"But if it is believed that these elementary schools will be better managed by...any other general authority of the government, than by the parents within each ward [district], it is a belief against all experience." --Thomas Jefferson

Friday, December 23, 2011

Bond, Emergency Procedures and More: Nov/Dec 2011 Board Meetings

Alpine School District is Officially the largest school district in Utah
The State Office of Education has received all the Oct. 1 enrollment data across the state.  ASD is now the largest school district in the state.  There are just under 1400 public school districts in the US.  The average size is somewhere between 2500 and 5000 students.  Last Spring, Alpine was around 64th in size in the nation. 

Nov 3/9: Common Core Meetings:
I will do a separate post on this topic.  (Otherwise, this blog would be soooo long, you could use it to cure insomnia.) I do want to thank all those who attended both meetings.  The Nov. 3 meeting had more than 30 attendees.  I have heard, now other schools are requesting a similar presentation.  Additionally, there will be a math committee.  I have no details on it, yet. However, stay tuned.  I will let you know how to be involved in that discussion.

Nov 8 Board Meeting:
Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Alpine School District: The CAFR
We discussed accept the Comprehensive Annual Financial Report (CAFR).  This report is created by the Superintendent and the Business Administrator and is an annual accounting and summary of the fiscal state of the school district.  It is reviewed by the district's external auditors, and they found no inconsistencies between their audits and the assertions made in the report.  I was amazed by the detail and information available in that report.  When you hear comments about how much is spent per child ($5145, p. 109) or how much teachers make (p.119), all that information is available in the CAFR report on the district website.  Most of the really interesting stuff is listed toward the end of the report.  We also have how much ASD spends on instruction (71%) vs administration (p.108), property tax amounts for the past 10 years (p.96).  By the way, ASD has the lowest administrative costs, per capita, in the state, and the highest instructional--teacher/books--expenses in the state, as per the Utah Taxpayers Association.  So, we spend more on teachers, and less on administration.  I'm good with that.

New Directions: Alternative School, et. al.
Some new alternative education ideas that would lead to higher graduation rates were discussed.  Some of these are as follows.
1. Online Classes
2.Credit Recovery: additional help for students who need to make up credits in order to graduate
3. Extended Year High School (Summer): Some of the high schools are open during the summer for students who need to catch up and for those who want to accelerate.
4. Summer Packets: Packets of work for classes that student can use to make up additional credits
5. Alternative School: Students who are Juniors and Seniors in High School and who are not in a position to graduate may transfer to East Shore High School.  Currently, most coursework is done via packets and some online courses.  The students have to come to East Shore to take tests and do any labs associated with their coursework.  Students who graduate from East Shore (or this new proposed alternative option) will only need 24 credit hours, the state graduation minimum.  ASD requires 28 of our other high schools. Some of our administrators have visited other alternative high schools in the state.  They found higher graduation rates from some of these programs that require much stricter attendance, but they had greater "attachment" to the school.  It is proposed that we follow these other districts in creating stricter attendance for an alternative high school. 

Additional programs discussed were:
1. More language immersion in the north and west areas (Chinese and Portuguese)
2. Gifted and Talented magnet classes: If a student scored in at least the 93rd percentile on the standardized tests (used for this purpose), they would be invited to attend a magnet school where more challenging work would be provided to accommodate them.  This would be in addition to the ALL classes.

There would be additional expense for these programs.  We will have a price tag that is firm by January, but the numbers being bounced around are in the range of $500,000 to start up these programs. 

Nov. 22 Board Meeting:
The Bond Results
• Total number of votes cast: 31,340

• Total number of affirmative votes: 17,934

• Total number of negative votes: 13,406

• Total number of challenged voters: 111

• Total number of challenged voters issued provisional ballots: 111

• Total number of provisional ballots issued: 642

• Total number of provisional ballots counted: 486
New Policies
Also discussed were head-injury and service animal policies.  These policies were later approved at the Dec. 13 meeting.
Dec. 13 Board Meeting:
Emergency Preparedness
During the work session, we heard about the district's plan for emergencies, including school closings in case of snow or what-have-you.  Each school must review their emergency plans annually, and train their staff.  The district provides guidelines on this, but the schools are able to customize their plans as they see fit.  Additionally, district personnel are involved in meetings with other emergency responders throughout the cities.  For example, Highland/Alpine/Cedar Hills police and fire meet with ASD personnel once/month to discuss emergency needs and plans.  These meetings, incidentally, are not open to the public, since they may deal with security and emergency situations.
Alternative Education Plans
Also, we were told that the alternative education plans, immersion and gifted and talented programs presented in the past (see Nov. 8 meeting above) were going forward.  If the board had any concerns we should let them know, but things were headed in that direction. 
During the board meeting, recognitions were made for the Friends of Alpine directors and the coaches who won championships this Fall.
Business Administrator
The most significant item of business was reappointing Rob Smith as the district's Business Administrator.  Our district appoints the Business Administrator 6 months prior to the Superintendent, so that we aren't losing one or the other at the same time.  Any salary adjustments, if approved, would not be decided or take effect until the next fiscal year.  These would also be part of the 2012-13 budget process.  From where I sit, the good financial state our district is in is a direct result of the oversight and fiscal planning of Mr. Smith.  As Board Member Mark Clement stated, "Many people don't know that one of the greatest taxpayer advocates we have is Rob Smith."  Rob often says to us, "We can do virtually anything you want, we just can't do everything you want."
Governor's Budget
Board Member JoDee Sundberg is involved in the Governor's Education Commission.  She briefly reviewed the Governor's proposed budget as it relates to education.  The Governor's top education priority is to fund growth.  However, Mrs. Sundberg said the $40M (roughly) proposed to fund growth in the state doesn't include some aspects of property tax equalization that will negatively impact growing districts like Alpine.  I don't quite understand it yet, but I will get you more information.  I'm told it's between $23 and $40M short of fully funding growth in education for this next year.
I wish everyone a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Annual Financial Audit: Board Meeting Nov. 8, 2011 Agenda

Two items of note for the board meeting on Tuesday: 1) CAFR report--annual audit/financial report and 2) school closings.  Also, don't forget to vote on Tuesday whether you are for or against the bond.

Award-Winning CAFR (Finanical Report)
Don't tune out yet, just because it has to do with finances.  Every year, the district is required to have an independent audit.  The auditors found no concerns with the books or our compliance with Federal and State requirements for certain monies that come with strings and hoops.  Evidently, we are very good at jumping as high as necessary.  An interesting point was emphasized (which I've heard from other auditor-types).  That is the audit takes the policies of the district and uses them to make sure the proper procedures are being followed.  For example, if the district's policy is to have a principal sign off on a purchase for a $7000 video camera, the audit will make sure that the video camera does exist, was properly signed for and receipted, and placed on the books accurately, for example, as instructional use equipement.  What an audit doesn't do is decide whether or not the item should have been purchased in the first place. 

The CAFR (Comprehensive Annual Financial Report) report is 120+ pages long and is quite involved for those without an auditing background.  It is the required annual report that documents all the finances for the district from July 1, 2010 - June 30, 2011.  I have some background with accounting and finance, having had to deal with these in my business.  However, I received the report last Tuesday, and have successfully gone through only half of it so far.  I would GREATLY appreciate any and all accountant/auditor types who are interested in giving me some pointers on what items to focus on.  You can find the report here.  ASD's CAFR report has won awards for 28+ years. 

School Boundary Restrictions 2012-13 School Year
Another item on the agenda has to do with restricting some schools to out-of-area students.  The board can decide to restrict schools to just a specific geographic area.  In Utah, most schools are 'open', meaning that if you want to drive your kid there and register them, they can attend.  Each local school board has the option of restricting enrollment at a given school for a few specific reasons.

The most common reason is enrollment.  For example, Lone Peak's enrollment is at 2171.  The suggestion to close the school is a result of not having enough teachers, rooms, etc for additional students.  In this instance, those who were granted exceptions, e.g. North of Canyon Road in Cedar Hills, will need to apply for an out-of-area exception by March, 2012 (I think).  The next most common reason has to do with program protection.  As I understand it, the concern is if a School A is open, those in a neighboring School B may come to School A, leaving School B without enough students for certain programs.  This is the case with Lakeridge Jr. High and Orem Jr. High.  I would welcome your feedback on these issues, especially from those in the affected areas.  For a list of proposed schools, please go here.  All other schools in the district (not on the closed list) are open, and you can go there and register, if you so choose. 

Board Meeting Agenda

4:00 P.M.

The purpose of the study session will be to review the Comprehensive Annual Financial Report (CAFR), and to receive an update regarding the focus and direction of language immersion and gifted programs, East Shore High School and alternative education programs.


6:00 P.M.





