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Meetings Set to Discuss How Levy is Invested, What a Failed Renewal Would Mean for Stillwater Schools

Next week, the Stillwater Area School District will hold a series of meetings for families to learn about the "cost centers" work, view potential budget-reduction lists and share input about school funding.

Although nothing has been made official, it’s no secret the Stillwater Area School Board is strongly considering placing levy questions on the ballot in November.

A levy approved by the Stillwater area community five years ago will expire at the end of next school year—and if the levy is not renewed, school district officials say there will be a budget shortage of $11 million.

That shortfall comes on the heels of more than $6 million in budget cuts made this year, and $22 million in reductions over the last 12 years.

RELATED: Community Input Sought as Stillwater School Board Mulls Levy Questions in November

Corey Lunn: A Bold New Direction for Stillwater Area Schools

As the district stares down the end of an expiring levy, 11 “cost center” teams have been working to create “a clear picture for the public of exactly how we’ve invested our existing levy dollars and what we would stand to lose if the levy is not renewed.”

The cost centers are comprised of 11 different working groups that were charged with putting together two separate budget reduction lists.

“The budget reductions were developed in the unlikely event that our levy doesn’t pass next fall,” an email send to Rutherford Elementary School parents reads. “These reductions will be for the 2014 – 2015 school year.”

Next week, the district will hold a series of meetings for families to learn about the cost centers work, view potential budget-reduction lists and share input about school budgets.

During the cost center meetings parents will have the opportunity to share thoughts regarding the following questions:

  • What things on the list are of greatest concern to you?
  • What things do you believe are missing from this list?
  • What things do you believe should remain on this list?

Town hall meetings to be held in late February. The school board will review this list in March, and is expected to approve it as the list of budget reductions that would be made if the levy is not renewed.

Cost Center Meetings will happen:

