Friday, October 21, 2005

Stillwater: Why George Thole Must Go

There’s a bizarre theory going around these days among local parents, voters and Democrats in Stillwater. This theory says that George Thole has to be returned to the School Board again this election or the upcoming school levy will not be passed. I don’t know who started this rumor, for all I know it could have been started by Thole himself. What I do know is: even if the rumor is true, Thole should go. Voters who are interested in the future of the school district should do everything in their power to make sure that he doesn’t get in again.

Before I tell you why, let me tell you something about the man himself. There is probably no one in Stillwater who knows more about the School Board than George Thole. He cites thirty years of experience as a teacher and athletic coach; in the past he’s been a prominent and even militant advocate for the students, parents and teachers in District 834.

But these days Thole is doing the schools more harm than good. You see, Thole is a devout conservative. Back when the DFL was running things in St. Paul, we could afford to have a few devout conservatives on the School Board, whining about taxes, promising that taxes and fees and excessive spending would be lower if we voted the liberals out, moaning about how the schools would improve if only we voted in conservatives, bleating about how schools didn’t need all the tax dollars we were throwing at them—blah, blah, blah. In the past it didn’t hurt the schools to have a couple of conservatives on the board, whining away, because the Minnesota state government had a tradition of strong support for public education and backed up its rhetoric by providing state funding to local communities for their schools.

But now things have changed. St. Paul in particular, has changed. Conservatives now control the State House and the Governor’s Mansion and their policy has been to abandon the local communities and their schools by shifting the burden of funding from the state to the local communities. For years now Pawlenty and the Republicans have been cutting state funding to local school budgets and steadily shifting the burden for the schools from state taxes to local property taxes. Funding used to be 70% state-30% local; after the special session this year it’s 30% state-70% local. (That’s why Stillwater residents are looking at an 8% property tax hike, this year alone. And that doesn’t include what you’ll have to pay for a school levy, if that passes.) Pawlenty and GOP are abandoning the local communities and the public schools.

They want to see education privatized. Why? So that they don’t have to deal with teacher’s unions, so that they can eviscerate the taxation that supports public schools, and so that they can divert the huge income stream of public funding away from the public schools and into the private sector. This is the conservative “wet dream” that right wing politicians are working to realize in communities all over America.

And whether he understands it or not, George Thole has been helping to carry out this agenda. When Thole’s school board announced its cuts to services, programs, personnel and local school bus transportation, those cuts were accompanied by the stoic comments of Thole and other board members—sighs about the “tough economic situation,” etc. What they failed to talk about is the real reason why the school services were being cut at the same time your property taxes and fees were going up. It’s Pawlenty, stupid; it’s the Republican agenda, stupid.

What would a responsible school board official do? Do I really expect them to tell the voters that the district’s problems stem from Pawlenty and Republican policy, tell the voters that each and every week? No. I would expect that a responsible school board official would remind the voters of that every day. A responsible elected school board would re-name every cut they’re forced to make to schools and service, every locally funded expenditure they’re forced to lay out--name it after the state officials who made that cut or fee hike necessary. If you have to lay off personnel, introduce a resolution that the layoff be named “the Representative Mike Charron School Personnel Lay-Off.” If you are forced to cut school curriculum, call that the “State Senator Brian LeClair School Curriculum Cuts.”

Read it into the minutes, put it on record. Practically everything that the School Board does makes the front page of the local newspapers. In a sustained contest between the School Board and the local Republican hacks who support the cuts and local property tax hikes, the School Board would win. But before that can happen, the voters need to elect school board members who really will fight for the school district and its families, instead of conservative drones who seem so eager to bend over.


At 12:59 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

At 1:06 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Huh. Sounds pretty dire...maybe we had better investigate a bit.

Evil, Conservative Stillwater:
Grad. rates


Kind, caring, liberal Minneapolis:
Grad. rates

Hispanic----20.43%--23.81% (24%!)

Oh, and what do you know?

Kind, caring, liberal Minneapolis receives over $2,000 more per student than evil, conservative Stillwater to achieve these stellar outcomes.

Maybe it's not all about the money?

No indeed; when one gets beyond the slavering, frothing indignation of leftists to the facts the situation is clear...children would be better served teaching themselves than being condemned to spending 12 years of struggling within a school district that is mired in failure while being administered by apologists for the status quo.

When it comes to education in bastions of liberalism, it is the children who are getting “bent over”.

But never mind Prendergast, you keep frothing baby; it's completely bereft of any basis in fact, but amusing none-the-less.

At 10:05 AM, Anonymous Eric said...

