NC State Budget Update
The budget has passed both the Senate and the House and now goes to the Governor for his signature. He has stated publicly that he will sign the budget. Therefore, the longest budget stalemate since 2002 is finally coming to an end. While this budget is by no means perfect, it does let us know what to plan for and it certainly has included some items that we felt where critical that they be included.
The first item is teacher assistants and they have been fully funded to the level that they were last year. They have changed the formula slightly, which means we will see a decrease of around $600 in the budget, but that is something we can live with when you look at the alternatives we were faced with in earlier versions of the budget.
Another big ticket item was driver’s education and it has been funded at the same level as last year as well. We were going to recommend suspension of the driver’s education program in its entirety at the Board of Education meeting on Monday night but we received the initial budget funding it and we were able to put the brakes on that recommendation.
The biggest disappointment in the budget was that there will not be a 2% raise for all employees as originally proposed in the House budget. There will be an increase on the front end of the teacher salary schedule and steps have been funded for those who would see a step increase for both teachers and school-based administrators. All employees will also see a $750 bonus in January. The bonus is good, but a raise is always better because it continues throughout one’s career. But, given the alternatives once again, this is something we can live with.
I know it has been a long process and many questions have lingered over this first month of school. While it is not perfect, we have a budget that secures everyone’s job and provides some additional compensation for everyone. It also provides us stability moving forward in that we feel very confident we will have a balanced budget by the end of the year that will not require the use of fund balance or very little. That has been a 5 year process and we needed to reach that level to make sure we are on the firmest financial foundation possible. We are almost there.
As always, thank you all for all that you do! Enjoy your weekend!
Reflecting on 5
I was blessed to be named the Superintendent of Montgomery County Schools in August 2010 and I anxiously came on board officially with the district on September 1, 2010. As we begin to close the book on another successful school year opening and the month of August, it just hit me that I will be wrapping up 5 years as your Superintendent. I wanted to take the time to highlight 5 things that we have had to deal with in that time and how we have met all challenges head-on in creating success for those that matter most….our students.
1. Budgets – No single issue has had an impact on our schools more so than the annual budget process. While it has been difficult, we have survived and thrived in some very lean times. While our student performance results get better every year, the budget has not. While other districts around us have sent actual people home through RIF’s, have cut TA hours to the bone resulting in loss of pay and benefits, and cut overall services to schools, we have done none of this. MCS should be proud of the fact that we have protected people’s jobs and livelihood and increased instructional support for teachers. We have done more with less and our students have ultimately benefitted.
2. Common Core – We also changed the entire curriculum we teach with the move to the Common Core and Essential Standards 3 years ago. The first year of the change saw our scores drop significantly as is always the case with a change in curriculum and assessments. Instead of letting that negatively impact us, our teachers dug their heels in and got to work. We have now witnessed 2 years of gains…2 years that have seen proficiency and growth go up and the achievement gap go down. I have always said that our people are masters of taking the data, targeting areas of need, and producing results. I thank all school staffs for their continued hard work!
3. Research-Based Best Practices – From PLC’s, CWT’s, and PDSA’s to HYIS (High Yield Instructional Strategies), MCS has the acronym game down to a science! The use of continuous improvement and accountability measures makes us a school system that is unique among our peers. All decisions are made on data and we have become experts at wading through massive amounts of data so that we can improve for our students year after year. While we will never be where we want to be, we will continue to strive to be better every year. As noted, it is the strength and quality of our people that make us better and better year after year.
4. Facilities – When I arrived, our facilities were in very poor condition. While we are still not where we want to be, we have seen significant upgrades in this area thanks to our rallying the community to pass a ¼ cent sales tax 3 years ago. I have not often highlighted this fact, but many communities tried and failed to get such a tax passed via a ballot referendum. In fact, Montgomery County failed in such an effort in May 2010. We used these funds to get new roofs for our middle schools and to provide significant upgrades in many areas for all schools. Recently, the County Commissioners agreed to establish a 5-cent capital fund just for educational facilities. Our plans currently include the addition of an Early College to provide our parents and students more choice in educational programming and we plan to address the condition of our high schools in the next few years. We have ambitious plans to improve our facilities and now, after years and years of frustration, there is a funding stream in place to actually do something about it.
5. Technology – We have made huge strides in providing technology access to all of our students. The recent i3 grant will provide laptops to ALL students in grades 5-12. We will also leverage our technology funds and other federal funding sources to provide tablets to ALL students in grades K-4. We have worked with county leaders to attract a fiber optic WAN provider so that we can increase internet speeds and overall productivity at a lower net cost. We are currently living in revolutionary times as it relates to technology. If we are to truly meet our Vison and Mission to prepare our students for life in the 21st century, we must make sure we are working with 21st century tools and equipment. And we are getting there in short order.
