The School Board funding request has been submitted to the Board of Supervisors for its consideration. The Board of Supervisors will hear public feedback on March 3. This funding request represented a three-year trend line in decreased revenues. During the last two years of building funding requests to reduced revenues, I have worked with staff and the School Board to reduce centralized staff positions by over 26 positions and operational expenses across all departments that indirectly support student learning. The School Board and I have had a strong commitment to maintaining direct services to learners and learning and making reductions in ways that touch young people and those who serve them directly to as small a degree possible. Thus, we have worked hard to keep cuts away from our learners- including services in the arts, physical education, career/tech education, media centers, and guidance and all other areas of learning.
This year is different. Our Board considered a funding request from me resulting in cuts in services and program options that clearly will impact learners. My initial funding request was based on a little more than $5 million dollars in reductions and an addition of $3 million to offset an increase in benefits costs for employees. Because our employees are facing a second year of frozen wages and a possible five-day work furlough, it only made sense to reduce the impact on our employees as wage earners.
Since the School Board received my request, two more financial blows have occurred:
- the reversal of the Governor’s opinion to uphold a proposed freeze on composite index changes
- an additional reduction in state revenues to increasing shortfalls at the state level.
Together, these changes result in a new shortfall that could be close to $15 million less than the 2009-10 budget. After receiving news of this revenue setback, the School Board realized that our division was looking at a catastrophic shortfall. We would be faced with not just implementation of the Tier I reductions I had recommended but both the Tier II and III worst-case scenario reduction strategies projected for 2010-11 and 2011-12.
The School Board faithfully has used the Resource Utilization Study conducted in 2007 by the Commonwealth Educational Policy Institute to guide our staff’s focus on increasing the efficiency and effectiveness of the division. One recommendation included in study was related to creating a common secondary school schedule.
For two years, the Board with staff has considered this recommendation to determine feasibility, potential merits, and concerns. Moving to a modified 4×4 schedule was placed in Tier III as an option for future cost savings. When the worst case scenario emerged as likely, the Board requested staff to prepare an immediate overview and assessment of moving to such a schedule for 2010-11. At my direction, assistant superintendent Billy Haun and secondary director Dr. Matt Haas put together prior and new information about this schedule which was shared with the Board. In that presentation, Mr. Haun noted that the major issue which would emerge would be communication to build understanding, commitment, and ownership for such a rapid change. In a typical year, staff would work with stakeholders for 4-6 months to move towards such a change. This shift has occurred in less than a month as a result of the significance of this proposed budget. And as we predicted, communication has been our greatest challenge.
The modified 4×4 schedule is used in high schools across the Commonwealth and the United States. It is another common schedule just as is the 7 A/B schedule currently used in our high schools. Four middle schools and Murray High already use a version of the 4×4 schedule. While there are advantages and disadvantages to every version of secondary schedules in use, the new schedule as we will use it will maximize advantages and minimize disadvantages. And, of course, the key reason a schedule change is being implemented so quickly right now will be the cost savings and lessening of impact on increased class sizes in grades k-12. This is a different year.