By Katlyn Vuillemot and Nolly Dakroury
LANSING TOWNSHIP – The Waverly Community School District is cutting programs and hoping for the help of bonds to address a $1.5 million deficit.
Declining enrollment and state funding are the main reasons for the increasing deficit, said Evan Nuffer, the districts director of finance.
The struggling economy is another reason, said Eldon McGraw, the school system’s communication director. Enrollment declines as families move out of the district. Birth rates are lower and parents have the school of choice option, which allows the enrollment of nonresident students as members without having to get the approval of their district of residence.
“Any cut that impacts instructional programs is going to be the most difficult for the district to have to make, so our goal in making deficit reductions is to try and keep the cuts as far away from the classroom as possible,” Nuffer said.
One way is by cutting down on classroom supplies, Nuffer said. It’s a short-term fix that is not sustainable over the long run. And classrooms are not immune to the hard choices facing school officials.
Officials are cutting the Ombudsman alternative education school and discussing the layoff of teachers – although they say they hope to avoid layoffs. They unsuccessfully tried cutting sports but gained a victory with the May 7th vote approving a $18.4 million bond to help advance technology and update systems such as electric outlets and media centers.
Editors note: View an interactive map of the district here.
“We have work to do to eliminate that deficit and we have a plan to do that within the next 12 months,” Nuffer said. “There will be further reductions and our goal is to keep those reductions away from instructional staff.”
The district is closely examining how many teachers are needed in grades K through 12 for the coming year, Nuffer said. The classes and the course schedules offered next year are going to determine this.
In hopes of keeping enrollment up, the district created a Waverly Marketing Committee three years ago made up of staff, students, parents and community members, McGraw said. Its purpose is to help keep students enrolled within Waverly.
The committee has launched a clothing campaign to increase school pride, McGraw said. They sell shirts, signs and attend numerous school events to spread the word about the happenings at Waverly.
Meanwhile, painful cuts are on the horizon.
Cutting the Ombudsman alternative education program will save $250,000, school officials say. But it has sparked controversy from parents who appreciate what the program does for children who cannot work in the typical high school environment and need more individual attention from teachers.
Ombudsman Alternative Education Program
The Ombudsman program is a nationwide alternative education service. It’s not a public school program, but a for-profit program that focuses on one-on-one interaction with students who struggle in high school. Supporters of the program say that it helps students understand that people care about their success.
“It started small and grew with time,” Waverly Superintendent Terry Urquhart said. “Now it’s a very successful program.”
Waverly was working with the main facility in Chicago and paying them annually. The program is in a separate building off school property. It uses staff and resources such as technology and classroom materials provided by the Ombudsman program.
It has been in the district for five years, Urquhart said. In the 2011-2012 school year, the program achieved a 100 percent graduation rate, which is a great achievement for an alternative education program.
Urquhart said the program has been averaging around 50 or more students a year.
“The valuable program is cost prohibitive at this point in time and we feel that we can provide a high quality program by bringing the instruction within the district itself and not contracting with a third party,” Nuffer said.
The district had been trying to negotiate prices with the program, but was unsuccessful, Nuffer said.
But the program is expensive and Waverly officials have instead decided to provide their own alternative education program that is estimated to cost around $200,000 annually instead of the $450,000 that Ombudsman costs.
LaNette Hester, one of many parents who attended the March board meeting that enacted the cut, said she was upset about the loss of what she described as a beneficial program due to the one-on-one interaction with the students and the care each teacher shows.
“It’s an outstanding program that they obviously needed, to have these graduation levels brought back up,” said Hester, the mother of a student attending the program.
In general, the way to decide if a student will be in an alternative education program is not the grade point average, said Troy Lindley, principal of Waverly High School. It is how the student interacts in the regular high school environment, which is why students have to be closely monitored.
It’s “an avenue to be successful in a high school system,” he said. Some of the students go back to the regular classroom mid-way.
The new program will have the same curriculum as the high school; it will just be more online based, Lindley said. Usually there are 30 students in a morning session and another 30 in an afternoon session.
The teachers have to be certified, Lindley said. The high school will hire new teachers and use current teachers.
