Archive for the ‘Education’ Category

David Brody just tweeted a link to this interview Marco Rubio did on the subjects of homeschooling and school choice. I wish this had come out earlier because it would’ve catapulted Rubio past Sen. Cruz with evangelical Christians, minorities and women. Mike Farris conducted the interview with Sen. Rubio.

The first question Mr. Harris asked about education was “What’s your experience been with homeschooling families, what’s your interaction, what’s your view of homeschooling?” Sen. Rubio replied, saying “, we have a lot of friends that homeschool. In fact, during the campaign, there will be elements of homeschooling that we’ll use. My kids’ school in South Florida has a sort of homeschooling component of their curriculum, which we’ll be able to use when we’re on the road with our kids during the campaign.”

Sen. Rubio wasn’t finished there. He added “But in general, I think it’s not only a valid way to teach your children, you see from the empirical evidence that homeschool children are outperforming many children attending traditional schools. I believe in parental choice—homeschooling, faith-based schools, private school of your choosing, what public school you want to go to instead of the one you’re zoned for. But I view homeschooling, and especially the explosion of homeschooling in America over the last 15 years, as a great development that we’ve seen. And we see how well homeschoolers are performing once they’re getting into college and universities across the country.”

The point I think is important to make is that conservatives have to have a positive agenda that’s governed by the Constitution but that also connects with voters of all stripes. Education is an issue that, if done right, would expand the conservative base. School choice and homeschooling are winning issues with women and minorities. It’s important that conservatives rally to the one candidate that’s run an uplifting campaign based on expanding the conservative while protecting the United States from terrorist attacks.

There’s only one candidate that fits that description. His name is Marco Rubio. That’s why I’ve called him ‘the complete package conservative’ in my tweets.

Anyone who’s read LFR the last 5 years knows I don’t have any respect for Paul Thissen. He’s one of the most partisan political hacks in Minnesota. His contact with the truth is tangential on his best days, nonexistent on most days. For years, Thissen has insisted that Republicans are interested in providing “special treatment to big Twin Cities and multinational corporations.” That’s an outright lie. It isn’t inaccurate. It isn’t a matter open for discussion.

It’s an outright lie. Rep. Thissen knows that it’s a lie. Worst, Rep. Thissen doesn’t mind telling that outright lie. Last May, I wrote this article about Gov. Dayton’s shutdown notice announcement. At the time, Speaker Daudt and Senate Majority Leader Bakk had worked out a compromise budget. Gov. Dayton and Rep. Thissen objected to the bill in an attempt to kill the bipartisan bill.

Gov. Dayton and Rep. Thissen both complained that the Tax Bill would “provide tax breaks for millionaires and billionaires.” I contacted Greg Davids, the Chairman of the House Taxes Committee, for a statement on those statements. Here’s what he said:

My bill does not do that. Eighty percent goes to individuals. Tax relief is for the middle class…My tax bill is tax relief for the poor and middle class.

I read Davids’ tax bill. His characterization of the bill is accurate. Rep. Thissen’s characterization isn’t. Unfortunately for Minnesotans thirsting for the truth, Rep. Thissen’s lies don’t stop there:

Thissen said the 2015 session was a “monumental flop for Greater Minnesota” after the House Republican majority failed to tackle important issues for greater Minnesota such as transportation, broadband infrastructure, and rural property tax relief. He said the “Greater Minnesota for All” agenda is focused on completing the unfinished business of the 2015 session.

First, the DFL played obstructionist with transportation. They said no to the Republicans’ transportation bill that would’ve directed sales tax revenues from rental cars, auto repairs and vehicle leases to a stability fund. That fund would’ve been used to fix Minnesota’s roads and bridges. The DFL didn’t want that because they wanted a gas tax increase and additional funding for transit in outstate Minnesota. The need for transit in outstate Minnesota is less than important. It’s virtually nonexistent.

