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District cuts school days to train staff, save money



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November 25, 2009 - Oxford students will be spending some extra time at home as the district decided to cut some days in order to give its staff more time for training and save some money in light of the state's funding cuts.

Parents mark your calendars because there will be no school for all K-12 students on Dec. 4, Jan. 19, Jan. 29 and Feb. 12.

Teachers will be engaging in training, or professional development as it's called, on those days.

Originally, Dec. 4 was supposed to be a day off for high school students only and Jan. 29 a day off for elementary and middle school students only. Now, both dates are days off for all K-12 students.

As for the Jan. 19 and Feb. 12 days off, those are new additions to the schedule.

"What we're trying to do is get three additional professional development days in our calendar," explained Superintendent Dr. William Skilling.

As part of the district's application for the Project ReImagine grant, Oxford Community Schools proposed increasing its professional development days for staff from the current nine to 12.

Now that Oxford's won the $9.6 million grant to help accomplish goals such as transforming all seven schools into certified International Baccalaureate schools and creating a system that offers year-round 24-7 education, Skilling said the staff needs to prepare. "We're taking on a lot of initiatives and we're going to be fundamentally changing education as we've known it," he said. "It's going to require a lot of training."

"On top of that, of course, you have all of your regular training that you do for staff at various levels," Skilling added. "We have a very ambitious professional development plan. Our grant funds this staff development."

Skilling said the district couldn't wait until next year to reduce the number of instructional days because some newly-approved state legislation made it necessary to do it this year or not at all.

Despite the reduced number of school days in the 2009-10 year, the superintendent indicated the district will meet the state minimum requirement of 1,098 instructional hours.

As an added bonus, the reduction of instructional days this year will save the district approximately $39,000.

Given the district received a $165 per student cut in state funding last month and is expected to receive a $127 per pupil cut in December, Skilling admitted the $39,000 savings will come in handy in offsetting the anticipated deficit for the current fiscal year.

The combined $292 per student cut from the state translates into a revenue loss of $1.34 million for the district.

Most of this is offset by the district's enrollment increase of 210 new students, which brought in an additional $1.14 million to the district. However, that still leaves a deficit of approximately $200,000 to deal with.

"The $39,000 (savings) this year helps us quite a bit more because when we're looking at being $200,000 short of being in the black, that's a significant amount towards that," Skilling said.

But the superintendent views the professional development days as more important for the future than the immediate cost savings of cutting instructional days.

"It helps save some money, but the money savings isn't as significant as the professional development," Skilling noted. "If it was just money, we wouldn't do it. It's the professional development that's the key here. That's what drove this decision primarily."

The superintendent assured the district is doing everything it can to avoid a deficit this year.

"We're looking to make some reductions in our expenditures this year because I do not want to end the year in the red," Skilling said. "We want to finish in the black. We don't want to touch our fund balance."

That fund balance is going to be needed to deal with the next two years, which Skilling said "are going to be really trying times for school districts."

"We need to really gear up for that," he said. "Right now, we're projecting to be a little over $5.7 million short for the next school year."

CJ Carnacchio is editor for The Oxford Leader. He lives in the Village of Oxford with his wife Connie and daughter Larissa. When he's not busy working on the newspaper, he enjoys cigars/pipes, Martinis/Scotch, hunting and fishing.
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