Class sizes in the Northfield District’s schools: some questions

In Wednesday’s Northfield News: No quick fixes for class size troubles:

At a Feb. 12 school board meeting, several parents expressed concern over how big some classroom numbers have become, particularly at Greenvale Park Elementary… “We just don’t have the budget capacity right now (to lower the class sizes),” Richardson said.

In today’s (Saturday) Northfield News: Letter to the Editor from Diane Nead:

Concern over large classes was a big topic before the election. If the school board knew the levy increase would not be enough to reduce class sizes, then I think it was misleading not to inform the citizens of this before the election. Among friends, fellow parents and teachers I know, it was assumed that reducing class size would be first priority if the levy passed. Now that the election is over class size has moved to a “long-term issue”. I urge the school board to put the levy money to its best possible use by reducing class sizes in the school year. And I urge all those in the Northfield School District to contact the school board asking that they reduce class sizes before the money is spent elsewhere.

In the District’s levy referendum guide (PDF), distributed prior to the Nov. 7, 2006 election:

  • Your vote will make a difference for our students and for our communities. Reasonable class sizes, comprehensive programs, and high quality facilities are often cited as significant factors in helping to attract new students, families, businesses and industry to the area.
  • Voting YES means… Maintaining class sizes at the level for the next four to six years.

My questions:

  1. The District promised “reasonable class sizes” and at the same promised to maintain class sizes at the current level. Were they misleading us?
  2. Are the costs of Special Education a factor? It’s not mentioned in the Northfield News article.
  3. Why not consider reducing the busing of students to save money and put it towards reducing class sizes? In Wednesday’s StarTribune: Lessons in leg power: “Safe Routes to School is a new national program to help get kids to school the old-fashioned way. So far, 17 schools in Minnesota have won federal grants to encourage walking and biking.”



  1. Griff Wigley said:

    Lisa, I see you had a letter to the editor in this week’s Nlfd News. I’ll add it here for the benefit of those who’ve not seen it:

    Class size is key to education

    To the editor:

    One of the keystones of quality education is workable class sizes. Large class sizes, despite an excellent teaching staff, have a direct effect on the quality of instruction each child receives.

    Reading Recovery is another one of the keystones in creating successful students. Reading Recovery provides individual instruction. Reading Recovery, designed specifically to help at-risk readers get a solid start in school, provides first-graders one-on-one instruction with a specially trained teacher. Reading Recovery’s effectiveness has, unbelievably, been brought into question by the school district’s director of student services. How could eliminating this successful program possibly be a step in the right direction?

    The Greenvale Park contemporary third grade is coping with an increase in size due to budget cuts. The situation of over-crowding for this group has been allowed to continue from second grade into third. These children, despite the efforts of an excellent teaching staff, are not able to receive the attention needed for a quality education. This status quo is not acceptable.

    The school board is searching for economical ways to alleviate the large class sizes which are threatening the quality of Northfield’s education system. Because the Companeros and the contemporary students cannot be shifted between classes to create reasonable numbers of children in each class, most of the options deal in one way or another with the Companeros program: Creating a Companeros Magnet School – the most expensive option due to bussing; dividing the grades up among the three grade schools; providing additional support when class sizes and Student needs indicate; placing a cap on Companeros enrollment; or maintaining class size status quo.

    One of the options already dropped was the elimination of Companeros. No matter what the board decides, some people are not going to be happy. However, if something doesn’t shift soon to reduce grade school class sizes, more and more children are going to fall further and further behind.

    The present status quo of large grade school classes, with Reading Recovery hanging in the balance, is not acceptable. Everybody needs a chance at quality instruction of the core subjects. I entreat the board and the superintendent to take the initiative to improve the quality of education for all the grade school children. If the district fails to provide what is needed for the core education for every child, they have truly fallen short of their mission as an educational institution as stated by Superintendent Chris Richardson on the district’s website: “The mission of the Northfield Public Schools is to deliver educational excellence that empowers all learners to participate in our dynamic world.”

    Lisa Olson, Webster

    March 10, 2007
  2. Lisa Olson said:

    Wow, so much said over the past week. I’ve been down with a cold and my mental activity has been greatly limited.

    I am flattered that you sought fit to add my article. I had so much I wanted to put out there, I worked 6 pages of ideas down to 500 words!

    The added twist is the Reading recovery which is so important. We are not sure why (unless its $$) the director recommended it be cut. The board was not to keen on cutting it, but I thought it important to get the word out.

    One of you asked why the discussion was centered on grade school class sizes and not secondary. Basically because I have a 3rd grader at GVP and I started making noise. We organized parents and asked the board for an aid for the remaining three months of the year. Then the class sizes of all the grade school classes came to the fore and we were off. The board is looking at secondary class sizes as well. However, there seems to be less that can be done for the secondary level (short of a few mill.) without cutting into choice. And it seems ‘they’ have opted for choice over smaller classes.

    Someone else mentioned doing something instead of, or in addition to our rich discussions. We did and we are. Our aid was turned down, but something for next year is in the works. Plus the real source of our pain is of course the government. We need to focus our energy on making our voices heard up there. I haven’t made it that far yet, but that is my next step.

    On a time line now, gotta go. Will get more info on here soon.

    March 10, 2007
  3. Deb said:

    Hi all, I haven’t joined in lately, alot of new information to absorb. Where do I start?

    Let’s see if I can answer some questions concerning the secondary overcrowding. At the first board work session,we were given a few class size numbers.
    Creative Writing – 37, 39
    Modern World History – 38,40,36,30,36,41
    Behavioral Sciences – 37,40,37,40,30
    American History – 40,37,37,38,36,36,33
    AP Statistics – 33,42
    Of the 15.9 teachers who were cut, 10.9 came from the secondary schools. Two points that were made at the session that I thought were interesting were, “we have talked to the students and they don’t mind the large class sizes. They would be disappointed if the classes were not offered.” Has anyone asked the teachers or the parents? I have a son entering HS next year and I am not to excited to think he may be sitting on the windowsill or halfway in the hall. The other comment I questioned was “this school is very pupil driven. If the students want a class we get it.” The HS offers 77 one time electives. I’m still not real clear if that means one time a year or one time a semester. A senior at NHS can choose from a list of 140 electives. Yes, many of these electives are offered for grades 9-12 (9th grade can choose from 28 of the 140), but am I the only one who thinks that is a high number? I like the idea of choice but is there a thing as too much choice? At every board meeting I have attended, the word “choice ” has been the determining factor. The “choice” of Companeros, the “choice” of attending a large class, the “choice” of enrolling your child at another elementary instead of your neighborhood school. I think the board is having a hard time telling the parents of this district “NO” (unless you are a parent of the contemporary program at GVP). The “choice” that should be made is basic education first. The fundementals are getting lost in the fancy offerings of “choice”.

    Anne, I loved your comment about parents and volunteering. Northfield is very fortunate to have a wonderful response of parent volunteers for the schools. We are also lucky to have a large number of college student volunteers. Unfortunately, at the elementary level there are times when more than an hour here and an hour there are needed. These times are when a full-time EA are needed to help aid the teachers with the flow of the class.

    Now to add more to the mix. Smaller class sizes are our goal. How this will be accomplished boggles the mind. Being a parent of one of the 3rd grade Contemporary students I do not see a soulution for next years class size. There are not enough classrooms to have 5 fourth grade teachers, and 5 rooms of 20 students each would never be approved. Companeros is not going to go away. Bounderies are not going to be moved again this soon. Eventually, they will have to as the town grows, but not yet. The only thing to hope for at this point is the approval of a “Contigency Fund” for additional staff to handle the overload. Then I have to hope the fourth grade will qualify for the fund. Yes, the “Contigency Fund” is just a band aid, but at this point I am thinking of immediate results for my daughter. If something isn’t done to aide the 3rd/4th grade at GVP I will have to think of other options for her. The class size issue can not be set aside, but I do not believe it will be resolved as quickly as we would like to see. I am not being a defeatist, just a realist.