As I visited schools this week, I could sense the excitement that many of our teachers, staff, and students feel with the coming of a new school year. There is much promise in store for the coming year. YOU are the ones that make our system go. And I wanted you to know how much I appreciate all of you. We have dealt with many challenges over the past 5 years and we have responded. It has been a great 5 years and I am PROUD to say that I am the Superintendent of Montgomery County Schools. I am also excited about what's in store during the next 5!
One area that most schools struggle with is student engagement. True student engagement. In a world full of Twitter, YouTube, Snapchat, and other social media, it is hard for schools to garner the attention of young people in an environment that generally lacks sustained technological capacity. Like most rural school districts, technology is present in Montgomery County Schools, but it is not pervasive. In a completely wired world, that is what is needed to be a true 21st century education provider. The old adage that students “power down” when they walk into the school building has been hurting us like many rural districts in our country.
So, we are constantly challenged with how to address this issue. We have purchased devices in an ongoing manner to try and keep up with the technology as best as we can. But it has been a struggle in an age of declining revenue. I feel we are able to accomplish much in this area because we stay focused on the importance of providing technology for our students. Last year, we purchased $500,000 worth of equipment to put into our schools to replace old and aging equipment. That was a start.
One of the desires I have had since coming to Montgomery County Schools was to position the district so that we could aggressively go after competitive grants. Competitive grants are the big ones, usually over $250,000 and into the millions. Many people apply for such grants. To be competitive in that environment, certain things must be in place for you to be successful. You must have a strong administrative structure to manage the grant. You must have systemic and systematic processes in place that can get high level results. You must be able to show that you will do what you say you will do in the grant and be able to get results. It is all about getting results. And, in my short time here, we are constantly improving year after year. We get results that benefit children. That is a testament to all of you. We are not where we want to be, but we have a direction set to get there. It takes time, but the results are definitely worth the effort.
It is with this knowledge, that we have tremendous needs and we have a path to get there, that we have been applying for competitive grants over the past year. I have felt good about our chances with such grants during this time because of the structures and systems we now have in place. We received the TPPI grant to combat teen pregnancy in partnership with Winston-Salem State University. That grant was in the amount of $400,000. We received the 21st Century Learning Center grant to establish an after school program in our elementary schools in the amount of $1.2 million. And now we have received the i3 Investing in Innovation Grant in the amount of $3 million. In a short amount of time, we have secured almost $5 million for our district to be used over the next 3 years. That is really a big deal. Our success in these grant processes is owed to our teachers and staff who have worked so hard to improve and get results and positive outcomes for students. We are good at what we do. I truly believe that we are on the verge of greatness.
There will be much more detail coming on this latest grant, but I wanted you to know how excited I am for our district. I hope you share the excitement for what this grant will do for us. It is a big deal for our county. It is a bigger deal for our students. The path that we are setting on will mean a lot of work for all of us. But our kids will benefit for years to come. They will be more engaged thanks to the technology and services that will be provided in this grant. They will be more prepared for the life that awaits them beyond our walls. Our mission is clear that we want to prepare life-ready, globally competitive students. To fulfil this mission, we must have everyone truly engaged in the process. The i3 grant will be an important step in making sure that is a reality in Montgomery County Schools.
We had a really good turnout for the Back to School Rally. I would like to thank the many staff members who worked to make it happen and those that worked so hard the day of the event to make things go so smoothly. It was truly a great day.
Our theme this year is FOCUS. I hope all of you are well rested after your summer break and excited about the start of school! We want you to be focused on being the best that you can be and we want you to have the support you need to be the best teacher you can be. We have reorganized a little this summer to help in that endeavor. As you will recall our Instructional Facilitators were tied up with testing an inordinate amount of time last year. The time they spent doing that was time they could not help you, could not be in your classroom, and could not support you the way that they wanted or we wanted them to. In an effort to remedy this, we used some retirements in Media Coordinators to develop a school based elementary and secondary testing coordinator. They will handle all of the testing plans and logistics to help testing go smoothly instead of the IF. To make this happen, our Media Coordinators had to share schools. I appreciate their willingness and team-first attitude in doing this. This organizational model will get our IF’s focus back on the classroom and back on helping you. We are always focused on doing whatever it takes to support classroom teachers and the important work you do with our students each and every day.
