Thursday, January 15, 2009

Monday, January 28, 2008

Four Year Old Kindergarten Update; January 2008

Four Year Old Kindergarten Update: January 2008

I had the pleasure of attending the Wisconsin Association of School Boards (WASB) State Convention on January 23rd. There were so many fine offerings that it was hard to decide which ones to attend. One of the Idea Exchange sessions was entitled “Many Happy Returns: Why School Boards Should Care about Pre-K,” presented by Patte Barth, director of the center for public education and Chrisanne Gayl, director of federal programs. I spent many an agonizing hour over this topic, as can be seen by the many essays here. I debated about attending, doubting my ability to be unbiased. I asked myself a few questions. Could I be open-minded to new data? Can I shut up and listen? Probably not, but I really was curious about the state-of-the-art data available on this controversial topic.

I finally found the room just as they were finishing the presentation. Not only that, but they had not produced enough copies of their slides for all the attendees, so I had to squint to make out the references on the slides. Sure enough, there it was: “High/Scopes Perry Preschool Project” in living color. I sighed audibly. Universal Preschool program advocates continue to insist on pulling out that old saw from the early 1960’s to prove their point. Questioning revealed that newer data were available. We were directed to look up Oklahoma’s data at our leisure because they present compelling current data regarding that subject. Since it was only begun in 1998, there are no long-term data available to check the long-term socioeconomic impact, but student achievement comparisons are impressive. “Why,” I asked her, “don’t you show it to us?” Ms. Barth made the point that pre-K studies were notoriously difficult to evaluate because they lack standardization. One might even expand on that statement. There also lacks formal study of the baseline environment, which makes it difficult to measure progress made toward the goal, which further assumes that a concrete, measurable goal has been established. This is the essential point opponents of Universal 4K have tried to make for years. There is a cart before the horse approach taken with pre-K. The older studies such as High/Scopes proves that a well designed experiment is feasible with concrete baselines, goals and measurements. Pointing out the dearth of sound experimental procedure used to evaluate 4K programs is lost on the proponents of Universal 4K. They merrily go about insisting that Universal 4K needs to be implemented with no questions asked, while characterizing opponents as evil Republicans with no regard for our children. I assure you I am neither. If this bunch would speak with data instead of appealing to emotional arguments and inapplicable 40-year-old studies, they would be more successful.

I also asked why the group wishes to expand to Universal 4K instead of advocating for and targeting the “in between” demographic of at risk population who can’t afford pre-school but don’t qualify for Head Start. For example, why not work on increasing the income qualification levels for Head Start in Wisconsin (a pitiful 100% of the federal poverty level, or FPL) instead of paying over 90 Million Dollars a Year to provide a Universal program? Other more successful states have up to 250% of the FPL as the threshold income qualification for Head Start. That was answered with an illuminating “Head Start is a federally funded program.” Well, DUH! And “Each community must decide how its program should look.” AARGH! That is NOT the answer to my question.

When I returned home, I logged onto the website where Ms. Barth’s presentation is located ( and found more research studies. Two more studies from the late 60’s and early 70’s were noted there. The Abecedarian Project at the University of North Carolina (1972-1985) was mentioned, which had fewer participants than High/Scopes did (111) and also dealt exclusively with a high-risk population. This study included birth to 5-year-old interventions, with eligible children receiving services up to age 8. Similar educational gains were seen for these children, as well as social gains. The Chicago Child Parent Centers begun in 1967 was another touted study. The demographic focus was again economically disadvantaged children and similar successes were seen with the study participants. And none of them are Universal 4K programs.

Contemporary Universal 4K studies include those in Oklahoma and Kansas. Georgetown University analyzed the Tulsa, Oklahoma school district program and NIEER (National Institute for Early Education Research) evaluated the Kansas program. According to NIEER, it is difficult to control the variables in a side-by-side study of students with and those without pre-K, so they designed the study differently. They used as a control group students with birthday cut-off dates just after the 4K-eligibility date. The study group consisted of students with birthdays just before the cut-off date. One reason NIEER felt compelled to use this protocol was because “it was impossible to extract a control demographic because there was no way of telling whether or not individuals in the control group attended other preschool programs.” The study compared results on various testing protocols implemented by the teachers. Other contemporary 4K studies have followed suit in their protocols. However, this does not meet the criteria of a side-by-side study sought by so many of us. These are not students from the same cohort, but students who are one year apart in school, regardless of their age group. Comparison of students who have completed an entire year of 4K to students just entering 4K of similar age range is an interesting exercise, but doesn’t really drive home the point. In Tulsa, despite the program being Universal, only 60% of the 4-year-olds are enrolled. There ought to be plenty of students to randomly choose from as a true control. Why does it matter whether or not they have had other pre-school experience? They are the control. If publicly funded pre-K is so superior, it should hold up to comparisons to other programs. The reluctance of Universal Pre-K proponents to show these data lead cynics such as myself to conclude that a true side-by-side study would NOT show all the fabulous social and educational gains one is led to expect from their constant quoting of results from the High/Scopes and Abecedarian Projects.

