Communication. The time is right to put together a blog for our Spartanburg Two District family: employees, parents, community and students. The purpose will be to provide some background and insight into decisions, programs, and philosophy surrounding circumstances that are impacting what we do in providing an outstanding education for the students of Boiling Springs and Chesnee. You are invited to check in periodically to see what the superintendent is thinking. You are also encouraged to contact me with your questions and suggestions; email is generally the best avenue. My email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
I told Toby near the end of April that I would see her in June. May is that month of the year that consumes those of us in the school business. There are plays, concerts, ball games, board meetings, banquets, awards ceremonies, celebrations and the culminating event of graduation. It has been difficult to keep my calendar straight and make decisions; some nights have 2-3 events planned and something has to give. It is a time of year I relish, especially when your teams are going deep into the playoffs and students are reporting "PASS was easy!"
One extremely interesting event occurred on May 2 at the monthly Superintendents' Roundtable in Columbia. For the first time since early in Jim Hodges' term (1999-2003), the governor met with us. Perhaps she was in full campaign mode, but Governor Haley voiced a support for public education that was rather refreshing if not surprising. If you recall in her State of the State speech in January, although she asked for little for public education other than some bus money and funding for charter schools, she did avow to convene a small group of lawmakers to have conversations about education in South Carolina. Perhaps that made a difference in what we heard on the 2nd.
More likely, though, is the fact that business has always had the ear of the governor, and business in South Carolina has realized that there is more to be gained by collaborating with education than sitting back lobbing grenades at us saying that we are not providing them with a work force ready stable of employees. In recent months, the SC Chamber of Commerce has made much headway working with business to embrace K-12 in a team effort for both of us to do a better job preparing our students and their future employees. The New Carolina Education Innovation Summit held in Columbia recently (that I will write about in an entry to come) was sponsored by AT&T and BB&T, two huge business interests.
It is an exciting time to be an educator with the changes in curriculum, technology and now, perhaps a sea change in collaboration with business and government. I am encouraged!
Before the recession, school district budgeting was not quite the bear it is today. Each January, the House Ways & Means Committee would announce the amount they planned to fund the Base Student Cost (BSC), a primary piece of district revenue, and it would generally hold up through the entire legislative process. There was usually discussion of how much the teacher pay raise would be, and we could count on a somewhat increased amount of revenue to fund our programs. School Boards with fiscal autonomy could have their budgets agreed upon long before the June 30 deadline.
It is not like that anymore. Last June 28, after building our budget on the information we had from Columbia, the Governor vetoed the "hold harmless" proviso and the legislature failed to override the veto costing our District over $1.3 million we had counted on. Too late to make any changes and have a balanced budget to report by July 1 as required by law, we have operated this year by pulling money from the building fund balance.
In comparison, in 2008, districts received $2,476 in BSC. This year we received $2,012. The legislature so far is saying $2,101 for next year (even though the Education Finance Act says we should be receiving $2,771 for FY 13-14). Every $100 in BSC means about $1 million for District Two. So, we are in a very difficult situation again.
Additionally, we are predicting an increase of 100 students, and with roll ups of current students, we need 9.5 more teachers. We also would like to provide a literacy and math coach for every school, an additional 9 positions (The AdvancED visiting team gave us two directives: enhance our technology and utilize instructional coaches to strengthen and extend best instructional practices across the District). We are also in need of $135,000 to continue funding the sheriff's deputies patrolling our elementary schools and will need some additional athletic and fine arts supplements next year. The 2% step increase for employees will cost about $800,000.
Therefore, to provide the resources necessary for these increases, we believe it will have to come from local funding as the State Senate has shown little interest in increasing the BSC from the House's $2,101. Administration is asking the Board of Trustees to fund these personnel needs which may necessitate a millage increase within the cap established by the legislature and with an option we have only used one time in recent years: a salary adjustment for our working retired employees.
