EMID Board Meeting Tonight, 10/17

The EMID Board will meet at Crosswinds at 5:30pm this evening (10/17), with public testimony probably around 6pm or so. As we learned last week, Superintendent Mohr felt it was important for families to show up and share their input with the board this month. She is also asking the board to move their November meeting out of the holiday week since it looks like that meeting will be a very important one for our schools.

This month the board is likely to authorize Superintendent Mohr to begin conversations with member district administrators about the future disposition of our schools. There is a very real chance that the school buildings would be transferred to member districts, with severe consequences for what we have come to know and love about them. At tonight’s meeting we will hear the board begin to discuss this situation, and in November they are likely to come to some kind of decision.

To help you understand some of the technical issues, we have prepared two new background pages on the EMID Families web site. One page is about the EMID Joint Powers Agreement, which binds the district together. Another page is about EMID Finances, and tries to explain some of what has happened over the past few years. These two pages join the EMID data analysis we already had available.

Of course, what the board really needs to hear is your voice. So if you can be at the meeting tonight, or send a letter to the board today, that would wonderful.

Superintendent suggests families come to EMID Board meeting

This week Superintendent Janet Mohr and EMID finance officer Shari Thompson shared with families at Harambee and Crosswinds the same financial briefing they gave to the EMID Board last month:

Shari made it very clear that the district is still in severe financial straits. While our budget cuts to the schools have made it possible for the schools to stay open this year, the district will still run a $1.8 million deficit. This will leave us with only $900,000 dollars in our general fund balance at the end of the year. Obviously, we could not run the district this way for even one more year without running out of funds. Shari noted that contributors to our deficit were declining enrollment at Crosswinds, the geographical distance between our sites, the size of our schools, the fact that our’s are schools of choice without a traditional community supporting them, and the lack of levy authority. She also added “sustainability into the future” as a financial challenge, which highlights the fact that our board has refused to build a sustainable financial model for the schools.

The Superintendent stressed that now is the time for families to get involved. Although she shared no specific plan of action, she did suggest families should at least come to the board meetings and make their voices heard. She noted that the next board meeting will be this coming Wednesday, 10/17 at Crosswinds. The board will discuss the budget during their work session at 5:30pm, the public will have a chance to participate in an open forum shortly after 6pm, then the board will act on an “Authorization for Administration to Discuss Educational Options for EMID Schools, Programs, and Services with Member District Administration”. The board packet for this meeting has some more details, it says:

The Board will discuss authorizing administration to seek alternative educational options and provide information that may be available for Harambee and Crosswinds facilities with member districts within the collaborative of the East Metro Integration District.

What are these “alternative educational options”? We may learn at the work session. It seems like our only chance to respond may be the open forum on Wednesday. This may be an important meeting to attend if you are concerned about the future of our schools.

EMID Board takes a walk in Harambee’s backyard

EMID’s board meeting last night began with a “good news” tour of Harambee’s backyard with teacher and environmental education coordinator Jenny Eckman. The weather was perfect for sharing the wonderful resource that Harambee kids and teachers have all around the school. The board took a walk past where kids had recently discovered an owl pellet with a full skull inside it, saw plenty of scat, and learned from Jenny of the diversity of experience that kids bring into the field and take back home. It was a wonderful way to start a board meeting and these slides may give you a sense of what an incredible resource EMID has in Harambee’s surrounds.

The board also got a solid briefing on district finances from Shari Thompson. Shari made it very clear that the district is still in severe financial straits. While our budget cuts to the schools have made it possible for the schools to stay open this year, the district will still run a $1.8 million deficit. This will leave us with only $900,000 dollars in our general fund balance at the end of the year. Obviously, we could not run the district this way for even one more year without running out of funds. Shari noted that contributors to our deficit were declining enrollment at Crosswinds, the geographical distance between our sites, the size of our schools, the fact that our’s are schools of choice without a traditional community supporting them, and the lack of levy authority. She also added “sustainability into the future” as a financial challenge, which highlights the fact that our board has refused to build a sustainable financial model for the schools.