I reiterate that the socioeconomic and educational gains proven by the well designed studies such as The High/Scope Perry Preschool Project, Chicago Parent Child Project and The Abecedarian Project apply to children demonstrating one or more high risk factors such as poverty and developmental delays. Society in general and these children in particular gain so much from nurturing a strong emphasis on the benefits of education. These students are often already served by Head Start, a fantastic program. The students we need to focus our limited resources on are the “in-between” kids, children of struggling parents who wish to provide but cannot afford quality pre-school for their children. And our resources are limited. As much as we all would like to take the hundreds of billions of dollars we spend on the Defense Department and spend it on other more lofty goals such as education, it’s not going to happen any time soon. Implementing Universal 4K will result in the cancellation of other proven educational programs, such as Gifted and Talented programs. Then what will we do with all of those baby Einsteins we produce with Universal 4K?

Student Achievement Data Update: January 2008

Student Achievement Data Update: January 2008

A strong reason for attending the Wisconsin Association of School Boards Convention on Wednesday was to observe the Education Forum presentation by Dr. Jeffery Braden entitled “A Policymaker’s Guide to Student Achievement Data.” I was impressed with the generally high quality of the speakers at the convention. Dr. Braden was fabulous, and he had plenty of handouts. I learned quite a bit about the origin or our own Wisconsin Knowledge and Concepts Exam (WKCE), the variety of test protocols available to measure student achievement and, the biggie, whether or not the tests actually do measure student achievement. Here’s some highlights learned from Dr. Braden’s presentation.

The Wisconsin Student Assessment System (WSAS) has 4 Goals.
Provide clear expectations of standards for student learning.
Provide student achievement data relative to the expectations or standards.
Use assessment methods that promote high quality curriculum and instruction.
Provide feedback to students, teachers and parents to assist in educational planning.
The great drawback of the WKCE has been and continues to be the timing of #4. Feedback in May from testing in October is essentially useless in the goal of assisting in educational planning for the school year the test is taken. Educators have no way to direct their classrooms toward areas in need of improvement because they don’t know what those areas are until the end of the year. Our district recently instituted MAP testing to alleviate this issue. It provides immediate feedback, is a growth model test and aids in individualized (differentiated) instruction. The Evansville School Board is drafting a proclamation to the DPI urging them to replace the current WKCE model with growth testing protocols. The WASB had this in their resolutions as well. Dr. Braden is on a committee working to encourage the federal government to utilize such value added growth model testing as the standard in the federal No Child Left Behind (NCLB) policy.

An interesting point addressed in the discussion regarded the classroom time spent taking the WKCE. This is a frequent complaint of many stakeholders in this process including parents, students and teachers. However, the most time intensive tests at grade 4, 8 and 10 only take 1.5% of total class time, with the other years in grades 3-9 averaging less than 1% of total class time. Dr. Braden compared that to the industry standard of 18-22% of time spent completing performance evaluations and 4-5% of the workday spent measuring product outcomes (quality assurance). That was an inspired comparison, which helps non-educators understand it in familiar terms. This analysis only included classroom time TAKING the test. Test preparation time is not included. Dr. Braden emphasized that it has been determined that time spent in class specifically on test preparation doesn’t pay off. A well-functioning school that teaches to the standards to begin with will perform well on the test.

The discussion finally got to the point where proficiency levels and their origin were discussed. This was fascinating to me. How good is good and who says so? Wisconsin has recently taken quite a beating in the press about their lax standards and all was explained here! The levels of proficiency were determined by a method called “bookmarking.” Experts for each subject were gathered by grade level and provided with bookmarks labeled Minimal, Basic, Proficient and Advanced. They were given a book with questions in their subject arranged in order from easiest to hardest and asked to place each bookmark where they thought each performance level should fall in the order of question difficulty. Naturally, there were differences in where this point was for each expert, so the next step was to get together and agree where the levels should be placed. This was done for each grade level from 3-10 for each subject tested within the WKCE. Wisconsin got into trouble when they ran numbers to evaluate where our schools would fall within the context of this first “bookmarking” session. Apparently, it wasn’t pretty, with only about 10% of the students scoring proficient or advanced using the original bookmarks. So, in a classic political maneuver, they went back and changed the bookmarks to inflate the scores. A little later in the presentation, Wisconsin’s performance on the WKCE was compared to it’s performance on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), a National Test. The most bleak data shown were the 8th grade reading data: 2006-2007 WKCE showed 85% proficient or better where 2006-2007 NAEP showed only 33% proficient or better. I commented, “So that means that the teachers and experts who participated in the original bookmarking sessions in Wisconsin were right!” Dr. Braden agreed, remarking that since there were no National numbers to run, there were never any inflated bookmarks created for the NAEP test. Further information comparing WKCE scores with NAEP results can be found by Googling “National Report Card.”

