Wednesday, August 3, 2011

In A Nutshell...

Who We Are

This blog is being initiated and maintained by a group of homeschooling families that seek primarily to educate their children using methods and curriculum that best suit each family's and student's needs.  Our desire is to partner with a local school district that understands these choices and is excited to encourage us in our endeavors, while honoring our decision to not participate in a traditional school model.  We respect each homeschool family's right to make a decision that best supports their children's education, and this blog is only intended to provide information with which to make a better educated decision.

Site Council Concerns

This last school year began with a lot of uncertainty for all ALE programs state-wide due to budget issues at the state level.  At the suggestion of the Deer Park Superintendent, Homelink Program Director Carol VanWormer assembled a "site council" to determine what changes Homelink could make to adapt to the expected budget cuts.  At its first meeting in September, the site council quickly realized that the classroom supply budget, which was presented as the logical place to make cuts, was a relatively small part of the entire Homelink budget and there were other, larger categories that left us confused as to their purpose.

The site council then attempted to seek more information on these budget categories from Carol, from Superintendent Becky Cooke, as well as from the Deer Park School Board.  Throughout the course of the school year the site council met over fifteen times.  The questions raised regarding budget issues largely involved the dollar amount assigned each full-time student in the Homelink program, and how much of that money was being retained by the district for administrative expenses.  The site council learned that DPSD's retention amount was 33%.  When we were able to meet with Superintendent Cooke, she explained that the amount retained was to cover administrative expenses, but no further details were given.  We then tried multiple times to approach the school board for more information, but were not successful in our attempts.  We were unable, before the end of the school year, to get any specific answers on why 33% of the state money allotted to Homelink students was being retained by the district.

The site council then decided to attend the school board meeting on June 27th to hear Carol's required annual presentation of the Homelink budget to see if we could finally ask some specific questions and bring our concerns to the board.  Just before the meeting we were informed by Carol that she would not be presenting her budget verbally, but instead in writing.  We were then surprised to find a large group of concerned parents who had organized themselves into a Homelink Parent Committee, and learned that they had come with several concerns of their own, one of which was the retention amount for administrative expenses.  It was at this point that the site council realized that this was a major concern for many families and so we agreed to share what information we had so that we could move forward more efficiently in seeking answers to our questions.

Home Link Parent Committee Concerns

During this year's legislative session, with ALE programs on the chopping block, a few Homelink parents took steps to stay apprised of what was happening and to share this information with other parents as it became available.  During this proces, we networked with other Parent Partnership Programs (PPP's) across the state.  Once the legislature finalized the state budget, we were still uncertain as to the extent of the budget cuts to Homelink, so we again contacted the other PPP's to see how their district was responding to the cuts.  We were surprised to learn that our district has been retaining a significantly larger portion of funds than most other districts.  We also learned that many districts were prepared to further reduce the amount of funding they retained to help offset the state budget cuts.

With the next school board meeting just a week away, we contacted as many parents as we could to invite them to a planning session to prepare to address our concerns to the school board in an organized fashion.  The parents in the planning sessions (which became the Homelink Parent Committee) believed that the current level the district was already taking for "administrative costs" should be reduced to a level more consistent with programs across the state, thus allowing Homelink students to feel a minimal impact from the state cuts.

We acknowledged then and now that we do not have all the facts and that there are many factors that come into play when it comes to the school district budget.  However, it was apparent to all that we needed more transparency from the district regarding how the FTE (state money per student) allocation was being disbursed between the district and Homelink.  We wanted the families to be more aware of the situation so we spent several days calling families and inviting them to the June 27th board meeting.  We estimate that there were approximately 50-60 parents at the school board meeting.

Here is one of the three statements that we presented to the board (note: we had prepared four, and four parents signed in on the agenda to speak but after the third parent, the board moved on to other topics):

Home Link students bring in about 2.8 million FTE allocation dollars into the district.  The district retains 33% of that…approximately $924,000.  We understand that retaining a portion of the allocation is standard protocol and necessary to cover costs that are shared across the district, or are Home Link specific expenses.  We were curious what the customary practice was in programs similar to ours, so we have spent a few days talking with other programs and have learned that 33% is substantially higher than other programs of similar size and structure as Home Link.  We were unable to contact all PPP’s since most of them with less than 150 students have already closed for the summer, so we cannot say with certainty that there aren’t other PPP’s with similar retention rates as ours, but it is enough to question what purpose the district has for retaining 33% of the funds brought into the school district from Home Link students.  Of the districts we contacted they are all on-site class based and had enrollment levels between 250-470 FTE students.  They average about 15% retention, half of what Deer Park retains.  The highest rate was 26%, but this district also gave an equitable share of all levies to their program.  Other districts also share a portion of their levy funds with their ALE program.   A few of them already know that their district supports their program and will be reducing the percentage even more to offset the budget cuts.   Of course, it’s not as simple as just looking at the percentages, there are many factors that go into the budgeting process, but with HB2065 removing Home Link students from the district’s student/teacher ratio requirement, we think there is room for some movement on the district’s part to offset the budget cuts the state has mandated. 

In conversations with other parents, it all boils down to this:

We want the board to understand that the amount of funding the school district keeps for "administrative costs" is severely out of line with the rest of the programs in the state.  We need assurances that you will be working to correct this.  We know there are obligations that will prevent immediate reductions, but we need to see due diligence and a plan to get us in line with standard protocol of programs across the state.

We need immediate assurance that the district will make necessary adjustments to ensure that our classes will continue at the level we currently operate under.

We need assurances that there will be funds available for the purchase of our educational material; curriculum that falls within state regulations but still gives us freedom of choice to educate our children in a manner that we, as the primary teachers of our students, choose.

We need assurances that the district will keep our staff ratio at a level that puts us into the lower 10% budget cut that OSPI has placed on us and that allows us to continue to operate at a level which we are accustomed.

We need assurances that the district and the board value our children, our families, and this program as an integral part of the Deer Park School District.

In summary, our concern is this: We believe that since the district is already taking an administrative cut that is significantly higher than state-wide practices, that the district can and should financially bear the burden of the state budget cut. We fear that the district is allowing our children to bear the burden by making cuts in services that damage the integrity of the Home Link program. We are concerned that the district doesn't understand that should this be how they choose to handle the situation, families will exit the program, seek other options for their children and the result will be a further deterioration of the program.

1 comment:

  1. This is all very frustrating to me. It seems that the "people in charge" are forgetting that a large percentage of homeschoolers do so out of a Faith-based point of view. Not money. Not numbers. My children are priceless and the only "roll sheet" I am concerned with is The Book of Life. I am sorry to hear that the district is so focused on numbers that they are missing the point of education.