Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Answering questions in response to my request to Twitter followers about future blog topics

Sometimes a topic just can’t fit into 140 characters or less. Recently I invited my Twitter followers at @DrDavidMcGehee to submit topics that they would like to see me blog about in the future. Since I only received two requests I will try to touch on them both in this edition of the Superintendent’s Blog.

The first request was from Brittany Thornbrugh‏@Brittany_br0Jul 20 @DrDavidMcGehee. She writes: “How do you feel the R-7 education budget could be best utilized? Would you make any changes to where the money goes?”

Well Brittany, the R-7 District budget is best utilized when it is thoughtfully developed with district priorities and meeting the needs of students at the forefront. There are many things that guide the allocation of resources that I would call obligations or requirements. For example, when the district borrows money to construct a new school through the sale of bonds after a voter-approve bond issue, the borrowed funds to pay for construction must be repaid with interest over a certain period of time.  A schedule guides the annual budget allocations for such line items. 

Another area that entails over 70 percent of the district’s budget is salary and benefits for our employees. This is the case in most industries. The greatest allocation goes toward the greatest asset we have -- our people. Each year a process called “the non-allocated human resources requests” ensures that we evaluate every need submitted across the district, prioritize these staffing needs and hire only those positions that are deemed essential and can be covered with available funding. A similar process occurs in which all of our schools and other facilities have the opportunity to request consideration for needed capital improvements (construction, paving, renovations, carpet, etc.). Again a team evaluates the requests and prioritizes against available resources.

When it comes to funding programs in our schools, each school is allocated funding based upon the number of students and types of programs that exist there. The per-pupil dollar amounts are consistent across the district. The leaders within the schools and other facilities are then able to allocate the funds given toward priorities that they have set. 

Interestingly, our district spends fewer general fund resources on activities than most. These programs are primarily funded through gate receipts and beverage contract revenues, as well as a small activity fee and other alternative resources such as advertising. Of course the cost of providing the numerous activities that can be found in the district does require some general fund support. 

Budget is a big topic, Brittany, and I only touch on a few of the issues related to your question but I hope that it gives you and others some insight into the allocation of resources. Another topic of interest might be where the money comes from and how our share of state aid is calculated. I won’t go into the specifics here but will note that the basic state aid formula designed to fund schools is only being funded by our state at approximately 93.4 percent.  This represents millions of dollars that are not being distributed to our school district on an annual basis and is the primary cause of recent levy increase attempts and cost containment efforts.

The second request was tweeted by JimH‏@jhuser2Jul 20 @DrDavidMcGehee. He writes: “Engagement - how do you engage with district staff? What expectations do you have for your principals for engagement?”

The most formal engagement with staff occurs through our annual Team Lee’s Summit survey in which our district administration and staff negotiating team ask for data related to key quality of work life issues from our staff. The information collected is used to guide decisions related to compensation, benefits, communication, supports and other qualitative aspects of the work environment. 

Personally I try to meet with each school principal two times formally each year, as well as in other unscheduled situations. Every fall I visit with school and department leaders about their priorities, challenges and how I can better assist them in meeting goals.  We also walk throughout the schools together visiting with staff and students about the learning that is going on in classrooms. In non-instructional settings I tour facilities with directors to learn more about operations and again to see where I might be able to support needs identified. 

I have an open door policy and staff members are able to communicate directly with me via electronic means, just as you can, Jim. I am not always the best first step for a discussion about a particular issue and, if so, might reference the individual to a better starting point; but I am certainly willing to discuss appropriate matters directly with any of our employees. 

We study issues through a Continuous Improvement Process approach that guides decision making in the district and ensures the involvement of key stakeholders, both staff and community.  Whenever an issue needing study is identified a Process Action Team is put together that will always include representatives of potentially affected staff and community members. This is a process that is consistent throughout the district and an expectation of all district leadership team members. Engagement of key stakeholders is a part of the R-7 culture.

Recently I have used technology such as Google Hangouts to engage staff. At the beginning of the new school year, we design these Hangouts by feeder school groups with the elementary, middle and high schools from a feeder joining from their locations via technology to hear key messaging. Staff has the opportunity to dialogue with me directly about issues or questions they might have related to district goals and initiatives. We hope to do more of this in the future and are also investigating tools to enhance our two-way dialogue with other stakeholder groups. 

Even the use of Twitter is a way to engage with the staff and community, folks just like you, and even students in a safe and open environment. I have many success stories that I could share related to my use of Twitter as not only a communication tool, but as a way to engage followers. You are probably aware of many of these examples, Jim, as I believe you were one of the early followers of a list that now fluctuates around 4,600. 

Thanks to Brittany and Jim for participating in my Twitter request for blog topics. I will post this in the Superintendent’s Blog site which can be accessed via the R-7 home page, LSR7.org, and I will be sure to get it posted on Twitter as well. Don’t forget to encourage others to follow me @DrDavidMcGehee for education news, district information, opinions and a variety of other stuff -- oh yeah, and for first alert snow day notifications. Have a great start to the school year!