Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Community and School PRIDE

I woke up this morning to see on Twitter that Grand Central Foods, one of our grocery stores in town, displayed some of their soft drinks in a way that it shows Y DUKES. How cool is that?

It's just another small, recent example of how awesome York is and how much support this community provides to York Public Schools. Over the lunch hour this past Friday, I ran some errands to the dry cleaners, post office, and bank. In each place, people were wearing York Dukes shirts and were showing excitement for the many successful programs we have.

Our students have also bought in to how amazing York is as a community. They understand that when they are part of an organization, cast, group, program, or team that they're not just representing themselves and their families but also their school and their community.

Our recent "Back to School Celebration" and Community Pep Rally, with over 750 folks in attendance, is another strong indicator of how connected York and York Public Schools are. We're intertwined and that's the way it should be. Just since school started, I've had parents stop me to tell me how much they appreciate the new ICU program to battle apathy towards missing assignments, how much they appreciate the new STEM offerings at YMS, and the expanded business and work certification programming at YHS. YES parents have expressed excitement over the DESSA/Social-Emotional curriculum we're implementing as well. Life is good.

We've also hosted meetings with about 30 farmers in the past few weeks to work hand-in-hand on the massive issue of school funding and an over-reliance on local property taxes. We won't be divided and conquered like some politicians want. We're together moving forward to look for solutions.

It's an honor to work with and for a community that supports our young people as much as they do. The business leaders of York are wonderful to work with. We're blessed with many amazing and helpful parents. We have a tremendous relationship with both PreK-8th parochial schools in town, Emmanuel Faith-Lutheran as well as St. Joseph's Catholic.

Nebraska is an amazing place. There are so many awesome communities and school systems that work hand-in-hand and help identify each other. It is so neat to see all of the places in our great state that support their schools and young people. Community/School pride is alive and well!

Like my answering machine in the office says, "It's a great day to be a York Duke."

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Early Childhood Programming has to be a Priority

The research regarding the value of quality early childhood services is undisputed. First Five Nebraska estimates that there are over 62,000 Nebraska children ages 0-5 who are at risk of failing in school because of lack of early childhood programming opportunities. Achievement gaps don’t begin in kindergarten.

● The development of the brain in the first five years literally shapes the learning capacity for the rest of a child's life.
● The first five years of life are a time unlike any other in the development of the human mind. During this brief period, a child's brain creates and conditions synaptic connections at an astonishing rate as it prepares itself for a lifetime of learning and growth. The relationships and experiences a child shares with its parents and caregivers in the earliest years are crucial to the acquisition of communication and reasoning skills, the capacity to regulate emotions and behaviors, and the development of self-confidence and motivation for learning and achievement.
● As children grow older, their capacity to learn continues - but they will never have quite the same opportunity to lay such crucial neurological foundations again.
● Forty-one percent of our youngest children are subject to risk factors that threaten their ability to thrive in school and beyond. These children can be found in every county throughout the state, and although the greatest concentrations occur in metropolitan areas, Nebraska's rural counties are showing the greatest increase in their at-risk populations of children 0 to 5 years of age.
● On the whole, positive, supportive and stimulating early learning experiences and environments benefit not just the children themselves, but society in general.
o In fact, Nobel Prize-winning economist James J. Heckman calculates that high quality early childhood experiences can yield $7 for every $1 invested.
o Yet, Nebraska’s investment in early childhood continues to lag far behind what we spend each year on SPED, behavioral health, corrections and public assistance. Children who enter Kindergarten lacking the cognitive skills of their peers are likely to lag behind for the rest of their time in the K-12 system, despite the availability of costly special education programs.
● Children who are limited in their ability to regulate their emotions and make intelligent social decisions are more likely to require behavioral health services and enter the criminal justice system later in life.

The time is right for our great state to make a renewed commitment to quality early childhood programming for all Nebraska children. Partnerships with organizations like First Five Nebraska, UNL and Dr. Sam Meisels, Sixpence, as well as numerous other public and private organizations can help create a world class educational system in Nebraska.

We believe:
● Expanded early childhood programming will be an effective use of limited educational dollars resulting in improved academic performance, higher graduation and lower dropout rates and improved social behavior.
● Expanded early childhood programming will assist in stimulating the state's economy by attracting businesses to an area with skilled labor and a supportive family environment.
● Quality early childhood programs require quality teachers using researched based curriculum which must demonstrate positive results via accountability systems.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Appreciation for "Nebraska Loves Public Schools"

I just want to say "thank you" to Sally, Brittany, and the rest of the "Nebraska Loves Public Schools" organization. This group has really gone above and beyond in helping to promote the importance of a strong public education. Over the past 12-months, I've seen a lot more support and appreciation for public school systems. I've seen way more school districts begin to better promote what they're doing and who they're doing it for.

Nebraska Loves Public Schools
is making a difference. They've begun to rally and unite public educators and supporters from east to west, big to small, urban to rural. There is SO MUCH to be proud of and Sally and her crew are finding unique and energetic ways to "tell our story."