  • Monday, Feb. 4 from 6:30-7:30 p.m. in the Oak Park Elementary Media Center
  • Tuesday, Feb. 5 from 6-7 p.m. in the Lily Lake Media Center
  • Tuesday, Feb. 5 from 6-7 p.m. in the Multipurpose Room at Rutherford
  • Tuesday, Feb. 5 from 6:30-7:30 p.m. at Stonebridge Elementary School
  • Tuesday, Feb. 5 from 6:30-7:30 p.m. in the Afton-Lakeland Media Center
  • Tuesday, Feb. 5 from 6:30-7:30 p.m. in the Andersen Media Center
  • Tuesday, Feb. 5 at 5-6 p.m. from Marine Elementary School
  • Wednesday, Feb. 6 from 6-7 p.m. in the Main Forum Room at Stillwater Area High School for parents, guardians and community members interested in learning about cost centers involving Oak-Land and Stillwater junior highs and Stillwater Area High School invites
  • Thursday, Feb. 7 from 7-8 p.m. in the Lake Elmo Elementary Media Center
Susan January 30, 2013 at 01:45 AM
I agree, and no I didn't know it went that far with virtually no results. Was Corey Lunn the superintendent at the time?
Concerned January 30, 2013 at 01:32 PM
All county property owners, regardless of having children in the school, already pay a significant portion of their taxes toward the schools. Additional monies (levy) should be a user fee........
Markus January 30, 2013 at 03:16 PM
As we're seeing more and more parents turning to home schooling or looking to alternatives like charter schools, maybe we should be having a discussion about the current model. It's has become apparent that the public school systems, aka Government Indoctrination Centers, like most government agencies, have become self-perpetuating leeches that exist more for the employees of these systems than for those whom they supposedly serve. Corey Lunn talks a good game about their strategic planning and wanting input from the public, but when push comes to shove it will likely only focus on how they're going to deliver their product. It's doubtful eliminating programs or positions or cutting pay and benefits will be on the table. The school system proponents have become experts at employing scare tactics and emotional "it's for the kids" propaganda. It's unlikely even if taxpayers show up and voice their concerns that they will be taken seriously by the board. A giant-sized levy request should probably be a foregone conclusion and opponents should gear up for a fight. The problem is the School District has many more resources at their disposal to educate (translation:brainwash) the voters than their opponents do about how great they are and what a loss it would be to the community if we didn't pay all these school district employees inordinately high salaries and benefits to staff and operate what amounts to fancy taxpayer funded daycare centers.
Susan January 30, 2013 at 04:13 PM
I was thinking about this just last week. We have the Internet with many, many options for schooling online. The government could save an actual fortune by moving our public school system online. The biggest problem and/or objection would be from parents as most work during the day and they would be required to pay for some kind of child care expense for children in elementary school. Others will argue that children learn valuable social skills at school. Markus, I think you and I will agree that the negative social interactions far outweigh the positive social interactions that our children now have in school. I think it would be a good idea to start moving our public education system online, at least for junior and senior high, but the pushback from many, many factions will probably shut this idea down before it even gets started.
Concerned January 30, 2013 at 04:13 PM
Here is a letter written in response to an article by Joe Soucheray in the St. Paul Pioneer Press..... Quit your whining Joe Soucherary. Here is a real levy request, the Stillwater school district 834, offered up last Fall. The district already has a levy representing 996.00 per student. And you are complaining about a mere 646.00 per student. Get with it......... Levy 1) A seven year operating levy of $1,465 per student to replace our existing levy and continue to ensure quality learning for students. Protect, Preserve, Innovate 2) A seven year capital projects levy to raise approximately $115 per student to infuse technology into students’ learning. 3) An $18.3 million building bond to be repaid over 15 years to ensure learning spaces meet the needs of all students.
Markus January 30, 2013 at 08:57 PM
"The biggest problem and/or objection would be from parents as most work during the day and they would be required to pay for some kind of child care expense for children in elementary school." This is exactly the problem. Unfortunately it is a cultural one. We expect the state to care for our children and "educate" them while we're away at work. Because they have come to depend on it, removing the built in daycare aspect of public school would be devastating for many two income households. Changing would require a huge paradigm shift most aren't willing to accept. Being involved in the home school community has given me an opportunity to meet a lot of home schooled kids. The difference I see between them and "schooled" kids is their ability to interact with and act like adults. After all, we're training them to be successful adults, right? Our culture seems to have this warped view that we should "socialize" our children with other children. In other words, train them to be children. How we've morphed in the last hundred years from being an adult centered society to being youth centered. Most of us being products of the current educational model haven't questioned the model because we don't know any better. Personally, the public school system did little to benefit me, particularly after elementary school. I could have quit after eighth grade and been none the worse for wear. For all intents and purposes, I did quit. Except for shop class, which I excelled in.
Randy Marsh January 30, 2013 at 09:55 PM
Susan, I assume your kid(s) are older, but when exactly was the last time you stepped foot in a public school? To suggest "the negative social interactions far outweigh the positive social interactions that our children now have in school" is not even close to being accurate. I'm not saying bullying and other problems don't occur, but to state the negatives outweigh the positives is pure baloney. If you want to prepare kids for living in their parents basement then by all means continue to push online education. I am no fan of the never ending appetite our schools have for tax dollars, but there are pros and cons to all of the options available. Charter schools do nothing but take money away from traditional public schools and is nothing more a duplication of services that does not serve the taxpayers. There is simply no reason for St. Croix Prep and its $20 million building to even exist with the high performing traditional public schools already in place. Home schooling does produce good results in many cases, but anyone who home schools their kids will take an active role in the education of those same kids to begin with, regardless of whether they are doing the teaching or sending them off to a traditional public school every day so they would likely excel in either situation.