As I reflect on a very busy and productive summer I am drawn back to a statement made by the speaker at the Back to School Rally. The statement was, “It is not by chance.” As your students return to school, focus on that statement for a moment if you will. It is not by chance that you are a teacher in Montgomery County Schools at the school you are currently assigned to. It is not by chance that this particular group of students will be crossing your path at this specific moment in time. It is not by chance that we all have gathered together right now in this great place we call home. All of us are exactly where we are supposed to be right now to make great things happen for our students. I am confident in all of you. HAVE A GREAT YEAR!
We are beginning to see the first glimmer of budget news out of Raleigh as the last two weeks has seen the Governor release his budget and most recently the NC Senate releasing its budget. I will offer highlights for each one below:
Governor McCrory’s Plan
The Governor proposes a raise to teacher pay at certain levels he calls “Career Pathways.” His plan appears to be the one that would hurt us the least over time, but it is still painful. Like all of the proposals we see coming from our current leaders, there are no new revenue streams to pay for the salary increases. That means something has to be cut. The Governor’s budget calls for the school system to pick up Worker’s Compensation Insurance and Tort Liability Insurance that has historically been paid by the state. This plan would cost us roughly $500,000 per year. That means the entirety of the state raises for teachers would essentially be funded by Montgomery County taxpayers through our fund balance or we would have to cut roughly 15-20 positions to offset the cost of the raise.
The Senate Plan
The Senate plan provides a much larger raise for teachers. Since there is no new revenue to offset the proposed increase….you guessed it, our cut would be larger. They propose to cut our Teacher Assistant allotment in half to pay for teacher raises. This cut would equal roughly $700,000 per year. We would have to fund that much through our fund balance or cut roughly 20-25 positions. To get the proposed 11% (on average) raise teachers would have to choose to give up their tenure. If they choose to maintain tenure, they get no raise in the budget. So, the budget here is a “guesstimate” at best as to the number of teachers who would give up tenure to get the raise. We will be cut regardless as money is allotted to us for planning purposes early in the year. So, we will have to go with the “guesstimate” and make cuts over the summer or commit fund balance to cover the inevitable shortfall of revenue that would need to be devoted to teacher salary increases.
Either of these plans will come at a very high price to Montgomery County Schools. We had planned for a modest increase for employee pay but not one the size of which has been proposed in either of the two budgets. We will do our best to handle everything through attrition and fund balance like we have in the past for this year. As I have committed to all of you, we will be fine this year and we will make it work. However, we may see some changes to service delivery based upon these budgets, splitting schools, TA’s splitting (more) classrooms, etc. If either of these plans passes, we will see significant cuts to all areas next year, including not filling positions that come open if we have retirements or resignations during the year and appropriate adjustments made mid-year. Please be prepared for a scenario that we will get by this year, but we will need to see significant revenue increases next year or face a significant loss of employees/programs/services…again. Now would be a good time to let your legislators know how you feel. A raise in compensation that costs jobs and significant cuts may not be the best thing for NC right now, especially when considering what we have already had to cut over the last 5 years. Any increases in salary needs to have a corresponding raise in revenue to be sustainable over time.
North Carolina has been initiating many reforms that have been championed in the state of Florida over the last several years. It has gotten to the point that the word reform is now viewed as a dirty word. It should not be. Change is inevitable in anything and the changes are generally for the better. But, as any teacher would tell you, if it is too much, too fast, change can be tough on almost detrimental to the cause you are trying to reform. The state of North Carolina is living proof of that right now.
Tuesday, January 28, 2014
Gov. Rick Scott on Monday made a pitch to increase public school spending in Florida by $542 million.
The proposed increase falls far short of the $1.2 billion increase Scott recommended last year, despite the best budget outlook in recent memory.
Hopefully, North Carolina legislative leaders will catch on to this one. As we start to look forward to the new budget year, your calls and emails will be even more important this year. Stay tuned on the budget discussions. We will keep our website updated as we go along. As always, thanks for all you do!
I was very fortunate this week to attend a conference sponsored by the NC School Boards Association in Greensboro. There were many excellent speakers at the conference but none had a more powerful story than teacher Erin Gruwell. She is the teacher who was the inspiration for the movie Freedom Writers. I had seen the movie a couple of times through the years and it was a very moving story. But, I can tell you after hearing her speak firsthand, she has a story that the world should be shouting from the mountaintops! While she structures her presentation for the audience at hand, the following link takes you to a keynote she did at the National PTA Conference. So, it is not exactly the same as the one I saw this week, but very similar and equally powerful. If you have 45 minutes to spare, I would highly, highly encourage you to watch it.