Ombudsman hasn’t always been offered at Waverly high school. The old alternative education program was joined with Holt, but wasn’t successful and was only used for a short period of time, Urquhart said.
Previously the alternative education building was in the middle school, but was moved once the school invested in the Ombudsman program in 2009, according to a Waverly Community School Board of Education report. There is a great chance that the new alternative education program will be housed again in the middle school, now that it will be an in-house program.
Now, the challenge is creating a family atmosphere through the new program, said Urquhart.
“There has never been a doubt about the quality of the program, or the program’s track record,” Urquhart said. “It’s been extremely successful, great graduation rates, kids believe in it and I think teachers believe in it.”
“However we are in a budget crisis. Ombudsman is a very expensive program,” he said. “I would not be doing my job if I had not made this recommendation.”
The cut is effective this fall.
Listen to Evan Nuffer talking about the Ombudsman cut and then new alternative education program here.
Another potential cut, which could take place at any given time, is to school staff.
Possible Teacher Cuts For the Waverly School District
The Waverly Schools Board of Education recently approved the lay off of teachers if that is what is needed.
Salaries account for almost 86 percent of the school district’s budget, according to a Waverly Community School Board of Education report.
The average full time teacher salary is about $68,000, Nuffer said. With benefits, it is around $100,000.
Teacher cuts will only occur in the case that the deficit becomes so great that the district needs to take immediate action, Urquhart said.
“This doesn’t say that we are laying anyone off, it says we have that option if we have to,” he said.
“We have done this for the last 11 of the 12 years I have been here,” said Brit Slocum, president of the school board.
Over the past five years, Waverly has reduced the faculty by approximately 35 teachers.
The district has also tried cutting sports, but the cut was unsuccessful.
Loss and regain of sports
The district cut boys and girls golf, cross-country, tennis, soccer and swimming starting the 2010/2011 through the 2011/2012 school years. But it brought them back this year due to unhappy students and no budget improvement.
Before the start of the 2010-2011 school year, the district cut boys and girls golf, Nuffer said. Then before the start of the 2011-2012 school year, the district cut boys and girls cross-country, tennis, soccer and swimming.
The decision sparked a lot of discussion within the community and roughly estimated in a loss of ten students.
“We made the decision this year to bring back our athletic programs, the ones that had been reduced, simply because we didn’t feel like it was the right move to make at that point in time and its been met with some positive feedback,” Nuffer said. “Our sports programs are really excellent right now and we are proud the we made the decision to bring back those sports programs.”
“At this point, no we are not looking to make any additional cuts to athletics or special electives,” Nuffer said.
In addition to cuts, the school is looking for increased revenue.
Voters decided May 7 to approve an $18.4 million technology bond to update old software and add in new media related developments.
The bond would be issued in three separate sections over the next ten years, said Lindley, the Waverly principal. If it doesn’t occur in three parts, the technology would most likely become obsolete after three years, Lindley said.
Part one of the three part series of bond money for the school will be $10.5 million, part two will be $2.5 million and part three will be $5.5 million.
“The $18.4 million will be sold and to repay that sale of those bonds to investors we will levy 1.64 mills on properties within the Waverly Community School district area,” Nuffer said. “Anybody who has property will pay an additional 1.64 mills on their taxes.”
That means the owners of a $100,000 house in the district would pay an additional $82 per year on their taxes.
“Voters are being asked to approve the repayment of the debt,” Nuffer said.
The district will also be adding in new labs at the high school to provide greater opportunity, Nuffer said. Possibly adding in some drafting classes or journalism courses.
“Without that we believe that we are going to fall behind in preparing our kids to be not only college-ready, but career-ready and not have the 21st century technology skills that they need,” Nuffer said.
The district is behind in technology, Nuffer said. We have seen some districts that are already starting to go with one-on-one initiative for their classrooms where teachers can give more individual attention to students.
Looking at investments, the capital equipment just continues to age without any funds to improve or replace that equipment, Nuffer said. We just continue to limp along trying to keep things running but not really keeping up with the current technologies for our students.
“It’s still necessary to provide instruction to the students, but technology really is the medium that is not used to help deliver that instruction and really enhance the educational experience,” Nuffer said.
Listen to Evan Nuffer talk about the technology bond by following this link.