Monday, December 3, 2012

Space Center

The Space Center committee has begun to meet to determine the future of the Space Center.  Our immediate concern is completing upgrades to get a few of the ships working again so that we can keep the volunteer pipeline working.  The committee is planning to report to the school board in March on their recommendations.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Space Center

The fire marshall recently shut down the space center at Central Elementary for safety reasons. The estimate to reopen the space center on the current site is $700,000. A committee has been formed to decide on what to do next with the space center. This could include building a new facility on the property next to Central Elementary or other options. 

I would like to find a way to preserve the leadership opportunities and the simulations of the space center. I think it has served our community well.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Superintendent Compensation

There has been a discussion recently about superintendent salaries.  As I have researched this subject, I have concluded that our superintendent compensation is in line with national and state averages for large districts.

This article from the Salt Lake Tribune in 2010 examined the average salaries and how Utah compares to other states.  Across the country, superintendents' base salary averages $225,897 for districts with 25,000 or more students.

 "Alpine School District recently decided to adjust Superintendent Vernon Henshaw's salary to make it more competitive. Henshaw leads the state's third-largest district, but last year, he received the smallest compensation package among superintendents of Utah's five largest districts. "The Alpine Board of Education conducted a market analysis, comparing his pay with regional and national salaries. The board opted to give Henshaw a 5.3 percent raise for 2010-11, boosting his salary from $188,969 to $198,965, but still well below the national average."

"The bottom line is, we're competing with the Wasatch Front," said Board President Debbie Taylor. "People from out of state take one look [at Utah's per-pupil funding and large class sizes] and say, 'Never mind.'

In 2012 KSL reported "The Alpine School Board approved a new contract and pay increase for Superintendent Vern Henshaw on Tuesday. Henshaw will begin his 13th year as superintendent over the state's largest school district with a 2-percent raise, bringing his base salary to $211,335" The superintendent received the same percentage compensation increase as teachers in the district.
"To get quality, you have to be competitive," Taylor said. "People don't work for nothing. They want to be paid for their work. We are really very efficient with our money."

 A recent article in the Daily Herald compared gross compensation including benefits.  The large districts included in the analysis were:
  • "Alpine: 68,000 students, 5,010 full-time employees, ... superintendent gross compensation: $266,998"
  • "Granite: 67,700 students, 4,901 full-time employees, ... superintendent gross compensation: $245,000"
  • "Davis: 67,000 students, 4,000 full-time employees, ... superintendent gross compensation: $256,350"

It appears to me that the superintendent for Alpine district is receiving comparable compensation to other large districts in Utah.

I am highly committed to spending taxpayer dollars efficiently. Compensation decisions are always difficult, but they are particularly difficult when you look at the leader of a large organization. I am guessing that you have seen the impact a great leader can have on the vision and morale of an organization. I have been really impressed with the culture that Vern Henshaw has created in the district.

Almost every teacher is involved in continual improvement and student scores show that his approach is working. If his compensation were tied to increases in student scores, his compensation would be much higher than it is.

The district operates on a budget of around $400,000,000 per year. Most of this is teacher salaries. If a great leader were able to motivate employees to be even 1% more efficient, this would result in a $4,000,000 increase in net benefit to the students. I guess I use this to illustrate the importance of having a great leader for the organization. If you decided to save money by hiring a less effective
leader with perhaps a $100,000 lower salary, you would be able to hire 2 additional teachers (this would lower the average class size by only 0.04%). And yet if it lowered teacher motivation by even 1%, this would be an extremely poor financial decision (you would save $100,000 and yet lose $4,000,000 in productivity).

I guess that it is difficult from even an individual employee perspective to justify paying lower than average salaries. You eventually lose the great employees that really make your organization

I would like more input on how to deal with salaries in the district. Although some items seem to have simple answers, I have looked at the budget in detail and I do not see any wasteful spending. Our business administrator is extremely careful with finances and in every case where I have thought I have spotted waste, I have received an explanation that shows that the budget decision was based on a valid and careful examination of the data.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Superintendent Compensation

This discussion has been moved here

Last in per pupil spending

Although I appreciate the need to be conservative in spending, I am disturbed by the fact that Utah is dead last in per pupil spending in the nation (and this using spending adjusted for regional cost differences).  In the past I have heard that Utah spends more as a percentage of our total taxable resources, but this is also not true.  We are in the middle of the pack with many states spending a much higher percentage of their taxable resources on education.

