Friday, December 21, 2012

We can't shoot our way out of the gun problem...

After the disruptive mess that was Act 10 and the funding cuts to our schools, the attempted voter suppression in his unconstitutional Voter ID law, and now the loss of millions due to his incompetent management of WEDC, I thought the Governor Walker couldn't do much more damage.  Boy was I wrong: 

On Wednesday Gov.Walker said that arming school officials should be "part of the discussion."  Well maybe it should, as in: "That's a bad idea! end of discussion."

Let's look at the facts: even counting the recent tragedies in Connecticut and elsewhere, we need to remember that schools are the safest place for kids in this country, safer than homes and safer than anyplace else kids are likely to be found.  And not by a little, by a lot.  The first principle of change is: don't mess up what you've got!  
Can we anticipate the effects of guns in schools?  First question: will armed teachers have an impact on reducing events like last Friday's?  30 years of experience says no:  Of the 62 mass shootings in the US in the last 30 years, not one was stopped by an armed civilian.  In a few cases the shooter was apprehended by an armed civilian, after they stopped shooting; but in a similar number of cases the armed civilian ended up dead or severely injured.  Based on that real experience it is probable that an armed school staff would have a negligible small impact on shooting rampages.  Consider, the one person involved in the Sandy Hook rampage who had an arsenal of weapons for self protection, became the first victim.
And what about the collateral damage?  Every year in the US there are about 650 accidental shooting deaths and 15000 injuries.  5 children are shot accidentally every day.   If you extrapolate that rate per gun into 4 guns per school you end up with an expected 31 accidental shootings per year in schools.  And that is just accidents, it doesn't count the all to frequent incidents of "He had something in his hand, I thought it was a gun" - something that happens regularly even with highly trained police; or situations where an emotionally distressed or disturbed person creates a confrontation that has the potential to turn deadly in the presence of a gun.  And don't forget, even police officers only hit their intended targets about 1 in 5 shots.
School can be a difficult place, with young men and women going through difficult changes and situations for which they are as yet poorly emotionally and socially prepared.  Indeed, 4000 teens are sufficiently emotionally distraught to commit suicide each year, introducing deadly weapons into this environment is destined to make schools a more dangerous place.  
I could go on, but the youtube video is worth a million words:  Here a police officer accidentally shoots himself in front of a class room full of students.  Ironically while lecturing about gun safety.
In short, we can't shoot our way out of our gun crime problem, and suggestions that we can ignore reality.

Saturday, December 15, 2012


If this nation’s founders could witness us trying to parse the text of the 2nd amendment into a basis of arms regulation today, they would either laugh or cry (or probably both, they were a mixed lot!)   On the day the 2nd amendment was written the height of military technology was the muzzle loading rifled musket, hostile and well-armed foreign powers and aboriginal peoples sat just beyond poorly defined western borders, and any assistance could only come at walking pace.  And yet some how we don’t question the idea that the 2nd amendment was the last word when it comes to arms regulation, and that it is appropriate to stretch it around everything from handguns to nuclear weapons.   

The founders would call us idiots – in slightly more polite language – and then explain, slowly and in small words, that their laws were meant for their time, and that they gave us the means and intended that we update our governance to fit our times.  In their times they had to fear madmen, but not a madman armed with killing machines of incredible efficiency.  Does anyone think that if Adam Lanza had walked into an elementary school with a muzzle loading musket that 26 people would be dead?

In a limited sense the gun rights people are correct: there will always be deranged people dedicated to the commission of mass crimes.  No laws will stop them.  However you can limit the damage they can do by making it difficult to obtain weapons of excessive efficiency.  Making it harder will reduce the incidents and their lethality.  

Virtually everyone agrees in prohibition of arms at some level.  I know of no one who thinks surface to air missiles should be readily available to the public.  The difference between the most ardent guns right supporter and the gun control activist is only where to draw the line.  This is what I think:  there are two reasonable uses of guns: personal protection and hunting/sport.  Neither semi-automatic versions of assault rifles, or handguns with 13 round clips than can be reloaded in seconds, are essential for either of these purposes.  It’s time for them to go. 

Will anything significant come of this tragedy?  No, arms regulation in this country is written and promoted by the well-funded lobbying arm of the gun manufacturers and dealers, masquerading as a grass-roots organization.  Its intent is always and exclusively to maximize the profitability of its funders.  How did we get to a world were our representatives hold their allegiance to gun dealers and Grover Norquist above their oath to us?  We all know that answer to that.  Before we can fix anything in this country, we need to first fix the campaign finance system, so that our leaders can represent the people’s interests alone.  Gun dealers and  Norquist deserve their say, but they aren't entitled to drown out the voices of the rest of us.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

So what is the board up to?

After all the extreme churn the last couple of years over startling budget deficit, building consolidation, and the (unnecessary) fallout of Act 10, I welcome this period when our meetings are occupied working through mundane policy updates.  I'm not arguing that policies on concussions, foundation relations and fundraising aren't important, just that its a relief to work on brass tacks.

