Modesto City Schools board gathers input on school priorities

naustin@modbee.comJanuary 27, 2014 

  • 2014-15 MCS BUDGET TIMELINE

    FEB. 5:

    Business community meeting to seek input on budget priorities

    FEB. 7:

    Last day to receive applications for free and reduced-price lunches

    FEB . 18:

    6-7:30 p.m. at La Loma Junior High, 1800 Encina Ave., and Hanshaw Middle School, 1725 Las Vegas St., parent meetings to seek input on budget priorities

    FEB. 20:

    6-7:30 p.m. at Roosevelt Junior High, 1330 College Ave., and Mark Twain Junior High, 707 Emerald Ave., parent meetings to seek input on budget priorities

    MARCH-APRIL:

    Meetings with parent advisory groups and other interest groups for input

    MAY 19:

    Public hearing on budget priorities planning

    JUNE 16:

    Public hearing and adoption of 2014-15 budget

    Source: Modesto City Schools

— What skills do high school graduates need? What programs help kids get there?

Modesto City Schools board members discussed those two questions Monday and over the next few months will be asking community groups and parents the same thing – all part of the transparency required by the state’s new funding law.

In return, the district will see its $189 million budget rise over eight years to more than $286.8 million, based on its high numbers of poor children, English learners and foster kids, said Chief Business Official Julie Chapin.

The number of low-income students is based on those who qualify for free or reduced-price lunches, making those applications important in school funding as well as meal planning. About 71 percent of students in the districts that feed into Modesto City high schools qualify as low-income. But once in high school, only 59 percent are listed as low-income. Most of those families still qualify by income, but their students did not fill out the free-lunch form.

The state will be watching how much of those extra funds goes to serve the neediest students, and how well those students do, Chapin said. But unlike prior years, that measurement goes well beyond test scores. Graduation rates, absenteeism, discipline and the numbers of other-language speakers becoming fluent in English also will feed into that picture.

As community members consider what kids need, they will be asked to look at schools as a whole, noted Associate Superintendent Ginger Johnson. That includes campus buildings, parent involvement at schools, the scope of classes available at high schools and a host of other measures.

Board member Jordan Dickson, who campaigned on a platform of community outreach, said he sees the budget-planning process as an ideal time to put his ideas into action. “Instead of asking the community to come to us, we are going to them,” Dickson said before the meeting.

“We have meetings planned with El Concilio, the Latino Community Roundtable, the Dr. Parker Committee and several other groups that are more closely aligned to different communities within Modesto,” he said. Students also will be consulted, he said.

“Our community will be watching how well we do this. There will be hiccups, and we need to be able to communicate with our communities about this,” said board President Cindy Marks.

Davis High Language Institute coordinator Lindsay Bird urged the board to include groups that work with brand-new immigrants, who have more intensive needs. Others suggested working with West Side groups that serve different ethnic communities, as a way to bring those voices to the table.

Breaking into work groups, staff, parents and community members came up with a wide array of skills graduates need: social skills, problem solving and logic, understanding diet and nutrition, social and emotional stability, as well as vocational skills and academic proficiency.

They talked of programs that would help: parent education, college courses for high school students, access to computers, vocational courses, college-prep mentoring and after-school programs. But programs need to be evaluated for effectiveness, community members said.

Every community has its focus, and balancing all of the special interests will be a challenge, Superintendent Pam Able said. “I like this, where we’re mixing it up,” she said, looking out at the tables. “It opens eyes that we actually have a lot of goals in common,” she said.

All the community input will be laid out on the district website, www.mcs4kids.com, where parents also can find surveys in English and Spanish.

Bee education reporter Nan Austin can be reached at naustin@modbee.com or (209) 578-2339. Follow her on Twitter @NanAustin.

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