Tuesday, September 22, 2015

SWC 833's November 3, 2015 Bond/Levy Referendum Info

South Washington County School District ISD833 has 3 questions on the Nov. 3, 2015 election ballot - an operating levy for $525 per student and two bond questions totaling $142.5 million. Voters should get informed on these questions. This year, there are groups that are promoting the referendum's passage and opposing the referendum. This is good news for voters as it means they have an opportunity to hear both the pros and the cons of the referendum and can be fully educated on the issues.

The South Washington County Bulletin newspaper has published an article about the referendum and the two campaign committees.

For more information South Washington County District 833 residents can visit https://www.facebook.com/VoteYes833 (pro-referendum) or https://www.facebook.com/SWC4P (opposing the referendum).

District 833 is also hosting informational meetings: 

Superintendent Keith Jacobus and other administrators are hosting a series of “community conversations” about the ballot measures. The events are set for 6:30 p.m. at Park High School lecture hall Sept. 29, Oct. 13 and 27; 6:30 p.m. at Woodbury High School Sept. 23, Oct. 7 and 21; and 10 a.m. at the District Service Center Board Room Sept. 17, Oct. 1 and Oct. 22.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

District 833- Unplug from the Matrix!

South Washington County Schools established the budget matrix to provide a "simplified" District 833 cost per student spending profile.  They compare the per student spend across seven broad categories (on the left) against various levels of service those spend achieves (top).  While this approach seems nice on the surface, it in no way affords a responsible way to make good decisions.  With an annual budget of around $250,000,000 the devil is in the details and accountability for sound judgement cannot be assumed.  It requires transparency to the programs and the line-item accounting of the district's past, present, and future spending plans.

A major drawback of the matrix is it's oversimplification.  The spend levels are given in discrete amounts and the level of service rendered is subjective based on how the administration views the playing field; not necessarily how the parents, students, and taxpayers may see it.  This was evident during the citizens feedback given during the "Community Conversations" the district held these past two months.  Examples were the negative response by the public against the planned cancellation of  Band and Reading Recovery.  The sacred cows, not to be considered, were programs like IB, AVID and World's Best Work Force.

To make a responsible decision, it is necessary to analyze all available resources which would include the line-item budget; it's common sense. A leader would make certain that, for planning and evaluation purposes, board members would return to the original line-item budget for reference.  Unfortunately, for all of us, District 833 School Board members made a decision to shove a $180 million referendum down the throats of taxpayers this coming November without the benefit of a program-by-program / line-item budget review.

So what are the line-item numbers behind each of the Service Level Matrix categories?  Why aren't administrators releasing an individual line-item budget to the school board and to members of the community?  Why didn't school board members demand access to the line-item budget before agreeing to ask taxpayers for more money? We deserve the courtesy of reviewing the budget details to make a determination as to why the administration has incurred liabilities in excess of appropriations. How did the fund balance drop so drastically that we now have an $8.5 million shortfall?

It is your right as a taxpayer to have a line-item budget made available to you.  Please make a request for the line-item budget to members of the school board so you can see for yourself.  Oh, and let us know if they charge you for the information.

School Board Chair
School Board Clerk
School Board Director
School Board Director
 Witte, Michelle
School Board Director
School Board Treasurer

School Board Vice-Chair
The budget matrix, the lengths the district has gone to do defend it, and the hesitation to provide the details behind it has brought to mind this video clip from the classic sci-fi  film, The Matrix.

Leadership is a rare quality.  A true leader drives for results, is strategically focused and makes high quality decisions.  It would appear that leadership in District 833 is sorely lacking.  Therefore, the second nominee for "PUCK of the Month" is District 833 School Board Chair, Ron Kath. 

Our "PUCK of the Month" will be announced on Feb. 28. Ahhh...the suspense!

For more information on what's happening in South Washington County Schools and the State of MN, please subscribe to MN Hockey Mama.

Updated 2/23/2015 9:27am

Sunday, June 7, 2015

District 833 School Board Member Defends Black Panthers

Police Search for Additional Explosives 

after the Dayton's Bombing, 1970

A bomb exploded in the women's restroom of Dayton's departments store in downtown St. Paul on August, 22, 1970. The blast seriously injured one woman.  A second, more powerful bomb, was found nearby and defused.  The Dayton's bombing was the most spectacular of a series of bombings and attempted bombings in the Twin Cities that summer - a time of increasingly violent social unrest.  Sixteen-year-old Gary Hogan, an admirer of the militant Black Panther movement, was eventually arrested and convicted of planting the bomb.  He served three years of a 20-year-prison sentence.
 -Photo via Minnesota Historical Society

Email from District 833 School Board Member Sharon Van Leer to Superintendent Keith Jacobus

-Obtained via Freedom of Information Act

Should a woman who believes the Black Panthers  "worked to advance real economic, social and political equality across gender and color lines" be serving on the South Washington County District 833 School Board? 