Three parents spoke to the board at the start of the meeting. They raised concerns about the mission and vision the board was considering in its “strategic roadmap,” offered to help the board develop the “roadmap” for the schools, and noted some continuing school bus issues in Saint Paul. However, the board really did not discuss the mission and vision present in their roadmap document at all. Superintendent Janet Mohr did say she intended to develop a school roadmap that emphasized “readiness” (presumably college readiness) to present to the board at their October meeting. She said that she would solicit family input only after that next board meeting.

Quite a few parents were present for the board meeting and had individual conversations with board members after the meeting. Continued family contact with the board is essential to a healthy outcome for our schools. Thanks to everyone who took the time to attend!

EMID School Board Hosting Community Budget Forum, 3/14

The EMID School Board will hold a Community Forum at 6:30pm on March 14 at Harambee. The topic will be proposed budget reductions. They are asking for input from the community on the “Budget Adjustment Recommendations” shared last week. The board will take action on these recommendations at their regular meeting on 3/21.

The PDF adjustment recommendations are a bit hard to sort out, so here are some of the impacts described by that document.

Structure of Education

Harambee would see the elimination of the magnet foci specialists ($53,340) and their music specialist ($103,000).

Crosswinds would remove one of its four houses (no mention of which one or what this restructuring would look like). This would eliminate math, science, social studies, language arts, and AVID in that house ($264,000). Presumably this would increase class sizes as well, but again, no details about that.

Crosswinds would also move from a seven to a six period day, reducing language, technology, pays ed, music, visual arts, and theater budgets in the process ($253,215).

Special Education

The loss of a house at Crosswinds also results in the loss of one special ed position there ($60,860). Another three educational assistants for special ed are lost due to “restructuring” ($93,156).

Harambee reduces all educational assistants by one half hour a day and eliminates a media/clerical assistant ($31,130).

If the board approves “Tier 2” cuts then Crosswinds would eliminate another educational assistant in special education ($33,168) and Harambee would lose two intervention specialists ($49,130 each).

Intersession and After School

“Increase participations fees for intersession programming, $12,000.” If we assume 2/3 of the current roughly 800 students attend three intersessions, this works out to something on the order of a $10 increase per child per intersession.

“Restructuring of after school, $34,000.” It sounds like they suggest only having after school during quarters 2 and 3 (not 1 and 4) and only for five of the eight weeks of each term, plus increase the fees for that amount of time.

Administrative Cuts

“Elimination of Director of Teaching and Learning Position, $129,920.” That would be eliminating Greg Keith.

“Eliminate TOSA position” ($59,218 at Harambee, $54,000 at Crosswinds). These “teachers on special assignment” have served as almost an assistant principals at our schools and their elimination results in significant additional burden for our principals.

“Reduction of 10 percent in consumable supplies, $28,750.” More money out of teacher pockets and longer supply lists at the start of the school year.

Overall the cuts fall very heavily on Crosswinds, but then crosswinds has also had traditionally more expensive operations. If both tiers of cuts are approved by the board then Crosswinds would see an $868,000 cut, Harambee a $402,000 cut, district wide cuts would be $394,000, and member services would lose $90,000.

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Please do look at the “Budget Adjustment Recommendations” for full details.

If you are unable to attend the forum you may email your comments to Mary Ojile who will pass them along to school school board members or send mail to board members directly.

Documents to review for EMID Community Council on 3/3

Dr. Robicheau shared three documents this week that those attending the Community Council meeting this week should take some time to review. Two of these documents are a result of an analysis of the data that was collected at the February 4 Community Council meeting. The first document is a listing of the major themes from the discussion that was held during small groups. The second document is a draft of strategies that are recommended to address the overarching themes. According to Robicheau, this is a draft document that is still in its development stage. The third document is the Guiding Change document approved by the School Board last December.

The next Community Council meeting is this Saturday, March 3, from 8:30am-Noon at Harambee. Everyone is welcome, even if you were not able to attend the first meeting.