Unfortunately I'm sure it will be over all to soon!

Monday, October 22, 2012

Closing the gaps...

The widely anticipated(?) school report cards were released by the WI DPI today.  The report cards compare schools across the state on a variety of criteria.  MG's report cards can be found here.  What do they show? MG's schools all ranked in the "Exceeds Expectations" level, with achievement significantly above state averages.  The biggest deficit is found in the "Closing Gaps" section, that reports on the differences in achievement between white students and other groups, including minority students, students with disabilities and otherwise disadvantages.

 None of this is a surprise, at least to me.  The achievement gap in our schools is serious and has been a problem for some time.

Monday, October 1, 2012

The ever scintillating MGSD Annual Meeting will be held Wednesday Oct. 3rd in the High School auditorium. We will cover ALL the usual-- Don't miss the excitement!

 This year the electors will be asked to approve a total levy in the amount of $23,688,323.00, down about $800K from last year. Total spending is up about $325K (1%) over last year, but is still well below the budget of a few years ago.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

What Mitt Romney didn't say

He didn't say:
“We simply can't have a setting where the financial executives are able to contribute tens of millions of dollars to the campaigns of politicians and then those politicians, when elected, stand across from them at the regulatory table, supposedly to represent the interest of investors. I think it's a mistake,”
“We simply can't have a setting where the oil executives are able to contribute tens of millions of dollars to the campaigns of politicians and then those politicians, when elected, stand across from them at the legislative hearings, supposedly to represent the people’s interest in their natural resources. I think it's a mistake,”
“We simply can't have a setting where business owners are able to contribute tens of millions of dollars to the campaigns of State Supreme Court Justices and then those Justices, when elected, sit across from them at the bench, supposedly to represent the interest of all citizens. I think it's a mistake,”
But he DID say:
“We simply can't have a setting where the teachers unions are able to contribute tens of millions of dollars to the campaigns of politicians and then those politicians, when elected, stand across from them at the bargaining table, supposedly to represent the interest of the kids. I think it's a mistake,”

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Ahead of the curve...

 (I’m not ahead of the curve, I’m months behind, but) Last week State Superintendent of Schools Tony Evers proposed replacing the WKCE in middle and high schools with a suite of three tests: Explore, Plan and ACT, from the ACT organization.  At MG we have been administering these tests for several years because they are better aligned with our college readiness goals and are much more useful to students and staff than the WKCE.  All MG 11th grade students take the ACT after having taken the Explore and Plan tests in lower grades.  Unfortunately MG students also have to take the WKCE to meet state requirements.  Under the new proposal we can drop the WKCE and keep the rest or our testing regimen.

I think this is a great move by the state.  Over the past few years the state Department of Education has acknowledged the deficiencies of Wisconsin’s WKCE and has been working to replace it.  But there is no reason to reinvent the wheel or invest in duplicate infrastructure when there is a high quality off-the-shelf test available.

It is important to note that MG has been leading the efforts in WI to find a more useful test than the WKCE.  This proposal from Evers is a validation of the approach advanced in the district by our staff and administrative team.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Color me not surpised.

Act 10, the Governor's controversial law that stripped most public employees of collective bargaining rights, was struck down by a Wisconsin Circuit Court today on equal protection grounds. I'm not surprised.  Regardless of the merits of the legislation, it was obvious that it was hurriedly pushed through the legislature without the substantive deliberation such a major piece of legislation requires.  And that is a recipe for legal limbo.

Of course the final disposition (vs. State Law at least)  is up to the Wisconsin Supreme Court, so this ruling is likely  not the final word.  But what additional wrenches are going to be thrown into the gears of Wisconsin Schools before the dust finally settles on this?  We have already had to deal with quite a number due to this poorly designed law.

My biggest complaint with Act 10 has always been in implementation:  Any changes should have been phased in,  both to allow districts and teachers time to adapt and react deliberately, without creating large measures of uncertainty and stress, and to allow time for the law to be tested in the courts so we don't end up being jerked back and forth as we have.  But it wasn't.  IMHO the rush was to achieve a political end: reducing the lobbying power of the teacher's unions.  Regardless of what you think of the goals of Act 10, its sloppy content and roughshod implementation clearly reflect poor governance.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Any regrets Jeff?

I've neglected to welcome Jeff Simpson to the board.  Jeff has been appointed to fill the vacancy left by Jason Mccutchin's resignation.  Jeff is a Cottage Grove resident who has served on past School Board committees.  His appointment will last until next spring's election.  

The board considered three candidates: Jeff, Ana Hamill and Larry Miller.  The selection was made after considering applications and interviewing the candidates.  It was a difficult choice to make from among the well qualified candidates.  Thanks to Ana and Larry for applying!

And welcome Jeff!