IRSD reports on accountability ratings

The Indian River School District (IRSD) appears quite “Superior,” to judge from Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) reports at the Aug. 23 School Board meeting.

The IRSD improved to, or held steady at, the top AYP rating of Superior in 10 out of 13 schools this year. That’s up from 8 out of 12 last year (Howard T. Ennis not included in 2004).

In addition, as district Superintendent Lois Hobbs noted, the district could now boast the Indian River High School as the only Superior-rated high school in the state (Sussex Central High held steady at Commendable, the next highest rating).

Selbyville Middle School made dramatic progress, leaping from Academic Progress (under school improvement) past Academic Review and Commendable, straight into a Superior rating.

Sussex Central Middle School climbed in the ratings as well, moving one step closer to Academic Review. Schools need to show AYP for two consecutive years before they come out of school improvement, and Dr. Susan Bunting (director of instruction) expected Central Middle would achieve that by next year.

Only Philip C. Showell Elementary School slipped from Superior to Commendable. However, according to Sherry Smith (presently supervisor of secondary education, but with more than four years experience as the district test coordinator), Showell’s diminutive nature was both blessing and curse when it came to test scores.

While a small group of students could dramatically affect overall scores at a school of that size, it was all that much easier to identify those students and give them some extra attention and tutoring, she said.

Bunting explained AYP — the total student population is broken down into subgroups (ethnicity, financial status, etc.). The target, based on Delaware’s adaptation of No Child Left Behind, is 41 percent of all students meeting testing standards for math, and 62 percent meeting standards for English/language arts.

(Per Delaware’s plan, these targets hold steady for two years. According to Bunting, they will increase to 49 percent and 67 percent, respectively, in 2007).

However, as the name suggests, there’s also an element of continuous improvement, and math scores dipped at Showell. “So, that’s the area they need to work on,” Smith pointed out. “But the school is still Commendable, because they made adequate yearly progress.”

Bunting advised the board there’d be a few changes in 2006 — currently, any subgroups smaller than 40 students aren’t considered separately, but blended back into the total student body. Next year, different grade levels will combine to fill the subgroups, for a better snapshot of what’s happening in specific demographics.

In other business, Hobbs raised the question of what legislative priorities the board should focus on in the coming year, suggesting a petition for increased energy funding.

Along the same lines, Board Member Harvey Walls pointed to the increasing fuel burden borne by the district’s bus drivers. “Number one should be our bus driver situation,” Walls said. “I really appreciate them signing this year, but they’re still not happy, and I still don’t blame them.”

(Walls also suggested the board push their delegation at the General Assembly for market pressure funding for renovations, not just new construction.)

John Mitchell, supervisor of transportation, presented considerably increased rates the district should prepare for, in seeking drivers for athletic trips and field trips this year.

He requested a base pay increase from $9 to $10 per hour, and a mileage increase from $1 to $1.25 per mile.

From Mitchell’s written statement: “The cost of home delivery diesel fuel has jumped from $1.955 in September 2004 to $2.599 presently. Bus contractors are advising me that they cannot continue to do field trips and athletic trips at the current rate.”

“I appreciate your comments about the bus drivers,” he added, speaking to Walls. “And I think we were fortunate to get them back — but they’re not happy, and they’re planning to move forward, to see if they can get some more money.

“I know this looks like a sizable raise, and I apologize for the burden and what this is going to do to your athletic budgets,” Mitchell continued. However, he said Maryland drivers were earning a much higher $2.36-per mileage rate — and they were still threatening to strike.

Director of Budget and Finance Patrick Miller presented another financial position report, showing that the IRSD is still hovering in the red. Projected payroll obligations through October 15 topped $4 million — available funds approached but $2.8 million.

However, Miller expected the arrival of additional funds following the state’s September bond sale. Until then, the district would “float on reserves,” as he pointed out.

Miller also noted Sen. George H. Bunting’s recent procurement of $1.5 million in holdover construction funding.

The IRSD is pursuing litigation to recover an estimated $2 million lost when a mechanical contractor defaulted during construction at the new Sussex Central High School. If the district prevails in the courts, they’ll have to pay back the $1.5 million, but those funds should help keep projects moving forward during the interim.

Locally, the IRSD is working on major renovations at Lord Baltimore Elementary School — students from Lord Baltimore will be camped out at the old Indian River High School, lately renamed the John M. Clayton School, until fall 2006.