    Paul, to add to the special needs piece of this puzzle. I believe GVP already has 11 identified special needs students coming in with the Kindergarten class for next year. I don’t know what that number is at the other two schools. How will we address their needs in the classrooms, and still help every student? Could be a third grade issue all over again.

    Thanks for letting me add my two cents.

    March 10, 2007
  4. Anne Bretts said:

    Thanks for the numbers, but how many small classes are there at the secondary level? The number of electives does sound excessive for a school of this size. And again, the seven-period day is a problem in that the state formula only supports six periods a day. As long as you offer more classes than the state supports, you will be digging a deeper and deeper hole.
    And from what I’ve read here, I don’t see that ending Companeros is a hardship that would make me consider a budget increase to keep it.
    As for the people who are going to ask the state officials to give more money to education, where do you suggest they cut? Shall we close parks, cut veterans’ services, limit healthcare for the poor, delay road improvements or new transit lines?
    If more money can be raised by things like collecting delinquent taxes, fine. But if you’re talking new taxes or cuts in other areas, let’s be clear about the choices that need to be made.

    March 10, 2007
  5. Holly Cairns said:

    Hi Anne and Deb,

    So, to me the discussion shouldn’t be: how much extra learning is going on at NHS (how many extra hours do we have and extra options.) To me, after reading the numbers, I think we should be saying this:

    MY GOD! We’re in crisis mode at the secondary level!

    I was wondering about that. My daughter (MS) said she didn’t know how big the classes were but there had to be desks moved in to some of her classes. She then said that for one of her hours the class was huge.

    She went on to say that it was her teacher’s worst hour– they got an average of a D on a test, when other hours averaged a B or an A. Made me think about a few things.

    So, if I get this right– not just a few classes are big. We’ve got 36+ classes all over the place. Those poor teachers. What can I do? I don’t want less electives, but I want smaller classes than 40’s! Ridiculous! Do the board members care about this? Or is this something we’ve slowly come to expect as normal?

    March 10, 2007
  6. Lisa Olson said:

    Holly, the board members do know about the large class sizes at the MS and HS. Some of them even have children in some of those 40+ classes. But they feel that their hands are tied due to budget cuts and the choices requested. They do care, and I believe they do want to do the right thing. But like Deb said and Paul mentioned, this seems to be a consumer driven system. If the parents and students want the choice, then it is offered.

    I think it is hard for the individual to see the big picture. When someone wants this option or this class, they cannot see how that impacts the entire system. I know I could only see the GVP 3rd grade. Now I can see more of the picture, but the board should be the leader and make the difficult choices to create a healthy(er) district on the whole.

    I still think that the crux of the matter lies with the state. Why isn’t there enough $ to go around up there? Everything they support is, of course, important. But education is no less so. We won’t have policemen or firemen who can read if we don’t have a decent educational system. (Ok, so that was overstated. but you get my drift.)

    March 10, 2007
  7. Anne Bretts said:

    We won’t have police officers or firefighters who can read if we don’t have a decent educational system, but we may not have enough police or firefighters if we use money needed to pay them for optional school programs. I’m fine with getting basic class sizes down to reasonable sizes, but I’m not ok with offering an optional program if it harms the education of other students.
    And Holly, a crisis is something that can’t be anticipated or averted. This is a problem that is being caused by people choosing to offer elementary programs and secondary elective classes they can’t afford. I don’t see anything here that rises to the level of a crisis. A difficult choice, sure, but not a crisis.

    March 10, 2007
  8. Holly Cairns said:

    Hi Anne,

    according to m-w, A crisis is:

    3 a : an unstable or crucial time or state of affairs in which a decisive change is impending; especially : one with the distinct possibility of a highly undesirable outcome

    You sound like a “back to the basics kind of person.” No gifted or otherwise special kids in your family, I suppose. Maybe not in mine, either, but we’re glad for choice. I know, all kids are special. Sorry.

    So, I like choice at NHS. I think offering many choices is a sign of good educational values and a good educational system– this has many effects– realtors and business people know a good district draws new people.

    But, Anne, look at those numbers– teachers with 40’s+ in a classroom!! That’s might be two teachers with 23 in a classroom. 25 to 28 would be a nice class size, not 40’s+.

    We’re heading for trouble.

    Electives and this year’s numbers: I think some graduating class sizes are 350, and then some graduating class sizes aren’t (say, the class of 2009 is a smaller than that, I think). The more populated classes will result in elective choices being filled, and for the class of 2009 those electives might be a little more sparse. In the end it might be better to have the choice rather than not, even if it means a sparse year (20 in a classroom, or something.)

    To make a long story short, We can’t just look at the numbers this year and say “Oh, that elective is too small. Let’s get rid of it.”

    The kids are in class here and there, and in the end they all just need a class. You think that by offering less electives there will be a magical answer, like the beans brought jack?

    Seems to me the problems are: no money, a gradual increase of class size until it hurts and becomes the norm, and keeping good teachers.

    Add this discussion to the punitive trend going on— punishing schools for not performing or for not being fiscally prudent– and the mess looks worse. I don’t understand why we punish schools that need the most help.

    Ha ha– it is almost as if the class size argument years ago brought the reverse– it was argued that smaller classes were needed to meet test requirements, etc– but in the end Mpls etc schools are going to close schools AND… eventually larger classes someplace else. You can’t just erase a problem by shifting kids…

    MOre– teachers are wary of volunteers who help in the classroom. Sometimes volunteers might know a subject but can be HORRIBLE in the classroom, and this results in MORE WORK and etc. It might look easy, but “teaching” is not easy.

    March 11, 2007
  9. Paul Fried said:

    A few observations: First, I don’t think the class size discrepancy at GVPES between Companeros and Contemporary can be blamed for all the budget woes of the district. I have not seen anyone in this discussion come out and suggest that, but it should be avoided.
    While there are fairness and education issues there that should be addressed, officials in the district have made it clear that Companeros (especially not at GV) is not the cause of class size problems at the MS and HS level.

    As I understand it, the budget figure needed to bring down class sizes significantly at the MS and HS are larger that the savings you’d achieve, say, by disbanding the GV Companeros and saying only Bridgewater kids, or kids whose parents drop them at Bridgewater instead of taking the bus, can be in the program. And while there may be some extra expenses related to Companeros in general, like curriculum writing or certain staffing percentages, I don’t think even disbanding the program completely would yield the dollars needed to address other budget woes. And I don’t believe we should make it a habit to cannibalize our own programs (especially in languages or arts) to pay for basics.

    Second, the reality is that many school districts in Minnesota are feeling the same budget crunch, talking about class size issues, and becoming mad at one another inside our own district does nothing. In general, I think the average person in the public doesn’t understand the school budget problem, or the extent of its consequences. Some think schools are just spending too much. Many just don’t see how the quest for consumer-driven education on a small budget is creating class size problems, and how overworked teachers and less individual attention are among the results. Many don’t understand how rising health care costs, and inflation, and many other factors, have taken a huge toll, while education spending was held flat for many years. It has been like a process of slow starvation, while we’ve expected educators and education systems to keep growing, keep vital, stay innovative, etc.