This score inflation bodes no good news for Evansville. Our performance on WKCE test has waned over time. 85% proficient is really 33% proficient and Wisconsin sold out the true measurement to get those crucial federal dollars. As we tick toward 2014, when, of course, 100% of all the children in America will be proficient or advanced, I reckon the definition of proficient will evolve to mean mediocre.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

School Debate: Melissa Speaks" 4 Questions; 4 Answers; Evansville School Board Forum

Question 1). You have each chosen to take on the difficult and rewarding task of running for the Evansville School Board. Please share with us the top two reasons you wish to serve.

First and foremost, our children will shape our future. Effective education of our children will determine the path that future will take. From a purely selfish standpoint, I have three of those reasons named Sarah, Holly and Will whose future depends on providing them with the best education possible within budget limitations. It is an honor to have the opportunity to serve on the Board and bring my research and analytical skills to bear on the many challenging decisions that the Board faces both immediately and long term.

The second reason compelling me to seek a seat on the Evansville School Board results from my experiences with the Board over the last 11 months.
I attended my first School Board meeting last March to support a program jeopardized by the perennial budget squeeze, in this case our last half-day kindergarten section. What I anticipated to be a one-time appearance quickly became a standing commitment. Other valuable programs I supported were also placed on the endangered species list, such as AP Chemistry and the Gifted and Talented program. There was a proposal brought to the board for universal 4K that changed with each presentation, lacked a firm budgetary analysis, had no facilities commitments and did not have the support of the average taxpayer in our district. Through it all, it became apparent to me as an analytical scientist that the Board was being asked to make critical high dollar decisions based on incomplete and in some cases inaccurate data. I wrote reports in an effort to clarify some of these issues for myself and copied the Board and the administration on my findings. From these experiences and the encouragement of a wide cross-section of people, I concluded that my skills and abilities would be a good fit for the Board at this time.

Question 2: The School Board is asked to respond to the needs, wants and demands of many stakeholders in the district. Who is the primary customer of the School Board and why?

The Wisconsin State Journal stated in their school funding series this week that the price tag for Wisconsin Public Schools now exceeds 10 billion dollars. This represents 40% of the general fund for the entire State. So the short answer is that the taxpayer is the primary customer of the School Board. But that is a simplistic answer to a complex question. The word “customer” connotes an economic relationship in which goods or services are rendered for a fee. One can define the School Board’s “business” as the effective oversight of budget and policy decisions in order to provide the best possible public education for our children while remaining mindful of taxpayer burden. The “product” of the School Board, in that case, is education and the primary customer is the taxpayer who is funding the education.

One important aspect of the customer/supplier relationship is satisfaction. If customers at a traditional retail establishment are unsatisfied with the selection or quality of the product, they can return the defective product, get a refund and choose to spend their future dollars elsewhere. These options do not exist for the taxpayer-customer whose sales tax, income tax and property taxes are not optional. Alternate programming costs are above and beyond this commitment as opposed to instead of this cost. Returns are not possible and refunds are non-existent. So there is a greater onus of responsibility placed on the Board to provide as best it can for each and every student’s needs, working with parents and taxpayers to strike that crucial balance between needs, wants and demands.

I propose an alternate definition for the relationship formed by the triangle of taxpayer, School Board and parent. Rather than considering the school board/taxpayer relationship as one that exists between a supplier and a customer, maybe we can broaden that definition to a mutually beneficial symbiotic relationship. The School Board administers the funds gleaned from the taxpayers, many of whom are parents who donate their time and talents in volunteering at the school, supporting homework assignments at home and furthering the success of the symbiote, our school district. Everyone has a stake in the successful outcome. Parents and taxpayers are put where they want to be-neither being steered by, nor steering the School Board-but at the helm with the School Board. And the effective education of our children becomes the focal point for all parties.

Question 3. We read each week of the competing demands placed on the school district and upon the board. Please focus on those that you consider to be the top two issues facing the board after the election and how you would balance them with the remaining issues.

The first issue I see facing our district is our hemorrhaging facilities costs. I wrote a report in May in which I compared the state average per capita school spending in 2004-2005 with Evansville’s per capita spending in the same year for various categories ( Evansville showed impressive fiscal restraint in all but facilities costs, which were 53% higher than the state average per capita facilities costs. In concrete terms, we spent $637,686 above the expected value had our district facilities costs been equal to the state average value. This cost essentially negated the savings shown by frugality in all of the other budget categories combined. I would scrutinize this line item to evaluate where to begin improvements, if this were my own budget.

The second issue I see facing our district is growth, which directly competes with what I perceive as the first issue. The State of Wisconsin population is estimated to have increased by 3.2% from 2000 to 2005 ( Our district enrollment has increased by 11.5% in the same time frame while the overall state public school enrollment has decreased by 0.18%. It could be instructive to study the demographics of our remarkable increase to help understand in what ways Evansville differs from the average Wisconsin community and to better prepare for our future.

