Superintendent MillingtonMessage From Our Superintendent

Dear Parents, Families, Friends, and Community Members,
October marks the start of the budget planning process for the next school year: 2019-2020.  The intent of this message is to keep you apprised of potential additions to the budget. 
We’ve spent the past school year examining our academic performance and have pulled together a plan of improvement that, if realized, should have a significant positive impact on student learning outcomes. As with any initiative, a proper structure must be built to support it if it is to be successful.  In most organizations, that structure is composed of having the right people in the right positions to support the work; as well as the policies and protocols to do the same.    
The items outlined below would be a part of creating that structure; none of the items are a certainty in terms of the district budget requests this year, but they are being discussed in detail.  The purpose of this letter is both to inform the community and to invite you into the conversation to help us better chart the future of the district.  There will be open forums with the superintendent on October 24th at 7:00 PM and on November 7th at 5:30 PM (both held in the RUHS media center).  It is my hope that these meetings will open up a community discussion about balancing the budget against addressing the structural deficiencies that must be corrected to move the district forward.  In my mind, these discussions are critical. Either the OSSD community recognizes and supports some or all of these changes and the district moves forward in terms of student achievement, or it decides to keep things as they are.  Either way, we are committed to doing the best we can on behalf of our students.
The principals will also be connecting directly with the school faculties to discuss their needs in terms of the budget process.  Those discussion may result in additions, deletions or modifications to what is below. This is only the starting point, it will not be complete until the full community has offered the best ideas it has for consideration and inclusion.
Items being examined to support instruction and improved student performance towards the Ends.

  • The student population has grown this year across all of the district’s schools and the technical center.  Brookfield Elementary in particular is in need of an additional teacher because of their increasing class sizes.  We are examining if this should be a classroom teacher or a math specialist that could help us move away from teaching mathematics in a multi-grade environment.  While there are a number of benefits to the multi-grade approach, mathematics is negatively affected because of the sequential nature of the content.  This personnel need must be addressed if we are to provide both equitable class sizes in Brookfield as well as improvements in students’ mathematical outcomes.
  • The creation of a therapeutic program at Randolph Elementary School to address the growing impact of trauma based behaviors.  Over the past three years, as more and more students with severe emotional disabilities move into the district, the principals have relied on the old model of using paraprofessionals to mitigate these behaviors during the school day.  While the para’s allow the students to successful navigate the day, the students are not learning any skills to help them self-regulate so that they no longer need these supports.  It is a Band-Aid approach that has no lasting impact.  A therapeutic program would provide many of these students with the inherent skills to manage their own behaviors so that a reduction in para’s is possible and more importantly, so that these students have the skills to adapt successfully to adult life without support.  There will be a lag time between the creation of the program and the ability to reduce the number of para’s within the district (a number that has grown from nineteen to twenty-five over the past three years).  The program will most likely require a counselor and a special education teacher.
  • Years ago when the district began investigating the purchase of one-to-one computers (Chromebooks), a decision was made to no longer purchase paper textbooks and to replace them with electronic ones the students could access from their Chromebooks.  In anticipation of this, the district stopped purchasing paper textbooks and never followed through on implementing the electronic model.  Textbooks are not a curriculum, but most modern texts are aligned with the Common Core standards.  Had the faculty had consistent access to texts over the past five or more years, student achievement would most likely have been significantly higher than it is now for the simple reason that what was being taught would have been more closely aligned with the State’s mandated standards.  This does not necessarily mean we need to purchase textbooks for all classes, but that we need to examine where their existence may provide significant benefit towards the Ends.
  • Because elementary teachers are generalists by nature and teach up to five different subjects a day, they often do not create their own lesson materials but instead rely on purchased programs.  As a State that recognizes the growing opportunity for students in the STEM fields, the district has no codified program for elementary science.  The purchase or creation of a consistent elementary science program is a must.  Further, science provides an opportunity for students to use their mathematic, writing and reading skills in a new setting, advancing their ability to transfer knowledge and skills between disciplines.
  • Moving three instructional coaches out of Title (i.e. the federal grant program) and into the regular budget.  These positions are vital to the success of the district as the coaches work directly with teachers to improve their instructional practices. The Title funding process has become incredibly unwieldy to the point that even under the best of circumstances Title monies are not available until October/November, meaning that these individual cannot begin working until nearly a third of the school year has passed. Additionally, the agency of education (AOE) has made it known that coaches and interventionists will not be allowed for more than three-years using Title funds.
  • Moving some of the math interventionist positions from Title to the regular budget for the same rationale as above.  These position are needed to remediate students in the school pipeline who have significant gaps in mathematical knowledge, and they will continue to be needed until curricular changes can eliminate the gaps for all students.
  • The district is currently developing visions for a life skills as well as a digital literacy program.  These are required components to meet the Board’s Ends and may or may not have a budgetary impact depending upon the format of what is created.
  • Lastly, the district is missing a key administrator, the lack of which may be contributing to poor student performance.  Most schools (and all high performing ones) have a curriculum director.  These directors use their K-12 view to build curricula that supports itself across and between the grades.  They work closely with classroom teachers and department heads to ensure fidelity in terms of teaching what should be taught, they offer direct coaching and feedback to teachers to improve their practice, and they manage the federal grants program to ensure the services it provides support the needs of the district.  Without this position, the district will be able to advance but only at a snail’s pace.

 Items that have a budgetary impact that are out of the district’s control:

  • The Vermont Employee Health Insurance program has filed for rate increases on each of its separate health plans for FY2020: 3.2% on the Gold Plan and 11.8% on the Gold CDHP plan.  These increases must pass a regulatory review; but because most of our staff are on the Gold CDHP plan, this could have a significant impact on our budget planning process.
  • Current estimates show a needed 5.6% increase to the overall special education budget.  Most of that cost is due to the increase in paras that have been required to mitigate the rising tide of trauma based behaviors seen in students, many of which are new to the district.  This is proof positive of the need to create a therapeutic program at RES; for without it, we will not be able to slow these increases.
  • In 2020, the state will be negotiating directly with the Teacher’s Union in regards to health benefits.  It is unknown until those negotiations are complete what the local budgetary impact will be.
  • The change of special education funding from a reimbursement model to a block grant model will have a significant impact on districts.  It is therefore imperative that we create a surplus line so that funds are available to address the unpredictability of students with significant needs moving into the district within a budget cycle.

Most Sincerely,
Layne Millington, Superintendent