Next, the DFL’s ‘investments’ in LGA and education from the 2013 budget when there was a DFL governor and DFL majorities in the House and Senate sent property taxes through the roof. Rep. Thissen bragged about the DFL’s “historic investment in education.” Despite that historic investment and the paying off of school shifts, school districts across the state enacted huge property tax increases. The most modest increase was St. Cloud’s increase of 14.75%. The biggest property tax increase that I heard about was Princeton’s 25.16% increase. That’s relatively modest considering the fact that Princeton initially wanted to raise property taxes 33.87%.

The truth is that Dayton, Thissen and the DFL love raising taxes. Dayton, Thissen and the DFL love spending those tax increases on education because they know that the vast majority of that money will go to Education Minnesota, then into DFL campaign coffers.

Rep. Thissen, keep your grubby little fingers off the taxpayers’ hard-earned money. Robbing the taxpayers to pay off Education Minnesota isn’t ok. It’s disgusting and it’s gotta stop ASAP.

After I wrote this post, I was invited onto Dan Ochsner’s Ox in the Afternoon radio program to discuss the alarming disparity between the ISD 742 estimates and the bid that was put together for Sarah Murphy and Claire VanderEyk.

During the campaign to pass the Tech bonding referendum, the ISD 742 school board said it would cost between $85,800,000 and $96,800,000 to temporarily fix Tech for 5-10 years. When Ms. Murphy and Ms. VanderEyk toured the facility, they took notes on what was in disrepair and needed fixing. Since they’re both architects, they’re qualified to determine what’s in need of repair, what’s structurally deficient and what’s in good repair.

Ms. Murphy and Ms. VanderEyk are both Tech alums so they’d like to preserve the building if that’s possible. That’s why they took their notes to a contractor to see how much it would actually cost to repair the existing Tech campus. Saying that their estimate came in at less than $97,000,000 is understatement. It came in at $15,696,000, which is approximately $100,000,000 less than the School Board said it would cost to build a brand new Tech High School.

It’s worth noting that the new Tech High School would be able to hold 1,800 students, which is significantly more than it needs. It’s also worth noting that the School Board wanted $46,500,000 in bonding authority to fix Apollo High School, which is less than 50 years old. (Tech is over 100 years old.)

Considering the fact that the bid put together for Ms. Murphy and Ms. VanderEyk to refurbish and repair a 100-year-old building was less than $16,000,000, it isn’t a stretch to think that it wouldn’t cost $46,500,000 to repair Apollo. In fact, it isn’t a stretch to think that both projects combined could be done for less than what the Apollo renovation would’ve cost.

As I said in the earlier post, I’m not arguing to do nothing. That ship has sailed. It isn’t returning to port. What I’m arguing for is to rethink the entire project and see if we shouldn’t adopt a more taxpayer-friendly option that still helps students attend a high school where they can prepare for a college education and a productive working career.

Simply put, I’m arguing to kill last fall’s plan once and for all. It isn’t needed and it can’t be afforded. It’s that simple.

When I wrote this post about the ISD 742 School Board’s numbers on how much it would cost to fix Tech High School, I unintentionally omitted the enrollment figures for the district. The point of the article was to highlight the fallibility of the School Board’s numbers. Specifically, I quoted Sarah Murphy’s criticism of the repair cost figures.

Kevin Allenspach’s article quotes Ms. Murphy as saying “Those numbers are really round, so it’s hard to take them seriously.” Rather than just criticizing the figures, Ms. Murphy and Claire VanderEyk, both Tech alumni and architects, got a bid on how much it would cost to fix Tech.

The ISD 742 School Board estimated the cost at between $85,750,000 and $96,750,000. The estimate put together for Ms. Murphy and Ms. VanderEyk was $15,696,000. That’s a difference of more than $70,000,000. As terrible as those numbers are, that isn’t the whole story. This St. Cloud Times article on open enrollment is just another nail in the School Board’s bonding project coffin.