Our administration’s response to both of these issues was to ask the Board to commission a facilities survey that recommended building new schools. This document by PRA claims to show many inadequacies even at our new high school. I challenge some of their conclusions and cannot foresee community support for building new schools at this time. People have remarked to me that they were under the impression that the deficiencies outlined in the recent PRA report had been addressed with funds from the last referendum.

The report also predicts overcrowding at all facilities within 4 years, apparently predicated on a continued 11% growth rate in our district. I can’t speak to the logic of that approach, but our 7th grader recently said to me, “Overcrowded classrooms? We have PLENTY of SPACE. CHAIRS? Now that’s a different story. Get us some CHAIRS!” A brief evaluation of square footage per student in our district compared to National Averages proves Sarah right. If you took all the Gross Square Footage and divided it by all the enrolled students, the result is 255 SF per student, 1.5 times the (weighted) National Average of 170 SF per student. The facility closest to capacity now is Levi Leonard, which just happens to be attached to an underutilized Theodore Robinson. This indicates to me that redistribution, not a building referendum, is called for. This won’t fix the code violations at JC McKenna, but redistributing the younger grades instead of building new schools, will leave more money to address the problems at the Middle School. Just like a personal budget, you don’t necessarily go out and build a new house because it’s old fashioned or needs a new roof.

I surmise that the cost savings realized by considering the above approaches would then be available for some of the other competing issues the Board faces, such as hiring a sufficient number of teachers for our growing district.

Question 4: There are six candidates to fill two seats. Why should the voters of the district hire you? What skills and experiences will you bring to the board making you the best candidate for the position?

In addition to the cute factor and a good sense of humor, I see four areas where my strengths will be an asset to our School Board. First, my former career as an analytical chemist with Wisconsin Energies honed my research and analytical skills. I was also trained in budget responsibilities for our department after a 40% layoff forced restructuring of our lab. I am familiar with crisis management modes and how to minimize their impact. I wrote several research reports for the School Board over the last 11 months that illustrate my analytical skills. The topics ranged from 4K to AP Chemistry. The results are mixed at this time, but together with a dedicated group of involved parents, we made a cogent fiscal argument for maintaining our last stand-alone half-day kindergarten as long as enrollment minimums are met.

Secondly, I’m familiar with several of the issues currently being considered by the Board. This would give me an opportunity to “hit the ground running” if I am elected. I attended all but 2 of the regular Board meetings in the last 11 months as well as the “budget retreat” and a few committee meetings. During these meetings, I listened, presented research or challenged the administration, as the situation demanded. I will always do the research necessary to ask the right questions. I will never vote on a measure without the pertinent data at hand. I’m a firm believer in these credos: “Show me the data!” and “Lack of planning on your part does not constitute an emergency on mine.” My experiences with the Board, the administration and the public lead me to believe that my informed, outspoken style will be a welcome asset on the Board.

The third characteristic I bring to my campaign for School Board is persistence in pursuing a goal. I spent months trying to decipher the funding streams for half-day kindergarten. I drove lots of people crazy asking apparently meaningless questions. It was all worth it when I reached that AHA moment in September where I finally grasped the issue as a whole. I would bring this persistence to any unresolved question in my mind and benefit the district as a whole in so doing.

Finally, my experience as the wife of an Evansville alderman for the last 6 years has prepared me for the rigors of the life of a public servant. I have a realistic view of the time commitment. I am prepared to deal with concerned citizens and irate taxpayers. I do not expect positive reinforcement beyond that gotten from dedicating personal strengths to public service. I’m equal to the task and would be honored if elected.

May 2006: GAT Position: Melissa Speaks

May 8, 2006

To: Evansville School Board
From: Melissa Hammann
Subject: GAT Position

Yes, I’m back again to petition you for yet another “special interest.” This time it’s the gifted and talented program on the line. As weary as you are to see me here again, I am even wearier to be here again, feeling antagonism for the entity entrusted with our children’s education as their first priority. The source of this feeling is the nature of many of the superintendent’s proposed cuts to meet the imposed revenue caps combined with the administration’s defense against community suggested cuts as “unacceptable” with no further discussion.

As with any battle, I had to first arm myself. An excellent source of monetary flow data is available at the DPI School Finance Data webpage ( This shows comparative cost and revenue data for the 2003-2004 budget year. Then I went to the 2004-2005 spreadsheets (, and performed the necessary calculations to arrive at the per capita data as summarized in the first webpage. According to the website, the formulas used for the calculations changed between the two fiscal years and may account for some fluctuations. However, several interesting items stood out during my brief survey of the information. Please refer to the attached table for clarity.

First let’s discuss revenue. While our 2004-2005 State Revenue per child exceeded the state average by 16% and our property tax allocation per child was 17.5% lower than the state average; our Federal Revenue was less than half of the state average Federal Revenue. This is a good place to begin a build up of revenue, I think. For fiscal year 2004-2005, revenue from all sources for Evansville is 1.5% lower than the state average, for a total of $10,879 per Full Time Equivalent student in 2004-2005.

