The meeting began at 6:30pm discussing what additional data and research the SC members requested from the Superintendent/staff and the findings. Unfortunately unless your on the SC you do not have access to the documents they are viewing during the meeting so it is very hard to keep up. I was able to gather some information to share through discussions.
One of the main items discussed was the Best In Class research and anaylsis – future reference in my blog as the BIC.
The BIC districts included in the comparison were:
Peter Cronin with a background in analyzing data performed a data review of the info provided by the Superintendent which explains how G-D compares to the BIC districts. Please note the complete information will be released with a formal narrative once complete by the Superintendant.
BIC Comparison Key Findings:
- Spending (PPE): We’re spending less per pupil than both the BIC average (15% lower) AND the state average (10% lower).
PPE for Guidance Counselors: G-D is over 60% below the BIC average
PPE for Materials & Equipment: G-D is 70% below BIC average
PPE for Professional developement: G-D is 22% below BIC average
Our families pay higher activity fees than most BIC districts and significantly higher athletic fees
SPED spending is 50% lower in OOD (Out OF District) services than BIC average. This is a sign that our district programming and staffing are working and doing exceptional work with the resources we have provided but it is not enough.
Transportation spending is 25% less than BIC average.
- Staffing: In general, our teachers have more kids than do teachers in BIC districts. Our students to teacher ratios are 25% above average (general) and 20% above average for art & language. I commend our teachers, talk about making lemonade out of lemons for many years.
Our SPED student to teacher ratio is also 20% higher than BIC districts while our Para Professional ratio is actually lower than most BIC districts. This is interesting as Jeff Kubick pointed out one could make an observation that we are substituting teachers with Paras?
Most recent data (2013) shows that GD teachers were also paid approximately $10K less per year on average than teachers in BIC districts. However they were comparable to Westford and more than Littleton. Note this was before the teachers new contract.
- Achievement: SGP (Student Growth Percentile) varies by school within G-D. Student Growth Percentile compares student growth within their levels… ie AP with AP and SPED with SPED so you are comparing apples to apples.
G-D is higher than the BIC average in elementary schools, particularly in math
G-D is lower than BIC average for all middle school, particularly for ELA. Recent cuts hit the middle school the hardest and ELA, particularly reading specialists, took more hits than math.
High School is mixed – math 15% higher than BIC average, ELA is 10% lower than the BIC average, History and Biology AP proficiency are slightly above the BIC average and Science is 12% below. Mean SAT scores for Math are 4% below, Writing is 9% below and Reading is 6% below the BIC average.
For students with disabilities, PPI is nearly 40% below BIC average.
- Hypotheses: High student to teacher ratio and lower support (materials/PD) are a drag on achievement, particularly at the MS and HS levels. Cuts of MS spending have hurt achievement, particularly for ELA. ELA also impacted at the HS. Cuts to guidance spending landed us significantly below BIC and state average and have adversely impacted social/emotional health of our students. The higher than average teacher/student ratios for SPED as well as cuts to Tier II staff particularly reading specialists are contributing to students with disabilities subgroup PPI signficantly below BIC average.
Peter Cronin made it very clear that he feels that we (Groton & Dunstable) have cut spending for our schools because we placed a higher priority on municipal services than education. Municipal spending up and education spending below inflation over the past 6 years. We want to preserve the “rural look and feel” of the towns (investments in conservation a land and lack of economic development) AND we did not want to raise property taxes.
The spending cuts have had an adverse impact on our educational achievement. We’re good but we’re not as good as we were 6 years ago.
I agree with Peter, schools have not been a priority for the last several years and we as a town need to decide what is important to us. Many members of the BOS have stated that they support our schools. The SC has been hesitant to request money that is needed because they don’t seem to have the BOS support for the funds and if more money is needed for the schools then it is tagged as “the schools need an override”. We are a town that includes schools and municipal services and they should be held in equal value so if our towns need more money to pay for municipal and school services then “Our Towns” need an override…. it should never be tagged to schools nor municipal. We have always been a town with a great reputation for having an excellent school district and beautiful rural surroundings… maybe its time to decide if that is still what our town wants?
The next part of the meeting was a lengthy discussion over when should the strategic plan be formally presented. Leslie Lathrop would like to see the Strategic Plan, Capital Plan and Technology Plan packaged together for the public. Jon Sjoberg expressed concern about once again treading water and patching holes in our schools verses making real progress. Peter Cronin also was concerned about many children being 1/2 way through MS before we actually start making progress that would benefit them and feels that Groton does have the funds it’s a matter of allocating them. Stephanie Cronin made note that Dunstable does not. Jeff Kubick stated that although he understands the situation in Dunstable, at some point we can not let Dunstable stop the progress needed in our schools. Alison suggested that they invite Dunstable to come and present the budget to them so they can understand it better. The discussion went on and on until roughly 10:30pm.
The superintendent said the strategic plan is ready to roll out, however the SC made it clear that they did not feel that they own it yet and the community may not be behind it; if that is still the case then there is an alternative there is a 1-year plan that she can offer that works within the already approved 2016 budget until they are ready to roll out the longer term plan. However she needs to know what is the time line for the strategic plan. Do they wait until Spring 2016 where they will have the research and data complete for the Technology & Capital plan and package it all together or do they roll out the Strategic Plan now and then the Technology & Capital plan comes later. This would call for more money being requested in 2017 and then a second round of increase for the Technology & Capital Plan versus one larger request. I feel that they should roll out the Strategic Plan and explain thoroughly that it is Phase I and the Technology & Capital Plan are Phase II which will allow the towns to take on the financial responsibility in a more conservative manner. Many business projects have a Phase I and Phase II plan for financial and personal reasons… it is comprehensible if explained in detail. I do not think our children should lose any more ground than they have.
A vote was never taken as to if the SC will be waiting until Spring to roll out a packaged plan that includes the Strategic Plan, Technology Plan & Capital Plan or if they will separate it to begin progress now.
Another SC Work Shop will be scheduled and hopefully we will have a vote confirming the timeline on the strategic plan.
Meeting adjourned 10:45pm