1. Budget Report
2. Personnel Reports

3. Alpine Foundation Report

4. Student Releases - KB, MC, MGC, CD, KD



5. Student Expulsions - DB, AB, CF
6. Career and Technical Education (CTE) National Competition

1. Comprehensive Annual Financial Report (CAFR) and External Audit

2. Schools Closed to Out-of-area Attendance for the 2012-2013 School Year

3. Board Meeting Schedule for 2012


1. Policy No. 5550 – Head Injuries
2. Policy No. 5320 – Service Animals


1. Membership Report




Monday, October 24, 2011

Oct. 25 Board Meeting Agenda

The board will have the second work session each month dedicated to board training ("How to be a better board member") and a discussion of various topics.  The last discussion item was math and was met with concern from The Daily Herald.  See here.  Because of this, we will not be having just open discussions on any items board members wish to discuss.  Instead, we will receive a presentation of information on a particular topic and then discuss that topic. 

The topic for the 25th concerns "The Four Essential Questions".  In the district, teachers are given four essential questions to use in determining their direction with their students.  Those questions are:
1. What do we want student to know?
2. How will we know that they know it?
3. What do we do if they don't know it?
4. What do we do if they already know it?
Some board members are particularly interested in the fourth question.  There are a lot of incentives, both state and federal, that address question 3, but we want to make sure there are options and challeges for kids who already "get it".

Here is the agenda for the meeting.



651 EAST 1400 SOUTH



4:00 P.M.

A study session will be held prior to the regular board meeting. The purpose of the study session

will be for (1) professional development for the Board, and (2) to discuss the “four essential

questions” focused on student learning.


6:00 P.M.








1. Utah Consolidated Application


Sunday, October 9, 2011

Oct. 11, 2011 Board Meeting Agenda

Oct. 11, 2001 Board Meeting
District Office: 575 N. 100 E., American Fork, UT 84003

To see the supporting documentation, please go here.

4:00 P.M.

The purpose of the study session will be to (1) discuss the future focus and direction of East Shore High School, (2) to review the bond brochure to be mailed to the public, and (3) to discuss other current issues for future meetings.

6:00 P.M.






1. Budget Report
2. Personnel Reports

3. Alpine Foundation Report

4. Student Releases – MB, MB, CD, MD, AH, FJ, ML, TM, JM, BM, AR, SS, AT, JW, KW

5. Student Expulsion – HT

6. School Clubs


1. Student Travel Requests

1. Utah Consolidated Application
2. Schools Closed to Out-of-area Attendance for the 2012-2013 School Year

3. Board Meeting Schedule for 2012




Sunday, October 2, 2011

Math, Math, and More Math: Board Meeting 9/27/2011

Work Session
Note: The Board Training took place prior to the math discussion.  I am putting the report of the math discussion first, as that is the main topic of interest. 

Board Member Mark Clement was interested in discussing math in the district, especially in light of the new Common Core Curriculum starting in 2012.  You can read the Daily Herald's report on it here.  

For those of you new to this discussion, in about 2000, ASD implemented Investigations Math, a constructivist philosophy.  The emphasis is on children discovering math concepts for themselves without an emphasis on standard algorithms and memorization of math facts like Traditional Math (or instructivist) methods (e.g. Saxon, Singapore).

Many parents, like me, were upset with this approach.  Most of the concern was their kids didn't know basic math facts.  Also, when parents tried to help with homework, the parents weren't able to either 1) understand the homework or 2) the standard algorithms (that parents learned as kids) were not acceptable.  This situation created a disconnect between parent and child, where the parent is portrayed  (whether intentionally or not) to be inferior to the teacher. And while we want our children to respect and learn from their teachers, it is never acceptable to use education to create a wedge between parent and child.  Additionally, some parents were instructed not to help their kids with math homework because "they'd just mess it up."  So, we created a situation for parents to be less involved with their kids' education.  Understandably, this didn't go over well with many parents. 

The district implemented Investigations Math because the Utah State Office of Education (USOE) was planning to encourage all schools in the state to use this program.  ASD had some funding available and made the switch a year or so early.  However, due to the large amount of parental backlash, the USOE never did request other districts to make the switch.

After 6 or 7 years, ASD revisited math, and suggested four math programs for each elementary school to decide between.  (Investigations was put on a 'secondary curriculum' list by the USOE, so it couldn't be used without another curriculum to supplement.)  Most schools decided on Scott-Foresman, three stayed with Investigations (needing to supplement in some fashion), and one picked something else.  The secondary schools used Connected Math and Interactive Math, as part of the Investigations implementation.  The secondary schools were not focused on during the 2007 change in math curriculum.  However, the district did adopt a Balanced Math Approach that would allow teachers to use a mix of traditional and constructivist curricula. 

The first thing we found out was, since the secondary schools set their own budgets, they decide which curricula they will be implementing.  The district doesn't know which curricula they are using--"Everything from soup to nuts."  The elementary schools do get their math purchases through the district, so that is why we know which schools are using which textbooks.  The Scott-Foresman texts come (from the publisher) with a little insert on using Investigations.  Board Member Paula Hill suggested a survey on what programs the schools are using to facilitate a more informed discussion.

My points are as follows.

1. Whenever I have been in meetings, it is stated or implied that Traditional Math is simply rote memorization and that there is no deeper understanding taught of math concepts.  In using Saxon and Singapore Math with my own kids, I have not found this to be the case.  Both have done a fine job explaining, through concrete examples and manipulatives, why, for example, you carry or borrow when adding or subtracting numbers.  An employee of the USOE, Brenda Hales, told Mr. Clement that when implementing the Common Core Standards, there will be more of a concrete emphasis in the lower grades, but more "critical thinking" in the upper grades.  Again, we see the prejudice against traditional math: Traditional equals rote memorization without understanding; Constructivist equals critical thinking and greater understanding.

My personal experience, as a mathematician, is that without the foundation of mathematical relationships between numbers (2 x 3 = 6), the brain is unable to grasp higher-level concepts because it's bogged down on something that should be automatic.  This is comparable to playing the piano, where your fingers literally memorize the note combinations, so when you go to play, compose, or improvise, your brain (and your ear) are able to concentrate on the creative aspects, and not on the mundane.  So, when we say, "Balanced Math Approach", we are implying that a traditional approach is insufficient and must be combined with a constructivist approach.  I would disagree with this.  As far as I have been able to find, there is no independent, third-party research to back up the constructivist Investigations approach to math.  (The one study, cited in favor of Investigations, was funded by interested parties.)  In contrast, Saxon provides standardized test scores of before and after Saxon implementation.  And Singapore (the country, which developed and continues to use Singapore Math) consistently scores at the top of the international TIMSS test. 

2. It was stated that we want to give teachers the flexibility to use whatever methods they are comfortable with, and that not all children respond to the same methods.  However, if we want to allow teachers that flexibility, then we need to allow parents the flexibility to select the teachers that match their preferences for what they know is best for their own child

3. It is important for parents to have more specific information about the main textbooks/curricula their kid's teacher is using.  I would like to see this information readily available to parents.  Getting information to parents should always be paramount.  Board Member Paula Hill repeatedly took a stand for 'information rich', giving as much background as possible to all stakeholders.  Her stand was that as we educate parents, we involve them more and more in the process.  However, this wasn't something the board, as a whole, supported.

4. The Colleges of Education seem to be teaching more constructivist approaches to math.  Even when I took math education courses in the late eighties, the math ed courses were constructivist and the ones I took for my degree were traditional.  I didn't know the names or that there were even different 'types' of math, but I do remember a different approach in the math ed courses.  Given that approach hasn't lessened in the last 20+ years, our teachers are being shown the advantages of constructivism.  Board Member Paula Hill said we should be giving our teachers the upside to the traditional approach, as well.  (In our district, 35% of our teachers have five or less years of experience.)  When Investigations was introduced, the veteran teachers were the ones who, by and large, refused to use it.  There needs to be some sort of 'equal time' for the traditional approach. It is hard to decided between two things, when only one choice is presented and is shown to be the best option.  Without actual experience with different methods, why wouldn't you choose the one you were familiar with?

5. UVU has a math remediation rate of 64 -72% over the last 5 years for first-time college students. (2005: 64%, 2006: 72%, 2007: 70%, 2008: 69%, 2009: 68%, 2010: 69%, UVU Institutional Research & Information, Aug 2011) I was told ASD had met with UVU administrators a while ago.  UVU was not concerned with the preparation of ASD students.  UVU said a lot of this remediation stems from missionaries who have taken a few years "off" before going to college.  Still, it seems like a high number.  I would like to see a greater emphasis on traditional math.  I suspect a stronger ASD approach to math would reduce the need for UVU to remediate our former students. 

6. Mr. Clement suggested we get parents involved in discussing math (via public meetings) prior to implementation of the Common Core.  Dr. Barry Graff (head of district curriculum) said it would be difficult because there are no textbooks currently developed for Common Core math.  The publishers are "cutting and pasting" from their existing texts to accommodate the Common Core.  As we implement it next year, our teachers will have to 'get by'.  However, Mr. Clement suggested that now is probably the best time for parental input since nothing is set in stone.  I am in full agreement and will encourage meetings with all of you for your input on math and the Common Core.  Waiting until "down the road" will only put texbook authors in a position of driving the curriculum.  Veteran teachers may be able to cobble together a variety of approaches based on their experience, but the 35% of our teachers who are new will probably rely heavily on the textbook.

