Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Six months after bond issue Joplin Administration ready to ask for levy increase

(From Aug. 17, 2013) (This post originally ran in the August 17 Inside Joplin)

Less than six months after Joplin R-8 patrons, by a 45-vote margin, passed a $62 million bond issue to rebuild Joplin High School, Franklin Tech, East Middle School, and two elementary schools, the largest bond issue in the district’s history, administrators were already back at the drawing board working on plans to ask voters for a tax levy increase.
The increase, according to the district’s federal Race to the Top application submitted to the U. S. Department of Education, would have been used to pay “academic advisers,” teachers who would work an additional hour at the end of each school day.
Initially, the advisers would have been paid as part of the Race to the Top grant, according to the application, which was submitted in October 2012, but was rejected by the Department of Education.
The district proposal, included a budget of $9.988,737, which would have paid for the following:
-Project manager $313,080 (for four-year period)
-Seven 21st Century learning coaches $2.2 million
-Five Career Pathway counselors to manage development and implementation of new pathway $1.6 million
-Stipends for academic advisers, one hour a day for 170 days for 200 teachers, $312,000
Data manager- $312,000
Data management system- $425,000
I-Pads for middle school students $1 million
Additional tech support personnel $414,000
The items that would have been paid for through the grant, had it been successful, would have bolstered administration’s current path, including the career pathways and 1 to 1 technology for students.
Interestingly, though the extra pay for teachers would have only continued via a tax levy increase under the plan submitted by R-8 administrators, the rest of the programs would have continued with the costs being absorbed by the district, according to the grant proposal.
In the critique of the Race to the Top application, federal reviewers noted how the district would have followed through on its agenda:
The costs of rebuilding schools and configuring them to support high levels of technology use and this new vision of learning is paid by FEMA, insurance, donations and a $62 million bond issue the community passed after the tornado. All other costs of the project will be paid by general operating funds.
These investments appear to be reasonable and appropriate to carry out the strategies the district proposes. The budget is heavily weighted towards investing in people who can build systems, structures and educator capacity to carry out this work over time rather than merely investing in technology that might sit on a shelf.
The district has been thoughtful in identifying one-time vs on-going costs and how ongoing costs can be sustained. For example, the district considers the costs of the project manager, 21st century learning coaches, and a data manager to be one time investments for a start up period and that the “roles and responsibilities can be integrated into the district’s administrative structure.” The reforms will become “the district’s way of doing business” and will not require additional FTE to support it.
As for on-going costs, it states that the on-going costs of 1:1 computing can be borne by the district as it transitions away from a computer lab format. The major costs of stipends for academic advisors would be on-going and the district states it would seek a levy to pay for it.
Another reviewer was not impressed with R-8 administration’s plan:
As stated in comments under (F)(1), the district has been thoughtful in identifying what costs are one-time versus on-going costs and how on-going costs can be sustained. It has been clear what on-going costs the district believes it can continue to cover from its general budget and what costs would require a levy in order to continue. Given that this proposal represents the overarching strategy for the district and that the district has demonstrated significant community support for the work, the odds of sustainability appear to be good.
However, the district has not presented any plan for sustainability (e.g. reallocation of current budgets, timelines, project projections). It has not indicated any specific financial support for sustainability of the project goals from state or local leaders, although there appears to high levels of community and policy support for the vision and goals.
That administration was already looking at a tax levy increase proposal to present to taxpayers would probably come as a surprise to those who saw the slideshow presented by speakers during the campaign to pass the bond issue.
On the next-to-last slide, administration promised the following:
“If we are successful in our efforts to find additional funding sources-
“First, we will need to look at Columbia and West Central as possible projects for completion
“Second, the administration will recommend to the Board of Education the district not issue bonds in $x amount if it is not needed.”
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