Does the response to Sharon Van Leer from Superintendent Keith Jacobus  sound reasonable? 

 The response to concerned parents was one of complete disregard.  The paragraph below was read by a parent during the school board meeting on Thursday, April 25, 2013:

At a previous Board meeting where the superintendent said he considered the issue closed, he also comment that “the children are watching”.   That’s good.  They should witness how citizens of The Constitutional Republic in which we live, have the right to question and petition their elected officials in an open and honest dialog.  The children should also see that those elected officials have the responsibility to properly redress the grievances brought by their constituents.  One other additional thing they will notice – that the taxpaying community is watching too.

 To voice your concerns regarding oversight of District 833, please contact your elected officials on the School Board:

School Board Chair
School Board Clerk
School Board Director
School Board Director
School Board Director
School Board Treasurer
School Board Vice-Chair

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Parent Activism in District 833

 Just how transparent is your school district?

The education children are receiving today may surprise most parents.  Many assume that if a school looks great from the outside, great things must be happening on the inside.  One thing is certain; we spend way too much money on education and the results are pathetic. It is estimated that the state of Minnesota will spend $17.7 billion on education in 2015.  Total spending in 2014 for South Washington School District 833 was over $250 million.  With such large amounts of cash flowing into local school districts, the opportunity for wasteful spending and misallocation of funds has proven to be too much of a temptation for many teachers and administrators.  

An article in the Star Tribune placed a spotlight on questionable spending in the Minneapolis school district when it was found that nearly half of expense reports lacked supporting documentation, even though this was against district policy. Tenure allows these people to remain handcuffed to the classroom so breaking a few rules isn’t much of an issue.  To obtain the information necessary to shine the light on this wasteful spending, the Star Tribune made use of a data request under Minnesota Statutes Section 13.43.  The data request can also be a powerful tool for the average citizen, allowing them to become a watchdog over their local school district.

  How you can put the data practices act to work in your school district

Guidelines on how to request data from a government entity can be found on the website for the Information Policy Analysis Division or IPAD.  According to IPAD, under the DataPractices Act (Minnesota Statutes, Chapter 13), you have the right to request information from a government entity.  If you are seeking information regarding yourself or your minor child (in data practices terms, you are referred to as the data subject), you have the right to access the data free of charge.   Advocating for your child becomes even more important when you or your child have been bullied or manipulated by administrators, special education teachers or school psychologists.  The manipulation of parents and taxpayers needs to be exposed so that we can advocate for students and our community.

 School districts are required to have a Data Practices Compliance Official and the district must keep all data in such a way that it is easily accessible to the general public. Examples of written requests may be found on the IPAD website. Districts may require you to fill out a simple form which can be mailed or faxed to the Compliance Official.  You may request to inspect data free of charge before making the decision to request digital or hard copies of the information. If you or your children are the subject of a data search, the school does not have the right to charge you for searching and retrieving the information and may only charge for the actual cost of making, certifying and compiling of copies.

 Data requests are a good way to keep tabs on the dirty little secrets districts love to hide.  However, don’t be surprised, if during the course of inspection, unexpected issues arise.  Problems receiving data, especially if it’s for a controversial subject that may jeopardize the integrity of the school district may be experienced.   When this occurs, an appeal may be made to the state IPAD agency for an advisory opinion.  IPAD does not have the authority to force the district to comply with the decision but you will then have the option to file a complaint in district court or with the Office of Administrative Hearings.

Confronting District 833 

Efforts by school administrators to control information parents receive became very obvious with the South Washington County School District in February 2013.  On the morning of February 14, 2013, distressed East Ridge High School students began texting parents asking questions and expressing complaints about feeling uncomfortable and indoctrinated.  After receiving a phone call from a parent complaining that a militant group, The Black Panthers, was being commemorated over the intercom during morning announcements, parent activists were moved to action.

Because East Ridge is a public high school, one would think retrieving the actual announcement would be as simple as calling the office and requesting a copy of the script.  Office staff is usually more than happy to comply.  In attempting to do so, the staff was hamstrung by roadblocks put up by administrators who were not comfortable revealing the details of what was read that morning.  Multiple calls were made by many concerned citizens (a number of whom were members of the Tea Party Alliance) asking the district to release the announcement to the parent of a student attending East Ridge High School.

The parent was called after school was dismissed later that afternoon with the promise an envelope containing the announcement would be made available at the school’s front desk.  Upon arrival at the school the parent found the front desk area abandoned and no one in the office staff would answer repeated knocks on the main office door.  Not easily dissuaded, the parent drove to the athletic entrance and made her way to the office.  Office staff greeted her with blank stares and said that there was no envelope. Not wanting to go away empty handed, the parent asked to speak to the Athletic Director.  During this discussion with office staff, the Principal stood close to the distressed mother watching the discussion transpire without once coming forward to assist.  Only after getting a hold of the Athletic Director was the announcement made available outside the school walls.