Additionally, there was a concern that the math terminology has become quite charged.  Most board members would like to use less emotional words, and not have teachers label what they are doing as traditional or investigations.  However, these are the words parents know.  Giving parents a choice would be a great first step.  For myself, I don't care what method a teacher uses or that another parent likes a method I don't care for, as long as I can make that choice for my kids. I hope with this discussion, things will move more toward that end. 

I'm sure this will not be the last math discussion we have as a board.  I am grateful we were able to have an open discussion about a topic of such interest in our district.  The board seemed to agree on a specific direction.  The principals need to be more flexible with parents making requests based on 'Investigations vs Traditional Math'.  The idea of putting a teacher's math philosophy "out there" for all to see wasn't supported.  So, for the majority of parents who 'trust the system', there needs to be a vehicle to help them see the choices they could be making.  We can actually draw more parents into the discussion as we educate them on what options are available.

This discussion is not just for educators, it is for all of our stakeholders.  Right now, as a parent, you have to dig the information out for yourself.  If you do have a preference and want to have your child in a specific math program, you will need to meet with the principal and specifically request this.  We were told that this is something that has rarely happened, but Mrs. Hill said, if parents didn't have the information, it isn't surprising they didn't make requests in this manner.  It is assumed that not many people will care about which curriculum is being used, and there won't be so many requests that going to the principals will become burdensome. 

I'm not sure I agree.  I, personally, would have felt uncomfortable going directly to a principal about something like this.  I would have assumed if it were an option, there would be an easier way of handling it.  However, this is the procedure the board has suggested.  So, if you have a preference, you may now contact your principal and ask to have your child in the math approach of your choice. 

Note: One recommendation from a reader was to create two tracks: constructivist vs traditional.  Parents could choose which track they wanted their kids on, and then the teachers would be able to find consistency in approach from one grade to the next. 

I welcome all your comments.  I know this has been a hot topic, and is one I am very interested in.  What approaches or recommendations do you have?

Board Training
Once a month, the board members will trade off and present an in-service training message from one of our board publications, e.g. American School Board Journal (published by the NSBA), etc. John Burton conducted this month's training. The topic was "Tell Your Story", something Board Member JoDee Sundberg has been working on for quite some time. Some of the highlighted concepts are as follows.

"Every school board, and every school board member, has a story to tell--and it's a story this country desperately needs. Right now, the very concept of public schools that are free and open to all is under attack--and the wrong side is winning the debate."
"We need to take more pride in our accomplishments and more care in how we conduct the public's business. Rhetoric matters. School board members need to choose their words carefully. Take time to craft memorable sound bites and analogies for complex issues and topics."

"Find a way to salt meetings, public forums...and elevator rides with your key messages. Stay on top of district news and take every opportunity to share just those nuggets that illustrate how well public schools are doing, or why we need their help to make sure all students succeed."
Some positive things mentioned about the district were:
1. Collaboration (Early-Out) Monday--First in the state to use structured time for collaboration.

2.Collaboration Incentive--Teachers use a rubric to improve their collaboration effectiveness. This is TEAM merit pay and includes a parent evaluation of the team.

3. Extended Year High Schools--Two High Schools sponsor two block terms in June and July for credit recovery and acceleration. Hundreds of students are attending this program. It is the only one like it in the state.

4. Alpine has the lowest administrative costs in the state of Utah, and Utah had the lowest in the nation.

5. Leadership Development with BYU--ASD developed a master's degree in conjunction with BYU that takes Alpine people interested in administration with a two-year comprehensive master's degree.

6. STARS Summer Reading--Alpine Foundation generates $80,000 annually to put STARS summer reading in the 10 schools with the highest number of first grade students reading below grade level. Gains of 4 months are average.

7. K-12 Online School--Over 400 home school students are registered and use an online curriculum provided by the district. ASD provides computers and two teachers to consult with home school parents.

8. What Counts--Over 2,000 people throughout the district participated in providing input on what they value about public schools and what Alpine can do to improve. (Areas of Focus)

9. District Community Council (DCC)--ASD was the first district in the state to organize a DCC. The council meets regularly with the superintendent and board members to provide feedback from the schools and community.

10. MORALE--In spite of budget challenges, morale among teachers and administrators is exceptionally high. There is a belief that the district is going in a very positive direction and there is great confidence in the leadership of the district.

Board Meeting
The Board Meeting was held at Barratt Elementary.  The school choir performed, and students, parents, teachers, and staff were recognized.  The board approved a revised resolution for poll watchers for the upcoming Bond Election.  Please make sure to attend one of the meetings on the bond and bring 2 neighbors with you.  For a list of dates and times, please go here.  When the board meeting adjourned, we actually saw daylight. ;-)

Monday, September 26, 2011

Math, Redistricting, President's Address

Math Discussion

Tuesday's (Sept. 27) Board Meeting will be held at Barratt Elementary.  During the Work Session at 4pm, the board will have an open discussion.  Some board members (myself, included) have requested that we discuss math.  So, this will probably be the topic for most of the Work Session.  Community Comments are always welcome during the regular board meeting at 6pm.  If you have any thoughts on this subject, please let me know.


Most of the board members met with the County Commissioners about redistricting.  We were given a couple of draft plans, and the one that was supported, so far, has Lehi with its own board member.  The other option had Lehi split into thirds and was rejected by the Superintendent almost immediately.  The County will wait until the Legislature has officially finished its redistricting to finalize anything.  They will also obtain input from the District Community Council, as well as representatives appointed by each city within ASD.  Once the maps have been vetted, there will be a public hearing.

You may use the State's online redistricting tool to draw your own map of ASD.  It isn't apparent, but you can monkey with it and get it to work.  Here's how. 

1. Go to the State's website, here.  If you don't have a login, create one, and sign in. 
2. Select a Blank State School Board template.
3. Click Create at the top of the page to get to the map.
4. On the left-hand side of the screen, there is an arrow about 1/3 of the way down.  Click on that to open up additional options.
5. Expand Utah_ReferenceLayers, then Census 2010, then select the check-box by 41 Utah School Districts.  (You may also want to check 'municipalities', which shows the population of each city.)
6. Click the arrow again to hide the reference layers.  You may now use the zoom feature to zoom in on the state and find ASD.
7. With 284,505 people in ASD to be divided among 7 board members, you are trying to create districts of 40,643 people, roughly.  They have to be contiguous, and the County is going to try to not split precincts.
8. Select the District 1 options from the pop-up box, select (in the first pane showing Active Area: District 1) to draw by area, square, polygon, and then start drawing/clicking.  You can draw to fill in by squares, voting precincts, etc.  (You may want to play with this to see how it works.)
9. If you accidentally go outside ASD's area, you will need to select 'unassigned' as the district and click to unassign those areas. 

If you come up with a great map, please share it with me. 

President Obama's Back to School Address to Students

On Wednesday, Sept. 28 at 11:30 am, President Obama will be giving his third annual address to school students.  Alpine School District's policy allows each individual school and teacher to decide whether to show all or part of the address during school hours.  It is supposed to be part of a meaningful curriculum, and the teachers/schools are to make sure the decision to watch all or part of the speech is communicated to parents.  In the past, schools and/or teachers have recorded the address, and shown it later. 

Sept. 27 Board Meeting Agenda


168 NORTH 900 EAST

4:00 P.M.
A study session will be held prior to the regular board meeting. The purpose of the study session will be for (1) professional development for the Board and (2) to discuss current issues.

6:00 P.M.
PLEDGE OF ALLEGIANCE John Burton, Board Vice President








1. Resolution Approving the Polling Locations for the Bond Election



*Time set aside for community comments is not a time to discuss specific personnel issues. Personnel issues are not appropriate discussion items for an open-meeting environment. If you have a personnel concern, we ask that you contact a member of the administration or put your concern in writing and address it to the Board of Education.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

The Campaign in Favor of the Bond

Important Note: Public Hearing on the Bond.  Tuesday, Sept. 13, @ 6pm at the district office.

70% of your friends and neighbors believe that going into debt, via the bond, is a good idea.  I don't.

"But you voted for the bond!"

I voted to give you the opportunity to debate this issue and to give our school district a clear mandate: do we continue with the debt cycle, or do we make difficult choices but prevent further debt?  I am one of seven on the board.  The rest of the board members are clearly in support of the bond.  Some have a desire for a concrete plan to get out of debt.  Some have a desire to get out of debt as soon as circumstance allows us to do so.  With 70% of the people in favor of the bond, it doesn't make sense for the board, politically, to want to go a different direction.  Without a clear mandate from you, via an election, the debt cycle will continue. 

Whether you favor the bond, unequivocally, favor with a firm debt-reduction plan, or want a complete divestiture of debt, you need to speak up.  You need to talk to your neighbors and come to one of the roughly 192 meetings planned in the next 2 months (see below for some dates and times).

If you are opposed to the bond and you don't speak up, you need to understand that 70% of the people in this area will out-vote you.  If you support the bond, you are equally obligated to speak up and not let others carry your water.  What if the non-bond people win?

One of the more frequent comments I hear is, "What are the options without the bond?"  In short, there is a Plan B, but it hasn't really been talked about.  The bond is the familiar, easy, and preferred option.  This is "business as usual" for school districts (not just Alpine, by the way).  The board is promoting it because they don't think you are willing to do the hard things, the principled things to get out of debt.  And, according to the Bond Survey, they are correct. 

