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What is next?


Fri, Jan 11th, 2013
Posted in All Commentary

By Brett Kues

When I was 15, I wanted a car. I dreamed of a Toyota pickup with great big tires. I was not sure of the price, and didn’t care because I was certain my parents would foot the bill. One day on a rare trip into Omaha, as we were driving by a Toyota dealer, I asked my dad to turn in so I could show him my future transportation. Dad turned in, and let me show him my perfect vehicle. My dad looked at it, had a salesperson open it up, and even let me sit in the driver’s seat. I will never forget how shocked and disappointed I was when dad asked me how I planned to pay for this truck. Once I learned that I could have any vehicle I wanted, as long as it was within my means, my standards went way down, and my first car was a 1971 Camaro with holes rusted through the floor boards. The holes were only a problem if you lived on a dirt road, because dust would enter the car through them. I lived on a dirt road.

So, now that the referendum vote is behind us, it is time to look forward and come together. It is time for the school district to return its focus to educating our children. Before the referendum, the district asked us, if we voted no for this plan, to come to them with what we think will work. So that is what I will attempt to do.

The first step in improving our school is to create money for it in the budget. How do you do this? Simple, the district has to reduce spending in other areas. With most businesses, the biggest annual expense is salaries. While it is unilaterally difficult to use one salary average to cover all teachers, for this purpose, that is what I will do. According to teachersalaryinfo.com, the average teacher salary in the Rushford-Peterson district is $42,728. Additionally, Minnesota teachers enjoy benefits ranging from paid sick leave to cafeteria plan credits to health and life insurance. Conservatively speaking, these benefits drive up the annual cost for a teacher by $12,000 - $15,000.00. Across the nation, the student to teacher ratio is 15.2 to 1. At Rushford, the average is 12.8 to 1. I submit that Rushford could increase its ratio to 15 to 1, still be below the national average. For the record, according to the center for public education, a class size of no more than 18 students per teacher is required to produce the greatest benefits. Increasing the student to teacher ratio could free up to $385,000.00, some of which could be used to compensate the remaining teachers for the increased workload, but most of it should be used annually for repairing and improving existing properties.

In the interest of full disclosure, I must tell you that Mr. Ehler took the time to meet with me to address several questions, and we discussed this ratio in detail. He pointed out that the 12.8 to 1 ratio is not an accurate depiction of class size and that we do have some classes containing 20 to 25 students. I was told that the extra teachers are accounted for by the district providing aid to special needs students, and for an expanded curriculum such as Music and Shop classes. I admit that in a smaller district this would affect the student ratio because they cannot share these specialists between multiple schools, but still argued that the ratio could be increased. We agreed to disagree on this point, but did agree on the benefits of a school fund.

Step two is to create a fund for a new school or to “rebuild” the existing one. This fund could be contributed to from surplus budget money after all the properties are brought up to date. Also, money could be added from the booster club, private donations, and fund raisers. I would donate to this cause. It is my understanding that this has actually been established and I look forward to hearing about fundraisers, and information on making donations in the near future.

While this plan will not get the district a shiny new school for the 2013 year, it will eventually accomplish the goal while allowing the District to maintain and improve the existing properties. However, this plan means the district must quit willfully neglecting the existing property and invest in the current infrastructure. This is a strong statement, and I am not sure it is fair.

As I stated before I met with Mr. Ehler privately, and have come to a couple conclusions. While recently the district has avoided making many of the bigger repairs as they tried to get a new school, I do not personally believe Mr. Ehlers has willfully neglected the school. From what I see, it is very evident to me that severe neglect came long before Mr. Ehler took the helm, and he inherited problems that were created by previous superintendents. The problems I see are the results of decades of neglect, not a few years, and have progressed to the point there is little chance they can be corrected without a serious financial commitment.

I saw a beautiful 100-year-old building that has been the victim of many shortcuts and bandages. I saw a school in need of serious repairs. These repairs while extremely costly ,are much, much less than a new school. Personally, I think repairing our current school even though it will be shockingly pricey is the right answer, and would enthusiastically support efforts to raise money for this.

If the board is set on a new building, I think that even though previous attempts to acquire state aid have failed, it is not reason to give up. The difference between a good leader and a great one is his ability to learn from his failures and miscalculations and recalibrate for victory. We have been told one of the reasons the state turned us down is that our taxes are too low. Mr. Ehler tried to convince our legislators that because of the flood, there were other factors to consider, but did not have the data to back it up. I encourage the Mayor and Mr. Ehler to consider reasons for past failures, recalibrate for victory, and try again, and for as many times as it takes.

The final step is reestablishing trust. If I am to donate to a building fund, I want to be sure the school board will spend it in a frugal manner to get the most for each dollar spent. Following this plan would also teach our kids that nice things are earned and worked for, not a right. I eventually got my Toyota with tires so big my prom date could not get up into it. It only took two years of working cleaning a stable and saving. It was six years old, but it was mine, and I loved that truck because I earned it.

Comments:







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588

12:05:17, Jan 15th 2013

Unimpressed says:
This is ridiculous. Your 15 year old lust for a new truck has nothing to do with the needs of an entire school district. So you wanted a shiny new truck- who cares? Once upon a time I wanted a pony, since we're sharing pointless stories. The school district needs a new school. Wants and needs are not actually the same thing. Your folksy story about mucking out stables to get what you want serves no point in a meaningful dialogue regarding the real needs of the RP school district. Thanks anyway for sharing your teenage memoirs and condescending attitude.


594

7:45:33, Jan 16th 2013

notaclown says:
How many other districts have made their 100 year old building last this long? While I will give you credit for meeting with Mr. Ehler and trying to educate yourself, it is still obvious that you have received a majority of your information from some of the local out of touch crazies and conspiracy theorists. I would imagine one of these to have actually served on the school board when the supposed "severe neglect" happened. You, like many others are confused over wants and needs, and also over civic, community duty and personal objects/status symbols. Maybe you attitude would be different if you had skin in the game, like owned property in the district or had children in this school.


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