During this Community Council meeting Robicheau will be asking participants to respond to and discuss the following questions regarding the draft strategies:

  1. Do the draft strategies address the overarching goals; a) close the racially predictable achievement gap, b) foster an integrated learning environment?
  2. Do the draft strategies reflect the values of EMID?
  3. Do the draft strategies honor the Guiding Change Document approved by the board?
  4. Do the draft strategies honor the input from the February 4 Community Council?
  5. Do you see any gaps in this document? What recommendations would you offer?

Everyone in the EMID community is welcome to both meetings, whether you have “signed up” for the Community Council or not. However, if you have not yet signed up it would be very helpful if you let either your principal, Dr. Robicheau, or Sharon Radd know you plan to be there. The administration is trying to get a good count so they can have the space prepared adequately.

Update: On Thursday March 1 Robicheau shared these further docTable 6 Small Groups 2-4.pdfuments from the first Community Council meeting. “This is the feedback from the flip charts complied at the February 4th Community Council meeting. Each document represents one tables notes.” These additional documents may be a response to criticism leveled at the process from some participants stating that the “themes” shared earlier (above) did not seem to represent the output from the first meeting.

Take the EMID budget survey by tomorrow!

Please don’t forget to fill in EMID’s budget survey by tomorrow, Monday 2/27. Do it right away if you can, it is only one page long and EMID needs your input. More information about the survey at the Crosswinds website:

Our commitment to quality teaching and learning remains steadfast. At the same time, we recognize the fiscal crisis we face is very real and difficult decisions will have to be made. Your feedback as we balance our commitment to quality instruction and fiscal demands is essential.

EMID board begins search for new superintendent

Last night the EMID board received a letter of resignation from Interim Superintendent Jerry Robicheau, stating that he planned to leave the position on 17 March 2012. The board, however, did not want to be left without a superintendent and approved a motion to accept his resignation “on March 17, 2012, or as soon as a replacement is appointed, but no later than May 1st.” Some wanted to keep him on longer, but member Gelbmann pointed out that “slavery had been abolished” and they really could not compel Robicheau to stay.

The board appointed a special superintendent search committee consisting of John Brodrick, Kitty Gogins, George Hoeppner, Byron Schwab, and Lori Swanson, to supervise the search. Dr. Robicheau repeated a few times that he was sure they would find suitable candidate by March 15. In fact, he made it very clear he had just the right person in mind, someone fully qualified and who had already expressed interest.

Harambee teacher Denise Dzik and Crosswinds parent Eric Celeste both pleaded with the board during open forum to consider Kathy Griebel for the position. Currently Harambee principal, Kathy was nearly chosen by the board in 2010 for the position and clearly meets the requirements of the “Profile of Leadership” that was developed then and which has guided EMID searches since then. However, in over an hour of discussion of this matter, the fact that there is such a qualified internal candidate was never once mentioned by any board member.

The special search committee plans to meet in the first week of March to review candidates selected by Dr. Robicheau. The full board will meet early on March 21, conducting public interviews of the candidates starting at 4:30pm that Wednesday. If they are successful at finding a candidate they approve of, they could appoint that candidate later that same day at their regular board meeting.

In other matters, the board also tabled a discussion of capturing school levy funding from member districts for EMID. Right now, the EMID budget does not allow any integration funding to be spent on EMID schools, leaving the schools with only state “backpack” money from each pupil. No other district in Minnesota tries to run schools with only backpack money, and indeed at EMID this would lead to closure of the schools in the 2013-2014 school year (the year after next). EMID is not allowed to raise levies, but the joint powers agreement by which it operates allows the EMID board to capture levy dollars generated by EMID students for EMID schools.

Financial support for students attending the EMID School District shall be comparable to that from which the would have benefited if they had attended Member District schools. …each Member District shall transmit to the EMID School District pupil-based state aid and local tax levies received by the Member District. [From Article Twelve of the EMID Joint Powers Agreement revised January 2012.]

Still, the board refuses to use this power and some member districts insist it is unfair to share levy dollars with EMID. The most likely scenario to come to pass would be that each member district would match the lowest levy among the members (Saint Paul Schools’ $646 per pupil levy) providing $500,000 additional revenue to EMID. However, some board members raised important questions about the fairness and long-term predictability of this method of assessing levies. In the end, the board put this decision off for another day.