    Third: Occasionally we read a letter or two in the paper complaining that district X or Y are among those without deficits, or not cutting their district budgets. It might be interesting to research some of these districts. Where are they, and what are they doing? Is it districts like Edina, where there’s a lot of money and a long tradition of family/taxpayer support? Is it districts that might have been very financially conservative all along, and not be able to afford arts programs or electives, building upgrades or new schools? Do local residents really want a school system that looks and works like those? How are the test scores in such districts that some have cited? If it’s not Edina, but a very fiscally conservative district, what quality of teacher are they able to attract on the salaries they offer? I’m very skeptical about such comparisons, which often seem presented by the ideologically driven. The point usually seems to be one of shaming locals into less support for schools, and more support for tax cuts. If we can learn from the fiscally able Edina district, or the fiscally conservative Lake Wobegon district, and from how they manage their budgets – in relation to bussing, electives, choice, class size, teacher salary – I’m all for it. But what such research yields may be less than we need.

    March 11, 2007
  10. Anne Bretts said:

    I’m not a back to basics peron at all. I have just heard these same arguments for 20 years, since I first became an education reporter in Duluth. I have heard the same inflation/health care increases/class size crisis arguments over and over and over, with never a plan for how much money is enough money, or what should be cut in the rest of government to provide the funding.
    I won the U of M Premack award for a year-long series on education, covering big, little, private and charter schools and post-secondary options and special ed and early childhood through college programs. And I have children who are adults now who got great opportunities in small schools and lousy ones in big schools. I have worked with educators who are dedicated and others who were as bad as the worst in any other profession I have covered.
    It is not helpful to tell those of us who ask for accountability that we don’t understand or don’t like kids. We do.
    The state highway department holds hearings and sets funding plans for the next 20 years and methodically does the projects according to priorities and funding levels. The park system does the same. The universities all do the same. Most cities have long-term spending plans (thought not Northfield, so maybe there’s a common fear of numbers here.)
    All I want is for the shool district to set out a 10-year plan, or even a five-year plan, that spells out enrollment and projected revenue based on past numbers and then spells out what the spending priorities are. Choice is fine, unlimited choice isn’t possible. My husband teaches at the university level; if the enrollment doesn’t hit a minimum level, a course is dropped. That’s just common sense.
    We just passed an excess levy that we were told would protect the status quo. If the status quo was a crisis, the district and the levy supporters had an obligation to say so, and to explain clearly how much money was really needed.
    Yes, I’d highly recommend looking at other school districts and learning how they manage. And if you want public support, put down the crisis card and give us a plan we can get behind.

    March 11, 2007
  11. Paul Fried said:

    Hearing the same stuff about increasing costs for 20 years – in a way that’s anecdotal evidence and not necessarily to be trusted, like the kid with a finger in the dike, and the local resident who say’s she’s seen leaks off and on for years, so she asks, what’s new? If the flood waters are rushing in, whether you’ve seen them before or not, it doesn’t invalidate claims that today’s flood-waters are some of the worst seen in a long time. They may be worse now than then, and more worthy of attention.

    The rising medical coverage costs that are a part of rising education costs were not so bad 20 or even 10 years ago. Education spending is often a political football, but the fact that we have no state formula for how to cover education can’t really be addressed on the local level alone. A local 10-year plan may help, but certainly would not have made state funding remain consistent in a “no new taxes” climate. We’re still largely affected by the whims of a political system that lacks the 10-year plan, and the formula, but needs it statewide. Some politicians are talking about working for one.

    And regarding electives: Choices do not necessarily equal higher costs. It depends on how programs and curriculum requirements are structured. For instance, if some sort of history class is required, but if to fulfill the requirement, one can choose one of three or four choices, this is not grounds for complaining that too many choice equals higher costs and therefore larger class size. If there was only one plain vanilla choice, the classrooms might still be overcrowded. More information is required about the programs and curriculum before making those kinds of judgments.

    I have not seen that sort of information presented here, at least not yet. Maybe some who have contributed to discussion already possess detailed knowledge in those areas, but I don’t, and I’d rather not assume.

    March 11, 2007
  12. Lisa Olson said:

    Are you serious that our district doesn’t’ have a long term financial plan? I know there are many unforeseen variables in a public school system; possibly more than at a University where they can control enrolment or the hi way system, but one still needs to have a plan to follow. They must have a budget – so do they just float from year to year?

    It does look like the levy money is simply going to make it possible to continue at our current status que, which leaves much to be desired.

    March 11, 2007
  13. Lisa Olson said:

    During the last school board meeting, the number of electives at the H.S. was discussed. I just looked through my paper work and don’t see any numbers. What I remember is somewhere in the neighborhood of 77 electives. At any given hour of the day, there are 11 classes which are only offered during that hour. People seem to think this is a lot. I have no comparison. It was said that many of the classes are A.P. classes.

    For me, the fact that adequately financing education continues becoming an issue, is in itself a problem. If the dike leaked 20 years ago, has sprung leaks since and is leaking now, maybe we need a better dike! None of the leaks is less important than any other.

    I am depresseed when I think how difficult it seems for our society/government to truly support people in public service jobs. Those of us serving others are on the low end of the pay scale. Those vital jobs (police, teachers, fire fighters…) which are funded by tax $s always seem to get the short end of the financial stick.

    March 11, 2007
  14. Paul Fried said:

    Again, I don’t know how to put 77 electives in context. Divided by which years in school that take those electives? Does elective mean a certain kind of literature course in a curriculum that requires either Shakespeare, or early American, or contemporary poetry, or what? And if a few have 40 or more enrolled, do other electives have 10? Is there not only a class size problem, but also a class balance problem among electives? 77 doesn’t seem high to me without context, and I just don’t have it. And if electives are forms of requirements, and if a majority are at capacity or over, then it would be clear that it’s not a problem where we’re offering too many electives, but one where the funding isn’t present to keep the class sizes down or offer more sections, etc.

    March 11, 2007
  15. Anne Bretts said:

    I agree. Maybe someone could put together the “big picture” rather than anecdotal reports of problems. How many classes are overcrowded and what percentage of the total number of classes is that? If this is a crisis, why didn’t the district say so and ask for more money in the levy proposal just a couple of months ago? What are the solutions and how much will they cost? We have lots of pieces, but not enough to put the puzzle together.

    March 11, 2007
  16. Paul Fried said:

    In answer to your original question, I didn’t feel mislead. I assumed I was voting to keep current levels pretty much where they were at, all things being what they were, and not accounting for unforseen circumstances.

    Maybe school board members don’t need to get involved, or don’t feel they do, if they’re aware of most of these things already. It’s not in their job descriptions to visit discussions online and do overtime with PR, although I’ve found them to be generous with their time when I’ve called some on the phone in the past. If a discussion like this came up with something really novel, fine, but otherwise, the value may be mostly in the catharsis of public discussion, and perhaps the possibility that people may leave a discussion more likely in some cases to become more actively involved?

    Part of the problem with choice programs and class size at GVP (more narrowly) has to do with problems that have been passed on from one principal or superintendent to the next (management communication problems, and shifting expectations and guidelines about choice programs?). Perhaps some balls were dropped in the process. There were also significant challenges caused by the reorganization of Companeros and the efforts to reduce bussing costs, and these translated more immediately into class-size issues.

    As the discussion here has branched out far beyond the original question of “Did you feel mislead” by the levy, I wonder if there might be some value in starting new discussions that are more focused:

    1. What should the short-term solution be at GVPES? (Or is this one too late? Shall we assume that school board members are already close to a decision on this?)

    2. What should the long-term solution be regarding class size?

    3. Regarding choice programs?

    4. Bussing?

    There have been some interesting ideas presented, including the suggestion about encouraging walking and biking, and seeking grant money, etc. In a town with two wind-turbines, you’d think more families would have their children walk, bike or take the bus, but the Middle School parking lot is clogged every school morning, along with the nearby intersection.

