Saturday, February 28, 2015

February PUCK of the Month

The winner of MN Hockey Mama's prestigious "PUCK" of the month award is.........

South Washington County Schools
Ron Kath

That's right, our illustrious leader, Ron Kath, is the winner of the February "PUCK" of the month award.  Ron is a shining example of government leadership at its finest.  Shining like the sun, he led District 833  into the hole to the sum of $8.5 million. In the February 25, Woodbury Bulletin, Ron stated:
The message I took from parents who turned out for recent district budget meetings was that they are willing to pay more to help improve the district's finances and protect education programs.
Really, that what you heard? 

Ron reminds us of Mayor Augustus Maywho, a man who had his tonsils removed twice....

Keep visiting our blog as we reveal more amusing facts on school district mismanagement and government policy tricks that will make your skin turn green.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

School Board Censure is Infectious

Cartoon from
Was school board member Katy McElwee-Stevens censured because she requested a line-item budget? Perhaps those who believe in the service level  matrix will do anything to defend it. Getting nosy and doing your job isn't without risk when you serve on a school board in Minnesota.

South Washington County Schools will soon be asking voters to fork over $180 million, yet wastes money to have a law firm “investigate” and strong arm school board members.  This is happening in our school district and in Duluth and Farmington.  Censure of school board members may be at epidemic levels around the state.  Take a look at this article from the Duluth Lincoln Democrat, the official voice of the Welty for School Board Campaign:

Censure is infectious


January 11th, 2015

Our Attorney, Kevin Rupp, belongs to a law firm that has become expert in the sanctioning wayward school board members. They were behind what ended up being a failed attempt to remove the Farmington board member in 2010 that got Judy Seliga-Punyko so excited as she contemplated removing Gary Glass.

They’ve been in the news over the weekend for advising the South Washington County School Board which just censured one of its own. Here’s one of several summaries in the news.

Unlike my censure this one involved data relating to an employee. The board member in question passed on information which she came by in the course of being around the schools. However, this info was also given to board members by the attorneys in data private confidence. The majority chose to believe that this widely rumored private data had come from the legal counsel. Unlike Art or me the South Washington County Board member who was censured seems quite stricken and pledges to mend her ways.

As it happens a Fox News station made a public data request that makes the whole issue of private data highly suspect because they were given a 99 page file on the employee whose privacy the Board was intent on preserving. That’s a third longer than Mary Rice’s report on Art Johnston and the alleged misdeeds far exceed anything leveled against Art. The actions of this School Board support my contention that one of the chief functions of data privacy laws is to cover up misdeeds. The primary protection accrues to bad guys and bureaucracies that make use of the privacy to quietly leverage embarrassing information to get rid of bad actors.

Its clear from the report, should it be true, that few school districts would want such a fellow to become a principal. But keeping this damaging information under wraps is almost as good as a positive reference. This Board member who got the information in an entirely predictable manner now faces the prospect of removal if she ever lets any more cats out of the bag. I’m inclined to think this action shameful rather than think of it as being law abiding. Some laws are very flawed and so it seems to me is this use of data privacy.

My offense thus far – the one I was censured for – did not involve any personnel’s private data. My mistake was to report the sale price of our District’s Central property which could have put the sale in jeopardy. Like the South Washington board member I am much abashed – about this justification for my censure. I feel no shame for handing over our attorney’s advice on how to deal with Art Johnston which was also among the reasons the majority of my board voted to censure me. You see we too have a bad actor. I blame this one for an overzealous campaign to harass Art Johnston and boy did it ever bear fruit – nine months of hell to put another notch on Kevin Rupp’s gun belt.

This explains why I feel no shame for handing over the legal advice relating to Art to the press. I believe our attorney is actively protecting a bad penny to help the Board majority remove Art. And now Mr. Rupp may have an entirely more personal reason for removing my only ally from the School Board. I’ve made no secret that I believe the new school board will lean far more closely to my views on the District’s sorry finances and management. I think Mr. Rupp would love to put his finger into the Duluth school board election by helping remove a Board member who has more reason than ever to question our hiring a generously paid character assassin.

