The election results are in, and unfortunately we didn't win yesterday. We shared some good ideas, made new friends, and learned a lot. Thank you to everyone that supported me!
Thank you to all who have helped, offered encouragement, and voted early. Tomorrow is election day so please make time to vote and encourage your friends and family to do the same!
If you want to help out at the polls, please send me a message. I know our polling place volunteers would welcome a reprieve.
It is great to have the support of so many respected members of our community!
Many in our community are talking about the value of increasing class sizes so Steven Welhouse, Lisa Remer Hirsh , and I have been doing our homework on the topic and wanted to share it with you.
We recently spoke to an educational consultant with a Masters in School Counseling. She said that everything she's read and experienced suggests that smaller class sizes are better and then shared research on class size and student achievement from the Center for Public Education (C...PE) and Princeton University. The CPE report concludes by stating:
"...The preponderance of the evidence supports positive effects and academic gains when class size reduction programs in the primary grades are well-designed and properly implemented."
We also got the perspective of a University of Chicago-educated PhD child psychologist on this. Summarizing some of her statements:
"There is no research I could find that studies the impact of class size increase. No one is purposely increasing class sizes thinking it's a good idea. It's all budgetary" She also shared publications supporting these perspectives from sources such as the American Educational Research Association and the National Education Association (NEA). The NEA brief starts with:
"The proven long-term benefits of reducing class sizes—achievement gains and higher graduation rates—should help determine our priorities."
So has anyone actually seen reliable evidence that larger class sizes are good for student achievement? The "preponderance of evidence" seems to suggest the opposite. Though I am not advocating a class-size reduction program in NSSD112, we should not make big changes to our district that move us in the wrong direction and are not based on sound research.
Lisa Remer Hirsh, Steven Welhouse, and I have received a lot of questions about the 10-school model for NSSD 112. Here's a quick summary, simpifying some of the variations:
Could this model work without any Full-day Kindergarten tuition?
Yes. The latest version of the model a nominal full-day Kindergarten tuition ($500 per year), although we could eliminate that depending on how we choose to implement.
Which schools close? How should we decide which school should close?
The model closes Green Bay and one other school and is sustainable through 2030 due to better procurement and capital planning; however, the finances should not be what drives the selection of a particular school. Only closing Green Bay would leave the district with a $50.3 MM shortfall versus the funding target in 2030. Closing one elementary school saves an additional $49.3-51.1 million, depending on which school closes. Said differently, 98% of the remaining budget shortfall is covered no matter which elementary closes. Plus, the elementary schools that save the least and the most are not at all intuitive.
Why not close Elm Place and use Red Oak as the third middle school?
We tested this idea, but it was actually $2 million more costly between now and 2030. It is also less ideal in other ways since Red Oak does not have as many large classrooms and lacks the auditorium of Elm Place, which is the largest in D112.
Can you change a particular feeder pattern?
Absolutely! There are a bunch of ways to make this work. Our main point is that some of the conventional wisdom is misguided. We want a solution that does not include the continued distraction and higher taxes associated with closing more than two schools. This is only a starting point for the discussion about a more measured approach.
I am posting a version of the Reconfiguration 2.0 financial model with procurement and capital planning improvements. I also replaced CPI and interest rate forecasts with the latest actual results and market data. That allowed me to lower the full-day Kindergarten tuition to only $500 and still maintain a 25% fund balance through 2030! Unfortunately, I have seen some false claims about the model, so hopefully having it out there publicly will help prevent misinformation. F...irst, I want to explain a few things.
What is this model?
1) A framework to get feedback, and test alternative options not broadly being explored elsewhere in the community.
2) A reset and re-balance of the district that does not require a referendum.
3) A more flexible approach that does not commit us to paying for a new configuration for decades amid many unknowns in school funding and D112 enrollment trends.
4) A way to start saving operating expenses (and capital investment) as soon as possible.
5) A model that respects the community's desire for neighborhood schools.
This model is not...
1) ...Anyone's final perspective on Reconfiguration. It is not the complete solution, but it is the beginning of a discussion and a framework with many variables that can be changed.
