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Leadership and Activism, Learning at its Best

Budgets have two sides: Revenue and Expense

This is a repost from our Homeschooling Blog:Homegrown on Siskiwit 

Background: For the past two years, parents from a homeschool group in Cornucopia, Wisconsin, have been working on getting our local school district to approve a charter school. It is a parent driven initiative and we have all volunteered our time with no desire ever to be compensated. Our sole purpose was to provide an alternative choice for parents and kids, but along the way we learned so much more.  We learned that existing systems are resistant to change even if not changing may cause the system to collapse.

Tonight our concept of a charter school fell on deaf ears to a resounding vote of no by all board members of the South Shore School District. Instead they voted yes on the implementation of an online learning program because this year 13 of their own students decided to open enroll out of the district choosing online learning programs elsewhere.

The problem with this implementation of online learning in a small rural district is that they are trying to become the middleman in a field full of gigantic providers that already have a large portion of the market share. Online learning is not going to save this district from closing. They are too late in getting into game. Why would you re-create what already exists? Parents don’t need the South Shore to enroll in online programs; there are plenty of other providers in WI who have much more experience delivering that kind of programming (See Wisconsin Virtual Learning).

Quaking Aspen Field School’s concept was fresh and innovative unlike the delivery of content/worksheets through the Internet. Its concept incorporates the solid foundation in research-based theories that promote 21st century learning and human development concepts in motivation.

Added to the equation was the ability of Quaking Aspen Field School to thrive on 10K per kid. The current cost to educate a kid on the South Shore is 17K (See Blog Post:

This brings us to the title of my post. Budgets have two sides. On one side of the equation is revenue, the other is expense. Currently South School spent 200K more that it took in this year. If the levy doesn’t pass I have been told that amount will exceed 400k next year. Adding insult to injury, 13 more students decided to leave the school district next year for something different. Which means more revenue loss. If I was an ER doctor; diagnosis of South Shore: Volume shock through hemorrhaging and they can’t stop the bleeding. When a patient goes into volume shock (loss of fluid) one answer is to pump more blood into the body. Raise money through a levy. This is a perfectly good solution if you stop any further blood loss i.e. plug the holes. Yet South Shore is unable to find the holes in their programming because they are so focused on the wrong side of the equation.

Instead of finding a permanent fix to their problems they are focusing all of their efforts on pumping more money (blood) into a damaged system. Remember Revenue is supposed to equal Expenses. This will only stabilize the situation temporarily.

Another way of fixing the problem is to attract new people to the school – which will in turn raises enrollment and increases revenue. Still focusing on Revenue. To do that the school needs to develop programs that attract new consumers or bring back old ones (they lost 50 kids last year to open enrollment). Their solution is online learning, which is an uncertain cure. Yet this procedure is very attractive. The cost for implementation is 30% for delivery, with the school district being able to use the other 70% generated to keep the other patient (the current model of school) on life support. Can you say online learning = organ transplants for the day school?

What the South Shore School district has failed to look at is the other side of the budget: Expenses. South Shore refuses to look at changing the way school is delivered to off set the rising cost of education combined with the decreases in enrollment. They have told us that the school runs on a skeleton crew, I know that this is not the case. They have too many specialist doctors, and nurses providing care for too few students. They need General Practitioners, providing holistic care.

Quaking Aspen Field School was a proposal that would allow a 1:15 student to staff ratio, provide high technology, and give students 21st century skills on a budget of 10K a kid. How do I know this can work, because I run a school for the same amount in MN: Northwest Passage High School (NWPHS). Disclaimer: I have no intention of leaving. We have been running this school for 12 years and have won the finance award numerous times from the Minnesota Department of Education.

I know that change is difficult. My purpose is to provide an outside perspective to the desperate situation. Whether the school district approves the charter is not the issue. I see a body in shock. South Shore needs a comprehensive redesign to continue to function. Online learning is a band-aid, and in my opinion will not stop the bleeding. The way I see it, they are placing all their hopes in a levy that is unlikely to pass, and online learning, which they are too late to implement.

Sometimes the only way to save a body is by cutting off a limb. To delay jeopardizes its very life. Just like rural clinics don’t have every specialty, rural schools need to embrace the same concepts. Quaking Aspen Field School was that concept.


About Jamie Steckart

Currently the Head of Academic Affairs for the Qatar Leadership Academy. Passionate about experiential and project based learning.


