Full Tonasket School District slate

TONASKET – The Tonasket School Board had a full and varied slate to discuss at the Monday, March 24, board meeting, covering everything from finances to curricula, grading methods and a spectrum of administrative reports.

Legislative follies

Superintendent Paul Turner reported a good news/bad news situation regarding actions from the state legislature that will have consequences on future school budget.

On the good side, school districts will now be able to hang on to about half of the money provided by the federal government in lieu of taxes paid on federal forest land.

“We’ll get (to keep about half) of our federal forest dollars, about $70,000,” Turner said. “We get one lump sum a year and the state takes out on a monthly basis to counter that.”

That said, this year’s federal dollars haven’t been forthcoming yet though the state has still been taking its share from school districts.

“It was due two months ago,” Turner said. “There’s $140,000 out there that we should have gotten and no one knows where it’s at. In the meantime, the state is taking out 1/12 of what that is (each month). So we’re going in the negative until we get that.”

That actually wasn’t the bad news. That came in the form of the state legislature failing to come to an agreement on how to tie state assessments to teacher evaluations. That will cause Washington to lose its waiver to the No Child Left Behind act, which has consequences both how schools must manage their budgets as well as how schools are evaluated.

“Last Tuesday we had a meeting in Wenatchee with two representatives from OSPI (Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction and they couldn’t tell us exactly what will happen,” Turner said. “What should happen … we will be going back to two years ago when we were in AYP (the Annual Yearly Progress report system) and what I understand is they will roll our scores forward from the last two years to try to figure out where every school district is at. … What that means now, no one can give us an answer.

“What it does affect is that we have to set aside 30 percent of our Title I funding So we may gain $70,000 on our timber dollars but we have to set aside $100,000 for SES services and professional development.”

Enrollment

Turner and the board also discussed what enrollment level to base the 2014-15 budget on in light of the unique circumstances the district will be dealing with this fall.

Typically the district bases its enrollment figure for the next school year on its March enrollment, subtracting 20-30 students to allow a margin for error in case of an unexpected reduction in enrollment in the fall. Schools receive state funding based on those enrollment figures.

The complication this year: the district is extending its day back to what is considered a “full day,” adding about 45 minutes a day to the schedule. Additional staffing is in the process of being hired to cover the additional course offerings and other staff requirements; that additional staffing will be paid for primarily by money to be collected from the recently-passed Maintenance and Operations Levy. However, that additional funding won’t be collected until after the new year, leaving the district working to figure out ways to get through the first four months of the school year.

Turner suggested basing the 2014-15 budget on a slightly higher enrollment than has been the district’s policy in the past to bring in increased funding during those first few months of the school year.

“Usually we are conservative in our enrollment, cutting it down (from the actual expected number) by about 20,” Turner said, noting that he started with a projected enrollment of 1,050 for next fall. “So usually we might budget at 1,030.

“When we budget at a lower number, we receive funding in the fall at that lower number. In January we get our catch-up to our actual enrollment. … What I propose tonight is we look at it differently next year to get us through that fall shortfall of funds. I propose we budget at that expected number of 1,050. That will give us a constant revenue source through the fall into the spring, instead of a lower revenue source in the fall when we need it in lieu of the bump we usually get.”

Business manager Deb Kitterman said that if enrollment came in below the projected number, the district would be able to set aside funds so that when the funding correction came in January there would be money to do so. Several school board members expressed discomfort with the plan.

“I’d like to stay pretty conservative with this,” Lloyd Caton said. “What if we only get 1,045 or 1,040?”

“We’re talking about 100-grand over 3-4 months,” said Board Member Ty Olson. “It would help me if I understood what one student represents, what 10 students represents …so we can do some math. What is a student worth (budget-wise) – we’re throwing darts at a wall right now.”

The board took no action, but based on Kitterman’s recommendation committed to making a decision at the April 14 board meeting.

Reporting on reports

Each of the district administrators shared reports from their buildings, as well as a high school School Improvement Plan presentation coordinated by Jim Swanson.

