In the direction of truth

It’s October, which is an absolutely beautiful time of year. Of course there are cooler nights, falling leaves and temperate days.

And for those of us who enjoy politics and government, it is the only time of year when our communities engage in truly open debate. For those of us who like to discuss the issues, this is our time. Because it’s not just a few of us wrestling with a budget or debating the day’s headlines. Our entire community becomes engaged.

The signs are showing up on busy intersections and along well-traveled routes. Our neighbors are talking a bit more about politics—it’s less taboo than at any other time of year.

But there’s a strange thing that also happens in October. As there is more communication on the election—there seems to be less information. There are more words, but they seem to say less. As we get closer and closer to November, there is less time to check the facts. There is much being said about Springboro Schools, but how much of it is true?

Here is the truth.

  • We have achieved a balanced, children-first budget

  • We have lowered fees

  • We have implemented efficiency plans that direct savings back into our schools

  • We have hired additional teachers and aides

  • We have opened the preschool / early learning center

  • We have expanded high school A/P courses

  • We are promoting dual credit and PSEO to allows student to gain full college credits in high school

  • We have a coordinated technology plan with wireless access for every building, new laptops to every teacher and more than 1,100 new computers throughout the district.

  • We are exploring the data to understand the “proficient” standard and to set a higher bar for achievement.

These facts are indisputable. Still, we may see the truth differently.  In math, we have proofs. In science, we have theories to test. But in our schools, we see the truth as it affects our kids in the classroom, our teachers and staff whom we hired, our traditions, and our personal expectations. It is personal.

In Plato’s Allegory of the Cave, the prisoners can only see shadows. It is the only reality they know. It is theirs. It is known, comfortable, understandable and real. But when the shadows are revealed and the prisoners are asked to embrace a new reality of the light that casts the shadows, they resist it. Their truth was in the shadows that they had known for so long. This is like our definition of “proficient.” We thought proficient was good, until we learned what the raw scores are.

When someone asks you to look at things in a new way—to entertain the idea that the truth is not what you thought it was—it is normal to fight it. That is why this board made transparency and debate a cornerstone of all we do.

While the Board of Education has made missteps in the past year and a half, we made them in a transparent fashion.  This transparency allowed the community to round out our actions to reflect their wishes and desires. When we work together and talk to each other about the issues, better solutions are developed.

So, here in the month of October, let’s keep the discussion going. Let’s talk about the record. Let’s talk about the standards. Let’s talk about the facts. Let’s move together in the direction of truth. The truth is not in the online video from Olentangy United. The truth is not in rumors. The truth is not in the shadows of the past.

The truth is that we are using data to improve upon what is already a strong school district. If we only look at the shadows on the wall, we limit our own perspective, and we also limit the possibilities for Springboro students.

 

Advertisements

In the direction of balance

Balance can be seen on scales, in sports and on spreadsheets. There are times when balance is easy to see and define. There are times when we have to work to achieve balance. For example, in our own homes we try to find a perfect balance between work and family. Although we can define the ideal, we rarely meet it.

With the Board of Education race in Springboro this fall, voters will look for balance. Some will argue balance means putting opposing sides together on the board. But the picture of balance needs to be bigger than that. Board of Education members are elected to represent the community in the school district.

The board is elected to balance the interests of students, parents, taxpayers, and employees.  Many school boards lack balance because they are comprised of people with more allegiance to maintaining a specific establishment than to the greater cause.

In Springboro, balance has been restored. With a new administrative team, the Springboro school district has adopted a mission to “accelerate student achievement and support qualified staff with a balanced budget.” These are not empty words: they summarize actions. Together, we have achieved a balanced budget. We are on the right course, but it has not been easy.

With Educate Springboro, we brought changes that forced many to rethink long-held beliefs. Anytime the status quo changes, there is resistance. Panicked petitions and hysterical headlines have made things feel” out of balance. So now, there is a slate of three candidates that want to return to the past – which “felt” balanced.

