MISD in the red for summer school

The Mercer Island School Board is discussing the reorganization of its summer school program, which has incurred thousands of dollars in debt over the past few years. According to interim Associate Superintendent of Instructional Services, Kathy Morrison, the district could benefit from revamping its summer school curriculum.

During the Jan. 24 School Board meeting, Morrison presented a report on the district’s 2007 summer school program, along with recommendations on how administrators might improve the curriculum while boosting revenue.

According to her report, the K-12 struggling learner program, one of three specialized summer school curricula, has shown a total deficit of $44,690 over the past three years.

The main reason is scant enrollment. Last spring, a summer school principal was not selected until mid-May, resulting in late notification to parents, lower enrollment and the need to purchase a summer school curriculum, Morrison pointed out.

“Last year we got such a late start. Families had already made their vacation plans. This year, we’re trying to get information out to parents in a more timely fashion, and that way we can boost enrollment,” she said.

What’s more, in 2007 the program was increased to one extra day per week and classes were elongated by 30 minutes (the $50 tuition increase did not take into account additional staffing costs), special education students and students who had not passed the 10th grade WASL were admitted tuition-free and state funding was less than anticipated.

Despite the struggling learner program’s financial troubles, the other two summer school curricula — the extended school year and course for credit programs — are self sustaining. The extended school year program is designed for special needs students who require academic time beyond the regular year to prevent “severe regression.” This includes a focus on speech, physical and occupational therapy. The tuition is paid for by the district, as required by state law. In 2007, the extended year program cost the district $23,375. There were 23 students, three teachers, nine paraprofessionals and four therapists enrolled.

The course for credit program is also going strong. Designed to give students extra time for independent study under the guidance of a teacher, the curriculum is a growing favorite among high school students eager to get an academic edge. In 2007, district revenues exceeded costs by $9,804.

It is this area that Morrison hopes to strengthen, seeing as the program already brings in significant funds for the district. The assistant superintendent also hopes that administrators will discuss strengthening the struggling learners program. And she has a number of creative ideas in mind.

“We’re going to encourage teacher entrepreneurs to offer enrichment classes or workshops based on their interests and passions over the summer. They’d be working as independents, renting school space and running their own business. Hopefully, this will get kids exited to enroll,” Morrison said, pointing out that such a system would not cost the district anything as the teachers would be working as “independents,” running their own business and earning their own salary

The idea was born from an earlier conversation between Morrison and the district’s instructional leadership team. The group hopes to develop a new struggling learners program that “will better serve their needs and be more cost effective.” Other suggested improvements include: appointing an administrator to develop the new model and teachers to supervise its operation; focusing on clear enrollment objectives; to better identify the criteria for a “struggling learner”; determine reasonable tuition based on enrollment and staffing projections; and better determine staff needs.

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