Of course, that’s not the only service Mr. Rupp has provided our District. Among his other triumphs is helping negotiate one of the richest teacher’s contracts in Minnesota. Last year Duluth was about 15th out of 300 school districts in terms of teacher’s salary and that was for one of the poorest districts in the state. That’s not the best way to go about hiring more teachers and reduce our horrendous class sizes but it is a good way to assure teacher burn out.

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 ordered by the school administration and majorities on school boards who wish to purge trouble makers. 

It is no coincidence that the attorney for the Duluth School District is a partner in the same law firm on contract to represent District 833. How much are taxpayers forking over to this law firm to censure board members?

Serving on a school board is becoming risky business.  It is imperative that school board members be allowed to communicate with their constituents, request information from the administration and voice opinions contrary to the school board majority.  Voters become disenfranchised and the democratic process undermined when law firms rather than voters control our school districts.  Take a look at these articles from the Star Tribune and Pioneer Press regarding a Farmington school board member before you decide to throw your hat in the ring and run for South Washington County School Board.

Farmington school official won't face a felony case

Star Tribune: Newspaper of the Twin Cities (Minneapolis, MN) - Friday, December 31, 2010


The Dakota County attorney's office will not pursue charges against a Farmington school board member accused of violating state law, saying that there's no evidence he committed a felony. 

The school board censured Tim Burke earlier this month after an attorney for the board said an investigation showed evidence that Burke illegally disclosed private personnel data and information discussed in closed board meetings. 

The board asked the county attorney to consider criminal charges against Burke, but the offenses described in a report on the investigation fall short of felonies, said Phil Prokopowicz, chief deputy Dakota County attorney. The county attorney's office doesn't usually prosecute misdemeanors, so the report was handed off to Farmington's city attorney this week, Prokopowicz said. 

The city attorney could not be reached for comment Thursday. 

The board ordered the investigation after months of mounting tension between Burke and other members. Several members say that Burke has persistently bullied district administrators and burdened them with unnecessary data requests. Burke has said that administrators have dragged their feet in providing public information. 

Burke's attorney, Fred Finch, said that Burke hasn't broken any laws and that legal advice given to the school board was based on a "fundamental misunderstanding" of the state's open meeting and data practices laws. 


Edition: METRO

School board tables discussion of budget cuts - But reason for delay unclear; 2 members lack information

St. Paul Pioneer Press (MN) - Thursday, January 27, 2011

Author: Mila Koumpilova

Farmington school officials have a plan to close a $1.8 million budget gap for next school year -- but the school board won't hear it just yet. 

At a meeting earlier this week, four board members voted to take the budget-cuts proposal off the agenda. Disclosing the reason would violate data-privacy laws, they said, vowing to inform the other two members during a later closed session. 

"Hopefully, it doesn't turn out to be anything serious," said board member Brian Treakle, who moved to delay the budget discussion. "But it's serious enough that we had to do this." 

Board member Julie Singewald said Wednesday that she remains in the dark and voiced concern about delaying an important discussion about balancing the budget. 

"I am frustrated because as board members, we should all have the same information going into a meeting," said Singewald, who, along with member Julie McKnight, argued in favor of hearing the budget proposal. 

Data-privacy issues are a sensitive topic in Farmington, where last month the board voted to censure member Tim Burke for allegedly violating data-privacy laws by calling out employees publicly. Burke had repeatedly charged administrators with a lack of transparency. 

Three new members -- Treakle, Tera Lee and Melissa Sauser -- have since joined the board, changing its dynamic. This week, Burke joined the trio to vote for pulling the budget discussion. 

District finance director Jeff Priess said he also does not know why the board wanted to hold off on reviewing his proposal. He said his recommendations were partly informed by an October report by Madison, Wis., consulting firm Baker Tilly, which suggested various ways to reduce district costs by as much as $1.1 million. Those suggestions included requiring employees to contribute toward their health coverage, sharing human-resources professionals with neighboring districts and eliminating the director of administrative services. 