So, cutting funding to the schools is a good thing? I thought our district to date had been doing a pretty good job of keeping administrative costs down. Is the comparison to the Minneapolis school district really adequate? It seems to me that Minneapolis has been in a state of disarray for quite some time. How about comparing our school district with one of similar target rates, median income levels, population, etc.? I wouldn't know how to go about researching that, but maybe you would.

Another question: What would the "leftists" use the money for, in your opinion? Do you believe that anyone advocating increased funding is money-grubbing? If so, to what end? I've heard cries of how the the liberals want to take our money in the form of taxes, but I've never heard what for. In this case, what would it be used for? Or more likely, to whom would it be given?

I'm not trying to be difficult about this. I really want to know. One thing I've struggled to find out is how things have changed. I grew up here in Stillwater and when I attended, all activities were "free", including driver's education. Now, to participate in anything, there's a fee associated with each activity. Why has that changed? Where was the money coming from before that isn't there now? I understand that costs have gone up over the years, that's a given. But are the revenue streams locked at a fixed amount? This is a bigger discussion than is allotted here, I'm sure, and it is certainly bigger than "all conservatives want to kill anything publicly funded" and "all liberals want to steal your money."

Comments? Resources where I can investigate this information?

At 9:40 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"So, cutting funding to the schools is a good thing? I thought our district to date had been doing a pretty good job of keeping administrative costs down."

Eric, cutting for the sake of cutting is as unproductive as pouring in more cash without any verification that it is needed, or has had a positive effect.

The public school system in Minnesota is the largest single receipient of tax dollars. The average expenditure per student now stands at $10,000. This does not include money the districts recieve from other sources.

I've got no problem spending money for education. I have a problem spending money and recieving excuses in leiu of results.

In fact, I happen to know quite a lot about the public school budget, specifically Saint Paul, because after eight years of pulling my hair out, I ran for the school board in 2000.

"Is the comparison to the Minneapolis school district really adequate?"

In this instance yes it is because these figures are measuring the exact same demographics (ie: race, free lunch receipients, english language learners & etc.). Stillwater has fewer of these demographics, but proportionally they do a much better job of educating them for fewer dollars.

"It seems to me that Minneapolis has been in a state of disarray for quite some time."

Yes, it has; that's the point. Ask most any administrator in MPPS and you will be told that the problem is simply a lack of funding.

That is of course not borne out by the facts.

"Another question: What would the "leftists" use the money for, in your opinion?"

I don't know what they want to spend it for, but I can tell you where the bulk goes now...


The problem is that we are paying teachers the exact same amount regardless of how well or poorly they are performing.

And the teachers union is fighting tooth and nail to keep any form of genuine accountability out of the equation. tell me Eric, do you think that the length of time someone has sat in a desk is the most important factor in determining productiveness? Is it important at all?

Well that is how salaries are determined today...kind of silly don't you think?

In addition, there are things like the "on site" birth control clinics that are currently costing the metro districts more than a million a year. You may agree with the idea of distributing birth control to kids, but can you sy you would prefer condoms to more teachers or expanded curriculums?

You see, it's all about priorities.

"Do you believe that anyone advocating increased funding is money-grubbing? If so, to what end?"

To the unions, money = power. To the individuals, more money = more money!

Best regards,


At 3:14 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Swiftee, watch those grad stats begin to plummet for Stillwater Schools in the next 5-10 years. Your property value will go down as well.


Underfunding and changing demographics. When class sizes go over 40 at the high school people begin to vote with their feet. Students at SAHS had to dump 3 classes choices from their schedules to accomodate the reduced budget this year. I have a child at SAHS this year, but chances are good he won't be there next year. And at that point I won't need to live in Stillwater area anymore (why pay for the expensive house if the schools are declining?), I'll try to find a sucker to buy at a high price and get out while the getting is good. BTW, teacher morale is sinking (and it isn't about salary) as the district is "sacrificing" the HS to keep class sizes low at elementary levels and to continue to provide busing (large district and gas prices are soaring) and full day kindergarten.

The post about comparing apples to apples is relevant. We live in an affluent area, note that we have very low poverty rate and extremely low minority population. This is NOT Minneapolis. Kids come to school with breakfast in their bellies in District 834.

The high property values in our district cannot be sustained without quality schools.

At 10:47 AM, Anonymous Eric said...

Swiftee, is your problem with increasing the funding or with "lack of accountability?" I agree that we should not just hand over money because someone asks for it, but your statistics show that Stillwater schools meet the burden of accountability. Programs are being cut, choices are being limited and class sizes are increasing. If the proof of accountability is in the graduation rates, then Stillwater is doing as is expected...or better. If we could keep all things equal, then there would not be the need for increased funding. However, that's not the case. If we want to maintain the graduation rates, we need to keep everything else relatively the same. Or am I missing something here?


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