Susan January 30, 2013 at 10:18 PM
Parents who home school usually choose to have their kids participate in outside activities. Whether it is sports or a different learning experience, this is usually a better way to socialize our tweens and teens than the social nightmare out schools have become.
Randy Marsh January 30, 2013 at 10:49 PM
It's too bad your child apparently did not have a rewarding high school experience socially, Susan, at least I assume that's where your feelings stem from, but I don't think that is more common than not. Here is a paragraph taken from a Huffington Post story and while I didn't look at the studies cited, there appears to be a lot of questions about the success rate of on-line only education. It's not easy finding research that does not involve clear biases by those pushing an agenda for or against cyber education. "Almost every cyber-school in Ohio ranked below average on student academic growth in preliminary report published by the state last week. A Stanford study last year found cyber-students in Pennsylvania made "significantly smaller gains in reading and math" than peers in traditional public schools. And Tennessee's first virtual school was slapped with the lowest possible score for student growth in recently released state rankings, putting it in the bottom 11 percent of schools." On-line learning can help children build self discipline, but can also turn them into anti-social hermits who miss out aspects of education like discussion, debate and collaboration. I'm sure for some this might be the case, but would be surprised if the majority of traditional public school students view their experience as a "social nightmare", minus the occasional male erection while standing at the chalk board.
Carbon Bigfuut January 30, 2013 at 11:49 PM
From the article: "As the district stares down the end of an expiring levy, 11 “cost center” teams have been working to create “a clear picture for the public of exactly how we’ve invested our existing levy dollars and what we would stand to lose if the levy is not renewed.” An investment is something that you put $$ into and expect it to return a profit. They didn't "invest" our tax dollars, they "spent" them. If they believe they spent the $$ for a good cause, then say so. Don't try to BS us that you expect to get a cash return on that spent money.
Susan January 31, 2013 at 12:12 AM
Online schools are still fairly new and have many bugs and kinks to work out. Just as with almost everything else, they will get better as the educators learn what works and what doesn't. Skype (and similar) are great for conferencing, and even for your examples of discussions, debates and collaboration.
Edward January 31, 2013 at 12:48 AM
"An investment is something that you put $$ into and expect it to return a profit. " The "profit" in this case is human capital, i.e. an educated workforce. The investment has a return to society (creating an input into every cash profitable endeavor). If there were no perceived profit (gain) from this investment it would be eliminated.
Randy Marsh January 31, 2013 at 12:54 AM
I'm sure it's probably my altruistic nature, Susan, but I don't feel the incidents you refer to that reach the mainstream media are typical for most children at most schools, but rather the exception. I certainly hope your experience with today's public schools is more the exception. I would also suggest that while your defense of online education and those kinks getting worked out should also apply to the increased efforts to curb bullying and other forms of mistreatment in our schools. The other issue with this cyber education outfits is that (much like St. Croix Prep and some other charter schools) it seems like nothing more than a big money grab that fleeces the taxpayers more than traditional public schools ever could.
Randy Marsh January 31, 2013 at 12:57 AM
Keeping in mind the Stillwater school district is more concerned about appearances rather than actual honesty and effectiveness, Edward has this one right.
Susan January 31, 2013 at 01:37 AM
Randy, there's almost no way to fix/stop the bullying and the kids know it. More times than not, if a kid reaches out for help, the bullying gets worse, usually by friends of the bully, or the bully gets more clever. As I mentioned, maybe you would have a better understanding if you were to talk to a variety of kids from different social groups in junior high and high school. As I said to Markus, moving schools online with be at a savings to the tax payer, not a higher cost. No new schools, no costs to maintain, heat, and cool the buildings, no costs involved with busing etc. We are no where near this becoming any kind of reality but it will be an option in the near future, I would bet.
Carbon Bigfuut January 31, 2013 at 04:47 PM
Well, Randy, I'll agree with you that the school boards wants the appearance of an "investment". It would be nice to see some graphs and charts comparing past "investments" per student with the increased "profit" over the last 40 years.
Shelley February 05, 2013 at 07:51 PM
I know this is frustrating, and I share some of your frustrations. I have four children in elementary school in Stillwater Area Public Schools, and I want our district to be great. Last year was a very difficult year with the budget cut process, but the efforts this year to really listen to the community are encouraging. Might they still just do what they want? Yes, but would you consider taking part in the process in the hopes that this will continue to be a great area in which to work, live and own a home?
Randy Marsh February 05, 2013 at 10:20 PM
Shelley, here's what I want the district to include in any proposals on the ballot this fall. I assume they will have made the decision about how much to ask for in advance of the state budget being completed. Will the district actually offer to levy less money than approved by the voters (I'm not sure this has ever happened, but they do have the power to levy less than what is approved by the voters) if the governor and legislature actually comes through with more money for education? My fear is the district will cry poverty for the next eight months while trying to gain support based on a pessimistic outlook presented by Mr. Queener and then if/when they pass an operating levy will have more money than they know what to do with. I will happily support a reasonably levy request(s) as I have in the past, but this district has proven it cannot be honest with the numbers. Remember the previous efforts when the actual budge deficit was less than than half of the estimated deficit presented by the district? I know it's not an exact science, but there can be no doubt the district was being intentional deceitful.
Sue February 06, 2013 at 09:05 PM