    Also, my son is in band and jazz band at the MS, but we currently pay no fees at all. If the district values arts, athletics and choice programs, I think it’s OK to pay a fee for certain programs, as some already do for athletics, and others do for some other activities. We pay nothing, but would be willing, and collected fees could offset other needs. A fees discussion?

    You could invite teachers, district administrators, coaches or school board members to take part in more targeted discussions. They might have little interest, but it may be worth a try. Does that sound like too large a series of topics for attention, perhaps making “Locally Grown” seem too much a school thing, a “school groan”? That would be understandable.

    Thanks for the discussion so far.

    March 11, 2007
  17. Paul Fried said:

    I assume the levy had to be prepared before fall classes started, and they also had to make judgment calls about how ambitious they could be. Republican governor, Republican president, expensive war, larger deficit at the federal level, and these things worry people. News may not yet have come out about surplus or extra collections of taxes, etc.

    Lots of variables there, hard to tell which electives would be most popular to an incoming class, which teachers would be generous and flexible enough to consider teaching larger sections (do they get a say?) instead of forcing students to choose other electives that may have been as full, but whose teachers may not have been so willing?

    I don’t see how they could have planned a more ambitious levy, given what they knew last year about the economy and political climate.

    And school board members, teachers, and Chris Richardson were all very present at the 5%/5% (or was it a simply 10%?) rally in Bridge Square, so we knew they were aware of the problems with the budget. I don’t think it was a matter of not seeing the crisis. All those painful budget cuts were about crisis. I think they tried to communicate their concerns. They know many area residents expect a lot of the schools. They also know many area residents don’t like to have their taxes raised too much. So they put together a plan they thought would preserve the status quo, at minimum, and it passed, but not by that incredibly much.

    If they’d been more ambitious and tried to reduce class sizes, it might have failed, and then we’d have had a bigger crisis. I don’t fault them for that.

    And if you went back and read, in the NNews, articles by Richardson and others about the Levy, and about other education-related themes swirling around the election, it wasn’t that we didn’t know in one form or another. It was more a matter of which prognosis or forecast we were willing to listen to and believe.

    March 11, 2007
  18. Anne Bretts said:

    I agree that this discussion has run its course and we need more specifics on particular issues.
    I gathered as much information as I could online, mostly from the school district itself and the state. Maybe there are some figures I’m just not seeing, but I can’t find the crisis.
    As for not knowing the budget formula before the referendum, we are at the end of the biennial, or two-year budget cycle, so the numbers were set in 2005 and were very clear last year.
    There’s no sudden enrollment change to knock things out of whack. The district reports enrollment is flat and is expected to stay that way.
    The district has 3,852 students, with 11 percent receiving special education services, 17 percent eligible for free and reduced lunches and 8 percent with limited English. State averages are 13 percent special ed, 30 percent free/reduced lunch and 7 percent with limited English. There are no overwhelming poverty issues and special ed is actually slightly less an issue here than statewide.
    And as for teachers suffering financially, the average teaching salary in Northfield is $45,934 for 38 weeks, or the adjusted annual equivalent of $62,857. Less than some make, I suppose, but hardly poverty wages.
    The district is spending a total of nearly $7,967 per student, or nearly the tuition required to attend the University of Minnesota. And that’s just the amount spent on education, not on capital costs. (Yes, tuition is only part of the cost of a year of higher education, but I’m just trying to get a little perspective here. We aren’t just pulling spare change out of the sofa to finance education here.)
    At Greenvale, for example, the state shows (could be a lag of a year or so in this data) 37 teachers for 538 students, a pretty solid number. Of course some are special ed, but that’s still a strong number. I notice that the report shows the school offers all-day kindergarten. It’s a great program, but if it is offered, is it funded by the state or is it a choice? If it is a choice, like Companeros, it comes at the expense of larger class sizes.
    You see, that is part of the problem. The state gives districts money and allows them to choose what to spend it on. You can make class sizes smaller, or offer more expensive choices that drive up class sizes. That’s why it’s called a choice.
    And beware of asking for state support. If you ask the state to take over funding, the state will take over spending. And that will really limit choices.
    The state reports don’t break down teacher numbers by individual class assignments, so I can’t tell exactly how many classes are small or large at each grade level. Averages don’t tell much. And people in this discussion have highlighted anecdotal reports of some large classes.
    Knowing what percentages of classes are large and small and how many more teachers are needed and how much that would cost and what the options are would help put this problem in perspective.

    March 12, 2007
  19. Holly Cairns said:

    Hi Paul and others who want to reduce class size but aren’t gung ho about cutting electives unless there is an absolute, clear pattern of misuse of dollars–

    Want to get together to discuss class sizes? There is already a group which is concerned about elementary classes, but I would like to include secondary class sizes, which have not been addresses by the board beyond “we’re pupil driven.

    I am interested in overall, district class size and I especially don’t want to see the secondary situation continue.

    Maybe we could meet at the library? I’ll check the library calendar… if there are at least two of us we can get a start on things. Or, coffee? I love Coffee. Paul, your four season porch is beautiful– maybe we could meet there (inviting myself and others over… ha ha, not nice, but your coffee is good)

    March 12, 2007
  20. Anne Bretts said:


    When you and Paul get all the class size numbers, could you please share them here? Many of us are very willing to listen.

    March 12, 2007
  21. Griff Wigley said:

    I emailed this to Donita Delzer this morning:

    PDF of class size discussion

    Hi Donita,

    I’ve attached a 41-page PDF of the online discussion among parents that’s been occurring on our blog, Locally Grown, in the past 10 days or so.

    I think it might be helpful for school board members to read/know about.

    Can you email the PDF to them and/or print out one copy to circulate to them at tonight’s board meeting?

    Thanks so much.

    March 12, 2007
  22. Beth Breiland said:

    Two more short tidbits from me:
    One, choice at the secondary level is necessary. Not all students are leaving HS with the same career goals or abilities. We are morally bound to offer classes appropriate for each student to succeed in this world. If you talk about cutting choices, where do we start? AP? Good luck. What about Vo Tech? I wouldn’t do it. It’s the only area in which some students excell and it’s their passion and career aspiration. Aren’t we obligated to prepare all students? What about students with low IQ’s, brain injury, FAS? Subjecting these students to many required mainstream classes is unnecessary torture that inevitably ends in their failure. So, should we cut remedial courses? Life skills courses? Which students can we choose to leave behind in order to balance a budget in a time when leaving any child behind isn’t an option? What about in a time when legislators are suggesting requiring students in HS to study a year’s worth of college courses (at the public school’s expense, not the colleges)? Our legislators do have an obligation to fund programs they insist we offer in our schools. Most people think it’s fabulous that students in high school can take college courses (made possible by our legislators). What they don’t understand is that takes resources away from the public school while also costing the school above and beyond whatever those classes cost. So, when Anne says that we spend nearly $8,000 per pupil in this district, while true, it is not often evenly distributed since some of that money goes to institutions of higher learning and much of it goes towards special ed.
    Second, full day kindergarten is definitely an increased expense, but it is a tuition program.


    March 12, 2007
  23. Anne Bretts said:

    Thanks for the info on kindergarten. I thought there might be an explanation there. As for the other programs, I think they sound very worthwhile. That’s not the question at all. The question is how to balance all the worthwhile pieces with what we can afford. And right now we just keep circling the issue without the numbers needed to draw conclusions, so I’ll just keep hoping someone can provide them.

    March 12, 2007
  24. Paul Fried said:


    I admire your efforts to get a more objective handle on the numbers via research, but beware how you handle the numbers.

    For example, kids go out for “specials” like physical education, art, music, band, orchestra, media; there are also teachers who specialize in helping certain kids with reading, ESL or special education. (Which of these can, or should, we get rid of?)

