With the 2022-2023 School Year in full swing, we’re celebrating successes and fielding plenty of conversation and engagement around the challenges facing our district. We’re always happy to pause and reflect on positive milestones for D38 – including recently receiving the state’s highest mark of Accreditation with Distinction for our performance over the last school year. This is a huge accomplishment and is a testament to our amazing educators as well as the hard work of our students and support from our families.
Still, the questions we’re receiving right now are not around D38’s successes, they center around the challenges we are facing. Here are three critical questions that are lingering at the moment:
Question: Does D38 intend to increase taxes far beyond neighboring school districts to make its teachers the best paid in the region?
Answer: No, we do not intend to go beyond neighboring districts – but we would like to at least be average. We have recognized that our revenue source is about 8.5% below average for the region, which directly correlates to our employee compensation being approximately 10% below the regional average. These are the factors the Board of Education considered when deciding to refer the measure to the ballot. To be clear, the ask would not get D38 to the top of the pack, but would move the needle toward the financial average in the area, in order to maintain the above-average performance.
Question: What actions has D38 taken to compensate teachers, especially in the face of a call for additional compensation?
Answer: Our compensation actions are at the mercy of state funding factors that are largely out of our control. Due to these factors, we went through the 2020-2021 school year on a salary freeze. Given state funding increases in 2021-2022, we were able to increase staff pay incrementally by 2% at the start of the year with an additional 2% adjustment mid-year. At the outset of the 2022-2023 school year, we increased pay by 6% – again, commensurate with the per-pupil funding rate that was allocated from the state. Neighboring districts were able to issue similar increases, so the gap between D38 and competitors did not decrease – and the gap will not disappear without additional local funding (i.e. MLO) that is comparable to those districts.
Question: Is it true that the district has lost 400 students over the past 3 years and how does enrollment factor into the overall budgeting process?
Answer: Many school districts across the region, state and country saw a significant drop in enrollment related to the pandemic. That impact was also felt in D38, despite our nationally-recognized strategy to stay open during those difficult times. The ‘missing enrollment’ is just now beginning to resurface. We cannot ignore this when comparing pre-pandemic enrollment to current and early post-pandemic enrollment.
Additionally, we should keep in mind that D38 has eight district-operated schools, and one charter school (Monument Academy – across two campuses), at which we educate more than 6,600 students. Singling out enrollment loss from some schools, with pandemic-related impacts, while ignoring enrollment growth in other schools, does not tell a complete story. The full district story shows a consistent, documented trend of moderate growth over the last 10 years, with periodic decreases – such as the 6,895 students in 2018 versus 6,649 anticipated in 2022 – in the total that are not enough to disturb the overall trend.
When evaluating student count, especially as it relates to the proposed MLO, it is important to keep a full-district perspective in mind because it is a full-district ask. The proposed MLO would be appropriately distributed, equitably, to all schools in the district – including MA.
I appreciate the questions we’ve received to this point, and the engagement from our community as we’ve journeyed into the 2022-2023 school year. I look forward to continued dialogue and opportunities for growth as a community and school district.