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School board — Deficit spending predicted

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If the revenue and expenditures of Yellow Springs Schools continue this year as projected, the district will end the 2018–19 fiscal year with a $126,000 drop in its reserves, according to district Treasurer Dawn Bennett.

In presenting the district’s latest five-year forecast during the local school board’s most recent regular meeting on Thursday, Oct. 11, Bennett reported that the anticipated difference between income and expenses this year will lead to deficit spending, which she expects to continue for at least the next five years.

The district had a cash balance of $5,483,599 at the beginning of the new fiscal year July 1, Bennett reported. According to her projections, that balance will be $5,356,999 at the end of June 2019. 

Successive annual drops will deplete the reserves to just over $4.52 million by 2023, according to Bennett’s calculations.

Revenue, mostly in the form of taxes and state and federal grants, is flat over last year (rising 0.65 percent), while expenses climbed 9.38 percent this year.

The majority of expenses, which is over $7.6 million, are for salaries and benefits, the district budget shows. Bennett projects a 4.7 percent increase in salary costs and 7.8 percent increase in benefit costs, including insurance, this fiscal year.

Another expense affecting this year’s budget is the recent purchase of a new bus for $90,000, Bennett said.

Bennett has said that, while her desire is to avoid deficit spending, the district’s finances are not in peril in the near future.

The board did not comment on Bennett’s projections, but agreed to have a work session on Thursday, Nov. 29, to discuss financial priorities.

In other board business Oct. 11:

• Facilities update: Superintendent Mario Basora reported that the Greene County Regional Planning Commission has done a land use site analysis of district properties, without charge to the district. He said he expected to get the results soon.

The purpose of the assessment, he said, was to help the district determine possible uses for its 39 acres of property as it moves forward in addressing the needs of its aging school buildings.

“What would the community get for the Morgan [soccer] fields? What about the land south of the high school? What about the land behind Mills Lawn?” he said.

Basora also reported that he had been gathering quotes for a second facilities assessment to compare with the results of last year’s free assessment conducted by the Ohio Facilities Construction Commission, or OFCC. But a question from a company in Michigan has made him rethink the process, he said.

“They asked, ‘Why are you getting a facilities quote now when you don’t know what the community wants?’” Basora said.

He said he thought the question was a good one, and he thinks the district should consider it. 

“What is our vision for the kind of school we want?” he asked. “I think it’s important to start from the beginning,” he said. “Especially as bad as we lost,” he added, referring to the defeat of the district’s proposed levy in May to complete a combined reconstruction/rehab of the middle/high school campus.

He noted that the district’s facilities discussion had been prompted by its 2020 plan, adopted 10 years ago, and that perhaps 10 years had been too long to go without an update. 

“A five-year plan would be a better move,” he said. “Our problem is that our vision is from 10 years ago.”

Board member Steve Conn, who was heavily involved in developing the 2020 plan, didn’t fully agree with Basora’s assessment. He cautioned against questioning the “educational vision” of the 2020 plan because of the May levy failure.

• Quality Profile released: The district has compiled its third annual Quality Profile in conjunction with the recent release of the yearly state report card.

Basora said he believes the Quality Profile is a more accurate portrayal of the educational value provided by Yellow Springs schools.

“We want our schools to be held accountable for what we value,” he said. The state report card does not do that, he added.

Board members agreed.

“It’s a moving target,” member Sylvia Ellison said of the annual state assessment.

Educators across the state have charged that, while the tests and proficiency markers are perennially changing, the results have more to do with students’ family income than a school’s educational quality.

“It’s pernicious because it’s arbitrary,” Conn said. “You can’t even use the information to do anything.”

Based on testing last spring, Yellow Springs earned a B grade overall, comparable to its prior rating, and was ranked 194th out of the state’s 608 districts, with a 93.956 performance index score.

The top-ranked district in the state was Solon in northern Ohio, with an A grade and a 111.783 performance score. The highest ranked area school was Oakwood, at seventh in the state with an A and a 107.726 score. The state’s lowest ranked district was Dayton, with an F and a score of 55.715.

Noting that a minority of schools exceed the state’s proficiency standards, Basora blamed the state tests rather than the schools.

He said he thought a fairer assessment is to compare Yellow Springs’ scores to state averages in each of the 24 tested measures. In doing so, he reported finding that local scores exceeded state averages in all but two areas — sixth- and eighth-grade math. 

While Basora discounted the eighth-grade measure, because it did not take into account half of the eighth-grade class, who are taking higher-level math, he said the sixth-grade results were being taken seriously by Mills Lawn staff.

Basora said the Quality Profile offers a more accurate picture of the district. According to this year’s profile:

“Mills Lawn students grew an average of 1.1 years in reading and 1.6 years in math.” And “[i]n most grades, students finished the year above grade level.” The graduation rate for the class of 2017 was 98 percent, with 85 percent going on to college. And
the “average ACT score for YSHS students was 22.4 in 2017, compared to the state average of 22 and a national average of 21.”

Basora noted that the average ACT score is lower than district leaders expect, and the high school is exploring ways to improve those results.

• Bike path to Agraria: Susan Jennings, executive director of Community Solutions, and David Diamond, the nonprofit organization’s communications director, presented an update on a proposed bike path that would run from East Enon Road, adjacent to the high school, to Community Solution’s Agraria farm property on Dayton-Yellow Springs Road.

