PALMER — Education funding was, as it has been since Feb. 13 when Gov. Mike Dunleavy released his budget, the hot topic at the Mat-Su Borough School Board meeting on Wednesday.
MSBSD Superintendent Dr. Monica Goyette stated during her report that administration from the school district has met with Mat-Su Borough officials regarding how they would react to a possible government shutdown if the Legislature has not agreed on a budget by July 15. The special session that Dunleavy called the legislature to in Juneau is set to end next Friday. If Dunleavy is still unsatisfied with the work of the legislature, he may again call lawmakers into special session.
“We did do a tour with the governor’s office of Wasilla Middle School as a possible place that an additional session would occur but we have not heard any more information after that,” Goyette said.
Todd Smoldon, the director of Dunleavy’s Mat-Su Office and former teacher, came to relay the governor’s concerns to the school board. Smoldon said that the governor and his attorney general do not believe that forward funding education is legal.
“If someone was asking you to do something that you thought was illegal, no amount of pressure or criticism or anything like that is going to sway you because if you believe something is illegal, you’re not going to follow through on that,” Smoldon said. “Unfortunately the legislature so far has decided that they would rather create disruption and that they would rather cause school district’s, fine school district’s like yourselves to wonder what the budget’s going to be.”
MSBSD Public Information Officer Jillian Morrisey said that over 170 teachers did not have their contracts renewed, partially as a result of the uncertain funding coming from the state. Morrissey said that each MSBSD staff member that was not retained was also given a letter of intent. If MSBSD receives the agreed upon funding, staff members that were not retained would not have to re-apply for their own jobs, alleviating some of the uncertainty over who might return. Morrissey reiterated that these non-retention letters were not pink slips, and that MSBSD has the intention of retaining it’s teachers should funding allow. Goyette gave her last report of the fiscal year, highlighting some of the work that MSBSD continues through the summer months. You Cubed is a math camp put on by MSBSD five days a week for three weeks with field trips on Fridays. Goyette said that 40 students are enrolled in the math camp and that they will be traveling to the zoo and calculating the required amount of food based on the weight of each animal, applying math skills to real life.
“Students make huge gains through this program so we’re really looking forward to seeing the results of that,” Goyette said.
Goyette showed a video featuring student actors discussing the difficulties of attending school while homeless. Goyette highlighted the families in transition program as a positive program in MSBSD and said that by the end of the school year, up to 500 MSBSD students may be homeless. The popular Girls Who Code programs in Houston and Palmer continue this summer with over 150 students. Goyette also lauded the SAMS [Summer Academy in the Mat-Su] program helping students recover credits over the summer. Some high school students set to graduate are busy finishing courses over the summer which will affect the overall graduation rate when they are released this fall. Additionally, middle school students struggling in math have been able to take conceptual algebra classes in preparation for high school graduation requirements. Not only are some students still in class over the summer, but MSBSD staff underwent training was well. Goyette said that one-third of MSBSD teachers took a week to train on their own time, making it one of the cheapest professional development opportunities that MSBSD offers.
Assistant Superintendent of Instruction Amy Spargo gave her report on board goal 1, detailing the final objectives for FY19. Spargo told the school board that MSBSD went through district-wide accreditation of all 47 schools, the first such accreditation in the state. Spargo showed graduation rates and testing scores compared with national averages and showed that MSBSD students often begin school trailing behind the national average but then exceed the national average starting in seventh grade. Spargo said that a student’s freshmen year of high school is the most important in terms of affecting graduation rates. Only 22% of students who failed a core course of math or english in ninth grade graduated on time.
“Failing math is one of the most damaging things that can happen to a ninth grader in MSBSD,” Spargo said.
Spargo said that with the district’s requirement of three math credits, freshmen failing intro to algebra have a limited amount of time to make up those credits. Spargo said that 85% of seniors graduated in four years, an increase of 15% since 2010. The graduation rate currently sits at 84% but Spargo expects that number to jump to 85 once students complete their summer course work. Spargo highlighted Redington Jr./Sr. High School, who boasts a graduation rate of 98%.
“Redington has really created a model culture of graduation,” Spargo said.
Mat-Su Middle College had a 96% graduation rate, and Career-Tech High School had a 100% graduation rate. Both of the MSBSD’s alternative schools achieved graduation rates above 65%, vaulting them out of the school improvement category that they were in last year.