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NEIHOF: Your tax dollars at work

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We have a plan to enrich the education of all students, but we must understand that comes with a local cost.

By James Neihof

“If we’re going to have education in Shelby County, we’re going to have to pay for it with Shelby County money.” That quote by a school board member came during a discussion of 2012/2013 finances and the continued cuts being experienced on the state and federal levels. The board members know a trend exists that revenue from outside sources decreases. They know tough decisions must be made in these tough economic times. They know our students deserve it.

When we determine the tax levy on Aug. 23, I will attach dollar figures to those areas that I believe will continue the academic trajectory of our students, something to which we are committed. Tax dollars are hard at work in Shelby County, as you may have noticed on signs placed at some of our schools, spotlighting students who want to be college and career ready.

Our school district is showing constant improvement. In the past four years, the percentage of students exceeding state proficiency measures in reading and math combined has increased more than10 percent. MAP (Measure of Academic Progress) scores that compare our students to national peers show strong upward trends in performance both in reading and math.

By the end of this year, we expect more than 80 percent of our students to perform above grade level in this national comparison. Advanced placement class enrollment is at an all time high among high school students, along with ACT scores.

As the percentage of students performing above grade level increases, I am burdened by our responsibility to provide each student with a minimum of one year’s growth in one year’s time – no matter where he or she started. The number is growing by leaps and bounds of students who are already a year or two ahead of grade level. They deserve to be challenged to grow an additional year. If this means that we offer college-level curriculum early in high school, then that is what I believe our students deserve.

Here’s my quandary – additional resources are needed to provide this level of enrichment to students – resources we don’t currently have: enrichment teachers whose sole role is to push our high achievers to even further heights, training for teachers so they can earn certification to teach college level courses in our high schools, improvement of our curriculum materials and resources that will require additional training time and materials for our teachers.

When I look at our state and federal partners for these resources, I find far less support for enrichment than for intervention.

I’m not complaining about this because we need and use every single dollar provided to us as we intervene for those students who are not yet performing on grade level. I assure you that every dollar that comes into our district earmarked for intervention goes to good use, and our improving performance data prove this as fact.

However, the fact remains that our high achievers, soon to be 80 percent of our students, must be challenged to perform at a level that will prepare them for the top jobs or for entrance into college and successful completion of college after high school.

Because I believe that every child deserves to grow a full year in a year’s time, I will be asking our board of education to consider supporting a tax levy that, at a minimum, will maintain current revenue. I will also present them with an opportunity to help every student grow a full year in a year’s time by ensuring recurring support for things such as:

  • Three additional enrichment teachers at the elementary level (this will give us one at each school).
  • Two additional paid days of training for teachers annually (currently they have four).
  • §       Training for teachers of Advanced Placement courses.

Your board members know that times are tough. They remind me of it often. They have a weight on their shoulders as they prepare the next generation of Shelby Countians. They, like I, know my recommendation will not be popular with everyone.

So before you draw a conclusion as to the merits of my request for a slight increase, I ask you to consider the data – data that say an ever-increasing percentage of our kids are performing above grade level each year – and join me in supporting efforts to ensure that every student grows a minimum of one year in one year’s time, no matter where he or she starts the year.