Board chairman unhappy with state over MMR, levy

The anger in Clark Christianson’s voice was obvious Monday night when the Glencoe-Silver Lake School Board met in the Lincoln board room.
First, the chairman of the school board heard the Minnesota Department of Education (MDE) would not alter errant data that put a bad light on GSL’s recent Multiple Measurement Ratings (MMR), and then he heard MDE also messed up with the district’s preliminary budget levy numbers that threatened to delay approval of the local levy as required by law.
What aggravated Christianson most were the MMR results that High School Principal said dropped from 40 points last year to 22 this year, mainly because of eight students who were not coded properly.
Once the district found the error, Sparby said the MDE was contacted, but refused to alter the results. The reason was if MDE changed GSL’s results, it would have to look at all the school districts.
Sparby said the MMR score consists of four components, all worth 25 points in the 100-point system for high schools. One is graduation rates. Since graduation rates do not apply to the junior high or elementary schools, their ratings have only three categories.
Sparby said GSL lost a large portion of its points due to the graduation rate category.
“It came down to eight students, who were coded incorrectly,” Sparby said. Because of the coding errors, the students were classified as unknown by MDE. That penalized GSL.
Sparby said six of those students had moved out of the district the previous year, one dropped out of school and the other was home-schooled.
“If coded correctly, we’d be at 45,” Sparby said. “Unfortunately, there is no way to correct this.” He said the MDE’s deadline for corrections was June 15, but GSL did not get the MMR data until August.
He said he called MDE officials to point out the problem, and they agreed it was a problem, but would not change it.
“That’s ridiculous!” Christianson said.
“It’s frustrating,” Sparby said. “It (MMR score) is not a reflection of the hard work we’ve put into it.”
Sparby said dealing with the MDE has been difficult, and often he is talking with different state officials on the financial side of things versus the academic side. “It involves different departments and different people (at MDE).”
Despite the errors in coding, Sparby said GSL “still has a lot of work to be done” to bring up the MMR score.
Even with the coding errors, GSL Superintendent Chris Sonju said the MMR system is a better system.
He said despite GSL’s score being down, “we’re doing some great things here day after day.”
While the public may look at the drop to 22 points as a negative, “that’s the farthest thing from the truth. We have a lot of really good things in place,” Sonju said. “We need more time; the scores will get better.
“This (MMR) will not tell the whole, the entire picture of the school,” Sonju added, and he commended the staff, administrators as well as the students for taking improvement seriously.
“They all know they’re getting pushed. We’re moving in the right direction,” Sonju said.
Then, later in the meeting, Christianson sounded off on the MDE for messing up the district’s preliminary levy numbers.
Michelle Sander, district business manager, said the preliminary budget needs to be sent to the county by Sept. 30. The plans were to approve the preliminary budget Monday night, but the “levies were wrong.”
Sander said the MDE officials forgot to include debt levy amounts in GSL’s numbers. Those numbers need to be included, and MDE will revise the certified levy accordingly.
“The MDE can go back and correct the levy numbers, but they can’t go back and change the MMR score?” Christianson said.
Sander said the board can still certify the maximum levy allowed by the state and “fine tune” the amount before the final levy needs to be approved in December.
But Christianson said he would not vote on the levy unless he knew the levy numbers. “I will not support or vote on an open-ended amount,” he said. “I'm not comfortable with that.”
He suggested the board delay certifying the levy until a second meeting is held in September.
But board member Jason Lindeman said the board usually certifies the maximum anyway. Once the preliminary levy is certified, “then we can levy only for what we need (in the final levy in December).”
Sander said the final numbers will be in the December Truth in Taxation hearing when the board approves the final 2013-14 levy.
“But in the past, we knew what the maximum levy was,” Christianson said.
“But they are not always correct,” Sander replied, “but this year they were glaringly wrong.”
The board voted to certify the maximum levy on a 5-1 vote. Christianson voted no.