Amid budget set-backs and academic challenges, the South-Western City School District shows signs of improvement and plans to continue the trend in 2008.
"I can tell you that we’re better today than we were a year ago; we’re better today than we were five years ago, but change doesn’t happen overnight," said Superintendent Dr. Bill Wise at the State of the Schools address on Feb. 20 at Central Crossing High School.
State report card
According to the state-issued school year report card for 2006-07, the district was designated at "continuous improvement." District designations range from "excellent" to "academic emergency" with "continuous improvement" falling in the middle.
The district’s performance index score, a measure of achievement based on tested students, reflects an annual increase over previous years from 88 points in 2004-05 to 90.1 this past school year.
The report card also calculates the Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP), based on the district’s ability to meet and achieve annual goals or make improvements over the previous year.
SWCS did not meet the AYP standards in all student groups.
According to Wise, meeting the standards will be an uphill challenge, due to the fact that special needs students and English as a Second Language (ESL) students are expected to perform at the same level as other students. The state’s standards are also continually subject to change.
To ensure consistent progress, the district adopted a Continuous Improvement Plan (CIP) in 1999, which is continually reviewed and revised by board of education representatives, teachers, parents and curriculum specialists.
"This is really where our focus is," said Wise.
One of the goals of the CIP is to improve the performance index score in schools as measured by state testing. The district aims to increase test scores at an annual increase of three performance index points. A second goal is to increase the graduation rate and better prepare students for successful entry into higher education and/or the workforce.
The percentage of high school graduates has increased from 72 percent in 2000 to an estimate close to 90 percent in 2008.
In order to attain both goals of the CIP, the district is trying to bring teachers and families together.
"We need to reach out. We need folks to engage," said Wise.
The district hopes to keep families updated on school programs to ensure a better understanding of classroom goals. Wise explained that the schools received some "push-backs" from parents after implementing the Everyday Math program.
"We want to make sure families and schools are on the same page," said Wise, "because the program does work."
The district also intends to practice more inclusion when it comes to ESL students and special needs students.
"This is about challenging folks and making sure they’re in the greatest level curriculum possible," Wise added.
A major focus of attention falls on ESL students because 9.3 percent of enrolled students are ESL students.
"Catching up ESL students is a difference challenge," said Wise.
Tutorial sessions and other program initiatives, such as K-Talk, are in place for any child who is delinquent in English.
Finally, teachers are expected to be the primary interventionists in the classroom as a means of highlighting the differences between subjects in order to facilitate a more diversified learning experience.
"We all want a better life for our children," said Wise. "We’re about educating our children for their future."
SWCS will lose several forms of tax-based income within the next few years.
Previously, the district received income from a personal tangible tax. The tax fell on inventory in multiple warehouses and grew as the inventory increased.
As of this fall, the state will eliminate the personal tangible tax, the burden of which will eventually fall on the residents. The personal property tax will be eliminated starting in 2011.
Combined, the personal property tax and the personal tangible tax accounted for over $21 million of the general fund income in the 2006-07 fiscal year. Not only does the district face a budget cut, but the state is in a deficit situation. About $100 million will be cut from the Department of Education statewide at the end of this fiscal year and next.
Expenditures remain on the low side, compared to other districts in the state. The district spends an average of $8,876 per pupil, while the state average is $9,586.
"What this tells me as a taxpayer in the South-Western City School District is that we are being very scrutinous with your dollar and we’re trying to do the best we can with what we have," said Treasurer Hugh Garside.
SWCS may undertake a $325 million project, with the help of the Ohio School Facilities Commission (OSFC), to build and remodel district schools to meet 2008 standards.
The OSFC, created in May of 1997 as a separate state agency to oversee the rebuilding of Ohio’s public schools, offered to fund 47 percent of the total cost of the construction project. The percentage is based on the district’s ability to raise the remaining funds.
"It’s a really great opportunity," said Wise.
The board of education has not made a commitment in any way at this point, but continues to explore the possibility.
The board passed a resolution at the Jan. 13 regular meeting to authorize the district to issue requests for statements of qualifications for design professionals. This allows the district to begin assessing opportunities based on school size, geography, enrollment, and educational plans.
The district will need to complete a master plan by June in order to become eligible for the funds during the 2008-09 school year. The process is expected to take six to seven years total in which upgrades will be paid for later.
"We want functional; we want supportive; we want educationally sound," said Wise. "That’s the direction we’ll continue to move in."
Originally, the district was slated for eligibility for the program in 2012. As a result of the infusion of tobacco settlement dollars and the security of those funds, the district is eligible for the funds earlier than projected.
Rather than offer funding to 30 districts annually for the next three fiscal years, the OSFC can offer funds to 60 districts in the first year and 30 districts in each of the next two years.