A professional commitment.  A spirit of cooperation.

I have 38 years of unique experience with education in Racine. In addition to 28 years as a successful math teacher in RUSD, I have negotiated contracts, reviewed district budgets, and brought rational behavior to union relations, all the while keeping in mind the interests of the community. 

Current leadership positions include the RUSD School Board, City Council (10th District), and the Racine Public Library Board of Trustees.

 We need strong schools.

Our Board must make the best use of its resources to boost student achievement. 

Be Smart, Vote WISER   (April 5) 


WKCE Scores

The latest WKCE scores can only be considered a major setback.  While WKCE scores do not reflect everything schools do to prepare students, they have nevertheless become the public standard for judging school districts. In select areas, our scores improved beyond anything the district has ever experienced.  Overall, however, the majority of the scores dropped, which is unacceptable.

The solution cannot be backing up and starting over — too slow, too costly, too much confusion.  We need to review existing processes and find specific places to improve effectiveness.  The solutions will most likely include helping building staffs with the planning process, and furnishing new or different resources in the classroom, including effective in-service and instructional coaches.

Instructional coaches are just like football coaches.  They don’t walk through the door and say win or get fired.  They evaluate the existing challenges in our classrooms, look at the skill set staff members currently have, and try to improve it.  Can highly paid professionals benefit from effective coaching throughout their career?  Ask Bret Favre or Aaron Rodgers.

You don’t want the board directly involved in setting classroom strategies.  Overall we lack the training and experience. We however do need to spend more time monitoring outcomes and providing resources.  If we want achievement to be a priority, we should spend as much time on our classrooms as we do on budgets, buses and buildings

Budget Repair Bill

The budget repair bill is like having a car door slammed on your fingers.

It doesn’t kill you, but it hurts, the pain is lasting, and the fingers may never be the same.

Basic facts:

  1. Our predicted budget deficit for 2011-2012 is roughly 25 million dollars.
  2. The “tools” provided by the state would have yielded savings of 15 million dollars.
  3. Voluntary contracts with our employees yielded savings of 18 million dollars.
  4. Our employees will experience losses in benefits of between six and seven thousand dollars per person per year.
  5. We still need an additional seven million dollars in budget reductions.
  6. The final cost to the district is not fully known as the state budget is still several months away from final vote.

The state underestimated the cuts due to two issues: the data they worked from was dated, and they only reviewed cuts to general state aid, ignoring cuts also made to aid targeted for specific programs.

Our search for savings with start with operational costs furthest from the classroom.  Kenosha has publicly stated they may face over 200 layoffs.  We are not anticipating anything close to that number.  As many of the savings will involve modifying or eliminating the jobs of many individuals, there will be no public information released until the final draft is ready.

The question the state should address is not how to reduce the benefits of public employees, but rather why can’t the wealthiest nation on the planet afford reasonable benefits for everyone.  If you want further insight on this, start with the tools found at www.costofwar.com

Central Office Purchase

I voted against the purchase of the Surgitek site for a new district office.

While our current facility is in need of an upgrade,  I opposed Surgitek because:

  1.  It sends the wrong message about our priorities.
  2. We have not made matching commitments to instruction.
  3. We have schools with greater facility needs.
  4. Better and larger office space was (and still is) available at lower cost.
  5. The district paid more than the current Racine market demanded.
  6. Many of the of projected savings are not going to be realized.
  7. Other projected savings did not require the purchase of a new facility.

The original plan called for us to make immediate use of only one of the office buildings at Surgitek, only to have our architects tell us that we now need two.  This makes the possibility of savings even more unrealistic.

The question I am most frequently asked is whether we can still get out of our purchase agreement.  The answer is no, and has been no for many months.

Referendum

I abstained on the vote for the current referendum. I neither supported it nor opposed it.

On the question of who is right — the taxpayers or the school district — there are strong arguments on both sides.  This ultimately means that the referendum was not well crafted by the board.

In support of the referendum:

  • We need more dollars for school maintenance;
  • We need to invest more in student achievement;
  • Our operational budget is quite challenged due to reliance on stimulus money.

In opposition to the referendum:

  • It started out at 60 million dollars.  The current cost — 128 million dollars — prices us out of the market.
  •  It only addresses 1/4 of our maintenance needs, leaving a backlog of 60 million dollars in repairs.
  • It will only reduce class size in 10 to 15 percent of our classes.
  • Creating smaller classes is not a cost effective cure for achievement.  The cost is large and ongoing, the improvement is modest and slow.  See the 12/01/2010 issue of Education Week for more on this.
  • Using a referendum for normal operational costs is budgetary suicide.  We need to find savings, new revenue sources or reduce our costs.

The school board needs to listen to advice given by the business community, Kenosha and others:  Start small, earn the confidence of the community, don’t confuse the public by mixing maintenance and instruction, and have long range plans with long range goals.

Special Programs

As a school board candidate, I am often asked, “Will you support and advocate for (whatever program) at (whatever building). ”  

The school board no longer has the authority to address individual programs at individual buildings. The school board sets the overall budget for instruction, sets the goals for instruction, and then allows the administration to operate within these constraints. The board then monitors if budgetary and instructional goals are met.

