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Thread: (Appropriately) valuing co-curricular activities

  1. #1
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    Default (Appropriately) valuing co-curricular activities

    Co-curricular programs include athletics, arts, and activities (clubs). Appropriately valuing these programs takes on particular importance during tight financial times.

    It's a fair question to ask what percentage of our programmatic budget (excluding fixed costs such as custodial services, maintenance, transportation, and utilities) should be allocated to curricular (academic) versus co-curricular programs. 75%? 80%? 90%?

    If we look at the FY09 school budget, we see that we spend 88% of our funds on program. Those program costs are then broken down as follows.
    • Academics: 91.1%
    • Art: 1.8%
    • Music: 2.7%
    • Theater arts: 0.7%
    • Athletics: 3.0%
    • Activities: 0.7%

    In my opinion, these percentages reflect a reasonable prioritization.

    Some sports (golf, skiing) and activities (ultimate frisbee) seem to be particular targets for charges of "over-spending." We should be careful not to imagine these endeavors as "resort activities," but legitimate competition that bring all of the benefits of the more "traditional" sports: fitness, teamwork, character, and so on. Moreover, they provide (as does crew, for instance) a markedly different type of competition for athletes who might not have the "tools" for the traditional sports.

    In a comparison of 25 FY07 teams, cost per student ranged from a high of ~$1,050 (swimming) to a low of ~$250 (track). Golf ranks 4th at ~$800 (behind boys and girls volleyball) and skiing ranks 8th at ~$625 (behind boys and girls basketball, and comparable to baseball). Note that skiing's rank will drop considerably now that lift passes will be paid for by a separate fee to match the practice of peer districts. That is not to say that there is anything wrong with lift passes being part of the athletic budget--they are a necessary part of the sport, one that has athletes paying for their own equipment unlike most other sports.

    I value co-curricular programs for the breadth that they add to a public education, and see devoting roughly a tenth of the budget to their pursuit as being appropriate.

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    As a percentage, it doesn't seem unreasonable.

    What is this a percentage of? What is the total of "our programmatic budget"?
    John Flaherty

    Any views expressed are NOT mine alone.
    Wayland Transparency - Facts Without Spin
    http://www.waylandtransparency.com/

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    Per the school budget book (available at the link in my original post), the total is $30,673,213. Of this, 88% (actually, 88.8%), or $27,232,606, is "programmatic" (my term, not one that I've heard the Administration use). In turn, 91% of the programmatic piece, or $24,806,665, is curricular (academic).

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    So, it sounds like the total amount spent annually on co-curriculars is about $2.4 million.

    Jeff, I agree with you that co-curriculars are important.
    While I realize that you tend to favor sports, I would tend to lean toward music and arts, but essentially we're on the same page as to the importance of preserving these important programs that give our kids a well-rounded, balanced education and experience in their school years.

    How much each of us values these things will vary from person to person, but to me, 2.4 million is a small price to pay for the value they present.

    That said, I can't help but compare that to the impact of closing a school and crowding the other two schools to near capacity. The savings achieved by going to such a drastic measure are a drop in the bucket - less than one percent of the entire school budget.

    We all have our limits. I'm sure even you would see the need to take money from co-curriculars at some point - a 5 million dollars savings, 10, 20, 30 million dollars?

    My question to you is, at what point would you be forced to throw in the towel and accept that we just can't afford some of these things?
    For me, it's closing a school. What is it for you?

    On a different note...
    I'm not trying to be a pest, but I would really appreciate it if you would extend the courtesy of replying to some of the posts below that you'd been ignoring, i.e. Dubious Top Ten List. After all, it was you who took that and some other discussions from the Wicked Local site and brought them over here. It only seems fair that you would respond to questions in the discussion.
    If it seems like a moot point, it's not. Of course, the reconfiguration is a done deal and the questions aren't about trying to change that.
    They're about trying to understand how you came to the conclusions that you did, because many of us are still puzzled. I know about your comparison chart, so we don't need to "go there" again. Instead, if you could respond as directly as you can to the specific questions posted it would be very much appreciated.
    John Flaherty

    Any views expressed are NOT mine alone.
    Wayland Transparency - Facts Without Spin
    http://www.waylandtransparency.com/

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    Actually, I don't favor athletics, arts, or activities over any of the others. They are all important, and will benefit different students in different ways. That said, beyond the ability to listen, I don't have a musical bone in my body ...

    By dollars spent, it might appear that the district favors arts over athletics, but to conclude that, one would have to normalize for number of students (for instance, elementary students have access to the arts, but not to athletics beyond physical education).