2) ....A configuration we should absolutely keep for the next 20-30 years. The whole approach is incremental - to improve what can be improved now, maintain community schools, and respect tax payers. Enrollment, CPI, health care costs, and interest rates all have a massive impact on the district's long-term sustainability, and the Board should be prepared to revisit configuration at least once per decade.
What does it improve?
1) The model achieves many, but not all, of the district's objectives. It closes 2 of our 12 buildings, extends our financial sustainability through 2030, balances class sizes, removes singleton sections, and provides space for full-day Kindergarten.
2) The model does not require a referendum to be implemented; however, we hope that the Board and community will put forth a new, more focused referendum. This model allows the referendum to be as small as possible while achieving whatever objectives the community decides to support. Those could include improvements to ADA accessibility, fire protection, indoor air quality, furniture and technology, and collaborative spaces or new media centers/libraries in each school.
3) The model achieves school sizes that lead to better outcomes, according to academic research.
Here is a link to the financial model itself:
I shared an earlier version of this model with the Reconfiguration 2.0 team, but have since updated as described above. Over the next couple of days, I will share more about the different configuration options we have tried and share sensitivity analysis of various assumptions. Thank you for your interest!
Thanks to the Leage of Women Voters for hosting a great forum yesterday! I received a question about school size after the event and wanted to share some thoughts and analysis.
Larger middle schools are not more efficient with respect to teaching until you reach certain levels. This is a "step-change function" of middle school teaching efficiency that only works near multiples of 450 students (for 6-8 grade). The next step of 900 students is more efficient for staffing, bu...t not good for education since larger middle schools tend to produce worse educational outcomes. (See the SCCFAC research recently posted by Steve Welhouse.) Once you understand that, it is easy to see why a 534-student school (Edgewood) is not inherently more efficient than 345-student school (Elm Place). Elm Place actually has larger class sizes than Edgewood in core subjects and similar class sizes overall.
At the elementary level, larger is not even more efficient with respect to teaching in practice. This chart shows that there is no correlation between school enrollment and average class size in District 112. Ravinia at 2-sections has larger average class sizes than every other elemetnary school, including Oak Terrace.
That said, closing some schools in combination with a re-boundary will allow average class size increases that allow the district to operate with fewer teachers. I still believe that we need to close Green Bay and one elementary school to be financially sustainable; however, going further than that is not likely to drive value beyond some administrative salary cost reduction and it comes with a lot of risk.
There was a recent letter to the editor that balked at the cost of Full-day Kindergarten (FDK) in the 10-school model that I sent to the Reconfiguration 2.0 team. To be clear, that model is intended to be a starting point for discussion and there are many ways to implement FDK. That said, I think it would be helpful to look at the facts.
We are the only neighboring district that does not offer FDK. As our neighbors have rolled out FDK and learned more, their enrollment a...nd tuition has changed. We do not really know how the parents of D112 preschoolers will feel about FDK. Some parents will still choose the part-time option, and some may prefer 1/2 day in their D112 school with an external afternoon enrichment program. As with school closures, we should take a measured approach and learn from the community as we go.
For those still concerned about a tuition that fully covers the cost of FDK, I want clarify a few things. Those that qualify for free and reduced lunch do not pay for FDK. For other families, the cost is similar to what you would get if your child was in an enrichment or daycare program taught by a teacher with a bachelors degree. The afternoon enrichment at Lutz 5-days per week is $6,100/year. FDK in a neighborhood school is administered by a teacher, yet some of the enrichment programs are not.
If we found out that the majority of the community wants low-fee or free FDK now, we could cut other administrative costs, try to save more with good procurement practices, bring our financial sustainability target in a few years, further defer non-critical maintenance, request a larger referendum, or close another school. I personally would not start with one of those options, but I welcome the discussion.
NSSD 112: The Relationship of School Size to Education
On the campaign trail I've encountered numerous questions regarding education models. Most of the researc...h I've reviewed shows that smaller elementary and middle schools generally have better performance. While it is hard to find research consensus on exactly how large elementary and middle schools should be, 300-500 students is a target range that is often mentioned in the recommendations of these articles.
