I can hear you thinking: obviously Rubine doesn't know anything, so why am I still reading? Good point. I do know packets were mailed out at the end of March. I scanned the packet that my wife received. The mailing also includes the 2013 Annual Report of the District.
Update 4/3 11pm: The superintendent announced at tonight's board meeting that Future Search is a posted public meeting (which enables a majority of the board to attend) and that he's prepared a table for the uninvited public. It sounded to me like they're not really rolling out the red carpet for the uninvited but if they show up they won't be turned away. He reported that more than 120 invited people are planning to attend.
I didn't see the words "Future Search" in the packet. (In a comment below Julie calls it "Futures Search" which appears in the minutes from September; other times it's called "Future Search." I think the website she refers to is www.futuresearch.net.) The meetings are referred to in the packet as "The ORCSD Education Planning Conference." The cover letter states suggestions generated at the meeting will be forwarded to a "Strategic Planning Team." I hope this doesn't mean that the district is going to ignore the strategic plan generated a year and a half ago. I'm sure many of the participants who produced that plan will be at Future Search and will do their best to not let that happen.
The packet includes a menu that looks pretty good (though "whipped topping" is worryingly vague). It also includes information (mostly already out) about tuition students, reconfiguring the elementary schools and the Common Core standard. Football wasn't mentioned, but I'm going to go out on a limb and bet the subject comes up.
The packet includes a "Leadership In Action" briefing series from the New England Secondary School Consortium. I hadn't heard of them before, but they seem to be education reformers with good intentions like increasing graduation rates, decreasing dropout rates and assuring graduates are college ready. One of their big pushes is for "Proficiency-Based Diplomas," i.e. diplomas that indicate students have demonstrated proficiency in the areas of the learning standard, rather than just having put in their time. I guess this is what counts as progress in education.
I'll be staying home with the kids. If I could go, I would make the following points, from the perspective of a taxpayer:
Declining enrollment means lower taxes. For years I've been hearing what a tragedy declining enrollment is, as it will cause cost per student to increase. It will, because there's a large fixed cost in running a school district that will be divided among fewer students. But overall, and this is an obvious but often overlooked point, it costs less to educate fewer students. Not proportionally less, but less. Fewer students from the district means more slots available for revenue-generating tuition students.
Tuition students are a good deal for the taxpayers. The real issue with declining enrollment is loss of programming. If we want to offer our students a wide variety of subjects and electives, we need enough students so that classes are sufficiently full. Tuition students are the solution. Obviously they fill the available seats. They also come with tuition, typically around $12,000 - $13,000. That is probably below our cost per pupil (even when adjusted for transportation, special ed and other things not included in tuition), but way above the marginal or variable cost per pupil. When you compare that to a student from the district, who imposes costs without any offsetting tuition, you can see why tuition students are a good deal.
Tuition students may affect property values. There's one problem someone pointed out to me about the fact that tuition is lower than average cost per student. It makes a loophole. Right now, every homeowners' property value is higher than it would otherwise be because the home is in desirable school district. It's an important reason why homes generally cost more here than in Dover or Newmarket. But if families realize they can get an Oyster River education more cheaply by moving to Newmarket (where houses cost less and taxes are lower compared to adjacent Durham) they're going to do that. This will result in district property values decreasing while Newmarket's property values increase. I don't think the problem exists as badly for Barrington (where families have to pay part of the tuition themselves) and is less acute in Deerfield, where the inconvenient distance from our high school probably attenuates the effect. There are some mitigating factors (e.g. there's no guarantee a tuition agreement will be renewed) but it's a concern.
Not all tuition students are equal. Maintaining property values requires we maintain and enhance the good reputation of our school district. This in turn requires good educational outcomes: high test scores, high graduation rates, high rates of college acceptances, and so on. So it's in our interest to try to accept the best students we can. I've heard some concern voiced about increasing the number of Barrington students, but as I think the families themselves actually pay part of the tuition these students are probably better than average, and the administration consistently reports no significant difference in the performance of the Barrington tuition students. Newmarket's NECAP scores are very close to ours and thus accepting all Newmarket students probably wouldn't make that much of a difference in outcomes. It's harder to separate out Deerfield as their scores are lumped together with other towns, but the percent of people with bachelor degrees is about the same in both towns (Newmarket 32.3%, Deerfield 31.7%). Deerfield's 2009 median income was $74,041; Newmarket's was $54,712.
Well, this is getting long so I should wrap it up. I do want to mention that a great place to start studying up on all this is Mike McClurken's report, website and tuition letters (3/8/13, 3/20/13) in Foster's. I just mentioned percentage of bachelor degrees and income as Mike's report identifies those as key predictors of student performance. Mike seems to have evolved his position on tuition students since his report, which argues that Barrington's tuition is too low, causing the district to lose money. His current position is tuition students are good for the district. I think his initial conclusion was based on the fact that tuition was set below (adjusted) average cost per pupil. My view is for the district to make money they need to set the tuition above the marginal cost per pupil, which is much less. In Mike's latest letter he touches on special education but doesn't mention what's in his report: the Barrington tuition agreement clearly indicates that Oyster River does not bear the cost of special education of tuition students. Foster's has covered the tuition issue here and here, among other places.
So, though Mike and I begin from opposite ends of the political spectrum, we've basically arrived at the same conclusion on the tuition issue. We're also in a similar place on taxes (less is better), but who isn't? I am especially grateful for Mike's thorough focus on education outcomes. I suspect his reason is he understands how important they are to local property values. I mainly want my children to have the opportunity for a good education, but here again we've arrived at a similar place.
Interestingly, Dr. McClurken has come out against football in Oyster River, based on cost concerns. On this he seems abandoned by his normally fiscally conservative cohorts. I noticed OyC'mon, which frequently calls attention to Mike's writings, failed to mention his letter to the editor in Foster's about football. My personal issue with football is that I want the board to be fully aware of the consequences, both in safety and costs, before deciding. Thus, I objected to attempts to prematurely approve the program and to mislead the district about costs. I am otherwise reserving judgement until the report is presented. Rather than a divide between spenders and cutters, this issue is splitting up more like it might in high school: jocks versus eggheads.
Let me place myself squarely on the egghead side and end with a link to Easy As Pi, some math rock by Jim Schliestett (music and lyric) and Dean Rubine (additional lyrics). Performed by $ense for RPM 2013, Jim S. (guitar, bass, vocal), Dean R. (keyboards) and Lee Cruikshank (drums).