By Becky Harvey
OXFORD - The superintendent of the Oxford schools, Allen Himmelberger, began the school committee meeting on March 11 with a Smartboard presentation of the school budget for 2014. In his presentation, he reviewed two separate budgets, a mandatory and an optimal one. Himmelberger stated that the lack of federal funding was making a marked difference in the budget, explaining the need for two proposals.
Districts across the commonwealth have had to spend lots of money in their quest for Race to the Top. Mapping the curriculum to match the national common core standards and complying with the new educator evaluation system has cost much.
The “optimal budget” that Himmelberger put forth represented an increase of about 10% over the prior year’s budget. It would get Oxford as close to perfect (with regards to accountability to the state) as possible. Going over the accountability status of the town’s schools, Himmelberger noted that they rated a level three on a one to five scale. (One being the best of schools and five being the most in-need schools.) This designation has been a catalyst to the school committee to work that much harder to meet the needs of the students. He noted also, that the new educator evaluation system has helped the administration to identify areas that need additional work.
The presentation began with an overview of many of the challenges that the educators face in today’s economy. Himmelberger took note of the differences between students of twenty years ago when compared to the students passing through the halls of the Oxford schools today. He addressed the recession and the burden and strain that it has placed on the families of Oxford. He stated that the schools need to assist families that are struggling with issues like those caused by the recession and joblessness. Additionally addressed were mobility rates (students who come in and out of the school system for various reasons) and the fact that higher-mobility students have lower graduation rates and are, in general, needier. Himmelberger stressed the rather new need for social workers within the school system.
Curriculum planning was another topic hit by the . With all the changes th are happening in education, in general, the way in which students are taught, has evolved. “No longer do we need to teach every state capital or every element on the periodic chart; rather we need to teach the students where to find this information.” With all these changes, Himmelberger noted the need for updating to the curriculum. He stated that what was needed was “time and money,” bringing the discussion back to the budget needs.
“At what level does the town of Oxford want to teach its children?” Himmelberger asked. The townspeople need to decide how much money they are willing to put into the school budget. Things are changing, and to keep up, the funding needs to be made available. Included in the discussion of the level at which Oxford will teach was the information about digital learning. The superintendent reviewed a number of “digital conversion” topics like flipped classrooms, textbook apps and online resources. He invited the public to a panel discussion to be held Thursday the 28th from 6-8pm at the high school to discuss digital conversion topics.
The new proposed “lean” or mandatory budget does not include an additions in staffing, nor does it reflect any losses. Himmelberger noted that 1% of the budget increase represented contractually obligated increases. The FY14 Proposed lean Budget showed only a 2.6% increase over the prior year. Himmelberger noted that not every need would be met, but education would be acceptable with this budget. The second proposed budget, titled “optimal” by the superintendent, represented a 10% increase. This proposal included twenty-two new positions and the absolute best possible education for the students. He stated that this would be the best way to raise the ranking in the accountability status. Most of the money would go toward staffing.
Himmelberger set out both proposals because he felt that the town deserved the opportunity to discuss the importance of the different tracks and decide as a town which direction to take.
Separate from the budget proposals, but just as necessary, was the discussion of capital requests. They included $151,000 for upgrading the security cameras. Other requests included monies for future years, to resurface the athletic track, upgrade the phone system at the middle school and upgrade the network. Himmelberger noted that the middle school phone system is so antiquated that the parts need to be scavenged off of Ebay, due to the fact the parts are no longer commercially available. One question that was raised, but not really addressed was why a situation as desperate as the phone system, which is woefully outdated, was not being addressed prior to the resurfacing of the track or the replacing of working, though not ideal, security cameras. The superintendent himself raised the question, stating that the phone system is essential to the running and safety of the school.
Though the actual numbers from the budget report were not available at the time of printing, they should be available online at oxps.org and The Patriot will make them available online at www.patriotnewspaper.com as soon as they are made public.
A reminder that Supper with the Super is from 6 to 7:30 at the high school next Monday the 18th. Please RSVP to the high school office if you plan to attend.