For the same fiscal year, on the cost side, we were 3% below the state average Educational costs, 16% lower on Transportation and 26% lower on Food Services costs. However, Evansville’s facility costs per student exceeded the state average by 53%, or in concrete terms, $378.00 per student, for a total of $637,686.00. This would have a big red target on it if it were my personal budget being scrutinized. That was a revelation to me. The bigger revelation to me was the direct comparison of revenue and cost totals. In both budget years for which I did the calculations, total revenue exceeded total costs. In fiscal year 2004-2005, this was $345.00 per student, or $572,015.00. WOW! All this time, I thought the school district was flat broke. Granted, this is only 3.1% of the total budget, and I admit that I am steeply immersed in the learning curve of school finance lore. However, I didn’t think schools were supposed to make any profit, and no matter how you cut it, over half a million dollars is a lot of extra money. This baffles me in the extreme and leads me to a largely cynical “harumph” when such incredible programs as the half-day kindergarten program and the gifted and talented coordinator position are even considered for elimination.

Our daughters have each qualified for, and participated in, accelerated learning programs offered in Evansville. We hope the program lasts long enough for our son to participate as well, should he demonstrate the need. Maybe our dedication to providing the best kindergarten choice for their needs, the half-day kindergarten class, has something to do with their thirst for knowledge.

Our older daughter was “discovered” for the program when her 4th grade WKCE results identified high verbal/reading scores. I was pretty sure all along that a 2nd grader reading Harry Potter was a little unusual. But once she was identified, all the doors have been opened for her and she has flourished in the program. Our 3rd grade daughter has followed in her sister’s footsteps. She was identified earlier due to earlier testing protocols (probably due to the No Child Left Behind Act). She had the privilege of working with Mrs. Kress in Elementary School and now meets in literature circle twice a week with Mrs. Ellison. I am so pleased that these literature circles are available for the Intermediate School students now. This can only further improve the reading scores in our district, which according to the DPI website have been improving continually over the last few years.

The identification and placement of our children into the GAT program was a direct result of the well-designed program run by a dedicated program coordinator in our district. Our family has always modeled a love for learning in general and reading in particular. However, we are unprepared to effectively challenge our children to expand their horizons. The program coordinators guide our way and explain how to best engineer their education to help them meet their goals. This help will be crucial as they grow older and more challenges are available to them.

Evansville is ahead of the curve in providing a haven for our special needs students. Gifted students are often perceived as the best students who will thrive regardless of the environment. I’m here to tell you that they too have special needs. Along with accelerated intellect comes a host of challenges that students and parents are unequipped to face alone. The Gifted and Talented program coordinator provides this interface. These are the students who will use their gifts to solve the overwhelming problems our world will face in the years to come. But we must first provide for them the appropriate incentive to nurture those gifts to fruition. The Gifted and Talented Program provides that setting and the coordinator makes sure the program is run effectively and efficiently. Please maintain this wonderful program for Evansville youth and fill Mrs. Kress’s position when she retires.

Thank you for your time.


Melissa M. Hammann

Hammann Speaks on 1/2 Day

Melissa Hammann speaks on half day Kindergarten to Evansville Community School District

Melissa Hammann Speaks on 4K---

Hammann declares all the assumptions of 4k Proposal have been shown to be debunked

School: Classic Melissa Hammann

New Evansville School Board Member Melissa Hammann: School Forum Feb 2007---Discusses School Finances and Facilities Cost for Evansville School District

Melissa Hammann asks the Question

School Board: 6-25-2007---The sudden change of plan from self funding to taking from the fund balance raises a question from Melissa Hammann. What about the other projects that have been talked of from the Fund Balance excess this years?

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Mailbag: Hammann Speaks on Half Day Kindergarten

