The New Albany-Plain Local school board, administration, faculty and staff are committed to our statement of purpose, which is "to create a culture of accountability to achieve the best academic and developmental outcomes for each student."
The district is dedicated to do so within a sustainable budget.
District leaders' focus on infusing a "students first" mantra into daily practices and culture applies to budget practices, tightening our belts and living within our means, all while improving academic achievement for students.
After many years of boom-and-bust finances, our current five-year forecast shows the district with an improved positive cash balance through 2021, encompassing the entirety of the forecast period and nearly a decade since our last operating-levy approval. This accomplishment is remarkable for any growing school district and is the direct result of hard work and responsible choices by the board, administrators, faculty and staff.
As the new superintendent, I committed to working with the board and the treasurer to ensure that our practices and financial and human-resources decisions are justified and aligned to improve student outcomes based on a continuous-improvement plan that includes specific goals and progress measures.
We restructured roles, functions and responsibilities, changed hiring practices, cut overtime and reduced expenditures to eliminate projected deficit spending to save taxpayers $1,797,135.88 for fiscal year 2017, which ends June 30, 2017. We exceeded our goal of reducing the budget by $560,000 for fiscal 2017.
Additionally, the board, administration and labor associations reached agreements to reduce health-care costs by redesigning the health-insurance plans. Although fiscal 2017 generated nearly $250,000 in health care savings, fiscal year 2018 and beyond are estimated to generate approximately $500,000 in additional savings annually.
Effective Jan. 1, 2018, district employees eligible for health insurance will select from two high-deductible health plans as recommended by the administration during labor negotiations. The traditional PPO health plan will be eliminated and the employee share of insurance costs will also increase from 15 percent to 20 percent, effective Jan. 1, 2018.
The board and the teachers union also reached an agreement during negotiations to standardize and reduce salary step increases on the teacher-salary schedule to 2.5 percent annually over 26 steps rather than 16 steps with varying increases. Changes to the teacher-salary schedule will generate long-term savings for our taxpayers while keeping New Albany-Plain Local competitive in the hiring process.
Reducing health-care costs and modernizing the teacher-salary schedule directly support the top two recommendations received from the New Albany Community Foundation's school-funding task force in 2015.
Additionally, the administration has focused staffing levels on what's best for students based upon grade-level academic and developmental needs consistent with peer-reviewed research. Class-size goals include 22 students for primary grades (K-3), 25 students for intermediate grades (4-6), and 28 students for middle school and high school grades (7-12), except for performing arts and wellness classes, which may be larger. All of these would best serve students and maximize teacher resources, as also recommended by the task force.
Such fiscal progress and sustainability reinforces district leaders' expectations not to return to taxpayers for an operating-levy request until 2020 or later.
However, with most of our facilities approaching 20 or more years of age and no dedicated source for capital improvements, the school board is discussing a small permanent-improvements levy in November 2017 to ensure that our facilities are properly maintained.
While much work remains to fulfill our commitment to be ranked in the top 5 percent or better of all public school districts in Ohio by 2021, the New Albany-Plain Local School District certainly is improving, both academically and fiscally.
Michael Sawyers is superintendent of the New Albany-Plain Local School District.