Superintendent Lewis clarifies proposed high school scheduling change

mrice@ledger-enquirer.comMarch 4, 2014 

MARK RICE/ Muscogee County School District superintendent David Lewis, standing at right, presents his initial assessment and recommendations during Thursday night's public forum in the Muscogee County Public Education Center. He was hired in July from Polk County, Fla.

In the last of his two public forums to hear his initial assessment and recommendations for the Muscogee County School District, superintendent David Lewis clarified his most controversial proposal: changing the high school schedules.

Based on recommendations from the principals and their leadership teams, who have been studying the issue for a year, he has said, Lewis wants to switch from a 4x4 block schedule to a seven-period schedule. But the students will have only four periods per day, he explained after Tuesday night's forum. They will have three 90-minute classes that meet every other school day and one 50-minute class that meets every school day. That will total seven courses during the academic year.

About 60 residents attended Tuesday night's gathering in the Muscogee County Public Education Center. The crowd was similar in size to last Thursday night's forum.

Lewis plans to ask the school board to approve the scheduling change at the March 17 meeting. The board is expected to discuss the proposal at Monday's work session.

The district is preparing for a cut in state funding for next fiscal year between $10 million and $11 million. This year's budget is $270,596,469. The 4x4 block schedule amounts to eight periods, so reducing that to seven periods will enable the district to reduce its high school staff by as much as 15 percent to save $4 million to $4.5 million through attrition and reassignments, Lewis has said. But he can't guarantee there won't be any layoffs, he emphasized Tuesday night.

After his 77-minute PowerPoint presentation, Lewis answered questions from the audience for another 40 minutes. Here are highlights:

How will you decide hardship transfer requests?

"I've been here about seven months, so I don't have all the answers yet. I'm going to analyze the data. … It seems like hardships continue in perpetuity. I'm not sure that's always the case. All those hardships can be a problem with overcrowding in schools."

What are you doing about the disproportionate percentage of blacks being suspended out of school?

"We have a program that I can't speak about before I share with the board. … We'll be bringing it forward at this next work session. It will be a pilot program in our most needy schools, based on the data, and it will be working to address that very issue."

Is there a way to find out if our children have made a full-year learning gain?

"Yes, there will be a way to assess that. That will be something that will be shown on the report."

How will the state cuts affect the support personnel in the schools?

"It could. I can't be definitive on that until we get the actual allocations. … Keep in mind, last year, the elementary schools took the biggest part of that budget shortfall, and now this is coming up to the middle and high school level, which is necessitating the change in scheduling. There will be some impact - I like to be very straightforward and honest with people -- but we will have specific guidelines and criteria for how that will be done."

When will schools and personnel know if they are being closed or displaced?

"Just so you know, we're looking at impacting the district (office) too. I can't ask the schools to take a hit and not ask the district office to do the same. So we're looking at repurposing. There may be some people whose jobs change. There may be some people who have to go back into schools where there are positions. As far as the timing of it, we'll be hiring our (region) chiefs, hopefully, in the next couple of weeks after the board meets. From there, we will go forward with all the other ancillary support personnel, and that will have an impact on all the schools. But, clearly, we want to make sure our commitment is that we make informed decisions and do it the right way and follow procedures consistently for everybody."

Mark Rice, 706-576-6272. Follow Mark on Twitter at MarkRiceLE.

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