 The morning announcement read over the PA system that Valentine’s Day was a commemoration of the two radical founders of the Black Panther Party - Huey Newton and Bobby Seale.  Part of the announcement included a poem of declaration….”I pledge allegiance to my black people……”  The inappropriate way in which a topic of this nature was brought forward to the unsuspecting students, faculty, and staff was reason to disseminate the details to the citizens of the community and the press.

This blog and national talk show host Jason Lewis were instrumental in providing the community, state and nation with information regarding the situation. In the days following the East Ridge announcement commemorating Bobby Seale and Huey Newton, the district received numerous calls and e-mails from the community questioning how and why a subject of this nature was communicated in such an inappropriate manner.  The group that raised the issue with the morning announcement were called racists and asked why they were against Black History Month.  The administration and school board said that the ERHS Principal had been receiving threats from those who responded with concern; friends, members of the local GOP and Tea Party members.  Those accused could not let such innuendos go unchallenged.  In response to the accusations, a data request was submitted for the threatening emails and their corresponding police reports, pursuant to Minnesota Statutes Section 13.43, subdivision 1.

 The heavily redacted emails received from the district as a result of the data request were an insult to the parents and students of District 833.  The Principal asked directly in one email, if one of the accused parents had a concern about “celebrating Black History Month.”  Additional emails between the Principal and the District Communication’s Director indicate concerns over A MN Hockey Mama’s blog.  Administrators seemed to be attempting to guess the identity of whoever was responsible for the dissemination of this story, in an attempt to redirect blame and minimize their own lack of oversight.  A school board meeting on April 25, 2013 was quite revealing when the mother of an Occupy WallStreet radical made a statement supporting the Black Panther announcement.  A savvy member of the group of parents that raised the original concern made and interesting connection while viewing the school board meeting online.  The result was a story by Meredith Jessup of The Blaze.

From the Black Panthers to finances - Data requests reveal District 833 secrets

Watchdogs continued to hound the district and the results have been fruitful.  In November of 2014, Principal Aaron Harper of East Ridge High School resigned after he allegedly used taxpayer money to purchase iPads, retail shopping memberships, gift cards and other items.  He is now facing a criminal investigation for maintaining a “slush fund” from students parking fee revenues.  Data requests submitted by the South Washington County Bulletin to District 833 in November were finally released after an appeal to the state IPAD agency.  The appeal was required to declare the data as public, in opposition to the district’s claim that the data was not in the public domain.

Data requests for campaign finance reports from the “Vote Yes” Committee in 2013, revealed non-compliance with campaign finance law and a complaint was filed with the Office of Administrative Hearings.  The “Vote Yes” committees are well funded campaigns that receive thousands of dollars from teachers unions, principal associations and construction companies. These funds allowed the “Vote Yes” Committee to hire an attorney to represent them during the hearing.  The judge ruled in favor of the “Vote Yes” Committee but the data request bore much fruit.



The “Vote Yes” Committee received a $2,500 donation for the construction company Kraus-Anderson.   Kraus-Anderson has completed over 200 K-12 education projects totaling $700 million in the past five years in the state of Minnesota.  Construction projects in South Washington County include East Ridge High School and the addition to Bielenberg Sports Center.  Interestingly, a multi-million dollar “no-bid” contract was awarded to Kraus Anderson by District 833 for construction of a new middle school and other projects within the district. 

The battle continues

 The resignation of 11 administrators from District 833 over the last several months, the censure of a school board member and concerns over proposed tax increases have led to more data requests.

Members of our political activists group received a tip that there was a connection between the censure of a South Washington County School board member and the censure of school board members in Farmington and Duluth.  The mystery was revealed when an activist in another part of the state reported that the law firm representing South Washington County was also representing the school districts of Farmington and Duluth. In an article from the lincolndemocrat.com (1-11-15), “Censure is Infectious”, the author takes the law firm to task calling them “generously paid character assassins.”

 Should a law firm have the authority to remove wayward board members who refuse to toe the line?  Fear of censure or the embarrassment of removal should not be a consequence for disagreeing with the administration. These political witch-hunts are often pressed by the school administration and majorities on school boards who wish to purge trouble makers.  Local control will be lost if law firms and the federal government control our schools rather than an elected school board.

 School districts across MN need oversight by political activists now more than ever. South Washington County Schools will soon be asking voters to fork over $149 million.  Continuing to feed the beast is not in the best interest of the students or the taxpayers.  It is my sincere hope that activists across the state will expose the secrets they keep.