Several years ago, when the BSC hit a low of $1,630, we furloughed administrators for 10 days, everyone else for 5 days and cut working retirees' salaries by 15%. It was a one-year situation that we were able to reverse. Many other districts dismissed all working retirees and if they were replaced, it was with less experienced (and lower cost) employees. Some districts adjusted salaries to something along the lines of a bachelor's and 5 years experience. Most of those districts have continued to do so as the state funding has not yet returned to the levels of 2008. We, however, greatly value our most veteran employees and have avoided making that decision as long as we could. But it is, to us, about our only option if we wish to provide our staff and students with the support needed to provide an outstanding education. A 15% salary reduction will save the District about $500,000, or $450,000 if it is only administered to certified staff.
So, if the Senate does not come through with a large increase, and the Board approves administration's recommendations, our retired employees will see their pay reduced. My encouragement to them is to remember that they will still be earning more with their retirement checks than they will lose from the 15%. All of us know when we take the option to retire, our contracts are no longer "continuing," but “at-will;” it is a chance we take. My hope is that this, too, will be a one year situation and that as the economy improves, and we elect pro-education representatives, we will be able to reinstate the salary schedule for all.
It is a difficult decision, not one arrived at lightly and delayed as long as we thought we could in the hopes of not having to go this direction. We hope it will not be a deal-breaker with our most veteran employees.
If you have a question, suggestion or observation about this information, do not hesitate to contact me.
Troy Moore, our Director of Technology, recently reported to the Board the upgrades being made across the Disrict in terms of wireless access, increased RAM in certain machines, replacement of certain machines, and increased bandwidth. Yesterday, he let us know that the recent bandwidth increase from 50 to 100 megs will be increased again to 400 megs after July 1 as the state gears up for SmarterBalance testing.
In our spring school walk-throughs, we have seen the increased use of technology in many new ways. At Chesnee Elementary we noticed QR codes posted outside every teacher's classroom door. If you scanned the code with an iPad or SmartPhone, you watched a "commercial" of what the children had been studying recently. At Boiling Springs Elementary, we saw several QR codes around a Mona Lisa picture in the middle of their art show. When they were scanned, information about the original painting, the subject, and the background appeared.
We saw BSES students scanning QR codes to get to short videos on the subjects they are researching whether it was owls, frogs, or the butterfly life cycle. Some were playing a game of matching words and definitions. At CES, the 4th graders heard debates from experts on opposite sides of the issue of whether or not the U.S. Mint should continue minting Lincoln cents as each one costs 2.4 cents to produce. After reading and annotating articles, doing web research, discussing the issue in small groups, and completing pro-con charts, students had to decide what they thought was the best decision, write about it, and defend their positions with quotes from the texts and videos.
A science teacher at the Boiling Springs Freshman Campus grabbed me by the arm to talk about what he and two of his peers were able to do with the new iPads they have been given.
Every student we ask can tell us what year they will graduate from high school. Students around the District are researching careers and telling us they plan to be an Army Ranger, graphic artist, veterinarian, teacher, science researcher, auto mechanic, policeman, etc. The choices expressed far exceed anything I have seen in my 35 years, perhaps because the students have more information about those careers than ever before.
It is an exciting time to be in education, though there is some discomfort. Veteran teachers tell me they sometimes feel like induction teachers in that the learning curve is becoming exponential. But I have witnessed an enthusiasm for the tools and the increased rigor demanded by the Common Core Standards that is gratifying. Our students will benefit from the changes.
The Board met in public session last evening with a standing room only crowd of parents and boy scouts in attendance at the beginning of the meeting. The Oakland Elementary Choir opened our meeting with several songs about friendship and earned a well-deserved rousing ovation from the audience! We also honored our eight Regional Science Fair winners and the principals of 13 of our schools who earned Palmetto Gold and/or Silver awards. Dr. Hinton related the fact that the awards were even sweeter this year since the criteria had been tightened, and 200 fewer schools in the state earned recognition. Board Member Sarah Simmons was recognized for being named the “South Carolina Disabilities and Mental Health Coordinator of the Year.”
Dr. Josh Patterson and Gina Skinner from Oakland gave an overview of the Palmetto State Gender Institute conference held at their school on Saturday, March 23. Over 200 teachers from all over South Carolina (and a few from North Carolina) attended and gave outstanding responses on their exit evaluations. With the change in philosophy and budget reductions at the State Department of Education, some feel this very valuable opportunity for students would be lost without the leadership coming from Spartanburg Two providing this annual training opportunity.
