The Oregon school board is expected to vote on a planned grade reconfiguration at its December 18 meeting.
During a special board meeting held Monday, December 3, Superintendent Dr. Michael Zalar unveiled the district’s plans to reconfigure grades five through eight.
The plan, as it now stands, will have fifth and sixth grade students attending Eisenhower Middle School, which will become an intermediate school. Seventh and eighth grade students would attend Fassett Middle School.
The board has been considering the possible reconfiguration since June. Raising academics, especially in grades five through eight, as well as more stringent common core state standards, which will begin in 2014, are the reasons why the district is considering the changes.
Zalar said at the meeting that the results from a community survey last spring show that respondents want to see the schools receive higher scores on the Ohio Department of Education’s State Report Card.
The district has received an “Effective” rating on the Ohio Department of Education’s State Report Cards for several years. The district has not been able to meet Adequate Yearly Progress, particularly for students with disabilities, on its state report card.
“We have been ‘Effective’ the last 10 years,” Zalar said. “Our middle schools have struggled, primarily at the fifth, sixth, seventh, and eighth grade levels with math being primarily our biggest challenge.”
Zalar said a reconfiguration committee has visited several school districts, such as Anthony Wayne and districts in the Columbus area, with a similar grade configuration as what is being considered in Oregon.
“We found out that the highest percentage of districts that were ranked excellent or excellent with distinction had five, six, and seven, eight grade configurations,” Zalar said. “Seventy-six percent had either an excellent or excellent with distinction status.”
Zalar said the district believes the plan would help students by allowing 20 minutes more time in math instruction and more intervention for students who may be struggling in the subject. Class sizes will stay the same.
“We believe this will help us with assessments and in monitoring students’ progress,” he said. “It will foster a more developmentally age appropriate environment. There is a big difference between a sixth grader and an eighth grader developmentally.”
Zalar added the reconfiguration would allow for more teacher team collaboration time, which has been lost due to the reduction in staff over the last few years.
Zalar explained the plans took into account where the majority of the district’s population is located – in the Fassett/Starr area.
“By locating the junior high in town, it allows for students to be able to walk home after attending extracurricular activities held for the junior high students,” he said.
He is aware that students in the outlying areas of Bono, Reno Beach and Jerusalem Township will have some transportation issues, he said.
“We realize it is not a perfect solution, but it seems to make the most sense in trying to minimize the impact on the majority of parents in the community,” Zalar said. “We recommend there will be no more than one hour maximum for students riding the bus. For those in Reno Beach, Bono and Jerusalem Township, it would be an additional 10 to 15 minutes on the bus.”
The plan, which Zalar called “a good, solid, middle of the road system,” is estimated to cost $550,000 per year. It would be paid for with revenue from the Hollywood Casino and various budget cutbacks.
The district plans to receive $200,000 from casino revenue. An additional $100,000 could be saved through lessening supply purchases and cutting back in other areas of the budget, he said.
Another $260,000 would be saved through “staffing adjustments,” based on the number of retirees in the district and whether those positions would need to be filled, he added.
“This is not to save money,” he said. “It is to provide a better educational learning environment for our kids. Right now we are not performing to the level we want to be at. We are not leveraging or allocating our resources to be the most cost effective or efficient in the district.”
Several members of the audience were not comfortable with the district relying on revenue from the casino.
“It is like buying a house expecting child support money,” one man said.
“Right now, [casino money] is promised and it is reasonable to include it in our plan,” Zalar said. “The state is saying we will receive that by next year. We will be looking at the most cost effective plan to sustain this.”
Treasurer Jane Fruth said the district’s estimate of casino funds has been reduced from what was originally promised.
Rhonda Bliss asked if the board had a contingency plan should the financial plan not come to fruition.
“I think of all of our individual budgets, and most budgets go over the original plan,” Bliss said. “What if we do not get the money from the casino? What if the funds are not saved? I don’t want there to be a levy coming up. What is plan B?”
School Board President P.J. Kapfhammer said the district does not know all of the variables and does not have all of the answers.
“We know that it has been a tough couple years in this district,” Kapfhammer said. “The grades and testing are not where we want them to be. There have been a lot of cuts. We have a different story than other districts. Perrysburg just passed 14 mills. They do not have to cut anything. This district had to make those cuts. The community spoke pretty loudly. We did the cuts and we have seen the results.”
Kapfhammer added that variables in the budget could include additional monies coming from the proposed North America Project Development, LLC $800 million power plant that is expected to be built in the Bayshore area.
“We are not sure if that will happen and we do not know all of the variables,” Kapfhammer said. “We cannot sit back and keep doing the same thing over and over and expect different results. It is time for a change. We don’t have every answer. This board is doing everything in our power to give more to your kids without costing you more. I am asking you to trust the process.”