Less than a month before the new school year starts, state budget cuts are hitting some parents hard. Some state-issued scholarships that allow low-income families to send their children to private schools have been revoked. Nicole Jack is looking forward to starting first grade at Our Lady of Prompt Succor, in Westwego, this fall. ‘My daughter is very gifted. She makes straight A’s, she reads beyond her grade level, so she deserves to go to a better school,’ said Nikesha Hudson.”

It isn’t surprising that Louisiana’s newly-elected governor isn’t keeping his campaign promise to not cut the scholarship program:

She was told her daughter would be placed on a waitlist, and she may be contacted at a later date if funding becomes available and the scholarship award can be reinstated. “The governor said no child would lose the scholarship because of the budget cuts,” Hudson said of Gov. John Bel Edwards’ campaign promises.

For now Hudson is considering finding a way to pay the tuition herself to avoid disappointing her daughter.

Rest assured that Gov. Edwards will return to these people to ask for their votes after cutting the budget on their highest legislative priority. It’s unfortunate that, with Democrats, it’s about the outreach, not the accomplishment.

There’s nothing new with Hillary, just like there’s nothing new under the sun with Democrats, either.

There are other programs that can be cut but this program was cut. It isn’t coincidence that this program is getting cut. The teachers unions are among the Democrats’ most consistent special interest allies. Like I said, however, there’s nothing new under the sun with Democrats. I wrote this post in March, 2009:

Last week, the Democrat-controlled House passed a spending bill that spells the end, after the 2009-10 school year, of the federally funded program that enables poor students to attend private schools with scholarships of up to $7,500. A statement signed by Mr. Obey as Appropriations Committee chairman that accompanied the $410 billion spending package directs D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee to “promptly take steps to minimize potential disruption and ensure smooth transition” for students forced back into the public schools.

Sounds incredibly similar, doesn’t it? When it comes to pandering to the Democrats’ special interest allies, there’s definitely nothing new under the sun.

Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders were both right that the system is rigged. Sen. Warren and Sen. Sanders were both wrong, though, because they didn’t identify the Democratic Party as guilty of participating in rigging the system against those that need it most.

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