Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Budgets have two sides: Revenue and Expense

Background: For the past two years, parents from a homeschool group in Cornucopia, Wisconsin, have been working on getting our local school district to approve a charter school. It is a parent driven initiative and we have all volunteered our time with no desire ever to be compensated. Our sole purpose was to provide an alternative choice for parents and kids, but along the way we learned so much more. We learned that existing systems are resistant to change even if not changing may cause the system to collapse.

Tonight our concept of a charter school fell on deaf ears to a resounding vote of no by all board members of the South Shore School District. Instead they voted yes on the implementation of an online learning program because this year 13 of their own students decided to open enroll out of the district choosing online learning programs elsewhere.

The problem with this implementation of online learning in a small rural district is that they are trying to become the middle man in a field full of gigantic providers that already have a large portion of the market share. Online learning is not going to save this district from closing. They are too late in getting into game. Why would you re-create what already exists? Parents don't need the South Shore to enroll in online programs, there are plenty of other providers in WI who have much more experience delivering that kind of programming (See Wisconsin Virtual Learning).

Quaking Aspen Field School's concept was fresh and innovative unlike the delivery of content/worksheets through the Internet. Its concept incorporates the solid foundation in research based theories that promote 21st century learning and human development concepts in motivation. Added to the equation was the ability of Quaking Aspen Field School to thrive on 10K per kid. The current cost to educate a kid on the South Shore is 17K (See Blog Post

This brings us to the title of my post. Budgets have two sides. On one side of the equation is revenue, the other is expenses. Currently South School spent 200K more that it took in this year. If the levy doesn't pass I have been told that that amount will exceed 400k next year. Adding insult to injury, 13 more students decided to leave the school district next year for something different. Which means more revenue loss. If I was an ER doctor; diagnosis of South Shore: Volume shock through hemorrhaging and they can't stop the bleeding. When a patient goes into volume shock (loss of fluid) one answer is to pump more blood into the body. Raise money through a levy. This is a perfectly good solution if you stop any further blood loss i.e. plug the holes. Yet South Shore is unable to find the holes in their programming because they are so focused on the wrong side of the equation.

Instead of finding a permanent fix to their problems they are focussing all of their efforts on pumping more money (blood) into a damaged system. Remember Revenue is supposed to equal Expenses. This will only stabilize the situation temporarily.

Another way of fixing the problem is to attract new people to the school - which will in turn raises enrollment and increases revenue. Still focusing on Revenue. To do that the school needs to develop programs that attract new consumers or bring back old ones (they lost 50 kids last year to open enrollment). Their solution is online learning, which is an uncertain cure. Yet this procedure is very attractive. The cost for implementation is 30% for delivery, with the school district being able to use the other 70% generated to keep the other patient (the current model of school) on life support. Can you say online learning = organ transplants for the day school?

What the South Shore School district has failed to look at is the other side of the budget: Expenses. South Shore refuses to look at changing the way school is delivered to off set the rising cost of education combined with the decreases in enrollment. They have told us that the school runs on a skeleton crew, I know that this is not the case. They have too many specialist doctors, and nurses providing care for too few students. They need General Practitioners, providing holistic care.

Quaking Aspen Field School was a proposal that would allow a 1:15 student to staff ratio, provide high technology, and give students 21st century skills on a budget of 10K a kid. How do I know this can work, because I run a school for the same amount in MN: Northwest Passage High School (NWPHS). Disclaimer: I have no intention of leaving. We have been running this school for 12 years and have won the finance award numerous times from the Minnesota Department of Education.

I know that change is difficult. My purpose is to provide an outside perspective to the desperate situation. Whether the school district approves the charter is not the issue. I see a body in shock. South Shore needs a comprehensive redesign to continue to function. Online learning is a bandaid, and in my opinion will not stop the bleeding. The way I see it, they are placing all their hopes in a levy that is unlikely to pass, and online learning which they are too late to implement.

Sometimes the only way to save a body, is by cutting off a limb. To delay jeopardizes its very life. Just like rural clinics don't have every speciality, rural schools need to embrace the same concepts. Quaking Aspen Field School was that concept.

1 comment:

  1. This post really helped me understand not only this issue, but some of the issues surrounding Charter Schools. Thanks! However, I am bummed for you and all on the South Shore.