Monday, January 14, 2013

More about CMS schedules

Parents who are unhappy with the hours at some Charlotte-Mecklenburg schools have been meeting with district officials to talk about alternatives.  Susan Plaza,  one of the parents,  says that after several less formal meetings,  Superintendent Heath Morrison created a task force  (in addition to the 22 he announced to advise on his strategic plan).  Plaza shared these minutes from the first meeting.

Bell Schedule “Task Force” Meeting 1

January 9, 2013, 5:00 pm

Meeting led by CMS staff Denise Cavoly and Earnest Winston. Introductions made – CMS staff Frank Barnes, Guy Chamberlain, Kevin Devore, Millard House, Sheila Shirley, Valerie Truesdale; CMS Teachers Theresa Connor and Gail Mercurio; Parents Jay Brownlow, Anne Cullip, Dr. Randall Forsythe, Dr. Kym Furney, Christine Mast, Susan Plaza. CMS BOE Chair Mary McCray was able to attend a brief portion of the meeting.

Meeting began at 5:13pm.

Mr. Winston began by stating "they did not bring any answers to this meeting... it was not the purpose of this meeting." Mr. Winston continued by stating that "CMS was starting the budget process, and they didn't know how much money they would have and where it would be coming from."

Report On Past Action Items:

1. Reduction in Calendar Days - Dr. Cavoly and Ms. Shirley stated that CMS will not go to 185 days since the state changed law recently – 180 days OR 1025 hours. CMS currently surpasses the hourly requirement. Transportation costs for 5 additional days estimated at $1.2M-$1.5M, around $250,000 per day. Kevin Devore confirmed buses travel about 105,000 miles daily. The monetary amount is only for transportation, does not include any other operational costs. Susan Plaza clarified that the original suggestion was to reduce days from 180, not 185 (go to 177 or 178 days to save money on transportation and other costs.) Dr. Cavoly and Ms. Shirley presented information on transportation money related to having to EXTEND the 2013-2014 calendar by 5 days to 185 days ($1.2 million). But that was never our question from the meeting on November 19, 2012. Our question asked CMS to consider REDUCING the number of days from 180 down to 178 or 177, and if they did so, how much transportation money would that change save? Dr. Cavoly suggested that CMS may use longer days to stay at 180. Ms. Plaza observed that the CMS website lists instructional hours for Middle and High Schools at 6 hours per day (1080 hours) and Elementary Schools at 6.5 hours per day (1170 hours), negating the need for longer days.

2. Clean Natural Gas Buses (CNG) – Mr. Chamberlain reported that CMS had used some in the past and they were problematic from a maintenance standpoint. CMS is currently writing a pilot with Piedmont Natural Gas to pursue this idea. He suggested that refueling would be a problem as CMS buses refuel during the day. They are looking at using the “white fleet,” said CMS would have access to PNG refueling stations.

Randy Forsythe said the cost of using PNG stations would more than double the cost; CMS should make an investment in their own refueling stations. This would avoid NC taxes and bring costs down substantially. Dr. Forsythe also asked how many staging sites CMS had, Kevin Devore confirmed 5 major (85% of fleet) and 12 others throughout the county. Dr. Forsythe suggested using the 5 major sites as refueling areas.

Mr. Millard House, CMS COO, observed that maintenance was an issue in his former district. Dr. Forsythe said to wait on Thomas Built buses, CNG from the ground up, not retrofits. This would reduce problems. It was agreed that this was a long term project, 3-4 years out.

3. Parent Contributions for Transportation. Mr. Winston began by stating that as they began to discuss this option, "logistically, there were more questions than answers, in asking to charge for transportation." Mr. Winston and Dr. Cavoly said they ran into many questions as they researched this topic. What if families cannot pay? Who collects the money? What if child is at stop but not paid? Ms. Plaza reminded the group that we had already answered these questions in our initial proposal. The fee would follow the FRL pay scale. Kym Furney discussed the fact that this would be about $88 per rider; our group based this amount on 50% of riders paying. She also suggested that CMS get feedback from affected parties. Regarding the question of a child at a bus stop, the proposal stated that fees would be paid in advance and that a child would not receive a bus stop if fees were not paid. Jay Brownlow observed that CMS collects money for many fees (sports, AP tests, etc.) throughout the year, why would this be any different?
Ms. Plaza mentioned the program already in place for collecting fees from PreK students for riding the bus. Mr. Winston asked if this is sustainable. Ms. Plaza mentioned that area private schools have had this policy for years with success. Ms. Anne Cullip observed that this could be a short term solution (3-4 years) until the CNG buses were available. All agreed that solving the bell schedule problem could use a combination of solutions. Dr. Cavoly stated that CMS would continue to review this proposal.

4. Transportation. Kevin Devore gave the group a handout with various scenarios of bell tiers and elementary school day lengths. In Mr. Devore's presentation, he stated that he was using a 6.5 hour elementary day, because "our examples" from the last meeting had shown that to be an average length of day. He suggested creating a small group to work on these ideas. Dr. Forsythe requested follow up on his prior suggesting of utilizing bus capacity (currently only at 70%) by stretching ride time from 30 to 40 minutes in TIMS (routing software). This would increase average ride time for home schools from 13 to 18 minutes. He suggested stretching tier times as well. Kevin reported that he ran that scenario, 2 tiers with 50% Elementary and 50% High and Middle. Worked well but lost some benefits with High/Middle. Christine Mast asked if northern part of county was problematic. Kevin said yes, fewer elementaries feed North Meck, also partial and full magnets create problems.

