After completing the budget development process, I appreciate the opportunity to share how we arrived at the 2017-18 spending plan on which district residents will have the opportunity to vote this May 16th.
It began with a discussion of our priorities at an August 2016 Board of Education meeting and gelled into three goals. First and foremost was to develop a plan that provides students and staff what they need to address the academic, social, emotional and behavioral needs that will help us move closer to our vision.
"Newark Central School District is the centerpiece of our community that binds students, staff, families and neighbors through a profound sense of hometown pride. We engage all students with the diverse opportunities and academic experiences they need to reach their maximum potential. Our students thrive in an environment of high expectations, collaboration and respect. Effective communication and sustained connections foster a sense of importance, contributing to the success of every student every day."
The second goal was to have as close to a zero percent increase on the tax levy as possible. The third goal was to utilize fund balance and reserves to offset some of the costs of the first two items, while not depleting reserves to the point where we jeopardize our strong bond rating, as that would wind up costing tax payers more in the long run. The rest of this article will provide more detail on these goals.
A frustration for all of us who work in school finance are the timelines related to putting a budget together. New York State’s fiscal year runs from April 1- March 31, while school districts’ fiscal years run from July 1 – June 30. Yet, school districts are required to vote on the budget for the upcoming school year in mid-May. Since the state budget typically doesn’t pass until the beginning of April, we must spend most of the budget/staffing planning cycle, without knowing how much revenue we can count on from NYS. For high-needs, rural districts, such as ours, this is particularly problematic since the vast majority of the funding we need to run the school district comes in various categories of state aid and federal grants.
With that in mind, the Board directed the administration to develop a staffing plan based on our understanding of what we need to make the necessary improvements to the academic program that our students deserve and, within reason, not to think primarily in terms of a dollar amount. At the elementary level, the staffing plan we have put together involves increases of classroom teachers to help reduce class sizes; the addition of some instructional coaching services for our teachers as we undertake a new writing program and pilot some new techniques in how we teach reading; a bolstering of English Language Arts and math support via Academic Intervention Services; as well as some staffing and programmatic changes to help support students social and emotional learning needs. At the secondary level, we are working on lessening the number of study halls in Middle School and offering some different elective options, while increasing reading and behavioral supports. At the High School, we are always looking to enrich our course offerings while making sure that we strengthen the support for students in their core academic subjects. We are also looking to revamp some of our scheduling at the High School level to allow our counseling staff and teachers to work with all students in regular forum settings to address their social and emotional learning needs.
You have now read the phrase “social and emotional learning” a few times in this article. There is a saying, often repeated in education, that illustrates this importance of this initiative.
“If a child can’t read, we teach her to read. If a child can’t do math problems, we teach him how to do math problems. When children don’t know how to behave, we punish them.”
One of the “Big Rocks” from our Strategic Plan (posted on our website) involves helping create a district-wide culture that fosters respect, collaboration and connection. We know we have work to do in this area and we need to provide our staff and students with more support. So, two major pushes in the 2017-18 school year will be the introduction of the Seven Habits model by the Franklin Covey organization, as well as instilling some restorative practices into our code of conduct, to begin to fulfill my goal of aligning the codes of conduct at all five buildings to establish district-wide consistency.
All of the above speaks to our priorities and how we are continuing to use the Strategic Plan to drive our decision making to improve the Newark Central School District. The budget process is how we bring the staffing and program plans to life. We are happy to let you know that the budget we will put in front of voters this year calls for no increase to the tax levy. While the year to year budget expenditures have increased by 1.51%, we are confident that this year, we can make up the difference with a moderate increase in state aid and some additional use of fund balance and reserves. We will not be able to utilize reserves in this way forever, but we are putting together a plan to utilize reserves to address the academic program needs over a three to five-year period. This will allow us to grow the academic program and address the professional development needs of our staff while focusing on the social and emotional learning needs of our students.
Since we began the work of addressing the items identified by our Curriculum & Instructional Council and the NY State Education Department during our focus district review, we have used the analogy of a renovation. You renovate the things you love and we love this district. For anyone who has begun a renovation, you know that sometimes you uncover some areas that need more work than initially suspected. When that happens, you bring in the help you need until the job is done right so you do not need to continue renovation indefinitely. Knowing that and recognizing each year some members of our staff resign or retire, we are confident, that barring an unexpected state/federal aid crisis, we should be able to bolster instructional coaching and professional development staffing in the short run to help our program and pull back on that staffing gradually through attrition, to avoid unnecessary layoffs later.
I hope that this provides some context and enough detail for you to gain a clear picture of what we are trying to accomplish for our students, while being good financial stewards for the taxpayers. As always, please contact me with any questions as we move forward together and thanks for your ongoing interest and support of the Newark Central School District.
Matt Cook, Superintendent of Schools