    As for the school comparison question, I simply don't have anything more to add.

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    Jeff, you've gone off on a tangent again.
    My post was not about art vs. athletics. That was pretty much an aside.
    If you reread my post and then read yours, it's quite clear that that was not my point in writing.

    The question was, at what point would you concede that we simply can't afford some of these extracurriculars and may have to make some cuts in them, simply to keep the academic portion afloat?

    As to the other posts, I'm not asking you to add anything, other than to simply answer a question. Is there a reason you won't do that?
    John Flaherty

    Any views expressed are NOT mine alone.
    Wayland Transparency - Facts Without Spin
    http://www.waylandtransparency.com/

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    Playing the hypothetical game begs for trouble. That said, the override cut list is one answer to the question of the relative ratio of curricular and co-curricular cuts. While curricular programs represent about 90% of our current budget, they represented "only" about 75% of the override cuts.

    Co-curricular programs are budgeted at about $2.4M for the 2008-2009 school year. To have avoided any curricular cuts had the override failed, we would have had to cut co-curricular programs in half. In my opinion, that would have been extreme and inadvisable given the value that these programs offer.

    The best of both worlds, of course, is preserving both the curricular and co-curricular programs, as was done this year. Actually, I'd prefer to be having the conversation about how to enhance our programs in areas ranging from elementary school foreign language to full-day Kindergarten to technology. I'm encouraged that at least the latter two discussions are underway.

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    Default Hey, here's an idea!

    I just saw this old article on Wicked Local about the Wayland Public School Foundation sponsored grants in technology - http://www.wickedlocal.com/wayland/news/x799506133

    It got me thinking.
    Why not cut Ultimate Frisbee and golf and ALL sports programs entirely from Wayland schools and use that money to fund a broader science & technology program, foreign languages for elementary students and other programs more closely related to academics?

    Then, the sports programs could be funded with the WPSF's generous grants.

    The purpose of this would be two-fold:

    1. It would put the onus on our public schools to provide a stellar academic program, and would make that job a lot easier by using the money that is currently funding sports.

    2. It would give us an opportunity to see just how valued things like Ultimate Frisbee and golf are to the public at large, rather than just to a small handful who want them and are in a position to cut other things in order to preserve these programs.

    That way, if there is a real demand for sports, they could be paid for by parent contributions through WPSF. Instead of math books and other basics, which really ought to be provided by the schools in the first place, WPSF could bring the extras, the icing on the cake, so to speak.
    John Flaherty

    Any views expressed are NOT mine alone.
    Wayland Transparency - Facts Without Spin
    http://www.waylandtransparency.com/

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    John,

    First, you should check the charter of the WPSF to see if that is even possible. Second, you should look into who paid for the smart classrooms at the high school, middle school and elementary schools. Third, you might want to get involved with the WPSF to accomplish some of the things you seem interested in for the curriculum of our schools.

    In fact, it would be good if you decided to get involved with either the School Committee, the WPSF or the PTO. These organizations are making a difference in the schools as you so clearly point out. Directing you energy to a positive outcome would benefit the town. Will you do that?

    By the way for disclosure sake I am a member of the WPSF board.

    Benjamin Downs

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    Ben,

    Thanks for posting.

    It’s difficult to ascertain if you are busting my chops for not being more involved, suggesting that I get off my butt and do something, OR if yours is an honest invitation to join the WPSF or some other board.

    In either case, here’s my situation:
    I have been a lot more involved than you may realize, especially since January 21, at which time I heard they were closing my school. While I haven’t been on any boards (other than the Loker School Council for the last 4 years), I have spent countless hours asking lots of questions, helping to manage a write-in campaign, and writing scores of letters to the editor and/or letters to the administration and to individual School Committee members, much to their chagrin. I’m not sure I’d be particularly welcome on that board.

    Some people will belittle and invalidate anyone who chooses to rise to the occasion in times of controversy, questioning their motives as if they are suspect somehow for only stepping up to the plate when something bad is going on. For example, the rather vicious accusation that was spread that claimed Mr. Baron was only running for School Committee because of his anger about the school closing, was repeated over and over. This was not a fair assessment at all, and did not acknowledge that it sometimes takes a catalyst like this to motivate people to get involved. What some might call anger, I would call inspiration.

    While the smear campaign against Jeff Baron and some of the unseemly things that went on during this campaign truly disgusted me, reminding me once again what it is about politics that I absolutely loathe, I am too much of an optimist to think that the actions of a few are enough to discourage me from further involvement, so……..we’ll see.