The Bond Survey mentioned options like satellites, double sessions, reduction in programs, etc.  What it didn't mention is a slew of creative ideas that people in the community have mentioned and could come up with to deal with some of these issues.  Also, the survey didn't say that some bonding could be done without a tax increase.  If the total bond amounts were phased down every time, that would be a great start in reducing debt at the outset.  And honestly, without meaning to discredit myself or my fellow board members, the seven of us are not as creative and innovative as all of you. 

I, personally, would like to see more parental involvement...and about 51% of the people in my area seemed to agree (based on the last election results).  One of the options would be to have more work at home and online as opposed to 'at school', reducing the hours sitting in class.  This allows parents greater involvement with their kids' education, and reduces the 'at school' time.  But what about those kids whose parents can't or won't do this?  We seem to worry about those who can't, but what about those that can?  Let's assume that 10% , 25% or even 50% of our parents were willing and able to be involved to that degree, and then we provided for the others who are not able to.  That would increase our capacity in all of our schools by that amount.  For those who can't or won't, we are Utahns.  We'll make sure everyone is taken care of.

In Utah County, we emphasize families and the parent-child relationship.  We don't, truly, want our children raised by the state.  We want the public educated, and we have decided to band together to accomplish that goal.  However, in doing so, are we really willing to say, as parents, we want a very limited role in our kids' education?  I know, in many cases, we have grown accustomed to it.  But in the ideal, don't we want an increased role in our kids' lives, including their education?

A specific application of using double sessions would be to reduce the amount of hours to 4 and use the teachers as mentors.  With 4 hour days, you might need 2 hours of parent/homework time to make up the difference.  Alternatively, you use parent-time in preparation for the class the next day. 

If an elementary teacher were to teach two 4-hours sessions/day, we then increase the total number of students taught by the teacher, increase the amount of money available to pay the teacher, and reduce the class sizes for that teacher.  For example, if a third-grade class currently has 30 kids in it, what if we had two sessions of 15 students?  The teacher would teach the same class, so (s)he would prep once, teach twice. 

I'm not saying this is how it has to be.  I'm just illustrating some of the options.  If the board decided to implement these changes without a clear mandate from the people, I'm afraid we'd see an Investigations Math-like mutiny.  But WITH the support of the people, we would see amazing things, including the most important element of all...parents helping their kids take control of their own education.  And teachers would be freed up to do what they do best--teach, with parental support.

So what do you do now?

First, an official Public Hearing on the bond will take place Tues, Sep. 13, @ 6:00 pm at the District Office (575 N. 100 E. AF).  No matter where you stand, please come and bring 2 friends with you to comment.  It is assumed that either there won't be anyone who will come, or else the same people who commented last meeting will be there to repeat their concerns.  Ask your friends and neighbors what they would want to do with $210M, and invite them to come to the meeting. 

Second, the board will be voting to change the board meeting from Nov. 29 to Nov. 22.  We are required, by law, to canvass the bond election results within 2 weeks of the election.  This new date is the Tuesday prior to Thanksgiving.  Since all board meetings are open, public meetings, you would be invited to attend this meeting as well.

Finally, the district must publish and send an informational notice to all patrons about the logistics of the bond: how much? what will it be used for?  what's the need? how will it impact me?  This notice is to be "the facts, Ma'am.  Just the facts."

You also need to be aware of the following.

Friends of Alpine Organization
Friends of Alpine is a 501(c)3 organization that has been set up to accept donations to publicize and encourage the bond effort.  In the past, district-affiliated non-profits like the Alpine Foundation were able to accept monies to promote the bond.  The legislature changed that recently, and so a separate organization must be used.  A few members of the Board of Education are on the Board of Friends of Alpine.  There are also parents, and other interested people.  Friends of Alpine can seek donations and run whatever marketing and advertising, including signs, it would like to promote adoption of the bond.

Employee and PTA/SCC Meetings
Between September 14 and the November election, there will be 192 meetings conducted by administrative staff.  Some of these meetings will be for employees only.  But, the rest are for the PTA/SCC organizations at each of the 79 schools in the district.  This is similar to the PTA/SCC meetings held last October at each of the schools.  It is important to know that, even though the meetings are listed as PTA/SCC meetings, they are open to the public.  Again, your attendance and comments are important and make a difference.  The employee meetings, I believe, will be limited to just employees of the district.  Board members are encouraged to attend the meetings held in their respective areas.  The Alpine/Highland/Cedar Hills schools' meetings are listed at the end of this post.  The entire list will appear on the district's website, once finalized.

Public Input Meetings
In addition, there were be three public meetings held to discuss the bond.  The dates for these meetings are Oct. 6, 13, 27 at 7pm.  In addition to information on the bond, these meetings are an opportunity for the district to "tell our story". 

At each of the public meetings, a pamphlet will be distributed.  It will contain information about the bond, Common Core, and the Mission, Vision, Values and Goals (MVVG) of the district.  I assume since all three items will be on the pamphlet, that the input meetings can be used to provide input on any of those three issues.  However, it may be limited to just the bond.

In short, please attend at least one of the public meetings and comment.  We get the government we deserve.  If we are passive about a $210M bond, what will it take to compel us to be involved?

SCC/PTA Bond Meetings for this area:

Sept. 13 @ 10am: Mountain Ridge JH
Sept. 20 @ 10am: Timberline
Sept. 27 @ 10am: Deerfield
Oct. 4 @ 10am: Alpine
Oct. 4 @ 1pm: Ridgeline
Oct. 6 @ 1pm: Lone Peak HS
Oct. 11 @ 1pm: Highland
Oct. 11 @ 1pm: Westfield

Plus don't forget the Public Input Meetings on Oct. 6, 13, 27

Friday, August 26, 2011

The Bond Age

Let every man, every corporation, and especially let every village, town, and city, every county and State, get out of debt and keep out of debt. It is the debtor that is ruined by hard times.
--Rutherford B. Hayes

The board voted Aug. 16, 6-0, to approve putting the bond on the ballot for Nov. 8, with my reluctant support.  The bond projects are specified here.  I appreciate all those who attended and spoke about the bond.  Your participation really does have an impact.  We may have blogs, facebook, audio recordings, and minutes of meetings, but there is still something to be said for people taking the time to show up and comment.

In that vein, it appears the majority of people in our district are comfortable with the bond and our current process of going into debt to build and maintain our schools.  The bond survey indicated a 70% approval for this bond.  And, in the past 10 years, the bonds have passed with more than 60% support.  Additionally, during the public bond meetings this spring, with very few exceptions, the emphasis was on what projects would go into the bond, not how do we avoid debt or limit the amount of the bond.  In fact, over 700 people showed up to influence the inclusion of a new high school in Lehi at a single meeting.

I am opposed to continued debt.  So, why would I vote in favor of the bond? Have I been corrupted? Bought? Co-opted? Having voted for me, I'd be saying, "What could she have been THINKING?" To change the direction of government requires a massive manifestation of the will of the people. I want us to get out of debt, whether through austerity or a less-painful, calculated plan. I do not find the status quo acceptable. However, the only way the debt status quo will change is if the vast majority of people are willing to do the "hard thing". The only way to get a commitment of the people is through a bond election.

I see three main perspectives on the bond.  Which one are you?

Position 1.) I am comfortable with the way things are.  I may not like the idea of debt, but this is how it has always been done.  We need more schools, updated buildings, seismic fixes, and weight rooms.  The bond isn't for very much money, and I am happy with the status quo.

Position 2.) I would love to get out of debt.  However, there are certain things that are needed right now, e.g. schools for growth, seismic fixes.  We don't have a system in place to take care of the current needs without additional debt.  The bond is a necessary "evil", but a debt-reduction plan needs to be in place to stop the cycle right away.  I am willing to make difficult decisions over the long term, but the immediate needs require bonding.  I am inclined to vote for the bond, but will require the board to put a debt-reduction plan in place  prior to my vote.

Position 3.) Debt is a huge problem, and I am willing to make the extremely difficult decisions necessary to combat the debt.  Without drawing a line in the sand, I am afraid the cycle will never be broken.  I believe we have the necessary tools, creativity, and community-involvement to do whatever is necessary to educate our kids without adding the burden of debt onto their shoulders.

No matter where you fit on the spectrum, your voice needs to be heard in this discussion.  The district will be conducting multiple meetings about the bond throughout September and October to inform you (and, unofficially, encourage you) on the necessity of the bond.  Even though the bond is on the ballot, your attendance and your vocal opinion will have an impact in those meetings, as well as at the ballot box.  I have 3 requests. 1) Please commit to attend at least one meeting and comment.  2) Commit to bringing 2 neighbors with you.  3) Talk with at least 2 of your friends and neighbors about this issue.  (Shameless plug: have them sign up for my facebook page, blog, and/or email.) 

