The FPS Board is reviewing the 2014 / 2015 Budget. It needs to be restructured which will not happen without Community pressure. Below are the type of changes required. Help make them happen.
Annual Facility Maintenance & Capital Improvements is Priority #1
- The FPS Community is in at least its sixth year of a flat or declining local tax base and decreasing student enrollment. The current budget structure includes:
- An unsupported district compensation structure and schedule that includes the highest compensated Superintendent in the State and (51) other employees with six figure annual compensation totaling approximately $8.2M.
- The subsequent underfunding of district facility maintenance and upgrades.
- The subsequent underfunding of the repair and replacement of district educational resources.
- The subsequent underfunding of the maintenance and upgrade of district technology and equipment.
The maintenance and upgrade of district facilities, equipment, and technology need to be reestablished as the top priority of the annual Budget starting with the 2014 / 15 Budget. It makes little sense to place highly compensated staff in outdated, underperforming, and deteriorating facilities that are an obstacle to their effectiveness. At the State of the Cities Breakfast, some of you heard one of your partners, the Mayor of the City of Farmington, report that despite facing similar challenges in State funding reductions, the City of Farmington successfully budgeted the maintenance and capital improvements of its facilities and infrastructure. This presents another resource of experienced and effective leadership in prioritizing and budgeting facility maintenance and upgrade requirements whose assistance you should incorporate into your budget process.
Reset an Unsustainable Compensation Structure
The current compensation structure and policies can only be sustained in an environment of increasing student enrollment and an increasing property tax base. Neither of these conditions have existed in the FPS District in the last (6) years nor will exist in the near future. With the coincident search for a new Superintendent, the opportunity to replicate the cost saving success of the Superintendent led change of the district’s healthcare insurance away from MESSA presents itself with the resetting of district compensation levels starting with the designated compensation range of the new Superintendent which is a component of the search process. As the district self-reported in its twice failed attempt to cover both short term and long term facility needs with long term financing, the maintenance and upgrade of the district’s facilities, equipment, and technology has been sacrificed for several years in an increasingly failed attempt to prop up an unsustainable compensation structure. Now is the time to reset district compensation to a sustainable level starting with the Superintendent’s compensation level.
2. Map Instructional Support Resources According To Learning Needs
First, you need to reset your misinformed stance on standardized tests. Discard "Tests scores do not make a student" as it is trite and unconstructive. Data supports the axiom of educational reform that "Where effective learning is achieved, test scores follow". Standardized tests scores below the level of Proficient are to a student’s educational profile what missing pieces are to a jigsaw puzzle. First, regardless of the quality and content of the completed puzzle, the holes created by the missing pieces are obvious and become the focus of attention. Second, regardless of the appeal of the image on the box, the puzzle box that contains all of the pieces is always chosen over the puzzle box known to be missing pieces.
Any report on performance that presents only averages is incomplete. An average is not informative on its own. The variation about the mean is required to understand what the average represents and means. The State reports MEAP results to the detail of the answers to all of the questions by each student. It also aggregates student performance into (4) categories (Advanced, Proficient, Partially Proficient, Not Proficient) further aggregated by (14) different demographic profiles. FPS current practice is to report a District average and up to (3) of the aggregates (Gender, Race, Socio-Economic). A 2013 report of statewide results on state standardized tests based on a composite of all the standardized tests from 2009 – 2012 using a methodology developed at the University of Arkansas which includes using regression analysis to adjust the composite scores by the relative number of students at each building that participate in the Federal Free & Reduced Lunch Program (to remove the effects on the building scores due to the statistically lower scores of the socio-economically disadvantaged students) shows that regardless of the District's average scores, the District’s 25 year old pilot school is graded an A and is ranked 219th (in the top 10% of the State). The 2nd and 3rd highest ranked Farmington elementary schools are graded as B and C and are ranked 470th and 895th. The (2) lowest ranked Farmington elementary schools are graded as D and ranked 2078th and 2104th (the bottom 10% in the State). This level of variation is inexcusable. Worse, both the top ranking of the pilot school and the drop off and range in performance of the other schools has been consistent over the 25 year history of the pilot school. And the Farmington Best-in-Class pilot school with a different, consistently more effective, instructional model has been successfully applied at both the elementary and secondary level nationwide. Farmington’s High Schools are Graded C, C-, and D and rank 258th (43%), 355th (59%), and 477th (80%) in the state. The budget needs to be based on the adoption of a districtwide proven research-based model of instructional delivery and allocated to schools according to their needs to eliminate the variation in performance toward the top 10% in the state.
