At a recent meeting of the Board of Education, the issue of School Choice was addressed. The Board of Education members discussed details that pertained to our application and answered questions that were posed by members of the community. I made a presentation that included seven key points relative to the option of becoming a Choice School District. The following is a summary of the seven points.
It is noted that the Board of Education made a proactive decision to approve going forward with our application to become a Choice School District. The deadline for submission of the application was April 30, 2012. The Board had discussed the option of school choice on multiple occasions during public finance committee meetings and Board meetings beginning in February. The decision to move forward with the application for school choice provided our school district with an excellent opportunity to respond to the realities of declining enrollment, budget caps, and unpredictable state aid. Additional options include reaching out to the families who send their children to private schools (brochures will be mailed to these families in late June), merging with another school district, and sharing services. The school choice option will provide for additional substantial revenue and can be in place for the 2013/14 school year.
It is important to note that the dialogue on school choice continues. There will be another opportunity to ask questions and voice opinions at the Board of Education meeting scheduled for June 27.
The Tewksbury Township School District is comprised of a high performing community of learners. The following is a list of some of some of the accomplishments that have been realized during the 2011/12 school year:
- Blue Ribbon School Recognition
- New State of the Art Website
- OTS Schedule Improvements
- Council of Instruction
- Reciprocal Reading Pilot
- Early Intervention Programs (Fast ForWord, Earobics, Visualization and Verbalization, Multi-Sensory Reading)
- Teacher Quality Institute
There are multiple advantages to the school choice option. Specifically, school choice
- addresses enrollment decline,
- responds to the realities of a fiscal budget cap,
- addresses the uncertainty of state aid,
- adds substantial revenue, and
- stabilizes the programs at OTS.
How are programs affected by declining enrollment? Programs may be affected due to reduction in staff. More teachers would have to teach multiple grade levels in their discipline, the expansion of future innovative programs may be curtailed, student opportunities in the related arts may be cut back, and a decline in the student population would affect our ability to field athletic teams that participate in the after school sports program.
There are risks to consider as we embark on implementing the option of school choice. One risk is associated with the possibility that the state would discontinue the school choice program. This is unlikely; however, due to the fact that the program has been in existence for 10 years and is part of state law; Title 18A. The governor has also recently allocated an additional $14.2 million for the program.
The right of a parent to appeal the decision made by our administration in reference to the acceptance or rejection of a student is cited as a risk. This has not surfaced as a problem for the school districts that I have been in contact with. However, we will continue to investigate this point. It is important to note that most innovations and opportunities to move forward present risks. It is difficult to make progress without realizing some risk.
It is important to note that we are in control. We establish the number of seats that we are willing to make available at a given grade level. We can accept or reject students on the basis of financial and administrative impact. We also have the option of exiting from the program each year. In essence, we have a great deal of control over the application process.
We will have to make a number of difficult choices, if we do not take part in the school choice program. The merger option involves a long and complex process while the shared services option does not serve to help move our programs forward.
It is a fact that the enrollment will decline by approximately 130 students within the next five years. This is a conservative estimate, if you look at the lower number of students that are attending TES to date. Essentially this means that we will need to consider eliminating teaching positions beginning in 2013/14. We estimate that approximately nine teaching positions would be eliminated by 2015/16. This loss of human resources equates to teachers teaching multiple grade levels in their discipline at OTS, possible cutbacks in related arts at both schools, and a limited after school athletic program at OTS. The administrative structure of our school district that includes a Superintendent, two building principals, a Supervisor of Curriculum and Instruction, and a Supervisor of Special Education serves our learning community exceptionally well. Again, this structure requires our current enrollment base and resources to be maintained in the years ahead.
In summary; please know that I, along with the members of the Board of Education, care a great deal about the future of the Tewksbury Township School District and the educational opportunities that are provided to the students. As noted, we are a high achieving school district that flourishes in multiple areas. It is important to not only maintain this high status, but to also move forward and further enhance the overall educational programs. We have made excellent strides during the last few months and plan to continue in this direction. The bottom line is that declining enrollment in an environment of budget caps does not help us to achieve our goals. Becoming a Choice School District will certainly provide the human and financial resources necessary to continue our progress. We will learn in the latter part of July, if our application is accepted. If it is; we will be able to make a statement which I have observed on another school district’s web site; “Proud to be a Choice School.”