Don Heinzman, what can I say. It seems like every other week he’s given some chunk of blank space in the Morrison County Record where, for the past several weeks he publishes articles on school issues; like the one where he and the ECM editorial board advocated for denying the community the right to vote on whether or not to approve a school tax levy. So, every other week I read his ultra-conservative right-wing education opinion and think of the little bunny who covers his ears while chanting…make the stupid people shut up. Yep, that sums up my feelings. As Heinzman has gotten increasingly comfortable in his position on the ECM Editorial Board his messages on education have moved further and further to the right, so far right that his knuckles have to be dragging.  As last weeks guest columnist Heinzman penned the exception when he over shot the right-wing  inlcuding the majority of right-wing conservative politicians and  planted himself firmly among the warm, hard bunny pellets of fascism. 

In that article Don Heinzman jumped on the tiny, precarious bandwagon with Taxpayer’s League of Minnesota President, Phil Krinkie.According to the article, Krinkie claimed that school staff are babysitting children with special needs in the Minnesota public school system. What Heinzman didn’t include in the Viewpoint letter was that Krinkie’s views on education were so extreme that during the same speech he also advocated for high school classes with as many as 200 students, he rationalized this statement by saying that some University of Minnesota lectures have that many students, so why can’t our high schools. After a remark like that who in their right mind would think it was prudent to jump in and march in Phil Krinkie’s greed-monger parade? Apparently, Don Heinzman and naturally the Morrison County Record saw fit to print it.

While there is no debate that the American system of education took its cues from the industrial revolution, Krinkie’s recommendation would catapult students from the current industrial model of education to a model gleaned straight from a textbook factory farm. Save money by boxing students in from wall to wall while injecting them with antibiotics to deter disease in the overcrowded cesspool of an environment. Not only does Krinkie throw all special needs students under the short bus but Krinkie closes his speech by tossing all high school students in after them.

Stating that school staff are babysitting says nothing about special need students and everything about Krinkie and Heinzmans gross and utter ignorance on the subject. Heinzman also insinuates that special needs students require a vast amount of staff support which is also a stereotype and a blatantly false statement. The article goes on to attack individual education plans (IEP) as being a burden to our public schools.

It is important to point out that only a small fraction of special needs students require the aid of a staff person, this is an exception not a rule and IEP’s more often than not contain simple provisions and accommodations. Some common examples of provisions extended in an IEP would be being given additional time to complete assignments and/or modified grading. When the article discusses an Individual Education Plan (IEP) it makes it sound as though these students are given their very own curriculum and their own instructor when in truth the accommodations are usually simple adjustments that serve to level the playing field for the student. That having been said, I should also point out that we are in fact discussing services provided by PUBLIC schools that were established and funded to accommodate, well…the public, not just the Heinzman/Krinkie Aryan race.

What Heinzman and Krinkie are suggesting smacks of a  good’ol,  Jim Crow mentality. While the Jim Crow system rationalized that whites were superior to Blacks in all important ways, including but not limited to intelligence, morality, and civilized behavior, Heinzman’s and Krinkies remarks bare a frightening resemblance when they suggests that special needs students require babysitting, a statement that blatantly implies that special needs students require closer supervision and are therefore less civilized. There elaboration also suggests that special needs students cannot benefit from public education in the same meaningful way mainstream student can therefore they clearly must be less intelligent.

I have to wonder what mathematician and Nobel Prize Laureate (Economics) , John Forbes Nash would say.  Or better yet, British theoretical physicist and Lucasion Professor of Mathamatics at Cambridge University, Stephen Hawking, whose key scientific works to date include Roger Penrose, theorems regarding singularities in the framework of general relativity, and the theoretical prediction that black holes should emit radiation, known as Hawking Radiation. Too bad Hawking has Lou Gehrig’s Disease and is almost completely paralyzed, that means that according to Phil Krinkie and Don Heinzman, Stephen Hawking needs a babysitter.

