Park Hill board reviews report on funding issue for technology program

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The Park Hill Board of Education heard a presentation on ways to save money without cutting corners in instructional technology last week.A committee made up of district and building administrators and teachers weighed options for funding the district’s Future Learners Project (FLiP) after the failure of a proposed 32-cent tax levy increase in April. According to the committee report, the district cannot afford to cut professional development or elements of the FLiP program that have already been put into place.

If unable to fully fund the program, the district could be better served to switch to a two-to-one technology program instead of continuing on the path to one-to-one computer access for every student.

“Our team believes that this is the lowest we can go down,” the report states. “At some point, we feel that continuing to cut costs in these areas will be a detriment to the program. In order to make this a smooth transition for teachers, parents, and most importantly, our students, we have to always go back to what our primary reason why we are here — to do what is best for our students. Additionally, taking further risks will result in teacher and staff dissatisfaction, which will again negatively impact our overall FLiP plan. We feel that other cuts throughout the district should be considered before we take further cuts in this initiative.”

A reduction in the number of devices and software purchased, as well as less drastic cuts to training, support and infrastructure, could save about $1 million.

Originally, FLiP was slated to bring laptops to students from fifth through 12th grade and increased access to digital tools in the lower grades. After a pilot program, it was expanded to fifth and sixth graders. The program intent was to continue the program to include seventh and eighth graders in 2015-16 and high school students in 2016-17.

However, no funding for the program exists beyond the 2014-15 school year.

Park Hill superintendent Dr. Scott Springston said with both enrollment and expenses on the rise, the district will need to tighten belts all the way around. The administration is working to prioritize potential budget cuts, he said, with input from the Efficiency Task Force.

Enrollment is up this year to 10,713 students district-wide, an increase of more than 200 students from the 2013-14 school year.

The board also received the report on the patron survey on long-range facilities planning. The survey had 522 respondents with 43 percent identifying themselves as district employees. Almost 60 percent identified themselves as parents or grandparents of students, and only 3 percent of respondents were actual students.

The survey was made up of 20 questions covering various areas of focus, with the most feedback received on 21st century skills, student-teacher ratios and grade configurations.

Respondents agreed that there needs to be a focus on basic skills, as well as modern 21st-century skills. Most respondents also favored lower student-to-teacher ratios and retaining the sixth grade center. Other criteria on the survey included patron satisfaction with early childhood and special education programs, the use of temporary classrooms, staff recruitment and retention, school size and financial stewardship.