Being new to the community I realize that I will need to earn the trust of residents.
With this in mind it has been unfortunate that I have had to begin my work by coming to you with a levy request. However, it has been clear during my short time here that if we want to maintain the excellent reputation of our schools, this request is necessary. To not move forward to address these needs would only lead to mediocrity.
I’ve been asked why we are seeking a levy during an off-year election. The reason is simple: We face a $10 million budget shortfall at the end of this school year. We need additional funds now to protect and preserve the opportunities we can continue providing to our students.
If I had more time to earn your trust you would see that I am committed to implementing change, reducing costs and running our schools more efficiently. The challenges facing us in Stillwater are very similar to what I have seen in other districts. I have experience finding ways to save money and preserve resources in the classrooms, and I’ve been able to do these things while moving forward on many exciting initiatives.
Since arriving in Stillwater I’ve been working closely with other district leaders to ask the difficult question: “What can we do to conserve our resources and become more efficient?” I share the following as proof that we are serious about reinventing our schools for the future.
Establishing a Clear Vision
- Residents worked along with school staff to form Vision 2014, our strategic plan.
- Community partners have been sought to fund initiatives outlined in Vision 2014. A significant sponsorship for STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) will be announced soon with others on the way.
- Innovative practices have been put into place including piloting a flexible high school schedule and “flipped” classroom in the elementary schools. Both programs focus not only on saving money, but on improving teaching and learning.
Responding to Community Concerns
- Hundreds of community members shared feedback on our levy requests. In response, the school board lowered the dollar amounts and shortened the length of the levies on the ballot.
- The amount needed to close the budget gap of $10 million was not requested. Instead, half of the dollar amount was placed on the ballot ($5 million) and we’re already working to cut the remaining $5 million to ensure that efficiencies and innovations will occur.
- A list of potential budget reductions for 2012-2013 was shared with the community prior to the levy vote. The community will be invited to offer additional ideas and provide input on reductions before the school board makes a final decision in January.
- Student achievement results since 2007 were shared during levy information meetings as proof that the dollars from the last levy request were spent wisely and produced significant increases in student achievement.
Reducing Costs, Finding Efficiencies
- In response to community concerns regarding employee contract costs, contracts with teachers, principals and central office administrators have been settled before the levy vote. These settlements represent many changes including a mixture of soft and hard freezes, reduced insurance benefits, incentives for choosing high-deductible insurance options (Veba/HSA) and an emphasis on performance pay versus automatic salary increases.
- A hiring “freeze” has been put into place and restructuring of job positions have occurred in an effort to respond to needed efficiencies.
- The district is working with the county and city of Stillwater to continue finding ways to share equipment, services and staff to reduce costs.
- The district recently approved a plan to refinance existing bonds, saving taxpayers approximately $600,000.
- Instead of paying rent, as has been done for the last 20 years, the district will now own the Early Childhood Family Center and will be charging rent to partners operating within the building. Construction of the center is also being supported with a $1 million donation and another $1 million donation will help with the continued operating costs.
- We currently spend $1,000 less per pupil than the state average.
In the past two months we’ve had the opportunity to present levy information to more than 50 parent, staff and community groups. At this point I feel that we have done all we can to provide information as to why this levy is important for our students and community.
The choice is now up to you. We stand ready to reinvent ourselves and continue to provide the quality schools you have come to expect from us.
Please vote on Nov. 8.