First, the good:
- The school board saved high school transportation. I think that is fantastic. Even though I don't think anyone spoke on behalf of high school transportation during that evening's public commentary, they saved it anyway.
- They managed to save Pioneer's theater tech person while putting it on Pioneer Theatre Guild to raise more money. That seems reasonable, and I think the Guild will be able to pull it off--they have a good fundraising machine.
- They managed to save middle school sports that were scheduled to be cut.
- At the time of the school board meeting, the district had received 37 announced retirements. It seems possible to me that the district will be able to avoid most of the layoffs.
Second, the "I think this is good but I'm not positive" category:
- The school board saved most of the reading intervention specialists. My question continues to be--does the program work? I haven't seen evidence that it does, or it doesn't. (That doesn't mean the evidence doesn't exist, by the way. It just means I haven't seen it.) I do wish they would share their evidence.
- The school board settled on a mid-point in trying to figure out how much money they will get for best practices from the state. The possible numbers were $70/student, $40/student, and $0/student. Last year they budgeted for $70 (and qualified for it) but more school districts than expected qualified and so the state gave everybody less money. This year, the school board settled on a number between $40 and $70 and I think that was the right decision--however, if we get less than budgeted, that will further erode the fund balance.
- The school board assumed that they will get concessions from the administrators' union, curriculum coordinators, and tech support staff unions equivalent to the 3% concessions from the teachers union and the cabinet members. That will probably happen, but I'll just note that it hasn't yet.
- The school board assumed flat enrollment. Since they saved high school transportation, I am more optimistic that this is correct. Note, however, that the state is rolling back the entry dates for kindergarten (by a month each year for three years, until the birth date cutoff will be September 1). I hope that the estimates for reduced kindergarten enrollment are correct.
Third, the "I'm not sure this was the right thing to do" category:
- The board continued to choose to dip into the fund balance. I share Christine Stead's feeling that this puts the district in a more vulnerable position, because the state of Michigan is not working with the district's best interests in mind. On the other hand, I'm sure I'm not the only parent who is tired of class sizes getting bigger, and fewer electives being offered.
- The board cut the physical education requirement to match the state standard. I don't have a problem with that per se, but: a) I'm really skeptical that this will save the money they expect it to save (which I think was 4 PE teachers, or $400,000) because those students still need electives, and other teachers still need planning time periods, and b) PE classes tend to be on the larger side already, and in any case, kids need PE. [In high school, I had gym four days a week every week of school, for four years.]
Last, the "this was clearly the wrong thing to do" category:
- The district restored seventh hour, but only with a "you have to pay to take the class" option for those schools on the semester schedule (Pioneer, Huron, Community). This is wrong-headed in so many ways. First, before last week's board meeting the ACLU of Michigan had notified the board that they believe this practice to be illegal and unconstitutional. Yet the school board proceeded, risking a lawsuit and all of the fees associated with that, to bring in something like $100,000. [They estimated slightly more income, but in the last-minute rush, I don't think they put in any costs for running a pay-to-play program. So let's call it $100,000 in income.] The school board proceeded, despite the fact that it appears they will be allowing Skyline to continue with a trimester system, and under the trimester system, Skyline students will get three classes more a year for free than the other schools. And that might lead to a different kind of lawsuit. [One thing that could be worrisome about this whole issue--the new interim Superintendent, David Comsa, is the district's attorney. Did he tell the district not to worry about a lawsuit? I don't know, but if he did, I worry about that advice!]
- Adding insult to injury, the board could have kept seventh hour, without any "pay to take the class" option, by accepting Adams Outdoors' offer to pay for three billboards on school property, for $100,000. But the school board rejected the offer, because they didn't like the way the billboards would look. Yup. I'm not a billboard fan, but the budget is very tight. Several years ago the district agreed to put up some cell phone towers to bring in income, and I thought they would look ugly too. But after a very, very short while, I didn't even notice them. Putting up billboards is not like making a deal with the devil. If it allows us to keep seventh hour without a fee, and without risking lawsuits? That says to me--"no brainer!"
And you know, school board, when it comes to these last two issues? You can still change your mind.