The Monona Rag

Dealing the Dish on Monona, Wisconsin

Tag: School Board

School district being forced to pay for Damascus Trail

School’s important, goddamnit. Who the hell doesn’t like our schools. MG is a great district. The good shit far outweighs the negatives.

But sometimes, I wonder if our board members, once elected, become nothing more than pansy ass apologists for the goddamn power brokers of our two fine communities.

Example. I just find out this shit: the school district is being forced to complete 115 feet of Damascus Trail at GDS.

Here is the quote from the most recent Independent Herald:

“The board reviewed additional information about the completion of Damascus Trail on the Glacial Drumlin property. Homburg Construction purchased the property just north of the school and plans to develop it into a subdivision within the next year. The school district must complete the 115 feet of Damascus Trail in that time, per its development agreement with the village.”

WTF? Who agreed to this crap? The MG school district must find the money to complete 115 feet road so that Homburg family can make more money? Jesus Christ. WTF is this world coming to. Do we really “have to” develop this piece of road?

It is goddamn pathetic to think that we are going to develop 115 feet of road-while:

  • Teachers’ aides are cut
  • Teachers pay is cut
  • Class sizes are larger and larger

The list is longer than my dick (and I have to say, that’s pretty damned long).  If the district is really going-to-go-to referendum for more money, why not attempt to get Homburg and Cottage Grove to pay for that little bit of road. The guy’s a millionaire – he made a lot of money building the school. Let’s get him to step up.


School Board Fashion Review – May 2011

Designer Karl Lagerfeld begs for madness to stop

This was barely a step above a city council fashion review. Dull, dull and more dull. I almost cried watching. I miss Jill List.

One side of the room wore black. Most of the other side was stuck in 1978.

Thanks to Superintendent Gerlach and Lionel Norton for adding some variety to the affair.

Here’s a rundown.

Craig Gerlach – The superintendent was natty looking wearing a turquoise dress shirt and tie. We liked his sharply cropped head of hair. It was fun to watch him let his glasses hang off the edge of his nose as he looked around at the school board. We give Gerlach credit – he’s consistently natty at these events. Maybe next time he can take a risk and go more casual – maybe a nice polo.

Susan Manning – One of the row of black (with Jason McCutchin and Jessica Ace). Susan wore black jacket over of a white top. It was classic and smart. Nothing earth shattering, but nicely done. A nice floral pattern scarf would have looked good with this outfit, bringing some color to the mix. Perhaps next time.

Jessica Ace – Just a simple black top. Nothing to stand out. Just a bit dull. We want Jessica to do better – I nice dress with some color or a pattern might be interesting.

Jason McCutchin – Jason continues the dullness with a black polo shirt. It’s a ‘meh’. Nothing wrong, nothing exceptional. We’d like to see Jason step up his game and wear a sharp, deep purple dress shirt (long sleeve) with a colorful tie (not to garish, but enough to pop a bit).

Dean Bowles – The board’s newest member gets his first fashion review. The results are nothing to write home about. Bowles is wearing a crisscross pattern short sleeve shirt that could be at home in any decade. Is it timeless? Maybe in a supper club. First step for Dean is to work on the comb over.

Susan Fox – A grayish jacket over a white top is predictably average. Sue needs a sleekness upgrade. Her wardrobe is never offensive, but never grabbing our attention.

Peter Sobol – Drab green shirt, short sleeve. Mustache. Peter Sobol does not change. Should we even try to change Peter? He is like granite – gray and drab and unchanging in face of any storm or circumstance. Final note – trim the hair – it’s getting a little shaggy.

Lionel Norton – Norton wore a white and purple checked shirt. The pattern was like the picnic tablecloth my parents had when I was a kid. Not that Lionel looked like a table cloth. The shirt was good. The purple, as well as pattern, offered the most unique garment of the night. We also liked the scruffy three-day beard with the shaved head – Lionel looked cool. Lionel should wear a suit to an upcoming meeting. A pin strip suit of gray or blue would be a killer.

