By JESSICA CRAWFORD
• Leader & Times
Several weeks ago, Superintendent Lance Stout outlined a list of goals for USD No. 480. He believes if pushed in the right direction by dedicated staff, students will flourish and reach new standards. His goals, however, have left the public begging the question, “Where will the money come from?”
Stout has a plan, a plan he believes will work, if implemented properly.
“These are goals I want for us to be honed in to as a district,” Stout said. “Some of the initiatives that we put into place that we think are going to certainly help us achieve these goals and we are going to start seeing some dividends as a result. Lastly, some future things that need to be put into place for us to take the next step forward.”
First and foremost, Kansas State Assessment scores must continue to be on the rise, and all schools within the district must make meeting AYP their top priority.
“At the beginning of the year, during the summer, central office staff looked at data and two things kind of jumped off the page at us regarding Kansas State Assessments,” he said. “We shared this with the entire staff, certified and classified, on the very first day we met with them at Liberal High School in early August. We want all our kids to improve their reading and math scores by 10 percent and all of our ELL students to do the same thing – improve by 10 percent. We are going to continue to set annual targets on these scores.
“Making AYP is certainly something we are going to always target and although the federal government is in some very strong conversations right now with all the states about changing this formula, we are hearing talk about a growth model, in the meantime while that shakes out, we are going to say, ‘here it is and this is what we have to make.’”
Stout said AP classes must be utilized and test scores in such classes should reflect each student’s success.
“Bottom line is, we feel it is important for our students to be pushed academically,” he said. “Some of these indicators and some of the goals that we set, we can tabulate easier at Liberal High School. For example, AP courses, in 2002, 12 AP exams were given last year AP 144 exams were given and this year Mr. Adams says that he feels very confident that we will approach 300. I set a goal of 288. I want double what we did in 2010, but he thinks we will easily do that.”
In 2009, the AP exam pass rate was 17 percent and 2010 saw an improvement with a 23 percent pass rate. Stout’s goal for 2012 is a 30 percent pass rate.
ACT scores are another tool upon which a student’s knowledge can be measured. Stout said although LHS is currently under the state’s average, they are working hard to narrow the gap.
“We are running below what the state average is, but we did make improvements from 19.3 to 19.6 over the last year,” he said. “We want to narrow that gap from where our kids are performing and what the state average is – and we want to narrow it by half.”
Graduation rates are extremely important to administration and teachers alike. As numbers continue to climb, Stout wants to see students reach even higher.
“Kansas State Department of Education is going to increase what is required now to make AYP from 75 to 80 percent,” he said. “Fortunately, last year, we would have been above both of those criteria – we were at 84.9 and the year before at 75.3. Still, it is an area we need to concentrate on.”
In order to keep standards up, there are several things the district must implement in order to be successful, Stout said. Literacy First, AVID and Capturing Kids Hearts are three programs, he believes, have proved their worth.
“We are hopeful to take AVID down to the intermediate schools,” he said. “Unlike the middle schools and high school where it is an elective, it will be a full push to all students in that area. It focuses on organization and planting seeds of what we are going to do when we graduate from high school.
‘We must also sustain Literacy First,” he continued. “Continue Capturing Kids Hearts, we are in year four of that, that is doing very well. It talks about relationships and how to get along well with others.”
Stout believes the implementation of three more AP classes would be helpful to students wishing to take on the challenge of such courses. AP U.S. Government/Politics, AP Music Theory and AP 3D Studio Art are the three classes the curriculum council has recently recommended.
Teacher salaries and benefits, Stout believes, are a very important investment.
“What is very important to me and very important to the Board of Education is that we continue to treat our teachers right,” he said. “The board is adamant about this, they want teachers’ salaries to be in the top 10 percent. They have already committed themselves to a 3 percent increase for next year.”
Dual language, Stout said, is very important and must continue from McDermott to Sunflower. He said the district must continue to focus on keeping those numbers up.
Stout feels very strongly that a police chief at LHS is needed.
“We have to hire a police chief,” he said. “We had one for a little over a year, it has been two years since we have had one. Before learning can occur, children need to feel safe.”
Technological coaches, Stout said, are needed in order to utilize the technology the district has acquired over the years.
“We need to find a way to sustain our technology initiatives in this district,” he said. “We have been fortunate enough over the years to bring in a lot of technology pieces. We truly believe that hiring some dedicated technology coaches to carry out that initiative will certainly benefit the teachers and the students.”
Stout said three districts in the WAC Conference have administrator to student ratios that are much more sensible then what Liberal currently employs. He feels adding two assistant principals to LHS would remedy the problem.
Garden City has an administrator to student ratio of 1/278, Great Bend has 1/237, Dodge City has 1/200 and Liberal currently has 1/300, Stout said.
“By adding two assistant principals, our staff to student ratio becomes 1/200,” he said. “That would bring us to the top of our conference and bring us right in line with Dodge City.
“Mr. Adams needs to be the instructional leader, not deal with discipline issues,” he continued. “The building level administrator has to be the leader. We have to free him up from drug testing, discipline issues and all of that kind of stuff to be able to actually lead that building.”
An AVID coordinator is also something Stout feels would benefit the district in a substantial way.
“Currently Rita Williams is our district coordinator,” he said. “She works at the high school but also oversees what is taking place at the middle schools. We are proposing she do nothing else at LHS but dedicate her time and energy to AVID in all of our schools. That would free up a counseling position to focus on post-secondary opportunities for all students. That will be the main objective of this position.”
In order to achieve the goals, Stout has mapped out for the 2011-12 school year, he feels these initiatives must be implemented. He realizes to do so, a budget must be carefully planned.
“This year, we are very confident that we are going to lose $527,902 from our budget,” he said. “Next year we will lose $1,105,076 from the budget. If you add those two together, we are looking at a $1,632,978 deficit versus what we are operating at now.
“Our obligations with what we have agreed to with negotiations is $658,296, that includes the extra three days and the 3 percent raise,” he explained. “If you add all of that together, basically we are $2,291,274 short of where we have been – that is pretty substantial.”
Some funding methods that Stout has put into place will fill in gaps to lower the shortfall.
“Some funding methods are some items we have taken into consideration to address this within the budget,” he said. “One of the nice things is our enrollment has been increasing. Last year, we were up 93 students. That equals $351,540 added to our budget. Some At-Risk funding, bilingual funding, energy consultant, paper supplies are things we can absorb within our budget and still continue to move along. Taking all of that into consideration, the district is still short $1,179,147.”
Some budget considerations, or cutbacks, will allow us to actually subtract $1,069,100 – leaving the shortfall at $43,027, Stout said.
“The other consideration, putting textbooks off, cutting our instructional supplies and equipment (computers, technology), capital outlay transfer, in-service transfer, summer school transfer, food service transfer, classified staff,” Stout said are some things the district can save on. “With our turnover, we won’t hire 10 of these classified staff back.”
In order to achieve the goals, implementing the initiatives reach a total cost of $715,873.
With total cuts of $1,632,978, obligations of $658,296 and future needs of $715,873 – a total of $3,007,147 is needed.
Stout said this budget can be funded by raising the Local Option Budget to 19.7 percent from 17.1 percent. This would cost property owners $50.37 per year on a $100,000 home.
Stout offered another option, a Plan B. The Plan B would mean hiring only one assistant principal for LHS and only two technology coaches. The total savings out of the budget would be $166,857. Plan B would raise the LOB to 19.1 percent and cost property owners $39.33 per year in taxes.
Stout believes the district can make these changes and raise the standards for its students. He has been quoted as asking, “Can we afford not to spend?”
“I stand by that statement,” Stout said. “Our kids are worth it.”