Sno w Crew

Superintendent's Blue Devil Blog: 1/7/22

HAPPY NEW YEAR!

Hello, Blue Devils! I am trying something new this year on Fridays. I will be giving you some insight into the Superintendent's job, my personal Blue Devil experience, and end with a Covid-19 update.

(PICTURE: 2022 Kenny Jackson from the Fabulous Snow Crew)


Superintendent’s Financial State of the District

The budget process and all information used to create the budget can be found in the District Budget Information Packet that was recently released in December, as well as on the Corvallis School District website. It is intended to provide our community members with a snapshot of all of the information that is considered in preparing the upcoming year's budget. It is our pleasure to provide information to our community members about the thoughtful and deliberate process which has resulted in the 2021-2022 budget.

The budget is an important document that serves several purposes:

 * A public information document;

 * An accountability tool as it is reported and audited annually;

 * An outline of proposed district actions;

 * A description of the educational plan and the resources required to support the plan.

 

This budget serves as an outline of the district's revenue and expenses. It also serves as both a policy document and a practical day-to-day guidance tool. It is an expression of our district's educational programming communicated in dollars.

I am thankful for our new Director of Business Services, Jolene Tollenaar, and the business services team composed of Laura Gates, Lyndi Henson, and Heather Smart. In addition, I want to thank our cabinet team members as they have played a vital role in carrying out our budget plan in accordance with our strategic plan.

Additionally, I want to thank our Corvallis School Board for the guidance they have provided and support throughout the process. With their participation, the community's interests are interpreted. This is a major component of our democracy which is built on the action from elected representatives of our local community. Recently, the school board has developed a Finance Committee. These meetings are open to the public and we encourage your participation.

 

Current Assumptions

 In preparing the 2021-2022 budget the district assumed the following, and you will note that some of these assumptions are connected to the response of COVID19:

* Budget was based on a sudden decline in students. After gaining 171 students in seven years (2013-2020), we lost 178 students during Covid-19 (2020-2021). From July 2021 to December 2021 we have gained back over 70 students. ESSER funds are used to support schools through the COVID pandemic in several capacities, and loss of enrollment is one such facet. Growth of enrollment by 2% annually for the past 7 years (2013-2020) prior to the COVID19 pandemic illustrates the valley is growing.

* State legislature approved 1.5% and 2.57% inflationary increases over the biennium. New legislation allowing districts to increase the starting salary for new teachers will bring in approximately an additional $70,000 to the general fund.

* Rolling the entire 2020-2021 general educational program budget into the 2021-2022 school year requires an additional $80,000 in spending after negotiations and contractual obligations are met.

 

Budget Setting Process

As per the district's Strategic Plan which sets forth an annual budget setting process that includes public involvement, the district will hold several community meetings related to the budget.

* October-January -- Monthly budget meetings to support setting the budget

* January 2022 -- State of the district & Budget Forecast for FY2022 released

* February 2022 -- Proposed Budget for FY 2022 Finalized After Student Enrollment and Budget Projections for 2022-2023

* February 2022 -- Special Board Meeting: Budget Recommendation and Board Action

* August 2022 -- Final Budget Ratified

More information can be found on our website: www.corvallisschools.org. After listening to public comments and the options set forth in the February board meetings, the School Board will then take action.

 

Staffing

Due to multiple years of increasing enrollment, the number of Full Time Equivalent (FTE) in Corvallis Schools has increased. During the pandemic, we incurred a loss of over 100 students. Federal funds have been given to school districts to support us through the pandemic. All school districts created a plan for this allotted money. Plans included sections that pertain to mitigating COVID. The plan addresses learning loss, safety mitigations, staff retention and recruitment, and more.

Our plan is on our school district website you can view it by clicking the menu and then "Covid-19 Updates." We are currently overstaffed for the current enrollment, but we are supporting mitigation strategies as outlined by our Return to School Plan.

Like other districts across Montana, Corvallis School District is finding it more and more difficult to recruit and retain teachers and other necessary staff members. We have continually used the standard of 85% of the general fund budget spent on staff who work with our students. In order to recruit and retain good people, Corvallis School District has made efforts to increase salaries.

For the upcoming budget year of 2022-2023, our district may see an increase in enrollment. Recouping the 171 students from the spring of 2020 is a priority. As of printing in December of 2021, we have increased our enrollment by 70 students. Unfortunately, being over 100 students down, if we do not see drastic increases in student enrollment the FTE will need to decrease.

