District considering what money to return to state

By Desiree Laws Moore

The Seaford Board of Education met Monday night and agreed to have the district’s administrators continue investigating what monetary cuts will not directly affect the students if returned to the state’s budget. The district is concerned about Gov. Ruth Ann Minner’s recent request that the Seaford School District voluntarily return $297,000 from the district’s budget back to the state. Superintendent Dr. Russell Knorr shared portions of a memo sent to all district superintendents dated Nov. 4 from Dr. Valerie Woodruff, Secretary of Education, requesting the money be returned. The memo disclosed that due to the $95 million deficit in the state budget for this fiscal year and the projected $135 million deficit for next fiscal year, the governor has called for a hiring freeze and each state agency is being asked to return money to the state’s budget. The Department of Education is asked to return a total of $10 million and each district in the state is to come up with 1.34 percent of that total. Woodruff also asked that the reductions be made in areas that do not affect direct services to the students. Knorr also shared portions of a memo dated Nov. 12 from Jerry Gallagher, Department of Education director of financial management, asking that each district submit a list of reductions by Friday, Nov. 15. The district’s administrators came up with a draft resolution in last Thursday’s administrative council meeting and board members were given copies of their suggestions. The council suggests that giving back $208,000 would be the most they could sacrifice in their budgets. Some areas that could see cuts in the budget are: extra time duty assignments for one of the intersessions at the balanced calendar Central Elementary School, the new teacher mentoring program and professional development. Out of the district’s 40 new teachers 37 are either new to Delaware or new to teaching. “The best we could come up with is still $85,000 short of the request,” stated Knorr. “This year’s budget is the tightest I have ever seen and the small poor school districts will see a greater impact. Asking for a flat 1.34 percent from each school district is not equal or fair. “The cuts that they are looking at are not good cuts,” he continued. “Other districts are sitting on Division I units (teaching units based on student enrollment) that [are] not going to be used. I am surprised at the number of districts not staffed by student enrollment. We use all of our units to provide teaching in lower class sizes and to provide classes that our students need.” The superintendent explained that the state is not looking at its accountability requirements as a way to cut back on spending. For instance, the state does off-grade testing and is testing students in writing and social studies, not required by the federal government. He also said that awards do not have to be given to schools with high scores on the state tests and that the governor will not bend on having a reading specialist in each elementary school. Knorr said that the state has a rainy day fund used for natural and economic disasters that has a balance of $129 million. “I am troubled that the rainy day fund has not been an option,” said David Speicher, board member. “When you look at the revenue per student ratio, we are second to the bottom in the state. Vocational schools get $5,000 more per pupil and we do not have that kind of cushion.” Knorr added that some of the bigger districts have bigger cushions because they are sitting on as many as eight Division I units. “If we volunteer to give back the money, the impression is that we did not need the money,” Dr. Bill Parmelee, board president, said. “I think maybe we should walk a tight rope and see what we can give back without seriously affecting our students. If they want more, they will just have to make a request.” Jim VanVleck, board member, said, “The easy answer is no, don’t give the money back, but that is not necessarily the right answer. I think the biggest fallacy is the 1.34 percent. We don’t have control of that much in our budget.” “We need to communicate with Rep. Tina Fallon, Sen. Robert Venables, and the district’s parents about this issue,” said Donna Zakrewsky, board member. “We also need to communicate with the state’s education committee.” Zakrewsky asked Lynn Lester, director of administrative services for Seaford School District, if, with the same flexibility that charter schools have with their budgets, Seaford would more easily be able to meet the state’s request. “We could make some economies if we had that kind of flexibility,” said Lester. The board will review the list of suggestions from the administrative council and come back to the Dec. 16 board meeting with a more definitive plan. The board also heard a budget update from Lester and the principal’s report from Mike Smith, the high school principal. In the expense budgets for the schools, priority was given to materials and supplies that have a direct impact on student learning and on the delivery of the district’s instructional programs. In the updated budget, the district has provided funding for all curriculum-related unmet needs requested by principals and district level administrators. “This is an ongoing process as is identifying unmet needs,” said Lester. “After the approval of the discretionary budget we are continually in the process of updating revenues and the biggest impact has been the money per pupil received after the Sept. 30 count.” The local payroll shows a slight change only because of the decrease in the number of students enrolled in charter schools. Lester reported a net increase of $113,000 in the district’s local and state income. Based on the unmet needs process, $15,000 was replaced in the budget due to testing and program changes in physics and for audiovisual support and a microphone for the Blades Elementary cafeteria. In the set asides account, where big ticket, long-term replacement items are budgeted, Lester reported that funding was inadequate for the resurfacing of the track, estimated to cost $23,000. There is $11,000 allocated for a new e-mail server and $11,000 for a new scoreboard in the gym at the high school. The total expense budget is $8.9 million, an increase of $277,209. “This budget meets all the needs of our students,” said Lester.

Smith reported that the high school is headed in the right direction. “We have focused on a team aspect in our school and we are starting to get there,” said Smith. “Our staff pledged (it would take) two years to get where we wanted and we are one-eighth of the way there.” He said that the high school has had an improvement in student achievement and parent and community involvement. There are 1,007 students enrolled at the high school. “We took a hit with the scores on the writing test with a 26.2 percent decrease in the change of performance level for 10th grade students from the 8th grade testing,” said Smith. “However, 20 students had their tests scored again and out of that 20, nine of them received higher scores in the second scoring. We are not the only district to see such a change in the scores in writing,” he said. Smith reported that 107 10th graders voluntarily took the test again in October to get higher scores and the scores will be back in March. The average scores in reading and math have been about the same since 1998. Goals for the 2002-2003 school year are to offer advanced placement courses on-line to students, increase the number of advanced placement course offerings and merge the honors, college prep and technical level courses to two levels. Smith also plans to create a Parent Teacher Organization, refine the current 60/90 class schedule by balancing class sizes more, offer French to students, continue the Middle States process and complete the curriculum mapping process.

See next week’s Star for a list of education awards presented Monday night.

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