At Monday's board meeting, Fort Wayne Community Schools Superintendent Wendy Robinson and members of the board began discussing how the district can combat public perception that public education equals poor quality.
Robinson outlined challenges the district faces, including the approval of 65 charters statewide for the upcoming school year and the state's expansive voucher program.
In Fort Wayne alone, two charters are slated to open this upcoming school year: Thurgood Marshall Leadership Academy and Smith Academy for Excellence, both to be located within FWCS' boundaries. Locally, three charter schools are already in existence: Imagine MASTer Academy, Imagine Schools on Broadway and Timothy L. Johnson Academy.
“It's not just Imagine anymore,” Robinson said. “It's a whole different game.”
During her presentation, Robinson said 12 percent of the vouchers given by the state for the previous school year went to students that formerly attended FWCS schools.
Robinson said students leaving the district impacts every fund especially the general fund, for which the district receives a certain amount of money per student; Title I funding, which provides extra dollars for districts with higher populations of low-income students and special education money which is now being given to parochial and private schools because of vouchers.
“We need to engage the community in the long-term impact of spreading out the resources and driving down the quality,” she said.
The district plans to be more aggressive with available grant money to supplement its budget, which continues to decline each year.
Robinson said some of the charter schools have distorted standardized test score data and emphasized to the board the importance of providing the facts more regularly to people making decisions.
The district will announce in more detail its ISTEP standardized test scores during a press conference Thursday, but preliminarily released some information Monday.
The district has seen increases in scores across the board for minority groups and low-income students, except Asian middle school students, according to Robinson's presentation.
Robinson said the district is committed to creating a plan to retain its students that includes asking parents why they leave the district and come back or what keeps them from attending a FWCS school.
The district also has plans for an aggressive direct contact and mailing campaign targeting families in the neighborhood of Thurgood Marshall, a charter which hopes to locate in Zion Lutheran Church's former academy building near Hanna and Creighton streets.
Thurgood Marshall's preliminary enrollment numbers show that the majority of students who have applied to the school live within the boundaries of FWCS.
Robinson presented some standardized reading test data for kindergarteners through third graders that showed positive improvement for students throughout the year, with nine out of 10 kindergartners reading on track by the end of the school year.
But the chart of numbers and percentages presented a challenge for board members.
“The marketing challenge for us is to take this stuff and make it understood in simple terms for parents,” said member Steve Corona.
Robinson said dollars leaving the district and the budget equal employees, the major expense for the district.
Earlier in the year, 46 teachers were notified they had been placed on surplus status. The district would assign them positions as they became available. As of Monday, FWCS spokeswoman Melanie Hall said 22 teachers had been assigned, leaving 24 without positions next year. They are mostly elementary school teachers.
She said the main reason is because two additional high schools became designated Title I schools, meaning the schools have a certain percentage of low-income students. But because the district won't receive additional Title I funding in time for the next year, schools had to decrease their staffing levels.