According to the School Board, the new Tech High School and the renovated Apollo High would have had an enrollment capacity of 1,800 students each. Here’s what the Times’ open enrollment article says:

The Sauk Rapids-Rice school district has seen a steady increase in the number of students open-enrolling from other districts. This fall, the district gained more than 500 students more than it lost to other districts. Almost a quarter of Sauk Rapids-Rice students aren’t residents of the school district. On the flip side, the St. Cloud school district lost about 1,660 more students this year to other public school districts than it gained through open enrollment.

The combined enrollment at Tech and Apollo was 2,700+ students last year. The trend is declining enrollment. Taxpayers aren’t out of line in questioning the School Board’s decision to build a new school that’s bigger than they need at a price nobody can afford.

It’s important to remember that the School Board’s price tag on a new Tech High School was $113.8 million. Compare that with Ms. Murphy’s and Ms. VanderEyk’s estimate to fix the existing Tech High School is $16,000,000. Additionally, the School Board’s estimate of fixing Apollo was $46.5 million.

Why would anyone trust the School Board’s figures for either project, especially given their proclivity for wild exaggerations? It’s time to scrap the School Board’s plan entirely. That doesn’t mean we can afford to do nothing. That isn’t an option. It just means we should fix what needs fixing at a price that’s taxpayer friendly.

Technorati: , , , , , , , ,

After reading Kevin Allenspach’s article, it’s difficult to give the ISD 742 School Board the benefit of the doubt.

Last fall, the school board argued that it was wiser to build a new school (estimated cost of $113.8 million) than to remodel the current Tech High School. Allenspach’s article highlights the untrustworthiness of the School Board’s numbers. For instance, Allenspach notes that “the district’s pre-referendum estimate of $85 million in maintenance during the next 10 years just to keep the school in use” is being questioned by 2 Tech grads.

Sarah Murphy and Claire VanderEyk are both architects and Tech graduates. They’re both convinced that the ISD 742 School Board’s $85,000,000 estimate isn’t accurate. The School Board’s estimate includes “$10 million-$15 million for roofing, $20 million for a boiler replacement, $5 million for a chiller replacement, $5 million for window replacement, $10 million for asbestos removal, $1 million for brick tuckpointing, $5 million for plumbing, $2 million for lighting, $1 million for parking lots, $2 million-$3 million for electrical service, $3 million to replace classroom ceilings, $3 million to replace doors and hardware, $2 million to replace flooring, $750,000 for a building control system and $15 million-$20 million for general building repairs.”

Murphy’s response was powerful:

“Those numbers are really round, so it’s hard to take them seriously,” said Murphy, who worked for architectural firms in Minnesota and Colorado before becoming a space planner for the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, Colorado. “The building is 100 years old, so it’s going to need some help. But if there are real structural problems, there shouldn’t be anybody in the building. If the cafeteria has major structural issues, why are they using it? They’d be putting the kids at risk. There’s a difference between structural problems and things that are inconvenient or don’t look good, like floor tiles popping up.”

The School Board’s pitch was essentially a sky-is-falling pitch. The Board essentially said that not approving the bonds for the new Tech High School was the equivalent of putting these students at risk. It isn’t a stretch to think that the School Board tried shaming voters into approving the bonds.

Murphy has worked on similar projects, including North High School in Denver, which required technology updates and other renovations but preserved a building built in 1907. Both she and VanderEyk said they will work with the Friends of Clark Field citizens group to see if there is a way to get more information about renovating Tech.

Ms. Murphy and Ms. VanderEyk should be applauded for their efforts. I’ve learned more from them in a short period of time than I learned from the Vote Yes campaign all last fall. Most importantly, I’m thinking that I’d make a more informed decision because of these ladies’ works.