--- Melissa Hammann

> It has been brought to my attention that, due to
> budget constraints, the Evansville School District
> plans to discontinue offering the half-day
> kindergarten option. Furthermore, it is my
> understanding that even Mr. Hoffenberg was kept out
> of the discussions until Ms. Carvin had made the
> decision and offered him a full-time position next
> fall. Numerous reasons were cited, including the
> SAGE grant restrictions, reduced/free lunch program,
> bus transportation etc. Nobody seems to agree on
> the amount to be saved by this action. The amount
> seems to change depending on to whom you speak and
> at what time of day you speak to them. One parent
> even received 2 different quotes from the same
> person. There are numerous arguments against this
> move. Mine are four-fold: child based need,
> budgetary, the duplicitous approach used by the
> school district and the despicable treatment of an
> outstanding teacher.
> My first objection to eliminating the half-day
> kindergarten class is based on the need of the
> child. Some five-year-old children are not ready
> for a full day of school every day, but are eager to
> learn in a more challenging environment that that
> provided by pre-school. Of our three children, only
> one would have done well in a full day class.
> Fortunately, all three of our children have had the
> priviledge of enrolling in Mr. Hoffenberg's
> kindergarten class. Last fall we enrolled our
> youngest child. Will is a rambunctious boy whose
> educational needs have been met and exceeded by Mr.
> Steve's firm but fun guidance. I know that more
> than one family had to seek other options for their
> children because the demand for the half-day class
> exceeded the supply of openings. We feel especially
> fortunate that Will was able to benefit from Mr.
> Hoffenberg's vast experience.
> My second argument against dropping the half-day
> program at this time is budgetary. A mere 4 years
> after its inception, kindergarten "choice" is on the
> budgetary chopping block. Let us review the last 6
> years or so of school board fiscal decisions, shall
> we? Our oldest child had Mr. Steve in the pre-SAGE
> days when kindergarten was only half-day for
> everyone in Evansville. We were ecstatic with Mr.
> Hoffenberg's teaching skills. He paved the way for
> her very successful school career thus far. Our
> second child had Mr. Hoffenberg for Kindergarten in
> 2002. This was the first year that a choice between
> full day and half-day kindergarten was offered. I'd
> like to add that this was also the first year summer
> school was cancelled due to budget overruns on the
> new high school. I could NOT understand why the
> school district effectively doubled their
> kindergarten teacher salary and benefits costs at a
> time of budget crisis. How can it be fiscally sound
> to double your kindergarten staff salary and
> benefits during tight financial times? Apparently
> the SAGE grant and the free/reduced meal program
> with their almighty government funding carrot was
> the primary impetus for this move. Parents eager to
> reduce their daycare costs fell right into lock step
> with the school district on that decision.
> Next..... Nowhere in the entire discourse of expanding
> the grade school into the old high school, did
> anybody mention a second set of administrators being
> hired and suddenly, VOILA, there they were.
> This litany of fiscally ambiguous decisions is to
> illustrate to you how completely skeptical one
> remains when you begin to quote audacious figures
> for cost savings by expanding the half-day
> kindergarten class-room to a full day class-room.
> It is my understanding that the SAGE grant as it
> currently exists is in jeopardy. It seems that
> pinning budgetary hopes for monetary gain on an
> amorphous SAGE grant is like hitting a moving target
> at best and poor decision-making at worst. When
> the SAGE grant monies are no longer flowing, what
> will the school district be left with? An
> unmanageable kindergarten program and
> worse-than-ever blood between the school district
> and the community. I would be interested in the
> results of a simple budget exercise. Calculate the
> costs of all half-day kindergarten and compare them
> with the costs of all full day kindergarten. I'm
> just curious.
> My third issue with this.... incident is the
> sneaky, underhanded way ..... (it was) attempted to railroad it
> through the budget without citizen knowledge or
> input.

> Finally, and most importantly, I must speak out
> against (the) .... treatment of Steve Hoffenberg
> throughout this incident. It is despicable that you
> would treat an award-winning, incredibly talented
> and enthusiastic kindergarten teacher with such
> disrespect. ...... A pessimist would say that
> by treating him so callously, you force his hand to
> retire so you can hire some hot-out-of-school
> teacher on the cheap.............
> Sincerely,
> Melissa M. Hammann

Mailbag: April 2006: Classic Hammann: "School Board Needs to Function as A Board."

Board needs to function as a board.

My recent, brief interaction with the school district regarding half-day kindergarten in specific and budgets in general has changed my attitude from healthy skepticism to cold cynicism. I hope the School Board and the Superintendent realize that we all should want the same things for our children: the best education possible within the budgetary constraints. I do not believe there is a good sense for Evansville and, in that vacuum, the superintendent proposes to do “what’s typical” for districts of our size. Information is presented to the board that is incomplete, but they are expected to make decisions and trust her judgment. My own past interactions do not support the requisite leaps of faith. The board depends on the superintendent to bring all of the data to them to make decisions, not just the data that supports her agenda. I trust that the school board members have been diligent in their own research on the issues our district faces and formed their own conclusions. If my letters have reinforced the importance of this activity on their part, I feel like I have accomplished something.

I know our district faces some hard decisions this year and in years to come. I hope some new and innovative ways of doing the same work are considered to make the dollars go further. I trust they will not throw out the baby with the bath water.


Melissa Speaks: "Death by 1000 Cuts Does NOT Cut it."