We were also proud to learn that 16 District Two 8th graders have been accepted into the next cohort of the Scholars Academy at USC Upstate. That is an incredible opportunity for these highly motivated learners to excel.
Dr. Nancy Turner, Director of Special Services, shared an overview of autism with the Board. Some surprising statistics were that in the broad range of the autism spectrum, 1 in 50 children is diagnosed, though not that many require special services from schools. We currently serve 36 students on IEPs and another five through 504 plans with autism issues.
Troy Moore, Director of Technology, updated his department’s activities. The good news was that we have doubled our bandwidth to 100 megs and will be looking to increase it again soon. Memory upgrades to current computers are virtually complete (three wings at Hendrix to go), and the wireless access installation is rapidly progressing.
The Board approved the low bid of $55,243 for a project to widen traffic access at Boiling Springs Middle and also discussed the restroom/storage area projects for both high schools and an additional set of bleachers for the Boiling Springs High School gym. No action was taken on those two projects.
Kelly Richardson, Assistant Superintendent for Finance, reviewed where we are in our budget process. In some preliminary information based on the current version of the State’s House of Representatives ($2,101 in base student cost) and with a conservatively projected 50 additional students for next year, we are projecting an additional $2.3 million in state revenue. We are very hopeful that the State Senate will increase the base student cost before the final votes are taken.
The superintendent appraised the Board on how the parents responded to the District’s offer to transport all Cooley Springs-Fingerville students to the Chesnee Middle and High Schools rather than the current split. After all ballots were in, 23 favored the idea, 37 opposed it and 2 were undecided. Therefore, no vote was needed as the District will leave the situation as is. However, parents were informed via School Messenger that if any students apply for transfer to Chesnee, they will be granted.
Finally, it was noted that Robin Brannon at Hendrix Elementary had been recognized that afternoon as a “Project Fit America All Star Teacher,” one of only six in the nation. Additionally, many of our exceptional education students participated in Special Olympics that day and a feature was broadcast on WSPA 7 including an interview with our own Erika Gilbert, a fine young student at Rainbow Lake Middle School.
Last evening, with thunder clouds rolling in outside, seven area families were recognized at a dinner at the Upstate Family Resource Center for bringing a foreign exchange student into their homes this year. In collaboration with the EF Foundation, the UFRC facilitated the exchange. The Foundation, a family-owned non-profit whose mission is to break down barriers of language and culture through education and travel, was represented by Bob Fredette who flew in from Boston for the event.
The students have been here since this past summer and are from Sweden, Norway, Finland, Germany, South Korea, Italy and Spain. Three are enrolled at Boiling Springs High, two at Chesnee High and one each at Byrnes and Landrum. They have truly been immersed in American culture, and they have given us a glimpse of life from their homelands.They have learned about Krispy Kreme donuts, neighborhood ice cream trucks, peanut butter, Chick-Fil-A, high school football and school spirit, NASCAR, and Wal-Mart. They have been to Sliding Rock and Grandfather Mountain, the Grand Canyon, New York City, and Las Vegas. Some have learned to water ski or have participated in our athletic programs and pageants.
The host parents offered some insight and related some truly insightful comments. One said, "Since she came there have been tons of laughter in our house." Another stated, "Our daughter wanted an exchange student for her birthday. We are now as close as any of our children are." "He has been a blessing from God." "An eye opener in how they live their lives compared to how we live ours." "Not for the faint of heart; it's not easy, but oh the joy." One father said that he has learned, "No matter where you go in the world, teenage girls act the same."
Apparently there is quite a desire for students from around the world to visit America. Mr. Fredette said the Foundation gets 30,000 applicants each year which they narrow to 3,000. Host families may then go on-line to read profiles and letters from the potential students to find a match for their family. From the YouTube videos the students had put together, it seems they have truly embraced and enjoyed the year, as well.
If you have ever thought about hosting an international exchange student, give Kelley Ezell at the UFRC a call (864.578.1379), and she can tell you more about it. It also benefits the Center as the EF Foundation donated $7,000 in appreciation of the Center's involvement to help them find families.