By Jeff Northrup
Editor Note: Voters in Edina School District 273 are being asked to vote on two questions in a special referendum culminating on Tuesday, May 11. One question deals with a new $7M bond bill intended to fund repair of the bus garage and improvements to various school parking spaces. The second question seeks approval of a ten-year, $70 million Capital Project Levy Authorization for Technology in the Edina Schools.
The following is an open letter urging voters in Edina School District 273 to use the opportunity of this referendum to send a message. Jeff is non-partisan, not affiliated with SD49 Republicans or any political entity.
It would be difficult to find a bigger “homer” for Edina than me: I was born at Fairview Southdale, attended K-12 here, own every piece of Edina apparel available, named my company after my grade school (Concord), sat on the Facilities Task Force (the most recent big district referendum for $124.9M), played a big role in the Braemar Dome, and have put 4 daughters through EPS. I am fully invested.
And I am a hard NO on the Levy and Bond. We need a change. Edina Public Schools are not trending well and the School Board and Administration need to get the message: If you put a good product out there, one that is Excellent through and through, we will embrace your Levies and Bonds.
But if the product is bad, we will vote down your requests for more money. Especially when our concerns have little to do with money.
Here are my big three concerns:
- Declining Enrollment. When kids who live here don’t go to school here, that is a major red flag. Something isn’t working. We are currently at our highest level of non-resident enrollment ever, and it has been trending in the wrong direction for years. They used to say that 15% was the goal, with no more than 20%. We will likely be over 25% by next year! Declining enrollment impacts budget, staffing, programming, test scores and athletics. I have watched as some of my kids’ best friends disappear from the district in large numbers. One thing I can assure you: many of your kids’ classmates in 1st grade will be learning elsewhere by the time they are in High School. This is a problem.
2. Equity over Excellence. In 1955ish, Edina legend Rollie Ring made a decision that changed Edina Public Schools’ trajectory forever: he embraced a brand-new Advanced Placement program. Edina was one of about 120 participating schools in the country at the time. For years Edina was all about Excellence and all other local schools were chasing…until about 10 years ago.
What happened? Probably a lot of things, but the rise of Equity initiatives correlates quite well.
It makes sense though. Equity, by definition, is EQUAL OUTCOMES. I am no philosopher, but how can Excellence coexist with Equity? Excellence by definition demands levels. Hierarchy. As in some kids excel in comparison to their classmates.
All I know is that the proof is in the pudding. 28% of Edina 3rd graders aren’t reading at grade level per MCA report card. Edina’s standardized test scores have been on the decline for years. The “eyeball” test tells me that Blake, Breck and Benilde kids are getting into better Universities than Edina High School graduates – and that looks even worse if you take out Edina athletes. And then there are the gifted programs. What happened to them? There seem to be fewer of them and the quality is not what it used to be. It’s as if Equity is targeting the top performers – make them more average.
Look, even talking about Equity is a no-no. I am probably cancelled for raising my concerns. Oh well, it was a good run. But I can’t help but call it like I see it. The Edina School Board and Administration don’t care about Excellence any more – they care about Equity.
3. Edina families have lost Trust in EPS. When I was on the Facilities Task Force, we were presented with all kinds of ideas about the future of education and how the new spaces in the physical buildings would be leveraged for things like Personalized Learning. In those meetings parents and other interested residents looked at the Administration and the School Board with the utmost trust. I remember thinking, “If this is what you need, this is what we will give you. You have NEVER failed us.”
Today my High School kids are attending a dystopian prison camp that doesn’t resemble anything like what we were promised. For those who don’t have kids in the High School, here is a bit of color:
- The Board and Administration openly reject the use of data. Don’t believe me? Watch the last board meeting. Or watch any of them for that matter. Or I can send you my running email blog that they have mostly ignored. Don’t be fooled by their BS Bingo card language. They are most definitely NOT “data driven.”
