Friday, February 26, 2010

Another potential school calendar

At the request of the Board, after receiving comments from the public meeting held on Monday, I created another draft calendar for consideration. You can find it posted here. As always, comments are appreciated.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Compressed calendar is only one idea to manage reduced state funding

The Joint Finance and Appropriations Committee is scheduled to set the K-12 education budget on March 1st. As you can imagine, there is a lot of scrambling among the various education stakeholders to have input into the final budget. We will see if they get it done on Monday and then try to get the best estimate of the impact on the Genesee School District.

The administration and Board have been working on various ways to develop a balanced budget for the coming school year. During the past several school years, the Board has reduced the school district budget to reflect a drop in enrollment. The 09-10 budget is 5.8% less than the 08-09 budget. The 08-09 budget was about 1.1% less than actual expenditures in 07-08.

This year we are looking at a reduction in state funding of $168,000 or more due to the current economic situation. In addition, we are looking at a further state funding reduction in the amount of $122,000 due to the drop in enrollment from last year. Couple this $290,000 state funding reduction with the need to replace $60,000 worth of stimulus funding which is no longer available and the $105,000 one-time expenditure from the District's fund balance and now we are looking at $455,000 above and beyond our position this year.

Add that $455,000 to the current one-year supplemental levy of $515,000, tack on the $25,000 it would cost to purchase updated math textbooks which was postponed last year and all of the sudden maintaining the status quo requires $995,000 local funds above what is provided by the state.

We anticipate some retirements, we can expend more of the fund balance, we might be able to further reduce supplies, services and equipment, we can postpone the purchase of updated math textbooks for another year or two and that might get us to a $750,000 levy. That levy will cost in the neighborhood of $5.46 per $1,000 of assessed valuation which represents an increase of nearly 50%.

That is why the Board and administration are discussing a compressed calendar. Other ideas: reduction in activities, reduction of teachers, reduction of classified staff. Some have rightly suggested that we consider furloughs as a way of saving money. This is also being discussed but Idaho has a law that only allows a District to pay employees less next year than they received this year if a financial emergency is declared. There are a number of criteria required before a district can even qualify to declare a financial emergency (Idaho Code 33-522).

You can be assured that the trustees and administration are looking at all options while maintaining the focus on the students.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

150 day school year calendar

As we have been working our way through the research of the four-day week and listening to patron input about the idea, many suggestions have been made. The Board of Trustees asked me to develop a calendar that had many of the financial benefits of the four-day week idea but was more traditional in nature (i.e., go to school most weeks for five days).

Mr. Caldwell and I collaborated on just such an idea which I am calling the 150-day school year calendar. This calendar can be viewed at the following link: 150 day calendar. This calendar starts school the day after labor day and ends school the Friday before Memorial weekend. It actually adds five more days of school than the calendar we developed for the four-day week. You will see a number of "vacation days" which have been designed to fall on historically low attendance days which would maximize our average daily attendance which is directly related to state funding.

We shortened the length of the extended school day from 70 to 35 minutes. With this reduction, but the extra five days, we have created a calendar that provides kindergarten students with 486 hours of instruction which is eleven more than they currently have. We are also entertaining the idea of offering a bonus afternoon kindergarten session for parents who would like their children to attend kindergarten for a full day for $250 per month tuition. The 150 day calendar provides 947 hours of instruction for grade 1-6 students compared to the current 992. Secondary students would receive 1,002 hours compared with the current 1,065. There would be no early release days and secondary classes would be 56 minutes long compared to the current 60 minutes (however, that is in a seven versus six period day).