(Ed. note: In preparation for the Monday night School board meeting, the following mailbag letter addresses the famous "Death by 1000 cuts" article. "

Death by a Thousand Cuts Does Not Cut It. 3/31/06

I recently received a copy of “Death by a Thousand Cuts” by the Institute for Wisconsin’s Future. It was included in my children’s copies of the April Newsletters and also available on the Internet. I have read it cover to cover, which is why I am so unimpressed. Initially, I was struck by the sentence, “Most of Wisconsin’s 426 districts have declining enrollment, which holds down revenue limits.” The word “most” connotes “almost all” (Cambridge Dictionary). I envisioned a secret mass exodus from Wisconsin. I questioned the author about his word usage and the actual values involved. “The word “most” means greater than 51%,” was his reply. No, the word “majority” means greater than 51%. It’s this type of verbal repartee that loses your supporters. The actual percentage of Wisconsin school districts experiencing a decline in enrollment is from 56% to 60%, depending on which of his sources you read. Under normal circumstances, I would expect 50% gaining and 50% losing enrollment. If 40% of the districts are gaining and 60% are losing, are the 40% that are gaining students absorbing all of the students from the 60% that are losing? Where, I asked the author, are all of these students going? Mass exodus from failing school districts account for some of it. Flattened birth rates were cited since other school options have experienced similar downward trends. Wouldn’t that imply that the percentage of school districts experiencing a decline in enrollment should be closer to 100%? Surely, the whole story is missing.

Next, I scrutinized the chart of gaps between revenue limits and cost-to-continue. Only 129 school districts (30%) responded to the survey from which the chart was constructed. That’s an abysmal response to a survey for a report that’s supposed to aid you in the battle against revenue caps. I noticed that Evansville was not on the list of respondents. By the author’s own admission, school districts were given options on what methodology to use. "The answers are estimates, using different time frames and different methods. But…they are a reliable measure of the impact of caps.” Can’t you see how spurious a use of data this is? My 6th grade daughter knows the value of controls in reporting data. Why should any deductive person just take them at their word? It’s exactly this misuse of data that infuriates people.

Let’s return to the chart. One can see from the chart that 6 schools have a positive gap and 3 or 4 have “0” gap. It’s hard to tell exact values from my miniature, blurry copy in the school newsletter. If, as the author contends, this is a representative sample of Wisconsin school districts, we should be able to extrapolate that 30-33 school districts in Wisconsin have “0” or positive gaps. Has anybody investigated them? What are they doing differently? Are the positive gaps indicative of a healthy system? If so, can their strategies be successfully implemented elsewhere? Does anybody care, or shall we all just whine about revenue caps?

I do not deny that the revenue caps create problems. However, the Department of Public Instruction is not furthering its cause by endorsing such a flawed report.


Melissa M. Hammann

Melissa Hammann Writes: DPI stats for Evansville: What they mean for us.

(Ed. note. The following is a portion of the comments made by Melissa Hammann on Monday night at the Evansville School Board.)

"An excellent source of monetary flow data is available at the DPI School Finance Data webpage ( This shows comparative cost and revenue data for the 2003-2004 budget year. Then I went to the 2004-2005 spreadsheets (, and performed the necessary calculations to arrive at the per capita data as summarized in the first webpage. According to the website, the formulas used for the calculations changed between the two fiscal years and may account for some fluctuations. However, several interesting items stood out during my brief survey of the information. Please refer to the attached table for clarity.

First let’s discuss revenue. While our 2004-2005 State Revenue per child exceeded the state average by 16% and our property tax allocation per child was 17.5% lower than the state average; our Federal Revenue was less than half of the state average Federal Revenue. This is a good place to begin a build up of revenue, I think. For fiscal year 2004-2005, revenue from all sources for Evansville is 1.5% lower than the state average, for a total of $10,879 per Full Time Equivalent student in 2004-2005.

For the same fiscal year, on the cost side, we were 3% below the state average Educational costs, 16% lower on Transportation and 26% lower on Food Services costs. However, Evansville’s facility costs per student exceeded the state average by 53%, or in concrete terms, $378.00 per student, for a total of $637,686.00. This would have a big red target on it if it were my personal budget being scrutinized. That was a revelation to me."

The Observer was a little shocked by the "53%" figure for facility costs that Evansville exceeds the state average. However, on reflection, we are at 82% capacity in the EHS and have 522 students. The projection for enrollment dated 12/5/2005 for the school year of 2010-11 is 538 students.

Another way of saying that our costs are high is to say we need to better utilize the facilities we have. This might mean realigning some grades and their location.

In her monthly report, Supr. Carvin noted that a study of enrollment is proposed shortly. This may provide a framework for a discussion of how to better to utilize and plan. With energy costs a premium, excess facility is painful. Stay tuned.