The group requested that the board write a letter of support for the bike path project to accompany a Clean Ohio Trails grant proposal due in February.

The nearly one-mile path, which would be made of crushed limestone, is expected to cost $600,000 to $700,000 to complete, Diamond said. Community Solutions is seeking funding from several sources in addition to the Clean Ohio grant, he added.

The Agraria property is already being used by district students as a hands-on outdoor laboratory, and the path would provide easier access that isn’t reliant on busing, Diamond said.

Board members expressed reserved excitement about the project, with some questions about lighting and maintenance.

Diamond said Community Solution’s hope is “to do the bulk of maintenance through volunteers and paid staff.” Lighting is yet to be finalized.

“This board member is very enthusiastic about the possibilities here,” Steve Conn said.

Student trips proposed: The board heard presentations concerning four travel opportunities anticipated later this school year. Formal votes on the trips are expected at the Nov. 8 board meeting.

First, new McKinney Middle School social studies teacher Courtney O’Connor presented plans for the annual eighth-grade trip to Washington, D.C., and Gettysburg, Penn. About 40 students, with four or five teacher chaperones, are expected to go on the trip, scheduled for April 4-–7, and expected to cost about $500–$540 per student.

Interim McKinney and High School Principal Jack Hatert said that the school changed tour companies for this year’s trip, which consequently will be a day longer and as much as $150 cheaper per student than last year.

Second, high school Spanish teacher Chris Sidner presented a proposal for a homestay, service-learning trip to Costa Rica for eight senior Spanish students in April or May. 

The trip, which he hopes to eventually make an annual, embedded part of the fourth-year Spanish curriculum, will begin by taking seniors at any level of Spanish study. The approximate cost of $1,890 includes all travel, lodging, meals, tours and tips, Sidner said. Sidner added that he has a relationship with the tour company, having used the firm, Walking Tree, in the past for similar student travel. While his first such travel experience in the Yellow Springs district, the proposed trip would be Sidner’s fifth taking students to Costa Rica.

Third, Nan Meekin, senior class advisor, reported that the class of 2019 has chosen Savannah, Ga., as a desired destination for a senior class trip in early April. 

Meekin said 23 seniors attended the organizational meeting, and as many as half of the 60-member class hope to go. The estimated cost of the trip is $800 per student, Meekin said, adding that the class already has $6,500 in savings from concession stand sales to go toward expenses.

Finally, the high school band and orchestra program hopes to take its once traditional trip to Chicago, “started decades ago by Shirley Mullins,” after a hiatus of several years, according to band and orchestra director Brian Mayer. 

Plans are for the student musicians to travel to the Chicago area Feb. 7–9, when they will engage in a program exchange with other high school students and perform for younger students in a district with which Mayer has educational ties. They’ll also do some sightseeing and attend a performance by the Blue Man Group. The cost has not yet been confirmed, Mayer said, but is expected to be less than $450 per student, before fundraising.

• Principal reports: For their reports, the building principals highlighted recent experiential excursions that helped launch the new school year. 

Mills Lawn Principal Matt Housh noted that the fifth- and sixth-grade classes — about 120 students — “had an amazing time” in their now annual overnight trip to Camp Kern. Previously held later in the school year, the trip was moved up this year to help form a deeper bond between students earlier, Housh said. The principal also noted that the fifth- and sixth-grade teachers are working to continue that bond and “create more community” by having their students eat lunch “family style” in their classrooms.

McKinney Middle School and High School Interim Principal Hatert reported on the third-annual “Into the Wild” trip. Every seventh-grader participated in the three-day biking and camping experience, Hatert said, with only two unable to finish the full length of the 54-mile trip. Those students were then transported by parents, he added. The $20 per student cost for the entire experience, which included hands-on science learning, was covered by a YS Community Foundation grant, Hatert said.

• Community comments: About a dozen people attended the Oct. 11 meeting, with a majority there to give presentations concerning the bike path and student trip proposals. Only one person, villager and parent Kathy Adams, addressed the board during the community comments section of the agenda.

A vocal critic of the district’s handling of the investigations into the allegations last school year of sexual misconduct by a former student at the high school, and the subsequent paid leave and resignation of Principal Tim Krier, Adams said she wanted to thank the school board and superintendent for recent communications and efforts to improve the school culture.

She also recommended several steps in moving forward, including: bring in outside community resources, pay for a full-time school nurse, re-examine the cell phone policy and implement more drug and alcohol education.

• Reimbursement in lieu of transportation: The board approved transportation reimbursements for six students attending schools outside the district. One is a sixth-grader at the Dayton Regional Stem School, one is in eighth grade at Global Impact STEM Academy, three are attending St. Brigid School (in grades five, six and seven) and one is a junior at Stivers School for the Arts.

Upcoming board meetings: The next regularly scheduled board meeting is 7 p.m., Thursday, Nov. 8. The board also scheduled a work session to discuss financial priorities on Thursday, Nov. 29, 3–5 p.m., and an executive session Saturday, Dec. 8, 9 a.m., to prepare for upcoming negotiations with the teachers union. The work session is open to the public, while the executive session is not.

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