Budget plans appear hopeful for public summer school

Tuesday, March 8, 2011 | 12:52 p.m. CST

COLUMBIA — Summer school has been a target for statewide cuts this year, but Columbia Public School officials are now more confident that it will be funded.

"We are optimistic at this point that summer school funding will be available to support our program, and we plan to run a program quite similar to last year's with no significant additions,” said Chief Academic Officer Sally Beth Lyon.

Last year about 7,000 students attended summer school, Superintendent Chris Belcher said. This represents more than half the students in the district, which makes a decision about the program a significant one.

Belcher said funding would not be officially confirmed until the state approves the budget in May. If approved, summer school will be available for students in grades K-12 at no cost to parents.

To fund the program costs $2.5 million, including teacher salaries and transportation, Belcher said.

If the funding does not come through, School Board President Jan Mees said programs would be restricted to three groups:

  • 1,500 high school students who need to complete credits to graduate or want to get ahead on required courses.
  • 1,700 students in grades K-3 in need of remedial help to get to grade level in reading and math.
  • 250 students enrolled in strategic programs such as Art Explorers, Freshman Academy and Minority Achievement Committee Scholars.

This would be a dramatic decrease in the number of students in the program. Mees said the board is preparing for both best- and worst-case scenarios.

“We’re proceeding and getting the information out to our parents with a caveat that if something unforeseen should happen, we would go back to a pared-down summer school program,” Mees said.

Last year, the district switched to neighborhood models for every elementary school. This requires that students attend classes in the schools they will attend in the fall.

“It’s very good for kids to go to summer school in their own buildings,” Mees said. “They know, most of the time, the staff that’s there and they can do the routines that are there.”

Belcher agreed that this is particularly appropriate for pre-kindergarten students who can have a chance to adjust before the year begins.

“It’s a great preparation and a less stressful way to sort of prepare them for school,” Belcher said.  “And that made all the difference in the world.”

Because a number of state legislators are newly elected, Belcher said he feels a bit uneasy about the plans but said he remains optimistic.

“I just hope that they understand the value of summer school and keeping our student achievement up. A lot of the kids that need to be in summer school, if they don’t have it, will start to regress in their reading ability and their math ability,” he said.

“We think it’s absolutely necessary for this community.”

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