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Superintendent’s Message: Annual Goals Review Gives Us Focus

Theresa Davidson, Superintendent of Schools

Theresa Davidson, Superintendent of Schools

It’s September and we are well into a great, new school year!

Our “Power of ONE” theme for the year emphasizes the important role each one of us plays in the collective mission of educating Emporia’s youth.  That sounds pretty simple and yet there are so many parts to the puzzle and so little time to put it all together.

A lot has changed since our board of education first adopted five lofty goals in 2011, but the collaborative vision of district administrators and board members continues to make those goals relevant today.  On Sept. 24, the Emporia Board of Education will once again review our progress toward those goals and provide direction for the district going forward. It is an important element in the process of assuring that each employee feels empowered to carry out his or her unique role in the mission and goals set forth for our district.

The current district goals focus on these things:

  • All students reading on grade level
  • A culture that nurtures learning
  • All students prepared to be college and career ready
  • A technology infrastructure that supports today’s instructional tools
  • Effective use of fiscal, human and community resources

One of the tools the board will study comes from the Legislative Post Audit Efficiency Audit presented to the district in July.  The recommendations, which speak most directly to goal five, were presented in three levels: those having little or no impact on students and community; those having moderate impact on students and community; and those having significant impact on students and community that should be considered. Although the report recommended that we consider all suggestions, only those of low impact were noted for implementation without further study.

The report suggested the district could generate up to $42,000 in revenue annually by switching to a procurement card system with cash-back bonuses. As a result, business office personnel are developing a plan to cautiously but aggressively maximize the use of procurement cards in an effort to take full advantage of the benefits afforded.

A second recommendation suggested the district discontinue cell phone stipends and purchase equipment for staff members required to carry phones in order to take advantage of E-Rate reimbursements. However, shortly after the LPA report was issued, the Federal Communication Commission announced reforms within the federal program which provides funding for schools and libraries to obtain affordable telecommunications and internet access. Under the new order, the FCC plans to expand access to Wi-Fi networks and phase out support for telecommunications systems. This order effectively eliminates any financial incentive for our district to change the way cell phone use is now managed.

A third recommendation suggested the district could save as much as $190,000 annually by reducing food service labor hours to align with productivity guidelines set by the Kansas State Department of Education. The district conducted an internal review of the food service program and sought the expertise of an independent review through KSDE in 2012-13 that produced similar results. This recommendation, however, will require further study as it suggests we provide fewer meal choices and comes with a price tag to move away from the current quasi-centralized kitchen arrangement.

Other recommendations, with moderate to significant impact, will require more study. These include:  reducing staff at the middle and high schools; changing from the block to a traditional fixed-period schedule at EMS; relocating Turning Point Academy as a charter program within an existing school or closing the school entirely.

Over the years, both EMS and EHS have offered modifications to the schedule and delivery of courses to adjust for changes in demographics and numbers of students, and we will continue to make improvements.

The last recommendation, that of relocating or closing TPA, was almost contrary to contemporary ideology.  Our district continues to support the concepts and instructional design at TPA as important to the continuum of services provided to Emporia students. I feel confident that the option of closing the charter school completely would be considered only after all other options have been exhausted and would be weighed alongside the elimination of any other activity, program or building in the district.

Efficiency with regard to fiscal, human and community resources is clearly important to district leaders and to the board of education. In fact, the minimal savings proposed by the LPA report was an indication of our fiscal vigilance and caution over the past several years.  Yet, it is only one factor that we must weigh in the broader mission of serving students in their pursuit of a bright future.  Indeed, sometimes it requires an investment that does not show direct and immediate cost savings.  The key is knowing what will get us there.

This 21st Century vision will be an important topic of discussion on Sept. 24 when our board members takes a step back to look forward in our goals. The study session will be part of the regular 7 p.m. meeting at Mary Herbert Education Center.  As always, the public is invited to attend.

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