A good parallel to this is a professional football team. Their board of directors does not call plays for the offense or defense, it does not tell individual players how to carry out their assignments, it does not even select players. It hires a professional staff, provides them with a budget, and monitors the results.

I do believe it is advisable and within the authority of the board to set general policies that can shape building programs.  For instance, it would be wise for a school board to adopt a policy that, within budget limitations, favors those programs with the greatest support by staff, students and families.  A sense of ownership in new programs creates enthusiasm, and nothing works in education better than enthusiasm.

Dress Codes

I believe there is value in a uniform dress code. It creates a climate more conducive for education. By dress code, I am not implying uniforms or expensive clothing. I am talking more in terms of eliminating styles that become distractions - rude t-shirts, sagging pants, tops with breasts and stomachs hanging out, etc. It must be implemented with care to assure that it will not be a burden on families living in or near poverty.

The simplest approach is would be a district wide dress code, such as that found in the Kenosha school system (http://www.kusd.edu/media/pdf/policy/5000/5431.pdf).

In Racine, it might be better if dress codes were adopted on a building-by-building basis based on perceived need and readiness. If students, families and staff are not ready for a dress code, it can be a struggle. Unified’s weak record for large-scale implementations and the lack of strong communication between the board and the community would make a district-wide adoption difficult.

Vision

“The new superintendent must have a vision.”

Education has worn out the word “vision.”  Vision has become another word for a dream, and dream is another word for fantasy.  We use the word vision when we can imagine a reality that has thus far proven to be unnattainable. 

Being able to imagine the unnattainable is of little practical value for our children.  Energy spent polishing an ever more sophisticated vision for our children needs to be diverted to actually moving them forward, step by step, day by day.  

We need a superintendent who understands where we are and has the practical knowledge to move us some place better.   This is very easy to assess by asking superintendent candidates about the realities of their past intead of their dreams of our future.

Communications

There is a lack of communication between the school board and the community, between the school board and its employees.  Unified must improve communication.

1 – INFORMATION MUST BE ACCESSIBLE

Student achievement and budgets are critical to community support.For achievement data on Racine:

For budget data:

Basic RUSD information such as minutes of meetings is difficult to locate.  Not everybody wants it, but those interested should be able to find it, be it good, bad, or indifferent.

2 – BOARD DECISIONS SHOULD INCLUDE COMMUNICATIONS

Toyota does well in the car market.   Toyota does not design a car, build it, and then decide if they can market it.  Marketing is discussed early — no market, no product.

RUSD discusses a referendum & votes.  Marketing it is discussed a month later.

Selling new decisions to the consumer – whether the consumers are students, staff, or the community — must be considered before new decisions are made to move ahead.

3 – COMMUNICATIONS MUST BE PROACTIVE

The school board votes for a referendum.  A month later they begin communicating.  During that month the public discussion has begun and ended.   They have discussed the referendum, injected their own data (right or wrong), and reached conclusions.  The board starts from a defensive position.

It was the same with consultants.  The board received information on consultant issues in June 2007.  Eight months later the consultant issue was resolved.  Basic information on the consultants was never shared, the public has filled the void, and it has not served Unified well.   

PREMISE 4 – COMMUNICATIONS MUST REFLECT REALITY

Don’t say there is good communication with the bus company when there isn’t.

Don’t keep saying better test scores are just around the corner for five years.

Redistricting

Redistricting in Unified is overdue by at least a decade.  If it is done poorly it can:

  • drive our families to private schools or home schooling
  • discourage people from moving here
  • erode faith in public schools
  • promote stereotyping
  • alienate students and families
  • widen the achievement gap
  • violate recent Supreme Court rulings

Redistricting reflects a more basic concern.  If everyone believed our children can  succeed at any school in this district, discussions of busing vs. neighborhood schools would not have the same intensity.  Instead of moving our students to ‘better’ schools, we should be working on bringing ‘better’ schools to our students wherever they live.

Some of our children ride an hour each direction to go to school.  Would school boards think this is a good idea if they had to ride a yellow bus an hour each direction to attend school board meetings?

Discussions of redistricting must start by reviewing the 2007 Supreme Court Ruling “Parents Involved in Community Schools v. Seattle District No. 1 et al.” This ruling discusses desegregation plans and bars school districts from:

  • classifying students based on a single criteria (race, ethnic background, economics)
  • adopting plans that do not directly link to compelling interests
  • using simple, baseless notions of diversity (example: diversity in schools should match diversity in the community)
  • using desgregation plans without exhausting other efforts to meet educational goals

Further discussion of this ruling can be found by clicking this link: 

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Parents_Involved_in_Community_Schools_v._Seattle_School_District_No._1

For the ruling itself click on this link:

http://caselaw.lp.findlaw.com/scripts/getcase.pl?court=US&vol=000&invol=05-908

Charter Schools & Private Schools

Charter schools and private schools indicate that at least part of the community believes that existing public schools do not meet the needs of our children.  Unified needs to recruit and retain these students by creating environments where they can learn comfortably.  Perceptions of safety and school climate are critical here.  Returning 10% of the students in private schools to Unified would increase our state funding by five million dollars per year.