Is this the ideal calendar? I doubt that it is, but it is an idea to generate discussion. The savings from this calendar only differ by about $2,000 from the four-day school week calendar. Would a calendar like this negatively affect student achievement? That is a difficult question to answer. The research on schools that have transitioned to a four-day school week have found that student achievement did not decrease. However, I have yet to find any research which indicates that reducing instructional time increases student achievement other than the literature on the four-day school week. There is good research that indicates that increasing instructional time improves student achievement. My best guess would be that our students would continue to achieve well but teachers would have to eliminate some activities which might not relate directly to Idaho Achievement Standards.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

School Budget

With the school year just barely half over, it may not seem like it is time to begin budgeting for the next year but that time is quickly approaching. The budget for fiscal year 2011 will be the most difficult budget I have developed due to the decreased revenue projections for state funding, reduction of stimulus funds and the decreasing enrollment in our school district. Based on the information we currently have, the District would need to run a $1,005,000 supplemental levy to remain at the status quo.

During the past sixteen years, the District has built one of the highest quality rural districts in Idaho as measured by student performance. We have worked hard to maintain reasonable class size at the elementary level, we have made sure that all of our students have appropriate supplemental education services to eradicate performance deficits, we increased our humanities to provide for a well-rounded education, we have recruited and retained the highest quality teachers and support staff possible, we have challenged our high school students by offering additional math and science, and we have been modifying our school culture and curriculum to better prepare our students for the 21st century. All of this came at a price. Fortunately, the community has continued to support a quality education.

Beginning about four years ago we began to see a decline in student enrollment. Over the years, our enrollment has been lower than it is currently and it has been higher. It is not uncommon to see such fluctuation but it is much more difficult to create a budget during declining enrollment than during growing enrollment. Our enrollment will likely increase in the future but the double whammy of declining enrollment and reduced state funding puts significant pressure on school budgets.

Over fifty percent of the school districts in Idaho run supplemental levies as we do. That tells me that the people of Idaho and our school district want more than the minimal level of education that state support provides. A number of years ago the funding for schools was altered in a one-day special legislative session. The property tax mechanism was removed and replaced with general state funds (income and sales tax). At the time, school districts expressed concern that replacing this stable tax base with general funds could cause problems during an economic downturn. That is exactly what is occurring now with state funding. The only mechanism a public school has to increase revenue is a supplemental levy.

The Board of Trustees has been discussing the FY11 budget, and particularly, the levy, for the past three months. They have directed me to provide ideas to help balance the budget at a supplemental levy amount they believe is fair and reasonable to ask voters to pass. This District, like all school districts, expends 80-85% of their budget on salary and benefits. Reductions in the M&O budget have been made in supplies, equipment, purchased services and staff. Further reductions are anticipated. Where and how deep those cuts are made without substantially impacting student achievement is the difficult work of developing the budget.

Civil public input is vital to the process. Comments to the blog, email and letters to the trustees, and public comments at board meetings are essential for the process to be successful. It is important to know the facts and be careful of rumors. Patrons may contact the administration any time they have a specific question or need for additional information. Your trustees will make the best decision for the students. It is not likely to please everyone, but that is how representative democracy operates.

Please continue to provide your thoughtful input to all proposals.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Four-day school week public meeting-Feb 22nd

Genesee School will hold a public information meeting at 7:00 PM on February 22nd in the MPR to provide information regarding how a 4-day school week works and to answer patron questions.

A PowerPoint from the Idaho Department of Education will be shown. Committee members, who had the opportunity to visit School District 271 in Orofino as well as Mr. Neumann, will be on hand to answer questions. The committee was set up by the Board to see how this neighboring school district set up their four-day school week, what issues were addressed and how and other general information. Orofino was selected because they have been on the four-day week the longest in Idaho and they are also the closest school system using this schedule.

The committee and the school district understands that the Genesee education system differs from that of District No. 271. The intent of the visit was not to emulate the Orofino school system. Every community has unique needs and goals and the school system reflects this uniqueness.A four-day school week in Genesee would take this into account.

This meeting is information only. No decisions will be made at the meeting. Any decision to consider a 4-day week or any other method of scheduling school in the future will be made at the school board meeting by the trustees. Patrons who desire to provide input regarding the decision, should either attend the March Board meeting or send a letter to the Board via the Superintendent. Patrons may also contact their trustee directly.