Teachers Union strikes out with message

Someone asked what we felt about the negotiations with the teachers. We’ve been critical of the union’s stance about not writing letters of recommendation – but we’ve largely avoided talking about the negotiations in general. We have, however, made some critical comments on the teachers union’s strategy to keep their current retirement package.

Today, we are going talk to that issue – the strategy employed by the teachers union to try and retain their current retirement package.

I feel the teacher’s union has botched their message – really badly. Here’s why:

  • Not writing letters of recommendation was plain stupid. Really stupid. It just angered people and obscured the real message teachers needed to get out to the public.
  • Going on TV and doing interviews only made them look like they were whiners.
  • Facts posted on the union’s website about negotiations were a terribly organized. Their message was poorly articulated. I was amazed at the fact that such educated people couldn’t organize their arguments into one well-thought out and presented document. (These have been updated so they are better organized and presented – but even now it’s a poor mixture of web pages and PDF files.)
  • Engaging in a tit-for-tat sequence with the board only makes them look like a bunch of 2nd graders.
  • In one of the most glaring mistakes, the teachers union seems to act as if there is no economic crisis in the district. Not once have they said, “We know these are difficult times.” It’s always been about them getting their money. Teacher salaries account for 75% or more of the school budget. With us facing a large deficit, they act like nothing should affect them. The district is trying to put controls on costs that are unpredictable – in this case, insurance, and the special retirement payouts. People understand that. But they don’t care or understand when teachers say things like, “I can’t retire when I had planned”. Most people are replying, “Welcome to the real world.” This is probably not fair – but it’s the reality.
  • The union seems to be throwing tactic after tactic to try and get people riled up about their predicament, making their message disjointed and confusing. The first was to alarm parents with the ‘working to contract’ action. Then they went on TV and talked about how the board’s proposal was screwing them out of hundreds of thousands of dollars. Then they posted things on the website showing how poorly they are paid compared to other teachers. Then they talked about how the district will lose quality teachers because of the bad pay. Then they say the teachers were promised these benefits. Then they post more information trying to justify TEP, as well as posts that essentially calls the board liars. And the whole not writing letters of recommendation is mixed into this mishmash. When the head of the teachers union talks to reporters and says, “It’s not our intention to take it out on the students” you’re only shooting yourself in the foot.

The teachers union screwed up because they NEED people calling and writing the district demanding that they be treated fairly. That just isn’t happening enough. In fact, the opposite is occurring. People are writing the district and saying, ‘Hang tough.’ It’s only emboldened the school district to keep pushing this issue.

In fact, the school board members can sit back and dig in. The worst case scenario is things go to arbitration and they lose. They can say we tried, but blame the teachers union. And when the board cuts teacher positions for 2011-12, they can say, ‘blame the union’.

These, I stress, are my opinions on how the teachers union has handled the negotiations. Not my feelings on what they deserve or if I think they’ve been treated badly.

I will say that teachers union is in a tough spot. The negotiations have been going on for a long time, and their decisions were probably not done without some serious thought. Maybe they felt that ‘going public’ was the only way they could get the board to give in to their demands. After all, they’d been doing these negotiations for more than a year. Drawing attention to the negotiations, they may feel, is the only way to draw sympathy to their plight.

The problem with going public is that you have to be prepared. And I don’t think the union was prepared. They needed a clear and concise message. And then, in respect to these economic times, they needed to present that message to the public with humility and restraint. None of that has occurred.

I don’t know if the union can do anything now. If they feel their current salary structure and retirement benefits are in line with the rest of the area school districts, they will probably say, ‘take it arbitration.’ But if they are afraid they will lose – and deep down, I think they are very afraid of this – they need to come to the table with alternatives. They probably need to compromise on TEP in some form. They should accept this fact, then come back with a proposal to raise the salaries of teachers to get them more inline with those in our area. Maybe this means different salary structures for new and existing teachers.

