Tuesday, April 26, 2005

The Superintendent Speaks

These questions and answers are gleaned (word of the day) from the Windham Discussion Forum, which you can find linked at the right of this post (or further up, if its drifted down the page because of new posts, speaking of which, if it has drifted down the page and you're just now getting here, where've you been?)

Put it in simple terms for me, why do we have this levy on the ballot in the first place?

The Windham Schools has a $530,000 per year problem that is caused in part by declining enrollment. We are down 100 students from last year. In state aid we get $5400 per student per year. This translates to a loss of state revenues of $540,000 per year. With 100 fewer students we need to reduce the number of classes. As an example. We have 50 kindergarten students in 3 classes or about 17 per class. We have four first grades this year. As these students move from kindergarten to grade one we cannot afford to have four sections of first grade with 12 students per teacher. The decline in enrollment has occurred over the last five years, but has been greatest this past year. It is difficult to predict such a drastic drop in one year.

The bottom line is that we need to reduce $200,000 to get our per pupil expenses in line and we are asking the voters for $330,000 so that we do not have make devastating cuts. It is my intention to recommend that we reinstate the JV teams if the levy passes.

Well, that wasn't all that simple, but I'll take it. I hear a lot about "per pupil cost" tossed around by some folks, can you explain this?

Yes our per pupil costs are too high. This is why we need to reduce expenditures. When the majority (77%) of our expenditures is devoted to personnel, jobs need to be eliminated. If a district spends more than 80% on personnel, it is in trouble. In 2002-03, we were at 90% being spent on personnel. This was a result of having too many employees; we have made significant cuts since then. As far as predicting enrollment, the district has lost about 100 students from 2003-04 to 2004-05. In the five years prior, from 1999-2000 to 2003-04, the enrollment went down by 66 students going from 1159 to 1093. There was no way to have predicted the 100 student lose this year.

When you look at per pupil costs and compare costs between districts there are three major reasons why Windham's is going to be hire than some other districts, particularly the wealthy districts. In wealthier districts the salaries are much higher and the buildings are more elaborate and more expensive to run. As a result you would expect the per pupil costs to be higher.

As I stated earlier our per pupil costs are too high and we are attempting to reduce them. However, Windham, like other poor districts, receive additional funds that wealthy districts either do not receive or do not receive much of. These funds must be spent for "restricted" purposes. The three funds are: 1. Disadvantaged Pupil Impact Aid (DPIA), 2. Title I, and 3. IDEA-B Special Education

DPIA funding is about $375,000 and is received because we have a large percentage of our students on state assistance, This money can only be spent on all-day kindergarten, student intervention outside of the regular classroom, reduced class size, etc. We cannot take this money and spend it on regular classroom or normal school operations.

TitleI funding at $367,000 may only be spent on student intervention beyond the regular classroom. As with DPIA we receive a significant amount because we have a large portion of our students on public assistance. We have six teachers who provide intervention in grades K-12 and are paid fully or partially through Title I.

IDEA-B funds part of the special education services that we are required to provide. This year we will receive $250,000 to help pay for special education services. We receive more than most other districts because a larger percentage of our students are special education. The average district has about 11% of its students in special education. We are at 17% and, as you know, the services are extremely expensive. This IDEA-B funding covers less than one fourth of the district's special education costs that are well over $1,000,000 per year. In one case the district must spend a little over $60,000 per year to educate one child with special needs and a second child is educated for $51,000 per year.

I hope this gives you a better picture of our per pupil costs.

It certainly would be nice to be able to use that DPEA, Title I, and IDEA-B money in our general fund, but we're not allowed by the state to do that. Turning to an area where the district is very concerned, what cuts have been made, and may be made to sports if the levy fails?

Since June 2003 the Board of Ed has been forced by the state to implement a financial recovery plan. The first and major part of the plan is to reduce expenditures. The Board has already cut $1.5 million and has more cuts to make. The second part of the plan is to increase revenue by $339,000 per year through the levy. In June 2003 over 90% of the budget went to personnel costs. Personnel costs should never exceed 80% because of funds needed for utilities, insurance, maintenance, repairs, supplies, etc.

The first round of cuts were made in areas that had the least negative impact upon academics. Since athletics are extra-curricular sports expenditures were reduced approximately $40,000. This reduction in sports costs represents only 2.7% of the total $1.5 million that was cut.

Will my beloved golf team be eliminated?

We have discussed the possible elimination of golf if the levy does not pass, but this proposal has not been included in the plan.

May the golf gods look down on you kindly. Getting back on point, what is going to happen concerning the sports whether the levy passes or fails?

The first thing I would recommend is that busing be restored to the pre Christmas vacation routes. I do not think that we can afford to replace the 19 coaching positions that were eliminated over the past two years. I would replace field trips only if they were tied to the state academics standards.

The important thing is that we will have to reduce even if the levy passes due to enrollment declines. We have plans to reduce five teaching positions even if the levy passes. If it fails we will have to reduce teaching positions. One preschool and home maintenance program would be eliminated along with several other positions. The class sizes thoughout the district would increase.

If the levy does not pass "pay to participate" will be instituted to alleviate the school district's general fund from paying in excess of $110,000 for coaches salaries and game transportation costs. These costs were over $150,000 prior to the staff reductions. At the junior and senior high levels we have approximately 200 students athletic slots with about 100 student participants. (Students often participate in more than one sport.) The general fund therefore pays approximately $550 per student athletic slot. This is an average cost and actually varies by sport. The Board has not discussed how much of this cost a parent would have to pick up. If the levy passes "pay to participate" will not be recommended.

Could we implement volunteer coaching to help the situation at all?

We do have many volunteer coaches who have stepped forward. At this point there are over 20. At almost every Board meeting volunteer coaches are approved. Keep in mind that they have to by law have BCI check clearance before they are allowed to work with students. Many of these volunteers have been doing this for years for no pay.

Any loose ends you'd like to tie up before we close here?

As far as the claim that we have two people doing one job, here is the answer. Prior to July 1, 2003 the district employed 4 maintenance workers, 1 mechanic, and 1 supervisor of maintenance and transportation. Today the district employs 1 maintenance person who, on occasion when needed, also does mechanic work. The district also employs 1 maintenance supervisor who also does maintenance work and 1 transportation supervisor who does the regular mechanic work. The state has invested $27 million in the new buildings and the residents invested $1 million. As a part of this investment the state has mandated that the district follow a strict maintenance schedule that is computerized and checked on periodically. This is a part of the maintenance supervisor's job. The state also mandates that district maintain its buses and record and report the maintenance via computer. The bottom line is that we now have 3 people doing what 6 were doing two years ago and the work is being performed effectively and much more efficiently.

Thank you for sitting down with me for this imaginary interview. I hope I've presented the thoughts you've posted in a proper manner. If there are any questions, drop a comment and I'll do my best to correct, or at least say hi or something.

No comments: