Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Monday, March 26, 2012

A "Fluid" Plan

I just attended a presentation by Imagine Beloit. Some important questions came up regarding issues involving maintenance funding, reconfiguration, and transportation. Basically, in the end, all we know for sure is that we know nothing for sure.

Someone brought up the fact that our "repurposed" schools which will be used for expelled students and charter schools will not be included in the referendum and will remain in need of repairs.  This does not seem fair or responsible. These are still our students, our buildings, and the board has a responsibility to provide for each. These will be added to the wish list of "dire needs" along with Aldrich and McNeel, to be funded some day, maybe, a few years down the road. The question of what the district will do to assure we don't end up in this situation again was met with not so surprising admissions that there are no new plans to save for large ticket repairs, and the 2.3 million in projected savings seems like a loaf of bread and a fish at this point. How they will stretch such a small amount to cover more than 15 million in repairs we need right now will indeed be a miracle.

Fewer middle school aged students in each building will mean fewer opportunities. That is one of the drawbacks to this proposed configuration.They say that between all of our reconfigured middle schools, we will have four, not two, orchestras, bands, and choirs. But will they hire new teachers? That has not been discussed yet. Why? How can we vote on a proposal that still has so many unanswered questions remaining as we enter the voting booth? The truth is, just like McNeel Middle School lost its theater funding this year, it is unlikely the performing arts in the middle schools will get much attention. And this is a shame. The middle schools feed into our high school programs. Without successful middle school programs, our high school programs will definitely suffer. 

The presenters tell us the district has decided to bus students who live more than two miles away, up to sixth grade. It seems unfair to tell a seventh grade student he cannot ride the bus with his 4th grade sister.  This is what happens with improper planning.

The dwindling numbers of people attending presentations tells us that maybe minds are made up. But please keep all of the questions in the back of your mind this last week. It may be unreasonable to expect a 70 million dollar referendum to be perfect, but it should have at least made it through the planning stage before election day.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

"Trust the Administrators"

     Administrators are employees of the district. The school board is the employer of the top administrator and is elected to oversee the operations of our school district.  If we were supposed to blindly trust every administrator, there would be no role for a school board.
     Administrators are human. Humans make mistakes.  Our school board is made up of lay people, typically. They depend on the administrative team to lead them in the right direction, make the right recommendations, but in the end, it is the school board that is responsible for what happens in the school district. They absolutely need an administrative team they can trust. The debacle with the 1.2 million dollars and the boiler project is an example of trusted administrators making mistakes. To make a mistake is human, but to attempt to cover it up or blame others is not honest. When the administrators make mistakes, the board needs to address and correct the mistakes and not allow for blame or excuses.
    We are being asked to blindly trust our administrators with this referendum. The details have not been worked out. It has been described as a "fluid plan". The school board has had little involvement in the many important decisions, and the public has had even less. There were mistakes made in this referendum.  70 million dollars (82 million with interest) is a lot of money to trust to anyone. It is important that we all stay informed and involved.  Our administrators are not flawless. Ask questions, don't accept excuses, and remember that we are all human and we all make mistakes....even administrators.

Friday, March 16, 2012


Last evening, at a presentation given by the Imagine Beloit people, a citizen asked the question, "Where did all of the money go that we were supposed to use on our schools?"  The presenter's reply was that it went to teachers. Well, partially true. It has also gone to administrators, secretaries, and every other district employee.

The state limits the amount a school district can increase its taxes each year. So, if we do not keep our budget tight and watch every dollar, we end up dipping into the maintenance fund to cover our employees' salaries and other shortages. That is how we got where we are today.  Our high school, built from a referendum 20 years ago, is now in dire need of repairs. All of our other schools are as well.  We have a responsibility to maintain the schools, not spend the maintenance money on other things, let our schools deteriorate, and then ask the public for more money to build new. That is simply an operational referendum in disguise. And it is not good for Beloit's image.

It is predicted by the district that we will face at least 2 million a year in budget cuts. It is also predicted that we will save about 2 million a year by closing schools. That leaves us $0 for the problems we face today at Aldrich, McNeel, and BMHS. These schools have about 8 million dollars in needed repairs.  Where will that money come from? If it comes from our maintenance fund, which is only 2 million a year, the work will not be done for about 4 or 5 years from now, and we will, once again, be sitting where we are today -- no money for maintenance and buildings deteriorating.

Before we tax our citizens 70 million dollars, we must have a plan for the future. We cannot build new schools and not have the money to maintain them. Otherwise, we may as well start today planning the next referendum.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Reconfiguration -- is it really worth millions of dollars to Beloit taxpayers?

The school district keeps telling Beloit parents and teachers that the proposed multimillion dollar reconfiguration plan will be the best educational environment for our children. In addition to our own research, we have reviewed the research sent out by the school district and provided on the district website. The conclusions are all consistent -- grade configuration has not been proven to increase  student achievement. There is no one configuration proven to work better than others. The following excerpts and links were provided by the school district:
"Schools with many grade levels will have more opportunities for cross-age activities such as older students helping out in younger students’ classrooms and participating in tutoring activities. Schools with big grade spans may be able to sustain more parent involvement in the upper grades than is typical in middle or high schools. On the other hand, because schools with very wide grade spans usually have fewer students and classrooms per grade, there may be fewer opportunities for elective or exploratory courses. In addition, fewer classrooms per grade means fewer opportunities to match students to teachers according to learning and teaching styles, to place students with others with whom they work well, or to separate students who don’t get along. Opportunities for teacher collaboration or mentoring at a specific grade level are also reduced.
One-and two-grade schools present the challenge of how to preserve a sense of continuity and stability when all or half of the student population turns over every year. On the other hand they may offer the opportunity for a special focus on problems particular to that grade level, such as the high dropout rate of ninth-graders (Viadero, 1993).
No particular sequence of grade spans is perfect or in itself guarantees student achievement and social adjustment."