I will add that, maybe the union has done this. If so, they’ve done a poor job letting the public know. Instead, they go on TV and complain that the district wants to take away their retirement benefits without anything in return. Don’t just complain about – offer alternatives. Say to the board – and the public – ‘here’s a way we can solve this’.

Would something like that work? We have no clue. But no seems to be sharing any such options – on either side of the negotiating tables.

Monona Grove Financial Info Revealed

The school district has posted a ton of great information on the current contract negotiations between the school district and the teachers union. You can find it on Jessica Ace’s blog as well as the district website.

Here’s some of the highlights:

Salary and benefits

  • Base starting pay for teachers is $31,400 – that’s with a bachelor’s degree and no experience. A teacher with a master’s degree starts at $34,940. These are based on the last contract. Teachers get slightly more money for getting higher education degrees and related college courses.
  • There’s a salary schedule that shows that teachers get a salary increase every year (it only shows through 17 years, so I don’t know if it stops at that point). The top salary shown was about $61,000. Here’s the salary schedule posted:
  • Teachers get a pension and insurance benefits equaling 11% of the teachers pay, as well as 100% dental (depending on the plan).
  • Teachers can also earn extra pay for coaching, substituting, etc.
  • Teachers get a special retirement package – the Teacher Emeritus Program (TEP) – which is equal to a teacher’s highest annual salary and is paid out over a period of three years in equal installments. This is in addition to their pension plan.
  • For retired teachers, full health and the major share of the cost of dental insurance are paid by the district until the retired teacher reaches the age of 70.
  • The average pay for the district was $49,000. Benefits added $21,000 per teacher. That’s a total of about $70,000 average per teacher.
  • It says the district’s pay structure is competitive, and the district is trying to engage the union to restructuring the existing structure. The district says the post employment benefits are by far the highest in the area – and among the highest in the state. It doesn’t say specifically how much other district’s make – just that MG is competitive.

Sticking point in negotiations

  • The teachers union is proposing wage increases of 5.4% for 09/10 and 5.3% in 10/11. The district is offering 3.9 and 3.7%, respectively. This does not include the basic salary increases a teacher gets for moving up in seniority.
  • Teacher Emeritus Program (TEP) – The board is not trying to end this for current teachers, but wants it reduced or eliminated for new teachers. The teachers union doesn’t want to change TEP and has not offered an alternative to it.

Thanks to the district for posting all this information. It is, by far, the best snapshot citizens have had into this situation.

School Board Fashion Review

The School Board met on 4/14 and while everyone is entranced with the issues, nothing gathers more attention than our fashion review.

First, we start with Susan Manning and Peter Sobol as they get sworn in after their recent re-elections.

Susan looked smart with a pink jacket and black pants. Well done.

Peter is unchanged from our last review. Does this man own anything that’s not gray, brown, green or some other muddied color. There’s nothing wrong, but we want Peter to show up in a nice dress shirt for once. Or a ink black pants. Anything!

Superintendent Craig Gerlach went with the dark jacket and white shirt. A classic. Can’t go wrong with it.

Jessica Ace had a  white and gold top with what appears to be flower patterns, as well as a thick black belt, and a gray/beige skirt (we think gray, this is after all, Monona cable we’re watching and it’s hard to figure some of this  out). This could have been a disaster, but the top worked well on Jessica. The black belt was a bit overwhelming, but dressing stylish isn’t easy when you’re pregnant, so kudos to Ms. Ace for pulling it off.

Jill List stepped up her game a bit, going with a nice white top and dark pants. It was simple, but tasteful. Nothing that would knock our socks off, but she did fine.

Board President Sue Fox went with a maroon sweater/jacket – can’t really tell from the video – so we apologize. In all, it was okay. With a black top under it, it was a solid look.

Jason McCutchin wore a light greenish polo. It was neither good or bad, just blah. We’d love to see Jason show up in a suit and tie for a meeting.

Lionel Norton, like Jason, had on a very neutral colored polo. Lionel looks good in this mode – very relaxed, but never messy.

