Let Me Explain
As a school administrator I have had a great career, and am one of those people who can say they have truly enjoyed their career field. Although, at times it becomes difficult, it hasn’t been a job, but a passion, and I still look forward to trying to make a difference in the educational setting every day.
The current budget down turn and diminishing opinion of public education has been disappointing. I believe the public school is the only place other than the church that says you all come. It is our responsibility to continue to meet the needs of every child, regardless of the learning difficulties, family situation or budget constraints. The staff at Wrangell Public Schools work very hard to meet the needs of every child. This is evident by the high percentage of students meeting or exceeding the educational standards as compared to the rest of the state of Alaska.
Our goal at Wrangell Public Schools is to stay ahead of the cuts to education and to do everything in our power to meet the rigorous standards our School Board and Staff has set as the baseline of expectations.
One of the first directions the Board and Staff set in my tenure, as Superintendent was that we wanted to make sure we maintained our shop, art and music programs. I am proud to say we have done so and not only have we maintained these positions, but we are excelling in each of these areas - because we have exceptional teachers. I, along with many others am very proud of the work they do with our kids.
The new budget year brings many new challenges to Wrangell Public Schools and the Board and Staff have actively took a progressive role to deal with the issues and make sure that we stay ahead of the cuts. Our goal was to look at staff who where leaving and to determine whether we could do something different by attrition versus lay-offs. One of the situations that arose is the departure of Thèrèse Ashton who recently was selected as the Superintendent of Tanana School District. Although, we will miss her leadership at the elementary school, and would have been more than happy to have her stay as the Elementary School Principal, we saw this as an opportunity to combine some of the administrative responsibilities. We feel this was an option to meet the budget deficits that were created by declining enrollment, as well as the loss of federal, state and local revenue to fund schools.
The proposal that I have brought forward to the Board of Education is to combine the Superintendent and Elementary Principal positions for the 2013-2014 school year.
The Board of Education has set a work session for 6:30 p.m. on Thursday, March 21st (public input encouraged) to discuss the consolidation of Administration and the additional duties that will need to be assigned. A special School Board Meeting will follow the work session at 7:30 p.m. to consider the Principal and Superintendent contracts.
This will go a long way in balancing the education budget for the next school year. Although, trouble is still looming around the corner with additional budget restraints set to rear their ugly head.
One of the issues is the secure school funding from the National Forest Coalition. This funding is $1.3 million dollars to the city of Wrangell in which the vast majority is set aside for schools. We are one of 36 states that receive secure school funding and its based on our loss of economic ability because of the Tongass National Forest. This funding is set to end July 2013. We are aggressively working to continue this funding.
The other issue that has significant budget implications is the Universal Health Care. Premium increases and implementation costs, could be significant between $250,000 to $500,000 a year.
When we add these additional costs to Wrangell Public Schools along with Federal, State and Local cuts to education funding we see ourselves heading to a “perfect storm.” In order to deal with these issues our School Board and Staff have had to work hard to think “outside of the box” and provided some alternative measures to reduce costs and budgets. We asked the Wrangell Teacher’s Association to make some concessions in the salary schedule and they graciously did so. We created a retirement incentive that would allow some of our senior teachers to retire either this year or next. We expect not to replace two of those positions because of declining enrollment. At this time we are currently working on salary schedules and contracts that would require all staff to share in their health care costs.
We are bringing forward a budget that still requires an additional $9,200 in cuts for 2013-2014, even with a shared Principal/Superintendent position. We are hoping for a little increase in the base revenue from the State to balance that number, but are not optimistic as the State budget is set to tap into their reserves by $320 million for the new year.
Although, dealing with budget struggles would be more than enough, the State of Alaska in 2012 came out with two directives from the State Board of Education. The first, being an adoption of the new Alaska standards for all of Alaska schools. The second is to develop and implement a new evaluation tool for instruction. In order to meet the State Board of Education’s requirements we implemented 2 days of awareness training and 2 days of implementation training for the new Math and Language Arts standards. This allowed us to understand the shifts of instruction that are required in order to perform well on the new assessments that will be testing students. Our goal has been to spend time understanding the shifts and began working on a curriculum map that would incorporate the shifts as we began to prepare for the new curriculum requirements. We needed to accomplish this task before we could look at the textbooks and material changes that will be necessary to make the transition.
It is both a difficult time and exciting time to work in the field of education. We have an excellent staff that is working very hard to not only teach every day but deal with the many transitions that are currently taking place in Alaska.
Thank you Wrangell for all you do for kids.
Rich Rhodes, Wrangell Public Schools Superintendent