While I found the entire article to be a statement of ignorance and blatantly discriminatory, nothing offended me more than Heinzman saying that funds in a schools general budget are being used to subsidize the special needs students. In fact a schools general fund covers a huge array of expenses, and is intended for ALL learners not just the Krinkie/Heinzman Aryan race.  Singling out special needs students as though money in the general fund isn’t equally theirs is in itself an attitude of discrimination and an endorsement for a hostile learning environment. The money in the general fund doesn’t belong to any subset of students as Heinzman suggests but is intended for all learners. Portions of special education funding has always come from a schools general fund and all districts are expected to budget and allocate those funds accordingly.

Since Heinzman has taken the latitude to suggest that the education of special needs students is being subsidized at the expense of the mainstream student population then it fair interject my own assessment:  special needs students in the Little Falls school district have been subsidizing the financial mismanagement of past school boards, which includes their profound ineptitude when it comes to administrative contract negotiations.

Placing a lack of priority on education has become the American way, similarly when resources are tight it is equally American to blame our countries most vulnerable citizens. If it isn’t the poor kids driving down our test scores, it’s those special needs kids sucking up resources we could be spending on normal kids.  America’s primary issue isn’t financial, the primary issue is that our values suck. We’ve become so bought into capitalism that we can’t assign a value to anything that doesn’t produce buckets of money. So how do we respond? We pour money into defense spending so our elected officials can earn dividends on their stock options.

Section 504 has been an unfunded mandate on the books since 1973, yet when we moved to Little Falls the school district had never even implemented that section of education law and all students who qualified we unserved. Little Falls school board didn’t adopt 504 language until 2004/2005 which accounts for 32 years of unmet education needs effecting the chronically ill and disabled students within the school area. What this says is that it didn’t matter how much funding the state and federal government provided. I must also point out that even after 32 years of shafting that segment of special education, the school district still plummeted into statutory operating debt.

While I agree that the federal government has fallen down on its responsibilities to provide funding for special education it is apparent that funding is only one issue that special needs students face. If a vehicle to properly utilize improved funding doesn’t exist then the amount of funding provided is irrelevant. 

Heinzman also says, “No one likes to talk about inequity, because it involves programs for special needs kids. Parent of special needs children understandably fight fiercely for every benefit their children can get.”

In compiling his Viewpoint piece Heinzman obviously never bothered talking to students with special needs or to their parents for that matter. His statement makes it sound as though special needs students have so many advantages because their parents are such staunch advocates that these students are being handed whatever they want and need. This statement is a testament to Heinzman’s ignorance when it comes to special education.

Heinzman doesn’t know that when the parents of a special needs student requests an evaluation and accommodations they will find themselves facing off with a room full of district staff. While some districts truly work to meet the needs of the student other districts enact an exclusionary policy and their sole mission is to deny service to any and all extents possible. It is an uphill battle so arduous that disability advocacy organization like PACER mail out manuals to parents to try and aid them through a difficult process where they are clearly out numbered. Johnny’s education is not every schools priority. Yet Heinzman actually discusses this as though mainstream students are getting short changed when in fact this population is not only making the grade but they have a significantly lower drop out rate statewide.

Maybe Heinzman should talk to a parent who has been through one of those meetings in Little Falls, or spend time with a Little Falls student who drives to Peirz school district because they are more willing to accommodate special needs so they transfer out through open enrollment.  Until Heinzman has done his homework on the subject he is not qualified to pronounce an opinion as to equity because he has no basis withwhich to define equity.  His only information stems from a few dollar figures, outdated stereotypes and ignorant assumptions. Unless of course, Heinzman is suggesting that equity is measured in dollars spent rather than met education needs.

While it is true that we need to hold state and federal lawmakersaccountable, it is fundamental that our local school boards be held accountable for the exclusionary policies enacted by local school district employees.

Definition-fascist: a person who is dictatorial or has extreme right-wing views. (My special needs son pointed out that Don Heinzman’s advocacy for removing voters rights to decide on school tax levy issues also falls within the realm of fascism, and my special needs son is of course correct.)

Definition – Subsidy: A direct pecuniary aid furnished by a government to a private industrial undertaking, a charity organization, or the like.