    So if you divide the number of kids in a certain year (538?) by teachers (37?) it may look like 15 kids in a class, but that’s way off. You might have a very small group of very high special needs kids requiring the attention of a number of teachers or teacher and aides. The smallest classes at GVPES, to my knowledge, are those two sections of third grade Companeros, and they’re the exception to the rule. If you combined those, you’d have had a class of 38, in which case other teachers would have been crying foul.

    If there had not been a change in principals last year at GV, and if bussing were not so expensive, there might have been some chance for a management-intensive phone-and-letter campaign to balance the Companeros classes better between GV and Bridgewater, but then you’re into the pitfalls of soft boundaries again.

    And as far as teacher salaries go, who counts as a teacher, and how does one find the average?
    – Does a special ed aide count, or a part-time teacher, or the “chapter” teachers who help students with higher needs?
    – Does one take all the money paid in teacher salaries, including medical benefits, and divide it by the number of teachers? Or some other method?
    – Do we do the same when we compare other salaries, or do some of those get calculated as salary-plus-benefits?
    – What’s at the low end, and is it sufficient, and comptetitive enough, to attract good teachers, or do we lose some of those to other districts that pay more?

    In an economy with any free markets, it isn’t exclusively an issue of how much non-teachers happen to be making, and how teacher pay compares. To some extent, one has to ask: How much do we need to pay good potential teachers to attract them to the profession, and to keep them in the profession? And to some extent, this is not exclusively a comparison question, but also a free-market and practical question: Do the figures we pay — and the working conditions, and class sizes — do these really attract and retain good teachers? I’m sure it does some. But I’m also sure that we fail to attract and/or retain many good teachers because the pay and working conditions are not right.

    And when you arrive at an “adjusted annual equivalent of $62,857,” consider:
    – Does this assume that most teachers work during the summer at the same rate of pay as they do during the school year?
    – Does it assume that they work the same number of hours per work day during the school year as the full-time employee at Menards, who doesn’t take papers home to correct, and doesn’t have meetings to attend, or special education conferences with parents and social worker, or phone calls to parents about misbehavior in the classroom, or lesson plans to prepare, or parent-teacher conferences at night? (Granted, many people in other professions work overtime, but a good number of them make more than teachers).
    – Are these safe assumptions, making the “adjusted annual equivalent” figure a good and revealing one, or are some of these assumptions to be avoided, and the figure somewhat bogus?
    – Might it vary from case to case, say, from a teacher who takes little work home, to a teacher who goes the extra mile? If some of the most talented and dedicated teachers go the extra mile and take work home, can we fault them for wanting the summer off to recover, and should the “adjusted annual equivalent” figure apply to them the same as to other teachers?
    – Isn’t there at least a hint of irony here that the most dedicated teachers, who work the hardest and put in the most hours, may end up needing more time off, and if you divide their salary by the number of hours they put in, they’re making the lowest per-hour pay? There goes that “adjusted annual equivalent”….

    (Not intended as an argument for merit pay — which I’d be fine with if it was well thought-out; but that’s an even greater tangent from the original topic of this discussion….)

    March 12, 2007
  25. Anne Bretts said:

    I covered education for a living for years, which is why I didn’t make any assumptions about class sizes — and why I have said repeatedly that we can’t make any good conclusions without accurate classroom numbers.
    As for pay, I know plenty of people who work long hours, attend meetings, give up evenings and weekends, etc., without the summer off, so the battle over who works the hardest isn’t one that will get us anywhere. I’m not complaining about the pay, just noting it.

    March 12, 2007
  26. Holly Cairns said:

    Hi Anne,

    Yes, I’ll share the numbers when we get them.

    March 12, 2007
  27. Anne Bretts said:

    Thanks, Holly, that will help a lot of us understand the options more clearly.

    March 12, 2007
  28. Holly Cairns said:

    Hi all,

    I am trying to get Ann Maple to talk here. I called to see what we can do regarding class size and we talked about how we know there is a problem but the district needs help before we can get smaller class sizes.

    I didn’t realize how messed up the funding had become over the last few years. Special Education funding is really a huge problem right now. Care to expand, Ann?

    I think it is the state level where we can make a difference regarding class size. Apparently the state committee is doing this right now.

    Ann, could you help us understand PUPS and PS Minnesota? PS Minnesota is trying to advocate for a revamp of the whole funding system… that is what I think we need.

    March 12, 2007
  29. Lisa Olson said:

    What would you (all) do with the numbers once you get them?

    I am beginning to feel helpless at this point. There seems to be no money anywhere to improve anything. (O.K. universal statements, I know – but it seems that way.)

    March 13, 2007
  30. Anne Bretts said:

    There’s no reason to feel helpless. Numbers narrow the discussion from a broad crisis to the specific dollar goal needed for a solution.
    IMHO, we need a list of all the choice programs beyond basic funding and how much they cost (electives, 7-periods, Companeros, etc.)
    We also need the baseline goal for class size (for each kind of class) and how far away from the goal we are in each class. I know some classes are big. But how many? Are we 8 teachers and 2 aides away from a solution or 30?
    Once there are numbers, teachers and parents and admininstrators can determine how to balance choices and class size, given current funding, and make a proposal to seek the remaining money needed to achieve all the goals, much as the did for the levy referendum.
    It may be that you don’t win everything the first time out. So maybe the first year goal is to get enough money to keep seven periods at the high school, the next year the goal is to add enough to maintain Companeros, etc. (just examples). But of course you have to talk to other school districts and balance your priorities against theirs so you can lobby together.
    The bigger picture, and this is daunting, is to look at the state budget and determine how those goals balance against the needs of all the other good groups seeking money. Since 40 percent of the state budget is spent on education now, it will take some really solid numbers and proposals to move some people to spend more more, especially when we need light rail and transit and we are trying to figure out how to prepare to pay for transit systems and environmental protection and healthcare for poor children and their parents — and for all the retiring Baby Boomers who have no pensions or insurance.
    I don’t mean to be negative. I want enough money for education, I really do. I just want to know for sure how much is enough.

    March 13, 2007
  31. Paul Fried said:

    Lisa: I dropped in on the conversation earlier mainly because I’ve been following the choice program and class-size debate for years. I don’t have time to do the research myself at this point, but I’m sorry to hear that you’re at a point of feeling helpless. I guess I’ve been there at one time or another about public policy issues too. You’re doing a good job raising some issues and working for a solution.

    Here are 10 suggestions, including some advice that gets passed on to me at times, and which I should try harder to take and live. For what it’s worth:

    1. Divide the research labor. One person could check to see if there are electives at the HS that have very low enrollment (what is the minimum?) and if so, we could suggest that perhaps minimum elective enrollments should, in fairness, be raised when other teachers are struggling with large classes and (at GVPES) special needs. Another person could research other questions, etc. Anne Maples, Julie Prichart, Joy Riggs and others did a wonderful job collaborating on work for the levy; they accomplished a lot, and they didn’t have to do it alone. If you spread out the labor, you’ll be less likely to feel overwhelmed. Bite off small chunks. Consider your limits and set your priorities carefully.

    2. Remain open-minded, not assuming too much till you and others do the necessary research. If district school board members, teachers and officials come to know you as a negative person who assumes too much before understanding the situation, they may see you coming a mile away and get ready to be defensive. It’s human nature.

    3. Staying hopeful and positive is important. There is always hope, though it often takes time, sometimes lifetimes. Some say real hope has to think ahead more than a generation. Think how the slaves felt. That took some time, and is still taking time. I think we can do more in a shorter time frame about the GVP class size issue, but you have to take the long view.

