Dear RUSD Leaders:
The biggest problem you face is not whether or not you need new facilities or more revenue. The biggest issue before you is summed up in one question; “How do you regain public trust?” The answer isn’t simple, but without trust, any plans or ideas to better educate our children will fail. The colossal failure of the referendum questions was a message from your employers that the status quo is unacceptable and the time is now to right the ship.
In Caledonia, a vast majority has been unhappy for some time, and has even launched attempts to leave the district and start our own school district. Others have decided, individually, to send their children to other districts or private schools. Approximately half of our school age children do not attend RUSD schools and we have voted a resounding no to many of your referendum initiatives.
It is no longer acceptable to be one of the worst districts in the state. It is no longer acceptable to hear excuse after excuse why our children have some of the lowest test scores in the state. We didn’t elect or hire you to make excuses. We want answers and solutions, and we want them now. It is not our perception of what is happening in our district. It’s the results of your activities and ideas.
Over the past 10 years, I have met with our local leaders and fellow citizens and have listened to what they think could lead to regaining trust in the district. I offer up some of the ideas so that future actions you take can lead to a better cooperation between the district and the people that pay for it.
1. The board should be numbered seats. Each board member should be held accountable by the taxpayers for his or her own actions. Under the current ad-hoc election process, board members are elected purely based on name recognition, and not on their votes.
2. Reduce central office staff by at least a third. We have a superintendent, a deputy superintendent, three area superintendents, four principals at each of the comprehensive high schools and a barrage of directors. That is where it needs to start, at the top.
3. For at least a decade and survey after survey, 70 percent of all our communities want neighborhood schools. It is time to implement this.
4. Reduce class size at the high school level by going back to the junior high configuration of K-6, 7-9 and 10-12. Also, expand Walden and the Real School to double their current enrollment. This can reduce the comprehensive high school’s enrollment by up to 30% and expand our two most successful programs.
5. Once the first four steps are completed, there should be no need to address major construction at the middle and high school facilities, other than renovation. Then redistrict the elementary schools to the desired class size and come to the community with a referendum to build and renovate elementary schools, which is far cheaper than secondary education facilities.
I can almost guaranty that the community as a whole will buy into this plan and the cost savings it can bring will help regain trust. This will also help reduce class size fitting in with your existing plans and Northstar.
We truly want you to succeed because we want our children to succeed.
Former RUSD Board Member (2005-2008)