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Letters to the Editor

Efficient schools

January 21, 2010

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To the editor:

There is a lot of talk lately about school efficiency. Please note: Small neighborhood schools are more efficient than large ones when it comes to education. And that’s important.

Numerous studies show that small schools are hands-down-better for learning. And for “closing the achievement gap,” the district’s highest goal, small schools are the cutting edge. As a Cordley mom, I see small-school efficiency every day: Parent involvement is high, teachers are engaged and all the parents know each other and support each other’s kids.

Here’s an idea: Consolidate classrooms, not schools. To resolve the budget shortfall, classes will become larger any way you cut it because that’s where the savings are. But house these consolidated classes in small schools. Children will temporarily lose the benefits of small classes (that will happen anyway) but will continue to reap the educational efficiency of small neighborhood schools.

Finally, it is more efficient to use existing buildings than to build new ones later. Cordley, New York and Pinckney are sturdy, historic buildings that function well. And as neighborhood schools, they are efficient when it comes to maintaining property values across the community. While old buildings, like old homes, need updating and maintenance, it would be far less costly for the taxpayer to maintain them than to build new. Let’s not close our historic, educationally excellent neighborhood schools.

Comments

Richard Heckler 4 years, 11 months ago

Base State Aid

According to USD 497 the budget for USD 497 is about $5,500,000 dollars a month or $66,000,000 a year or thereabouts.

November 30, 2009

FROM: Dale M. Dennis, Deputy Commissioner of Education

SUBEJCT: Base State Aid Per Pupil Comparison

We have been requested to provide a computer printout (SF0015) which compares the computed general fund budget based on a base state aid per pupil (BSAPP) of: $4,400 (same as 2008-09); $4,218 (amount upon which USD budgets were adopted for 2009-10 school year); and $4,012 (BSAPP following allotments).

As of a November 2009 PDF file: The state will be providing somewhere between:
*$68,893,880

*$66,556,666

or $63,910,759 .

According to my math the district appears to be only $2.1 million short: In using the low number of dollars to be received from the state which is $63,910,759 USD 497 may only need to use approximately $2.1 million from their contingency fund of $7 million to cover the school year. According to numbers contained in the PDF file down loaded from the state. ($66,000,000 USD 497 budget minus $63,910,759 tax dollars = $2,089,241 (short).

USD 497 has $7,000,000 in at least one of the their "stash" contingency funds according to USD 497.

As I see it there is no need to shut down any school this year. The problem is a temporary situation. AND the courts may well order the state to cover the court ordered per pupil amount which I believe is $68,893,880.

The State of Kansas also has contingency funds it could pull from if ordered to do so by the courts. We have been here before.

diplomacy205 4 years, 11 months ago

If the projected taxes for next year won't cover the proposed budget, the school district should not use emergency funds to make up the difference. The budget should be reduced.

The analogy is a family that has earnings of $100,000 with $30,000 in savings and expenses of $95,000. The family is in good financial shape. If their income suddenly drops to $65,000, they can tap the savings to maintain expenses of $95,000 for one year, but what happens the next?

I'm a fan of neighborhood schools, but this double dip recession will force very unpopular budget choices.

Hop2It 4 years, 11 months ago

Numerous studies prove that teacher /child ratio is a VERY critical component for learning, especially for young children. Science shows that the size of the classroom is indeed very, very important.

Studies show that parental involvement is an important indicator of children's success in school. It is good that parents are getting involved to save the schools in their neighborhoods. However, this letter is very scary that some parents might be mistaking the value of community over the true value of quality education.

KSManimal 4 years, 11 months ago

"According to my math the district appears to be only $2.1 million short"

Nothing wrong with your math, but you missed an important factor.

Because of declining enrollment, USD 497 was allowed to use an average of several years' enrollment numbers to calculate their pupil count this year. That ability goes away next year. Thus, you are correct IF the pupil count stayed the same. It won't, and there is your additional $ that must be cut.

Mr_Moderate 4 years, 11 months ago

This is a reply to Hop2It. Yes, teacher/child ratio is a very critical component of learning. But numerous studies now show that SCHOOL SIZE is equally critical.

Ilyana Kuziemko, a Princeton education researcher and economist, studied how increasing school size affected student learning. She used data on all Indiana elementrary school students over several years.

