Sunday, April 19, 2009

How Wrong Is This? ...Let Us Count the Ways

First...let's be crystal clear upfront in very simple terms:
1. AcaDec good.
2. AcaDec preparation past practice "policy" bad.

What is AcaDec? It's the Academic Decathlon...a kind of Survivor Meets Who Wants to be a Millionaire without the desolate territory, poor hygiene (well....we guess that depends...), and the Million Dollar Prize. It's a fast-paced, oral and written exam based school competition that begins at the local level, progresses to Regionals, then States, and finally to a National Competition. We think this AcaDec concept is great as a sports-alternative club/team building opportunity. Where we draw the line, however is the costs that have gone into it because of "past practice" (see what happens when you aren't informed as to how tax dollars are being spent?) why is it so wrong? For starters, how about $1,575 in hotel room costs for a 3 night WEEKEND stay (Sat., Sun., Mon,) for a competition that is (A) about 10 miles away, and (B)began Monday morning and ended Tuesday afternoon? OK...if the contest were in some distant land like Hedapimp, Idaho...and they needed to get settled the night before...then fine. But this was in MADISON during the week!

Oh...and toss in $132 for a brunch for 10 students and 1 advisor. We'll do the math for you...that's $12.00 apiece! And the board has imposed a $6.00 per meal limit for staff? Oh...wait...that doesn't include students!

Administration was asked to provide more information on this expense. Rhonda Page, SP Business Manager, responded with the following:

3 day hotel stay for Academic Decathlon: This is the response we got from [Athletic Director] Jim McClowry: Sun Prairie is one of the schools that doesn't tie the Acadec program to a semester class. Instead the kids essentially take 3 days to "cram" a semesters work into those days. They work from dusk until dawn to prepare for the event during those days. As this information was given to the School Board in prior years, the practice was continued this year. If so directed by the School Board, this practice will be eliminated. Management Team will be revisiting this topic in the near future.

REALLY?! So now Administration is tossing the BOARD under the bus? It's the Board's fault? Because they were asleep at the wheel and rubber stamped this like they do everything else? OK. You're right. It IS their fault. It is the board's duty to rein in wayward administrative spending. Of course, since the administration is, in theory, composed of intelligent tax-paying adults, we'd like to believe that the board doesn't have to back up the goalie on this one. Admin should have denied this expenses years ago. Oh...and this was the one that on Monday night Phil Frei and Jim McCourt were trying to hang on Paul Keats!

Wow! We could market and make a mint off a Sun Prairie version of the old board game, "Clue". Aha! It was Colonel Keats! In the Doubletree Hotel. With a graphing calculator! Get it? Get a "clue"? Huh?! Huh?!

Do you hear that, school board? Administration is going to "revisit" this topic in the near future...but ultimately, they're relying on you to say "NO". Honestly...this is like a 2-year old that tests his/her parents by stretching the lines of what he/she can or can't do ...not stopping until mom or dad firmly says NO!".

Oh...and NOW the Management Team is going to "revisit" the topic? Shheeeaaaah! Hello! This was complained about LAST year (again, only by a citizen or two). So, what is it...One complaint you ignore...but two complaints in a row and you "revisit the topic" ???

And exactly what message or life lesson does this pass on to the children in the school district? are the top 5 best defenses to the AcaDec expense "rationale"

5. It costs less to stay in a hotel than to heat up a school for 2 days.

This was priceless...and it came from none other than Phil Frei. We like Phil. He's really a nice guy. Our criticism though is that he has to learn to say nothing rather than coming up with a quick offhand excuse for these things. That approach isn't working well for him (see the whole building permit fiasco).

Do you REALLY want us to even remotely believe that, Phil? I don't think so. Not that we even for a moment considered it, but nevertheless we looked at the heating bills during that month. There's just no way you can convince us that it would have cost $1600 to heat a zone within a school like Creekside for 12 hours on each of Saturday and Sunday.