Our board’s style seemed to improve a bit over the last few meetings.

We’d just leave the board with this question: Peter, would it die to wear a red shirt?

Fox in the Hen House

Some folks have said that Monona Grove School Board member Sue Fox has put the screws on Monona with her vote to move 6th graders to Cottage Grove and her apparent support of closing Maywood School – in the Comedy Herald she is quoted as ‘agreeing’ with Craig Gerlach with regard to closing Maywood, saying, ‘The stark reality of the economics is staring (us) in the face.’

Some people have said that Fox, a former teacher, is more indebted to her the teachers and administration than the citizens of Monona.

The district teacher’s calls for less ‘travel’ between the two school’s is a frequent comment about the positives of moving the 6th graders from Winnequah to Glacial Drumlin.

We argue that less travel for 50-75 Monona kids a year is a worthy trade off than 6-10 teachers having to travel between the two schools.

Still, the Maywood vote hasn’t happened, but we are not hopeful that Sue will try and maintain the beloved Monona Elementary School.

School Board Fashion Review

The board meeting is online, so it’s time for our look at this week’s fashion at the Monona Grove School Board meeting.

The Good

For the gentlemen, Lionel Norton had the Sears catalog khakis/dress shirt casual look down. Well done. Superintendent Gerlach did the sport jacket and tie – he handles that look well.

For the ladies, Jessica Ace was dressed nicely, sporting a baby bump under her dark dress.

Susan Manning did well – not great – but fine. She looked pretty sharp with a nice blue sweater and dark slacks – can’t go wrong.

The Average

Sue Fox went with the sweater and slacks look, but it just wasn’t happening. Sorry, Susan. A little too frumpy.

Peter Sobol isn’t going to win any fashion awards. His everyman outfit looked like a million middle-aged guys.

Jill List appeared to coming off of a Rosanne episode.

The Bad

What in heaven was Jason McCutchin thinking? He showed up in shorts and a hockey shirt (or some sort of sports type shirt). Sorry, Jason, but you’re not drinking beer with your buddies on a Saturday night. Lame. Act like you care about the job.

Go see it all at

Jill List’s fine wine

At the March 3 board meeting, Monona Grove School Board member Jill List reportedly said that Monona citizens whine about lack of communication, question the administration, and seek delays, with regard to important items – like the closing of Maywood School. She then said that Cottage Grove citizens never seem to have these problems. (She also made motion, according to fellow board member Jessica Ace, to have the Maywood closing vote moved up to March 10 – but she could only get Jason McCutchin to support her, so it didn’t fly.)

First, please make a request to the School Board Superintendent, Craig Gerlach, for an open records request so we can have her specific comments. The Rag would love to know specifically what was said.

With regard to us whining Monona folks, I guess it’s a bit obvious that no one is shipping your kids to Monona. If that happened, Jill and the other board members would have people coming out of the woodwork talking about how they didn’t know anything about the decisions, about how they needed to reconsider, etc.

As for questioning administrators and the board – darn straight we should question them. It’s not just our right, it’s our responsibility to do such things.

The board, and the referendum supporters like Jill List, made bad decisions five years ago to put this referendum on the ballot in the first place. They said the Monona would get to keep 6th grade, get to keep Maywood. They said it would work. And these same experts – many now part of the board – are now saying it’s a mistake. Where were the ‘experts’ and people like Jill List five years ago – why weren’t they saying, ‘We need to have 6-8 graders together. Maywood is not feasible long term and shouldn’t be saved. We’ll just have to remodel Winnequah again in a few years.’ They didn’t care, because they got the school built in Cottage Grove – long term health of the district be damned.

So, sorry, Jill, if you feel put out with regard to people questioning you, the board and the administration. It’s the bad decisions of the board and the referendum supporters to put the referendum on the ballot five years ago that are causing these issues today. And sorry you feel so put out about answering questions from the very people that you represent. We hate to tell you this, but it’s part of your job.