Dollarway faces tough choices ahead, superintendent says


Dollarway School Superintendent Frank Anthony said Tuesday night the district faces tough choices ahead, including a reduction in staff.

Anthony presented the district’s annual report to the public to employees and patrons at Townsend Park Elementary School.

“Between the end of the 2011-2012 school year and the start of the 2012-2013 school year, the school district lost 129 students,” Anthony said. “The district had 2002 students in the 2006-2007 school year and today we have 1,307 students. The decrease impacts the amount of state aid the district receives. The financial loss for every child that leaves the district is right at $6,200 per child. That means that the district will lose a little over $800,000 in funding next year.”

Anthony said that the loss of students has not been met so far by a commensurate reduction in staff.

“We have not been aggressive in reducing educational and support staff,” Anthony said. “Personnel makes up 80 to 85 percent of the district budget and as we continue to lose students, we cannot continue to maintain the level of staff that we have. State standards require a maximum of between 23 and 25 third graders per teacher but we currently have a teacher for every 12 third graders. This is great as far as teacher to student ratios but it is not financially sustainable because of the loss of the economies of scale,” he said.

“To survive, the district must cut staff soon and very soon. It should have been done this year but certified staff must be notified of personnel changes by May 1 and I did not arrive until June,” he said.

Anthony said that for the 2011-2012 school year, total revenues were $12,104,016 in unrestricted funds while total expenditures were $13,262,915, with expenditures exceeding revenues by $1,158,899.

“For the current year, the Dollarway School District has projected revenues of $11,491,959.04 and projected expenditures of $12,610,455.94,” Anthony said. “We managed to cut $600,000 out of expenditures for this year’s budget but we also lost $500,000 in revenue due to the drop in enrollment from the previous year.”

“We have a sense of urgency and I’m waiting to see if we feel a sense of urgency,” Anthony said. “If not, we are going to have some difficult days ahead. I’ve shown you the situation and it is factual. We just have to find a way to fix it.”

Free meals

Anthony said that the school district is now taking part in Provision 2 of the National School Lunch Act.

“Under Provision 2, every student in the district will be able to eat breakfast and lunch for free,” Anthony said. “We pay the difference between the cost of serving meals at no charge to all students and the federal reimbursement. Due to the hard work of our personnel, every child in the district has a free lunch application on file I believe for the first time ever. By doing this our reimbursable rate is increased.”

Anthony said that between 93 and 94 percent of district students meet the qualifications for the traditional federal free meals program.

Funding sources

Title I funding for the school year totals $1,217,219, according to Anthony, which is intended to ensure that all children have a fair, equal and significant opportunity to obtain a high-quality education.

Title IIA funding for the school year totals $176,407 according to Anthony, which promotes the improvement of teacher quality in order to increase the academic achievement of all students.

“With this generation of students, you as a teacher have to entertain in order to educate,” Anthony said. “Retraining is an ongoing process for teachers in order to stay current.”

National School Lunch Act funding for the school year totals $2,050,876, according to Anthony, which is intended to serve educational needs district-wide to improve instruction and to increase achievement by those students who may be at risk of not meeting state academic standards.

Test scores

Anthony reviewed test scores from the Benchmark Exams and End of Course Exams for students in grades 3 through 12.

“We have some success stories in these results but there are also some areas that need a lot of work,” Anthony said. “Because of the sporadic nature of the achievements we need to find out what the teachers whose students scored well on the tests are doing and then model that.”

Flexibility waiver

Anthony explained that the Arkansas Department of Education had applied for and been granted a flexibility waiver from the U.S. Department of Education that allows districts in Arkansas to deviate from the requirements of the No Child Left Behind Act by measuring achievement through annual measurable objectives as opposed to adequate yearly progress.

“As part of the waiver, the state had to develop and implement a system that differentiates schools into four categories with targeted interventions or rewards for each group,” Anthony said. “You have the top 10 percent of schools that are highest performing then a middle 75 percent of schools followed by the next 10 percent which are designated as focus schools and finally the bottom performing five percent of schools in the state in proficiency and graduation rates.”

Dollarway has three priority schools, including Dollarway High School, Robert F. Morehead Middle School and Altheimer-Martin Elementary School.

Turnaround

A parent asked Anthony what could be done to stem the tide of students leaving the district.

“Well, I’ve been here for four months now and I’ve been a firefighter for each of those months, putting out fires all over the place,” Anthony said. “But as I’ve said before if you come up with a superior product then people will beat a path to your door. We can keep students here by offering the best education possible, through increased ACT scores and an educational culture that enables success.”

Anthony said that the district has been given seven turnaround principles by the state Department of Education intended to bring it back from the brink.

These include:

• Providing strong leadership;

• Ensuring that teachers are effective and able to improve instruction;

• Redesigning the day or school year to provide additional time for student learning;

• Ensuring that the instructional program is research-based, rigorous, and aligned with standards;

• Using data to inform instruction;

• Improving school safety and discipline and providing ongoing mechanisms for family and community engagement.