Worthington News

Worthington school board OKs guidelines that include stretching levy funds

By ThisWeek Community News  • 

The Worthington Board of Education on Sept. 23 voted unanimously on a set of guidelines that include stretching levy funds.

Superintendent Thomas Tucker presented the board with a final version of five high-level standards to be used as performance measurements and objectives during the 2013-14 academic year.

Those standards follow:

Standard 1: Vision, Continuous Improvement and Focus

This includes goals to meet state-mandated standards and prepare students for college and careers.

Standard 2: Communication and Collaboration

The district will audit internal and external communications and develop an action plan.

Standard 3: Policies and Governance

The district will develop a plan for reviewing and updating all policies on a regular schedule.

Standard 4: Instruction

This includes goals for formative instructional practices and the creation of a 3-year master technology plan.

Standard 5: Resources

This includes goals for implementation of new teacher and principal evaluations; setting aside resources to implement the aforementioned plans and updated state standards; developing a new five-year forecast; seeking other funding streams, such as the Governor's Straight A Program; and managing existing levy funds through the 2016-17 school year.

Board president David Bressman singled out Standard 5, specifically referring to the idea of avoiding another levy until 2016-17.

The incremental operating levy that voters approved in November 2012 is set to increase each year through 2015, when it settles at 6.9 mills. During the levy campaign, board member Jennifer Best told ThisWeek it would allow the district to maintain its programs through 2015.

According to district treasurer Jeff McCuen, because the state cuts were less than anticipated, the school will have an additional $6.6 million in funds available this year.

Bressman said he thinks the goal warrants further discussion.

"I don't see any sufficient community engagement for this board to arrive at having this goal," he said. "To be transparent, we should have had more community discussion before now to make this a goal. There are lots of things we could discuss with the community about our financial situation, but we're not going to do that because we're setting this goal now."

One discussion point the board highlighted when reviewing Standard 1 was a desire by several members to bring back more foreign-language options and to consider the potential for reinstating other academic options that have been cut over the last decade.

"I don't like the tone of (the goal)," board member Julie Keegan said. "It sounds like we're saying, 'Of course, we'd be back in three years,' ... but to shy away from a goal like this, I think, is the anti-transparency."

McCuen said that after going through the five-year forecast process and seeing the state's mid-budget review, he believes the board could consider community engagement regarding the reinstatement of previously cut programs.

"I think the community would like us to stretch these resources as long as we can, but we've also starved our academics over the last decade, so maybe we should talk to the community and see if they want to invest in these things."

Keegan agreed.

"That is enough money that it is possible that we can reinstate the foreign languages and other things we're talking about," Keegan said. "As I've said before, we've been suffocating our academics, but I don't want to be susceptible to the public saying, 'I knew you'd do that; you'd spend that money.'"

Board member Marc Schare said he had argued for setting the levy goal and wanted to keep it in, but he thought it should be more aggressive, stretching the levy to the 2017-18 school year. He said he also was concerned that in the way the document currently reads, it doesn't allow the district to prioritize if administrators find they lack the time or financial resources to complete a particular objective or to replace that objective with another one.

Bressman said the guidance document has taken significant effort between the board and administration to develop and that he and Tucker agreed that it would be adjusted regularly to take future information into account.

"This is something the board's been working on for quite a while, and, hopefully, will set the framework for the rest of the school year, and then next year's (new board members) will work on it during the summer break to set their standards they expect for the district," Bressman said. "I see this as the start of a living document."

The board unanimously approved the motion to adopt the document, including the levy language, on the condition that the language may be updated at any time, in particular following the October release of the five-year forecast and Tucker's monthly progress updates.

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