Citing academic excellence and fiscal efficiency as its dual drivers, Dr. William McKersie, the new Superintendent of the Greenwich Public Schools, presented his inaugural budget at last Thursday’s Board of Education meeting held at Cos Cob School.
With a proposed increase of 2.7%, the $143.2 million budget is the highest ever for the GPS with a dollar increase of $3.8 million. McKersie stressed that the budget increase was driven primarily by contractual salary increases as well as increased funding in technology as the district aims to establish itself as a “leader in digital teaching and learning."
He explained that his proposed budget intends to “maximize resources” at the “school level and in the classrooms," highlighting that 92.3% of the funding is targeted at the school level. While the Town’s Board of Estimate and Taxation has yet to put forth final guidelines, the draft guidelines recommended an overall town budget target increase of 2%. (For a look at the budget proposal, please see the attached PDF.)
Students at the heart
The proposed budget projects an enrollment of 8,794 students, a slight decrease of 44 as compared to 2012-2013. While those are the hard numbers, “who makes up GPS?’ asked McKersie rhetorically. The answer is an increasingly diverse population, which is not just a larger minority population but also has diversity in learners.
In 2012, minorities comprise 30% of the student population, a five-fold increase from 1980, while 13% of the students quality for free and reduced lunch as compared to 2% in 1980. Language challenges were noted with 13% of the students being non-English language dominant and another 5% are English Language learners. Lastly, 10% of the students are classified as eligible for Special Education services.
Building the Budget
McKersie noted 4 primary strategic principles as driving the prioritization process behind the budget with intent of making all students “college and career ready:"
- Aligning and building upon the Common Core State Standards (“CCSS”);
- Integrating technology;
- Gauging progress through multiple measures;
- Pursuing innovation in schools.
Targets To Meet
Last June, the board established academic growth goals for students which the his budget seeks to help achieve.
By 2015, the target percentages in
- Grade 3 students at Goal/Mastery in Reading on the CMT would increase from 79% to 83%;
- Grade 8 students at Goal/Mastery in Writing on the CMT would increase from 83% to 87%;
- Grade 8 students successfully passing Algebra I will increase from 57% to 75%.
“Raise the bar and plug the gap”
In reviewing several slides of the CMT and SAT scores, McKersie points out that Greenwich is a “high performing district” whose test scores are “well above national and state standards.” However, Greenwich does have an achievement gap issue.
McKersie highlighted also that Greenwich has had great success in terms of student’s participation in the Advanced Placement exams which McKersie called an “important market." He defended the exams against the suggestion that AP tests are not difficult stating that “the College Board only puts out rigorous tests as they must keep their brand identify strong."
A Strong Drive into the Digital World
The superintendent recommended the district make an “aggressive move on digital learning," particularly into “1 on 1 learning” to the tune of more than $1 million. His intention is to put a digital device “in the hands of every student and teacher” in the district. McKersie's plan includes not only devices and software applications, but also a “major investment in helping people working with that technology” in terms of professional development.
McKersie is recommending a $245,000 cut at Central Office which will also result in a savings of $91,000 in related benefits costs but is also looking to increase staff by 2.0 FTE in the area of technology to aid in the implementation of his technology plan.
The rationale for the digital investment includes improved student achievement, improved preparation of students for college and career and support of common core state standards, shifts in instructional practice, universal access and digital content. McKersie explained that early pioneers of 1:1 digital learning programs showed across-the-board improvements in academic areas.
Capital and Fiscal Discipline; “Will require sacrifice”
The presentation highlighted that overall level funding was maintained in most program areas with no cost of living adjustment applied. Some funds were reallocated to focus district efforts including a $250,000 “plug” for “school innovation in order to plan for racial balance.
McKersie’s proposed a capital budget of $10 million, approximately $2 million above the BET guidelines. He explained, “We are going to work with the BET” on the differences in approach and requests. Overall, the new superintendent characterized his first budget as “fiscally responsible with targeted investments for academic excellence and growth.”
In closing, “I leave you will a budget that is tight, frugal and will require sacrifice.”
Board member Steve Anderson reminded his fellow board members that the budget season is beginning in a bit of an unusual way without approved BET guidelines in place. “We are working in a vacuum now dollar wise,” he said.
Board Chairman Leslie Moriarty asked that questions be sent to her by Tuesday Nov. 13, which includes questions from the public. The Board of Education will hold budget specific meetings, which will include opportunities for public comment, on Nov. 27 and Dec. 13. The public may also comment at the Board’s next business meeting on Nov. 15.