Elementary schedule wins board support

By Bryan Richardson

USD 383 school board members indicated Wednesday that it would like to move forward with providing more planning time for elementary teachers.

The item was only slated for discussion, and no decisions were made.

Board member Darell Edie, who was on the elementary task force, said the board needs to provide elementary teachers more development, planning and preparation opportunities.

“Obviously, the best of the best comes with a steep price tag,” Edie said. “I don’t know with what’s going on in Topeka if we can swing it. But we have to do something.”

The plan deemed the best by the task force sets aside eight days for professional development, eight early release days plus 60 minutes per week for collaboration time, and 330 minutes per week for planning.

Currently, elementary teachers have five early release days, three professional development days, no weekly collaboration time and 300 planning minutes per week.

The total estimated cost for the plan is $450,000 to hire the minimum of 9.8 faculty members needed, including seven technology teachers. The district figures that the approximately $99,000 used for current computer lab aides would bring the cost down to $351,000.

There’s not an increase for base state aid per pupil in Gov. Sam Brownback’s proposed budget for fiscal year 2014. Unless efficiencies are found, the mill levy would have to be increased.

Based on this fiscal year’s numbers, it would be increased by about three-fifths of a mill to accommodate the $351,000 needed.

Board member Leah Fliter said she wouldn’t be for raising taxes rashly, but it wouldn’t be a big increase. “To me, that’s not too much to spend to give our elementary teachers the time they need,” Fliter said.

Board vice-president Curt Herrman said the plan would enable teachers to receive help from technology teachers.

He also called the collaboration aspect critical. “I think that’s a huge advantage for our teachers,” he said.

Board member Walt Pesaresi said this plan is the only option for him. Even then, he said high school teachers still have more planning time within the school day since they typically teach five out of seven class periods.

Pesaresi figured it would require an extra 30 or 40 teachers to make the elementary school planning resemble the high school planning. “I would love to do plan A plus, but we don’t have the money for it,” he said.

While expressing desire to provide more planning time, some board members also expressed trepidation about adding more money in this current funding climate.

Board member Beth Tatarko said she has long-term concerns about adding the extra finances, alluding to previous board cuts during the economic downturn a few years ago.

“I would hate to see us then go through further budget reductions and have to take away something or have to begin to cut teachers,” she said.

Board member Pete Paukstelis said this would be the “one of the easiest decisions we’ve ever seen” if the state would fund education as established by the Kansas Supreme Court.

The Kansas Supreme Court established that the base state aid per pupil should be at $4,492 in 2006. In January, the Shawnee County District Court ruled that the state must boost its funding from $3,838 per pupil to $4,492. If that amount has enacted for this school year, USD 383 would have received an additional $6.23 million.

“The problem is that I don’t see that happening in the short term,” Paukstelis said. He said making this change adds more financial pressure.

During a previous board meeting, board president Dave Colburn said the hope is that savings could be found within the high school schedule could help fund it.

The board has also been considering making a change to the high school schedule. Task force members said the goal was to find more collaboration time for teachers rather than make cuts.

The board decided that the high school schedule wouldn’t be changed for the 2013-14 school year due to the changes in personnel coming up at the high school.

The district is interviewing candidates for the MHS principal position after current principal Terry McCarty stated his intentions on leaving at the end of the school year.

The district is also looking to hire a new assistant principal at MHS after the board voted unanimously to reinstate the position Wednesday. One assistant principal position had been left vacant since the 2010-11 school year as a part of budget reductions.

The estimated cost of the position is $83,000, but the district has $30,500 to contribute.

The MHS schedule task force presented three options to the board: six plus zero hour schedule with a late start day, seven hour modified block schedule with two block days and the current seven hour schedule.

The only high school schedule option with savings is a six plus zero hour schedule. The implementation of that schedule would reduce the staff by 11 to 18 teachers with savings of $506,000 to $828,000 based on a beginning teacher’s salary with benefits of $46,000.

However, this option didn’t receive support from teachers or the board. Board members seemed to agree that either of the other two options would work.

Some board members mentioned they would like to pursue ways to make the current high school schedule more efficient.

Herrman said the academic results from the current schedule show that it works. “I don’t think our current system is broken,” he said. “I don’t think we need to do wholesale changes but maybe try to find some efficiency.”

Paukstelis suggested looking at professional learning time for MHS teachers, which he said probably isn’t needed every day.

Edie suggested looking at student-to-teacher ratio, which he called an “expensive issue.” The 2010-11 school year ratio of 15.8 students to a teacher was the lowest among the largest Kansas high schools.

He said a school with bigger class sizes could succeed just as well as MHS does currently, and some of the larger Kansas high schools perform better than MHS. Most schools fell within the 18 to 20 students range in terms of student-to-teacher ratio.

Colburn said this discussion is important to have even though a change won’t be made for the fall. “We do absolutely have to lay the groundwork if we do want to make some kind of significant change,” he said.

Technology

Schools have increased technology capabilities, according to technology director Mike Ribble’s report Wednesday.

The report noted that 75 percent of classrooms have projectors/TVs, all K-12 classroom building have wireless capabilities and 700 iPads are in the schools.

All teachers now have laptops. The district is in the process of replacing the laptops of the first teachers to get them. The plan is to replace laptops after five years.

Ribble said the future desires include moving from desktop computers to mobile devices in all the classrooms, providing more technology professional development to help teachers learn how to utilize technology, and figuring out how technology will fit into the future look of education.

In related news, the board unanimously approved purchasing seven iPads to transition the board to paperless agendas.

The iPads cost about $450 each, including the iPad, device insurance, and applications needed. The approximate total is $3,150.

Board clerk Helen Petrik said this would start saving money for the district after about a year-and-a-half. The district spends about $2,100 per year to print and mail agendas.









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