Her conclusion? "My estimates [of the impact of school size on student learning] compare favorably with even the most generous estimate of the effect of... class size." (Citation below).

Everybody seems to know the importance of class size (student/teacher ratio). We need desperately to catch up to the research on the equal importance of school size for student learning.

People favoring neighborhood schools are not trading off student learning in favor of community, as Hop2It suggests. We are trying to protect all key factors that support student learning--and school size is a critical one of these.

Citation:

Ilyana Kuziemko, "Using Shocks to School Enrollment to Estimate the Effect of School Size on Student Achievement." Economics of Education Review 25: 63-75 (2006), quoted at p. 71.

See also: Keith Leithwood and Doris Jantzi, "A Review of Empirical Evidence About School Size Effects: A Policy Perspective," Review of Educational Research 79(1): 464-90 (Spring 2009). (This is a review of 57 studies on school size and educational achievement. Quote: "Studies consistently found that smaller elementary schools benefit the academic achievement of thier students." p. 468)

Jimo 4 years, 11 months ago

Yes, if we could get down to a ratio of one student per teacher per school we'd achieve the nirvana of efficiency.

In reality, the claim that "Small neighborhood schools are more efficient than large ones when it comes to education" could not be a bigger, more obvious lie. There are merits to both small and larger schools. Increased individual attention is clearly going to boost learning while on the other hand public resources are limited and require a certain economy of scale.

Numerous studies show that taxpayers' willingness to fund schools is a critical component of education success. Taxpayers are not willing to fund an endless array of tiny neighborhood schools (or for that matter unrealistic and yes inefficiently small class sizes).

Mr_Moderate 4 years, 11 months ago

Saving neighborhood schools now actually, literally, will save taxpayer money. The amount of state money (and thus the amount of your tax dollars) given to the District is based on the number of students in the district, not the number of schools. If Lawrence closes elementary schools now, the amount of state aid (your tax dollars) given to the district will remain the same. But the remaining schools will be overcrowded. Literally. Then, in a couple of years the School Board will float a bond to build a new elementary school to relieve the overcrowding. That bond will add directly to your local taxes. The short of it: Keeping already-built schools open does not affect your tax burden, because those schools have already been paid for. Closing old schools--and then building new ones, the inevitable result--adds to your tax burden.

babygirl 4 years, 11 months ago

I don't think closing anymore schools will solve anything. Maybe making some other changes in the way they run schools and controling or changing what is used at the schools. I'm not one that rants and raves about people going green but honestly how much paper do schools use in a school year? How many pecils do they go through? There are so much stuff that will help save them money in the upcoming years that they don't think about. I had a conversation with someone about technology and schools. If they were able to put in a computer system in the schools that had all the lessons that the kids needed and of course a file that has each kid's assignment in it that would save them a lot of money. Yes it will cost money at first but if you think about how much other stuff they won't have to use it will save them money in the long run. They will have more money for anything they need instead of having to pay for so much paper for each school. Thats my thoughts on it. If they actually sat down and thought about what they could do different instead of doing the same thing each year they would be able to come up with more ideas to save money for all the schools so none of them should have to be closed down.

Richard Heckler 4 years, 11 months ago

At one meeting it was noted by school officials that some larger Lawrence elementary schools cost about $3800 to educate each student. Whereas one smaller east side schools cost about $6000. USD 497 has been receiving more than $6000 per student by way of Topeka.

Apparently larger schools are not spending the money provided to educate those students which provides about a $2200 surplusX500 Langston Hughes students = $1,100,000 surplus. Moving those surplus funds to 125 New York School students provides another $8,800 per student which in reality reduces the cost of educating New York Students to zero. Actually creates a rather large surplus.

Langston Hughes only cost USD 497 approximately $3800 per student according to school officials

Again USD 497 receives at least $6000 per Student no matter how many students are in what school. USD 497 receives $750,000 annually to operate New York School for 125 students. Teachers are likely being paid $29,000 to $40,000 a year ….. not a great deal of money.

There is no way USD 497 is losing money. Lawrence is not losing money because New York School has the ultimate class size for so called lower income at risk neighborhoods.

Also bear in mind USD 497 has been encouraging retirement of tenured teaching staff over the past several years thus reducing the cost of operations substantially.