If the bond doesn't pass, would we find creative ways to educate our kids with these limitations?  Yes.  Necessity is the mother of invention.  Because of the layering of the debt, there is a point at which we could borrow money for projects without increasing taxes.  Would we be able to do all the projects we want?  No.  Would we be able to prioritize and pay for some of them?  Yes.  Could we get creative with double sessions, more online options, and giving kids credit for extra-curricular activities they are doing already?  Sure.  There is never just one option.  Are you, the people, willing to go through that difficult process with us so we don't need to go into debt?  I await your response on Nov. 8. 

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Bond Vote: Aug. 16, 2011 and Public Hearing

The Tuesday Board Meeting will include a public hearing on the bond.  I am unsure whether it will comprise part of the community comments or be given a separate hearing.  I would recommend you attend.  The meeting begins at 6:00 and your opinion should be heard.

Personally, I would like to see a paradigm shift from one of constant bonding (every 5 years) to one of a pay-as-you-go system.  I realize this will take many years to be able to save and get out from under our current debt.  However, if we don't start now, we will be that much further behind.  As a board, it is our role to provide the overall vision of the district.  I would also like to see smaller bonds, more frequently for one or two specific projects.  Lumping a bunch of projects together over a 5-year period is much easier on the board and the district, but it eliminates the in-depth discussion from the public.  If every project on the bond were to be debated and voted on by the public, it would provide for greater accountability and greater public input.

In short, there is not currently a comfortable way to accommodate the seismic needs, repairs, and growth without bonding. This is the system, right now, but we need to change the system.  We pay just under $50M/year in principal and interest on our debt.  A long time ago, we got into the habit of paying for buildings with debt.  If we had not, we would have nearly $250M over the next 5 years to cover all the planned bond projects with almost $40M left over in a rainy day fund.  We need to break this habit.

Money spent on interest is money that never reaches the classroom.  The principal provides for the brick and mortar, but the interest is only valued by investors. We are losing in interest what we should invest directly on our children's education. 

Bond Projects--Proposal
  • High School: Lehi Area--$59M (2013-16)
  • Middle School: Eagle Mountain--$31.5M (2012-14)
  • Elementary Schools (4): Locations to be determined by growth--$12-14M ea. (2013, 2014, 2015, 2016)
  • AFHS: New classrooms/gyms/parking--$19.5M (2012-13)
  • PGHS: New athletic facility/gym/dance--$6.75M (2014-15)
  • Lone Peak HS: Weight/cardio classrooms--$575K (2016)
  • Timp HS: Weight/cardio classrooms--$450K (2016)
  • AFJH: 14-16 classrooms--$4.3M (2013-14)
  • Lehi JH: parking and drop off--$575K (2013)
  • Orem JH: New gym/seismic--$5.6M (2014-15)
  • Cherry Hill: Partial reconstruction (seismic)--$8.25M (2012-13)
  • Scera Park: parking/drop off--$575K (2016)
  • Westmore: Reconstruction (seismic)--$8.575M (2012-13)
  • Sego Lily: Seismic--$825K (2012-13)
  • Grovecrest: Partial reconstruction (seismic)--$6.75M (2016)
  • Alpine: Seismic--$1.845M (2012-13)

Here is the agenda for Aug. 16, 2011.

575 NORTH 100 EAST

4:00 P.M.
The purpose of the study session will be for (1) professional development for the Board, (2) to
review bond projects and the resolution for the November 8 bond election, and (3) to discuss
other current issues.

6:00 P.M.


1. Budget Report
2. Personnel Reports
3. Alpine Foundation Report
4. Resolution 2011-013 - Agreement with Lehi City for Street Improvements Adjacent to LHS

1. Resolution for Bond Election on November 8, 2011


Thursday, August 4, 2011

Does the End Justify the Means?

On July 18, the board had a retreat. The main discussion items were 1) Common Core, 2) Mission, Vision, Values, and Goals (MVVG), 3) Code of Conduct, and 4) Individual Board Member Comments.

Part 1: Common Core

This is going to be a topic of on-going discussions for the foreseeable future. Over the next year, our district will be training teachers, and getting ready to implement the State Board's decision to adopt the Common Core standards, along with the Smarter Balance Consortium's (SBCC) federally-funded assessments (by 2014). We were privileged to have Syd Dickson from the State Office of Education (USOE) present on the Common Core. Oneof the things I appreciated hearing was that, even though the Common Core organization is going to be creating standards for more subjects than just Language Arts and Math, the State Board has decided NOT to adopt anything else, especially in the realm of Social Studies or Science.

My concern is Language Arts, with the emphasis on 'informational texts' is sufficient for allowing things into our curriculum that local parents may not be comfortable with. I would submit that all writing is done from a particular point of view. Presenting informational articles to our children will come with its own agenda. One of the reasons for local control is to make sure the 'slant' is representative of what our parents are comfortable having presented to their children. And rather than presenting things via literature, which is admittedly fictional, information text comes with its own brand of authority. Children, supposedly, should be taught to analyze these texts, but at what age are they capable of deep, cognitive thinking? Certainly not in Kindergarten when 'research' writing begins with Common Core.

Ms. Dickson also said being part of the SBCC assessment group and Common Core, in general, will give us greater ability to impact textbook and resource creation. One concern a teacher in our district had was the integrated math (algebra, geometry, etc integrated at all grade-levels) was being used only by Utah and no other states. How important will we be in that process, if we are the only state using this approach? Her response was we are the only state implementing it across the board. However, there are quite a few individual districts choosing to implement the integrated process. This leads me to wonder how much leeway districts in other states have in their implementation, and why should we not have that leeway, as well?

Ms. Dickson wanted to make sure we understood that Common Core is NOT a federal or national standards program and that this was a big myth out there. We clarified that the US Dept. of Ed. is funding the assessment piece, and she said they were. However, there is supposed to be a database of questions for the assessments the USOE will use to create Utah's assessments. These assessments will be formative (chapter tests, etc. during the year), summative (end of the year assessments), as well as computer-adaptive. One concern some of the board members share is the ability of the computer-adaptive tests to actually work. The idea is that, based on the answer to any given question, the assessment program will generate a more in-depth question to test deeper understanding. I would be curious to see this in practice. As a programmer, I know, first-hand, the options in a program are only as good as the author(s) are able to predict and account for them. Also, how accurate will writing assessments be, when done by computer?

Finally, we were told the Common Core was not done outside of public scrutiny. Quite a few of the professional associations both inside and outside the state were involved. A few of us commented that we were unaware of Common Core, and its existence isn't widely known among parents. There was a lot of parental input on the standards, Ms. Dickson said. When I asked who was involved locally, I was told that if it had just been a Utah project, a lot more local people would have been involved. However, since it was comprised of 45 or so states, there wasn't much Utah public input.

Rep. John Dougall (R-Highland) attended the presentation as well, and was asked by Board Member, Mark Clement, for his comments. Roughly, Rep. Dougall stated that standards don't guarantee outcomes, and that good standards are always watered down by committees over time. As an engineer, he suggested benchmarking. Benchmarking is where you find who is doing the best job, say, in math. Then you compare your results against theirs. It was suggested that having common assessments would make that easier. However, our district could simply adopt the math assessments used by the benchmark district. There is no reason we couldn't do such a thing right now. I appreciated Rep. Dougall's perspective.

As long as your child is achieving on a national test, are you comfortable giving control of their education to some group of 'experts' you will never meet and have no influence over?  Local control has always ensured local responsibility and accountability. Common Core changes that. Are you comfortable with the change?

If you would like to regain local control and challenge the concept that outside experts know more about your children's education than you do, click "like" on this Facebook link and maybe even go so far as to click "share". "Like" helps me know where people stand on a specific issue and who might participate in advancing the perspective. "Share" means you believe in the perspective so much, you would like to share the perspective with others. Either is appreciated.
Note: The audio of all board meetings is available by law--often (after a period of time) on the ASD website (under board meetings), and always, by request, from the district office.

Friday, July 22, 2011

3 Elementary Schools Planned for Rebuild in Orem with the Bond

The Bond
On July 19, the Board met to discuss, mostly for the last time before the bond vote, the individual projects scheduled for the bond monies.  The board will vote on Aug. 16, whether or not to put the bond to the voters at the November election.

The biggest change in bond projects was the recommendation to rebuild 3 elementary schools in Orem.  All three have seismic issues and are quite old (around 50 years or so).  They are: Cherry Hill, Westmore, and Grovecrest.  Geneva also needs to be rebuilt, but, due to its proximity to Suncrest, the board might want to think about building one school in between Geneva and Suncrest. Then, we could combine their student populations.  In doing this, the cost of the 3 schools went from an estimate of $11.6M to $23.4M.  This means other projects scheduled for the bond will be pushed out, and some will be taken care of with Capital funds. The business office put together criteria for determining which projects made sense to rebuild, and which should just be fixed.  The criteria were based on dollars, years of useful life left (50 years being the useful life limit), seismic prioritization, and whether or not the dollar amount was too high to realistically be handled with on-going capital funds.  In general, anything over $2M warranted a rebuild. 

