Superintendent's Viewpoint: Energy surrounds new plan at Stillwater schoolsOn March 2, Stillwater School District leaders spent the day reviewing information and having in-depth discussions about the future of our schools.
By: Corey Lunn, Woodbury Bulletin
On March 2, Stillwater School District leaders spent the day reviewing information and having in-depth discussions about the future of our schools. Topics discussed included: Finalizing the $11 million budget reduction list, which would be implemented should the current levy not be renewed; digging deeper into the new strategic plan; looking at equity issues across our schools; and considering short and long term plans to ensure the safety of our students.
While all important, it is the discussion around our new strategic plan that has all of us as district leaders most energized and excited. Our new strategic plan, which will replace the expiring Vision 2014 plan, highlights building positive relationships with students, expanding partnerships with the community, creating personalized learning pathways, engaging students and families in learning, and igniting students’ passions.
Within these focus areas are 56 action plans and more than 300 specific actions, which represent significant changes to our school district and to the learning experiences provided to our students.
We know that the changes defined in our strategic plan will propel us forward as a district, yet we also recognize the many obstacles the stand between us and our goals. At the same time we are working to implement these exciting changes for our students, we are faced with great financial challenges.
An $11 million operating levy is about to expire, which will impact our revenue beginning in the 2014-15 school year. We also face millions of dollars in unfunded state and federal mandates – more than $5 million in unfunded special education mandates alone. In addition, we are required to transport all students within our school district, regardless if they attend public, private, parochial or charter schools. Funding for transportation, however, does not equal our actual costs – resulting in a $240,000 budget shortfall each year. These two unfunded areas alone equate to more than five percent of our annual budget. Add to these rising costs, state funding that doesn’t keep up with inflation, and slightly declining enrollment, and the obstacles loom larger.
Despite these challenges, seeking more resources as the only alternative is not something I, nor the school board, believes is right. Instead, we are continuing to find efficiencies, seek out innovative ideas, and use our resources differently to reduce our costs. We cut our budget by $6.4 million this year, with an additional $2 million saved by expanding grants, switching to self-funded insurance, sharing services with partners and finding other money saving measures.
We’ve made significant changes to our district support staff at Central Services, and will continue to restructure to better serve students and teachers in our schools. We are committed to continuing to find ways to run our district more efficiently and will work hard to reallocate resources to help fund as much of our strategic plan as possible.
Not only will our new vision prepare our students for a rapidly changing world, it will also allow us to reprioritize, reallocate resources, and rethink how we operate our schools. We have the plan in place. Now is the time to take action.
Our strategic plan will no doubt change what we do - that is its purpose. What excites me as a parent and superintendent, is that this plan focuses not only on a new skill set for students and staff, but it also focuses on relationships, service to others, and utilizing students’ passions to “spark” their learning. Many of these areas have become a “second-thought” with our advances in technology, however, are at the very root of the work we do in life and the communities that we live in.
I’m proud of the work our community and our district staff have done together this year to design an even better school system for the future. Have a great spring break.
Lunn is superintendent of Stillwater School District