Recap of January 31 School Board Meeting

Here are some highlights of the January 31 School Board meeting, compliments of the snow day.

Approval of High School Plan Guiding Principles

While there has been much talk about the District’s high school plan and the consistency of its components with the District’s strategic plan and TAG plan, prior to Monday night the Board had not specifically endorsed the initiative.

As I have written before, the heart of the plan is the alignment of District-wide curriculum to the ACT Career and College Readiness Standards and to the Common Core standards for math and literacy recently adopted in Wisconsin and many other states.

I think this is the most significant initiative the District has undertaken during the three years that I have been on the Board.  It seems to me that it fundamentally redefines the relationship between the District and its teachers in a way that implies greater consistency and accountability.   I am happy to see it.

At our meeting on Monday, the Board unanimously approved the following high school guiding principles:

  • We will be aligning to the ACT Career and College Readiness Standards and the Common Core Standards
  • This will be a comprehensive PreK-12 process, to build continuity across all grade levels
  • We will be implementing aligned assessments, including the Educational Planning & Assessment System (EPAS)
  • The high school alignment will initially focus on grades 9 and 10 in the four core content areas
  • We will establish common understandings, knowledge and skills using Universal Designs for Learning (UDL)

In response to Arlene Silveira’s question, Dan Nerad explained that neither the first nor any of the other guiding principles should be seen as authorizing changes in high school electives.

Now that the principles have been established, we’ll be moving toward school-based discussions of how the alignment process should unfold.  The results of those discussions will serve as input into a district-wide high school alignment plan.

Summer School Report and 2011 Recommendations

The Board considered the administration’s recommendations for our 2011 summer school program.  This discussion was painful.  I hope it is not a precursor of budget decisions to come.

Scott Zimmerman, the District’s Director for Early and Extended Learning, put together a solid plan for expanding summer school to provide acceleration, credit recovery and extra time to learn specific content areas for students who have been struggling, as well as opportunities for enrichment for higher achieving students with curriculum appropriately differentiated to provide rigor.  The goal is to model the curriculum as a fifth academic quarter of instruction to limit learning losses over the summer and increase skills.

The plan calls for a significant increase in summer school students – from about 2,550 students to about 3,400 students for the academic and credit recovery classes and from about 640 to about 800 students for enrichment classes.

This is a great proposal.  I have long thought that we don’t make as much use of summer as we should.  Summer school provides the best available opportunity to increase instructional time for the students who need it the most.

The problem is the expense.  The expanded summer school program would cost the District about $500,000 more to provide.   It turns out that in the next year (2012-2013) we should actually get additional state aid that more than offsets the cost of the program (because summer school enrollees count for as much as .4 students for purposes of determining district enrollment for purposes of the state’s funding formula, which has the effect of bringing down both our per-student spending and our property value per student).  But that won’t help us for 2011-2012.

Because I think this is such a valuable program, I would be strongly inclined to vote to increase our property tax levy to cover the cost.  We may not have that opportunity, however.  There has been talk from the Capitol that Governor Walker may propose not only reductions in state aid to education, but also restrictions on school districts increasing their property tax levies to make up the difference, even if the District’s overall spending remains under the existing spending cap.  In other words, the Governor may propose that school districts are effectively barred from adding new programs that are clearly beneficial for its students and that the community wants and is willing to pay for.

If this should come to pass, then it doesn’t seem as if it would be prudent for the Board to approve the new summer school plan, regardless of how promising it seems, if that approval will necessitate dollar-for-dollar cuts elsewhere.

Acknowledging this risk, the Board essentially punted on the issue on Monday night.  We put off a vote on the plan for expanding the summer school program until next month, when we should have a better idea of what the Governor’s budget proposal will contain.

Charter School Proposal for Madison Prep:

We unanimously approved a couple of motions regarding the Madison Prep charter proposal that Arlene Silveira aptly described as housekeeping matters.

One addressed the format of the detailed proposal the school is required to submit to the Board and the other adjusted the submission deadline to account for changes in our Board calendar.

We will be asked to approve the detailed proposal at our February Board meeting so that the Urban League can apply for a planning grant from DPI.   A request for actual final approval of the charter school would not come until next year.

We have not yet received financial projections for the school or any indication of how much funding will be required from the District for the project to be feasible.  We are expecting to receive that information this month, before our vote on the detailed proposal.

Administrator Retirements:

As we do every year at this time, we had the bittersweet duty of approving retirements under the administrators’ retirement plan.

Among those who have let us know that the current school year will be their last:

  • Pam Nash – Assistant Superintendent for Secondary Schools
  • Gail Anderson – Spring Harbor Middle School Principal
  • Nancy Evans – Wright Middle School Principal
  • Karen Seno – Cherokee Middle School Principal
  • Cathy McMillan – Franklin Elementary School Principal
  • Frank Kelly – Director of Food Services

Our retirees are leaving big shoes to fill.

The Process for Considering and Adopting our 2011-2012 Budget

We approved a revised and improved (we hope) process for budget deliberations and decisions. The backbone of the process is the five-year budget model we recently approved.  On February 14, the administration is to provide options for property tax increases for the 2011-2012 school year, the Board is then to agree on a level of property tax increase to set as a target for purposes of identifying necessary levels of budget reductions and efficiencies, and the Board is also to specify areas where possible cuts should not be proposed.

I assume the idea is that this would take place at the meeting of the Board’s Operational Support Committee that is scheduled for February 14.   However, since only three Board members (not including me) are members of the committee and hence authorized to vote at its meetings, we might have to make some adjustments to accommodate the Board decisions that seem to be contemplated for this meeting.

A month later, on March 14, the superintendent will present to the Operational Support Committee his recommended budget cuts and efficiencies in order to satisfy the spending goal that the Board has adopted.

The Board will then wrestle with those recommendations and consider alternative approaches for the next several weeks.  The Board may start voting on specific proposals at its March 28 meeting.

The goal is to complete work on a preliminary budget in May, perhaps at a May 9 meeting (layoff notices must be sent out no later than May 23), with the preliminary budget adopted on June 6.

Grateful Acknowledgement of the Generosity of Donors

We were happy to accept generous donations of $56,000 from AT&T to support continued expansion of the AVID program at East, and of $30,000 worth of equipment from Electronic Theatre Controls as part of the fundraising effort to renovate East’s theater (only $3,970,000 more to go!).

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