Lake Superior School District 0381 Ordered by Minnesota Department of Education to Return to Five-Day Week After End of "Transitional" 2014-2015 School Year
**** RELEASED MAY 2014
Letter to the Minnesota Department of Education (April 2014) and Editors of Local Lake County Newspaper Publications (February 2014):
"We hire and pay our school board members, administration and district staff to deliver a “good education” to our kids. Either they have achieved and are maintaining acceptably high student outcome standards, or they are making reasonable progress towards achieving acceptable “high standards”. This school district has delivered on neither of those two objectives for the majority of our kids during the years of the four day week.
They promised the savings achieved during the four day week would benefit kids, and that this was the real objective of going to the four day week. In fact, according to numbers provided by Superintendent Crandall, all the savings, and additional dollars from the federal government and the state, have primarily gone toward salary increases and to cover increased costs associated with benefit programs for the staff. At the same time, staff has not been asked to materially participate in sharing the burden of these cost increases.
Truth is, were it not for these increases in compensation and covering of additional benefit expenses by the district, the district would be looking at an operating surplus rather than a $900,000 deficit going into the coming year. This operating deficit will get worse until the district is able to implement the non-voter authorized $300/pupil unit levy, in an effort to help offset compensation and benefit program cost increases. This levy will cover less than two years of past cost increases, and, regardless, the district will still continue operating under a substantial deficit scenario.
So, based upon what these folks promised to deliver to our kids, and the increase in compensation and benefits that have been provided them to do so, has the district management and staff delivered value worthy of the investment the board has made in them? The simple answer is no. Just look at average student test performance outcomes over the past few years. In addition, district science scores are dropping off a cliff.
Has the four day week significantly benefited the students? Look at the scores. The simple answer is again, no. That is, unless you want to buy in to the premise the students here are so incapable of learning, it takes this kind of spending on staff to just keep students performing at levels unacceptable to even the most reasonable person. Really, I don’t believe for a minute any of these kids are “unteachable”. And I do believe they deserve a lot more than they are getting.
Add to this the increasing concern, based upon student performance in most four day week programs, the fewer days students spend in the classroom, the worse their performance will get.
No one minds paying for performance, but to continue to tolerate the results shown by our kids, when paying well for better, should simply not be acceptable to anyone.
We do not understand why parents in this school district are not screaming at the top of their lungs for more accountability from their school board. Perhaps now is time for an independent audit by the state, and serious restructuring of the district’s teaching program priorities. And perhaps further serious reconsideration of who should be managing the district through its financial and student performance improvement goals?
These challenging issues are not going to go away by continuing to do the same old things in the same old ways. Nor will more money solve the district’s fundamental problems. The personal and financial futures of the students in this district are seriously at risk, and there has been little courage shown by the current leadership to change this situation.
We encourage every parent and district resident to lobby the state department of education to refuse any continuation of the four day week, and to force the district to manage its finances in a manner consistent with student performance improvement. Our students deserve better, and the citizens of this school district and state deserve more for their money.
Cutting through all the district salesmanship and hype, how much simpler can things be presented?"
December 2013 "Twin Cities Business" Magazine Interview with Steven Rosenstone, Chancellor, Minnesota Colleges and Universities
"...12% of our university students and 40% of our (community and technical) college students need some kind of remedial work before they can begin college-level work."
--75% of Minnesota freshman graduate from high school in four years
--less than 50% of Minnesota students of color graduate from high school in four years
How are Lake Superior Independent School District 0381 students performing on standardized state performance tests; ACT, SAT and College Board tests; and on college entrance exams?
****RELEASED: JANUARY 2014
School District 0381 Announces $900,000 Operating Deficit for Coming School Year
Despite receiving additional pupil unit funding from the 2013 Minnesota Legislature; despite payback of all state withheld/"borrowed" monies to the school district by the state; despite a one-time injection of federal funds as part of a state-wide federal grant during the first years of the four-day week; and despite the savings achieved from the four-day week program, the school board announced an approximate $900,000 operating deficit budget for the coming school year.
The school board has implied the expenditure of their funds, during the period of the four-day week and heading into the future, had and will be focused upon operating constraints they have little control over. Our initial analysis of the funds saved, and the one-time state grants during the first two years of the four-day week, show savings were mostly eaten up by granting salary increases (after a temporary freeze) and covering increases in benefit costs which were not shared by employees. In fact, had salary freezes been maintained, benefit costs shared with staff, and a few other minor adjustments made, the school district could have been looking at an operating surplus last year, and each year going forward until they were in a financial position to reconsider the issue of raises and benefits.