    4. Network with other parents in your child’s classroom. I know volunteering has been suggested, and the wise observation has been voiced that sometimes certain volunteers make more work for teachers than if they’d done things themselves. But many volunteers are a godsend; many work very well with children and lift large burdens from the shoulders of overburdened teachers. If you know of other parents who can volunteer, organize. Communicate with the teacher about what you can do to help, and if your attempts fall short in some way, keep the communication open with the teacher so that you can correct any troubles.

    5. Remember that, in the end, parents are responsible for their children’s education, and we just hand them over temporarily, entrusting them to schools and school systems. The children who do best are those who are read to at night by their parents when young, children whose parents ask them about their homework and check into their work, children whose parents take them to the library and limit their time on video games. If schools go through hard times, as some always will (think for a moment of the Amish school that suffered the murders…), parents and families are still the cornerstone.

    6. An active push for parent involvement among the families of those classrooms could make a huge difference. The district publishes and distributes school directories. Parents in those classrooms at GVP could call each other, encourage use of the library on weekends, reading to children, reading time at home, and encourage parents to be unafraid about setting limits when it comes to misbehavior.

    7. If my child came home complaining that a classmate hit or mistreated or used bad language with her, I would not necessarily leave it up to the teacher to be the sole overseer. When I was young, it seemed more common for parents to call one another when their children were acting like jerks, as many often do. The few times I’ve talked to other parents about such incidents, they’ve usually been very helpful and approachable. Maybe we need more of that, in a polite spirit, and maybe it would encourage more accountability and positive social development in children.

    8. Once you’ve gathered your support group around you and a larger organization of parents around, call and/or write your legislators, and then call and/or write other people’s legislators. There are only so many of them in Minnesota, and in Washington. Form letters can work. Photocopying is relatively cheap. Ask them to change the way education is funded so that class sizes are not so huge, and so that we don’t depend so much on property taxes. Ask the folks in Washington to fully fund Special Ed. and No Child Left Untested.

    9. Don’t let all this stress you out too much, to the point where it hurts the time you spend with your child/children. (If I didn’t sound like Dr. Phil before, I’m sure I do here.) Their education is richer than any classroom experience in any given year. The world, and their lives, are their classrooms.

    10. If your child/children are willing, talk to them, brainstorm about how they can help cope with the situation too. Often kids rise to the challenge in remarkable ways.

    March 13, 2007
  32. Holly Cairns said:

    Hi Lisa, that is how I am beginning to feel.

    Forever I have thought the Minnesota educational funding method produced unnecessary difficulty (for example, teachers are let go because no one knows what the budget will be next year…etc.) but things have changed for the worst in the last few years.

    I didn’t realize how bad it truly had gotten these last few years. Sp.ed mandates and no real reimbursement, and a change to property tax that I don’t really understand but am figuring out is having a negative effect.

    Anne, you must have always worked on an hourly basis. MOney earned is money earned– no teacher checks come in the mail during the summer and so the family has to be financially prepared for the summer.

    You can’t say they “make equivalent to” and really get a good picture of the hours of work and money earned ratio.

    I think one year I really tried to keep track and then look at salary compared to money earned. Add up homework correcting hours, I think I made 14 dollars an hour, for 9 months of the year.

    No teachers I know are FILTHY RICH and swimming in their huge pools. Many drive the worst cars, and have outdated clothes– I suppose they could do that if they wanted to and still be rich, but I doubt that is the case for most teachers.

    AND, the electives numbers and where we spend our money isn’t a new argument. But, looking at that right now is like fixing a hangnail instead of the gash on your leg. Or, fixing a dime sized dent on your hood but forgetting about the smoking engine. Or… okay, that is enough, I guess. Do you get my point?

    What I am trying to say is that the education situation has changed within the past few years so dramatically that what we used to know about funding and prudency isn’t correct, anymore. At least for me.

    March 13, 2007
  33. Paul Fried said:

    Holly: Ray Cox says it’s not a partisan issue and cites *two whole years* (!?) of flat funding at one point from the Democrats. But things weren’t so bad then, and it’s not at all the same as the greater number of Pawlenty years of slow decreases by way of inflation and other rising costs that shorten the reach of the education dollar.

    Cox says they held spending flat, but this means they didn’t keep up with inflation and rising costs, so in effect, it was a consistent cut. Cox consistently fails to represent the numbers and the real economic picture in these ways. He oversimplifies in ways that favor his own political ideology and blind spots.

    It’s not a partisan issue inasmuch as there have been Republicans who have done great things, including some previous MN Republican governors who were good for education, and there was Ike who warned about the Military Industrial Complex, and there were the Republicans before Humphrey, who were leaders on issues of civil rights (much moreso than the Democrats). Now we have Chuck Hagel who is speaking critically of the Pres., and Rep. John Duncan of TN who has long been critical of the war in Iraq on traditionally conservative grounds. Cheers for all of them, and sure, there are good Republicans, and there’s some good in all of us.

    But it *is* a partisan issue inasmuch as Pawlenty and the former Republican House majority starved education and watch property taxes rise to keep things afloat, claiming “no new taxes!” It was irresponsible.

    Other states dealt with the economic downturn in different ways. Some with Democratic goernors did just fine, and even better, at increasing funding, and doing things like getting medical insurance for more ununsured than MN did in the same timeframe.

    So in one way, it’s not a partisan issue; in another way, it certainly was.

    There’s only so much we can do beating up one another over this on a local level. I’m for volunteerism and parent responsibility, but some of the responsibility certainly resists wtih the Governor and the former Republican MN House majority.

    March 13, 2007
  34. Anne Bretts said:

    One of the reasons people are becoming resistant to supporting education is that we’re tired of hearing how lucky all of us are and how awful life is for teachers. You seem to have no compassion at all for the people trying to keep up with rising gas prices, downsizing at work and tax bills that get bigger each year.
    Teachers work hard. So do a lot of other people. It simply is not helpful to keep telling people no one understands how much teachers suffer. No one believes teachers are rich, really. But you are not poor.
    Teachers make as much or more than soldiers in Iraq, more than most shopowners downtown, more than many nonprofit agency directors, more than the staff at most domestic violence shelters, more than small town newspaper editors, more than most hospice workers, more than most nursing home workers, farmers and loggers, more than most elected officials who answer phones and e-mails and go to meetings and events that drop their pay below minimum wage. Peace Corps workers and aid workers put their lives on the line in foreign countries for less.
    I volunteer at the Simpson Shelter in Minneapolis and the workers there put up with truly deplorable conditions, only to have to hold a drawing to determine which people get to sleep on a mattress on the floor — and which are sent to sleep outside in the middle of winter.
    Would I rather see enough mattress on the floor than more electives for high school students? Yes. And I feel great compassion for the lawmakers who have to make that choice every day.
    Retail workers stand on their feet 12 hours a day, put up with crabby customers, and then lose their commissions when a sofa doesn’t arrive on time from a factory in China. Truck drivers spend long days and weeks on the road. Airline pilots live in hotels and airports most of the month, only to have their airline hide out in bankruptcy court and eliminate the pensions that were in their contracts for years.
    Hotel managers work holidays so you can take vacations. Local insurance agents work hard and lose clients to online corporate insurance companies with cute lizards as mascots.
    Parade magazine does an annual survey of wages and it’s an eye-opener.
    As for me, well I’m not sitting by the pool either.
    I freelance. I get paid by the job, not the hour. If it takes longer, it’s my loss. If I don’t hustle more jobs, I don’t have a paycheck.
    I pay my own insurance, I have no pension, no vacations unless I work extra hours and bank the money to pay for them. I’m not saying this for sympathy. This is what I love doing. This is my choice. Teaching is a choice. It should be what you love. If it isn’t, don’t do it.
    And if you want to receive respect and compassion, please show some to others.