    As to your first two points, since you are a member of WPSF, I was a bit surprised you didn’t answer those questions directly. I didn’t find the charter on the WPSF website, so my next step in learning more would be to come to one of your members anyway. Can you tell me more about it?
    John Flaherty

    Any views expressed are NOT mine alone.
    Wayland Transparency - Facts Without Spin
    http://www.waylandtransparency.com/

  11. #11
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    Thumbs up John Flaherty is very involved and positive

    Hi,

    I am writing in to attest to the good character of John Flaherty and his positive involvement in the community.
    John is a very special person. He's incredibly honest, caring, and hard working.
    I believe he has asked good questions with the intent only being the betterment of our schools. His service on the Loker student council directly benefited the children at the school, and the John I know cares about our children deeply.
    We would certainly benefit from seeing more of John on the town's boards, and I wish he would run for school committee.
    Ask anyone who knows John personally, and they will tell you what an incredibly talented and kind person he is.

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    Quote Originally Posted by John Flaherty View Post
    Why not cut Ultimate Frisbee and golf and ALL sports programs entirely from Wayland schools and use that money to fund a broader science & technology program, foreign languages for elementary students and other programs more closely related to academics?

    Then, the sports programs could be funded with the WPSF's generous grants.
    I can't imagine that the School Committee would decide to abandon its philosophy (and sound broadly-adopted practice) of not funding operating costs out of grant funds that--while extremely generous--don't necessarily recur from year to year.

    Nor do I support the implicit assertion that athletics have no value in a public education. Is it asking too much to spend on athletics the current 1/30th of what we spend on academics?

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    Mary,

    Your recommendation of John means a great deal to me.

    I agree that he should seek some more active role. If he is unwilling to run than he should offer to volunteer. There are many volunteer boards in town that need the support of people who are knowledgeable, involved and caring. I recommend he research the alphabet soup of volunteer organizations in Wayland (PTO, WHSPO, CAPA, WPSF, Boosters, etc.) and choose the one he feels most called to. He should then contact the head of the organization to explore how he can get involved and begin to make a difference.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Jeff Dieffenbach View Post
    Nor do I support the implicit assertion that athletics have no value in a public education.

    Nor do I.
    Absolutely, athletics have value in a public education – a big value. But so do foreign languages in elementary school. Yet we’ve made a choice. A choice that, when it comes down to it, we value sports more than foreign languages. This, at a time when the terms “global economy” and “global community” are no longer simply clever catch phrases, but reality. Chinese, Spanish and Arabic in our public schools would go a long way toward assuring job security, economic stability and perhaps even world peace, as today’s young learners become tomorrow’s graduates and part of our workforce.

    Which is more valuable – sports or elementary school foreign language?
    If we eliminate sports for a foreign language program, physical activity among children will not cease. There is enough interest and enthusiasm for sports that they will happen on their own. They already do. Kids naturally gravitate to balls and bats and Frisbees after school and whenever they can. There’s no reason that games and teams and leagues can’t be developed outside of school.
    However, the same cannot be said for foreign languages. While there might be exceptions, for the most part you won’t see Johnny & Sally Student racing home from school, turning down offers of play dates, trampolines and Little League games so they can dive into their Arabic grammar lessons.

    But my point here is not to suggest that we eliminate sports, anyway. This is just an extreme example to throw some perspective on the matter. Rather, my point is to suggest that we rethink our priorities and place things in an order that reflects that.

    In a perfect world, I would not advocate eliminating sports. On the contrary, I would probably want to increase them and I would embrace the idea of continuing with our Ultimate Frisbee and middle school golf programs, and perhaps even expanding them. But to do this, we need to either bring in more money or spend less on something else.

    In my mind, saving money by closing a school, as we have just done, should not have even been on the table - not when the decline in enrollment is so small and so gradual, as compared to 1980, when it plummeted dramatically over 7 years, as illustrated here:
    http://waylandtransparency.com/asset...entDecline.pdf

    To my way of thinking, of all of the possible ways to save $300,000, closing a school should have been at or near the bottom of a very, very long list – somewhere down around opening a lemonade stand at each school or leasing our playgrounds out to local cattle farmers for grazing. Neither of these options is any more absurd or any more extreme than closing a school with such a small decline in enrollment.