It should be noted that members of the board again expressed their discomfort with the arrangement EMID has made to allow ISD622 students to “open enroll” in EMID. These students only bring “backpack” dollars with them and since ISD622 is not a “member district” there will never be any way to collect levy dollars from them. Of course, the board itself approved this arrangement in 2008 when ISD622 pulled out of the collaborative.

The board also made committee assignments for the coming year. Those can be found on our EMID Families school board page.

Oh, and if some of you noticed the “good news” item on the board agenda, that ended up being an opportunity for Dr. Robicheau to allow our principals to highlight good news from the schools. Only Kathy Griebel was present to do so, and among other things she highlighted the talent show held at Harambee recently. If you have not seen the faculty’s “flash mob” version of Thriller from that evening, take a look!

Robicheau to inform board he intends to resign

Tomorrow is yet another EMID board meeting, and as we’ve learned this year, there is never a dull moment when the EMID board gathers! The breaking news is that Interim Superintendent Jerry Robicheau, who was just reappointed by the EMID board in December, plans to announce his resignation from his post effective March 15. This means that the agenda item labeled innocuously “consider scheduling special board meeting to discuss candidates for superintendent position” in this month’s board packet gains a great deal of urgency.

Also on the agenda this month are discussions of capturing some portion of member district operating levies to make the EMID budget more sustainable, and a discussion of the community forum and budget reduction work already underway.

Particularly intriguing is an item labeled simply “Good News” on the agenda. Let’s hope so!

The board gathers at Harambee tomorrow, February 15, at 5:30 for a work session. Public forum (where the community can say a few words) is scheduled to start at 6:30 when the board meeting begins. Both the work session and the meeting are open to the public, please consider attending.

EMID Board approves 10% budget cut

The EMID board this evening approved a 10% budget cut to the district. 10% was the lowest cut the board considered, they also looked at 15% and 20% cuts. This cut will have to be taken out of our schools, administration, and other programs with the exception of the $700,000 “shared services” fund. Working out the details of what, exactly, a 10% cut means is now in the hands of the EMID administration, which will invite community input through the “Community Council” meetings coming up on 2/4 and 3/3.

However, the budget the board approved would also, as board member John Brodrick put it, “kill the schools after two years.” This is because the budget keeps the cuts low by eating deeply into the EMID operating reserves, money the school needs just to keep its doors open during the course of a normal year. As approved in this budget, this reserve will dip to $900,000 by the end of next year and would disappear altogether before the following year ends.

Brodrick, Kitty Gogins, Jim Gelbmann, and three other members of the board passed an amendment to the budget that tried to address this sustainability issue. The amendment asked board members to discuss the possibility of sending a portion of the levy dollars each student generates to EMID. Finance officer Shari Thompson estimated that 100% of the levy dollars would generate about $1 million per year, so it will be very interesting to see what portion, if any, districts are willing to send to EMID.

Thompson pointed out that until 2008 EMID members did forward all levy funds with the students to EMID schools. In 2008 the board swapped levy funds for more integration funding, but the board always retained the option and the power to collect levy funding from the member districts. Ironically, if a student went to a charter school or a private school, or to any school outside their own district, then the district would loose access to their levy funds anyway since the student would be leaving the district. It is only the fact that EMID is considered part of member districts that allows them to generate levy funds from EMID students in the first place. Yet the districts seem loath to actually allow the students to bring those funds to EMID.

A dozen parents testified to the board this evening, sharing their passion for a sustainable solution and asking the board to work with parents to navigate these difficult times. Many complained of the lack of openness from the board, and Interim Superintendent Robicheau did say he would consider ways to allow open conduct of some board activities.

MPR: Parents worry budget plan could close schools

MPR ran a Tom Weber story today, Parents worry budget plan could close schools, about the EMID budget situation.

Kelly Debrine’s daughter attended Crosswinds. She was surprised by this week’s proposed budget that would move all integration dollars away from the two schools, leaving them to survive on reserves and general state aid — something she said traditional school districts would never have to do.

“It just seems like a mean-spirited move, and it’s unsustainable. And it indicates they have no investment in the schools being a part of the collaborative.”