Ms. Gruwell taught the toughest students at Woodrow Wilson High School in Newport Beach, California. Most of the students were involved in gangs and many had family members and friends killed in gang violence. Many of her students had been victims of shootings and had been in and out of the juvenile justice system. At 14, most of her students had an outlook on life that we can barely imagine, just hoping to live to see their 18th birthday. I cannot get into all of the details of the many stories she shared but I can give you some basic facts.
Her first year teaching introduced her to 150 students at Woodrow Wilson High School. After a very successful first year, she argued that she needed to be looped with these students so she could continue to work with them. This request was granted. By that time, she was beginning to develop a name for herself and students were begging to enter her classroom. But, she decided to stay with those original 150 students. At the end of those 4 years, all 150 students, those who had hoped only to survive (literally, survive) their high school years, graduated from high school. And to top it all off, they all entered college. Many of her original students also went on to receive their master’s degrees and their Ph.D.’s. Not surprisingly, many of them went on to be teachers because they wanted to help troubled youths in much the same way that Ms. Gruwell had helped them.
There are many powerful aspects of her story but I focused on three words she shares because it fits so well with this year’s theme…high expectations. You must find these 3 qualities in all the children you work with and inspire these qualities in them: promise, possibility, and hope. All students can achieve if the adults believe. And Mrs. Gruwell was a big believer, in a school, in a town, and in a society that did not believe her students were worth the time and effort. She chose to believe in those students and they delivered in the end. What do you see when you look out over your class? I hope you can see that potential for greatness like Mrs. Gruwell did. All that promise, all that possibility, all that hope is there waiting for you to ignite the spark. After all, setting high expectations works if we truly believe!
Thanks for all you do!
As we think about this changing paradigm, I often think about what this means to the “nuts and bolts” of the teaching profession. It means the work gets harder and harder. For instance, I have been hearing a lot lately about the Read to Achieve initiative and the work it has created. Primarily, it requires Personalized Education Plans (PEP’s) for ALL at-risk children and meetings with parents to review progress. Those PEP’s have always been legally required but with Read to Achieve we will be audited to make sure we are doing them. The fact that this law now adds an audit and the legislature felt it necessary to add such a caveat in the law tells us that they somehow knew it was not being carried out. I know this “new” paperwork is frustrating but we as a system will do what is legally required of us and because it is best for students.
I know there is a lot of frustration around this law. I hear murmurs of “I can’t believe the Central Office is making us do this.” Let me clear the air on this. We are all professionals and we will do what is legally required. If I had my choice, I would find simpler ways to try and carry out the intended purpose of this law. But, the Central Office and the Board of Education did not require this. But, we are required to carry out and follow the law and we will. As I said before the bottom line is this, it is what is best for students and that is what we all want.
In regard to this changing paradigm, we have to look at things differently. I normally do not mention individuals in my blog, but I would like to formally recognize Terry Maness of Mount Gilead Elementary. As we were discussing this topic at Certified Staff Advisory this week, he made a number of comments that I was very impressed with and I appreciated. I will be paraphrasing here but he mentioned how he was tackling this issue in his classroom. He stated he would of course prefer not to have just another piece of paper that proves he is doing his job (as we all would prefer), but he accepts it. He also stated it is just doing what he has always done for his at-risk students, but now he just has to write it all down in one place and discuss it with parents, just like he has always done. He records data in a folder as he goes so he will always have up to date data on ALL of his students. That is a perfect example of a changing paradigm. It is just doing what you have always done a little differently. I salute Mr. Maness for his excellent example.
As we reflect on this, I know the job is very hard. I know continued changes in legislation are making it harder every day. I know morale is a constant concern. Everywhere I go and in everything I do, I tell people how wonderful the MCS staff is. So, let’s try not to lose sight of the big picture and let’s try to keep it all in perspective. When we reflect on change, we can focus on one of three things. We can focus on what, how, or why. Using the PEP example, we can focus on that document and not like the fact that we have to do it. We can focus on the how, the process of putting together the document and what that entails. Or we can focus on the why, why are we having to do this? I would encourage us to focus on the why. We take our valuable time to fill out this document, by whatever process we need to because we want to make sure our children get a successful education. I know some will ask, “What does this piece of paper do to say that? I teach my heart out every day.” I know that is true, and this document just proves it. And, if we have to tell parents their child has not been successful, we want every document and data set available to us to show that we taught our hearts out every day.
Thanks for all you do!