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Talk of the District: Planning for the Future ...

With warmer weather and spring break just around the corner I'm already starting to hear the annual question, "What are our plans for the upcoming school year?"

With warmer weather and spring break just around the corner I’m already starting to hear the annual question: “What are our plans for the upcoming school year?”

Much of our planning is underway and we have some exciting new initiatives in the works as a result of our strategic planning efforts.

We’re also continuing to face significant financial challenges, which require careful consideration and analysis. My personal focus over the next several months will be to involve the public in the planning and decision making needed to not only keep our schools strong, but to allow them to grow and improve into the future.

With this is mind there are currently hundreds of community and staff members involved in decision making and planning for the future of the school district.

Many more details will become available as we move through these steps, but for now, I’d like to give you a quick overview of the work that has already begun or will be starting within the next few months.

How should the school district be changing to meet the future needs of the students and community?

This is being accomplished through the development of a new strategic plan. Vision 2014, our current strategic plan, is expiring and we’re hard at work to create a new plan to move us into the future. More than 30 community members and staff are on the planning committee, and another 200 have served on the ten teams aimed at developing desired results and action steps for the school district. This work will be presented to the board for approval on February 21. This strategic plan will serve as the blueprint for the school district over the next five years.

How will the current, and soon to be expiring, investment the community has made in our schools continue to be utilized?

The investment the community supported in 2007 to invest in our schools is set to expire the end of next school year. If this is not renewed there will be a shortage of $11 million to the school district budget.

This comes on top of the $6.4 million cut this year and $22 million cut over the past 12 years. We’ve been working to develop information to share related to how this $11 million is being invested and what is at stake if the levy is not renewed.

There have been many opportunities – staff meetings, parent meetings, community town hall meetings and public board meetings - built in for input from the public.

On March 7 the school board will approve a list of items that would be cut if a levy were not renewed in the fall.

How can we provide equity to students and families that live and learn across the eighteen communities we serve?

With decreasing school dollars it has become much more difficult to keep up with the materials, resources and technology needs of our students.

Consequently, school leaders and parent groups have had to find other resources to meet these needs. This has caused pockets of inequity in our school buildings, as not all schools or communities have the same resources across the district.

We will be conducting audits to determine where the greatest needs exist and developing plans to ensure that all of our students have the materials and resources needed to learn.

This work is scheduled to be completed by the end of March.

What do we need to do to keep our schools safe, conducive for learning, flexible for growth, and ultimately, to ensure they last as long as possible?

We are currently evaluating each school building to ensure it is as safe as possible in terms of access to classrooms and students, determent measures and quick response systems.

A report with options has been presented to the school board and will be discussed again in early March.

In addition a committee will begin work in the fall to consider future growth and programming needs, and ultimately, to ensure that our school buildings are being maintained to last as long as possible.

This is not only important to protect learning spaces for students, but also to protect our residents’ long-term financial investments in these community buildings.

How do these needs relate to the current levy, future growth, equity and school safety mean in terms of a future levy request?

Sharing with the public how current dollars are being used along with any needs related to equity and keeping our schools strong and safe will be key to any levy requests for November 2013.

Community members will be asked for their opinions, a detailed list will be shared of what will be lost if the current levy is not renewed, and details regarding any new funding that may be needed will be completed. This will be shared with the school board with the goal of making any decisions in April.

Without a doubt over the next three months will be some of the most important work that has ever occurred in our community in terms of keeping our schools strong and safe.

I invite you to help us throughout this process by sharing your comments, and ultimately, to hold myself and others accountable in providing you with communication about this important work.

Here’s to warmer weather ahead!

-- Corey Lunn is the Superintendent of the Stillwater Area School District, and can be contacted via email at lunnc@stillwater.k12.mn.us.

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