The following is the text of Warren County School District Superintendent Brandon Hufnagel's State of the District report delivered Monday to the school board.
This first year of my superintendency in the Warren County School District has been filled with a lot of successes, challenges, and opportunities. Even faced with a daunting $5 million deficit, we were still able to maintain a high quality educational program. Unfortunately, we did lose some of our best educational advantages by facing increased class-size and a reduction in course offerings, but this is something that we can overcome in the future. This statement is intended to highlight the successes of the past year and to outline some of the planned improvements for the upcoming school year for the students of the Warren County School District.
The budget process for 2013-2014 will begin shortly. Even though we had a large deficit last year and a lot of cuts were made to overcome that deficit, we are not completely out of the woods financially. I still have great concern about the status of our fund balance, and I, along with my administrative team, am in the process of doing things to help improve that number over the next couple of years. It is important to remember that in the past two budget cycles we have lost almost $5 million worth of state funding, and our local tax revenues have decreased by over $2 million. These decreases have impacted the way we function as a school district. Many of the reductions have altered the way in which we offer our curriculum. Fewer staff members and reduced availability of materials and supplies have forced us to ask our teachers, support staff, and administrators to tap into their creativity to do more with less. I am proud to say that I believe everyone has put their best foot forward to help us resolve this ongoing and painful situation. I anticipate another tough budget year lies ahead. Without increased state dollars to education, we could face another deficit. With careful planning and ever increasing care in our budgeting practices, we should be able to offer a balanced budget with a minimal impact on our students and education in the future. I believe that we can overcome these deficits and once again place the district in the strong financial position that it has held historically.
We began restructuring the district this year with an aggressive plan for the K-12 buildings in the Sheffield and Eisenhower attendance areas and renovations in the Central Attendance Area. There are many changes coming in the year ahead. Many of you have had the opportunity to see the beginnings of the Beaty project. We are well underway and already seeing some big changes ahead in the functionality of the building. Construction crews are on site and while we had some delays at the beginning, we hope to get this project back on the approved time schedule as soon as possible. The additions that will create the Eisenhower K-12 School and the Sheffield K-12 School should be getting underway later this fall. We anticipate floating the bond issue in October and then forging ahead with construction in November.
I am proud to report that the Warren County School District did make AYP for the 2011-2012 school year. Even though this is a great accomplishment, our work has just started. In the 2012-2013 school year, the proficiency targets will be increasing to 91% in Reading and 89% in Math. These targets are above and beyond any scores that we have achieved in the past. It will take a strong group effort to meet these targets but with the 2014 deadline of 100% proficiency looming, we must make changes to ensure the success of our students and the future of a locally controlled school district. While we have been pleased to see steady growth in our math scores over the past five years, one of the greatest struggles we have identified is a lack of growth in our reading performance. Many discussions and careful analysis have revealed a lack of cohesion in the reading program K-12. To better support teachers and students as we ramp up our reading program, we have employed a reading supervisor who has been charged to evaluate our current curriculum and instructional practices and then to implement changes to improve the literacy of our students. I believe this is an essential first step to success and one that will pay off for our students, not only next year, but for many years to come.
As a result of the cuts over the past two years, class size and course offerings have been altered. At the elementary level, we are averaging class sizes from 21-27 students. With the addition of Joplin teachers in some buildings, the average elementary class size for reading and mathematics instruction is 21 with class sizes actually ranging from 8 to 29 depending up the students placement in flexible groupings. Every effort has been made to maintain secondary level class sizes in core curricular areas, but with the reduction in elective offerings some elective classes have increased student numbers. Core classes and elective for high school students are averaging at 17 students per class with class sizes ranging from 4 to 31 depending upon ability level of student groupings.
There has been a lot of discussion and concern over the need for AP classes. We still stay committed to offering AP classes to our students, but changes in the delivery will need to be made in order to maximize student opportunities. To accomplish this, I propose we consider the following: 1) If we combine AP courses and Honor classes where appropriate, we can allow for more manageable class sizes while delivering a challenging curriculum to these students; 2) In addition, we should be encouraging more students to take academic level courses instead of applied level courses. By challenging more students in this fashion, we will be able to improve the delivery of our program while offering a more rounded experience for our students. These actions will in effect accomplish two things: 1) they will lower class sizes at the secondary level by providing more sections for student distribution; and 2) it will increase the number of courses that we can offer. This strategy will also help solve concerns for career center students who would like to attain access to college preparatory courses.
The financial status of the district is and has been in continuous flux. I am eagerly awaiting the audit for last year to see the status of our revenues and expenditures. In early January last year, we instituted a spending freeze, because it was clear that our projected revenues were not coming in as budgeted. For example the forestry money was budgeted at over $600,000 dollars based upon averages of receipts in past years, but the amount received was approximately $300,000 dollars. There are many examples of this over the past few years. For the current year, we are anticipating an ending fund balance of $900,000 -$1,200,000. This is down from an ending fund balance of $4,200,000 the year before. I hope that some of the spending reduction measures put into place will increase our expected fund balance. We should have a final number in October when all accounts are reconciled.
Our future financial outlook is positive. We know that the restructuring of the physical plant of the district will save the district over 2 million dollars a year once all the projects are complete. We look to these savings to help stabilize the financial picture and to allow the district to grow again in the future.
High School reform stays high on the district priority list. As part of the total restructuring of the district we need to look at each high school as part of a bigger system and not as its own separate entity. By looking at our schools in this fashion, we can begin to share resources more efficiently and see a long term cost savings. As this process has unfolded, we have incorporated input from community members, parents, teachers, administrators, and students. This is not something that will be accomplished all at one time, but with sustained and continuous work over the next several years. Lasting change to benefit all students will be a multi-year project. A status update and some requests for the first phase of changes will be presented at the October CIT meeting which should impact scheduling and help to lead us closer to the goal of individualized learning plans for students.
The middle level concept remains strong and intact for the 2012-2013 school year. The Warren County School District now has two middle schools that have been designated as national "SCHOOLS TO WATCH" and the other two middle schools have submitted packets to be considered for recognition this year. The middle school successes need to be replicated throughout the elementary and high school levels of the district, because the best practices that are involved will benefit all our students.
We will continue with our approach of transparency and community involvement. I believe that the success of the Warren County School District depends on this philosophy. Communication will increase through several forms of media including quarterly updates through published articles in the newspaper, the quarterly district newsletter published on the website and the use of the new call blast system which allows for email, text messages, and phone calls to parents. We will also be continuing our community forums that were started last year. Parents will also have multiple opportunities to be involved in curriculum and reform efforts during the next year.
The school district has many projects in the queue to help improve the quality of education and customer service provided to families and their students. We want parents to feel confident about the education that their child is receiving and to be welcomed in our schools every time that they enter.
1. A phone system update over the next three years will allow teachers greater access to telephones to support a safer environment for students and allow for increased parental contact. Currently the phone systems in many of our buildings are outdated and are beginning to fail. The plan that is being developed will update these systems and demonstrate long term savings that greatly outweigh the upfront cost by capitalizing on the infrastructure that is in place for our Internet services.
2. Learning A-Z will be used to give elementary teachers, students, and parents access to quality grade level appropriate reading material. This service will be available at home as well as in the schools and provides students with many different forms of books written on each child's ability level. The use of the SuccessMaker software will also be expanded in grades K-8 to provide additional practice or greater challenge to students that need to remediate or accelerate their development of math and reading skills.
3. We will continue to build capacity in our district based online learning opportunities with the goal of creating and maintaining our own cyber program. This project will allow students the opportunity to take additional courses that are not able to be offered and increase the flexibility of scheduling so that students can select more courses that complement their future goals and plans. Furthermore, we anticipate that a district-based cyber program will save the district thousands of dollars since we will have a means to compete with and offer superior coursework to many established cyber charter schools.
4. Individualized learning plans for all students will remain a priority of the board and will begin this year for some students. By using data we will be able to determine the needs of all the students and work with the students and families to create an intervention/enrichment plan to help improve student success. This will remain a board goal and top priority for the school district to implement. We have purchased some software products that will allow us to pilot some strategies this coming school year with some students with the hope of full implementation in the 2013-2014 school year.
5.The budgeting process will be revised this year to a zero based philosophy to ensure that the budget will be developed by determining actual needs to support instruction. This practice should help us become more fiscally responsible and allow for spending to be dictated by student needs.
6. Dual enrollment opportunities for students are expanding. We will continue to maintain agreements with Saint Bonaventure and Clarion as we have for the past several years. This year, we have begun a pilot project with the addition of Pitt Bradford and College in the High School. This is currently being offered in the Sheffield attendance area and if all goes well, we hope to expand this to all high schools next year. By determining which of our AP/Honors courses will align to Pitt Bradford's curriculum, we can offer students the ability to gain college credit through class that they are already taking. Recently, we have also been contacted by Penn College at Williamsport, a division of Penn State University about dual enrollment opportunities for our Warren County Career Center students which would add significantly to our offerings for students who may be struggling with a decision about their ability to succeed in post-secondary education.
I want to thank the communities of the Warren County School District for their support as we restructure. I know that this process will be challenging, and change is often hard but the future success of our children depends on it. If we work together, we can accomplish great things.