Dr. Forsythe remembered that Carol Stamper from Transportation said the office couldn’t get engaged until the elementary day was set (in 2010). He suggested that the day length must be determined first. CMS could take this opportunity to create parity of instructional time for teachers (Middle and High instructional day is 6 hours, Elementary is 6.5 – elementary teachers currently have 90 more hours than MS and HS teachers.)

Dr. Cavoly said there were too many variables and budget decisions to make this decision. Ms. Mast wanted to know who will make this decision and when. Mary McCray (BOE Board Chair) recalled that it came to a board vote in 2010. She assumes that Dr. Morrison would make a recommendation and the board would vote.

Ms. Mast asked for a budget timetable, Ms. Shirley confirmed the first work session for budget was late February. Dr. Forsythe recalled that the earlier decision to extend the day came in January 2010, suggested we may already be behind schedule.

5. Extended Day Outcomes. Frank Barnes ran statistical data on the impact of dismissal times at elementary schools. Created 5 categories based on release times and examined academic achievement (Proficiency Rates on math and reading EOGs for 2010/11 and 2011/12 as well as Average Growth Rates for 10/11 and 11/12.) Determined that there were varied outcomes, there were correlations but not statistically significant. This analysis only factored in the RELEASE times of the elementary schools. He did not do an analysis on the effects of adding in the additional 45 minutes to the elementary. And even in the analysis he did, he only used EOG scores, which includes 3rd, 4th and 5th graders. None of his analysis included test scores from K, 1st or 2nd graders, who are 50% of the elementary schools' population. Dr. Forsythe explained to the group that not finding a correlation does not mean there are none. Dr. Furney reminded the group that this is not a one size fits all solution. The longer day may be beneficial for some students but negative for others. Mr. Barnes agreed that there are impacts on students. Mr. Brownlow asked if test score data had been reviewed regarding the additional 45 minutes, Mr. Barnes said no. Mr. Brownlow asked why CMS would continue if there was no educational improvement? Dr. Cavoly said Kit Rea (area superintendent) has done a survey asking principals how they are using the additional time. Mr. Brownlow suggested that this would not give accurate data as principals would not risk their jobs by being truthful about how the time is used. Ms. Mast asked again why is CMS adding the extra time? Dr. Forsythe asked if we can determine whether there have been improvements academically. Mr. Barnes said CMS would need several more years to accumulate enough data but other districts are seeing success with longer days. Dr.
Forsythe observed that there has been a 5% increase in early dismissal resulting from the late dismissal/longer day. He also mentioned that other districts seeing success from longer days also give their teachers planning time. CMS does not so we are comparing two different models of longer day.

6. Next Steps. Dr. Furney and others asked for confirmation that we are working on solutions for the 2013/14 school year. It was agreed that we must know elementary day length to continue working on solutions; there are two problems – the late bell and the longer day. Mr. Winston said we will turn group into a task force, there will be short term and long term solutions. CMS cannot commit to a time line, the budget dictates  priorities. Dr. Furney asked again, can we do this for the fall if the budget permits? Mr. Winston again could not give a yes or no reply. Ms. Cavoly suggested that they were unclear about what we were requesting. Ms. Plaza reminded the group that we have been asking for a shorter elementary day and a 3:45 dismissal time. Dr. Forsythe reviewed that at our last meeting with Dr. Morrison, Dr. Morrison indicated that the task force must be formed quickly in order to find solutions for this budget year in order to make changes for the 2013/14 school year. He also said he would compromise on the elementary day length. Dr. Forsythe said our group was told that the task force would determine the best way to make this happen, not determine IF it would happen.

Kit Rea (appointed task force leader) was not present at the meeting. She was supposed to have polled all elementary principals about how they utilized their extra 45 minutes. We were told by Dr. Cavoly that she still had schools that hadn't responded. Our last meeting was November 19th, 2012. How long does it take to gather all the answers? Why wasn't Kit at the meeting? When will we receive the results?

Dr. Forsythe explained that the bell schedules cannot be determined until the length of the elementary day is decided. We asked repeatedly to get an answer as to WHO is going to make these decisions and WHEN are these decisions going to be made. We never received an answer.

Mr. Winston tried to start closing the meeting by stating, "We need to talk about moving into a task force. We should get a smaller group together and talk about forming a task force. Then we could reconvene and make the task force." Ms. Mast and others confirmed that according to Dr. Morrison’s earlier statements, this meeting was the task force. In the November 19th meeting, Dr. Morrison stated that he wanted to form a task force, but start it earlier than the (soon to be announced 22 other committees) others, since we had already begun to meet and had been discussing the issues with him since the summer of 2012.

Dr. Cavoly had some question as to the goals of the group and said it was unclear what we were asking for. Several parents reminded her that the purpose of this group (spelled out in a July letter to Dr. Morrison and confirmed in two meetings with both him and Dr. Cavoly) was to reduce the elementary day and have the latest CMS dismissal at 3:45. As Kevin Devore noted earlier in his discussion, "Feedback from the previous meeting - Elementary day is too long, 3:45 is the last bell tier, and High School students at a later time." Ms. Mast questioned why Dr. Cavoly and Mr. Winston were unclear about this.

Mr. Winston suggested having a small group meet to discuss the task force. He will contact Ms. Plaza to set up details.