The last twelve months have been very significant for the Park Hill School district. Maybe there have been years with more significant activity, but this is likely high on the list.
The list include:
- Last December, Board of Education voting to redistricting for the 2019-2020 school year
- March, approving $3.6 million for LEAD expansion without consideration for other potential district projects
- April, deciding to slow down their start time proposal, and setting up two committees to provide input
- June, approving a 2019-2020 budget with a deficit
- August, opening up two new schools
- October, approving new start times for 2020-2021 school year
- October, Missouri performance scorecards that have Park Hill in the lower 50% on progress
- December, posting RFP for transportation service in conjunction with new transportation center
Meanwhile, the district has faced more image and reputation pressure than in the past.
- Images of trees being burned to make space for new buildings
- Growth in the number of social media groups to share information and perspectives
- Declining US News rankings for the district
- Community surveys with declining support for the Board and Administration
For this post, we’re going to group these topics into:
Let’s go back to redistricting for a minute. This got a lot of people more highly engaged than in recent years. The district went through a committee process, guided by measurement criteria from the board. The biggest challenge was that the Board criteria were not measurable and objective. This is now impacting the results.
We’ve shared this multiple times, but the primary goal of redistricting was to balance school enrollment. If we’re holding the district accountable for results, they failed on this one.
Enrollments are most variable at the elementary school level. Prior to redistricting, there was a spread of 183 students from the largest enrollment to the smallest. The approved plan was supposed to shrink this to 70 students. Based on 2020-2021 enrollment forecasts, the spread will be 170 students.
This is significant in how the district had a leading criteria, and an outcome that doesn’t come close to achieving the goal.
After redistricting, the district tried to rush through a new set of start times. This time, the primary goal was to reduce the number of buses and drivers.
Even though they made some efforts, it was apparent that there was not early community engagement in the process. The comment period was met with a flood of negative reactions. To their credit, the Board and administration stopped the process and took steps for greater engagement.
This resulted in a plan that was approved in October. We’ll see how it plays out, but the district had a leading criteria to reduce buses and drivers. The approved plan had the smallest reduction in buses and drivers of the three finalists.
We’re currently in the RFP process. It looks like transportation will be approved in February. We will need to pay close attention to how much buses and drivers are actually able to be reduced. This has a direct correlation to the cost savings the district will see.
Hopefully the process achieves the savings in drivers that are expected. The district also needs the cost savings. We feel for the staff who had to participate in all the committee meetings along the way due to the failed first roll out.
U.S. News and World Reports
Back in April, U.S. News and World Reports published their newest high school rankings. It was a new methodology, and Park Hill and Park Hill South scored lower than in past years.
For Park Hill, it was ranked #39 in the state, or better than 87% of high schools. Park Hill South was ranked #60, better than 79% of schools in the state. These are good rankings, but a little lower than past.
Missouri state APR
Like U.S. News and World Reports, Missouri changed some of their reporting this year. They moved to district and school-level summaries of growth, status and progress. The district was rated well in status, but room for improvement in growth and progress. We published this graphic back in October
This shows that for “progress”, the district is in the lower half of districts, and that for “growth”, we’re in the lower 25%. Not where we should aspire to be.
Recently, the district sent out a communication noting “the highest ACT composite scores in the Kansas City, Missouri, region…”. The district-wide ACT composite score was 22.2. It’s great that we’re the highest in the KCMO region, but it doesn’t say what the trend is, do we explored. Here’s a summary since 2016 when Park Hill started to have nearly all students take the ACT.
So, the district is highlighting the highest in the region, but the data shows that district scores are flat over the last four years.
As they do every year, Park Hill surveys patrons on several matters. For a lot of areas, there continues to be strong support from the district. In November, the Board heard a report on this year’s community survey. The recap to the public stated that “91% of respondents would be likely to recommend our district…” and that “93% of respondents gave us an A or B for the quality of our education”.
It didn’t share that there were several areas of lower ratings. These include communication with patrons, performance of administration and performance of the Board of Education.
The district made many big financial decisions this year.
In March, the district approved $3.6 million to expand the LEAD building. We discussed this in detail. Our understanding is that LEAD is a really good program. The concern is that the district used operating reserves for the project, and did not appear to consider other uses for the $3.6 million.
Maybe this occurs every year, but it seem like there are frequent change orders to approved projects. Changing the scope of the LEAD facility was the largest, but other change orders have included:
- Walden Middle School
- Concrete for Support Services Center
- Track at Walden
- Walden track concrete
- Intersection at Hopewell
- Concrete/asphalt stabilization at Walden and Support Services/Transportation Center
- LEAD Innovation Studio
In June, the Board approved the budget for 2019-2020. Not only was a deficit budget approved, but the forecasts for the three coming years also show deficits of $2-5 million per year.
Additionally, based on the budget forecasts, the district will be below their targets for capital and operating fund reserves
Property assessments will help offset some of the deficit, but the district will have to watch spending, or consider new tax increases. In August the county announced property assessments up 8%. This allows the district to keep the same (overall) tax rate, collect more revenue from each household, and lower the deficits to the district.
This project got started by a group of patrons with concerns about transparency and accountability during a year with a lot of activity. The goal of this isn’t to complain about everything the district. We just got tired of every piece of communication feeling too glossy and perfect when it felt like there were some real concerns. We’ll keep this up in 2020 in order to promote community engagement, sharing of information, and accountability on the decisions that are made for our district.