The board, while concerned for those schools that were pushed out, was overwhelmingly supportive of the idea of rebuilding the older schools.  The Superintendent noted that the Orem City Council were also very supportive of the rebuild idea.  I asked for more information on student population and capacity, as well as projected growth.  I was told that we could, indeed, be more economically prudent by closing neighborhood schools in some cases, but the immeasurable cost to the individual communities would be devastating.  The idea of having neighborhood schools is something that previous boards have been supportive of, and most people in a community are supportive of, as well.  My fellow board members were pleased with the idea of starting from scratch instead of using a 'band aid' on these schools.  I still wanted to know the opportunity cost for this, but was clearly in the minority.  I understand the possible concerns related to closing schools.  However, I think it is only fiscally responsible to know what the costs actually are before making a decision.  I agree that there are non-monetary costs that come into play.  However, we should at least explore the possibilities before making those decisions.  Again, I was in the minority with that mind-set.

As the Board President went around the room to assess our thoughts on the bond projects, most were basically supportive.  I offered only 2 comments.  1) I am uncomfortable with going into debt to fund weight room expansions at Lone Peak and Timpanogos.  It is based on the principle that we shouldn't be going into debt, and we, if necessary, could pay for this with capital funds at some point in the future--if the priority is sufficient.  It is readily acknowledged that there do need to be projects in all the areas of the district to gain widespread support for the bond.  The weight room addition is the only bond project in North Orem and only the second bond project in the Northeast (Highland, Alpine, etc).  2) We had discussed the desirability of getting out of debt and going to a "pay as you go" plan for capital costs at our retreat on Monday.  I suggested that a bond would be better accepted by the fiscally-concerned should we have a plan to get out of debt, even if it were saving just a small amount of money every year.  The downside to this: Whatever we save for future needs, we aren't able to spend now on existing needs.  The overall philosophy of the board was suggested to be that getting out of debt is important and something we want to strive for.  However, due to the current economics, it isn't something that is feasible now.  Someday, it will be. 

The seismic projects still on the bond are as follows:
  • Alpine Elementary (seismic only): $1.845M
  • Orem Jr (addition and seismic): $5.5M
  • Sego Lily (seismic only): $825,000
It is important to note, the remaining seismic projects are still projected for, under our 5-year capital plan.  As the board gets capital funds every year, they will prioritize which projects should be undertaken and when.  However, it does depend on funding and priorities, every year.  Right now, the seismic retrofittings will take until 2020 to complete throughout the district. To download the seismic priority list, click here.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Why I Voted Against the Budget

Board Meeting: Budget Approval--June 21
The Board Meeting was held on June 21, and included approval of the final budget for 2010-11 and the tentative budget for 2011-12.  The formal budget was available online as of June 1, and I received a hard copy about that same time.  We had 3 weeks to review the budget.  Throughout the year, different items are brought up that impact the budget, and the board more or less approves them at the time.  Also, there are a few budget committee meetings that narrow down and prioritize items to be addressed in the budget, e.g. building maintenance requirements.  However, I would like to see a shift to allow the board and the public more time to address issues in the budget and see revisions, much before the June 22 approval date, as required by law.  Ideally, the proposed budget would be made public near the beginning of May.  The May board meeting would allow the board to discuss different options. I'd, also, suggest having  a public input meeting to take place in May.  Then any changes or suggestions could be incorporated in a revised budget, available June 1.  (Highland City followed this procedure and had a public Open House in May, just before a City Council meeting where the budget was discussed.  I commend them for this step and borrowed liberally from their process.)

My main issue, besides the overall budget schedule, was $860,000 for Common Core implementation.  As you've read previously, I am concerned with the lack of local control that will come with Common Core.  The way it works is the State Office of Education has decided all Utah Schools (district and charter) will adopt the Common Core (including the out-sourced, US Dept of Ed-financed assessments).  What is tested, determines the curriculum.  At the time of the budget adoption, the Board had never discussed Common Core.  We were allocating funds because the State Office said as much.  They dictate, we fund.  The Common Core training began the day before the budget was approved, and about $70,000 was put into the budget to be spent (post-July 1) to pay those teachers participating in the week-long training.  Because this is a fundamental shift of educational responsibility, I felt the board needed to at least address Common Core before allocating funds.  I asked that the $860,000 be "held in abeyance" until the board could discuss Common Core.  I was outvoted on setting that money aside.  As such, I felt I wasn't doing my due diligence in approving the $860,000, even if it was only 1/400 of the budget.  It represents such a large potential change, it didn't seem right for me to approve something that hadn't even been discussed.  I was the only "Nay" vote.  My fellow board member, Paula Hill, voted to abstain, with a comment that she was doing so because of the nearly $1M for Common Core implementation. 

Eagle Mountain Middle School Property
The board approved the purchase of a property for the proposed Middle School in Eagle Mountain.  The decision was between two different pieces of property.  The board weighed the overall costs, necessary improvements, transportation, power, etc. in making this decision.  It was not a decision made lightly, and there was a lot of community input.  In short, when all the different factors were laid out, the SITLA property was the best deal.  One nice thing is that our agreement includes the improvements to be made on the property.  They will make the improvements to our specifications and with our approval prior to closing on escrow.  And the overall price came in lower than the other option. 

Collective Bargaining and Trust Lands Funds
Also approved were the various agreements with the associations: Administrators, Teachers, and Education Support Services.  One of the biggest issues was the healthcare cost increase, due to the "ObamaCare" mandates.  It amounted to about $4M for the year.  The other issue was the board approved a 2% increase for teachers who were not due an increase due to 'step and lane'.  Essentially, the district pay schedule has different lanes that teachers are on, depending on education level.  For example, a teacher with a Bachelor's degree is on a particular lane.  Another teacher with a Master's Degree is on a different lane.  Both start at step 1, if they are brand new.  But the lane for the Bachelor's degree pays less for Step 1, than does the Master's Degree lane.  After so many years, they advance to Step 2, and so forth.  If you are somewhere between Step 1 and Step 2, for example, this year, you will get a one time 2% bonus (probably in November). 

The individual school's submitted their trustlands plans, and the board approved them.

Meeting with Lt. Governor
On July 5, various teachers, employees, administrators, board members, and legislators met with Lt. Gov. Greg Bell and the Governor's education advisor, Christine Kearl.  Different members of the administration outlined some of the things Alpine is doing well:
  • Modified Extended Day schedules:  Many of our elementary schools are set up with AM and PM students.  The AM students come at 8 and leave at 2:15; the PM kids come at 9:15 and leave at 3:30.  This allows each teacher to have smaller class sizes for 150 min each day.
  • Productivity: Teachers who teach more students in a class--whether through modified extended day, or more classes/day--are paid 14 - 23 % more
  • Extended Day Kindergarten (OEK): Kindergarten students who score below a certain level are given the option of attending full day kindergarten.  The class size is an average of 16 students, as compared with 24 or so in the regular kindergarten classes.  Students in OEK out-perform their peers in the regular Kindergarten classes. 
Sen. Howard Stephenson commented on how well ASD does with its finances, as recognized by the Utah Taxpayers' Association.  Board members comments ranged from putting the 'flexible WPU' as an 'above the line' item in the budget (reimburse the districts for what they actually spend on SS and Medicare with state monies, and not just lump that amount into a 'discretionary' category when SS/Medicare are anything but discretionary), experimentation with technology, recognition that ASD does a great job with large classes and a growing population, but it would be better to have smaller class sizes, and my comment: more local control--do not legislate and dictate what the local boards can/should do.  Either we want local control or we don't, but let's not pay lip service to local control.

Agenda for Board Training on July 18--Timberline Middle School
Twice a year, the board has a retreat/training for most of a day.  This is the second one I will be participating in.  Since this meeting constitutes a quorum of the board, it is an open, public meeting.  As a board, we have been asked to submit our comments/suggestions for the Boardmanship discussion, as well as the afternoon discussion items.  You may want to check out the links from the district website for more information on the Code of Conduct and the Board, itself.  Also, if you haven't had a chance to review the Common Core FAQ's, please do so...see especially the final question about Federal involvement.   I welcome your comments and feedback both prior to and after the training.
8:30 – 9:00 a.m. Common Core Review & Discussion: Syd Dickson, USOE

9:00 – 10:00 Discussion of Board Issues: Debbie

10:00 – 10:15 Break

10:15 – 11:15 Continue Discussion of Board Issues

11:15 – 12:00 Review History of District Mission, Vision, Values, Goals: Vern / Debbie

12:00 – 12:45 p.m. Lunch

12:45 – 2:00 Boardsmanship: Debbie

2:00 – 2:15 Break

2:15 – 3:30 Board Training – Discussion of Leadership by Sully: Barry Graff
Board Meeting Agenda: July 19--District Office

4:00 P.M.

The purpose of the study session will be to (1) review details for the November 2011 bond, (2) for Board inservice and (3) to discuss other current issues.


6:00 P.M.