Spreading the loss of students or the Average Number Belonging (ANB) and connecting that to the required Full Time Equivalency (FTE) over the next two years, we are using our ESSER Funds to keep students safe, attack learning loss, and mitigate the loss of funds over a longer period of time. We will continue to feel the repercussions that the COVID19 pandemic has had on schools and our budget for years to come.

 

Facilities

A facilities bond proposal for building a new school has been put on hold as we battle through the effects of the COVID19 pandemic. We are currently revisiting this bond proposal and getting feedback from the community which will be vital to the direction we take as a school district.

Even with the student population being over 100 students down from March of 2020, we need to address facilities as soon as possible, and the current board members agree. Please visit our upcoming board meetings to learn more.

 

Review of Spending for Covid-19 Philosophy

I feel a brief review of our budget philosophy from last year is warranted as we delve into budget projects for the upcoming year. Covid-19 Pandemic wreaked havoc on several aspects of the budget process as well as every aspect of providing an education to our students.

In March of 2020 schools were shut down statewide due to the Covid-19 Pandemic. Educators began providing education to students remotely. We quickly found out that remote teaching could be done, but we all would agree that face-to-face instruction is the best. In the summer, Governor Bullock issued a Return to School Plan, as well as State Superintendent Elise Artnzen at the time. Schools were required to create their own plan based on guidance from these government agencies. In July, Governor Bullock issued a state-wide mask mandate that excluded schools. Then, the Corvallis School School Board made the decision to implement a mask mandate. Two weeks following the Corvallis School Board's decision, Governor Bullock extended the statewide mask mandate to include schools. Along with the new Covid procedures and required mask mandate families had a choice about education for the upcoming 2020-2021 school year: on-site learning, or remote learning. Unfortunately, many families did not like either option for their children, and 171 students were pulled from the Corvallis School District in order to be homeschooled. As all of us know, enrollment is the greatest contributing factor to school budgets. These 171 students represented roughly $1.1 million dollars. This was a major hit to our budget. Luckily, the state and federal governments understood that Covid-19 had a major impact on education. Over $4.1 million dollars was given to Corvallis School District to mitigate the effects of Covid-19.

As we returned to school in the fall of 2021, it was uncertain how many of the 171 students would be returning. We had to make some difficult decisions. We bet on students returning because our Return to School Plan aligned more with our community, especially the families that represented those 171 students. Sadly, many of these 171 students didn't return which is unfortunate for the current students and staff as more difficult decisions will need to be made on cutting staffing and programs. Our enrollment has increased by 80 students since July 16, 2021. Here is our current enrollment, which we track weekly, as of December 24, 2021:

Here is a brief list of past assumptions and decisions we made last year that affect our budget this year and the ensuing years:

 1. Students Will Return - We believed students would return which would restore our budget projections. We kept all staff as we believed firing then rehiring staff when students returned would be difficult. With an 80 student increase over the past six months, this was partially true. Currently, we are overstaffed.

 2. Digital Learning Academy: Online Learning Supports Families in Need - We continue to believe that many families would like to continue online learning for a plethora of reasons: health reasons, family lifestyle, and more. We also believe online learning will be a part of all public schools at some point in the near future. If public schools do not provide an online learning option, then out of state companies soon will. We have currently dedicated 1.5 FTE to supporting our remote learning students. Currently, we do not have enough students to sustain this program. We are hoping for more students in the spring of 2022.

3. COVID-19 Mitigation Strategy: Added Personnel - With over $4.1 million coming directly to our school district, we added personnel to mitigate the effects of Covid on learning as well as our health. We added almost 9 FTE to support this mitigation: an additional school nurse, daytime janitors, remote teachers, full-time substitute teachers, an additional counselor, and additional paraprofessional support. Most districts in the nation added personnel to support the mitigation efforts. Mental health in Montana, as the CSCT program was underfunded and lost in many school districts, is a major factor in many districts' decisions to hire additional counselors. Currently, we are overstaffed and will need to make cuts as we are nearly 95 students short of enrollment from March of 2020.

