Originally published in Island Ad-Vantages, March 15, 2018
CSD board mulls school safety, new funding law
by Tevlin Schuetz
The CSD Board discussed new state legislation governing funding within school administrative units and was also updated regarding student and staff safety during its monthly meeting on the evening of March 6, at the elementary school’s Reach auditorium.
In the wake of the recent school shooting in Florida, concerns over security and handling emergencies have been paramount.
“School safety is front and center with us,” Superintendent Christian Elkington assured the board and audience.
“Adjustments are being made on how to lock down the building, and more information is coming,” Elkington said. He added that the school staff is continuing with drills and training, and he has asked principals and staff to put a greater focus on safety, through an immediate review of current practices and increased protocols.
In other matters, Elkington informed the board of changes in state law that go into effect during the 2018-19 school year that require the direct instruction shares of school budgets to increase annually. This refers to the funding allotted to the direct teaching of students, versus other services or cost centers.
The target share for direct instruction for next year is 61 percent, and that number jumps by 2 percent annually until the 2022-23 school year, when schools are expected to hit 70 percent, Elkington explained. That target will remain from then on.
Elkington cited Gov. Paul LePage’s dissatisfaction with the number of school administration personnel as a contributing factor to the new rules.
“This is to cut administrators,” Elkington said, but he described the situation in Augusta as fluid with respect to the changes and possible penalties for lack of compliance.
Board Vice Chairman Stephen York asked Elkington if nurses, guidance counselors, and other similar positions are being considered as administrators for purposes of the law.
“They are considered non-instructional support staff,” Elkington clarified, and thus are not supported by the direct instruction percentages.
The CSD is already hitting the target, Elkington said. “Last year we were at 62 percent.”
Elkington noted that Union 76 schools are in good shape. Sedgwick is the highest at 70 to 72 percent, and Brooklin is right behind CSD, he said.
Community member Heidi Shepard asked why Sedgwick has a higher instruction-per-pupil ratio with respect to the budget than the Island schools.
Part of it, Elkington said, is that Sedgwick has a teaching principal position, versus the full-time principal positions at the Island schools.
“We are high on administration [positions],” Elkington said. “But we have to be, because of the changes here,” he explained, referring to the administrative model adopted recently by the district.
Elkington also said that, as things stand now, less funding will be available to the Hancock County Technical Center next year, per changes to the Essential Programs and Services formula at the Maine Department of Education.
“The governor says he supports tech centers… [but] right now the formula is not supporting that,” Elkington said. “Funding is hundreds of thousands of dollars less than previous years.”
Acting on a suggestion a parent made during last month’s regular meeting, CSD Board Chairman Jane Osborne announced that the board will use a variety of means to communicate with the public, especially where strategic planning is concerned. She referred to a communications plan that will employ parent email lists, CSD and high school FaceBook pages, submissions of articles to Island Ad-Vantages and using that publication’s community calendar page to post upcoming meetings.
Union 76 Director of Technology Benjamin Moss also spoke to the board about computer systems and software in use at the schools. Moss looked at Synergy Student Information System, software for student grading, report cards and records, but he suggested sticking with PowerSchool, which the district now uses. There are still many useful features that are under-utilized, he said, and staying with the system would cost a lot less than investing in a new one.
Elkington supported the idea. “PowerSchool was the Cadillac 15 to 18 years ago,” he said, adding that it is still an outstanding system that other companies essentially copied.
“We haven’t even scratched the surface of it,” he said.
Elkington also brought a draft of 2018-19 school calendar to the board for review. He proposed including two professional development days before Thanksgiving, when student attendance usually drops due to families traveling. This would serve to lessen the number of weeks shortened by professional development days elsewhere during the year, and it would also give students a solid week off, Elkington said.
Community member Bill Shepard raised the issue of early dismissal of students on Fridays, which occurs every week throughout the school year, and which he worried cut into student learning time when taken in aggregate.
Elkington explained that the early dismissals allowed for professional development time for staff and were an important training opportunity.
“This gives us…time to work with our teachers, so they are better teachers,” he said.
The first meeting inviting public input on the school budget has been rescheduled for Monday, March 19, from 5:30 to 7 p.m., at the Reach auditorium at the elementary school.
The CSD Board also encourages public participation in garnering ideas regarding future options for school restructuring. A moderated meeting will be held on Tuesday, March 20, at 6:30 p.m. at the high school cafeteria, and those in attendance will break into small focus discussion groups.