PLEDGE OF ALLEGIANCE: Debbie TaylorPresident




CLAIMS FOR JUNE :Vernon Henshaw, Superintendent


1. Budget Report: Vernon Henshaw, Superintendent

2. Personnel Reports

3. Alpine Foundation Report

4. Resolution 2011-011 – Contract with Orem City for Law Enforcement Officers

5. Resolution 2011-012 – Easement Agreement with UDOT for Property Adjacent to Vineyard Elem.


1. 2013-2014 School Calendar: Vernon Henshaw, Superintendent





Friday, June 17, 2011

Common Core, Budget, New Property and Lots More

Common Core

Before you read on, I ask you to do one thing.  Please view this video on the Common Core. Once you view it, please pass the link on to at least 4 other people.  Common Core is taking place, and we, the people, have yet to have the debate over the pros and cons.

"Ever since the Federal Government, in the mid-sixties, became heavily involved in public education, we've been consistently fighting that battle over standardization versus freedom.  Freedom should be our goal."
--Utah Congressman (and former public school teacher) Rob Bishop

My fellow board member, Paula Hill, has written an excellent piece on the Common Core.  Click here to see her comments.  She states it very well, and adds the perspective of a school teacher. 

Americans have a history of prizing and valuing local control, especially when it comes to the education of our children.  We want an educated populace, but we take seriously the responsibility that parents have of doing just that.  At the top of my blog, you will see a quote from Jefferson about turning education of children over to "any other general authority of the government". Jefferson's opinion was that parents needed to manage the schools, and that believing government could do it better was a complete fairy tale (his words "a belief against all experience").  The responsibility for education rests with the parents.  Our schools exist to aid parents in this responsibility.  Common Core takes this idea and allows us to turn the responsibility and the accountability over to another pseudo-government entity, unelected, and unaccountable to you as a parent.  As the teacher in the above video mentions, if she has concerns with what her children are being taught, she can't go to the school, the district, or even the state anymore.  This is a fundamental transformation of the responsibility, the accountability, and the power associated with educating our children. 

Budget/Agenda for 6/21/11

The 2011-12 budget for the school district is on the agenda for Tuesday's Board meeting (along with Trustlands plan approvals, and association (teachers, school support services, and administrators) labor contracts.  For full agenda, please see below or click here.  I would like to see more public, as well as board, involvement in the budget process earlier on.  I have discussed this subject with the administration, but will be discussing it with the full board, hopefully, during the study session.  Associated with the Common Core thread, from above, the proposed budget contains $860K for implementation of the Common Core. 

New Property for Junior High in Eagle Mountain

On the Agenda for Tuesday's meeting is the proposed purchase of property for the new Junior High in Eagle Mountain.  There have been two properties under consideration, and many of you have written to express your thoughts about the different options.  We have taken into account, bussing costs, infrastructure costs, power needs, as well as the overall land prices.  The bottom line is when all these things are accounted for, the proposal for the Mid-Valley location makes the most sense, both financially and logistically.  I would be happy to answer any questions you might have about why I will be supporting this purchase.

Meeting with Eagle Mountain City

Wednesday, I had the opportunity to meet with the Mayor and City Council Members of Eagle Mountain City, along with my fellow board members.  It was good to get their perspective on their growing population.  We discussed the needs the district has when looking at properties for new schools.  The city often requires large developers to include plans for school sites as they present their plans to the city for approval.  We discussed when would be the appropriate time for the district to be involved in that process.



4:00 P.M.

The purpose of the study session will be to receive an overview of the proposed 2011-2012 M&O budget and an update regarding the proposed November 2011 bond.


6:00 P.M.







1. Budget Report

2. Personnel Reports

3. Alpine Foundation Report

4. Student Releases

5. Student Expulsion

6. Student Reinstatements

7. Property Items

A. Resolution 2011-009 – Purchase of Property in Eagle Mountain

B. Resolution 2011-010 – Sale of Property in Saratoga to LDS Church

1. Adoption of Bond Resolution and Designated Officer

2. Public Hearing – Approval of the 2010-2011 Final Budget

3. Public Hearing – Approval of the 2011-2012 Tentative Budget

4. Approval of the 2011-2012 School Land Trust Plans

5. Approval of the 2011-2012 Certified Negotiated Agreement

6. Approval of the 2011-2012 Classified Negotiated Agreement

7. Approval of the 2011-2012 Administrative Agreement

1. Proposed Change of Date for August Board Meeting – to August 16

1. Revised 2013-2014 School Calendar

1. Membership Report




Friday, June 3, 2011

Proposed 2012 Budget

The proposed budget for this next fiscal year can be downloaded from the district's website here.  I am personally thrilled that it is listed as one of the 'revolving' items on the main page of the website.  Thanks to our district staff for getting this information out to the public in such an easily accessible format!

Please take a moment to peruse the budget and give me your feedback.  A printed, bound copy was delivered to me yesterday. 

Saturday, May 28, 2011

School Finance from USBA Convention Jan. 2011

When I gave my husband a draft of this post to proof-read, he said he felt like Marlin in  "Finding Nemo" when the little turtle, Squirt, is explaining the proper exiting procedure from the EAC.  He said, "I know you are telling me something really important, I just don't understand a word you're saying."  So, I will give you the Reader's Digest Version, and then the full Geek/Accountant-type version.  Hopefully, one of them will appeal to you. 

School Finance: Reader's Digest Version
Every year by June 22, the board must approve a budget, essentially allocating different money into different categories (think envelopes).  After the budget is set, the district has flexibility in spending the money within each category, according to the policies and procedures the board has already outlined.  Starting on June 1, the proposed budget is available from the Business Administrator to anyone who wants to see it.  ASD has past budgets on the website, in case you are really interested.

The district receives money from 3 sources: local taxes (including property taxes), state taxes (100% of your income tax goes to public education), and federal taxes.  Each of these taxing sources comes with some strings and/or limitations.  The state provides a set amount per student, called the WPU (weighted pupil unit).  In addition, if there are certain programs the legislature wants to fund, certain amounts are allowed for those programs.  Of course, if you wanted to use that money for something else, you can't.  The Feds, of course, have their own set of strings.  ASD gets about 7% of its budget from the Feds.

Every year, the County sets a specific tax rate for the district, called the Certified Tax Rate.  If the district wants to increase that rate, there will be a public hearing for that purpose in August or September.  Of course, since the fiscal year started back in July, the public hearing is more of a formality than anything else.  The board can, at any time in the year, amend the budget in an open board meeting.  But, unless something major occurs, that probably won't happen. 

On your property tax notice, you will see 2 line items for Alpine School District: Basic and Other.  The Basic rate is set by the state.  The Other is a combination of all the taxes (leeways, bonds, etc) set by the local school board.  Bear in mind, that property taxes can only go to pay for capital items.  All operational costs come from the state via WPU and specific programs/items or from the Feds (with their specific programs).

I would appreciate your looking at the budget and giving me feedback. I will see if there is a link on the district's website and will post it here after June 1st.

School Finance: Accountant's Version
Schools get revenue from local, state, and federal sources.

Local funds come in the form of property taxes and other fees.  There are 2 line items on your property tax statement: Basic and Other. 

Other Property: Other property taxes are leeway, capital, transportation, debt service, tort, and recreation.  All primary residential property is taxed at 55%.  For example, if your home is worth $200K, whatever the property tax rate is you pay taxes on only 55% or $110K.  Commercial property is taxed at 100% of the property value.  The school board sets the tax rate.  If the tax rate goes above the Certified Tax Rate the county sets, you must have a truth in taxation hearing.  It isn't as logical as it sounds either.  Here is an example:

Say in 2010 your property is worth $1000 and the certified tax rate is 10%, so you pay $100 in taxes.  In 2011, your property value increases 5% to $1050.  10% of that would be $105.  Since $105 is more than the $100 you paid in 2010, the board would need to hold a truth in taxation hearing.  Even though the tax rate remained the same, the amount of taxes received increases.  Hence, the hearing.  In order to avoid a hearing, the tax rate would need to be adjusted in 2011 to 9.5%, so that 9.5% of $1050 = $100.  All new buildings and new growth are exempt from the truth in taxation hearing, and the taxes are county- or district-wide, so it is possible for your individual property taxes to go up without a hearing.  However, it means that somewhere else, someone is paying less for their property taxes, and it all balances out across the district.  Just by way of information, in 1980, the average property tax rate in Utah was 0.004534.  In 2009-10, it was 0.001433.  So, the rates have gone down, but values and growth have increased. 

There are other local revenues that come from investment income, inter-district billings (e.g. some of our kids go to Provo and some Provo kids go to ASD, so we pay each other for those kids), school lunch fees, and community education programs.

Basic Property: The basic property tax rate is the only local tax that is NOT set by the local school board, but by the state legislature.  This basic amount is currently 10% of the property value that is able to be taxed (e.g. 55% on a primary residence). This is the other line item on your property tax statement that says Alpine School District: Basic.

State Funds:
WPU: The weighted-pupil unit is an amount set by the legislature for each student that attends class for 180 days (membership or enrollment).  This year, the WPU is $2577.  The WPU is given to districts/schools based on the difference between last year's membership and this year's membership as of Oct. 1.  For example, if on Oct. 1, 2010 there are 5% more kids in ASD than there were from Aug. 2009- May. 2010, then there will be a 5% increase in WPU funds.  (I think.) 