3. Eliminate Time as a Metric of Educational Progress
The State’s reporting of MEAP data from 2009 – 2012 shows a flat trend line of large percentages of students failing to achieve the level of Proficient in all areas tested at all grade levels. The State segregates the data in (14) different categories of student populations. Many of those categories report consistent levels of students failing to score as Proficient in the 70 to 80% range. December and January Board meetings focused on large percentages of students in (2) of the (14) state categories measuring below a Proficient level advocating interventions and support programs for students represented by those (2) categories. Research, referenced in an attachment to the January Board presentation, identifies that elementary proficiency is the best predictor of secondary proficiency rather than student membership in any of the (14) state categories. The FPS Budget needs to reflect student progression based on the achievement of proficiency and programs and associations aligned with that premise as opposed to the current after-the-fact intervention and support programs for only some of the underperforming students. Interventions and support programs whose very effectiveness is undermined by the lack of proficiency.
The District studied and implemented a Year Round Education pilot. That pilot was allowed to fade away through benign neglect. In addition to the instructional and student learning benefits of Year Round Education, it also provides economic and educational solutions to school districts faced with decreasing enrollments and tax revenues.
Decoupling time from educational progression facilitates the incorporation of an educational academy of existing and new students to the district to address and remedy grade level proficiency shortcomings including the English language with adoption of ESL mirroring the successful Community Education program. This would significantly aid the budget process by eliminating the cost of the Bi-Lingual Education program and its Federal Funding entanglements and reducing costs through a significant reduction in the disruptive classroom effects, scope and extent of intervention and support programs currently employed to respond to the lack of student proficiency.
4. Couple the 2014/15 Budget with a Revised Bond Proposal
The (2) failed Bond proposals were characterized as urgent and necessary. A Budget that includes facilty improvements and a corresponding revised Bond proposal that is limited to facility and technology infrastructure requirements are needed. The curriculum and instructional delivery portion of the previous bond proposal were products of a flawed process and would also need to be updated to be aligned with the adoption of a district-wide research based model for instructional delivery.
5. Restoring Classroom Discipline
Restore classroom discipline and its enforcement based on maintaining the requirements of an effective learning environment and the responsibility of the student and their parent(s)/guardian(s) for the student coming to each classroom as a ready, prepared, and participative learner exhibiting behaviors consistent and compliant with the Student Code of Conduct. The Budget should reflect the restoration of policies and practices to support this initiative as well as revisiting decisions on open enrollment opportunities and residency enforcement.
6. Elimination of the District Supplied Intelligent Devices to Students
FPS provided laptops to middle school students around the 1995 timeframe. It was a complete failure within one week of introduction – laptops failed the ten foot toss usedby students to dispense of backpacks, books, and laptops at the end of the school day. This recent education fad started in California where it has proven to be a costly abject failure that has now been dropped. This proposed program was a another negative aspect of the failed bond issue. School media centers, after school latch-key programs, and community libraries all provide access to computers for student use.
In summary, restore the maintenance and continual upgrade of the district’s educational assets to the top budget priority. Restructure and rescale district expenditures to match district revenues. Budget for the adoption of a district-wide proven instructional model and achieving proficiency in all students at the same level the material is taught. Put an end to the destined for failure practice of passing students who are not proficient on to the next level. Budget the preparation of new students to the district for success by bringing them to grade level proficiency before entering them into the district schools. Budget for Year Round Education that improves student learning capacity and enables the staggered scheduling of students so that the district staff sees only 2/3, 3/4, or 4/5 of the district’s students at a time to leverage district resources. Budget for a Learning Enterprise instead of a student processing plant.