Priess said he would not be comfortable discussing the proposal in detail before sharing it with the board. 

On Monday, Treakle made the motion, seconded by Burke, to pull the budget item from the agenda. Treakle later said he heard about some of the administration's recommendations last week and made the decision to pull the item after consulting the Minnesota School Board Association and a district attorney. 

"I have grave concerns about delaying any potential savings that we have in this district for reasons that aren't touching our kids," Singewald said at the meeting, pointing out that the board could hear the presentation without acting on it that night. 

Still, board members argued for holding off until after a closed session. Lee, the board chair, said she would schedule such a session shortly. 

"Why this information is being withheld, I don't know," Singewald said in an interview, adding, "This is coming from people who were touting transparency in the district." 

At the Monday meeting, Singewald expressed concern that some board members might be conducting board business outside of scheduled meetings in violation of Minnesota's open-meeting law. The members who pushed to delay the budget discussion seemed to have decided on that move beforehand, she said. 

Treakle and Lee strongly denied that suggestion. 

"The law does allow people to talk and exchange information," Treakle said, "as long as they are not building consensus."

Edition: Dakota County
Section: Local
Page: B1
Dateline: Farmington

School board members are threatened with censure when they step out of line; but look at what happens when the average citizen wants information. We have submitted multiple data requests to District 833 and have been asked to pay up to $1,500.  What are they trying to hide?  Whatever it is, it's more than two stay-at-home moms can afford.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

833 Manipulates Parents Using Delphi Technique - Part 2
During the Feb. 11"Community Conversations" meeting at East Ridge High School, we were appalled to see concerned parents and taxpayers manipulated by the Delphi Technique or Delphi Method.  The goal of Delphi is to ensure the "evolution of consensus"or solidarity of belief.

In the previous blog post, I stated that  the  friendly facilitator, Brian Boothe, Director of Professional Development and Accountability,  listened and sympathized with the targets by getting them to express their concerns. Then, in an attempt to diffuse the tension, he asked the concerned parents to play a ridiculous "unifying" game prior to asking for their input.

Let's "rewind" the evening's conversation to reveal the repugnant treatment of a concerned parent by Superintendent Julie Nielson,  Assistant Superintendent for Academic Excellence and Accountability. 
Nielson's role as the "professional agitator" is meant to learn something about the audience; who are the loudmouths; who are the leaders and who can be manipulated during the course of the argument.  Those in opposition are made to look foolish, stupid and inarticulate.  Take a look at Ms. Nielson in action in the video below and how she treats a parent concerned about cuts in the Reading Recovery program:

This brought back vivid memories of the a movie we're all familiar with, "The Wizard of Oz."

After scanning District 833 Administration webpage, I noticed that three members of the Superintendent's Cabinet had the term "accountability" in their job-title.  Rather than always defaulting to cut teachers, might I suggest that we begin by cutting the fat at the top of the pay scale as redundancy is not cost effective.

During difficult economic times, our families are forced to modify their activities and programs.  Ms. Nielson states that Reading Recovery is from THE Ohio State University and can't be modified to accommodate  two children at the same time.  Chances are the Reading Recovery program will be replaced by the MN Reading Corp program in 2016.  SF607 will appropriate $9,175,000 per year to support AmeriCorps members serving in the MN Reading Corp program established by ServeMinnesota.  Funding will include costs associated with training and teaching early literacy skills to children age 3 to grade 3 . The bill is authored by Senators Kent, Johnson, Nelson, Pratt and Saxhaug. The replacement of teachers with federal paid volunteers is now commonplace as we move away from local control toward federal control.

We would like to congratulate Ms. Nielson as we have nominated her for our new award, "PUCK of the Month."  The definition of "puck" is:  A hard rubber disc used by players in ice hockey; but I prefer the noun:  A mischievous sprite or elf.  You be the judge.

For information on how to disrupt Delphi as well as our next nominee for "PUCK of the Month",  please subscribe.

