Sunday, August 12, 2012

Sacred Cow Tipping

Oh we defy the very gods on this one... but here goes...

First, and foremost, let us be perfectly clear:  we believe that the Sound of Sun Prairie (SOSP) provides an incredible experience for kids in terms of self discovery, discipline, teamwork, and musical performance.

The purpose of this post is not to point fingers or knee cap The Sound.  Rather, some disconcerting information has come to light following recent school board discussions regarding athletics and activities.  These discussions provide us with a rare window of opportunity in which we can publicly discuss how the Sound meshes with the school district in terms of an educational component and an extra or co-curricular activity.

Is it a candy mint?  A breath mint? Or is it two...two mints in one?
The Certs twins.  Two...two mints in one
Those graying at the temples likely recall the old Certs jingle.  But it's all too fitting here.  Those at the School Board work-study session on July 30 heard that SOSP is a summer school course, and subsequently, we receive state aid because the kids in SOSP "count" towards the summer school enrollment.

What we find interesting, however, is that it seems to be an activity in two parts. It sounds as if the MORNING sessions (8-12) are the "summer school" segment.  After lunch, those kids that return are part of the "extra-curricular activity component".  BUT there is a "pay to play" clause.   In order to participate in the afternoon session, kids must pay a membership fee to the SOSP...a "sliding scale", as told by John Whalen, ranging from $650 to $1,000 or even more.  Ninth graders pay the low part of the sliding scale.  Kinda like marketing a new street high at a discount to hook newcomers.  Once they're hooked, the price goes up.

But...fees are not allowed for summer school classes!
Can a school district charge students for summer school?There shall be no cost to the resident student or parent beyond incidental supplies, textbook or similar items (workbooks) if the district claims state aid under s. 121.14 [State Aid for Summer Classes]. Additionally, if the student is a resident of the district and the class is necessary for a grade promotion, high school graduation, or is given credit toward graduation, the district may not charge for the instruction, building costs or apparatus. If the class is not required, credited or aided, the fees must be based upon the actual cost of the class. 
Ahhhh...see the problem...and the way around it?  The district does not charge a fee for ITS portion, but SOSP does for the OTHER portion.

Is it summer school?
Or is it something masked to LOOK like summer school?  The kids don't get grades or credits.  On its website, SOSP is billed as, "The Sound of Sun Prairie is a voluntary, extra-curricular marching band. "  So does SOSP know its a summer school "course".'s an extracurricular activity?
That's what Jim McClowry labeled a school sponsored "club or activity".  That's what SOSP calls itself.  And fees CAN be charged for activities.  But do we? Consistently?  For all activities?  And if it's an activity--not a summer school course--we shouldn't be receiving any state aid as a result of it (yet we do).  Confused yet?

How come they say the "fee" covers transportation
when the district pays for that???  And what's this about the fee
"covering" the SPASD activity fee?  We looked and couldn't find
ANY deposits to cover this. Hmmmm.

Why so secretive about the "membership fees"?
We searched mightily and could only find an outdated "estimate" of membership fees for 2011.'s kind of understandable, when they charge that much.'s an awesome experience...but isn't it a bit north of the Have/Have Not line?   You the Entitlements subdivision?

Oh...and it covers their "activity" fee too? Can anyone show us where the SPASD summer activity fee has been credited to SPASD?  We could find no such evidence looking at monthly deposits.

And if the school district pays at least $23,000 annually to cover SOSP costs that SOSP says are PART of the membership fee paid by kids, shouldn't those costs be subtracted from the membership fee?  There's roughly 100 SOSP kids.That means their membership fee should be reduced by $230 each (and we haven't even talked about an activity fee yet).  OR...the school district should be receiving a check for $23,000 PLUS an activity fee.  Hello!  Jim McClowry went to great lengths to explain why hockey kids should be gouged to the tune of $550 each because of less than $20,000 in ice time costs.  Here's a group that costs that much AND uses our facilities without paying a rental fee (hey...we charge the Special Olympics for Pete's sake!).....and the district gets NOTHING in return.

We just hope this doesn't jeopardize our state aid funding.  Does DPI REALLY know how this all works?  How could they...when WE don't even know how it works?

If SOSP is charging a whopper membership and the district does not receive a penny, why are taxpayers footing the bill for SOSP costs ?

Just looking at school district check registers over the past year (and we may have missed some) we came up with just under $23,000 in SOSP costs that the taxpayers/school district funded.  Why are we paying for these things when SOSP collects between $70,000 and $100,000 in membership fees annually?

Wait...isn't that MORE than we pay in ice time for hockey?  You in the ones we were trying to gouge with a 275% fee increase to re-coup our costs?  Oh...that's right, there is no activity for for SOSP.

Perhaps there's an explanation, but without transparency in accounting, we won't have it.

Check run  Check#  Vendor              Inv. Date   Amount       Purpose
8/8/2011  109652  IDEAL CRANE RENTAL  07/08/2011  $55.00    SOSP SKYJACK PICK UP
8/8/2011  109652  IDEAL CRANE RENTAL  07/14/2011  $400.00   SOSP SKYJACK RENTAL
9/12/2011  110111  KOBUSSEN BUSES     07/31/2011  $4,669.59 PUPIL TRANS SOSP JULY
10/10/2011  110634  COLTS DRUM & BUGLE  08/31/2011  $12,655.00 SOSP EQUIP REPLACE
1/23/2012  112790  WARD BRODT MUSIC CO  12/31/2011  $330.00   SOSP EQUIP REPLACE 
6/11/2012  115768  IDEAL CRANE RENTAL   05/15/2012  $455.00   SOSP SKYJACK RENTAL
6/25/2012  115981  IDEAL CRANE RENTAL   05/21/2012  $55.00    SOSP SKYJACK PICKUP
6/25/2012  115981  IDEAL CRANE RENTAL   05/31/2012  $120.00   SOPS SKYJACK RENTAL
7/23/2012  116256  KOBUSSEN BUSES     06/30/2012  $3,926.35 PUPIL TRANS SOSP JUNE
7/23/2012  116327  FRED RENTS LLC     06/29/2012  $300.00     BG SOSP LIFT RENTAL

And then there are the "stipends" we pay the SOSP leaders
Are you kidding us?  We pay the SOSP director (assuming 10 yrs experience) $8,700 but building leadership council members only a flat $500?  Or how about Curriculum Leadership Council members?  These are the teachers building the curriculum know...the actual education of our students?
And the most they get is $2,030...or less than what the SOSP "Assistant" receives?

And we also here that the band boosters or SOSP actually pay and additional stipend to the SOSP leaders.

Anything wrong with this picture?

What about kids that want the experience but cannot afford the membership fee?
It is Sun Prairie policy (and DPI rule) that economically disadvantaged kids shall not be charged extracurricular fees.  Since SOSP seems to operate outside of SPASD policies, we need to ask: are these same opportunities afforded for kids wishing to partake of the SOSP experience?  In his inimitable style, John Whalen attempted to put this to rest.  He stammered something like, "um...The Sound can offer scholarships...".  Great!  But having the ability to do something and actually doing something are horses of very different colors, Mr. Whalen?  Do you happen to know if any scholarships have actually been awarded?  Are they full scholarships (like SPASD) or do they just subsidize a few bucks?  What IS the policy?

What's all that spell?
We think it spells something like "needs further review".  Here's hoping the school board looks at this with as keen an eye as they did hockey fees.  And we better make DARN sure that DPI (A) knows the whole truth and nothing but the truth, and (B) there is no monkey business  that jeopardizes our receiving state aid for summer school.