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and said the district balanced the “need to be fiscally responsible” with changes that would help students succeed.
Weiss questioned the usefulness of offering high schoolers courses at Luzerne County Community College, saying it’s not in many students’ best interest to pay for college credits in high school because many of those credits won’t transfer into their college courses of study anyway. But Rasmus framed the early college opportunity as a chance for students to “explore career pathways” that they wouldn’t be able to explore within the high school.
Weiss also asked the board whether the number of credits needed for graduation would be increased because all students will take an additional class next year. Rasmus said the board needed to discuss the issue of graduation credits.
In presenting the final tweaks to the 2018-19 budget, Business Manager Al Melone Jr. echoed Kane’s contention that cutbacks in state and federal funding have hurt the district.
The budget still includes no tax increase, but Melone said his team was able to reduce the projected shortfall from about $928,000 (as presented last month) to about $766,000. But if the state enacts a rumored cut of $144,000 to the district’s transportation subsidies, the budget shortfall number will increase again, he said.
“We’re on our own,” he said, naming off the top of his head three areas where government subsidies have been cut in recent years: transportation, special-needs funding, and reimbursement to the district for students attending charter schools.
Teacher Cecilia Chmiola inquired whether the district is pursuing legal action against Mountain Top Busing, the bus company that pulled out of its contract with the district shortly before school started last year. She noted that if the district received a financial settlement from the bus company, if could help to decrease the budget shortfall. Solicitor John Dean said he preferred not to divulge where things stand in his negotiations with Mountain Top Busing.
Hunt Engineers presented the results of a several-month survey of all buildings in the district, highlighting areas of needed improvement, including new parking lot pavement, doors, windows, technology infrastructure, heating and cooling systems, exterior lighting and Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)-mandated upgrades. Board member Ron Sturgeon noted the study was conducted to help the district prioritize which improvements to tackle soonest. The firm presented staggering numbers, such as $997,600 for new asphalt district-wide and recommended technology upgrades of over $1 million. But Sturgeon said it’s not as if the district will complete these projects in one fell swoop. For instance, the district has already decided to renovate the high school auditorium, so in the process, an adjoining restroom will be made ADA-compliant. Other upgrades will be made as they coincide with other projects, he said.
In the good news category for the evening, Principal Peg Foster presented the final results of the yearlong Step By Step Learning initiative used in kindergarten this past school year. Step By Step Learning is a consulting firm the board hired to work with kindergarten teachers to standardize and improve how they taught pre-reading skills. By the numbers Foster presented, 70 percent of kindergartners during the 2012-13 school year entered school with skills displaying readiness to learn to read; by the end of that year, 83 percent were ready for first grade.
Step By Step consultants conducted intensive training with teachers, administration and support staff this year as well as providing on-site coaching and showing teachers how to intervene right away when a student couldn’t understand a concept.
Assessment testing showed that while only 65 percent of kindergarteners entered school in fall 2016 ready to learn reading, by the end of the school year 99 percent were ready for first grade –and teachers already have a plan to help the two students who are still lagging behind, Foster said.
Next year, the Step By Step training will be unveiled for first-grade teachers also. Foster noted that intervening in early education will help to boost students’ test scores down the road, when reading skills shift from decoding to comprehension skills around third grade.
Foster thanked the board for hiring Step By Step to help achieve greater outcomes for Crestwood students.