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Betsy DeVos has the chance of being one of the best secretaries of Education ever. According to this WSJ article, Mrs. DeVos has gone toe-to-toe with the ‘education establishment’ and lived to tell about it. In fact, she didn’t just live to tell about it, she defeated them. In fact, she didn’t just defeat them, she kicked some serious ass.

According to the WSJ article, “Mrs. DeVos is a philanthropist who has devoted years and much of her fortune to promoting school reform, especially charter schools and vouchers. She chairs the American Federation for Children (AFC).”

This year, “AFC was especially successful … as 108 of the 121 candidates it supported won their elections. AFC candidates in Florida won 20 of 21 targeted races. The group’s biggest coup was ousting a scourge of school choice in a Miami-Dade Senate district where Democrats are a majority. The teachers’ union dumped $1 million into the race but still lost.” [Editor’s note: winning 108 of 121 elections is a winning percentage of 89.25%, which certainly qualifies as kicking ass.

It’s especially heartening to see this many school choice advocates getting elected. They’re the future civil rights leaders of the next 15 years. Even more importantly, being seen as school choice advocates will help Republicans in minority communities irrespective of what Randi Weingarten said in this interview:

In Ms. Weingarten’s over-the-top statement, she said “In nominating DeVos, Trump makes it loud and clear that his education policy will focus on privatizing, defunding and destroying public education in America. DeVos has no meaningful experience in the classroom or in our schools. The sum total of her involvement has been spending her family’s wealth in an effort to dismantle public education in Michigan. Every American should be concerned that she would impose her reckless and extreme ideology on the nation.”

This is a perfect illustration of the left’s wanting money out of politics … if the money is spent opposing the left’s monopolies. Mrs. DeVos has spent a portion of her wealth trying to increase educational competition in the hopes of forcing the forces of the status quo into providing a better product. The reason why the minority community likes school choice is because public schools have failed their children too often.

Here’s hoping that Mrs. DeVos carries out President-Elect Trump’s school choice agenda when she’s confirmed.

This morning, Donald Trump picked Gov. Nikki Haley, (R-SC), to be the US Ambassador to the UN. This afternoon, President-Elect Trump picked Betsy DeVos to be his Education Secretary. The Washington Post describes Mrs. DeVos as a “billionaire and conservative activist” who “has quietly helped change the education landscape in many states, spending millions of dollars in a successful push to expand voucher programs that give families taxpayer dollars to pay for private and religious schools.”

Of course, the article wouldn’t be complete without quoting Randi Weingarten. Ms. Weingarten is quoted as saying “Trump’s pick makes it loud and clear that his education policy will focus on privatizing, defunding and destroying public education in America.”

In picking DeVos, President-Elect Trump is telling conservatives that he will push their school choice agenda. This pick, more than any other pick besides Jeff Sessions as Trump’s AG, signals that Trump’s education agenda aligns with Republicans’ education agenda.

After accepting the nomination to be the US ambassador to the US, Mrs. Haley said “When the President believes you have a major contribution to make to the welfare of our nation, and to our nation’s standing in the world, that is a calling that is important to heed,” Haley said, adding that she will “remain as governor until the U.S. Senate acts affirmatively on my nomination.”

DeVos will likely get the most criticism from Democrats because school choice represents an existential threat to the Democrats’ teacher union special interest allies. I’d think that Haley will sail through for confirmation.

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A loyal reader of LFR just sent me a lit piece that a private citizen put together and distributed on St. Cloud’s south side. It’s something worth highlighting for multiple reasons. First, whoever put that together is definitely motivated. Next, it’s clear they’ll either vote against the referendum or that they’ve already voted to reject the referendum. Third, the person (or group of people) who put this lit piece together put together a well-thought-out series of arguments against building a new Tech High School.

One of the lit piece’s points says “The school that the District plans to build is modeled after the new Alexandria High School (opened 2 years ago). Incorporated into the plan are numerous “informal learning spaces” which offer places where students may gather outside of the traditional class room. The first year that Alexandria opened resulted in the failure of the new high school to meet adequate yearly progress (AYP) for federal requirements in reading. Last year, the school failed to meet the AYP in the areas of reading, math and graduation rates. This was a high school that had excellent AYP (no failures) year after year. That changed after the new school was built and opened.” Here’s the first page of the lit piece:

Here’s the second page of the lit piece:

Every voter in ISD 742 should take the time to read this lit piece. It sets forth some important information and well-reasoned arguments against building a new Tech HS.

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The first thing I noticed about the St. Cloud Times’ endorsed school board candidates is that they’re ideologues. They’ve drank the School Board’s Kool-Aid. They each agree that voters must approve the $143,250,000 bonding referendum. These endorsed candidates don’t care that property taxes will skyrocket because of this vote. These endorsed candidates don’t care about the people living in St. Cloud who are living on modest fixed incomes and what those property tax increases will do to their family budgets.

They certainly don’t care that building the new Tech HS isn’t necessary. They don’t care that building the new Tech HS is foolish. They’ve gotten their marching orders and they’re going to do their best to carry those marching orders out.

It’s been reported that the ISD 742 School Board has held listening sessions. That isn’t true. They held gatherings that started with a professionally-produced presentation. It’s indisputable fact that it’s impossible to listen when you’re talking.

The Times’ Editorial Board did their best to spin these candidates’ qualifications but it won’t work. Here’s what they wrote:

Yes, on the surface all four might not seem to offer much diversity. But their answers to written questions from this board, campaign materials, experiences and news coverage about all eight candidacies show they are the best qualified to help lead the district in addressing its many challenges.

It isn’t just the surface that makes it seem like they “might not seem to offer much diversity.” It’s that they’re cookie-cutter DFL/Education Minnesota ideologues who won’t hesitate to raise taxes and rubberstamp Willie Jett’s agenda.

Frankly, the decisions that this board has made have been questionable at best. That’s especially true with the purchase of the land where the proposed new Tech HS is supposed to be located. When they first purchased it, they didn’t bother to determine whether it was fit for building on. It wasn’t. That’s why they had to do a land swap with the City of St. Cloud.

Now these ideologues want us to write them a blank check in the amount of $143,000,000? It isn’t just that I don’t think so. It’s that I’m saying ‘Hell no!‘ to these ideologues. I’ll say that emphatically by voting for just one candidate, John Palmer. Unlike these ideologues, Dr. Palmer won’t hesitate to ask the difficult questions. Unlike these ideologues, Dr. Palmer won’t hesitate in saying no to Education Minnesota’s agenda. Unlike these ideologues, Dr. Palmer will be the taxpayers’ and the students’ watchdog. Unlike these 4 ideologues, Dr. Palmer has earned my vote with his ideas, intelligence and his independence.

Finally, it’s time to tell the School Board that a) they work for us, b) they don’t work for Education Minnesota and/or Willie Jett and c) we aren’t their ATMs.

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.

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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