March 7, 2013
Escaping the pull of a recession
Compared to the past four years, the first formal proposal for a 2013-2014 Wake County Public School System budget is noteworthy for what it lacks.
No big cuts, no projected layoffs, a small decrease in class sizes and a small expansion in the district’s magnet school program.
“The budget is a bit brighter,” Chief Business Officer David Neter told school board members this week. “It allows for some baby steps forward in our core business of education.”
The $1.3 billion proposal, which is formally offered by Interim Superintendent Stephen Gainey, is the first step in the annual debate about how much Wake’s schools will get for the coming year.
While the amount is large, the total would be distributed across roughly 153,000 students, 18,000 employees and 170 schools. Wake is the 16th largest district in the nation.
The process has a long way to go with weeks of discussion by the school board eventually leading to the submission of a final proposal to county commissioners in May. Commissioners must then approve their contribution to the schools in time for the start of the new fiscal year July 1.
During that time, the following figures and issues are likely to frame much of the discussion:
Local funding: The proposal requests an increase of $8.3 million in local money from the county. That would bring the total county appropriation to $326.6 million. The rest of the $1.3 billion comes from state and federal revenue.
The county is expected to see an increase in tax revenue next year. If the school district’s share remains constant, it could mean an additional $6 million to $10 million, according to early discussions. If so, debate on this point could be limited.
Per pupil funding: During the recession, local spending by commissioners dropped to $2,040 per student – a decrease of $160 per student. The superintendent’s proposed budget would put about $8 per student back into the budget for a total of $2,048 per child.
Wake County’s local per pupil spending ranks 24th out of 115 school districts. It is, however, one of the wealthiest counties in the state. Wake’s per pupil expenditure including state and federal funding is among the lowest in North Carolina. As a state, North Carolina’s funding is among the lowest in the nation.
Programs: The district plans to add two magnet schools to the list of 31 existing magnet programs. It also plans to strengthen the programs in the Global Schools Network, the STEM Schools Network that focus on science, technology, engineering and math and the two single-gender leadership academies. All three themes were initiated or expanded under former Superintendent Tony Tata.
School reserves: The fact that the school system maintains a reserve fund or “unassigned balance” has been a long-standing point of contention between the school district and some county commissioners. At issue is whether the district should return unspent local money or be allowed to hold it in reserve.
The current budget calls for most of that money – about $29 million of a $32 million reserve – to be spent in the coming year.
The first public hearing on the proposed budget will be March 19 at the next school board meeting.
Framework emerging for long-term assignment plan
The framework for a long-term approach to student assignment that is noticeably different from past years is beginning to take shape in public conversations among school board members.
Unlike the current assignment policy, which is several pages long with lists and subsections, the new proposal has four basic goals and no more than three factors to be considered within each goal. The goals are achievement, stability, proximity and operational efficiency.
The difference would be immediately obvious to legions of frustrated parents who have spent countless hours trying to navigate the numerous and sometimes conflicting elements of the current approach.
The new proposal, which was discussed by board members this week, is not designed to make everyone happy. No large school district in the country can make that claim. But it is straightforward and it breaks from past plans in several key areas.
One of the biggest differences is an acknowledgement that the district can no longer expect all schools to be similarly diverse. While it would strive to minimize concentrations of low-performing students and low-income students, its other goals would make it impossible to create all schools with similar demographics.
To address the differences among schools, the district would turn to a new equity policy that would guide how money and other resources are spent. The goal would be to ensure all students have access to what they need to succeed.
An equity policy has not been discussed in detail yet, but a working proposal was distributed last month.
“The devil is in the details” is a phrase that applies here and school board members know they have a lot of work ahead of them. For example, will there be a specific cutoff for concentrations of poverty? How will new schools be filled when stability is a goal? Will every school have its own defined walk zone?
The list of questions goes on, but the mission is clear. Board members want to create a policy that will last a decade or more. They will need a solution by late summer or early fall to be ready for the first day of school in 2014.
In one of those studies that at first appears to confirm the obvious, a new paper by university researchers shows just about all new teachers improve noticeably during their second year in the classroom.
“Amen!” is among the likely responses that most new teachers – and their principals – would offer to that finding.
But the study goes on to suggest that teachers who struggle early in their career are the same ones who struggle five years later. Those who do better with students the first year are the most likely to be among the best fifth-year teachers. In other words, the first year in the classroom reveals quite a bit about a teacher’s long-term success.
The 51-page working paper was released by the Center for Analysis of Longitudinal Data, which includes researchers from Duke University and five other campuses. It tracked the individual effectiveness of more than 7,600 incoming New York City teachers in mathematics and English/language arts, which is summarized in a recent Education Week article.
Each of the teachers taught fourth or fifth grade from 2000 to 2006. Effectiveness was measured based on improvement in student test scores after various controls were applied.
The study does not suggest a definitive basis for weeding out low-performing teachers and rewarding successful teachers early on. But it raises a number of good questions about the effectiveness of current teacher training programs.
It also illustrates how difficult it can be to track effectiveness over five years within a given discipline. In this case, only 5 percent of the new teachers were still teaching the same subject and grade level five years later.
Finding out where those teachers went – and further refining the study itself – will be part of a follow up, according to the report’s authors. In the meantime, the first lesson is clear: A teacher’s classroom success starts on day one.
…Seven candidates will be interviewed Saturday to fill the school board vacancy created by the resignation of Debra Goldman. The candidates include Bill Fletcher, who was a Wake board member from 1993 to 2005; Lois Nixon, who finished behind Goldman in the 2009 election; and Linda Gunter, who has been a teacher, state senator and a leader within the NC Association of Educators. The eight current school board members are expected to select one of the seven candidates immediately after the interviews. The remainder of the term runs until November.
… The state Department of Public Instruction received applications from 70 groups to open new charter schools by August, 2014. Nine are located in Wake County. The applicants must go through several steps in the coming months before the state decides whether a charter will be granted. There are currently 107 charter schools in the state, including 13 in Wake. DPI expects to post the full applications online by Friday for the public to review.… All 12 municipalities in Wake County have declared March 10-16 as “Celebrate the Arts in Our Schools Week” in conjunction with the 30th annual Pieces of Gold show, which will be held March 13 at Memorial Auditorium in Raleigh. Wake Education Partnership has been a proud partner in this event since it began in 1983 and thanks the thousands of students, teachers, parents and volunteers who have helped make the arts an important part of students’ lives.
Wake Education Partnership is a 501(c)(3) non-profit created in 1983 to support public schools, in part by educating the community on current school issues and serving as a strong advocate for student achievement and world-class academic standards. Most of its financial support comes from individuals and local businesses. Please send comments or questions to Tim Simmons, VP of Communications, at email@example.com or visit our website at www.wakeedpartnership.org.