    If the decline was so severe that it made no economic sense to leave the building open, then surely it could be considered necessary at that point. But saving less than 1% of our school budget is not a sufficient amount to warrant disrupting the lives of some 1200 students’ families, breaking up neighborhoods, creating 40 minute (or more) bus rides for kids who were formerly walkers, placing first-timers, our Kindergarteners on bus rides that you hope to keep to 40 minutes or less, some from up near Lincoln to be bused down to Loker, making drivers out of many people who just don’t want the hassles and aggravations of the bus at a time when global warming is a serious concern and when gas prices are higher than they’ve ever been and THEN, not even reaping the benefits of a fully closed, mothballed building, instead satisfied that the minimal savings from this half-closed building (which will still be heated, plowed, lit etc.) will be enough to pass the override is just……beyond me.

    So, we’ve retained Ultimate Frisbee, but closed a school.

    Quote Originally Posted by Jeff Dieffenbach View Post
    Is it asking too much to spend on athletics the current 1/30th of what we spend on academics?
    Is it asking too much that we spend 1/100th of our school budget to not close Loker School?

    Our priorities are all mixed up.
    John Flaherty

    Any views expressed are NOT mine alone.
    Wayland Transparency - Facts Without Spin
    http://www.waylandtransparency.com/

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    Quote Originally Posted by John Flaherty View Post
    Absolutely, athletics have value in a public education – a big value. But so do foreign languages in elementary school. Yet we’ve made a choice. A choice that, when it comes down to it, we value sports more than foreign languages.
    You can't have it both ways, claiming that athletics have value in a public education, then arguing to take away the public funding to support them. For the record, we spend a bit more on world languages than we do on athletics.

    Quote Originally Posted by John Flaherty View Post
    Which is more valuable – sports or elementary school foreign language? If we eliminate sports for a foreign language program, physical activity among children will not cease.
    It would be interesting to see how parental support for athletics as part of a public education varies with the age of those parents' children. While this is purely anecdotal, my experience has been that this support increases significantly as the parents see the positive impact of participation once the children reach middle and high school.

    Quote Originally Posted by John Flaherty View Post
    But my point here is not to suggest that we eliminate sports, anyway. This is just an extreme example to throw some perspective on the matter. Rather, my point is to suggest that we rethink our priorities and place things in an order that reflects that.

    In a perfect world, I would not advocate eliminating sports. On the contrary, I would probably want to increase them and I would embrace the idea of continuing with our Ultimate Frisbee and middle school golf programs, and perhaps even expanding them.
    Thank you for that clarification.

    Quote Originally Posted by John Flaherty View Post
    But to do this, we need to either bring in more money or spend less on something else.
    I would be interested to know your specific thoughts here.

    Quote Originally Posted by John Flaherty View Post
    In my mind, saving money by closing a school, as we have just done, should not have even been on the table - not when the decline in enrollment is so small and so gradual, as compared to 1980, when it plummeted dramatically over 7 years, as illustrated here:
    http://waylandtransparency.com/asset...entDecline.pdf
    Now we're returning to terrain already covered elsewhere. Your enrollment comparison still fails to account for markedly different building capacities.

    Quote Originally Posted by John Flaherty View Post
    To my way of thinking, of all of the possible ways to save $300,000, closing a school should have been at or near the bottom of a very, very long list – somewhere down around opening a lemonade stand at each school or leasing our playgrounds out to local cattle farmers for grazing. Neither of these options is any more absurd or any more extreme than closing a school with such a small decline in enrollment.

    If the decline was so severe that it made no economic sense to leave the building open, then surely it could be considered necessary at that point.
    I am interested to hear your thoughts on when that point would be reached. One empty classroom in each of the two 1-5 buildings? Two empty classrooms? More?

    Quote Originally Posted by John Flaherty View Post
    But saving less than 1% of our school budget is not a sufficient amount to warrant disrupting the lives of some 1200 students’ families, breaking up neighborhoods, creating 40 minute (or more) bus rides for kids who were formerly walkers, placing first-timers, our Kindergarteners on bus rides that you hope to keep to 40 minutes or less, some from up near Lincoln to be bused down to Loker, making drivers out of many people who just don’t want the hassles and aggravations of the bus at a time when global warming is a serious concern and when gas prices are higher than they’ve ever been and THEN, not even reaping the benefits of a fully closed, mothballed building, instead satisfied that the minimal savings from this half-closed building (which will still be heated, plowed, lit etc.) will be enough to pass the override is just……beyond me.
    Actually, as the School Committee has explained, the bulk of the savings occur with the change from 3 to 2 1/2 schools relative to the change from 2 1/2 to 2 (the latter netting another estimated $100k).

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