- The Board and Administration lack transparency. They have not made comparative MCA scores available, there is limited discussion on MAP progress, the Covid dashboard took months to implement (and is currently down as of print), and they have hidden internal communications that the public should see (Nov 7th, in particular).
- The Teachers Union, in their Nov 7th email to staff, essentially shut down EPS for 2 months. I never knew what “work to rule” meant. I do now.
- Edina has one of the highest rates of Teacher truancy/absenteeism in the State (prior to Covid) despite having the highest paid Teachers.
- Teachers (or the Administration) desperately want Hybrid to continue. They are doing everything in their power to normalize a 4 day in-person learning experience. We have had two board meetings / working sessions since January where the Administration has paraded Teacher after Teacher in front of the Board to say how hard their job is and how they need an “asynchronous day” going forward. You want to know what an asynch day is for a student? 10:30am wakeup, lunch with friends, sleepovers on Tuesday nights…as a matter of fact, how discouraging was it to hear two teachers talk about how great an asynch day was so that they could work individually with one student who chose to leave the country for a few weeks? What about the other students who are sitting at home watching television/looking at youtube/tiktok all day?
- Kids have been systematically kept out of school in endless quarantines with track and trace after false positive PCR tests brought on by over-testing. And our quarantine is the longest allowed (14 days) within the “guidance” (or is it a mandate – don’t get me started). Start asking questions of these people and you will find that their position is simple: quarantine as many kids as possible.
- Test the Nest was promised as a way to keep kids in school – it has done the exact opposite.
- The Superintendent has sent out several emails begging kids to stay home.
- Both the Administration and Board do not listen to the community. The surveys are leading and there is very little follow up. Sure, you may get a meeting with the Principal or a courtesy email response from the Board, but nothing changes. They don’t care about your feedback.
- Teachers are perpetually complaining TO STUDENTS about why they are choosing to come to in-person learning instead of staying home. I guess teachers want more Distance Teaching (is this the future?).
In short, this is not the Edina I grew up in. For as long as I can remember, we revered our school. Hornet Pride. Heck, we were the number-one ranked public school in the State for the longest time. We haven’t had that honor for 7 years now, and we now can’t even make the top 10.
We need to let the School Board and Administration know that more money is not the solution, especially with massive amounts of Federal stimulus money coming in and considerable money being spent on this off-cycle referendum vote and the superfluous Test the Nest program.
Finally, I would like to add this one last thing: I will never support a “Union endorsed” School Board candidate again. It is clear that the Teachers Unions are corrupt and don’t consider Students, or Learning anymore.
Shame on me for not paying attention all these years. I had NO IDEA how important the School Board vote was. And their push for this Levy has me asking more questions than they have provided answers. Why are they trying to sneak this Levy/Bond vote through in May (at taxpayer expense -est. $54,000.00+) when they will get ANOTHER crack at it in November? What has the last year taught us about the deep dependence on technology? Am I wrong to think that cheating rates are high, many kids are disengaged, depression and suicide attempts are way up, and quality of teaching and engagement are way down? Why is the administration so gung-ho to partner with UHG on Test the Nest and how much is that really costing us? Where does that data go and why would I want UHG to have ANY data on my kid? Why is the Administration repeatedly reminding kids that they don’t have to take the standardized tests? How are our average ACT and AP scores doing?
And with all these “Union Endorsed” School Board members, who is advocating for our kids and their futures?
A NO vote is making our voices heard. It is time to put kids FIRST, give them hope and a future, and restore their trust in their schools and each other. The Levy/Bond is more of the same brokenness we have seen this last year…why would we sign up for that?
In summary, NO on the Levy and Bond.
Class of 1990
Editor Note : A legible version of the sample ballot pictured at the beginning of this article can be found by CLICKING HERE.
Eligible voters may already cast their ballots at the Edina City Hall. On election day, May 11, voting will be conducted at the normal polling places. CLICK HERE to identify your polling place.
If you hesitate to vote NO because you feel that you feel it would be futile, the Center of the American Experiment’s Tom Stewart posted on May 5 that more wary voters are rejecting school referendum elections