Want to raise money? Sell the extravagant USD 497 admin building? A real estate deal that never should have happened.

Sell the admin building to help offset the cost of running all of the new athletic facilities. How much does that increase the cost of operations?

jafs 4 years, 11 months ago

If smaller schools are more efficient, why is the cost per student higher at the small east side school?

devobrun 4 years, 11 months ago

At what point do people who have the budgets start to look at why these schools vary so much in their budgets?

Could the larger expense/student at the larger schools be due to all the extras offered?

Special ed, special needs, paraprofessionals, special teachers, materials, costs, costs, costs.

If you have a simple neighborhood school with a standard group of students who don't need speech pathologists, ramps, councilors, PhD. learning experts, you save money.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying these things should be canceled.....just do a fair comparison of services and costs.....Seems like the elephant in the budgetary kitchen to me.

BaldwinDad 4 years, 11 months ago

The only way you will get more efficient schools is to allow actual competition.

Right now the Big Govt school system have none...therefore they don't have to be efficient or effective. The problem is the Govt has allowed one of the few things they were actually supposed to oppose a monopoly. You know what is really funny is they are the ones that created and control the monopoly on Education.

The problems with our schools will not be solved with more money or better oversight only when you allow true competition into the market of educating our children will things change.

My first suggestion dissolve the DoE and disallow the NEA, that would be a good first step to making schools better.

Nick Yoho 4 years, 11 months ago

There is a reason the government controls education. So they can control what the people "know" and "think".

lucy1 4 years, 11 months ago

beobachter

i dont think anyone wants your money, just want ours back.

commuter 4 years, 11 months ago

Studies are great and people can manipulate the populations to get a desired result for what group pays for the study.

For example, I can do a study showing small schools do not provide better education results than larger schools. Here is how, if the teacher is crappy and there is only one teacher for that grade level, the results could be down.

As part of the last school closings, my kids school was closed down and they were moved to a larger school. It was the best thing for them, there were more than one teacher for a grade level and the teachers in each grade worked together and helped each other.

Has any heard any parent from Cordley or New York tell the board that THEY were willing to pay more for sending their kids to a small school?? I haven't. It is easier to fight for something when you do not have to pay more out of your own pocketbook.

I am guessing that the district is looking at a bunch of different things to help reduce expenses.

Another problem that creates confusion is small schools and small class sizes. Too many people are confusing these two issues. I can have a two section school, say about 150 students but I could class sizes of 28 & 28 in a third grade class because of school size.

average 4 years, 11 months ago

@BaldwinDad -

You do realize that all the countries who beat us on international test results... Japan, Taiwan, and many Euro/Scandanavian countries... all have virtually 100% public school attendance. Teachers are even unionized in most of them. We have more competition in primary/secondary education than most of those countries.

broddie 4 years, 11 months ago

2.1 million short for education 14 million borrowed for sports facilities amortized over 30 years with the total cost hidden from taxpayers (criminal investigation is in order here, folks) Even a 4th grader can solve this story problem. Quit spending money we don't have for stuff we don't need.

honestone 4 years, 11 months ago

commuter (Anonymous) says…

Has any heard any parent from Cordley or New York tell the board that THEY were willing to pay more for sending their kids to a small school?? I haven't. It is easier to fight for something when you do not have to pay more out of your own pocketbook.

NO PROBLEM. I would love to support our neighborhood school but...I could have done without the 2.1 million football stadium with it's forever operating costs.

If you knock it down...you will have to rebuild it soon...at a MUCH higher cost per pupil

Kookamooka 4 years, 11 months ago

Cut fat at the top and save nearly 1 Milion. Two H.R. directors? That is just extravangant. They could streamline administration and NEVER effect a single student.

All of this new data does make it seem like the district isn't being completely honest with the community but that's how they roll.

Administrators never warned the community that they would go to a half day Wednesday. AND a study was conducted a few years ago that pegged USD497 as one of the LEAST EFFICIENT districts in the state.

How the district managed to bungle the bond that as a voter I expected to improve teacher salaries, and build two new football palaces, I'll never know.