A strong public education is one of the primary backbones of our nation. We're proud to do what we do and to serve ALL of our young people. With that being said, public education needs to get better. We need to become more innovative. We need to continue our important work on closing the achievement gap. We need to find more creative ways to engage parents and patrons. We're always a "work in progress" like all successful organizations should be.

Please join me in thanking "Nebraska Loves Public Schools." They're doing important work. They're making a difference. They're helping to unite and inform thousands of Nebraskans.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Project Phil-Anthropy through the YPS Foundation

The York Public Schools Foundation is excited to announce “Project Phil-Anthropy” to honor the late, great Phil Towle, who passed away this past April. One of the many wonderful things Phil did was help those in need. He made a difference in the lives of so many York Duke students by providing them with basic items that they couldn’t always afford on their own. He often helped purchase school clothes, shoes, school supplies, prom tickets, activity passes, paid for haircuts, and lots of other items that are important to our young people.

If you’re interested in being part of “Project Phil-Anthropy” you can make out checks to the York Public Schools Foundation and mail them to York Public Schools at 1715 N. Delaware Avenue. Please put ATTN: “Project Phil-Anthropy” on the envelope and/or check.

There will also be donation buckets at our Back to School Celebration and Community Pep Rally in East Hill Park on Tuesday, August 16th from 5:30-8:30. Look for the YPS Foundation’s Ice Cream Social to make a donation in person.

All money collected will go into a fund that will purchase and provide items for students in need just like Phil would’ve done if he was still with us. A committee of school personnel and Foundation members will oversee the account and determine purchases.

Please feel free to contact any of the following YPS Foundation members with questions, comments, and/or concerns.

Dr. Pat Hotovy
Jean Vincent
Lori Suddarth
Dale Kahla
Don Keelan-White
Todd Bartek
Kent Rauert
Amie Kopcho
Barb Skaden
Sally Ruben
Tom Brink
Mike Lucas

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

We have a School FUNDING Problem - NOT Spending

We're preparing for another amazing school year as our students return on August 11th. Our NeSA scores are at an all-time high. Our FFA program is amazing. Our Fine Arts department is as strong as any in the state. Speech and One-Act have won state championships in the past three years. Our band and vocal music programs are award-winning as well. We have several athletic teams poised to battle for more conference, district, and state championships. Extra-curriculars like Mock Trial, Robotics, and others get better and better each year. Our facilities are beautiful. We enjoy tremendous support from our parents, patrons, and community. We're adding to an already robust curriculum across the board. Life is good as a York Duke....and it's going to get even better!

This is why I get so passionate about defending what we're doing and how we're doing it. Don't believe the rhetoric that school spending causes high property taxes. I've written on this topic at least a dozen times since January. I've shared countless examples of valuation per student, tax levies, etc. Here are some more illustrations from YPS that show we have a funding problem and not a spending one.

* Our fiscal year ends on August 31st and we are projected to spend LESS in 2015-16 than we did in 2014-15. We project to spend $15,350,000 in 2015-16 compared to $15,358,531 in 2014-15

* We are projected to receive much less in 2015-16 than we did in 2014-15, however. It looks like we will receive $15,750,000 in 2015-16 compared to $16,040,850 in 2014-15. Keep in mind that we had to increase our property tax revenue by $1,000,000 when comparing this year to last year and we're still going to have LESS overall revenue. State aid went down $654,167 by itself.

* Our total, overall revenue in which to make a budget has increased just an average of 3% annually over the past three fiscal years. However, in order to make this small increase work, we’ve had to increase local property taxes by 29.9% in that same 3-year span. Yes, we have a property tax issue and we are way too reliant on local property tax revenue. We've said this for years.

* Our total, overall revenue in which to make a budget has increased just an average of 2.06% annually over the past seven fiscal years. However, in order to make that small increase work, we’ve had to increase local property taxes by 35.3% in that same 7-year span. Yes, we have a property tax issue and we are way too reliant on local property tax revenue. State Aid has gone from $3,710,000 in 2008-09 to $572,000 in 2016-17. See any correlation?

* As we look ahead to the 2016-17 fiscal year that begins on September 1st, we project that our total spending will increase about 2% over 2015-16, mostly due to fixed cost increases as we will be doing without in many areas once again as we delay curriculum adoptions, technology upgrades, and vehicle purchases. It is pretty much a sure thing that our total revenue will decrease by $200,000. We're looking to have to add $350,000 in local property tax revenue to help offset the loss of $988,000 more in state aid. You see, when you have to increase property taxes by $350,000 in order to keep your total revenue decline at $200,000 less than the year before, there's something wrong. When your total average spending increase is less than 1.8% for the past eight years, it isn't spending that's the problem.

We're real proud to serve the York Dukes. We're real proud to be part of Nebraska's public school system. We're real proud to work hard each day to get better and better. Thanks for your support.

Go Dukes!