2 thoughts on “Budgets have two sides: Revenue and Expense

  1. In response to James Steckart’s article “Budgets have two sides: revenue andexpenses.”
    I believe the South Shore School District to be one in a million. Let’s start with performance. South Shore is the only high school in Wisconsin to be named a promise school 7 years in a row. South Shore also consistently out-performs every surrounding school in testing scores. It is also notable that this is achieved with a significantly lower mil rate than the other schools (Washburn, Bayfield, Maple). Even if the proposed tax levy increase were to pass, South Shore would still have a lower mil rate than the other schools. If you include transportation costs, South Shore spends $11,917 per students (a far cry from Mr. Steckart’s stated $17,000). Northwest Passage High School (finance award winner) spends just $1,917 less than South Shore and achieves a 2/10 rating (from, South Shore received a 8/10 rating by the same site.
    What the debate comes down to is the ultimate purpose of a school. Is it to educate America’s youth, or is it to be a good business model. Most would answer the former, and I would agree. That being said, anyone who knows me would tell you that I’m not an advocate of “tax and spend” policy. This is why we need to remember that South Shore already has the lowest mil-rate around. So I would have to argue that South Shore has been doing fine when you compare spending with performance, whereas Northwest Passage (the school which Quaking Aspen would be modeled after) has a very poor budget/ performance ratio.
    If you take a look at Quaking Aspen’s proposal you start to see a lot of waste. Their timeline is scattered with administrative trips to conference after conference, most of which will bring little to the table when it comes time to actually educate the students. The most shocking event in their planned itinerary is acquiring a Lake Superior Research Vessel. It would be great if every school had its own personal ship; however, this is rather unrealistic.
    As a 9th grade student at South Shore I can say with certainty that my education is anything but old fashioned. I would describe my current education at South Shore as
    everything Mr. Steckart is aiming for with Quaking Aspen with a little structure thrown in for good measure. My classes have excellent teacher to student ratios with plenty of time to discuss and expand on my own ideas. Everything I do and learn is relevant in the 21st century, as it was in the 20thcentury. The biggest difference between South
    Shore and the proposed Quaking Aspen is the sense of responsibility and structure; and those two elements are the biggest help when it comes to real world problems.
    Bottom line: you were given a “resounding no” because there is no need for what you propose. South Shore can and does achieve everything Mr. Steckart is striving for with his proposed charter school. My advice to Mr. Steckart would be to quit filling people’s minds with misinformation and take your operation somewhere else. I don’t believe Quaking Aspen would attract any more students than the ones already signed up. As I stated before, South Shore can do more now than Quaking Aspen could ever hope to. The students currently open-enrolled (at least the vast majority of them) have never even given South Shore a try. Parents assume that a larger school yields more opportunity. Having been in school systems much larger than South Shore, I know this to be false.

    Posted by Justin Wilcox | May 16, 2011, 9:55 pm
    • I would like to welcome Justin to the Cooperative Catalyst. He is a South Shore student who has taken an interest in dialoging with me on this issue. I think it is great when students care about their schools to fight for what they believe in. One thing I do want to point out is where I got my financial facts. According to the Wisconsin Department of Instruction’s website: for the 2008-2009 School year (select the year and the school district)
      South Shore Revenue Rev Per Student Percent
      ( 196 Members) State $521,812 $2,662 15.6%
      Federal $248,690 $1,269 7.4%
      Local: Property Taxes $2,527,335 $12,895 75.5%
      Other Local $49,044 $250 1.5%
      Total Revenues $3,346,881 $17,076 100.0%
      These numbers are audited numbers from the school district given to the state. In informal talks with district staff and board members the total budget this year is 3.5 million. Justin you have not been given all the facts with regard to your school districts budget.

      I would like to throw out the question to other readers of the coop. Is 17K per kid the norm for kids in your school district? The average total cost spent in Wi is $12,500. In MN the average charter school kid receives 10K. Frankly in times of financial cutbacks, our school in MN is in the painful process of having to lay off staff. Charters in MN cannot go to the tax payers and levy for more funding. South Shore put together a special levy to raise additional money for their school district last night and it passed. Next year the local tax supported portion of the budget will be over 3 million dollars to serve 140-150 kids. I serve 175 in Coon Rapids and we will only generate 1.8 million. What would I do with an extra 1.2 Million dollars? Coop members, if you hit the lottery at your school what would you do with an extra 1.2 million next year and each additional year for the next five years?

      Quaking Aspen Field School was a parent driven initiative to give parents a choice in where to send their kids. If passed we would have had access to federal charter school star-up money that is designated for staff development and planning. Here is a link to the concept.

      Justin, we had no desire to take away the school that you love and want to attend. All we wanted as parents was the choice to design a school that met the needs of our children. I think we could have had both. I would counter to say that when 60 kids open enroll out of the school district and another 20-30 parents homeschool in a district of 240 kids, the parents that worked on this concept believed that it was needed. Having both choices doesn’t diminish your choice, but enhances the community with more options. One size schooling does not fit all.

      Posted by Jamie Steckart | May 18, 2011, 9:45 pm

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