AFE Board Discussions

School Board Response to Richards Community

May 5, 2017
Dear Community Members,

Board President Anne Kearney, Director of Business Services Shawn Yde and myself, John Thomsen, District Administrator, have compiled a collective response to your questions, to the extent that the questions can be answered at this time. There are two narrative portions that provide a majority of the information requested.

You will see some enrollment data included, but please know that our enrollments ebb and flow on a daily basis. The final sectioning (class sizes) are determined once we get closer to the end of summer. With respect to sectioning, in our review of recent elementary class size the District has not run classes over 26 students. The typical range is 21-25 students. No one is recommending we deviate from that practice. Also know that attempts are made to balance classes and to support students and teachers through additional support staff when appropriate.

Part One – Board Strategic Response

We appreciate your investment in your children’s education and in the Whitefish Bay schools. You should know that the district administration and the School Board are guided in their decision- making by The District Focus Plan that calls for “student-centered” “educational excellence” for all students in our district. This means, of course, that we look for excellence, equity, and a whole-child environment in all our schools.

You mention the May 10th deadline in your letter as a final decision point. Please know that May 10th is not the final staffing determination point. Although a staffing plan is likely to be approved on that date, the staffing plan is often modified in mid to late summer based upon updated enrollment counts. If the class size grows too large, we can add an extra teacher after that date; however state law mandates that we cannot take a teacher away after May 10.

There appears to be some confusion about elementary class sizes in the past and we would like to clear up any misunderstanding. The administration and School Board value small class sizes as is shown by past data. For instance, class sizes have historically ranged from 21-25 students in grades K4 through 5 at both Richards and Cumberland. Periodically, a section may run slightly below or slightly above those numbers. At this point in time, we do not anticipate a change in our practice and the administration will be working literally up to the first day of school, if necessary, to adjust sectioning to achieve balanced class sizes.

It is possible that you see the balancing work being done at the administrative level and the board level as a “fix.” However, we see this work as maintaining the delicate balance that state revenue caps (keeping taxes in line), current state funding, a desire for robust and equitable educational experiences for children, as well as a sustainable compensation model for our staff, all require.

Most of your questions inquire about class size. Those questions are best answered by reference to the District Class Size Policy, 343.2, which states as follows: “It is the intent of the School Board to establish the ratio of students to teachers at such a level as to reflect the educational needs of children and also the availability of community resources.” Unfortunately, your questions requesting detailed information about enrollment data and sectioning cannot be answered at this time because they are premature.

Having said this, we do know that the total number of students at Richards for 2017-2018 currently stands at 605 students. This compares to 663 students with 28 full time sections in 2016-2017; 696 students in 2015-2016 with 29.5 full time sections; 699 students with 31 full time sections in 2014- 2015; and 722 students with 32 full time sections in 2013-2014. We look at enrollment over a 3-year period and make projections using a well-regarded software program. However, these are only projections and must await the reality of the number of children that are sent to district schools.

Finally, you discuss communication and collaboration. We are happy that we have had this opportunity to communicate with you as a follow up to the lengthy discussion at the school board meeting on April 26, 2017. To the extent that you have additional direct questions, we will do our best to answer them. As for collaboration, we welcome collaboration with parents. In the past, parents have been generous in supporting our schools by referenda, by renovating our sports fields, by supporting the arts, by providing classroom equipment, by raising funds for extracurricular groups, as well as by volunteering in schools. The quality of our District would not be the same if not for the incredible support and passion of our parents, which is shown in your outreach on this issue.

Hopefully, you saw at the school board meeting that the members of the administration and Board care deeply about our students, staff, and schools. The Board and administration will continue to work diligently to maintain the level of excellence that is expected in Whitefish Bay. We have attempted to answer your short-term inquiries, but some of your questions require a long-term strategic process as long-term interests are at stake. We look forward to a continuing conversation.

Part Two – Administration Staffing Process Overview

The purpose of this brief staffing update is to provide data and some analysis of enrollment projections and how the information is used in the budget development process.

Background: The District starts its budget development by doing enrollment projections in October. The projections (provided to the Board in Oct.) are refined in the early spring when each of the buildings goes through its early registration process. Those updated spring projections become the basis for contract renewals or non-renewals that by statute must be issued preliminarily in April and then the required final notices must be issued in May. Once contracts are issued the district is unable to reduce the full-time instructional staff.

Please realize this State imposed deadline does not stop the enrollment review process. The D istrict approves a projected staffing FTE (Full Time Equivalency) report which becomes the basis for the District’s budget development process in early May, but the District enrolls students from early May until the start of the school year. The estimates that were based on the early registration are monitored right up to the start of the school year. We have had enrollment increases or decreases prior to the start of school. We have hired additional teaching staff right up to the first day of school. The May deadline (contract issuance) establishes the floor for staffing; although not ideal for multiple reasons, the District is still able to add staff, during the summer, if deemed necessary.

Class Size History: We have reviewed Whitefish Bay’s class size numbers for the majority of the last 23 years. At the Elementary level our class sizes have been between a low of 17 students and high of 26 students. A class size of 17 students occurred once and a class size of 26 students occurred 6 times. Certainly those class sizes are outliers. A review of the data indicates that our class sizes are normally somewhere between 21-25 students per class at the elementary level. In fact, we have classes of 25 students at Cumberland in both second and third grade this current year. Also know that attempts are made to balance classes and support students and teachers though additional support staff when appropriate.

A more recent factor related to enrollment is the discontinuation of the Chapter 220 program. As we lose approximately 20 students per year because of the sunsetting of this program, we will likely see a decrease in enrollment.