I am also disturbed to find that our per pupil spending has actually decreased when adjusted for inflation when compared to 2008.

I think that an investment in our children's education will pay back more than any other investment we make for economic growth.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Pleasant Grove High School Honors

I was excited to see that Pleasant Grove High School had the highest pass rate on the CRT tests of any large high school in Utah.  They scored better than Lone Peak, Timpview and many other schools.  I was also excited to see how many Alpine District schools are clustered in the top of the list.

The article reported in the Deseret News gives scores and demographics for each high school.

Saturday, September 29, 2012


With the redistricting, it may not be easy to determine which areas are covered in my district.  This map shows the district with larger print for major roads.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Space Center

I just visited the space center at Central Elementary last week.  It has been closed recently to correct some electrical problems.  It was obvious to me that students would have a lot of fun crawling through the caverns and hopefully learning something about leadership and working on a team.

I feel like the space center is an important part of Alpine District programs and I hope it reopens as soon as possible.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Alpine District Debt

The Utah Taxpayers Association compares the finances of districts across the state every year.  Alpine District is growing, and there is a need to build new schools for the 3000 new students that attended school in 2012-2013. If you look at the amount of interest paid per student, Alpine is at or below the level of most large districts in the state.

Utah School District Comparison 2010 - 2011

School Districts Enrollment Instruction Expense per student As percentage of general fund Interest on Debt per student
Salt Lake 23,960 5,124 69% 1,093
Wasatch 5,089 5,241 72% 578
Tooele 13,439 4,230 70% 429
Washington 25,671 4,341 68% 381
Ogden 12,568 3,865 53% 317
Iron 8,483 4,334 71% 293
Nebo 29,136 3,864 65% 269
Davis 66,019 4,063 70% 267
Alpine 66,044 3,878 72% 258
Uintah 6,683 4,080 65% 249
Cache 15,409 4,410 70% 237
Canyons 33,469 3,914 64% 189
Box Elder 11,187 4,083 69% 184
Provo 13,376 5,123 74% 167

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Administrative Overhead

The Utah Taxpayers association reported that Alpine School District has the lowest administrative overhead of any district in the state.  Here are a few of the comparable districts.

                                                         2010                       2011
Jordan - students                             49729                    50581
              gen admin expense      $1,909,051            $1,744,436
              admin per student               $38.39                   $34.49

Davis - students                               66019                   67736
            gen admin expense       $2,518,401             $2,553,577
            admin per student                 $38.15                   $37.70

Granite - students                            68573                   67736  
            gen admin expense       $2,909,550            $2,807,675
            admin per student                $42.43                   $41.45

Canyons - students                         33469                   33490
             gen admin expense      $2,334,128               couldn't find CAFR
             admin per student              $69.74

Alpine - students                            66044                     68233
             gen admin expense      $1,303,149              $1,234,963
             admin per student              $19.73                     $18.10

Property Taxes

There has been some confusion about property taxes over the last 5 years.  The only changes to property taxes that the school board has had an impact on occurred when voters passed the bond to fund new schools and seismic improvements to existing schools.  We had 3000 additional students last year in the district.  That is enough for 100 additional classrooms.  How could the district handle this increase without the additional schools provided by the bond?

Rob Smith made the following statement in a personal email.

Page 70 of the budget document shows what has happened since 1983.  Tax rate in 1983 was .008550.  Tax rate in 2012 is .008842.  In the last 5 years, the tax rate has gone from .007057 to .008842, which is a 25% increase in tax rate.  

Why did this occur?  Three reasons: 
1) Assessed value dropped from $18,021,423,319 to $15,360,073,341 or 17% decrease in assessed value - this pushes up the rate through the certified tax setting process to yield the same dollars as prior year; 
2) Tax rate for debt service (Voter approved) increased from .002638 to .003350 or 26% (9% net when adjusted for the decrease in assessed value listed in #1 above); and 
3) The legislature increased the basic tax rate charged by all school districts from .001250 to .001665, or a 33% increase in rate.

