Dr. Holland, the Superintendent at Raymond, explained the process of creating a budget as complex and time consuming. “Department by department, director by director, we establish the goals for the year. And of course the bottom line is, what are we going to do to improve student learning?”
According to Dr. Holland, finding funding for the budget primarily depends on the state. “The big principle is, every kid generates X amount of dollars. And that’s your main driver of where your money comes from. And of course, there are federal dollars and then there are local levy dollars. Those are really your three big pots of money. But the biggest is the state; it’s about 70 percent of the budget.”
Holland said the local demographics and economy also affect the budget in the local levy, which is a substantial portion of the budget: “There are levy dollars where we ask the local citizens to support a levy. And the citizens here have been incredibly supportive. As with most rural areas, Raymond doesn’t have the big corporations that would normally pay into that. So for example, if a Seattle school district wants to raise money, let’s say they wanted to raise $1 million, the increase in their levy rate is tiny because they’ve got so many people that chip into that and corporations, Amazon or Microsoft. We don’t have that. We have Weyerhaeuser, who certainly pays their part, but that’s all we have. And so the state, recognizing that, has a program called ‘levy equalization’. The idea is that if your citizens will support the school at X level, then we will kick in money to match that. And so, that’s why it’s so important for us that our voters support the levy because it’s really a dollar multiplying effect. Yeah, you’re kicking in a lot, but then the state kicks in a chunk too. So it’s like double bang for the buck.”
In February of 2012, local taxpayers approved a levy of $860,371. With the state’s levy equalization program, which matches the local levy for $700,000, the total income from the levy is approximately $1.6 million annually.
In order to increase the student count, resulting in more state funding, the district created a virtual school run via the Internet on Skype and email. “There have been cuts in basic education for the last three budget cycles at least. Where we have made up the difference, frankly, is in this virtual school, and we’re able to use some of that money to help with other kids. . . I have had as many as five teachers involved in that. Last year I had two, but because of changes in state rules this year I’m anticipating one. So when you go from I think 378 kids down to this last year 150 kids your revenue has gone down. . . because that number of kids has come down, and our comparative expenditures per kid go up, because those were pretty cheap kids.” In order to cut costs, in recent years the state has changed the Alternative Learning Experience program rules to make it less appealing, resulting in fewer kids enrolled in these programs across the state.
With the student count in the virtual school diminishing, the district has fewer dollars to put into kids on location. Dr. Holland explained that school struggles to adequately educate students with the funds it has, as both kids who come from impoverished and non-English speaking homes tend to require more funds to reach state requirements. “If the desire is simply to teach them, and if they get it they get it, and not worry about if they really learned it and not worry about if they actually graduate, and not worry about if they pass the state test, then yeah, I guess we’re adequately funded.”
Approximately 60 kids out of 528 at the school are transitional bilingual. Dr. Holland explains that the programs offered to those students similarly aid other students who fall behind and those who excel beyond their classmates. “We have a reading program that is set up not just for them but for anybody who has vocabulary issues. And lots of times vocabulary is a function of poverty, not so much second language. So we serve both kids of second language and kids who have an impoverished vocabulary for whatever reason in a program called ‘ReadRight’.”
Nevertheless, transitional bilingual students often fall behind and can be mistaken for special education candidates. According to Dr. Holland, about 14.5% of the students on location are in special education, but the number of ELL students in special education is disproportionately high. “It is easy to misidentify a kid as special education when in fact it’s a vocab issue. This last year we purchased a different type of test, a non-verbal test, which therefore you don’t conflate language issues with learning issues. . . They really shouldn’t be in special education.”
State test scores, which students must pass in order to graduate, have been improving over the past few years, particularly math scores. “The district has changed the way it teaches math at the elementary level. Math is one of those subjects that if you don’t get the foundation, you’re going to have a really tough time with other parts of it. So we’ve really been focusing on the foundational piece of it,” Holland said.
Dr. Holland claimed that high stake tests don’t function correctly. “Obviously you need to assess kids and know where they’re at, but mostly so you know what you need to do to help them. To me, making a kid’s graduation be ‘did you past this test, on that day, in this way?’ - that just doesn’t make sense to me. You need to look at the whole kid.”
Dr. Holland argued that less difficult assessments could adequately determine whether a child could properly function in society. “Can they write at an adequate level? Can they read at an adequate level? Can they compute at an adequate level? But to me, an adequate level is not quadratic equations. I think it’s great to set high standards, but realize that not everybody is going to be at that standard, and that doesn’t mean that they can’t be a great productive worker in a field that doesn’t require that. So I just think we’ve gone test crazy and for the wrong purposes. And if you look at other countries that test well, Finland for example, they don’t run the testing system like we do. Apparently we think we can bludgeon kids to greatness, and I just don’t believe that.”
State test requirements also change frequently, often every year. “How can we hit the target if they keep moving the target?” Dr. Holland inquired.
Regardless of what changes the school makes, however, Holland explained test scores are ultimately drastically affected by a kid’s home life. “Without a doubt, the biggest impact on kids’ learning is at home. The research is really clear on that. Now, that having been said, when a kid walks into the classroom, about half of his/her performance is their cumulative experience up to that time, including home. Of the other half, the biggest chunk is teacher quality. A little bit of the principle, a little bit of the school itself, a little bit of peers, all those play into the mix. But of that 50% that’s for the school, about 30% of it is teacher quality. So that’s the biggest chunk is to make sure you’ve got good teachers.”
The average teacher at Raymond makes $48,826 annually. All teachers must have a minimum 4-year degree and an approved teaching certificate, although 58% of teachers at Raymond have at least a Master’s Degree. Dr. Holland explained that Raymond works to find the best teachers. “We have focused very heavily the last three or four years on hiring the best teachers. . . We aggressively hire the best and if there are teachers we feel are not measuring up, we let them go.”
Editor’s Note: This article first appeared on www.hometowndebate.com 8/6/13. If you would like to respond to this story, go to hometowndebate.com
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