UPDATED 2/18/2015 8:48AM

Saturday, February 14, 2015

UPDATE: SOME @ISD833 Budget Cuts Tabled

We the people were heard

South Washington County School District 833 has determined to delay almost half of the proposed budget cuts.  Engagement of the public was part of the deciding factor for the decision to delay the cuts.  However, the district still intends to increase class sizes by cutting 25.5 FTEs and eliminate World Language from the elementary schools. 

Total Proposed Adjumstments
The District is also in the planning stages of coming to the community and asking for a levy increase - as they said repeatedly at the Budget Conversations, we are "$900/student below the state levy cap" and that, to them, just is UNACCEPTABLE since that is WAY below neighboring district spend on their schools. 

Proposal of Future Operating Levy Referendum
Anecdotal evidence, however, shows that those neighboring school districts, while at the levy cap still are struggling - somehow, even though they are at the approx $1500/student spending, they still have overcrowded classrooms - as many as 37 elementary students in a class has been reported by parents in some neighboring districts and program cuts. So who is to say that if District 833 reaches the cap that they will not have the same problems?  It seems that with a budget of approximately $225million/year the issue is not the amount of money received, but a SPENDING issue within the district and it is doubtful that the programs/teachers/etc. being proposed to be cut are the true reason for the overspending.

It would seem, since this has happened in the past, that District 833's tactics are once again to lead the people to believe that they are absolutely broke, then threaten to cut programs and services that are near and dear to the people's hearts, then "delay" those cuts in order to coerce the community into giving them what they really want: an approved referendum.

So, people, please do not go back to sleep.  We need to be asking for a line item budget that will give a clear picture of exactly why District 833 has found itself in the predicament it is in and then fix that problem. 

Call your Board Members and ask them to please continue to be diligent in their search for answers. Ask them to insist on receiving a line item budget before they make any more decisions regarding the budget or a levy referendum.  Remind them that they are the elected officials - put in place to be the voices of the people.

 School Board Contact Info:
School Board Chair
School Board Clerk
School Board Director
School Board Director
School Board Director
School Board Treasurer
School Board Vice-Chair

Friday, February 13, 2015

District 833 + Kraus-Anderson = LOVE

Roses are Red
Violets are Blue
District 833 

Pay-to-Play is used in a variety of situations.  One definition of pay-to-play is when money is exchanged for the privilege of engaging in business or contract opportunities.  Did Kraus-Anderson donate to the South Washington County School District, Vote Yes Committee, to get in the game?  You be the judge.

Vote Yes committees are informational campaigns set up with the help of school districts to promote a referendum. They receive donations from powerful teachers unions and other special interest groups. The following is the Campaign Finance Report from the Vote Yes Committee dated November 11, 2013:

 As you can see from the slide above, Kraus-Anderson donated $2,500 to the Vote Yes campaign to support the referendum.  District 833 was asking voters for $8.5 million to purchase land for a new school.  The ballot question failed.

Kraus-Anderson has an extensive portfolio and has completed many construction projects in District 833 and 834 using taxpayer dollars:

Both the South Washington County Bulletin and the Woodbury Bulletin published the story above.  District 833 is retaining Kraus-Anderson for construction management for projects planned in the coming years.  Based on the evidence we at MN Hockey Mama have presented; what do you think?  Did Kraus-Anderson donate to the Vote Yes Committee to obtain an extensive, multimillion dollar contract?

 We at MN Hockey Mama pride ourselves on "connecting the dots" for you and posing the tough questions others are afraid to ask. Please subscribe for the latest news in South Washington County and the State of Minnesota.

833 Manipulates Parents Using Delphi Technique

The tactics used by District 833 during the "community conversations" meeting  on Wednesday, Feb. 11, 2015, could be used as a case study for Psych. 101 students. That's right, you, the concerned parent and taxpayer, are being manipulated by the South Washington County School District via the use of the Delphi Technique, whose goal is to achieve consensus or solidarity of belief using a series of exercises led by a group of facilitators we will call  the District 833 "cabinet."