Student Proficiency

I am really impressed with the improvement in student proficiency that has happened in the district during the last few years.  I think that the teachers are committed to continual improvement and the students are responding to their enthusiasm.  In summary, when comparing the number of students who scored proficient in 2004 as compared to 2012

9,044 more students reached proficiency in science

3,808 more students reached proficiency in math

4,692 more students reached proficiency in language arts

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Zealotry threatens public schools

I was impressed by this article by state school board member Leslie B. Castle.  Public education is essential to our progress as a state and the Utah Core Standards are a well thought out approach to improving the opportunities our children will have available to them.

Friday, July 20, 2012

STEM Funding

I am not sure about the source of this funding, but I think it is important to recruit and retain great STEM teachers.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Alpine School District Student Achievement

I recently figured out how to find the raw achievement data for students in Alpine District.  It is impressive to see continual improvement in CRT and ACT scores since 2004.  You can find it by accessing the main ASD page at:

Then Departments/Research & evaluation/assessment data

I am particularly impressed by the decrease in the number of students who get 1s and 2s on the CRT in Jr High in this graph.  The years are hard to read, but they go from 2004 to the present.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Early Math

This study concluded that success with division and fractions predicts future success in math.  I think that it is really important to learn efficient algorithms so students can be confident in these topics.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Class Size

I thought this article provided some good data on the relationship between class size and outcomes.  It is particularly important to keep class sizes small in k-3.  I find it interesting that the student ration nationally is around 16 students per teacher.  Some states legislate a cap near this point.  

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Small Class size

I was impressed by this article on class size.  Small class size is important, but there may be other considerations.

Friday, April 27, 2012

National School Board Conference

I attended a seminar in Boston last week.  The speaker talked about the need to improve the preparation of our children to compete in a global economy.  He talked about the importance of standing up for our children in the face of budget cuts and those who will oppose any change to the status quo.  I hope I am not too strong in my responses to the kind of misinformation that has been leveled against the Utah Core, but I really do feel that the Utah Core is the direction that the state should go to create opportunities for our children.  I am glad that we are getting help from federal funding to create assessments.  It would be a significant burden for us to do on our own.  I am glad that we are benefitting from the experience of other states who are our partners in the Common Core because it will save us time, money and more importantly it will save our children from graduating without an adequate educational preparation.

I know that some people who are against the Utah core feel that they are standing up for their convictions.  I feel that I am standing up for my convictions too ... that our children deserve a better education.  The Utah Core is worth standing up for.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Dan Peterson School

I had a meeting last week at the Dan Peterson School in American Fork.  I was so impressed with the faculty and the courageous students who they serve.  I had to ask myself what would happen to these students if Alpine District were not big enough to support their care.  Charter schools could never take care of these children and yet their need is so profound.  One of the students needs a ventilator and can only communicate through moving her eyes and eyebrows.  The faculty has a goal to teach the students 11 words that students can use to control their environment.  The students are so excited when they can get the faculty to understand one of these 11 words.

I wish all of the students in the district could visit Dan Peterson school.  It would give them a new appreciation for the value of education and the importance of communication.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

High Aptitude

Sam Jarman made a presentation at the school board meeting tonight.  He showed several examples of how alpine schools were the top in the state in several topics based on the CRT tests.  Then he observed that some of the schools that were below the state average in some topics, were the top school in the state in another subject.  His conclusion is that Alpine School District students have the aptitude to be the best in the state in almost all of our schools if we can just improve our educational process.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012


I like the idea of using ipads for textbooks.  I thought this article provided good information.  Two points I hadnt considered were to have parents buy the devices for their children or to charge them a fee to buy them.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Technology Suggestions

I thought this was a good summary of technology best practices.  I like the waterfall model for replacing equipment.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

National Technology Plan

Although it is a bit fluffy, this national technology plan provides a good vision of the role technology can play in education

Monday, January 9, 2012

Friday, January 6, 2012