By LENNY C. LEPOLA News Assistant Managing Editor
November 26, 2013
Last Thursday evening Big Walnut Local School District Superintendent Steve Mazzi, Assistant Superintendent Angie Pollock, Director of Academic Achievement Laura Wood, and District Treasurer Felicia Drummey joined forces in a tag-team presentation titled Big Walnut Local School District State of the Schools 2013.
Mazzi opened the session, held in the Big Walnut Middle School Commons, by reminding audience members of the districts four primary goals: Improve Academic Achievement, Improve Communications, Plan For Growth and Maintain Financial Responsibility.
Wood added that the school district’s mission of inspiring and guiding each student to his or her maximum potential is more than just words on paper.
“We’ve really made a commitment this year to live this mission as educators,” Wood said. “And not just about students, but to inspire our entire Big Walnut community.”
Wood then walked the audience through the district’s current academic achievement model as students travel from a more structured kindergarten level through second grade, then third through fourth grade, on to intermediate school, middle school, and then Big Walnut High School where students build a culture carrying them into young adulthood.
Wood also briefly described the district’s extracurricular opportunities at all grade levels, leading up to middle school athletics and clubs and high school athletics, drama, music, language clubs and a host of other options.
In addition to adding technology to the classroom at all grade levels, Wood said middle school students have the opportunity to earn high school language credits, and high school students have the opportunity to earn college credit both at the high school via Advanced Placement classes, dual enrollment, and by attending nearby colleges and universities as part of Post-Secondary Education options.
“The primary goal is to make sure the curriculum is rigorous, and at each stage provide additional services for students who need more support,” Wood said. “As we add technology to the curriculum, it’s not just something we use in isolation. We want teachers to be comfortable bringing technology into the learning process, and we encourage students to bring their own devices to school.”
Wood also noted the district’s related services like Occupational Therapy, Physical Therapy, Sign Language, a school district nurse, mental health services and psychologists, speech, and English language learner support services.
Area residents are likely by now to be familiar with the new Ohio Department of Education Letter Grade Report Card. Wood briefly described the new report card’s six letter grade areas, noting that during the report card’s inaugural year only four key letter grades have been reported.
The Big Walnut district’s Performance Index was a B, all State Indicators were met for an A, in Gap Closing the district received a C, and in Progress (the old Value Added Measure) the district received an A. The district also received an A for its 96.3 percent Graduation Rate over the past four years.
The district’s six Composite Scores, a Prepared For Success grade, and a K through Third Grade Literacy Improvement grade are areas that will not appear until the 2015 ODE Report Card.
Pollock spoke about the district’s adoption of the Ohio Evaluation System, including the Ohio Teacher’s Evaluation System (OTES). The district piloted the OTES and now has additional evaluation systems in place for building principals, the district treasurer and the superintendent.
In addition to noting district efforts to improve internal and external communications, Pollock spoke about school safety, noting that student safety and building security are district priorities.
Pollock mentioned the efforts of the district’s School Resource Officer, Delaware County Sheriff Department Deputy Mark Kern, recent ALICE Training at the schools, buzzer access to all school buildings, lockdown drills and building interior design improvements that are being addressed as needed to improve individual classroom security.
“We also have Challenge Day for all incoming high school freshmen as anti-bullying training and for overall student culture building,” Pollock said. “And something that I’m especially excited about is a new safety collaboration with law enforcement personnel from around Central Ohio who live in our school district.”
Mazzi reentered the presentation to speak about the school district’s plans for addressing increased student population numbers that accompany residential growth. He said the district would adopt a four elementary building model in the 2014-15 school year by reopening mothballed Harrison Street Elementary School and redistricting.
Mazzi explained that Big Walnut Elementary School and General Rosecrans Elementary are at or exceeding building capacity, Hylen Souders Elementary is currently under-utilized. Reopening Harrison Street and redistricting would bring all four elementary building’s student populations close to the ideal 74.5 percent building capacity and allow room for future growth.
“There are several residential developments approved and platted, at least two of them stopped during the 2009-10 financial crisis,” Mazzi said. “These are not small developments. The smallest is 300 homes, all the way up to NorthStar with 800 homes.