I believe the district has lost the trust of the people. Now that they can switch monies to and from different accounts who knows if we will ever get a straight answer again. I want to know if the future Levy does not pass what positive changes will the district implement. All we hear is scare tactics about the negatives. There has to be some new innovative ideas to reduce cost while giving the children a great education. If it does pass how will they measure their success? Track the students for 5,10, or 20 years. People want accountability and answers with a systematic measurable approach. With the economy in the saddened state it is hard for people to smile and say 'here you go.. I hope it works.' On the other hand if they can eliminate the smoke and mirrors, be honest and transparent with the people, and most of all accountable But.. do you really think this is possible? It has nothing to do with not wanting the best for our children. I think we can all agree on that. .Politics as usual - sad to say.
Rivertown Mom February 06, 2013 at 09:29 PM
St. Croix Prep is an easy target. If it were an underperforming charter, I'd buy the duplication of services argument. It's producing identical or better test scores than the district with fewer tax payer dollars. The core knowledge/classical approach is very different than what goes on in the district. Prep offers a choice. Yes there are issues there, like any institution, but maybe the district should learn from this very successful enterprise and take some cues accordingly, especially when it comes to teaching History and English.
Randy Marsh February 06, 2013 at 10:10 PM
How does admitting that St. Croix Prep produces identical test scores (they are virtually the same, minus the fact that St. Croix Prep does not deal with any significant special ed cases to bring the averages down) not mean that its very existence is nothing more than a duplication of services? How much money would be saved if the taxpayers didn't foot the bill for a $20 million school, transportation, heat, lights additional administration etc. The only thing the district can learn from that school is how not to operate. I certainly have some issues with District 834, but there is little to complain about if your comparable is St. Croix Prep. We're not talking about a second language charter or one that is even doing anything unique (which is what charters were set up for to begin with) so there is no reason for that school to exist. I certainly don't appreciate the way they have irresponsibly spent tax dollars to provide the status quo.
Rivertown Mom February 06, 2013 at 11:41 PM
St. Croix Prep opened in 2004 with 200 students, now it's looking at over 1100, with many students coming from other districts (Woodbury) and an expansion nearly complete. People vote with there feet in this area. Upwards of 20% of kids are doing something other than attend the district schools. Some charter schools are failures. This one isn't. Test scores are neither here nor there. They're one measure of growth and I think too much weight is placed upon them as a measure. Point is, they're fine. With 30 plus kids in each class and many teachers working for much less than they could get in the district and probably not enough special ed resources, the school is challenged. Spend a couple days there, and you would see they are unique in many ways. The curriculum is based on the Trivium. Languages are required from K on (Spanish and later Latin). Paidea seminars are introduced early on which exposes children to the Socratic method. Character and virtue are incorporated into many discussions. Bullying is minimal but is taken very seriously. The test taking and homework loads ARE more than other public schools. It is a very different school. And it's not for everyone, but it's right for many. Hence, it's grows, despite detractors.
Randy Marsh February 07, 2013 at 12:22 AM
It's money that could be better utilized by District 834. Clearly you're drunk on the kool-aid, but how can you support an organization that has been proven time and again to be deceitful and corrupt at worst and unintentionally reckless with taxpayer dollars at best. How can the nepotism not bother you. Have you looked at the salaries Mr. Gutierrez and his wife are pulling down, not to mention the extravagant bonuses they give themselves thanks to their hand-picked, but not voted on, school board? What kind of bonuses are the giving themselves and Carol Davis-Johnson for this expansion they're working on? Why are they making above average salaries for a school this size yet the teachers are not? You're right, that school is not for anyone with a conscience.
Rivertown Mom February 07, 2013 at 03:50 AM
These are outdated and already discredited arguments, Mr. Marsh. For the fourth year in a row, they received the Dept. of Ed's Finance award. Your caricature of the school simply doesn't hold water. They aren't getting bonuses for the expansion and the board IS voted on. Actually, besides the parent seats, there is a community seat open. The election is in March, you should run!
Randy Marsh February 07, 2013 at 04:07 PM
Who votes, RM, the 7 people who show up to a SCPA school board meeting? I don't ever recall having an opportunity to vote for the school's board members in the past. It's great that the school has decided to not hand out construction bonuses to alleged supervisors with divinity degrees rather than practical experience in project management, but can you explain how the school justifies those previous bonuses and now apparently feels it is not necessary to ensure the the successful completion of this project? Either it wasn't necessary the first time or we should have serious concerns about this project without those alleged safeguards in place. It can't be both. That leadership cannot be trusted and deep down you know it's true.
Susan February 07, 2013 at 06:02 PM
One more quick thing, Randy, as I just heard the statistic. Currently, one out of five teens are bullied.
SD February 16, 2013 at 10:45 PM
Troll alert.
Randy Marsh February 17, 2013 at 12:40 AM
Feel free to point out any inaccuracies rather than just calling names, Steve. I looking forward to learning things every day, unlike the tunnel vision SCPA supporters who don't seem to mind unsavory behavior (practically bordering on what is essentially embezzlement of our tax dollars) by the administration.
SD February 17, 2013 at 03:57 AM
Opinion is not empirical data. Neither is the Huffington Post. (credit Wikipedia) - In Internet slang, a troll is someone who posts inflammatory, extraneous, or off-topic messages in an online community, such as a forum, chat room, or blog, with the primary intent of provoking readers into an emotional response or of otherwise disrupting normal on-topic discussion.
Randy Marsh February 17, 2013 at 04:35 AM
Steve, is $135,000 empirical data? That is the money the SCPA leadership awarded themselves for performing duties they were already being paid to perform. In the case of one woman who received a $100,000 bonus for something that she was woefully unqualified to perform (he education was a divinity degree) and was unnecessary in the first place. I guess we'll find out whether they can truly justify those bonuses if they go ahead and dole out more of them following the completion of the expansion project.

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