At the first four of six public forums on the Davenport Community School District’s proposed school boundary changes, parents have spoken passionately for and against the district’s practice of allowing students to transfer from one school to another.
And although Superintendent Art Tate said he is impressed by the number of participants in the forums and their comments, he acknowledged Wednesday there is no way the school board can craft a policy that will make everyone happy.
“Whatever the decision is, it’s not going to be accepted well by everybody,” Tate said during a discussion with the Quad-City Times editorial board that covered a wide range of topics.
The district is considering boundary changes for its elementary and intermediate schools that seek to alleviate overcrowding at some locations.
Although the current system sends some students from the same elementary school to different intermediate schools and sends students from the same intermediate school to different high schools, Tate said the district is hoping to use strict elementary and intermediate school boundaries to create a “feeder system” for the high schools and create a sense of school spirit and pride.
“We want people to be devoted to a high school when they’re in elementary school,” Tate said.
At the high school level, the issue is more complicated, Tate said. Some parents at the first four forums have been vocal about wanting to maintain the right to send their children to the school they think is best for them, and others have asked the district to end open enrollment as a matter of fairness.
There has been no proposal to change the district’s open enrollment policy at the high school level, but the school board has asked Tate to solicit opinions about the policy during the public forums, district spokeswoman Dawn Saul said.
Tate said the district’s long-term plans include creating specialized “District of Distinction” programs that would be based at one of the three Davenport high schools. The programs could include courses for students who want to specialize in a science, technology, engineering or math field of study, a performing and fine arts program, a program for Advanced Placement classes, or an international baccalaureate program that would allow students to take college-level courses and earn college credit while in high school.
Although not every student in a particular high school would be involved in that school’s specialized program, Tate said students from Davenport high schools would be allowed to transfer from one school to another to participate in a program.
Tate said he also hopes the programs will help bring in students from other school districts. This year, Tate said there are about 400 students who live in the Davenport school district and attend school in another district, and about 100 students who attend school in the Davenport district and live in other districts.
The district also is looking to cut $3.13 million from its budget for the 2013-2014 school year and make similar budget cuts for the following four years.
The district’s Resource Allocation Committee has recommended that the bulk of the cuts for all five years could come from taking a one-month break each year from paying the district’s health insurance premiums and covering the costs out of cash reserves, a plan that would save the district $2 million per year.
Tate said the district would prefer not to do that for all five years and is planning to study other ways to save money, including the possible outsourcing of services such as school nurses, custodians, technical support, marketing, security and vocational courses.
Tate said some of those ideas may not be popular or produce savings that would be worthwhile but all options must be considered.
“We cannot leave anything out,” he said.
The committee also recommended that the district could save $600,000 in next year’s budget by offering early retirement incentives, but it recommended not offering those incentives again until the 2015-2016 school year.
“You can’t keep going to the well every year,” Tate said.
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Other budget-cutting measures proposed for next year include saving $150,000 in transportation efficiencies, saving $88,000 by no longer busing 12 students from the North High School district to Central High School and instituting a 5 percent across-the-board cut for schools, which would include items such as paper, toner and food for staff development sessions.
On other topics:
n Tate said he was pleased with Gov. Terry Branstad’s proposal to allocate state money to raise the minimum teacher pay in Iowa to $35,000 and to create financial incentives for teachers who participate in mentoring programs. “I love what they’re going to do for teachers,” Tate said. “It will change what we can do for students.”
n Tate said the district’s budget discussions are based on getting a 2 percent increase in allowable growth from the Iowa Legislature, which has not yet set an allowable growth rate for next year. If the Legislature does not increase allowable growth, the district would have to find another $700,000 in budget cuts for next year.
n Tate acknowledged the district suffers from an image problem in the Quad-Cities. He said the district has met with real estate agents, local employers and officials from the city of Davenport hoping to improve the public perception of the district. He is hopeful that the District of Distinction programs can help make the district a preferred option among local school districts.
Tate also said the district’s test scores need to improve before any real progress is made.
“That’s going to be years in the making,” he said.
The public forum on the Davenport Community School District’s proposed budget cuts and changes to elementary and intermediate school boundaries that had been scheduled for Wednesday night in Walcott has been rescheduled. The meeting will be held from 6-7:30 p.m. Feb. 13 in the cafeteria at Walcott Elementary/Intermediate School, 545 E. James St., Walcott.
Another forum will be held from 6-7:30 p.m. Feb. 12 in the auditorium at West High School, 3505 W. Locust St., Davenport.