Over the past years of the four-day week, the school board also cut back on the regular maintenance of millions of dollars of publically-owned school buildings, resulting in a number of problems. They were fortunately and recently provided with an IIRB grant of $1,500,000, which was specifically designated to be used for capital improvement of district facilities.
In addition to not courageously managing their past financial issues, the school board voted to approve a $300/pupil unit discretionary levy without being required to hold a voter referendum. This non-voter approved levy authority option was provided the district by the 2013 Minnesota Legislature, primarily because the district was not able to pass a voter-approved levy.
It is unfortunate the legislature passed the non-voter approved option for school districts without a referendum in place, since District 0381 was otherwise in a position where it had to finally confront its financial management issues, spending priorities and student performance levels...facing a public demand for better management and accountability, with no other options for obtaining additional funds to continue operations as in the past.
This "bailout", due to political influence at the state legislative level, was simply unconscionable when it comes to demanding the real focus necessary to bring student performance and district financial accountability to acceptable levels.
****RELEASED: DECEMBER 15, 2011
New School District 381 Budget/Levy Proposals/New Expenditures And 2011/2012 School Year Comparisons: Projected 2012 Deficit of $1,001,433
December 09, 2011 E-mail Request to Superintendent Phil Minkkinen with Regard to Budget Questions Submitted by Mark Broin. The Questions Were Submitted with a Copy to All District 381 School Board Members:
"Hello, Superintendent Minkkinen...
Would you be able to email me the projected final performance-versus-budget numbers for the school district for this year, and the budget proposal options you are considering for next year?
Also, what are the proposals regarding any levy rate changes versus comparable levy dollar changes, for 2012 versus 2011.
If you have some of the data in a format similar to last year's slide presentation, that would be nice.
I'd like some time to study the information prior to any scheduled public meetings. What with all the foreclosures, the school district's financial condition and the general economic situation, I am concerned about understanding any possible proposed increases in tax dollars or operating budget dollars for 2012. If necessary, I'd like to be able, on an informed basis, to discuss any concerns with the board during the public budget meeting.
Any other information you think would be helpful, I'd appreciate.
I hope your holiday season is going well!
December 15, 2011 E-mail Response from Superintendent Phil Minkkinen with Regard to Budget Questions from Mark Broin.
I am not sure what your determination of this year is, but if you are inquirying the balance of the audit for last year, we do not have the final numbers available until this evening. We anticipate that the district ended the year in the black, so our fund balance will increase from the previous year. The preliminary budget approved by the board in June shows a deficit of $1,001,433 in all funds. The table below will show you where our shortfalls are.
Food Service (39,626)
Comm. Service 15,163
Capitol Exp 101,214
Debt Service 76,921
OPEB Debt Serv. 40,621
Total Difference ($1,001,433)
You need to remember that we knew this would be a lean year for school funding, as in preparation of this, all employees agreed to hard salary freezes for two years in order to improve our fund balance to maintain programs for this year and hopefully next year. This was the plan.
In response to your question regarding future tax increases as a result of the current real estate situation. We have levy authority for only a very few issues, and most of those levies that we have authority to include, have negative impact for state aid if the board would choose to underlevy. We did increase our levy for pay 12 for the purpose of installing a fire sprinkler system at Wm Kelley School this summer. The Fire Marshal cited the district for not having a completely protected building. There are not many arguments with the Fire Marshal orders, and the levy increased by $350,000 to complete this work in the summer of 12. There were a few other minor levy adjustments, but those were driven by statute and not as a result of anything we were doing.
I am sorry to not provide with more detail, but it has been a very busy week for me, and I am between meetings for the rest of the day and evening. As you probably already know, we do not have authority to increase our levy for operation without voter approval, other than a very few items, such as Health and Safety, which would include the sprinkler system. This particular issue is a one time levy issue, and it will be gone after this year. That is not to say that there will not absolutely be other issues that need to be addressed. I hope this brief response answers your questions.
****RELEASED: JUNE 23, 2011
Lake Superior School District Projects 2012 School Operating Year Deficit of $998,000
Lake Superior School Board members faced a grim budget situation Tuesday during their regular board meeting. There is a preliminary deficit of about $998,000 between revenues and expenses for the 2011-2012 school year.
