VASD: Exploration Academy adjusts schedule

By: 
Scott Girard

Exploration Academy students and advisers will have 18 days of even more flexibility next year.

On late start Mondays, EA students, which will number 80 for the 2014-15 school year, will not have to attend school.

Instead, they will develop a “Late Start Monday Learning Plan,” which will include community-based work experiences, time outside of the normal school day or regular project work.

“We’ve long said that students don’t necessarily need to be within the four walls of the classroom or the school to engage in learning,” outgoing EA director Mike Murphy said. “What we’d really like to do is promote … that students could get out into the community or just work more flexibly rather than feel like they just need to be in the classroom.”

The new plan fits with the mission of increased personalized learning for students at the charter high school, which opened for its first year in fall 2013.

The school has students meet the same standards as all high school students statewide, but allows them to choose the projects they work on to meet those standards and does not hold them to the traditional classroom setting.

The changes to late start Mondays, of which there are 18 each year, will also help staff better work with students in the community and develop their own advising methods for personalized learning.

“That would afford us some time to work in a more collaborative manner, as well as our staff members getting out to the community where our students are working,” Murphy said, mentioning that it was an “immense” task this year to develop personalized plans and get the school off and running.

Staff would use half of the time, equal to nine days, for “professional learning community collaboration” amongst themselves and the other half to work with students outside of the normal school day for an evening showcase event or something similar.

Murphy said parents of current and incoming EA students all were supportive of the idea.

“I don’t think we had anyone say ‘you can’t do that, that’s not going to fly,’” he said.

Adviser Chad Welty said it would allow him to better work with students out in the community and make more connections himself.

“I wasn’t able to get (to students in the community) as frequently as I would’ve liked,” Welty said.

At least one adviser will remain at EA on late start Mondays for students who are unable to go elsewhere because they rely on the bus or transportation at only certain times of the day.

Board passes preliminary budget

The board approved the $62 million dollar preliminary 2014-15 budget Monday night.

The budget would bring a mill rate drop to $12.10 per $1,000 of equalized value on a home. The new rate would save the owner of a $250,000 home an average of $42.50 on their property taxes.

The district is required to pass a budget before the fiscal year begins July 1, but it won’t be finalized until October after official enrollment numbers come in to determine state aid.

The mill rate numbers will vary somewhat from community to community within the school district.

Borrowing planned

The board also approved a resolution to borrow up to $35 million to fund the changes to the retirement system for district employees.

The money would be sold as promissory notes to cover the costs, and will help pre-fund the obligations to retirees rather than the “pay as we go” system the district currently has, board president Dennis Beres said.

“Between the changes that we’ve made and trimming those future obligations and the time value of money by allocating money to a bonding resolution, we’re able to pre-fund the amount of future obligations and drastically reduce the total obligation to the taxpayers,” Beres said.

The borrowing will now go through unless a petition with at least 7,500 electors or 20 percent of the voters from the last gubernatorial election signing is filed within 30 days.

The borrowing comes as the district changes the health benefits for future retirees based on a “tier system” to save the district money. District business manager Chris Murphy said the changes mean the annual cost will be around $2.5 million, but that would have grown to $5 million within 20-30 years without the changes.

Unions for district support staff and teachers supported the changes when they were introduced two weeks ago and were involved in yearlong negotiations.

The official changes to the employee handbook will be voted on at the July 14 board meeting.

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