    March 13, 2007
  35. kiffi summa said:

    I have never had kids in the NF school district (my kids are age 45-49), but I have worked with various teen groups since I came to NF, 12 years ago. I have the utmost respect for our teachers, and the education they work so hard to help provide for the community’s youth. I personally have always thought teachers are incredibly underpaid, not just here but in Evanston, and lake Forest, IL, where my kids went to school. They have the responsibility of implementing the school systems educational plan, they are the ones”in the trenches”, and I think our society’s values are all out of whack to not reimburse them far more substantially. Teachers are worth more to society than most corporate officers; and I don’t want to hear the “corporate responsibility to their stockholders” argument for disproportionately large corporate salaries…… WE are in the stockholder position as far as the education of the community’s children; The children are our resources , both actually and philosophically, for our future. Those that guide them through their schooling deserve more dollars, besides all due respect and support . It really saddens me, and angers me , that we cannot get our state and federal gov’ts to fund to their own mandated levels.
    Priorities are all screwed up.

    March 13, 2007
  36. Deb said:

    Wow! the information, the ideas, it is so great to have such a healthy debate, but…. I am going to try to get back to what started all of this. My third grade daughter (GVP Contemporary)is going to move to the fourth grade with the same large class, the same combination of students and the same problems, that started this debate. I know that the class size issue will not be settled by next year (remember, it is a long term goal), and I have never known any political party to move with “Speed” on an issue. So, the question is, what can be done for the classes that need help before all of the dust settles? Should we support the Contingency Fund until the “long term goal” can be planned out? Should I watch her “survive” another year? I am a little new at all of this and would love some input as to what avenues I should look at. I am back to looking at the small picture (I haven’t forgotten the big one, just taking a break). Call it selfish, but my children still come first.

    Thanks Deb

    March 13, 2007
  37. Paul Fried said:

    Deb: Besides organizing and volunteering, parents in some schools have sometimes been successful at holding creative fundraisers to fund a targetted staff need. That may be another option, if Super C.R. and the school board were open to it. It’s not a use of taxpayer funds, and if parents organized it, I don’t see why they’d turn it down or insist that fundraiser money be evenly distributed.

    Kiffi: I agree with many of your sentiments, but consider the economics of low-paid child-care/daycare workers. Some daycare workers make as much or more than teachers if they do it out of their own homes. But other daycare businesses/franchises pay their help substantially less. If you have a couple where both want to work and place their children in child-care, they usually do this for economic reasons: If the spouses can *each* earn more than the daycare would cost, then having both work makes economic sense. To some extent, this means there will always be a market for low-paid childcare workers with little education or training, and to some extent this will keep down the wages of even the higher trained among them. And inasmuch as teaching is in part a form of child-care (a recent NNews letter from a middle school teacher speaks of it at times in these terms), the same will happen to teachers. These are market-factors.

    But besides market factors, teachers, nurses, ministers, priests, and artists are among those whose work could be considered “gift-based” labor: The painter or composer whose work is commissioned has an artistic gift, and seeks a living wage in the end, but the value of their art is often worth more than the commission. Likewise for those who have a real “gift” for teaching, nursing, ministry or spiritual guidance; the value of the service they provide transcends what we pay them, and sometimes the rewards that transcend the purely economic are also substantial.

    A book called “The Gift” by Lewis Hyde does a good job explaining how so-called “primative” gift-cultures work, how gifts exchanged bind together societies and cultures, and how gift-economies coexist with money-based economies in cultures like ours. Hyde implies that gift-labors like teaching, ministry and art can never be fully compensated in a purely economic way, and to try to do so would corrupt the gift: How much do you pay the minister who helps you turn your life around and save your soul, something that really can’t be purchased? How much should we have paid J.S. Bach for masterpiece compositions that have endured through centuries; or Raphael, or Michelangelo? To claim we should have paid them the same wage that the highest-paid CEO’s now receive misses the point. The best gifts keep on giving over time, and their value can’t be calculated purely by the dollar. This is true of of truly good teachers too. The best teachers inspire their pupils in ways that echo in their lives for decades, and sometimes for generations.

    But where the gift-economy meets the market-economy (like rubber meeting the road) we still have to make pragmatic decisions about how much to pay these folks so they stick around, and to keep the education-garden healthy and growing.

    March 14, 2007
  38. kiffi summa said:

    I guess my point, my very thoughtful and erudite friend, Paul, is that I think teachers should not have to think of themselves as part of a gift-exchange economy (as community volunteers do), but as a adequately reimbursed segment of society, who are valued philosphically, and that whose very important contribution to a strong citizenry/society is validated by commensurate dollar payment.

    March 14, 2007
  39. Lisa Olson said:

    Paul, I like your style!

    Thank you for your ideas regarding change and your support. We were actually planning on rallying parents to fund an aid for the last three months of this year for our two 3rd grade classes. By the time we were turned down by the board and the time came to start organizing parents in this direction, the teacher said she would just ride out the year as is. It would take a huge effort to raise that much money from the parents and community; people who are already paying taxes and supporting the levy and paying for their children’s school supplies etc.

    The other thing I have noticed as I volunteer is that most moms and dads work full time. I, being ‘at home’ most of the time, am now the exception rather than the rule. The pool of volunteers is very small. If ‘at home’ moms have preschoolers, it makes volunteering even more difficult. I have the ideal (for volunteering) situation of one child and working as self employed only a few hours a week.

    March 14, 2007
  40. Paul Fried said:

    Kiffi: Amen to all that! (I don’t deserve “very thoughtful and erudite”… but I need all the friends I can get….)

    Lisa: When I had a preschooler and one at GVP (and when I was doing the at-home dad gig), I used to collaborate with other preschooler-parents on child-care trade-offs; this way, I could drop off my daughter with a trusted neighbor/community member, and go volunteer (or go teach at MSU), and some other day of the week, I’d return the favor. It worked out great.

    (And BTW, I teach guitar out of the home when I’m not teaching at Mankato; and my daughter and I are recently up to Suzuki violin bk 3– great fun, wish I’d started decades ago.)

    March 14, 2007
  41. Anne Bretts said:

    You are indeed thoughtful and erudite.
    And Lisa, many of us without young kids would be happy to help if asked. Churches are a good place to seek volunteers. We also have an active senior center full of caring people. Some who don’t want to volunteer in school can and will volunteer child care. And some businesses will let their employees have flex time to do volunteer work. A plan with volunteer time slots and duties would make it easier to match the right people with the help that’s needed.

    March 14, 2007
  42. Paul Fried said:

    The Parents United for Public Schools site Anne Maples recommended has a good page with data about myths and realities, some of the data relating to spending and class size:

    Some highlights:

    MN ranks 36th or 37th among the states for class size and teacher-student ratio.
    (Not so good)

    We rank “3rd for putting dollars in high-poverty school districts.”
    We rank “6th for putting dollars in high-minority school districts.”
    (We have needs in these areas because test scores and graduation rates had been low in these areas compared to other states.)

    “August 15, 2006 – ‘In 1992, Minnesota ranked 15th among states in total education spending as a share of personal income, even after all the cuts to solve the state’s last budget crisis. We’re now 36th among states. Minnesota might be out of the top 10 in taxes, but we’re nearing the bottom 10 in our support for education.’
    – ‘Toward a more competitive state,’ Jay Kiedrowski and John Gunyou, Star Tribune Commentary.”

    “May 2006 – Minnesota ranked second to last (after Nevada) on educational technology, Technology Leaders: Grading the States, Education Week.”