Melissa Writes: 4K: The Analysis (1 of 3)

(Ed. note. This research information of Melissa Hammann is published unedited. The issue of the 4Yr. Old Kindergarten is scheduled to be in the July 10th Evansville School Board Meeting. Plan on attending to hear the debate. The Observer)

To: Evansville School Board June 25, 2006

Cc: Heidi Carvin, superintendent

Lou Havlik, LLE Principal

Dick Woulfe, Evansville Observer

From: Melissa Hammann

Subject: Four-year-old kindergarten (4K)

I patiently waited for the results of the study from the four-year-old kindergarten (4K) committee, hoping to see if sanity reigned. I see from the June LLE newsletter that my optimism got the best of me. The committee plans to recommend implementation of 4K in the Evansville school district after a pilot study in 2007-2008. I am completely dumbfounded. The school district has managed to accomplish what 17 years of marriage to a staunch Republican has not. You made me agree with the republicans on something. And I am aghast. Soon, I predict that new parents will get school registration paperwork at the hospital, along with SSN and birth certificate applications. Then they can just drop off the newborns at school on the way back to work. There will be no more childcare costs at ALL! The DPI continues to support abdication of parental responsibility. The money would be better spent on educating parents to respect education and the opportunities it can open for their children in the future. If there is no support for education at home, or, worse yet, an environment of disdain for education, the rare child will overcome such an obstacle to reach his or her full potential.

According to their report, the 4K committee was formed to “investigate the feasibility of implementing 4K in the Evansville School District.” To me, this begins with the most fundamental question of whether Evansville could or should support 4K at all. The report from the committee is more of a “how do we implement 4K in the district” study. There is no data presented in the report to confirm that Evansville supports implementing 4K, nor are there studies cited for one to confirm the dramatic claims of 4K students’ superiority. From what I understand, the majority of people surveyed who indicated a desire for 4K did so to “save money.” Just whose money are they saving? The statement that no additional local taxes will be collected is disingenuous because state law requires a local revenue match to all state funding. I have done a great deal of research since March, when I found out that our school district was still pursuing implementation of 4K. I urge the school board to review the plethora of online information about 4K at length before making any decisions on this issue. There are numerous arguments for and against 4K. I have tried to limit my remarks to quality and cost issues, while noting websites to support the remarks I make here.

I first began debating the usefulness of 4K with the administration during the half-day (5-year-old) kindergarten standoff. I was told that study after study proves vast reductions in societal pathologies attributable to the participation of at-risk students in a quality 4-year-old kindergarten. At that time, no references were provided so I searched for and found several articles and studies.

One article with a sound scientific method is available at It highlights savings for one 4K cohort over its 14 years in public school. The calculations were done several ways with various assumptions and the savings seem microscopic (0.0017%), with other non-direct savings projected at about 70% recoup of investment. But the study seemed skewed toward theoretical scenarios or was so condensed the essence of the data was lost to the casual observer. This was frustrating for me since 4K programs have been available long enough to do specific side-by-side comparisons. At the time, I was looking for, but could not find, a study based on this premise: Here is a population of at-risk students with 4K; Here is one without the benefits of 4K; This is what they look like at age 6, 8, 10, 12 and so on. Ms. Carvin supplied me with the name of the most cited study, the High/Scope Perry Preschool Study. This study does follow a theoretical scenario similar to that stated above. However, it is not a 4K study.

4K The Analysis

Now I’d like to briefly review the financial aspect of the 4K-committee report. Please refer to the attached Excel file (4K Committee Financial Data). For the sake of clarity, I’ll restrict my discussion to the half-day options requiring additional bus service. In the pilot year, if you factor in the standard local revenue match of 33% ($25,200) the school district will have to provide about $40,000 in 2007-2008 to fund the 4K pilot study, thereby denying some other program. It finally dawned on me why there was such an unexplained urgency to cut off the half-day (five-year-old) kindergarten program, one of the bastions of reason in our school district. I have included the local revenue in my analysis because I want to re-emphasize that there will be additional local revenue commitments required to provide 4K in Evansville. The calculation for full implementation in 2008-2009 was predicted on a conservative estimate of 100 participants. The current kindergarten enrollment is 130. This level of enrollment would require another teacher, another assistant, more physical plant and possibly another bus. For purposes of discussion, I will only consider the 100-student scenario. The 4K report I have from the committee showed the sum of expenditures to be $214,000. Perhaps I have a preliminary version. When I started to figure in the local matches to calculate shortfalls, it was clear there was a math error. I double-checked the figures and came up with $289,000 in projected expenditures. Subtracting the state revenue of $140,000 and the local match of $70,000, it will cost the district $79,000 to fully implement 4K in 2008-2009. The administration told the board that the school district “can’t afford” to keep a half-day kindergarten option, placed Gifted and Talented services on the chopping block and scaled back the AP program. I submit to you that the school district also doesn’t have a spare $119,000 to pilot and implement a program that “has no proven societal or educational benefits.” The administration’s concern that the state will soon require 4K is unfounded in light of the recent political climate. The legislature just established the task force to “study” the issue. These things are notoriously slow to complete. The prudent approach is to wait to see if and when the DPI states “by the year 2XYZ, all Wisconsin schools will have 4K.” Then the program can be phased in thoughtfully, with full endorsement of the legislature, factoring in standardized 4K facilities with the next building cycle. There have been too many battles robbing Peter to pay Paul in the recent budget cycle to consider the boondoggle of 4K. I strongly urge the board, in light of this information, to deny 4K implementation in Evansville.

Thank you for your time.