This is information that we should’ve gotten from the School Board but didn’t. That leads to the question of why we got this financial information from them. Let’s recall that Barclay Carriar admitted that the blueprint for the new Tech High School wasn’t available:

According to Barclay Carriar, a 57-year-old adviser with Ameriprise Financial and co-chair of Neighbors for School Excellence, “What a lot of them don’t recognize is, 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.”

That’s stunning. They asked taxpayers for $113,800,000 in bonding approval but they hadn’t designed the building. What’s up with that? How many banks would lend money based on that type of information and still be solvent 5 years from now? Hint: the number rhymes with Nero.

Technorati: , , , , , , , , ,

The DFL’s intentional deceptions are disgusting. Minutes ago, they posted this tweet:

It’s time that the DFL stopped lying about property taxes. The DFL’s budget didn’t prevent property tax increases. I wrote this post in 2014 to highlight that fact. In that post, I linked to this post, which talked about the Princeton School Board voted to raise “the school district tax levy by 25.16 percent for taxes payable 2015 to fund the 2015-16 school year.”

That happened before Kurt Daudt was elected as Speaker of the House. That didn’t happen until January, 2015.

St. Cloud school district has imposed its largest tax levy increase in six years for 2015. The district’s property-tax levy will increase by $3.3 million, or 14.75 percent, to nearly $26 million. The school board voted unanimously Thursday night to approve the 2015 levy.

This happened during 2014, too. It’s difficult to blame the MNGOP for those property tax increases, especially considering the fact that Paul Thissen bragged about the DFL’s “Historic Investment in Minnesota’s Future.” After the DFL significantly raised K-12 spending, shouldn’t we have the right to expect a year or 2 of no property taxes from the school districts? Instead of getting stable property taxes, we get historic property tax increases.

The thought that the DFL is now lying about Republicans driving up property taxes is disgusting but predictable. The DFL isn’t in the business of telling the truth. They’re in the business of lying to people if they think that’s what will help them win elections.

LFR’s ‘early years’ were spent mostly offering opinions on international events. That abruptly changed when John Murtha accused the Haditha Marines of murdering Iraqi civilians in cold blood. That weekend, I spoke with Leo Pusateri about the lies that Murtha was told. Later that weekend, Leo started the Murtha Must Go blog on Blogger. (Actually, the first couple of years of LFR were on Blogger, not on this website.)

Thanks to some committed retired Marines and that website, the Haditha Marines weren’t railroaded by John Murtha. Murtha was the quintessential corrupt politician. I kidded at one time that they should rename his office after he died to the ‘Office of Corporate Welfare’. After he died, Nancy Pelosi didn’t take my advice. The good news is that the Haditha Marines either had their charges dropped or they were acquitted.

The next thing LFR dealt with extensively was the anti-war movement, which started with John Murtha and Amy Klobuchar, who I nicknamed St. Amy of Hennepin County. When she ran for the Senate, St. Amy of Hennepin County said “America needs a change of course in Iraq,” Klobuchar said. The measure “continued an open-ended commitment with no clear transition to Iraqi authority,” she said. “My priority is to transition to Iraq authority by beginning to bring our troops home in a responsible way.” I noted at the time that St. Amy didn’t express an interest in winning the war. Her interest was in bringing “our troops home in a responsible way.” It isn’t surprising that St. Amy has been an enthusiastic supporter of President Obama’s lose-at-all-costs strategy in Iraq.

We’re still paying the price for the 2006 and 2008 elections.

At one point, LFR was hacked, which kept the website down for almost a month. Thankfully, I wasn’t silence thanks to Click on this link to subscribe to my articles. They’re entirely different than the things I publish on LFR.

One of the things that I’m most proud of is the role I played in defeating the School Board bonding referendum here in St. Cloud. The ISD 742 School Board tried passing the $167,000,000 referendum without giving people the opportunity to give input into the project. When the ballots were tallied, 7,393 people voted to approve the bonding while 8,460 people voted to reject the School Board’s proposal.

