Welcome everyone. We'll be beginning at 10:30, but please feel to submit any questions you have in advance.
Claudia-I have joined the session-T. Mitchell
Good morning, Mr. Mitchell. I am the editorial page editor at the Journal and I will be joining Claudia in moderating this session. You still have a few minutes to pour another cup of coffee before we start.
Good morning, everyone and welcome to our Live Chat with Rapid City Area Schools superintendent Tim Mitchell.
You have announced that the Rapid City Area Schools District must cut $4 million in each of the next two school year budgets for 2011-2012 and 2012-2013. The 2011-2012 school year is already under way, does this mean that the district has to cut $4 million in staff and/or programs this year?
Our review of the current expenditure and revenue in the General Fund has brought forward the need to make reductions for the 2012-2013 Budget. We have funded this year by utilizing reductions of $2mill, $3.5 mill in Fund Balance and $2.7 Mill in Capital Outlay Flexibility. The cuts being considered at this time are for the 2012-2013 school year.
So, this year's budget is set and no additional changes need to be made?
We have set the 2011-2012 Budget but are making sure that we manage it effectively. The key is not to over expend this year. All Budget Authority have been asked to make sure and watch all expenditures carefully.
Thank you, Mr. Mitchell. The district’s budget problems are something that you inherited in your first year as Rapid City superintendent. Is there anything that the district should have been doing to make the budget cuts less severe?
Actually, the prior administration did a great job to help me with the 2011-2012 Budget. Prior decision making helped us to craft this year. Budget reductions had been made in prior years and a effort to increase the Fund Balance helped us to utilize this option for 2011-2012. The reductions at this time are in response to the last Legislative Session where a long term 8.6% cut to the per student allocation was made. This year we did also receive some help with 2011-2012 with $97 added to the per student allocation as one-time dollars. This has allowed us some time to carefully consider future reductions without having to make quick, short sided reductions
Gov. Dennis Daugaard’s budget address is coming up soon. Have you spoken with the governor or his staff about the state aid to education formula for 2012-2013?
I did have the opportunity to talk to the Governor and his staff last week. He did defer any information until the Budget Address on Dec 6. He is very aware of the situation that public schools are facing and was willing to listen to our ideas. We will wait for more information after the address.
You said in last week’s state of the schools address that the 2012-2013 Budget Reduction Idea list includes items that you do not agree should be dropped. What are the programs or staff that you do not believe should be cut?
Many of the ideas have pros and cons. I always try to see how we can best meet the needs of the students by trying to be as effective,efficient, innovative and creative. Anytime as a educator that you have to look at anything that might limit a students ability to have access to programming that could have a long-term negative impact on their education it is a tough decision. Any idea that might directly impact the classroom has to be made very carefully and can we find a way to lesson the impact.
Every school program has a built-in constituency: the students, parents, and teaching staff. Won't eliminating or reducing certain programs create more negative impacts on education than others?
Yes-one of the things that needs to occur is a discussion as to what do we expect from public education. That discussion and agreement could help us get to a point so we can look to see what should be supported long-term. Then we need to decide to fund it. Everything that we do in schools today is being done for a good reason. Every time we start to look at what we might be able to do without numerous people come forward with great reasons to keep it in place. That is why last year we held a public forum to determine community priorities. We are trying to utilize that discussion with the community to help make final decisions as to the reductions.
Thank you, Mr. Mitchell. What is your view on pay-to-play fees for activities such as athletics, music, etc.?
I think it is time to have the discussion. RCAS has supported the idea. I want to make sure any plan that is put in place does not limit participation. Right now it looks like-based upon an AG opinion-that we can not go there. I do believe that fees will be discussed in the next Legislative Session. I know that most schools across the state are opposed.
When the Legislature convenes in January, will you travel to Pierre to lobby for support from lawmakers?
The district has membership with various groups that employ Lobbyists. I also become a registered Lobbyist for the district. In most cases we utilize our Legislative Website, e-mail and Cracker barrels to communicate during the session but I did make some trips last year to testify on behalf of the RCAS. I assume that will be the same this year.
Are you participating in discussions about a state Department of Education plan to modify the federal No Child Left Behind law?
Yes-I am a member of the Task Force that is putting together the waiver for South Dakota. We have already had several meetings. We meet again this week in Pierre. I believe the department is on track to submit the waiver application in Feb.
NCLB has a compliance cost to the school district that does not translate to an effective educational aim -- i.e., a school's test score does not accurately reflect the education the students are receiving. Can NCLB be reformed to be less costly and more effective in educating students?
That is a great question. Federal education policy, in my experience, has always come with requirements, great costs and not many dollars to support implementation. I see many areas in the waiver process that we could see increased costs to local districts and not much researched-based educational value. I am always hopeful that the federal government can support local control and flexibility so we can utilize the federal resources at the local level for the greatest benefit for the students of RCAS.
Thank you, Mr. Mitchell. In your state of the schools address, you seemed to complain about media coverage of the Budget Reduction Ideas list. Isn't there some value in news coverage of the school district's budget process that will help the board of education to make the best decisions for the 2012-2013 budget?
If it came across as complaining-I apologize. I do believe in the value of openness and the media. I did not, however, release a list of reductions that are going to occur. I said I wanted to "brainstorm out loud". The list was generated by 100's of people over months of discussion. Some of the things on the list may not even have potential to be operationalized. I think the discussion should be on the facts and not to get people to jump to speculation and emotion. I noticed that not everything on the list was covered just those that would potentially cause the biggest emotional reaction. I would hope that people understand that we are going to act carefully as we put together the final plan. We are also going to do so in the public by being open and honest.
Is there anything that you would like to add before we conclude our Live Chat?
I would like to Thank You for this opportunity. I hope we can do it again when the Final Reduction Plan is presented to the public. I take this job very seriously and take personal responsibility for each and every decision that may impact the students of the RCAS. I am prepared to have a open and extensive positive dialogue about what the RCAS will look like in the future. I am committed to making the district as effective, efficient, innovative and creative as possible while providing a high quality education in a fiscally responsible way.