Local schools prepare for big changes

Published on Wed, Apr 30, 2014 by Ian Ferguson

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The Blaine school board bid a heartfelt farewell to outgoing chair Susan Holmes before getting down to the business of complying with new mandates and planning capital improvements for the coming years.

Holmes, who is moving to Ferndale, was honored at the April 28 school board meeting for her six years of service.

“No one in my tenure has shown more knowledge of and dedication to understanding in a very purposeful way what goes on in the classroom day in and day out, and that’s been a tremendous asset to the board and the district,” said superintendent Ron Spanjer. “We thank you for your service.”

“This has been one of my favorite jobs of all times and very hard to say goodbye to,” Holmes said. “We have a wonderful family here of people who care ddeply about what goes on in the daily lives of the students. I feel very honored tonight.”

The director district 3 position left vacant by Holmes’ departure is still open, and any resident of Blaine School District may nominate a candidate. For more information, contact the superintendent’s administrative assistant Tina Padilla at 360/332-0711.

The bulk of the school board meeting was given over to reviewing a list of priorities for facility upgrades. The facility review task force is in the process of deciding which projects should be included in planning for the next five years. Spanjer and operations supervisor Jim Kenoyer, who presented the list to the school board, said the 15-member task force of school district staff and administrators is moving towards a presentation at the end of May that will include a recommendation with needs and targets for the board to consider.

An expansion in the primary school to accommodate a five-day kindergarten program is on the high-priority list of improvements. A state mandate is moving public kindergartens to all-day, five-day schedules by the 2017-18 school year. Blaine kindergartners currently attend school for six hours a day every other weekday.

Funds for the full-time kindergarten program are disbursed according to financial need, with the lowest-income districts receiving money first. Blaine is due to receive state funding by the 2015-16 school year. The money would support staffing, but districts are on their own when it comes to providing space for the expanded program.

The task force is leaning towards an eight-classroom addition to the primary school to accommodate a fulltime kindergarten. The project would cost around $4 million and take about a year to construct. Kenoyer estimated that it could be done during the 2016-17 school year.

“We looked at a number of partial solutions and the inclination of the task force was, let’s not put a band aid on this,” Kenoyer said. “The other part of the consideration is that if you go in the primary school right now you won’t find a conference room and you’ll find several programs housed in the library, so the drive is from current demands for space as well as the upcoming mandate.”

The largest project on the high-priority list by far is a $37.8 million capital improvement project at the high school that could be completed in the 2018-19 school year. Other projects that were deemed high priority include security upgrades to the primary, elementary and middle schools, the installation of campus-wide fiber-optic cable and various repairs and upgrades to roofs, pavement, carpets and classroom furniture.

All told, the items on the high-priority list would cost between $40 and $45 million. Spanjer said the district’s objective is to time any future bonding so that it doesn’t layer on top of past debt.

“Timing is a really critical issue,” Spanjer said. “We made the commitment not to layer on debt but to wait until the first bond has expired and phase in the new bond so that the debt structure stays relatively constant.” A $3 million bond passed by voters to pay for the new science building and smaller-scale repairs expires in 2016.

In other news, the school board passed a resolution aimed at allowing administrators to adapt to unprecedented budget pressures from the state and federal levels.

Washington state lost its waiver from implementing certain features of the No Child Left Behind Act last week because legislators in March failed to include a state assessment of student growth as part of the Teacher/Principal Evaluation Plan. 

As a result of the loss of the waiver, Blaine must set aside 20 percent of the $400,000 in Title I funding it gets from the federal government, or $80,000, to support low-income families if they choose to seek supplemental remediation services from a private party for their children. An additional 10 percent, or $40,000, must be set aside for teacher training specific to the needs of Title I students.

The No Child Left Behind Act mandated that 100 percent of students must pass state math and reading tests by 2014, a nearly impossible task. Forty-three states obtained waivers to the law, but Washington is the first state to have its waiver yanked because it failed to comply with federal requirements. Districts will lose flexibility in how they use nearly $40 million in federal funds, which in some cases could result in layoffs and/or program reductions.

In Blaine’s case, the school board voted to adopt a reduced educational program plan that gives staff the direction and authority to consider both adjustments and reductions to staff schedules as warranted.

The loss of the waiver is not the only development impacting the 2014-15 budget. In an effort to transition to Common Core State Standards, the school district has adopted an 8:20 a.m. start time for all schools in the district, which will add a total of 140 instructional hours annually for K-5 students. In a letter to parents, Spanjer explained that adopting a common start time was the best option to increase the length of the school day for K-5 students while working within the limitations of the bus schedule. 

In addition, the school calendar has been extended to 180 days because Blaine will no longer get three days for teacher training as it has for the past 15 years. The district will likely schedule several two-hour late starts throughout the year to work in time for teacher training.

“We appreciate the patience and support of our parents as we work through a number of significant scheduling details,” Spanjer said in his letter to parents.