Maximizing financial resources to support improved academic results
The Littlestown Area School District is a rural School District located in south central Pennsylvania close to the Gettysburg National Park. The District has a student population of 2,100 students with four buildings located on one campus. Over the past four years as the economy experienced difficulty and State and Federal resources have declined, the District put in place a focused strategy that has resulted in continued financial resources to support improved academic results. How has the District done it, and what are the results?
Starting in 2009, the administrative team, supported by the Board of Education, adopted a focused strategy to assist with fiscal constraints caused by reduced revenue while at the same time facing increased academic accountability coming from the State and “No Child Left Behind” requirements.
The entire administrative team was assembled and the focused strategy was explained. From that point forward, when building the yearly general fund budget, the budget is approached as a target. At the center of the target is a bulls-eye. The bulls-eye is instruction; factors that impact learning the most based upon research and in turn impacts academic results. When making decisions regarding the placement of resources in the budget and eventually expenditures, the focus is the bulls-eye; instruction and learning. When the District initially began reducing staff, the reductions were approached using the target as a guide. Positions were placed on the spheres surrounding the bulls-eye based on their impact upon learning. Positions furthest from having a direct impact on learning were reduced first. Those with the greatest impact were not reduced. In fiscal years 2010-2011 and 2011-2012, the District reduced secretarial and custodial positions and reduced bus routes by maximizing the number of students assigned to buses while still within State capacity guidelines.
Following the same focused strategy, the District reduced some teaching positions through attrition; however, has not furloughed any teachers, reduced any programs, or increased elementary class size. In fact, the smallest K-5 class size is 15 students and largest 24. When making teacher assignments and looking at attritional reductions those were made at the secondary level. Using class size research and the focused approach using a target as the strategy, reductions were made in areas further away from the core areas, Math, Science, Social Studies, and English/Language Arts. Reductions were made in areas where the program was not compromised by the reduction and there have been no reductions in the Arts.
During the same period; all personnel received contractually driven pay increases and the same applied to administrative personnel. Support and professional salary increases ranged from 2.5 percent to 3.1 percent per year. Some administrators received larger increases; however, the determining factor in the amount of raise for instructional administrators was student assessment results and raises for non-instructional administrators, facility, human resources, cafeteria, transportation, athletics, and business manager was directly tied to budgetary savings in the support areas that could be transferred to the instructional part of the general fund budget or minimize reductions in support areas. For example, due to significant savings in electrical use and natural gas by changing start up and shut down times with heating, the facility manager received raises at the high end of the performance scale, or the 4 percent range. The business manager for savings garnered renegotiating natural gas and electricity contracts, and special education student transportation costs, also received increases in the 4 percent range. The entire administration operates on a performance pay plan tied to academic results and/or fiscal savings.
Below are the results the District has experienced based upon following a focused strategy of yearly budget development maximizing available resources to support improved academic results and at the same time being conscious of limiting the increased burden to taxpayers.
In the 2014-2015 budget process, staff are now ingrained in the process and barring significant reductions not anticipated from the State, the focused strategy emphasizing learning and strategically positioning revenue, the District will have a smooth budget year and continue to maximize scarce resources in support of learning. Included also is the link to Pennsylvania’s School Performance Profile where you can research the district’s success compared to other similar school districts in the State. Just as the district continuously examines the budget from year to year to maximize resources, the District does the same with examining academic results in order to improve learning for every student, every day, every way.
Donald J. Wills is superintendent of the Littlestown Area School District