After continued community concern, school board members once again discussed the cost analysis of the fall intersession, at December’s regularly scheduled board meeting. Board members also discussed the possibility of canceling the spring intersession all together.
During November’s meeting, board member Jim Breedlove requested that the topic of intersession be placed on December’s agenda and requested further information including cost, expenditures and revenue in regards to the fall intersession.
The fall intersession, held in mid-October, originally anticipated to be offered to all students districtwide, was one of two weeks designated during the school year with the intention of providing enrichment activities and further promote opportunities to increase test performance. The week was only attended by about 400 students on any given day, which amounts to about 10 percent of the entire district’s student population.
Principals were given the ultimate decision on designing a plan for the intersession at each school. Although the original intent of the week-long enrichment opportunity was to offer the intersession to any student willing to attend, several schools throughout the district only offered the intersession to specific grades or targeted classrooms.
According to board member Gary Shields, the decision to change the attendance opportunity provided to students was left up to each school’s principal. “The choice was left up to the principals, and I think they could only offer it to students in grades that they had teachers for,” said Shields.” I think they wanted to be able to offer it to all students but because they didn’t have the teacher participation, they weren’t able to do it that way, so they offered it to targeted students who really needed it.”
During December’s meeting, Angie Cook, Macon County School’s finance director, informed the board that the estimated cost of the intersession stands at $108,612. Cook’s original estimated cost of the intersession, which was $163, 834, included the total cost associated with learning centers, Saturday schools and other remediation services which have occurred from July until October 2011. After Breedlove’s request last month, Cook separated the figures, including additional expenditures for fuel cost.
According to Cook, during the week of intersession only, $60,800 was spent on teacher/assistant salaries; $14,890 on Child Nutrition salaries; $4,668 on the VIP after school program; $14,606 was spent on bus drivers salaries; $12,521 was the estimated fuel cost; and $1,127 was spent for supplies and materials.
Both Shields and Breedlove expressed their concern that due to the low attendance rate, it may not seem financially responsible to go ahead with the spring intersession, which is designated for the first week in March.
“After you submit your calendar to the state to get it approved, can you back out of something like intersession?” asked Shields. “For $108K, are you getting the most bang for your buck?”
Shields noted that he didn’t believe that anyone was at fault for the high cost and low participation of the intersession. He did mention that the week was a great educational opportunity for students.
Breedlove voiced his concern about the financial sustainability of the intersession by asking Cook if it was correct to assume that both the spring and summer intersession weeks would also cost around an estimated $108,000, which Cook confirmed could possibly be the case, resulting in about $325,000 being allocated for intersession this fiscal year.
According to Cook, to date, the intersession was funded through federally granted “At-Risk” monies. That same pocket of money will have about $54,000 extra available at the end of the year after balancing the payroll, to go toward future intersession costs.
Breedlove asked how the remaining portion of intersession would be funded, to which Cook responded, “It would have to come from Title 1 or some other federal money. It could come from local money, but we would look at federal money first,” said Cook.
Carol Waldroop stated that the Title 1 funding currently has $38,500 allocated for intersession, leaving around $200,000 of intersession costs to be paid out of the local funds.
Superintendent Dr. Dan Brigman addressed the board’s concern and said that although because of the low participation numbers, it may not seem cost beneficial at this time, he is confident that the school board will see a return on their money through students’ test scores. “My opinion as superintendent, is that we will see the results in the EOCs and EOGs, that’s the ultimate hopeful outcome here,” said Brigman. “This intersession was one week, or two weeks in our calendar of a big process of try to focus on the calendar priorities that the board and I approached last February. We won’t know the impact of intersession until EOCs next week and EOGs in May.”
Aside from improvements in students’ test scores, Dr. Brigman also mentioned that the intersession allows school system employees to receive additional income outside of their regular salaries. “I have heard repeatedly about no raises for our employees for the third year, soon to be fourth year in a row. This [intersession] gave our employees, from bus drivers to teachers an additional week of employment, with about 90 percent of the expenditures going to salaries,” said Brigman. “Not only did it provide instruction for our kids in terms of remediation and enrichment, it gave our employees the opportunity to supplement their salaries or their pay.”
Shields noted that while the financial opportunity for teachers was beneficial, it was not the objective of the intersession. “I hear what you are saying, but I am not sure the objective was to give the teachers that chance,” argued Shields, “I don’t think that was a priority. I think academics was the main priority, not to help teachers since they haven’t gotten a pay raise is three or four years.”
If the board decides that the cost of intersession doesn’t match the educational benefit for students, it is up to the board to cancel the intersession and either hold regular school or designate it as a spring break. Brigman advised the board to consider keeping the intersession but exploring other options that may be more cost effective. “It is ultimately a local decision on how we approach intersession,” said Brigman. “If we need to do a three-day intersession to compensate for revenue matching and time available, that is definitely an option, but in terms of changing the the calendar, I wouldn’t recommend we do that, especially considering the history we have in the non-traditional calendar.”
Earlier this year a non-profit organization called Save Our Summers—North Carolina (SOSNC) and a Macon County parent, Sabrina Hawkins, teamed up to take legal action against the NC State Board of Education for granting waivers to each school in the Macon County school district which allowed the 2011-2012 school year be placed on a non-traditional calendar. SOS-NC filed a preliminary injunction to petition to the state to reconsider granting the non-traditional calendar waiver. On July 26, State Administrative Law Judge Joe L. Webster denied that request, and all schools in Macon County were allowed to open their doors to students on Aug. 4.
Dr. Brigman informed board members that although the first intersession had low participation numbers, which yielded higher cost, he is confident that if the spring intersession is approached with those results in mind, a more cost beneficial plan can be established, while still providing students with the support they need. “My plan for spring intersession, and I hope the principals can be on board with this, as well as the teachers, is to approach it from the economical standpoint that we are not going to do something that is over and beyond the revenues available to fund intersession in the spring semester,” explained Brigman. “Ultimately, those student needs should drive what we do in the future. I would hope that we could use that time frame to bring those students to make sure they are successful academically before we respond to that failure come May 23,” he concluded.
Breedlove stated that although several of his questions had been answered, he still had some reservations about holding a second intersession in the spring, and asked for the topic to be placed on January’s agenda schedule for further discussion.