However, today we can see just how far out of balance we actually were under the previous leadership. Some of the imbalances of the past include:

  • Capping high school class sizes in the 20s, while other grades who most need teacher attention, had larger class sizes (often up to 30).
  • Teaching the majority to meet the proficient standard (proficient is a OAA test score in 8th grade >40), while our district receives a “D” in gifted education and a “C” for our more challenged, lowest 20%.
  • Ignoring the changing curriculum and testing standards for students.
  • Charging higher pay-to-play and school fees than were necessary.
  • Failing to plan for technology in our classrooms and then spending resources on wireless technology that was inadequate and required replacement.
  • Ignoring recommendations to improve the rigor of our high school academic programs by failing to promote college credit options for our students.
  • Reacting to circumstances and spending more than budgeted instead of planning to invest and keeping up our buildings, grounds and bus fleet.
  • Assuming the only solution was higher taxes and hoping for a new levy to pass.

These are symptoms of the status quo controlling a school district that lost its balance.

If there was any balance at all in the past, it was an eye for an eye. As this community said no” to five new money levies, district leaders failed to find levy alternatives.  The status quo threatened the community with cuts. Thankfully, many of those leaders have left, but some now would like to return to sit on our school board. 

This year’s record is easy to defend because it consistently demonstrates investing in Children First. From replacing the District’s aging computers, buses, to implementing new curriculum and raising expectations with new standards, testing – we have progressed!

Why would we give control back to those who slowed this district’s progress? Those who inflated budget forecasts? Those who ignored the capital needs of the District? Most importantly, why would we elect the same people who neglected to put Children First in our schools?

The Children First budget is navigating us away from the repeated failures of the past. Now, working in open, public meetings, asking tough questions, hearing all voices, using performance data and striving to find a balance that supports teachers, our community is achieving the goal to put Children First in every decision.

Balance is about consistent, sustainable, forward-looking leadership. Educate Springboro sees the bigger picture and leads in the direction of balance for our children, schools and community.  We’ll continue to be the voice that stands up for parents and the community, examining past practices, and making tough decisions – whether it is providing technology, more services for gifted students, raises for employees, or even a tax rollback – To maintain balance for the benefit of everyone.

We hope you will share this good news with your friends and neighbors.

In the direction of common sense, continued

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.”

–Thomas Jefferson, The Declaration of Independence

When the Declaration of Independence was written and signed in the summer of 1776, the population of our nation is estimated to have been about 2.5 million people. Today, the United States population is more than 315 million people. The Declaration has grown with our nation to symbolize individual and national liberty throughout the world.

Jefferson stated that, “This was the object of the Declaration of Independence. Not to find out new principles, or new arguments, never before thought of, not merely to say things which had never been said before; but to place before mankind the common sense of the subject, in terms so plain and form as to command their assent, and to justify ourselves in the independent stand we are compelled to take.”

–Thomas Jefferson.    

At one time, it was both grand, and also common sense. With the Declaration, the founding fathers unified the 13 colonies in a single direction. Though we see perfection in it today, we know that Jefferson’s early draft was heavily critiqued and edited. Even though it was common sense, it changed the status quo. It changed the course and gave entirely new direction to the colonies, as they became an emerging and sovereign nation.

Events throughout history and even locally today bear some resemblance. What is simply stated common sense may appear to be the most radical. As we’ve sought to improve communications, transparency and budgeting in Springboro schools, we’ve seemed radical to some. But in fact, its common sense to put kids first, to form plans for purchasing textbooks and technology, and to attend to the basics such as roofs and buses. For too long, the district appeared to work very well, but it lacked clear direction. With no plan for textbooks, technology, capital improvements, buses and more, there was no larger course charted for our schools.

This common sense approach does not strip the district of its traditions or diversity. It does not ignore it accomplishments and honors, including “Excellent with Distinction.” It simply gives us a unifying direction that extends beyond any individual building or year.

Look for future blog posts to articulate how I believe we are leading the district toward success.