And imagine the possibilities...instead of being cooped up in that awful hotel for 3 days, you could have had the kids in Creekside and made use of those awesome new SmartBoards as part of their cramming session!

Bottom line: There is no acceptable reason to spend money for 2 nights of hotel stay the weekend before the competition begins...and CERTAINLY not when the competition is only in downtown Madison! We'd even argue that since competitions don't begin until 8 or 9 am Monday and Tuesday, even a 1-night hotel stay is not warranted.

4. We did this last year....and even spent more!

Correct! You spent $2,226 to be exact (check #85470, 3-11-08 ) to stay at the Concourse hotel. And don't even THINK about asking to be rewarded for cutting back on your costs by $500 this year. If you and your teen successfully go to court and argue down the cost of a speeding ticket and the number of points assessed, is that reason to celebrate? Do you think your insurance company sees it any differently? Your surcharge isn't going to be any less.

It's wrong...and being slightly LESS wrong does nothing to validate what was done.

3. Other schools have a semester-long course designed to prep. We cram.
This sounds like a 21st Century response to mom's favorite come back to just about anything: "...and I suppose if Johnny wanted to jump off the ______ you would too".
Perhaps one of the advisors should put together a similar course for us. They would save the taxpayers the hotel costs, and put some money in their own pocket for putting together a new course. It seems like if that's what other schools are doing...geee...maybe THEY have it right.

2. The kids work hard and they're exhausted. They work from dusk till dawn.

Newsflash! That's what life is going to be like when these kids get out into the real world! Perhaps this is a good life lesson.

Come on! The competition day schedules are printed below. The six individual exams are done from 9 am to Noon. That's not exactly dawn. And the afternoon sessions doesn't exactly go till dusk, either (in fact it was already Daylight Savings Time!)

This excuse also begs the question ...if the football [or fill in any sport] team travels to Beloit for a game that goes into overtime, shouldn't all the kids and coaches just stay at a Beloit hotel for the night? Heck, it could be 10 or 11:00 or even later by the time the games over. You don't think THOSE kids are exhausted? Oh...and they also went to school all day. And traveled quite a bit further than the AcaDec Team does.

Do we even need to discuss the whole shenanigans potential? [Remember that classic line from Juno MacGuff in "Juno": "... I'm already pregnant, what other shenanigans can I get into?" ] Three nights times 10 teens plus 1 adult advisor adds up to a googolplex of possibilities for shenanigans. I don't think we need to remind people of recent events. These kids should be at home with their parents, 10 miles away.

Oh...and doesn't every teacher worth his/her salt tell kids that cramming before a test doesn't improve knowledge retention? It just makes you more tired and thus less likely to do your best on a given test. Yeah...many of us did just that in college...but we all know that it didn't work then and it doesn't work now.

1. Two-thirds was paid out of activity club fees.
This is the best one. So....should the French Club hook up with the Aviation Club and charter the Concorde [we know...we know...the Concorde is no more...but you get the point...right?] for lunch at the Eiffel Tower? And the last time we checked, Activity Club funds DO come from the taxpayers, too.

We repeat...COME ON! $1700 is ridiculous. Let's not even start down the road of "Is every club afforded the opportunity to go on a 3 night, $1700 trip 10 miles from home 2 nights before a competition even begins?"?

Nice digs, eh? The calendar tells it all

This schedule doesn't even reflect the need for a hotel

SP-EYE: Let's face it folks. This was wrong from no matter what angle you look at it. Management Team...don't make the school board micromanage know the very thought of micro-managing makes JohnE Whalen squidgy. Instead, how about doing the right thing, and ending the practice on your own and then reporting such to the school board. How about taking the opportunity to publicly be a role model and tell the students that you made some poor decisions in the past and that you are going to own them and fix them. Of course, you can always do what we have come to expect: quietly (or not) explain to the students that their worldly experience has to end because of just a couple of uptight citizens.