Tuesday, August 16, 2011


So we've come to the end of this stage of the journey. We want to thank each of you for taking the time to carefully weigh the various options in parent partnerships, and for being willing to consider a newly forming program with East Valley School District. This has been a heartwrenching process and as a parent group, we do not take lightly the toll this has taken on many families. We feel it important to share with you that even within our parent group, there are some families that are moving forward to help pioneer a new program with East Valley, and some that are choosing to remain at Deer Park to be advocates for change and rebuilding. We recognize that every family will make their own choice, but our hope and prayer is that everyone will be able to do so without criticism or judgement from anyone.

From this point forward this blog will be utilized primarily as a means of communication for those families that are choosing to switch to East Valley. There will be lots of planning and new information, and we'll need feedback from the families who will be enrolled with East Valley. We look forward to being able to form a program on a firm foundation with a district that so highly values alternative education, and know that the families who have enrolled with East Valley so far, feel the same.

Thursday, August 11, 2011


Thank you for being willing and taking the time to research your options for homeschooling your children this year. We have updated the blog AGAIN to include information from the Tuesday informational meeting with East Valley. It's on a separate tab just above this section. We will include a similar page after the Deer Park parent meeting this Thursday in our continuing effort to provide families with information on their choices.

Please also participate in the two polls posted on the right. These are simply to gather information and to get an idea of how to best proceed with program development.

There is also the ability to make comments on each post. Keep in mind that we are here to present information and have open, honest discussion, NOT belittle or criticize each other for making personal decisions about how we educate our children. We would ask that everyone remember their family goals for homeschooling and respect that that answer will be different for everyone.

You may have a lot of questions that are not answered in detail here on the blog. Feel free to post questions in the comment area and we will try to address them in a timely fashion.

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.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

What are my options?

After the school board meeting in June, the Superintendent met with the Parent Committee to discuss their concerns.  Then a meeting was called by the Superintendent to include the Parent Comittee and the Site Council to present some financial changes for the upcoming school year (2011-2012).  We were anxious to see how our specific concerns had been addressed, only to be told that the entire funding formula at the state level has changed and so our understanding of percentages no longer applied in the same manner.

Another meeting followed on August 1st, which included the Parent Committee, Site Council, Carol VanWormer, Becky Cooke, and John Glenewinkel (superintendent of East Valley Schools).  At this meeting the concerns for the program funding were very clearly stated, and John Glenewinkel was very helpful with providing an objective view of how Homelink operates.  The meeting did provide discussion of a new possibility, that East Valley could participate in a transition year for Homelink, with the intention of taking over the program (under district hosting), while allowing it to remain in the buildings at Deer Park.

By the end of the meeting, we were able to get some answers on several things that give us an idea of how the program in Deer Park will look in the fall.  These are confirmed to the best of our ability, although with continuing changes, there may be additional adjustments to the following:
  • Shorten the school year by 4 weeks for non-academic students (saves $10,000/week)
  • Limit students to 5 classes per week, which allows the elimination of 40-50 classes (saves $1000/class)
  • Increase classroom supply budget to previous levels.
  • Shorter day due to no bussing before or after classes, while keeping lunchtime bussing (saves $25,000)
  • A reduced curriculum allottment of $250 per student (with possible exceptions made for high-need students)
  • No private lessons outside of Home Link classes per the Board 
  • Two full-time and one part-time consultants laid off at the end of the school year, and one retired that will not be replaced (two vacant consultant positions will be re-hired if enrollment numbers remain at previous levels)
The day after the above mentioned meeting, Becky Cooke stated that she would like to return allotment levels to $500/student, but would require enrollment of at least 400 students to convince the board to dip into reserves to fund those allotments.  It was again communicated to Becky that Homelink is already a "stand alone" program. In actuality, it is the other buildings that are dependent on the funds that Homelink brings into the district. In that light, the reserve is not being tapped into in order to "save Homelink", but to serve the other buildings that have become dependent on Homelink dollars, so that Homelink can continue to operate. The fact is that if Homelink were to suffer greatly in enrollment, affecting the entire district, the reserves would be accessed in a hearbeat to save the other building programs. This is a disparity that seems to indicate loud and clear that Homelink is less valuable than the rest of the district.


So what can parents/families do if they are unsatisfied with the changes to DP Homelink?  The superintendent at East Valley School District is very willing to host our program which would provide the following for families that switch:
  • Budgeted $500 per student curriculum allotment.
  • Will rent a facility on the North side of Spokane (looking into locations already)
  • Students enrolled in EV district can join any district program like the Aviation High School at Felts Field, or utilize their EV Online or Virtual Learning Options.
  • Although state has eliminated private lessons, they are willing to think outside the box and look at options like contracting with private studios or instructors - as long as it is permissible within the laws.
  • Willing to start a parent-driven, student-centered program with a minimum of 50 students, with 300 students the program would look and feel very similar to DP Homelink, with 500 students John is confident his district could provide "a Cadillac program".
  • Superintendent of EV has years of experience starting and running ALE programs.
  • Board Chairman's wife works for District 81's Homelink Program (TEC), and has a passion for alternative learning. He also has four more years as an unopposed chairman.
  • EV believes it is possible to grow a program right after state budget cuts rather than reduce a program.
  • They are willing to financially carry the program until we can grow and support ourselves.
Many parents believe that East Valley School District is better equipped and prepared to support a parent partnership that is dedicated to providing for its students.  The educational philosophy of EV is vastly different than that of DP, serving a number of ALE programs which are all created to serve the individual needs of the enrolled students.

Many details are still being worked out on a daily basis. Ultimately, we have had open and transparent conversations with EV’s Superintendent, Board President and Business Manager. They are extremely supportive of alternative learning, providing the best education for each child and allowing the parents to be involved.

If you are interested in exploring what EV  has to offer, please consider taking action in the following ways:
  • Attend an informational meeting with EV Superintendent John Glenewinkel on Tuesday, August 9th, frm 7-9pm at Crossover Church (on Hwy 2, across from Cat Tales).
  • Using the "contact us" page at the EV website, tell them you would like to enroll for this fall -- this does NOT obligate you to switching programs, it simply gives EV a known quantity of interested families for planning purposes, as well as communicates to DP Homelink/Becky Cooke that you are willing to switch districts.