Stephen Hawking on disabilities

Olive Rockfish

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Last week the Wreckord’s Editorial Board out did themselves by printing this doosie:

Time has come to allow school boards to levy tax for operating funds for districts.   

Now there’s a proposal for a blunder of astronomical proportion.

Excellent recommendation, I’ll just open my purse and live with the local school boards hand in my wallet, allowing them to siphon whatever they feel the need. 

Ask yourself this, how many local districts have found themselves in statutory operating debt (SOD)? And the ECM Editorial Board is suggesting that we allow school boards, some of which have failed in their most fundamental fiduciary responsibility,  to just take what they need?  Surely, you jest. 

Of course, if this proposal were to be enacted, school boards may never again suffer the humiliation of being found in SOD because financial mismanagement would never see the light of day. Districts would never receive instruction from the DOE on how to operate more efficiently and effectively, their budgets never again under the critical watch of the DOE for resolving the excessive expenditures. All fiscal mismanagement could be quietly covered…by pilfering the money from our Dolce Gabbana handbags.  

Has all of America forgotten how to adhere to a budget? It’s like President Bush deciding to print more money whenever he runs out…okay, so maybe that’s a bad example.

A critical component of the levy system is the responsibility it places on local school districts and school boards to effectively communicate and garner the support of the communities they serve. Parents decide, the community decides. Am I surprised local schools want to revoke the decision making of communities they serve …not at all. 

It seems that about the time our public schools adopted the responsibility of teaching our children about sex the tides turned against parents. Many schools started sending homework that included moms and dads just to micro manage parent involvement and dictate participation in their education. Hence, the propensity is born for local school districts to adopt a posture of condescension; treating parents as if they are ignorant, irresponsible children. The editorial boards proposal is yet another example of how imperialistic our local schools have grown, adopting the right to dictate to parents and the community as if we the people lack the savvy to understand that which is in our own best interest.

It has to be said that in the the case of Little Falls school district where 7% of the student population attends school outside of their home district, a critical review of their modus operandi would be in order. I can only assume that if 7% are migrating out, there’s a petty good chance that there is another subpopulation that would like to bail out but can’t. Those taxpayers are probably not interested in shelling out more dough to the local school district and I happen to be among them. If it were up to me, I’d save money by cutting the salaries of the school’s top administration…by half.

When my daughter first began high school in Little Falls…the school didn’t even have a valid system with which to handle complaints. For the $95,000.00 in tax dollars paid every year to the schools principal, there damn well better be an effective, functioning administrative structure. A complaint process that functions like a trap door beneath feet of parents means that issues are not being properly addressed or investigated.

In our previous school district I was witness to a similar incident. It involved the sexual harassment of my daughter’s friend. Since the guidance counselor taking the report was friends with the teacher involved in the complaint, his kneejerk reaction was to discipline the student who advanced the allegation. The wise principal first insisted that the counselor investigate the complaint and to everyone’s utter shock the teacher admitted to the inappropriate act. Had the counselor not followed proper administrative procedure a smoldering issue and critical shard of information could have been overlooked. Assembling an effective administrative structure is not only relative to students and their parents but it is paramount in the healthy functioning of any institution…unless you want to find your self on the loosing end of court litigation.

In some cases it seems the longer an individual works for a district the more arrogant and complacent they become. I think this is especially true in administration. They’re tired of complaining parents, they’re at no risk of getting fired and they’re no longer showing up for work because they have a passion of education… they’re just waiting to retire, waiting to collect their big fat pension. Our education system is the only place I can think of where your contributions can suck wind but your pay bump will be granted regardless.

While there is no denying that our system of funding public education is a ridiculous mess, the tax levy system is the public’s only means of reminding school districts that they are not islands unto themselves.  If you want more money than provide all of our children with an equal and appropriate education. Talk to the parents of those who moved their kids to Pierz school district or to those of us who have found online charter schools with winning results.

Parents are not ignorant children who need to be told, we are the hardworking taxpayers who contribute the funds that pay for the salaries and benefit packages of district employees.

Within the the tax levy system, we stand to be counted.

