Columbia Public Schools to manage summer school in-house

Wednesday, September 16, 2009 | 5:36 p.m. CDT; updated 7:58 p.m. CDT, Wednesday, September 16, 2009

COLUMBIA — Columbia Public Schools will no longer be able to offer gift cards as incentives to summer school students because, at least for 2010, the program will likely be managed by the district instead of a private vendor.

By not renewing its contract with Edison Learning, previously Newton Learning, the Columbia School Board is effectively choosing to put the operation of summer school in district hands.

“It’s not a done deal until the board approves the funding to make this happen,” board President Jan Mees said.

The district will need board approval to hire additional staff, especially clerical support. Until then, the decision is not set in stone. Members will discuss the matter at a work session on Sept. 24, but no board vote is required to make the change.

By moving management in-house, the district is legally restricted from giving out cash incentives to students for attending school, said Sally Beth Lyon, chief academic officer. Edison Learning, which the district used for six years, gave out $100 gift cards for perfect attendance as incentive for parents to enroll their children in the program.

Speaking to the board on Monday evening, Lyon said that for budgeting purposes, the district should expect an attendance decrease of about 25 percent because no incentive can be offered.

“Our revenue estimate, as we do our financial analysis, is based on a 25 percent decrease in attendance from this year,” Lyon said Wednesday.

The district has to account for this loss of attendance to calculate projected revenue it will receive from the state. If the district budgets too little income from the state based on a higher attendance number, it will run into financial problems.

Enrollment at the start of Edison's Summer Journey 2009 was about 7,800 students, as previously reported by the Missourian. A district survey conducted at the end of the summer found that 84 percent of parents who responded said they would enroll their child in summer school without the gift card incentive; 5 percent indicated they would not.

When Columbia started its summer school program, the state was reimbursing schools at double the cost of running the program to encourage establishment. It became a lucrative process for some schools, Superintendent Chris Belcher and Mees both said.

“It turned out to be a money-making situation for us in the beginning,” Mees said. “We were making $2 (million) or $3 million out of it.”

Three years ago, the state ended its double reimbursement program. To prevent districts from bailing out of their programs, the state imposed a monetary penalty on those that lost enrollment, Belcher said. In addition to the penalty, districts would get less state funding for their programs.

But in May, the state lifted the enrollment penalty. Now, districts receive less funding for summer school, but the penalties are no longer in place, Lyon said.

When the board was reviewing Edison Learning’s contract at the beginning of this year and considering signing the company on for another three years, the prospect of moving summer school in-house was proposed, board member Ines Segert said.

Segert said the board voted unanimously to sign a one-year contract with Edison Learning, rather than one for three years, to allow time to conduct a financial assessment of the costs of moving the program in-house. Lyon delivered that report to the board’s financial committee on Sept. 9 and to the entire board on Monday.

“The program change is not based on performance issues," Belcher said Wednesday. "It’s mainly a monetary consideration.”

By not renewing a contract with Edison Learning, the board will save about $2 million, according to Lyon’s presentation. “We’ll need to explain to families that it’s just no longer economically feasible,” Lyon said Wednesday.

If the district renews its contract with Edison Learning, the company has offered a one-year contract deal that would save the board just under $1 million, Lyon told the board.

Teachers would not be expected to craft entirely new curricula for next summer. They would be able to continue using curricula crafted by Edison Learning while continuing to add and make changes over the next few years.

Lyon thinks that by bringing management in-house, Columbia Public Schools will have more control over assessing summer school’s impact on Missouri Assessment Program standardized test scores and overall achievement. She said there will also be increased opportunities to build upon and improve the program as it stands, especially at the middle school level, where teacher surveys show a need to reassess the summer curriculum.

“I am firmly convinced that we can do a program just as good,” Belcher said. “I trust that our teaching staff has an unleashed creativity that will show up with everything we do in the district-run summer school program.”

At the high school level, Lyon hopes to possibly integrate ACT preparation for students and expand the variety of courses available. This past summer, 948 students received high school credit, she said.

The district would also continue to use its credit completion program for high school students. Students are able to complete the work that their teachers feel they missed out on, instead of repeating the entire class in one summer to pass. With this option, students are sent the message, “you haven’t failed, you just haven’t finished,” Lyon said.

Lyon stressed that with the new summer school program, teachers and administrators would continue to reach out to those students who really need assistance.

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