By Denise Dick
Without a levy renewal, the city school district will see a $1.4 million deficit next school year — which will grow to $7 million and $13 million in the following two years, officials say.
Voters will be asked Nov. 6 to renew the levy originally passed in 2008. It expires at year’s end.
The levy generates $5.2 million annually and because the measure on the ballot is a renewal, that amount won’t change. The millage though increases from 9.5 mills to 10.4 mills because property values in the city have decreased since the 2008 passage — requiring additional millage to generate the same dollars.
“We’re not asking for more money — we’re just keeping it the same,” said Superintendent Connie Hathorn. “We understand the economy is not good, and it would not be fair to put that on the taxpayers, but it’s also not fair to let the school system continue to go under.”
Although the district isn’t expected to rise out of academic watch when the official 2011-12 state report cards are released next year, the superintendent says there have been improvements.
“We have made progress,” he said.
Lock P. Beachum Sr., school board president, agreed.
“It takes time, but I do see some progress that the district is making. The superintendent is making every effort that he possibly can as far as improvement,” Beachum said. “He’s taken bold steps.”
Programs that weren’t working were eliminated, replaced with more effective strategies, Beachum said.
Chaney, which changed to a visual and performing arts and science, technology, engineering and mathematics school last school year, may be designated effective when the report cards are released. Williamson Elementary School also moved up to effective, Beachum pointed out.
“That’s a feather,” he said. “That’s something to be proud of ... Those kids are working hard over there.”
Hathorn said that rather than operating from several plans for improvement such as when he started in the district, there’s one plan. That change came from a directive by the former state superintendent of public instruction to the Academic Distress Commission, the state-appointed panel overseeing the district’s academic recovery.
Previously, there wasn’t continuity in terms of instruction among schools.
A first-grade teacher at one elementary school, for example, wouldn’t be teaching the same concept at the same time as other first grade teachers at other elementary schools.
That’s been changed, Hathorn said.
The academic plan emphasizes the need for on-grade level instruction.
It also calls for more student choice.
The district also has emphasized training.
Principals have the necessary training to be effective instructional leaders, and teachers have undergone professional development to keep pace with changing standards, Hathorn said.
If the levy fails though, it would throw up obstacles to the progress.
Class sizes — now 18 students to one teacher for grades kindergarten through second and 25-to-1 for higher grades — would have to be increased.
“We would have more reductions,” he said.