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Superintendent’s Message: New Budget Will Support District Mission

Superintendent Theresa Davidson

Theresa Davidson, Superintendent of Schools

 Last month, I shared with staff and readers some proud moments from the past school  year.  My goal was to highlight the critical importance of our work in preparing students  for college and career ambitions and to recognize teachers and support staff for their  hard work in living this mission each day.

 Preparing students for tomorrow’s opportunities is the essence of why our schools exist  and the cornerstone for our budget planning this month.

 We put great emphasis on making data-driven decisions, especially in recent years.    Indeed, we must be efficient with dollars and time and precise in the delivery of  instruction more than at any time in history.  Our budget for the new school year will  strive to provide for long-overdue materials and resources for mathematics from  kindergarten through Algebra and secondary English Language Arts.

 Updated textbooks, curriculum and assessments alone will not guarantee the goal of  preparing college- and career-ready graduates, although these pieces certainly contribute. School systems are people-driven. Nearly 84 percent of our annual operating budget is related to personnel in some way.

Salary increases are one way we recognize teachers and support staff for hard work and success and help us to retain good people.  School employees have, as many Kansas families, lived the burden of the recent economic challenge in our state. For three years, salaries for Emporia Public School employees were frozen.  None of our staff received cost-of-living adjustments and salary schedule advancements for years of service.  A year ago, the district sacrificed other needs to restore the delayed experience increments to the salary schedules. However, funds were not available to improve our base teacher salary and benefits, which last year, ranked 111th among the 286 Kansas districts.

In a people-focused organization, it is also important to attract and retain high-quality teachers, administrators and support staff.  Kansas ranks 17th in the nation in eighth grade reading proficiency and 10th in eighth grade math proficiency (on the National Assessment of Educational Progress). Yet, the state ranks only 42nd among the 50 states in terms of salaries. A priority in our 2014-15 budget is a 2.24 percent salary and benefits package for all employee groups.

In addition, we believe that our students’ school experience must anticipate the digital work environments of tomorrow.  We hope to continue the plan to integrate more technology devices into our children’s education.

Providing a world-ready education in the 21st century requires us to address aging facilities and equipment that served us well in a 20th century mission. The cost of repairs to roofs and mechanical systems can be much greater if delayed too long. Moreover, the cost of improvements to instructional equipment and resources can make the difference for today’s learners.

We believe our proposed budget reflects what we value: our students and the staff members whose passion and commitment prepares them for college and careers. At the next board of education meeting, July 9, we will present a preliminary budget for the board’s consideration. A study session to learn about the budget in more detail is scheduled at 6 pm. July 23. The public hearing on the budget is scheduled for Aug. 13. These meetings will be conducted at Mary Herbert Education Center and will provide opportunities for interested community members to learn and provide input for allocating funds next year.

School finance legislation has provided challenges for our district in recent years.  But the equalization measures resulting from the Supreme Court case has brought a mixed bag of reduced funding for at risk youth and measurable restoration in terms of equalization funding.  It is our hope that the new budget can capitalize on the state and local recognition of challenges related to language and socio-economic struggle and that future economic policy will support our mission to prepare all students for tomorrow’s opportunities.

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