"Almost 10 years ago, NWREL looked at the available research on grade configuration and concluded that little evidence existed to determine a cause-and-effect relationship between grade configuration and academic achievement. The few studies that did exist offered few clear policy guidelines. For example, one controlled study showed that sixth-graders did better in a K–8 setting rather than a middle school setting, but it didn’t demonstrate how the configuration affects other students of different grade levels (Paglin & Fager, 1997). Many studies also did not control for school size, socioeconomic factors, and other variables, so results could be attributed to reasons other than grade configurations."

Maybe we could have formed an advisory committee to study the issue a little further.  Could we have done better than proposing a "solution" that clearly is not a solution to the challenges of middle school education? We think so.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Referendum Discussions vs. Facilities Discussions

The school board is responsible for maintaining our facilities. As part of that responsibility, they have frequent discussions of facilities, and how to best serve our students. For instance, last year there was much discussion regarding a possible reconfiguration from what we have now, to a K-8 configuration. These discussions are like the ones you have with your spouse on a Saturday morning over coffee -- just tossing ideas around. These discussions should be happening continuously, even before 1998.

But a referendum planning is completely different. It involves much more, especially when buildings will close, the school district configuration will be redesigned and the public is asked for 70 million dollars to fund the project. This type of planning requires much time to study the needs and receive proper input from citizens, teachers, students, and school administrators.  This referendum discussion just began last fall. It went from 26 million to 70 million dollars in about 2 weeks. There was a plan drawn up before the community had a chance for input, and most important, the plan changed without any notification, omitting our two middle schools completely. While the price tag jumped from 26 million to 70 million, the plan went from "all schools" to just some schools. 

Without formal planning meetings open to the public, this plan is still changing. It may or may not include the items you wanted to see included. Changes are often made based on input offered by one person at a single presentation.

Schools districts typically do things quite differently. A community planning committee is formed long before the board votes to go to referendum and the committee continues to work with the board all the way through to the end. Input is gathered at the public meetings held by the committee and is taken into consideration.

 This referendum was rushed.  It lacks planning and it does not meet the needs of each school. $70 million dollars will go toward an idea of reconfiguration that has no studies showing that it will work for Beloit, and worst of all, if it doesn't work, we are stuck with it, and we're stuck with vacant school buildings, and three of our largest schools with the most immediate needs never having been addressed. How will that help Beloit or our students?

Monday, March 5, 2012

Referendum Information "Leaking"

How exciting! In just a couple of weeks the spring musical opens at BMHS. It is always an excellent production. Get your tickets early and bring your umbrellas...just in case the buckets fill up and water overflows. You see, the roof over the auditorium is leaking -- not in one place -- in several places. There are buckets collecting water in the false ceiling above the auditorium. We see this as a "dire need" and so did the superintendent, back in October. But for some reason the only leak addressed when the referendum was being written in December was the leak in the pool.

How can we vote for this referendum when it's is obvious that no facility studies went into the planning and our teachers were completely left out of the process? Our students, before needing a pool or a fitness center, need dry buildings. Our students, our teachers, and our community deserve better than this.


Beloiters for a Better Referendum will present the following informational meetings:

March 5 Merrill Community Center 5:30PM
March 13 Beloit Rotary 12 noon
March 14 Noon Kiwanis at Atlanta Bread 12:00 noon
March 15 Noon Lions at The Road Dawg 11:30 AM
March 19 Beloit Public Library 7 PM
March 29 Beloit Health Systems in the auditorium 6:00 PM

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Change in Plan Could Mean a Further Setback for Middle Schools

Tuesday's redirecting of funds that we received from the state for new boilers in the elementary schools is a premature move and a rash decision in response to public concern regarding the middle schools and BMHS being left out of the referendum. This hasty decision was an effort to convince the voters that the district will be addressing the maintenance needs at these schools.  We believe that everyone involved does want to provide the maintenance needed at each school, but this change in course leaves us with a couple of questions and concerns:
1. Why were these schools excluded from the referendum to begin with? The middle school roofs and the roof at BMHS need more than just patching. This referendum could have provided new roofs for these schools, had they been included.
2. What happens with the boilers now if the referendum does not pass? This is a risk -- redirecting funds to these schools now to appease the voters when
last October the board clearly believed the elementary school boilers were the most immediate concern.
3. The boilers still need replacing. So, doesn't the redirection of these funds now increase the cost of remodeling elementary schools by 1.2 million dollars? Mr. McNeal has already publicly stated that the proposed project is an 80 million dollar project being funded by a 70 million dollar budget. Moving these funds to other schools just made this an 81.2 million dollar project being funded by a 70 million dollar referendum. It looks as though we may not have the money to complete the projects. This is why proper planning of a referendum is so important.

Important to note is that although the administration says that they always intended to make the needed repairs to Aldrich, McNeel, and BMHS, a plan for this was never even developed until the end of January -- about 5 weeks after the referendum was voted on by the board. Why? Because the board, when they voted, believed these schools were all included in the referendum. When the referendum wording was made public, and people saw that so many schools were left out, the administration began drawing up a "5 year plan" for repairs to these schools. The cost, just for repairs, was estimated at 8 million dollars with another 2 million needed to actually make improvements to the facilities beyond required maintenance. So, the question remains, with annual budget cuts and predicted decreases in state funding, where will the money come from?

We will be even more in the hole now that we have added 1.2 million dollars to the overall project. That money will have to come from somewhere and will likely result in budget cuts, losing programs and teachers, just to get the projects completed. This will set the middle school back even further in receiving funds for needed repairs and upgrades. A referendum is supposed to solve problems, not create them.