Other State Funds:  The state tries to equalize the amount spent, per student, across the state in some fashion.  Here is my attempt at explaining this.  Let's say we have two districts (A and B), each with 5000 students.  District A has property tax values of $100 million.  District B has property tax values of $40 million.  Each district will receive $12.885 million in WPU funds ($2577 x 5000 students).  They will also get 10% of the property values in the form of the Basic school levy.  District A will receive $10 million, and District B will receive $4 million.  Because of the $6 million deficit for District B, the state will kick in $6 million more in state funds to District B, than to District A from their pool of state income taxes, etc. 

Additionally, the state gives extra funds for the following:
Professional staff (more higher degrees)
Special Ed
Career Tech Ed
Class Size Reduction (one time money)
*WPU Flexible (SS, Medicare, and Retirement)

*The WPU Flexible is for SS, Medicare, and Retirement for staff.  It used to be that the state reimbursed the districts for all of the amount they spent on these items.  After that, they reimbursed a percentage of these amounts.  Now, there is just a line item in the budget, called WPU Flexible; it is a fixed amount.  The board can use whatever amount is in here to pay for SS, Medicare, and Retirement, but these amounts have to be paid by law. 

Federal funds:
Federal funds are given, based on different programs.  These are:
Title I: Poverty, Mobility, ESL
Title 2: Quality Teaching
Special Ed
School Lunch (free or reduced lunches)
ARRA (Obama's Stimulus)

The biggest issue with federal funds is that the money must not supplant existing funds and there needs to be MOE (Maintenance of Effort).  For example, if you spent $1000 on special ed last year, you can't reduce the amount this year and still get federal funds--regardless of the reason.  You also can't take the $1000 of special ed monies that you were going to use, spend it somewhere else, and finance special ed with ONLY the federal funds.  Federal funds must be used IN ADDITION to state and local funds.

85-90% of general fund expenses are salaries and benefits.  Currently, 18% of salary goes to retirement, 7.65% SS/Medicare, and 30% Health Insurance.

Other expenses are: professional services like nursing, utilities, textbooks/library books, instructional supplies and equipment.


Think of accounting funds as budget envelopes.  A board sets certain amounts for each envelope (fund).  Within that fund, the district has some discretion, but moving money between funds is not usually allowed.

In general the funds are:
General (operational costs)
Capital (things that last for 1 year or more: furniture, buildings, computers, etc)
Debt Service
Lunch Service

The board must have the budget set by June 22 of each year, but the public attends a hearing in Aug or Sept. if the tax rate (see above) is greater than the certified tax rate from the previous year.  The difficulty is the budget is already set and started on before the public is involved in the hearings.  It would make more sense for the public to get involved in the budget process during April, May and June of each year.  The superintendent is ultimately responsible for the budget, and you CANNOT (by law) budget a surplus.

Annual audits are done by independent third parties.  They look at whether you are following your district policies, how you are allocating revenues, state compliance issues, federal law or grant compliance,  and payments, especially to the board, superintendent, and business administrator.  They do not tend to audit how the money is spent other than on a general level of following policies.

At the end of this class, we were given a quiz.  The first person who finished with 100% got a box of M&M's.  They were yummy! (smile)

Thursday, May 19, 2011

The Bond Dilemma and Board Meeting 5/17/11

As you probably know, Alpine School District will, most likely, be asking you to approve a $210M bond in November.  Before you continue reading, I hope you will take the time to watch the online bond presentation, if you didn't attend one of the meetings.  This way, I know you will have all the basic information and assumptions: the whys, the hows, and the how much.   The bond is divided into growth, renovations/additions, seismic retrofitting, and additional projects.  The additional projects will probably take a back seat to everything else. 

New Lehi High

The biggest change from the original draft proposal is a new high school for Lehi at the "Micron property" that the district already owns.  The estimated cost is $56M, but construction won't begin until 2014 at the earliest.  In that period of time, Lehi High will grow to almost 2500 students.  Part of the reason for the delay is the overall cost.  The bonds will be issued in phases to take advantage of the amount of current debt being paid off every year.  We attempt to keep our debt pretty much level; so as we pay off some debt, we don't go into so much more debt that it spikes both the debt ratio and the taxes.

Seismic Issues

In 2006, Reaveley Engineering did a very in-depth study of seismic issues in the district.  From that report, the district has been going down a path of seismic retrofitting.  The 2006 study didn't include some additional items that the district has included like high, unreinforced chimneys (all of which have been replaced).  Also, at the time of the study, there were projects already in process, and they were simply completed.  This is why some projects of a lower priority were done prior to others.  Also, our experience with having corrected some of the seismic issues is that the overall $54M price tag was way too low.  For example, Reaveley estimated the cost to fix Orem HS at $8M.  When we had actual bids from two different firms, they said the amount was closer to $16M.  It was the $16M price tag that encouraged the district to tear Orem down and rebuild a new school on the same site.  Before the final bond decision in August, the board should have additional information on the most "problematic" areas with better estimates from the companies that would actually be hired to do the retrofitting.  My personal thought is we are responsible to correct seismic (and any other obvious safety issues) in our schools before worrying about additional things like multi-purpose rooms, weight rooms, or the space center.  One of my colleagues clarified that having too many kids in a weight room can pose a safety risk as well.  Additionally, the difficulty with seismic issues is they are so dependent on so many unknowns.  I applaud the district for commissioning this study five years ago, and for embarking on a long journey to correct these issues across the district.  If there were a way to correct all the major seismic issues throughout the district on this bond, I'd be happy to do that.

Renovations and Additions

Some of the renovations and additions patrons discussed during the bond meetings were additional classrooms, weight rooms, PE rooms, tennis courts, etc.  An interesting comment at one meeting about how great Lone Peak's weight room isand how other schools in the district couldn't compete with them.  Then, at another meeting, people commented how Lone Peak's weight room needed improvements.  As one person put it, the process is really like a moving jigsaw puzzle.  We need to keep in mind that with limited resources, everyone can't have everything all at once.  And by the time one area is improved, another is going to need it.

Eagle Mountain Junior High

Another bond project is building a new junior high in the Eagle Mountain area.  Westlake High will be growing to 4000 students by about 2016 if they continue to house 9th - 12th grades.  The plan is to open a new junior high in Eagle Mountain by Fall 2013, taking students from Vista Heights and bringing the 9th grade back there from Westlake.  The district is hoping to secure property this summer and have the architechtural work and builders all set to begin work by Feb. 2012.  Before the property is purchased, the terms of the purchase will be made public, and the board will approve the purchase in an open board meeting. 

Other Thoughts on the Bond

As someone who is very concerned with additional debt, I would love to find a way to pay off our existing debt and finance these new buildings and improvements with cash.  And if it couldn't be done with this bond (because of the immediate needs), maybe we could put something in place to start down the road of pay-as-you-go for the next set of projects in five years.  However, it seems that most people are fine with the way things are.  About every 5 years, the district will go out for another bond, and build new schools, as well as renovate older schools.  The debt level will remain roughly the same, and the bonds will be aggressively financed for 15 years or less.  In order to do something other than "the way it's always been done", the changes would need to be very dramatic, very "outside the box".  Those ideas could be: modifications to the school year/calendar/attendance time, more online/distance learning classes, additional credits allowed for private lessons (e.g. music credits for private music lessons), a change in scope of the state core and graduation requirements, building smaller schools with less amenities, etc.  One of the concerns about building smaller, less fancy schools is they are also to double as community centers.  If one community gets all the bells and whistles, the other communities are concerned that they helped fund bells and whistles for someone else but didn't get any at their own schools. 

Another consideration, that has been absent in these discussions, is the impact of the Vineyard URA.  As I write, the URA is still going forward.  SB70 was passed this last legislative session, and it changes the vote on something like Vineyard from a 2/3 majority to a simple majority.  In effect, the school districts will be required to go along with every URA without a chance at stopping them.  Since the districts, on average, make up about 65-70% of the tax revenue collected from an area, there is no reason for any other taxing entity (city, county, etc) to not vote to support URA's.  The districts will make up the majority of the tax deferral, and the local community will benefit.  The schools and taxpayers throughout the district will be taken along for the ride by financing the bulk of these developments.  So, having said that, the URA, absent something dramatic to stop it, will impact you whether or not there is a bond.  Your property taxes will be increased, and it will look as if the district increased them.  So, when we talk about the property taxes going up $12 the first year and as much as $36 the fourth or fifth year, that is just the impact of the bond.  Vineyard will impact you the full $36 or more starting this first year. 

In short, I am very uncomfortable with debt, and incurring more is doubly difficult for me.  The district currently has $389M in debt, being paid off at the rate of $30M+ in principal and $15M in interest every year.  If there were a good way of eliminating our debt and applying that $15M in interest toward future projects, that is how I'd like to see things done.  However, as is, the debt is phased in, and its level is maintained.  If we must have debt, I think we are doing a good job at maintaining fiscal discipline on that front.  Additionally, we are obligated to the families in our district to provide a good, safe learning environment for the kids in our schools.  To delay addressing current growth and safety concerns just exacerbates the problem.  The current method is to bond every five years to fund the seismic/safety retrofitting, as well as new schools for population growth.  It is not my preferred method of operation, but until there is a better alternative, this is the system we have.