For a little perspective, most School Board elections and special elections in the St. Cloud area have a turnout rate of 18%. This vote produced a 31% turnout rate. After the measure was defeated, I got an email from a frequent reader of LFR which said in part “They had a turnout strategy and tons of money. You had common sense and the ability to motivate 8400 people to vote. (31% turnout in an odd-year election? with reduced polling places? Just amazing.)”

While it’s nice getting credit for producing those results, the reality is that the ISD 742 School Board was its own worst enemy. LFR was just the amplifier that highlighted their corruption. They tried keeping the vote below the citizens’ radar. They tried making voting as inconvenient as possible. When pressed why people couldn’t see the blueprints for the future Tech High School, the leader of the Vote Yes campaign explained “What a lot of them don’t recognize is, 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.”

Imagine that. The School Board wanted the citizens, since nicknamed “The Uppity Peasants Brigade”, to give the school board a blank $167,000,000, $115,000,000 of which is for a building that wouldn’t be designed until after the bonds had been approved.

Daniel Stavrum’s LTE in the St. Cloud Times efficiently rebuts Sarah Starling’s diatribe on who voted against the St. Cloud Tech bonding referendum. One of Ms. Starling’s first accusations was that “about 8,000 of you went into our schools, many of you looked our children in the eyes, and told them they did not deserve a higher quality of education because you don’t want your property taxes to increase.” That’s shredded by one of Mr. Stavrum’s first points.

It’s the point Mr. Stavrum made when he said “Let’s be clear. I favored the school levy approval. But I voted no for several reasons. First, we were not given enough detailed information on the new school nor what improvements Apollo needed, nor the plans for old Tech.”

Later, Ms. Starling said “We have failed our children and our entire area’s future. People refuse to live in the St. Cloud area because our schools are horrendous – yet we refuse to improve them. To the people who voted no, why don’t you care about our community?” I wonder how she’d respond to Mr. Stavrum’s saying “Finally, I was amazed by the reduction of polling places from 65 to 13. The Times Editorial Board called this a “mistake.” No, it was a deliberate strategy to disenfranchise rural and elderly voters who might tend to vote no. For example, I live in a rural township, my normal polling place about 1 mile away. The levy plan, however, had me and my neighbors driving nearly 14 miles to vote. Area voters aren’t stupid. School district officials shouldn’t treat them like they are.”

I wrote this post on Sept. 13. I wrote then that “For instance, the school district combined the 2 projects (refurbishing Apollo, building a new Tech HS). The way it’s worded, you can’t vote down the Tech proposal and vote for the Apollo refurbishing. That’s a sly way of forcing people who want to refurbish Apollo to vote for the Tech project, too. That’s a sly way of forcing people who want to build a new Tech HS into voting for the Apollo refurbishing.

It’s pretty obvious why it’s set up this way. That isn’t the same as saying the school district should get away with forcing taxpayers to vote for both projects if they only support one of the projects. This is a scam propagated by the school board. This isn’t a mistake. It’s a feature! It’s intentional.”

I’d like to personally thank all of the Daniel Stavrums of the world for voting against the $167,000,000 bonding referendum. It’s the only way we’ll get the ISD 742 School Board to interact with St. Cloud taxpayers.

Since Sarah Starling has taken it upon herself to speak for ISD742 students in this LTE, I, as one of the leaders of the Uppity Peasant Brigade, will reply. First, Ms. Starling melodramatically said “about 8,000 of you went into our schools, many of you looked our children in the eyes, and told them they did not deserve a higher quality of education because you don’t want your property taxes to increase.”

My first question of Ms. Starling is simple but it’s one she won’t answer. How does she know that 8,460 of us uppity peasants went into ‘their schools’ and told their children that “they didn’t deserve a higher quality of education” because we didn’t want our property taxes increased? How does she know that we didn’t vote no for other, more practical, reasons? As far as I know, Ms. Starling hasn’t asked a legitimate portion of the people who voted no to understand why we voted the way we did.