Children First Budgeting Works!!

On May 23, 2013, the Board of Education Unanimously adopted the recommendations of the Budget & Finance Committee. A budget that invests in our children’s education. To the best of my knowledge, never in the history of Springboro Community City Schools has so much been done without the need to raise taxes.

I encourage you to pass this message along to all of your friends and family. Please share this blog site with everyone, no matter what side of an issue they stand. It is time to rally for our children of this school district, it is time to rally behind our graduates that leave our care on June 1, and it is time to rally behind all of the success this year, such as maintaining an Excellent with Distinction !!!! Much work has been done, and each time, our team achieve their mission – they deliver!

Here is the entire message presented to the Board and our entire community. Please ask the Springboro School Treasurer, Tracy Jarvis (tjarvis@springboro.org) for a copy of the 5-year forecast and assumptions and thank you for taking the time and consideration.

Budget & Finance Committee May 2013 5-year Forecast Recommendation & Comments

David Petroni, Chairman of the Budget and Finance Committee.

May 23, 2013

By unanimous vote, the Board of Education established and authorized the Budget and Finance Committee to review all matters of forecasting and finance. A 5-year forecast and set of assumptions are required to be updated twice a year per the Ohio Department of Education. It is within this authority and process that district finances are evaluated and vetted. In Springboro, the May forecast is used by the administration and board as the next fiscal year’s operating budget, which begins July 1, 2013. This committee of the board only makes recommendations. The recommendations are then presented to the full board for their deliberation and approval.

Tonight, the committee is pleased to present a budget and 5-year forecast that offers respect to the taxpayer and employee, is transparent to everyone, and is, at its core, child centric. This forecast is investing at unprecedented levels in curriculum and tools for educators, while remaining fiscally responsible. The forecast also recognizes the uncertainty about ongoing negotiations with the Ohio Education Association, potential revenue increases provided in the Governors new budget, and the risks associated with asking the community to support a levy. Changes to any of these three areas can impact the projected fund balance in either negative or positive ways.

With those aforementioned caveats in mind, this forecast and its accompanying assumptions establish policies of the board that in recent history have not been accomplished without attempting to raise taxes. Like in both forecasts adopted in 2012, this budget does not need new taxes.

The goals and investments of the budget are targeted & measured, and timed to fit within available resources. This fiscal management philosophy is to assure everyone in Springboro clearly understands that the district is diligently working to live within the currently approved tax revenues.

Naturally, every school district in Ohio claims that children are their first priority. Today in Springboro, we not only claim it, we own the naming rights! The adoption of this forecast is the evidence that public education is fully supported in Springboro by this Board of Education. The proof is in the fact that we are investing heavily in our infrastructure, both physical and technical, in our curriculum, and the safety of our children and staff, while recognizing employee concerns that will remain open until completion of negotiations.

Since instituting child centric investment policies last year, the results are remarkably visible. Putting our children’s education first is good policy, it is good for public education, it is good for professional educators, it is good for our students for it WILL continue to help attract the best and the brightest teachers. As outlined and conditioned in the assumptions, this district has never been on firmer financial ground.

There are a few noteworthy changes since our October 2012 forecast in board policy, revenues, and expenditures as follows:

1. The Rocky Express Revenue collected will increase $2.4 million thru 2017. This is not a tax increase on our community, it is an intangible tax on the public utility.

2. Like in 2010/ 2011, the board again offered an early retirement incentive plan for all employees which is projected to reduce expenses by $1.266 million in salary and benefits. 34 employees took this early retirement incentive, which will pay them each up to $40,000 over a fixed term.

3. The board approved Mr. Petrey’s plan to start preschool next school year that will increase Personal Services (Salaries) and benefits and reduce Purchased services (previous preschool contract). The plan projects to capture a slight expense reduction thru 2017. There may be additional money for preschool and gifted services in the Governors budget. Since the State budget process will not be completed until June 30, nothing has been projected.

