District 50 Moving Forward, Addressing Challenges
In her third State of the District address, Superintendent Pamela Swanson got right to the point.
“My bottom line message is that while we are continuing to move forward and we have many success stories to share, we need to do more,” she said. “Our children have one chance at a quality education and we cannot rest until all of District 50 students are achieving at their highest potential.”
Swanson delivered her remarks during this week’s regularly scheduled Board of Education meeting.
While she made it clear that there is much work to be done, she also acknowledged the progress made by the District over the last several years.
Scores in reading, writing and math have increased for three consecutive years. District 50 was once labeled a “Turnaround” district by the Colorado Department of Education, but is now categorized as “Priority Improvement.” The goal is to get to “Improvement” status this year.
The Superintendent also cited the successful opening of Colorado STEM Academy in the fall of 2013 and the district-wide implementation of Progressive Math Initiative (PMI).
Swanson also spent a lot of time talking about district finances.
In November, voters rejected a $5.25 million dollar mill levy override that would have preserved the status quo and kept the District from reaching further into its budget reserves. Swanson estimates that District 50 will receive more money from the state of Colorado, but not enough to offset the money that the mill levy override would have generated. Her initial estimate is that the District must cut $2.5 million dollars.
“Departments are already hard at work on next year’s budgets and looking for ways to cut costs, but frankly, we made the obvious cuts a long time ago,”she said. “The fact is, the vast majority of our budget goes to salaries, PERA and benefits for our hard working staff, because after all, our end products are competent graduates.”
As for district facilities, Swanson said dollars are being spent wisely in a district where 79% of the buildings are more than 50 years old. Money was spent last year to renovate Colorado STEM Academy, bring air conditioning to Tennyson Knolls Elementary and repair the lighting system in the auditorium at Ranum Middle School. In addition, security updates continue to be a priority.
This year the District plans to use the remaining funds from the 2006 Bond election which financed the construction of Hodgkins Elementary and Westminster High School. The dollars will be spent on new heating and cooling systems for Mesa, Metz, Fairview, and Sunset Ridge Elementary Schools. If there is enough money, another school may be added.
The District is also considering the creation of PK-8 school that would consolidate F.M. Day Elementary School and Scott Carpenter Middle School. Many parents support the idea, but the costs involved may push the project to the future. The Board of Education has not made a decision regarding the PK-8 school at this point.
From the Speech
Below are other highlights from the Superintendent Swanson’s prepared remarks.
“While I absolutely believe student progress needs to be measured and feel passionately that our students must be able to compete with students across the state, nation, and world, I am concerned about issues of educational equity in Colorado and accreditation and funding systems that do not fully account for the complex interaction between poverty and achievement.”
“The defeat of 3B means that some very difficult financial decisions will need to be made as we move through the budget development process this spring. This should not come as a surprise to anyone because, as we told voters, the mill levy was about maintaining the status quo. While our bond rating and other financial indicators are positive due to the school district’s fiscal prudence, we now have to begin to shore up expenditures with ongoing revenue streams, as opposed to relying on one-time money in the school district’s fund balance.”
“The safety and well-being of our students remains our highest priority. The tragic shooting of Claire Davis at Arapahoe High School High reminds us that while schools are actually, by in-large, a very safe place for our children, we need to remain vigilant and pro-active.”
“As we look to the future, I can’t help but think how lucky we as a district are to have such strong ties to the past to help guide us. Our Board of Education is now entirely made up of Westminster High School graduates. Even more remarkable, we have a graduate from the 1960’s, the 1970’s, the 1980’s, the 1990’s and a graduate from the class of 2000. They have all seen the changes and challenges in District 50. While they come from different backgrounds and perspectives, they are all committed to ensuring that the students that follow them have the same opportunities for success they had.”
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Posted January 30, 2014