Olive Rockfish

When the Morrison County Record decided to assemble an ECM Editorial Board I was kind of excited. I thought that the local paper was finally considering folding in a broader perspective. As a former news correspondent for the Record, I was keenly aware of what segments of my news stories were blotted clean so the reading public only knew what the editors wanted them to know and nothing more.

In one instance I included a blurb in a council meeting report where an elected official refused to read and review the town’s new zoning ordinances. The city clerk pushed the ordinances to each council person only to have the one member push the pile right back and say, I ain’t reading that. The clerk pushed the papers back and the council person returned the gesture more than twice. Since it happened during a public meeting I included the mini tug-o-war in my report. In the end the city clerk prevailed but the council person made it clear that he was only bringing the documents home he would not read them. In my story on the meeting I handled the skirmish with humor saying that the council person brought the ordinances home like an ill favored homework assignment.

My point wasn’t to embarrass the man; it was to offer the public an accurate snapshot of what took place during the meeting.  What’s more, I think anyone who knew the man would have assumed that he wouldn’t read a stack of ordinances. He was the sort of person who made no bones about what he would and wouldn’t do, my guess is that his “tell it like it is” qualities were what got him elected to public office in the first place. Naturally, all references of the incident were blotted by the papers assistant editor, even though he later transferred to a different ECM office, his actions spoke volumes.

The final straw was when I submitted a story on a local school district that went into Statutory Operating Debt (SOD). After writing a seamless and fluid story about the Department of Education’s (DOE) visit to the local school board meeting to discuss the implications of their SOD, I was mortified to find my story on the Records website completely altered. While I made a point of including the strengths that the DOE noted, I also highlighted the weaknesses that were identified during the meeting. For the most part the DOE’s financial officer couched his critique in sarcastic humor but on very specific issues he delivered very harsh, pointed criticism regarding the districts superintendent and school boards fiscal decision making. The story that posted on MC Records website had been wiped clean of negative reference. By pulling the negatives out of the story the financial officer from the DOE was made to sound like a cheerleader who rolled into town to say wow, you guys got a raw deal, bummer that this happened to you.  

I was furious because anyone who attended the meeting and read the story would know that it was kissed up and factually incorrect., worse yet my name was on it. On this occasion I called the assistant editor and said you can’t print that because it is incorrect.  The 2 assistant editors spent what seemed like several hours negotiating with the former editor in chief; eventually my original story was reassembled.

What astonished me was the amount of debate that ensued over the content; it was almost a framing session that encompassed…how do we want to make them look. To Assistant Editor Joyce Moran’s credit, she really went to bat for presenting news as opposed to framing the news to control public perception. Since the publication of that story it has appeared to me that Moran seems the most willing to add a quote to her news stories even if content doesn’t flatter the owner.

In the end the majority of what I originally wrote was put back into the story but stray words from the previous version were missed in the editing process and the final printed version that showed up in the paper was a messy and stilted rendition of the work I originally submitted. This was a tremendous disappointment because it was the biggest story I ever covered for the Record. I still cannot figure out why they didn’t just paste the original document back in. The disjointed flow of the story and stray words compromised the appearance of credibility and I had to wonder if maybe that was the point. It was the last time I wrote anything for the Record.

As I exited the Record, Tom West entered and the editorial board was formed in quick succession. I hoped that some of the issues I had with content censoring would become a thing of the past. With the institution of an editorial board I held great hope that a broader dialog could be adopted to offer the readership a broader context for the issues that touch everyday life.

Now that the editorial board has been in place for sometime, I confess that I’ve developed a Pavlovian gag reflex to their contributions. Instead of broadening the dialog the editorial board acts as the second defense line in the bid to sway public opinion and advance the agenda’s of those who are already being insulated by the paper. If our public schools look bad, Joe Nathan or the editorial board churns out a story blaming federal funding or pointing the finger at poor families for low test scores. What a sham. For that matter, what a shame and a sham. 

Here is last weeks contribution from ECM Editioral Board, as well as my commentary regarding that pile of horse hockey.

With Gills Gasping for Fresh Air,

Olive Rockfish