4. Mr. Petrey presented an efficiency plan to the board that is projected to be net – neutral in cost. This plan re-allocates resources based on student achievement data. The administration demonstrated to the board it is possible to manage existing resources by shifting them to address defined gaps. This is projected to be at no additional cost while improving the quality public education and the high standards expected of Springboro Schools.

5. The combining of our elementary school buildings this year accounts for an approximate $150,000 in savings thru 2017. Due to the efficiencies of operating Dennis and Five Points as one separate but unified building, it allowed the administration to balance class sizes and maintain current staffing levels for the next school year.

6. To the best of my knowledge, for the first time in Springboro’s history, a comprehensive capital improvement plan identified $5.8 million in capital needs and deferred maintenance. This plan is recommended to be funded at approximately 50%. Based on projected tax revenue last year, This year, based on updated revenue projections, the committee is adopting the administration’s recommendation to increase this spending by approximately $1.3 million to a total cost of $3.7 which will be spread throughout this forecast. The residual balance of $2.1 million has been identified as an unmet need and shall remain a goal of the district if we are to adequately maintain our facilities. Immediate and full funding of this plan would reduce the projected fund balance (Line 12.010)

7. Project 21, the district technology investment plan, is a $1.3 million initiative and a model for others to follow. The technology plan created by our tech department outlines a long-term investment program that provides tools for our teachers and creates a 21st century learning environment for our children in every classroom. This plan purchases over 1,100 computers, and assures every building in our district has Wi-Fi capability to support the expansion of bring your own technology (BYOT) program. The investment is also designed to meet the on line testing required by the State’s adoption of the Common Core Standards.

8. Over $2 million will be invested in a transportation plan to assure our parents their children will be safe traveling to and from our schools and while in our care traveling to extra curricular events throughout the year. The plan proposes to replace 21 buses thru 2017. 11 buses were purchased today through the utilization of tax-exempt bonds, which also allowed Moody’s to re-evaluate our bond ratings. Moody’s findings are included at the end of the assumptions in total.

9. In August of 2010, that board authorized investing $2.470 million in new textbooks and new textbook adoptions. To date $600,000 has been spent. The forecast includes the remaining $1.8 million. An additional $600,000 has been identified as an unmet need based on the curriculum department’s recommendation.

10. There have been reports out of Columbus stating Springboro may receive 6%, or approximately $1.8 million more in foundation money under the budget bill. Until the budget process concludes, no increase in revenue has been projected. Counting your chickens before the eggs hatch is never sound thinking.

Let me pause here for just a moment to celebrate all of this success.

It would be an understatement to say that these are exciting times for our children, teachers, and our entire community.

Fiscally speaking, the district budget has been built to meet the needs of our students, supporting our teachers, while showing deference and respect to the taxpayers who have continued their support of public education in Springboro. How we treat our children today will determine how this community treats our district.

Open items that require more diligence, discussion, and study are pay to participate, our relationship with all our support organizations that surround extra curricular programs, student enrollment trends, housing growth trends, employee contract negotiations, and specific plan development for several noted unmet needs.

The unmet needs list if fully funded would reduce our current projected surplus fund balance. These are wants that are not currently prioritized into the annual spending plan until such time revenue projections support the additional investments because quite frankly, rational and responsible choices must be made in determining the allocation of scarce resources. We are not the federal government, who can print money whenever the need arise, we are constrained by the revenue the taxpayers of the school district provide us.

A critical component of this forecast is the inclusion of $9.2 million from the expiration of an emergency levy established 5 years ago. Since May of 2012, the revenue from this levy has been included in the assumptions and fund balance. We pray the taxpayers accept our recommendation and the research performed that went into its making.

Based on this forecast and specifics defined by each assumption, the committee is recommending placing a levy on the November 2013 ballot with the amount not to exceed the $9.2 million the district will lose when the previous emergency levy expires.

The first deadline for making the November ballot is August 2, 2013. It is our hope that the caveats and uncertainties in our budget forecast will be clarified by that time.