Budget Implications: As described earlier, we start the budget process using enrollment projections to develop budget estimates. These projections indicated an increase of 25 students, which has been used for the estimated revenue cap projections. Based on registrations and current projections, the enrollment looks as though it will decrease by 26 students. This would result in the District’s revenue limit estimate being 51 students lower than estimated in the three-year enrollment average through the State’s revenue limit calculations. The state revenue limit formula provides Whitefish Bay with $11,239 per pupil and the District would lose the ability to generate revenue associated with the loss of students (the ability to tax for that money). In other words, our revenue limit would be reduced by an additional $191,073 in 2017-18. If the District were to add staff beyond the amount currently budgeted it would need to increase expenditures to do so. A full-time instructional staff member is in the range of $78,000 with family benefits.

Longer Term Effects: The fiscal impact would not just be felt during the 2017-18 budget. In 2018-19 the District’s revenue cap would be reduced by 34 students (revenue cap loss of $382,146) and the full impact is realized in the third year when the District finally would feel the impact of the full loss associated with a loss of 51 students ($573,220).

Effectively managing enrollment and staffing is vital to Whitefish Bay’s efforts to provide quality education. The District will quickly slide into financial distress by not staffing appropriately, yet could diminish educational quality if it understaffs. Class size has been an ongoing priority for the District. Our comprehensive enrollment predictions and budgeting process (which delays some final staffing decisions until August) have been successful over the years in maintaining favorable class sizes, at all four schools, while planning a fiscally responsible budget.

Part Three – Questions Addressed

  1. What is the current projected 2017-2018 enrollment, by grade based on most current data? E.g. where are we seeing the distribution of non-returning students by grade?See chart in question 2.
  2. What is the current K4 enrollment data (if not included in the above response)?

 

Cumberland

Richards

6-Mar

3-May

7-Mar

3-May

74

77

 JK

62

67

94

101

SK

84

86

94

95

1st

99

96

119

117

2nd

98

100

115

115

 3rd

79

80

121

121

 4th

88

91

111

106

 5th

90

89

728

732

 Total

600

609

  1. Based upon the most current registration/enrollment data (“current data,”) what grades will see teacher elimination?This is yet to be determined. We are monitoring all grade levels and will make these determinations at a later date.
  2. Based upon current data, are losses of sections the only option to absorb the loss of these teaching positions?That is how it has been historically done in the past due to the fiscal impact. This is described in more detail in the narratives. Other considerations would require a longer term strategic look by the School Board.
  3. If not, what alternatives are being considered? Have multi-age classrooms, redistricting, or a temporary pause on non-essential electives been considered?Multi-age classrooms were considered by the Board years ago and were not pursued. Non- essential electives might mean different things to different people, but in the Board’s view electives are not expendable. Our desire is to maintain a high quality comprehensive program that addresses the whole child and all aspects of the Focus Plan.
  4. Could the increase in teachers to the other schools be temporarily postponed instead of the loss of the teachers at Richards?The increase in staffing at other schools is directly related to current specific course enrollment. These positions require specific teacher certifications, desired prior experience(s), and specific teacher skill sets. Postponing or reassigning teachers to different levels would not align with state statue (certification) or the strategic needs of the District.
  5. What type of enrollment numbers would be required to reinstate these positions? E.g. if there were 25 new registrants before May 10th, would that be enough, or what numbers do we need?Our enrollments ebb and flow on a daily basis. In our review of recent elementary class size the District has not run classes over 26 students. The typical range is 21-25 students. No one is recommending we deviate from that practice. The final sectioning (class sizes) are determined once we get closer to the end of summer.
  6. What is the number of students per section the District/School Board is comfortable allowing, per grade?This is covered in the narrative and the answer above.
  7. What information is being used to make determinations on optimal class sizes per grade?

We have maintained our current class size practice as we value small class sizes. The Board has engaged in public school advocacy addressing the funding of schools in a manner that allow these practices to continue.

  1. Are you willing to collaborate with parents to get creative on how to not eliminate these positions and meet budget challenges?We are always willing and eager to collaborate. We work through a lengthy budget development process to ensure our resources align with our goals and priorities. Class size has always been a priority in the budget process.
  2. Does the District intend to communicate with the impacted families the approximate class sizes they will be facing in the fall? If so, when? How often will it be updated? How will this be communicated?Final determination on sectioning/class sizes is determined later in the summer and in some cases adjustments are made days before school begins. Since this is a very fluid process, communicating before final enrollments are known makes that process very difficult.
  3. If the District does not intend to communicate prospective class size increases in advance of the school year, they will likely be faced with additional families leaving the District; has the District/Board considered the long term effects of the loss of these families to the District?We anticipate the Board having a larger strategic discussion on the budget process, enrollment, sectioning, fiscal resources, priorities and overall sustainability. Our goal is to remain a District of Destination for families and employees.
  4. Has the District/Board taken into consideration that enrollment and class sizes fluctuate significantly year by year and a one-year “fix” may result in much longer term impacts- loss of families, quality teachers, reputation, etc?See above response
  5. What is the District/Board doing to better anticipate these changes in enrollment?Our enrollment trends are being further studied so we gain a better insight on future projections and the “why” behind the apparent dip in student enrollments at Richards.
  6. Are the cause(s) for the declining enrollment at Richards being tracked and if so, what are they?Our initial look reveals that most families have relocated to another community and are sending their children to those public schools. We will know more once we complete a more detailed analysis.

Sincerely,

John W. Thomsen, District Administrator

Anne Berleman Kearney, School Board President