    “Minnesota has the highest proportion of crumbling roofs of all states in the nation (62%). Thirty-eight percent (38%) of Minnesota schools have a building that needs extensive repair or should be replaced. (American Society of Civil Engineers)”

    “2004 – From 1989-90 to 2002-03, the estimated average annual public K-12 teacher salary INCREASED by 1.9% nationally, but DECREASED by 7.2% in Minnesota; Minnesota ranked 3rd in the nation behind Alaska and Kansas for the greatest decline in teacher salary during this time period, Digest of Education Statistics.”

    “June 2004 – From 2002 to 2003, Minnesota’s ranking plummeted from 8th to 24th in K-12 expenditures per pupil and fell from 17th to 29th among the 50 states in average teacher salaries”

    We also rank highly in some areas:

    “Minnesota ranks first in the nation for having the highest proportion of both 4th and 8th graders scoring at the highest two levels in math. The proportion of Minnesota 8th graders who scored at the highest levels in math increased by 74% between 1990 and 2000. (National Center for Education Statistics)”

    “Minnesota ranks among the best – 4th out of 50 states – in the proportion of high school graduates with scores in the top 20% nationally on either ACT or SAT exams. (National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education, 2002)”

    “Minnesota public schools teachers are the most qualified teachers in the country. They rank 1st out of 50 states, based on 12 indicators of teacher qualification. (National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future)”
    (Then why don’t we pay them better?)

    “In FY 2004 State and Local Expenditures as a percent of personal income, Minnesota Ranked:
    28th on Elementary and Secondary Education Spending
    37th on Higher Education Spending
    36th on Total Education Spending
    That same year, Minnesota ranked 16th in total state and local tax collections and 28th on state and local direct general expenditures. Compared to the U.S. average, Minnesotan’s spent $4.63 more per $1,000 of personal income, with expenditures above average in public welfare, highways and natural resources/parks.”
    (In other words, instead of needing a state constitutional ammendment dedicating a certain percent of auto fees to road repair, we were already above average in that area, and needed education-spending reform even more).

    March 14, 2007
  43. Paul Fried said:

    Anne B. and Holly:
    I understand and sympathize Anne’s argument about how things are tough for others too, not just teachers. And I certainly support shelter for the homeless.

    And yet among the many possible priorities we could have as a state for spending, education should rank among the top few. And it should be funded more from income tax than from property tax.

    If a company invests more in improving its products and services in a quest to become the first in their market, and if they can still make a profit, we’re often fine with that. Strive for excellence and quality. Go for it.

    But there’s an even greater value to a state striving to be a leader among other states, and in the world, in education. Even the children of the poor and working class benefit from a good and globally-competitive quality of education, unlike the example of the company striving to be first in a market; in that example, the company, stockholders and customers benefit most, but when we invest in schools, even the children of all the most hard-working and under-paid benefit.

    And furthermore, when a state is more competitive globally and with other states in the quality of education, this attracts businesses that seek a skilled and educated workforce. Republican Governor Elmer Anderson (30th gov. in MN, in the 60’s) understood that, and David Bly (in a non-partisan spirit) has often quoted him regarding his support for education in that way. Businesses sometimes try relocating to states where there is cheaper labor (and lower quality education), only to return for the better-educated workforce in MN.

    So in that way, I don’t think that investing more in schools, reducing class size, and paying teacher better are a matter of taking from one sector, or from working class taxpayers, or that it disproportionately benefits teachers. Many, many people would benefit.

    And if some taxpayers are too over-extended financially, buying cars and homes and other things that take up too much of their monthly income (this describes far too many of us), then we should not lay the blame at the feet of those who are working to improve education and increase spending. Lay the blame at the feet of those who are over-extended, or the culture that pushes it and the materialism in general. But not at those rallying to improve education or help it get a bigger slice of the pie.

    If I lived in a smaller house, and drove a slightly older car, I could afford a vacation more often, and could donate more money to help a homeless shelter expand its bed-space, etc. If we’re going to talk about fiscal and individual responsibility, it cuts in that direction too (so I don’t complain about how rare my trips or vacations are).

    March 14, 2007
  44. Holly Cairns said:


    Good job Anne for volunteering at the shelter. You make a huge difference by doing stuff like that. You must have a kind heart.

    I think good education might help people from ending up in a homeless shelters. Couple that with a better health care system(which includes help for people who might have mental health care issues) and we could put a dent in the homeless population.

    I’ve volunteered(just a few times)at Sharing and Caring Hands and when whole families come in(two adults and kids)I just feel terrible.

    I am a firm believer in “prevention.” Example: I ran and did the curriculum for the first FREE POPS in Faribault and I don’t know how much of what I suggested they used– but at that time, we were trying to do “primary violence prevention.”

    We called it Free Pops since I hung up signs that said “Free Pop” and then I asked the kids what they wanted to call the program– they said call it “Free Pops.” Hanging up signs that said Primary Violence Prevention meeting didn’t seem like a good idea.

    I had, sometimes, about 30 kids from the neighborhood show up and play soccer or kickball with me AND THEN I snuck in a little learning. No free pop or food stuff unless you gave the half hour of learning. The key turned out to be that I played right along with them (Pregnant, but what the heck.)

    We chose a high density housing area out of ease for transportation. One session we did was on rape, one was on jobs (you should have seen what they wrote when I took their first answers and said “Now write down what you’ll really going to be… after they changed their answers, I scolded them for changing their first answer and we talked about expectations and how to reach their dreams, which were things like “to be a marine biologist”.) Etc.

    None of that wouldn’t have happened without proper funding from the State Patrol for what was primary violence education. I venture to guess that we made a huge impact because I got them to divulge so much stuff/help each other that there was no way they weren’t effected. (And surveying the parents seemed to show results). I didn’t stick with the program for more than one year, BTW.

    I think education is the name of the game and place high priority on a good system. If we don’t invest in learning, the impacts will be far reaching into society.

    Like Kiffi said, what are our priorities? If we really look at what we think is important, we might see that we wouldn’t get what we wanted without a good education.

    And our system is struggling. Big changes in the last few years. New mandates and trouble. Not the same situation as a few years ago, as I had originally assumed when I joined this discussion.

    March 14, 2007
  45. Anne Bretts said:

    Thanks, Holly, and I agree that prevention is important, but I wouldn’t increase funding for prevention while people are sleeping in the cold. I think we’ve exhausted the big picture discussion. It would be nice to start a new thread when people want to focus on real numbers and priorities on a local and state level. As I said, I’m willing to work on solutions, but the philosophical discussion of the relative worthiness of people’s careers and ephemeral and unending crisis in education has no end.
    I end my contributions for now with the question I asked in the beginning:
    What exactly is the problem and how much money is enough? No one has come close to answering, not in all my 20 years of asking.

    March 14, 2007
  46. Lisa Olson said:

    Don’t have much time at the moment but wanted to respond to the big picture discussion. I chanced to hear, on Ch. 17 a Rep Mindy Greiling, DFL. Maybe some of you who are more experienced in this stuff than I, know of her. She said all the stuff we have been saying about education. She wants to raise the taxes of the wealthy (family income of over 120,000 and single of over 70,000) to where they were before and or to match the percentage of income paid with the lower and middle classes. She has figured out how much this would produce. She mentioned the mandated special needs programs which are not being adequately funded. She mentioned that the schools need an increase of 3% every year just to say level. I think we should find out more about her and her ideas and see how we can support her if it seems right. She sure sounded ‘right’ to me.

    March 14, 2007
  47. Lisa Olson said:

    Mindy Greiling (DFL) 54A
    * 381 State Office Building
    100 Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd.
    Saint Paul, Minnesota 55155
    (651) 296-5387


    * Prefers interim mail at this address.

    March 16, 2007
  48. Holly Cairns said:

    Hi, thanks Lisa! That’s great! Something to DO for a change.

    March 16, 2007

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