SIDNEY — Administrators and staff of Sidney City Schools gave two presentations, Wednesday, in the high school auditorium, in an effort to educate the community on the prospective reconfiguration of the school district.
“There are a lot of things we’re trying to do to make the district better, to serve more kids, and to also curve back some expenses at the same time,” said Superintendent Bob Humble.
Humble explained while expenses within the district continue to rise, the district is not receiving any “new money.” He noted the recently-passed renewal levy will not provide any further, or new, funding.
Treasurer Mike Watkins provided a look into the financial details of Sidney City Schools to examine the reasoning behind a district reconfiguration.
Watkins said the decision to bring preschool students back from Shelby Hills Early Childhood Center, which was announced Dec. 6, is not directly responsible for the resolution to reconfigure, but that it does play a role in the change.
“The district reconfiguration was on the horizon,” he said. “The preschool situation just accelerated that.”
Watkins said student population is a “key” contributor to the reconfiguration. He presented a graph detailing district enrollment history dating back to fiscal year 2007, at which time enrollment was totaled at 3,933 students. Current enrollment is totaled at 3,313 students.
“One major source of funding for school districts comes from students; that’s where our state funding comes from,” Watkins said. “That in itself begins to make the district look and ask, ‘Are we configured in our buildings correctly to service this number of students?’”
Watkins then presented a chart detailing a five-year forecast summary for the district. He noted revenues have, and will likely remain, “flat,” or consistent. He attributes this to the “guarantee” of funding through the state, which does not allow a district to lose funding due to a decline in enrollment.
The chart also displays the annual increase in expenses predicted to take place from now until fiscal year 2023, as well as the “carryover balance,” or cash balance, during this period. This balance is shown as decreasing as projected expenses increase and revenue remains stagnant.
At some point, Watkins said, new operating money will be needed, most likely in the form of a levy passed by voters.
In order to request the least amount of funding possible from the community, Sidney City School district is looking for ways to best utilize its existing resources to cut down on the possibility of going into the negative in terms of cash balance.
This is where reconfiguration comes into play.
Brooke Gessler, director of curriculum and instruction, outlined the prospective changes, which begin with moving all fifth-grade students to Sidney Middle School.
According to Gessler, initial advantages of this move include the ability to begin offering band, choir, and orchestra to fifth-graders, and to remove the need for mods at Northwood Elementary.
Next, Gessler said, would be a consolidation of buildings.
This proposal includes consolidating all kindergarten through second-grade students into two buildings: Emerson and Longfellow; all third- through fourth-grade students into Northwood; and all preschool students at Whittier.
“We are expanding an opportunity to educate by adding preschool to the district,” Gessler said. “We also are able to consolidate our resources to have a more unified district.”
Gessler said this “unification” will eliminate the perception of “good, better and best” when comparing elementary schools, and will create a stronger sense of community, as well as an opportunity for equity.
“When you have four different buildings, and you have four different ways that you allocate resources, some of which we use with a federal grant,” Gessler said. “Now, we’re able to consolidate those and to focus those in a way that expands the opportunities programatically for our kids, as far as materials, which we currently struggle with.
“Some elementaries have different monies from a federal grant that’s dependent on the amount of kids they have and the economic needs that they have,” she continued. “Another building may not have the same access to resources given our current configuration. This (change) will provide more equitable access for our kids, for our teachers, and overall for the district.”
As for the move from Shelby Hills, Watkins said the change was “not on the radar” for the district.
“We have had an arrangement with Shelby Hills for a long time for education of our special education preschoolers,” he said.
Any funding allocated for the education of these students at Shelby Hills first flows through the Sidney City School district, according to Watkins.
“The base funding for these IEP (Individualize Education Program) students is $4,000 per student,” he said. “Then, depending on the specific handicap, there is what’s called category funding, which varies based on the severity of the handicap, that’s then added to that base funding.”
The average amount of base funding allocated for these students each year, over the past six years, is $500,909. Sidney City Schools, along with all county schools that have students at SH, is also responsible for any additional funding needed for more personnel or aides, as determined by Shelby Hills. This additional cost averages at $80,734 per year for the district.
Due to a reduction in Shelby Hills own funding, Watkins said, Sidney City Schools was notified that transportation for students would no longer be provided, resulting in the district assuming responsibility for transportation and costs beginning in the 2018-2019 school year. This cost for the year is estimated at $12,500.
More recently, the Shelby County Board of Developmental Disabilities made the decision to decrease allocated funding from its levies to go toward the preschool program from 40 percent to 20 percent.
This results in an increase in charges to the district, which are being phased in over the next four years, Watkins said.
“What that meant for the Sidney City Schools is that from an average of about $80,000 of additional funding per year, it was now going to be half a million dollars per year to go toward the program,” he said. “That’s what prompted us to accelerate the district reconfiguration because that is not an amount that we felt was acceptable for us to contribute.”
With the proposed configuration, the preschool at Wittier would provide 11 classrooms, with one teacher and one aide per room; up to eight students with IEPs, and no more than 16 children per class; morning and afternoon sessions; along with intervention specialists, speech language pathologists, and occupational/physical therapists, all of which would need to be contracted.
As the presentation commenced, visitors were encouraged to direct any questions or comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Attendee Kristen Jones, of Anna, said her four children, two sets of twins, are in the Sidney City School district.
“My two four-year-olds currently go to Shelby Hills and my two second-graders go to Whittier, so it’s a change all around for everybody,” she said.
“I firmly believe that you are about the community and the community is going to be what you make it, so you need to be about the school and support them. I thought this was an excellent presentation; they gave all the factors about the finances and I think that’s very important.”
Tasha Wilson, of Sidney, has two children currently attending Whittier. She also appreciated the presentation.
“I thought it was informative,” she said. “They touched on information that I think is getting misconstrued, as far as dollars, and preschool, and especially about the levy because I think there’s a misconception that the levy that just passed brought in a ton of money when it actually just continued what we already had.”
Cherie Soliday, of Sidney, is a former fourth-grade teacher at Emerson and Longfellow.
“I was hoping for some answers now, and to find out what other people have questions about because it obviously was decided without any feedback from the community, as far as I know,” Soliday said.
“Sidney is such a good town, and the school’s are key to the city,” she continued. “I really hope and pray that this works out.”
A second presentation was held Wednesday night.
Reach the writer at 937-538-4825.