In summary, the budget presented reflects an increase in our district fund balance from $5.8 million to $7.2. I wish to thank the administration and all of our staff for their hard work and accomplishments of the past year.

The $7.2 million net fund balance includes the passage of the $9.2 million levy and excludes the $1 mm board emergency reserve (forecast line 12.010). Based on advise from our legal counsel, the assumptions around compensation and benefits remain consistent with no change to specific employee concerns until mutual agreement is reached through the negotiation process. This process should be permitted to reach it terminus before any actions are taken.

This 5-year forecast has been developed in the sunshine in open meetings duly attended by the public; the budget expenditures have been aligned with our revenues; it is transparent to the EVERYONE, and it shows respect to the taxpayers of this district who have supported Springboro Schools for decades.

If the children are our community’s first priority, then the philosophy of Children First Budgeting makes sense. It creates plans and prioritizes spending so that the things most important to education and student achievement are funded first. It does not allow one budget item to absorb so much that other critical items are left wanting.

The one unifying principal we all profess is that ” it’s about the children”. If that is indeed true, then let us set aside partisan difference, and rally for the education of our children, because the children must be our first priority!

In closing, it is the committee’s recommendation that the board accept the financial forecast and assumptions as presented for submission to the Ohio Department of Education.

Vote May 7, 2013!

Public education began with the first school in 1635 in the Massachusetts Colony. The Boston Latin School was founded and continues today as the first and oldest existing school.  After the Revolutionary War, it was recognized that an educated citizenry was vital to the health and success of our young nation.  This idea continued to develop alongside the growth of our nation. By 1870, there was a focus and emphasis on education.  The movement to have all states offer free public elementary school had begun as a result. Literacy rates in the United States were high.

Thirty years later, at the dawn of the 20th century, the purpose of public education became clear.  Educators realized post secondary school were needed. The premise was that an educated electorate could build more educated citizens, develop skills needed to increase prosperity in the United States, and improve both critical and logical thinking skills.  Today, these same qualities exist as the foundational tenants behind public education.

In 1917, the National Education Association (NEA)reorganized. Their competition is the American Federation of Teachers (AFT).  According to Wikipedia, both organizations’ goals are to “better mobilize and represent teachers and educational staff”. Wikipedia also states “the NEA saw itself as an upper-middle class professional organization, while the AFT identified itself with the working class and the union movement”and is located more in larger cities. In Ohio, there is another teacher labor organization, called the Ohio Education Association (OEA). According to the OEA web page (About OEA – History), “The Ohio Education Association has a long and proud history of advocating for children in public education”, founded in Summit County in December of 1847.

Our nation and state economy have yet to fully recover from this recent recession. Through these challenged times, we all have been forced to make tougher choices than we would have preferred. Some were humbling to many.  People experienced a loss of homes, savings, and a degree of security. Maybe you went on unemployment for the first time in your entire life and struggled more than you had in the past to put food on the table for your family. Your retirement benefits dwindled; you may be re-employed at a lower pay scale; or you had to take a pay cut, just to survive.

Our school district is not immune to these same uncertainties.  An uncertain economic future impacts not only individual households, but also those entities which are dependent on the financial support from those same households. At the April 25, 2013 Board of Education meeting, the board discussed that over $233,000, yes, over $233,000 in school fees are uncollected – delinquent. School fees are extra charges to parents for consumable goods used in educating their children. Obviously even our community has not recovered and things must be tight for our families in Springboro.

As our year progresses, as citizens, you will have at least 3 opportunities to exercise your electoral rights. May 7 is around the corner.  Regardless of which way you vote on May 7, it is your duty to perform due diligence upon the issues, evaluate the arguments, then vote based upon rational reflection.

Please share this message with your friends and family, encourage them to take a few minutes, learn about the issues on the May 7 ballot and vote.  Isn’t that one of the main purposes of public education?  Not to mention one of the freedoms we have by living in the United States of America.