It’s apparent that she doesn’t read LFR. It’s apparent that she didn’t notice that I was quoted by Kevin Allenspach in this St. Cloud Times article, either. That’s where I said “We didn’t have the opportunity of asking whether there is a cheaper way of doing these things. What’s the enrollment model? Are we over-building or under-building?” said Gross, who is 60 years old and has lived in the same St. Cloud house since 1962. “There were no town hall meetings asking for input from the citizenry. That’s the opposite of representative democracy. But I’m not an expert. The district is having forums in these last few weeks, but that should’ve been done before they had a proposal together. At this point, the horse is out of the barn.”

After that first accusation against the Uppity Peasant Brigade, Ms. Starling makes these ill-informed and hyper-melodramatic accusations:

You voted against providing more secure entrances and updated technology. We have failed our children and our entire area’s future. People refuse to live in the St. Cloud area because our schools are horrendous – yet we refuse to improve them. To the people who voted no, why don’t you care about our community?

First, it’s disappointing that Ms. Starling didn’t know that technology is part of the operating levy.

Next, it’s disheartening that Ms. Starling didn’t affix blame on the School Board, led by Chairman Dennis Whipple, for attempting to keep this a low profile event. When the St. Cloud Times publishes an Our View editorial in mid-September asking where the school bonding campaign is, that’s an indicator that the School Board wanted the bonding levy to pass but didn’t think it could pass if the Uppity Peasants Brigade started asking the right questions. The simple truth is that 15,853 citizens voted, with 8,460 citizens voting no. The simple truth is that approximately 5,000-6,000 voters show up for most school board votes or special elections.

According to Chairman Whipple, citizens had surpassed that average by 11:00 am on election day. By objective-minded people’s opinions, turnout was fantastic for a single-issue referendum. Ms. Starling apparently doesn’t think that but that’s the truth.

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. Asking people to vote for a $167,000,000 blank check without telling them what that money would pay for is indecent.

This St. Cloud Times Our View editorial cites some things that’ve gotten questioned on this blog. When the Times says that the “price of a new Tech was $113.8 million, and Apollo’s improvements tallied $46.5 million”, that isn’t accurate. If the Times wanted to say that the ISD742 School Board said that these figures are accurate, that’s one thing.

I cited Barclay Carriar in this post because he said “What a lot of them don’t recognize is, 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.” Hypothetically speaking, that means they couldn’t have more than a rough estimate of the school’s cost.

If the School Board doesn’t let interested taxpayers see the blueprint of the new Tech, they’ll face an uphill fight. That’s because people now know that a) the combined enrollment of Tech and Apollo is roughly 2,700 students and b) the projected capacity of the new Tech and the renovated Apollo will be 3,600 students.

This morning’s editorial asks the question “So how do district leaders, elected and professional, craft another referendum that addresses so many potential points of disagreement?” The answer is simple. They shouldn’t try. On a project this big, they should immediately commit to listening sessions before attempting to draft another question. Specifically, the listening session should include a healthy percentage of people who voted no this past Tuesday.

If the School Board changes a few things, then presents essentially the same plan with a smaller price tag, it’s possible they might prevail but it’d be hardly worth it. It wouldn’t be worth it because they wouldn’t have won over a spirited bunch of people who opposed the referendum for multiple substantive reasons.

It’s especially worthwhile to note that 15,853 people took time to vote on this referendum. According to Dennis Whipple, the chairman of the ISD742 Board, most referenda have a turnout rate of about 18%. In this instance, the turnout rate was 31%. They turned out because they were upset. They felt like they were taken for granted. They thought that they were talked down to.

If Chairman Whipple and the Board treats the taxpayers like ATMs again, they’ll face an uphill fight on getting a new referendum passed.

Most importantly, they will have wasted the opportunity to build a little trust with voters.