During my research of these issues I came across a SCFFAC presentation on these topics and want to share it with you. The presentation is the SCFFAC Optimal School Size Presentation dated September 26, 2013 during the District's development of a reconfiguration plan. It was prepared by a Ph.D. Economist who is a managing director at a global professional services firm and a parent of Highland Park D.112 students. Most of the presentation was related to plans being considered at the time. However, one of the sections contained the clearest information in the form of a research summary I've seen on how large our schools should be.
The authorities cited in the slides are here:
Andrews, M.; Duncome, W.; & Yinger, J. (2002). Revisiting economies of size in American education: Are we any closer to a consensus? Economics of Education Review, 21(3). 245-262.
Lawrence, B. et al. (2005). Dollars and Sense II: Lessons from Good, Cost-effective Small Schools. Knowledge Works Foundation, Architects of Achievement, and Concordia LLC.
Leithwood, K. and Jantzi, D. (2007). Review of Empirical Evidence about School Size Effects: A Policy Perspective. Ontario Institute for Studies in Education of the University of Toronto.
New York Times (March, 11, 2010), Does the Size of a School Matter?
Overbay, Amy (2003). School Sizes: A Review of the Literature. Research Watch.
Ready, Douglas D.; Lee, Valerie E. (2006). Optimal Elementary School Size for Effectiveness and Equity: Disentangling the Effects of Class Size and School Size. Conference.
Slate, J. and Jones, C. Effects of School Size: A Review of the Literature with Recommendations. University of Missouri and Arkansas State University.
Some question whether D112 can save money with better procurement. That's surprising given that the Reconfiguration 2.0 financial model includes a >12% increase in the cost of purchased services and materials for 2017. I realize that examples help, so here are a few of the types of things that typically reduce transportation costs based on my work with other school districts:
1) slightly stagger bell times to allow buses to operate more efficiently;
2) co-source r...equirements with other districts;
3) consider fit-for-purpose vehicles for students with special needs or in special situations;
4) consider total costs of the service to find ways to reduce shared expenses between the district and the bus operators; and
5) use the change created by the previous 4 items to excite the supply base and negotiate better value.
These types of things typically save 6-12%, much more than the one-time 3.5% reduction called for in the 10-school model.
If you have questions about the "cliff" that appears in D112 financial projections next year, you are not alone. The big driver of deficit spending and fund balance depletion is capital expenditures. In 2013, an outside consultant recommended an extensive plan for preventative and life-cycle maintenance. Since D112 has not yet completed many of these maintenance activities, the base Reconfiguration 2.0 financial model forces six years of recommended maintenance into the ne...xt three years. (See the chart with red bars.) This is not the right way to manage a maintenance capital budget! I assume D112 would not actually do this, but we do not have an official D112 plan since the 2.0 model is not vetted by the district. I did ask the Board for the official plan back in February, but am still waiting for a response.
What is the right way to manage these maintenance requirements? First, the district should smooth our capital expenditures by completing all urgent and required safety items along with any urgent non-safety items. Second, the district should layer in the rest of the preventative and life-cycle maintenance. (See the chart with blue bars.) Handling it this way prevents problems from becoming more costly, but does not drive deficit spending unnecessarily. If you still question whether this would work, then take it from the D112 Operations lead. In February, he said he could "feather in" the capital this way if the Board directed him to do so.
Excerpted from the Tribune:
Brent Ross believes District 112 is underperforming its peers in math and English language arts even after accounting for demographics and the impact of the dual language program. "Aside from the obvious issue of whether our students are prepared, publicly reported test scores shape the perception of our schools," Ross noted.
Home buyers with school-age children consider school rankings featured in online real estate tools, and test scores weigh m...ost heavily into those rankings, he said. "So this issue is not only about preparing students, but also about sustaining a vibrant community and protecting property values," Ross said.
I hope the new NSSD 112 Board can drive better fiscal management. One of the ways I have talked about doing that is through procurement improvements, including shared services agreements. Other candidates have questioned the feasibility of this, but we have to look no further than Lake Forest for an example. Their website alone shows that that K-8 and High School work together.
From their site:
Lake Forest School District 67... currently participates in a shared services a...greement with Lake Forest High School District 115 to provide greater articulation within the curriculum while increasing efficiencies and reducing administrative costs.
So why shouldn't we expect to improve better procurement and capital planning decisions and keep more neighborhood schools open? There are clearly things that D112 is not doing that would lower costs.