If enrollment declines, it's because families realize they can do better in Blue Valley. At least they don't charge families tuition. It cost me a fortune to enroll my kids this year in USD497 not to mention the baby sitter Wednesday afternoon.

commuter 4 years, 11 months ago

Kookamooka (Anonymous) says…

Administrators never warned the community that they would go to a half day Wednesday. AND a study was conducted a few years ago that pegged USD497 as one of the least efficient districts in the state. +++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Based on your comment above, you are forgetting that the LEA DEMANDED that as part of their UNION CONTRACT. To me, if you do not like the going a full day on Wednesday, please blame the LEA, in addition to the Administration.

If the LEA wanted to help reduce the budget GAP for next year, why don't they want to give up their collaboration time on Wednesday???

texburgh 4 years, 11 months ago

Kookamooka:

"Administrators never warned the community that they would go to a half day Wednesday." Actually this was widely reported in the press as it was being debated/negotiated - Everyone in the community either through tv or the LJW knew it was coming. You were "warned."

"AND a study was conducted a few years ago that pegged USD497 as one of the least efficient districts in the state." Really? citation please. This is just BS.

"bungle the bond that as a voter I expected to improve teacher salaries," You expected a capital outlay bond to improve teacher salaries? You pose as an expert on school finance and don't know that capital outlay cannot legally be used for teacher salaries? The sports facilities are a different battle - you may have been opposed to them (as I was) but you can't argue that the bond money that was restricted to capital outlay was not spent legally - the sports facilities are capital outlay.

One last comment on Wednesdays: While your frustration is certainly appropriate - it is indeed a burden on parents who actually care to know where their kids are - the concept is a good one. Our teachers need to be able to collaborate, discuss students, and effectively plan instruction and instructional interventions if we want all of our students to succeed. We desperately need to find ways to provide that time for teachers and still keep kids in safe environments. Sadly, with the underfunding of public schools in Kansas we must choose one or the other.

Kookamooka 4 years, 11 months ago

2007 Kauffman and S&P study www.kauffman.org/uploadedFiles/school... We didn't rank in the very bottom, so we aren't the LEAST efficent, but we came in behind Shawnee Mission, Blue Valley, Leavenworth and....Bonner Springs?

So it wasn't complete B.S. I expect more from a district in a college town.

With regard to Wednesdays...it's clear you work for the district (or did) I would have hoped there could have been another way for teachers to get that time. I'm not seeing the fruits of that collaboration in my students classroom. Mentors and learning coaches are still covering classes so teachers can collaborate even more. Other districts don't have this policy...KCK does but their coverage issues are different. In fact the majority of districts in Kansas don't have early release.

And...two directors of H.R., Texburgh? Really? This is efficiency? Not that many people are vying to work in USD497 at the salary you offer. This I know for a fact.

So..I got the bond confused. Mea Culpa. But I'm still concerned about the fact that there are schools in Lawrence where kids have regular classes in trailers...not just specials? Why an entire room within a building would be used for "resources" while an entire grade level of 20 students would be housed in a trailer everyday (a 30 year old trailer) is beyond me. But thank GOD we have two new football stadiums.

So Texburgh, I'm sorry wasn't specific. As a parent in this district, it's tough. Decisions are made that are appalling. It feels like the community is an enemy to be fought against. If the administration didn't make such bad choices, (and spent a little time on P.R) there wouldn't be such bad blood.

After the bond issue fiasco, and yes....those football fields were a luxurious extravagance that I'll be paying for with my tax money for years. I'm hesistant to ever vote for a school district bond issue again. Use what you have. Just use it more wisely.

commuter 4 years, 11 months ago

Merrill - The Langston Hughes and other schools surplus is being used to pay for the admin people at 110 McDonald Drive and other things. So if you want to lay off all of the people who work at 110 McDonald drive and get rid of sports & fine arts be my guest. To me and I think most sane people, your logic is severly flawed and is what I would expect from someone who is trying to twist the facts to suit YOUR agenda.

jafs 4 years, 11 months ago

texburgh,

Although it may have technically been ok to spend the money on the footbal fields, that certainly wasn't what I thought I was voting for when I voted for the bond.

I expected "capital outlays" to be things like improving/maintaning buildings that were in desperate need of renovation.

I too will think long and hard before voting for a school bond in the future.

Richard Heckler 4 years, 11 months ago

It would seem to me that the admin costs would be included in the $66,000,000 USD 497 budget.

110 McDonald Drive could be sold to help pay for the sports improvement extravaganza. Then move admin staff into the virtual school building.

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