“It’s a difficult picture to digest,” board chairman Leo Babeu said.
The biggest hit to next year’s budget will be an expected $333,862 reduction in federal aid due mostly to a reduction in economic stimulus aid.
In addition to the large cut in federal aid, the district will likely be losing $162,091 from local revenues in tax collections and levies because of a reduction in district population and enrollment. Transportation funding is also down about $10,000 because of the expected decrease in enrollment.
State aid is also down – $47,467 – and Superintendent Phil Mikkinen didn’t expect Minnesota to raise the amount of education funding for districts in coming years because the education system has seen minimal cuts in past years compared to other state entities.
While the district faces a dark scenario in the coming school year, Babeu and Mikkinen agreed that the district would be much worse off had they not taken some precautionary steps to avoid an even bigger deficit.
“We knew two years ago this was going to be a bad year,” Mikkinen said. “Unfortunately it turned out as bad as we expected it to be.”
Hard salary freezes for all district employees were enacted in previous years with the goal of not reducing staff. This was done assuming the economy would recover quicker than it has. Earlier this year, board members cut three positions, one at the Two Harbors High School and two at Minnehaha Elementary, totaling two full-time positions. Mikkinen said there is not much the district could cut without severely impacting programs schools offer.
The four-day school week, enacted this past school year, has helped keep the district’s deficit down by about $200,000, he said.
With the 2011-2012 preliminary budget in the red, board members unanimously authorized the district to set up a line of credit and the sale of “aid anticipation” certificates so that the district could be prepared to cover shortfalls. District officials are waiting to see what happens with the Minnesota legislature before deciding which method of borrowing to use.
A line of credit offers around a three percent interest rate while using an “aid anticipation” program has a gross interest rate of just above one percent. The interest rate is lower for “aid anticipation” because the money is lent to the district with the understanding that they would be receiving state aid in the near future, allowing the debt to be paid off. The choice the district makes will depend on how much state aid is available after budget negotiations in St. Paul are settled.
Districts across the state are facing similar budget shortfalls. In Duluth, at least two dozen teaching positions are expected to be cut for the next school year.
Published in the Lake County News Chronicle--June 30, 2011
****RELEASED: AUGUST 12, 2010
Formal Response Letter to Commissioner Alice Seagren on Four-Day Week Approval
The recent vote by the Lake Superior School District 381 School Board to move the district to a four-day week does not mean the Minnesota Department of Education (DOE) will allow such a change to occur. The District must apply for DOE approval of its proposal. In doing so, the District must follow very specific rules regarding the application process, justification of its recommendation, holding of multiple public hearings, provision of public feedback through meeting minutes, and other DOE and State of Minnesota procedural and statutory processes.
VOTE381.COM has been in contact with the Minnesota DOE, and is gathering information for public review on the vote381.com web site. We have created a new tab in the left margin under which this information will be posted for viewing, and explained in easy to understand terms.
Please check back frequently for updates, and spread the word about the information on this site to your friends and neighbors...particularly to families whose children will be affected by this proposed four-day week change. You have the ability to present your viewpoint and take action to prevent the proposed change from taking place. VOTE381.COM staff will do their best to keep you informed, provide guidance and act on your behalf.
This site has been established to provide resident voters, property owners and other interested parties with performance, financial and operating information on Lake Superior Independent School District #381 (ISD 0381), located in Lake County, Minnesota.
Thank you for visiting this new Internet site. Our desire is to provide you the opportunity to stay in touch with current and historical information on Lake Superior ISD 0381. A new content management system will enable us to keep you up to date with the latest available fact-based data, including important links to Minnesota Department of Education school district reports.
The original emphasis was on providing voters and property owners with appropriate information to assist them in making an informed vote on each of the three proposed May 18, 2010 ISD 0381 Operating Referendum Questions. Our ongoing objective is to provide a constant flow of general information regarding ISD 0318 School District operating and financial issues.
At present, this web site is being regularly updated with new information on Lake Superior School District 381 . We are making an effort to present you with the latest and most accurate spectrum of information offerings as soon as they become available.
IMPORTANT NOTICE FOR VISITORS: This web site is a public information service and is not affiliated with or sanctioned by Lake Superior Independent School District 0381.
The material on this web site is researched, prepared and paid for by Mark Broin, whose contact address for administrative and financial matters related to this web site is: Vote381 Administrator, 14814 Timberhill Road, Minnetonka, MN 55345.