“We live here now and today, but we have to look to the future,” Mazzi continued. “We try to negotiate with developers like NorthStar to make sure we’re taken care of because we know that we’re going to wake up one morning and need another elementary school. We can’t wake up on that morning and put up a No Vacancy sign. We know that they’re going to come, it’s just a question of when and how fast.”
Mazzi said the outlet mall planned at the I-71 Interchange is also going to bring additional families and students to the school district; he said as folks from around central Ohio get jobs at the outlet mall they’re going to discover, in his words, the big secret of Big Walnut.
The HSE reopening rollout will begin with a redistricting map on the school district website, Mazzi said, followed by an auto-call, letters to parents, and a transition plan that will include student visits to their new buildings.
Pollock said that the district will advertise for the HSE principal position in December, interview and hire in January. She also noted that HSE would be staffed with a healthy mix of newer and veteran teachers, and the building would be upgraded to the same level of classroom technology that has been installed in the other district elementary buildings.
Mazzi, noting the exceptional condition that HSE is in, said with planned building upgrades it would not be a second-class building; that any parent would be proud to have students attending Harrison Street Elementary.
Drummey joined the presentation by citing the school district’s $29 million General Fund, briefly walked audience members though revenue sources and expenditures.
Drummey said 75 percent of the school district’s revenue comes from local sources - property taxes, income tax, tuition, fees and sales. State revenue accounts for 23 percent of the school district’s budget in the form of core state aid, rollback/homestead reimbursements, property tax allocation, and state grants. The district only receives 2 percent of its funding from the federal government in the form of restricted grants like Title I (Reading), Title IIA and Title VIB special education.
“We can’t do anything about state funding, it’s a formula, and the Federal two percent is restricted for special purposes,” Drummey said. “We understand that the community is providing the lion’s share of our funding; we recognize that burden, and we’re spending $29 million in a responsible and conservative manner.”
Big Walnut came perilously close to fiscal disaster following the 2009 recession, Drummey said, but voters subsequently approved a 5-year, 7.5-mil emergency operating levy that added $4.9 million to district coffers.
“We were looking at negative cash in 2010, now we have $7 million in the General Fund,” Drummey said. “That might seem like a lot of money, but we spend $2.4 million a month, so that’s only a 90-day reserve.”
Drummey said anticipated tax dollars from the outlet mall and American Electric Power’s Vassell Transmission Substation being built east of Sunbury is too uncertain to use in planning future revenue, but she said those revenue streams are on the district’s radar. The downside, she added, is the district’s emergency operating levy will expire at the end of 2014, and neither the outlet mall not the Vassell Substation would be generating tax dollars in time to fill the revenue gap.
Under the expenditure heading Drummey noted that salaries and benefits are the district’s greatest expenses.
Salaries account for 54 percent of the school district budget, benefits add another 24 percent; Purchase Services are 16 percent, Supplies and Materials 3 percent, and Capital Outlay another 3 percent.
“All of our expenditures are expected to increase annually,” Drummey said. “And for every 100 children who come into the district, in today’s dollars the district will have to spend $1 million more.”
Drummey also noted the school district’s efforts to upgrade its bus fleet, saying that currently one-half of the district’s buses are 10 years old or older; that by purchasing three new buses each year the district would be able to reach a point where no bus carrying Big Walnut students is older than 10 years.
“We have our eyes on the road; I can assure you that no one in the district is asleep at the wheel,” Drummey said. “Our goal is to maintain a fiscally stable school district that is accountable to our community as we acquire and maintain the necessary resources to achieve the district mission.”
In closing the evening’s presentation Mazzi said he hoped that everyone in attendance would leave with a better understanding of the Big Walnut Local School District. He also noted the school district’s open door policy; that anyone who has concerns or questions about their children’s education or the school district’s place in the community is welcome to call or come to the administration offices to speak with any of the evening’s presenters.
“I’m humbled by what you allow us to do day by day with your children,” Mazzi added. “Our goal is to continue to build on that trust. Your passion for your children’s education is what keeps us going.”