Key points from the presentations included:

  • Special Education Director Liz Stucker further discussed the potential impact of the state losing its NCLB waiver, as well as other changes to the Title I program.
  • Elementary Principal Jeremy Clark reviewed recent student successes, including the Math is Cool fifth grade tea taking third place in regional competition and two students attending the regional spelling bee. He also reported that the elementary school staff was making preparations to shift to Standards Based Grading next fall, which was elaborated on later in the meeting.
  • Middle School Principal Jay Tyus reported on the success of student-led conferences. He also said that the school received recognition for work done with English Language Learning students. “It’s the first time ever the state school board has done this, we were awarded an English Language Acquisition award for exceptional work with ELL students, one of eight tmiddle schools showing high promise in teaching kids that are ELL,” Tyus said. “It speaks well for Tyler Graves, but also anyone who has taught any of those kids along the way. It’s really a K-8 award.”
  • High School Principal Jeff Hardesty also reported a successful run with student-led conferences. He added that he was putting together a community group in an attempt to improve the relationship between the school and the community. “We’re talking about issues common to youth in the community,” Hardesty said. “We have some excited community members willing to meet on a monthly basis with me.”
  • Swanson, Amanda Chase and Shawn Rader discussed various aspects of the school improvement program upon which they have worked. Rader’s discussion was most accessible to non-educators as he discussed what changing over to Standards Based Grading meant.

Rader said that, though it is an integral part of TPEP (Teacher/Principal Evaluation Project) requirements, it’s something he’s been working on for some time.

“It came to me after a talk with (an exchange student from Brazil,” he said. In AP biology we started talking about grade point averages. When I asked him what he had, he said they didn’t have that in Brazil. I thought that was interesting … how do you measure what you’ve done?

“He said, you have a checklist. Once you’ve mastered everything on the checklist, you get to graduate. And that is what this standards-based grading is all about. I can look at a student’s GPA and it tells me nothing about what that student knows.”

Rader said there are both course objects and daily objectives that students know they need to master, and they are on each objective on a four-level scale as to their mastery.

“The objectives … are actual learning goals that the state says are things they need to know,” he said. “They also become test questions. I don’t hide anything. The kids know what they will be tested on from Day 1. I also have a daily objective, so they know at the end of the day what they need to be able to do.”

He said that with such as system it’s much clearer what students have learned and how well, as opposed to a general grade that might also include social skills or homework completion rate all wrapped into a single letter grade.

“(With Standards Based Grading) they know exactly what they know and don’t know, and I as a teacher can tell what they know and don’t know,” Rader said. “You don’t see that in a GPA. Next year I am going to institute the checklist… to me that is more important than what any stupid grade in a grade book. They know where they’re at, and I know where they’re at.”

Calendar (mostly) approved

The board approved the calendar for the 2014-15 school year but left open the question as to what time the longer school day would begin and end. Turner had proposed having the day run from 8:15 a.m.-3:00 p.m. (extended from the current 8:30-2:30), but the board asked for more research into what would be best for the students.

Concerns expressed included the length of time and time of day students in more distant locations would need to be out waiting for the bus (potentially as early as 6:30 a.m. for some) and what the best hours were for student learning in the classroom.

That issue will be discussed at a future meeting.

Excellent education

Teacher/librarian Kim Fitzthum and speech-language pathology assistant Sue Johnson were recognized as the district’s Excellence in Education honorees. The district hosts the Okanogan County Excellence in Education banquet in the high school commons on Thursday, May 8. The two (Fitzthum as a certified teacher, Johnson as classified staff) will be honored alongside representatives from other county school districts.

Social skills curriculum

Fitzthum submitted a curriculum for the board’s consideration designed to teach kindergarten through fifth graders social skills and coping strategies that, if approved, would likely be taught by a school counselor. The board did not make a decision on the curriculum at the meeting.

The “older brother” of the curriculum has been used at the middle school level. School Psychologist Jim Huckaby was also on hand as he had participated in the piloting and development of the curriculum.

While the it has somewhat of a reputation as a “suicide prevention” curriculum, Huckaby said that it includes a lot more than that.

“It’s social competence, cooperation, coping, caring and other attributes that we hope to instill,” he said.

Fitzthum added that it includes a parent introductory information letter.

The school board next meets on Monday, April 14, at 7:30 p.m.

About Brent Baker

Brent is a reporter for the Gazette-Tribune. Prior to working at the G-T, he was the sports editor for Sunrise Publishing from 2000-2005 in Michigan. He subsequently owned and operated Buckland Media, a high school sports website, in Michigan until 2010. He and his wife Kim, who have an adult son, moved to Tonasket in 2010. Brent started work at the G-T in 2011.

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