Stillwater Schools: Special ed revenue builds general fund by $1.5 million

/ 17 May 2012 / jennifer

Julie Kink, St. Croix Valley Press, May 17, 2012 –

New budget also shows $1.8 million expenditure drop

STILLWATER — In a little relief for Stillwater Public Schools, a new budget for the current school year shows a $1.5 million increase in the general fund and a $1.8 million expenditure decrease since January alone.

Board members approved a revised 2011-2012 budget May 10 that reflected the savings. Assistant Superintendent of Business and Administrative Services Ray Queener attributed much of the increase to revised estimates for incoming state special education revenue, revealed just last week for the previous year. The expenditure decrease is due to a recent adjustment process involving staff cuts and reductions in supplies and materials budgets. Queener called the increase in the unassigned fund balance from 9 to 13.5 percent “very planful.”

“The key messages are we’re spending less, we’ve tightened our budget, we’re leaving little room for any further adjustments,” he said. “We’re being planful for the future, we’re looking out ahead for the next two fiscal years. And we’re really changing the culture of how we look at things.”

Queener thanked the community groups involved in budget adjustment recommendations, while board members pointed out the uncertainties of state funding methods, which make it difficult to plan.

“Being notified this week we’re getting more money from the state for 2010-2011 makes it challenging and difficult to project,” commented board Chairman George Dierberger. “You don’t know your actual revenue amounts from a previous fiscal year until the spring after. So even though we’re required by law to close our books, we are just now learning the special education revenue from 2010-2011.”

Chris Lennox, assistant superintendent of teaching and learning, reported on new learning standards resulting from Minnesota’s federally approved waiver from No Child Left Behind.

In the past, the primary measurement of academic success was proficiency, he explained, but the focus now is more on growth. The new accountability system focuses on closing the achievement gap and promoting high educational growth for all students. All schools will be given an annual multiple measurements rating (MMR) consisting of measurements of proficiency, student growth, achievement gap closure and graduation rate.

Rather than holding a “hard and fast line” for measuring students’ proficiency, Lennox said, the system now looks at individual students.

“It’s going to go beyond proficiency,” he said. “I’ve reported on instances where we’ve seen kids grow tremendously — their growth score knocks it out of the park — but they’re just under the proficiency standard. They’d still be given that ‘partially proficient’ label. Our ability to take proficiency as only one component, added to the growth component, is a real advantage.”

Superintendent Corey Lunn reported on year three of the district’s strategic plan “Vision 2014”. The plan defines the “why, how and what” of the district’s focus and strategic direction for the coming years. Year three action plans include providing students with 24/7 access to learning, personalized instruction, 21st Century skills, relevant hands-on learning experiences and positive relationships. As part of the plan, each school must present a plan with specific results and actions to be taken to address academic improvement, 21st Century learning and building school culture.

The district’s complete Vision 2014 Roadmap is available at www.stillwater.k12.mn.us.

In other business, Lunn reported that U.S. News & World Report ranked Stillwater Area High School No. 15 among Minnesota high schools. SAHS is ranked 646 nationally out of 22,000 schools in 49 states and the District of Columbia, based on state proficiency standards, how well they prepare students for college,and other factors.

The board also passed a resolution proclaiming May 7-11 “Teacher Appreciation Week.”

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