I had the privilege of being selected to serve as a member of the Governor’s Task Force for Education representing elected school boards trustees. School board members are the only members of the educational community who receive no compensation. We serve as volunteers.
I am pleased that the career ladder proposal has come to life. It gives districts across the state a road map forward and provides the opportunity to better reward teachers for the important work they do.
The West Ada School District is ready to accelerate and expand its innovative approaches to educate today’s children. For the first time in many years the state education budget has increased. Much of that increase is dedicated to teachers’ salaries, as it should be.
During the financial downturn we had to cut the district’s budget by $40 million. In an attempt to save teachers’ jobs and with patron approval we moved money from our capital account to the operational account that pays for staff. We cut off supply budgets early in the spring. We postponed much needed content (textbooks) purchases. We encouraged staff to apply for grants for technology purchases. We did everything we could to minimize the effects our budgetary limitations would have.
We also instituted pay to play fees for extracurricular activities. It was either institute those fees or cut extracurricular activities.
We made budgetary decisions on the premise that we wanted to keep “the system whole.” We knew that if we cut programs they would be very difficult to reinstate. The programs being considered were elementary P.E. and music and the arts at all levels.
Our other option was to lay off enough teachers to balance the budget. That would have caused tremendous hardship for those younger members of the profession as well as increased class sizes. We opted not to do that.
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Instead we shrunk the system. We cut 14 days for all staff (administrators, teachers, and support staff). Nine of these days were student contact days. They were restored with the passage of a supplemental levy. Although the cuts were undeniably a hardship for everyone alike, the students were left with a full academic experience. The other five were professional development days, and are still unrestored.
What we did not do was slow down our commitment to continually improve the district and its programs.
We continued to expand options for students. We worked to increase the number of dual enrollment, AP, and IB classes. In fact, from 2009 to 2014, the number of credits West Ada high school students earned grew from 8,150 to 16,375.
We began an aggressive magnet school program. The magnet schools not only gave parents and students academic options within the district, these programs allowed us to fill under-enrolled schools. By maximizing enrollment in our existing schools we were able to delay new school construction.
While all of this was taking place, enrollment continued to grow by an average of 500 students per year.
We are now able to begin to reinstate those days in earnest. With the advent of the commitment of full-sustained funding of the career ladder, we will be able to make up some of the lost time. We will be able to provide more professional development while simultaneously raising salaries.
I want to thank the current members of the Legislature for their commitment to the teachers of this state. We are just receiving the down payment. I am going to continue to work hard to ensure that the funding remains as promised in the future.
Ann Ritter is a trustee on the West Ada School District’s Board of Trustees.