WEBSTER COUNTY, Ky. (5/8/13) - The Webster County School Board made a strong statement during a work session built into Monday night’s board meeting, telling administrators that it was time students and parents be held accountable for their education.
“The time of accountability has come to pass,” said chairman Jeff Pettit. “Students are no longer going to be able to look at school as a social event.”
The discussion began when Assistant Superintendant Alan Lossner and Supervisor of Assessment and Accountability Kim Saalwaechter presented the board with the 2013-2014 Comprehensive District Improvement Plan.
“The board goes to the five different schools in the district throughout the year, and we get feedback from parents and teachers at other times as well,” Pettit said. “We’re all trying to make this district the best that we can. But it’s like we have five different school districts. When we met with the SBDM, each school was using different programs. It appears there is a need for a little unity.”
Pettit went on to say that the biggest complaint the board members heard was that the students coming into WCHS were “all over the map.” While clearly the programs at each school worked, they didn’t all work as well. Students coming out of different programs would excel in different areas of study.
“That is a SBDM decision,” said Lossner. “There are different road maps to get to the same location.”
“That’s not what we are hearing,” Pettit replied.
“That’s an opinion,” said Lossner.
Discussion then turned to the topic of exit criteria. While the Site Based Committee has reign over the educational programs implemented in their school, the board has the right to control requirements to advance to the next grade level.
“It’s not about the programs, it's about a common assessment,” said Saalwaechter. “Right now the accountability is all on our shoulders, none of it is on the students and their parents.”
Saalwaechter and Lossner suggested a system that would require students at certain grade levels meet certain standards before advancing to the next grade. For example, if the board set exit criteria for third grade, parents would know when their children started kindergarten what that criteria would be. It would be the teacher’s responsibility to teach the required information, but students (and parents) would be responsible for making sure the child had done the work.
“Since I’ve been on the board, that is the first time I’ve heard a proposal that could really help us move forward,” Pettit said.
“What happened to failing a student that didn’t make the grades?” asked board member Leland Steeley. “That solves it all.”
“That sounds simple, but if you have a sixth grader that fails, then you start having 15 or 16 year olds in middle school,” Lossner explained. “I’m not sure every child in every grade can pass a test to move on. It’s a logistic problem.”
Board member Mickey Dunbar asked Saalwaechter and Lossner, along with the administrators, to come up with a plan that would be ready for the 2013-2014 school year
“Who cares what the state thinks, let’s get our kids educated and we’ll be in the top 10 or 20 percent in the state,” he said. “I’m not afraid to lose my board seat in four years if it gets our kids educated.”
“Our schools, which used to be educational facilities, are becoming health care and day care facilities,” Pettit added. “Teachers have to worry about everything but teaching. We pay teachers to teach. We have to bring attention back to what they’re supposed to be doing.”
The board instructed Lossner and Saalwaechter to develop a workable program that they could review and implement by the start of next school year.
Also a big topic during the work session was the issue of extracurricular bus transportation. Some debate on the topic has been going on for quite a while, but a minor bus wreck in late March brought things to a head.
The accident in question happened in Owensboro, where a MHVS LLC bus transporting Clay Elementary students struck a metal pole while attempting to turn from East Veterans Boulevard onto Daviess Street. The accident was minor, with no injuries, but during the investigation Owensboro police officers discovered that the charter bus driver was not licensed to drive a bus.
Superintendant Dr. James Kemp immediately suspended usage of MHVS, which was cheaper for clubs and organizations to use than the districts own buses.
From August to March, the districts clubs and organizations paid a combined $23,000 for rental of school buses. Without the use of charter buses during that time the amount would have been drastically higher.
“The only way a club can get it cheaper is if (like a large program such as the football team) you can get the same amount of students and equipment into one charter bus that would take two school buses,” WC Transportation Director Jill Simpson said.
She explained that under the current plan, organizations can choose to use charter buses or the district’s buses. The district charges $1.36 per mile to use the bus,. The board pays $.30 of that, leaving the club to pay the other $1.06 per mile.
Simpson said the actual cost to the district to operate a bus was $1.82, which includes fuel, insurance, depreciation and other wear and tear associated with daily to and from school travel.
“That cost reflects five days a week use,” said board member Tim McCormick. “It's unfair to the individual clubs to pay this. We’re going to be paying insurance on the bus if it’s setting in the garage.”
“I would like to see us make it cheaper for our organizations,” Pettit added. “We cannot afford to pick up the entire bill, but when you have kids that play two or three sports, it gets hard for them to raise the money to pay for buses. We are quickly running out of donors in this county.”
One possible solution that she suggested was the purchase of an alternative bus. She said that there is a baseline coach bus available for $97,000, which is in the same neighborhood as what the district would pay for a traditional school bus. It is basically a charter-style bus designed for use by schools. It seats 70 people and has a larger cargo hold.
The board instructed Simpson and Dr. Kemp to find a way to cut the cost for the clubs and bring it back to the board at a later date.
Briefly the board also discussed the 2013-2014 budget. The numbers at the moment are not set in stone, but it’s clear the district will face some tough financial decisions going forward.
“The state grants are mostly the same or just slightly lower,” said Alan Lossner. The federal money, however, is showing around a 10 percent decrease. “That doesn’t sound like a lot, but when you spread it across all the schools, it will impact instruction.”
Some of the federal funds are used to fund projects like Trojan Academy and Americorp, which provide much needed supplemental instruction to students.
Dr. Kemp told the board that he would present a proposed budget at the next board meeting, scheduled for May 20, 2013 in the WCHS library.
J-E News Editor
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