Mike Ptacek Shares His Views on Stillwater Area Public School’s BOLD Proposal

I still question the basic assumptions behind the BOLD proposal.

Number 1, will the BOLD Proposal result in $1.26 million to be reinvested in the remaining 7 elementary schools if Withrow, Marine and Oak Park elementary schools are closed. The BOLD proponents have put forth this expectation as an enticement to garner support from the remaining 7elementary schools, but will it happen?

Will the 250 displaced kids from Withrow, 156 from Marine and 450 from Oak Park travel to southern and western schools in District 834, and the approximate $10,000 in state per student aid follow them to those schools and into the coffers of the District? Or will a significant number of parents, who are questioning the wisdom and efficacy of the BOLD Proposal seek education elsewhere?

Unlike the past when public schools had, relatively speaking, a monopolistic lock where students could attend school, today parents have numerous options where to send their students. Some of those choices include neighboring districts, charters, private and/or parochial schools, home schooling and more. Many parents are already making those choices.

In fact, at the Jan. 7 Board meeting, the BOLD proponents referred to the recapture rate of 72 percent. In other words, 28 percent or more of the children are making other choices based on their parent selection.

So what happens if the parents of Withrow, Marine and Oak Park decide on other options? Will parents of 100, 200 or more opt out of District 834?

Will approximately $10,000 per student be lost?

Will a reduced recapture rate result in a smaller collective need for teachers?

Will the expected and hoped for $1.26 million BOLD reinvestment disappear, and possibly result in more red ink?

That leads me to assumption number 2.

The proponents assume that after, the approximate displacement of 850+students are transported to the seven remaining elementary schools, that the non-attenders’ parents will be so attracted by the programs and programming, that they will flock to them. Resulting in an increased recapture rate as well as increased funding!

Based on what is happening is that a likely outcome?

What is often forgotten is that numerous parents have chosen to live in Withrow, Marine and Oak Park (and other communities in 834) because of the cohesion, support, and yes! “quaint” attraction of those communities and with resulting award winning learner results in those schools.

Let’s not “reward excellence by extinction.”

In addition to the above fallacious assumptions, what is often overlooked in the discussion is parental options/choice.

Listening to parents’ unrestrained voice has not occurred at Board meetings.

In fact at the Jan. 7 Board meeting the over flowing crowd was given 50 minutes divided into sections of two and one half minutes to tell who they were and to express their position in an un-televised fashion. I suspect several of them were very uncomfortable speaking publicly. Several of the limited number of speakers were pro-BOLD. (Channel 5 TV did tape some of them.) Most of the audience could not hear or see the speakers. The vast majority of the audience attended for parts of the 6:30 to 11:45 meeting, and they had no opportunity to speak, but only listen and watch. The administration had one and one-half  hours of uninterrupted televised time to present (for the second meeting in a row.)

Regardless of who has the best perspective, the people, who oppose BOLD have until Feb. 11 to get an audience and make their case. The stakes are high for all in District 834, but especially for children and families of Withrow, Marine, and Oak Park.

Some fear that it’s a done deal and the deck is staked against them.

The Withrow Parents, Dec. 22 sponsored meeting allowed unlimited time for parents and others from any of our schools and communities to speak, and they did.

Since that night School board members have received and hopefully read an overwhelming number of emails, had numerous phone calls, and one-on-one chats.

In these various exchanges many parents expressed the strong desire to choose their children’s school. Among the criteria the mode of delivery is very important. In the three schools slated to closed under the BOLD Proposal the delivery mode is typically more traditional, rather than what is commonly referred to as more “open” modes of delivery.

Unfortunately, for those parents if Withrow, Marine and Oak Park are closed, their choices are reduced. That does not mean that Rutherford, Stonebridge, Lily Lake, and the other four schools are lesser, or inferior schools. They aren’t! They are very good schools (my son attended Lily Lake). However, if BOLD is implemented, you have reduced the number and types of school choices.

Many of today’s parents have school shopped. Several have enrolled their children in other types of settings, but unfortunately for the child some haven’t done well. So parents have deliberately researched, visited, and for a variety of reasons enrolled them in the schools slated to be closed. What then especially frustrates these parents, is their children have thrived and shown remarkable improvement.

Ironically, the administration has belatedly, talked about possibly changing the delivery mode in Stonebridge one of the receiving elementary schools. Great, but, is that fair and what the receiving Stonebridge elementary schools parents want?

Does the BOLD Proposal although “well intending” become a foolish, naive, and/or short sighted upon reflection?

A major fear of many parents in Withrow, Marine and Oak Park is the “finality” of this proposal. The stakes for them, and really the entire district, are extremely high. Once the decision is made and implemented, you can’t go back. You can’t decide to reopen these schools. You can’t regain the trust and support you will have lost for the foreseeable future. It’s a bleak picture for them, and possibly the entire district.

So what are the alternatives?

One alternative is to engage the individual schools, staff and communities to “market” our schools and their successes more. Many School administrators and staffs are not by nature marketers, some may turn a suspicious glance when it is measured. However, there are many, educators, who are extremely good at it, such as music and band directors, FFA advisors, and some athletic coaches.

Regardless, given this target and with the help of the District staff expertise (Thank you Carissa and departed Jo!) both Marine and Withrow disproved, for the last two years, the demographic projections for their enrollments.

Does this result in competition among District schools? Not necessarily, and if extended to other 8 elementary schools, it might significantly improve the recapture rate resulting in more students and meeting District higher capacity goals.

What has frustrated these schools is the perception that they “keep moving the goal posts,” in other words changing the expectations for them, and the targets that have been set for them!

Assumption number 3 is that the Administration knows best. And doesn’t need parent input, collaboration, and support to do what is in the best interest of their children and the numerous communities of District 834.

Should we just get out of their way and let them, unencumbered to do their magic

Or, are interested, talented, knowledgeable, well educated, perceptive, caring, parents to be involved and engaged in the education decision making for their children.

Is the the job of administration to give parents the schools they want, or the schools that administrators think they should want?

These are major fundamental questions, which are being asked, and decided.

Thanks for reading this lengthy perspective. It is a draft in process as well as my thoughts.

Please feel free to raise and share questions/comments/concerns.

Like yourself, there are numerous very talented individuals, who need to be heard.


Mike Ptacek

Note: Mike Ptacek is a member of the District 834 school board. His comments are his own, and he is not speaking for the other six board members, or from his position as vice chairman of the Stillwater Area Board of Education.

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