By Polly Keary, Editor
Thanks to a warming economy and a lawsuit that forced the state to move more money to education, the Monroe School District has added about $3.5 million to its coffers this year, allowing the district to replace a few things lost in years of budget cuts and add a few things altogether new, as well.
But it’s still a long way from getting the district back to where it was even as recently as 2006, district leaders caution.
The $67,413,608 budget was finalized Aug. 19 by the Board of Directors, after staff spent much of June and July parsing the details of the delayed state budget, which was completed two months late. And although the final budget was late in coming, it was quite welcome when it arrived, said Monroe School District Superintendent Ken Hoover.
“For the first time in a number of years we had a list of things we could add, which was really quite exciting after years of cutting things,” he said.
Many of those additions were actually expansions of existing programs.
Last year’s new dual-language Spanish/English kindergarten class proved so popular that it has doubled. Last year’s kindergarteners will have the opportunity to continue in the dual-language program in the first grade this year, and two new classes of kindergarteners will be added.
Also, a free Montessori program at Maltby Elementary was so popular that the K-2 program this year grows to K-4 (There is still an additional fee for kindergarteners who go all day).
Two Excel classes, the classes for highly capable students at Chain Lake Elementary, will grow to three this year.
The fledgling swim team will get a little more pool time at the YMCA. And some counseling will be restored.
“We restored an elementary counselor,” said Hoover. “You may recall that we cut one for elementary school, and then we cut back to three, so most schools had to share one, and this year we went back to four, and we hope next year to go to five.”
In addition to restoring and expanding existing programs and services, the district has been able to add a few new offerings, as well.
There will be some money for new middle school athletic uniforms.
The school is implementing a teacher evaluation system called the Danielson framework, and there will be a teacher who half-time will teach kids and half-time will teach teachers about the new framework.
And young people will get new algebra and geometry help this year.
“We have new algebra texts at all levels and same with geometry,” said Hoover. “And we were able to purchase graphing calculators for some math classes, too.”
Tenth graders have the chance to take a new humanities class this year, and the district will pay for a review of the 9th grade science program to see what improvements would be potentially useful.
“And we will do the same thing at the middle school,” said Rosemary O’Neil, district spokesperson. “It’s part of establishing a common core. A consortium of governors a few years back said, ‘We all want to be common in our expectations,’ and these new materials get kids ready to meet those higher standards in 2014-2015.”
There are two other new courses, as well; an astronomy course and an AP environmental science course.
A new Science, Technology, Engineering and Math course at the Sky Valley Academy is already full and has a waiting list, too.
And the district is still waiting to understand the implications of one more boon from the state.
For several years, the federal government has been paying for all-day kindergarten at Frank Wagner Elementary, which is a Title One school because of the high percentage of kids who live in poverty. This year, the state is paying for that, which frees up the federal funds for other things.
“Until we know what the final [federal] allocation is, we won’t know what that could create, but it could provide support for Frank Wagner or Park Place, our two Title One schools,” said Hoover. “My guess is that we might do what we call ‘extended learning opportunities’ for kids, ways for students to get extra help in before or after school activities or in the summer,” said Hoover.
The budget growth hasn’t been accompanied by a growth in the student population. The general population will increase slightly, and the alternative school population will shrink by about 200 due to the shrinking of the WAVA program, an online high school option that is changing in focus.
Being able to expand instead of cut has been nice, said Hoover.
“Compared to years when we had to decide what to cut, this is a refreshing change,” he said.
But more is needed to get the district back to fully funded, said O’Neil.
“This is not extra,” she said. “It’s only one installment of getting to where the state truly funds public education. I don’t think it’s even enough to be a down payment, but it’s a step in the right direction, and we are grateful.”