 4. Salary Increases - Knowing that our student population had been growing by 2% annually, federal funding would help us absorb lost students, and the competitive job market in our valley and state, we felt it necessary to compensate our staff. Corvallis sits at the bottom of the 23 Class A school districts in many facets of our salaries. In addition, the applicant pool to fill our classified positions is direct competition with grocery stores, fast food restaurants, and more. There is a worker shortage in the majority of our classified positions. If we don't pay competitive salaries, we will lose good people.

 

Budget Cuts

Last year, with support from some of the top business managers and consultants in Montana, we devised a plan to get us through the Covid-19 Pandemic. A major focus of our plan was putting finances into people and maintaining the programs and opportunities for our students through the enrollment fluctuation and pandemic variables. We knew if we did not get students back, a series of budgetary cuts over the next three years would be necessary to keep our budget balanced. This stair approach is intricate as it takes into account a multitude of factors. We have built the budget from a conservative standpoint, and the worst-case scenario of a flat-lined enrollment projection. This may seem counterintuitive as we were optimistic that the families that pulled their students during the pandemic would return, but that is not the case, unfortunately. The three largest variables that are difficult to predict in the ensuing year's budgets are as follows:

 1. Student Enrollment - 2% increase annually between 2013-2020. Then unexpectedly, 171 students left Corvallis School District from March to September of 2020.

 2. 2023 Legislature - Possible increases in the funding formula due to inflation, and other funding sources, are determined that affect school budgets.

 3. Levy and Bond Proposals - We will need to determine if an operating levy is appropriate and necessary to support our future budget projections, as well as determining when we should push out a bond proposal to build a new school.

We have already started reviewing and prioritizing the budget cuts and will continue over the next three years. This means we will review every position, program, and budget. Our goal is to keep as much continuity of services and opportunities for our students as possible.

There is a great amount of stress when schools look at making cuts. Everyone wants to know if they will be cut and how the cuts will affect them. It is no secret that we lost 171 students which directly impacts the number of staff we have employed, as well as the fact that we added positions to mitigate Covid. With those two facts evident, the stair step approach to budget cuts each year will hopefully be minimized by 2023 with the three factors listed above (enrollment, legislative increases, and a possible levy). Again, we are building a conservative budget and are planning for the worst case scenario where student enrollment is stagnant, the legislature gives minimal increases, and we decide to not go for a levy.

 

Conclusion

The 2021-2022 budget was developed in coordination with cabinet members and the Corvallis School Board. With that in mind, it was built on a growing student population after losing over 100 students from the previous year. There are many variables still at play with the global pandemic. The use of federal aid, ESSER funds, to support us through until fall of 2023 directly impacts our budget as well.

The information contained in District Information Budget Packet<https://docs.google.com/presentation/d/1jOnWb4iUBHgh8QVLToIJ9EzejLTHs2KcZZdo1Wi0pUY/edit#slide=id.gfb9ac27446_0_0> will help our School Board, community, and staff decide on the next steps in developing the 2022-2023 school budget. The largest hurdles will be continuing to recoup the loss of students and coping with the effects of the pandemic.

We will continue to be challenged by increasing costs. Without the student population increasing back to the level of spring 2020, I fear that we will not be able to sustain the comprehensive PK-12 programming and extensive extracurricular offerings that our community is proud of and expects.

We must continue to refine our vision that includes building a strong culture, holding our students and staff accountable to high academic standards, and devising a budget (that includes building a school and retaining the exceptional staff) to best educate the students in our school district. We continue to strive to make Corvallis School District the best place to work and learn.

I am committed to the Corvallis School District Strategic Plan that focuses on academic excellence, college and career readiness, positive school climate, technology, community engagement, and support. We will continue to do the best we can with the resources we have available to make the Strategic Plan come true within the proposed budget.

District Information Budget Packet

The District Information Budget Packet for the 2021-2022 school year was published recently and can be found on our website on the District Finances page: https://www.corvallisschools.org/page/district-finances.

 

COVID UPDATE: 1/7/22

Total Active Cases as of Today: 7 ( PS= 0, MS= 1, HS= 1, OTHER = 1) -- 

Total Active Cases Last Friday: 2

Total in Quarantine as of Today: 8 -- Total in Quarantine Last Friday: 3

 

Our next regularly scheduled school board meeting will be on MONDAY, January 10th. We will start with a special session at 6:00 PM, and the regular board meeting starts at 7:00 PM in the library.

 I have an open-door policy, please come visit me at the Central Office.

 

Jon Konen, Superintendent

"Culture eats strategy for breakfast" -- Peter Drucker