School board looks for money-saving ideas
District 51 school board members brainstormed ideas for saving money, expanding alternative options and revamping social studies Thursday evening during a three-hour retreat at the district’s Basil T. Knight Center.
Most of the evening’s suggestions came from the board’s newest members, Ann Tisue and Jeff Leany. Leany suggested the district look into both a shorter summer break and a four-day week, consider bringing experts in a subject into a classroom to teach even if they aren’t certified instructors, giving principals more freedom to shuffle teachers within school positions and making public a “report card” on district progress, possibly in advertising on a billboard. Leany said he would also like to see changes in civics and history instruction in the district.
“I think we can do better on educating our kids on how awesome our country is and how awesome our history is. Our kids don’t know nothing when it comes to government,” Leany said.
Tisue supported the idea of changing history instruction to include more instruction on the U.S. constitution. She also wants to see more focus on critical thinking and entrepreneurship in District 51 classrooms, plus more choices for what the district calls academic options, or alternative programming. Tisue said there are a plethora of options at the high school level, but she would like to see more options in all grades for specializing in subjects ranging from the arts to science, technology, engineering and math.
“My vision would be to have a choice school within 15 minutes for anyone in the valley,” she said.
Tisue also trumpeted the idea of making testing in local schools “mean something,” possible by having tests to advance in school, and suggested the board direct the district’s citizen budget oversight committee look at further savings potential in the district when the group reconvenes to discuss the 2013-14 budget next month. Board President Greg Mikolai said he wants the committee to review existing reductions and prioritize suggestions past, present and future for ways to trim the budget if that action is necessary for a fifth consecutive year.
District 51 Executive Director of Support Services Melissa Callahan DeVita said cost reductions the district may want to explore, if the committee and the community are interested, include whether the district should lease rather than buy vehicles, change the way district vehicles are maintained, or ask Grand Valley Transit if it would consider partnering in some way on busing.
“In large cities they just use mass transit. There is no school busing,” DeVita said, although the district isn’t likely to go that far with a partnership.
District 51 Superintendent Steve Schultz said district personnel will consolidate and compile a list of ideas suggested at the board retreat and likely present to the board the list and any corresponding findings or suggestions for moving forward at a board business meeting Sept. 18.