 The Delphi Technique was crafted by Saul Alinsky, an admirer of Chicago mob bosses and self described "Neo-Marxist."  In his book, "Rules for Radicals", the dedication lovingly reads,

Lest we forget at least an over-the-shoulder acknowledgment to the very first radical: from all our legends, mythology, and history... the first radical known to man who rebelled against the establishment and did it so effectively that he at least won his own kingdom — Lucifer.

 Those present at the East Ridge High School budget meeting were mostly parents of students who would be impacted by upcoming budget cuts.  These people, willing to brave the below zero wind-chills, would be putty in the hands of  a panel of pastel clad experts called the "cabinet".   
  A friendly facilitator, Brian Boothe,Director of Professional Development and Accountability,  listened and sympathized with the targets (uhh...that would be you)  by getting them to express their concerns. Then, in an attempt to diffuse the tension, he asked the concerned parents to play a ridiculous "unifying" game.  Take a look at how they got us to come together, feel good and let us know "we are all on the same side."

The whole thing gave me "Babe" flashbacks. 

To learn how to turn this technique back on them and remain in control of the "conversation",  subscribe and watch for future posts.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

An Open Letter to the SWC 833 School Board

Dear Board Members,

We the people elected you to be our voices in the district.  We elected you to stand tall and strong for our kids and be good stewards of the taxes we pay to fund the schools.  We elected you to question, probe, research - whatever it takes for you to understand exactly what your employee, Superintendent Jacobus, and his (mostly due to resignations) brand new cabinet, are trying to convince you to approve.  You are the leaders of this situation.  As such, we the people expect you to do your due diligence when deciding on what should be included in $8 million in cuts from the budget

2015-2016 Recommended Budget Reductions and Potential Impacts  
We also expect you to ask why exactly our fund balance has dropped so drastically since Dr. Jacobus has been Superintendent - after all, it was he who introduced the "Budget Matrix" to the district,
"2014-2015 Service Level Matrix"
and eliminated the line item budget process - it was you (or your predecessors) who approved doing so.  We the people respectfully request the return of the line item budget as the Budget Matrix is confusing and difficult to read and understand.  It also muddles the numbers - grouping them together so that the real picture is like a Faux Monet: pretty from a distance but up close all muddled and confusing, only now, the picture isn't pretty no matter how far away one stands.

Furthermore, we the people request that the current budget cuts be scrapped and the process begin again - with the people, not just the administration - Dr. Jacobus, his Cabinet and school principals - involved and with using a line item budget so that every expense has a cost directly connected to it.  No more generalities.  Please show us EXACTLY how much is being spent on each item.  Dr. Jacobus and Mr. Kath have claimed that the Budget Matrix is great for the district because it removes emotion from the process.  We the people disagree: It removes the specifics and allows expenses to be hidden within the formulas.  True transparency would dictate that a line item budget be used for this process, not general amounts with no alternatives given.
We the people believe that schools should be fiscally responsible and good stewards of taxpayer money; however, we also believe that cutting Special Education, Reading Recovery, Elementary Band, Orchestra and World Language and also increasing class sizes are not good cuts; it would seem that those cuts were chosen to inflict the most pain on the people of the district to really demonstrate what "dire" straights the district leaders have put the district into. 

Board Members, please insist that Dr. Jacobus and his lean cabinet go back to the drawing board and rethink the proposed cuts.  Please stand up for the children of the district - that is your job - and insist that increasing class sizes is not an option, that cutting special ed and reading recovery are unacceptable and that band and orchestra are important and should not be the sacrificial lambs of these cuts.  Board Members, please do your jobs and research the options, ask for the line item budget and insist that the administration provide it to you if they want anything approved.  You have the power - you are the leaders of this situation - USE YOUR AUTHORITY and SPEAK UP FOR THE CHILDREN OF THE DISTRICT. 


We The People

Community Members: click here to give the administration your feedback re: the budget cuts.

Call your Board Members:
School Board Contact Info:
School Board Chair
School Board Clerk
School Board Director
School Board Director
School Board Director
School Board Treasurer
School Board Vice-Chair

Updated 2/12/15 2:53pm