••• Education •••

Blue Valley school board isn’t allocating enough money for academic needs

USD 229 Blue Valley, where the average single-family residence is over $475,000, is not allocating enough money to classroom instruction for students to be proficient in math and reading.  That’s according to building needs assessment reports, likely completed by school principals, and the district’s 2023 proposed budget.

Legislation passed this year requires each school board to prepare and publish a needs assessment for each school, identifying barriers that prevent students from being proficient in reading and math.  They must also specify the budgetary changes needed to overcome those barriers and estimate how long it will take for all students to be proficient if those changes are implemented.

Some of the barriers identified in the building needs assessment reports include a guaranteed, viable curriculum for all students, staffing for academic interventions and supports, more single-content teachers, and more teachers in their area of expertise.

Lack of resources for focused interventions frequently appears, which is noteworthy for several reasons.  Blue Valley started the last school year with about $50 million in operating cash reserves and increased administration spending by $6.7 million during the previous five years; $2.5 million more is budgeted for 2023.  The money is there to provide additional resources to students, but it is being spent elsewhere.

Spending per student is budgeted at $17,915 for the 2023 school year.  2022 spending was $16,344 and didn’t include funding received but not spent, like the $8.3 million that was added to the Contingency fund last year.  Over $3 million of At-Risk funding wasn’t spent, and Blue Valley transferred $4 million more than was necessary into the Food Service fund.  July 1 cash balances increase when more money is put into a fund than is spent.

None of the needs assessment reports identify a single budget action that should be taken to overcome any barriers.  It appears that the administration told each building what to say because every report in the district has the same answer, which basically says the district does an excellent job of “allocating resources to maximize student achievement outcomes.”  But if that were true, no academic barriers would have been identified.

Proficiency targets are absurd and reflect a disdain for student needs

It also appears that district administration told each building how to estimate how long it would take for students to achieve proficiency.  Every building says, “The District has a goal of moving 55% to levels 3 or 4 in math and 65% in ELA for FY 2022-23.  Based on the anticipated trajectory (from their reviews), the District goal will be to have 75% at levels 3 or 4 in 5-6 years.”  The law requires an estimate for each building, however.

That rubber-stamp response also reflects the district’s blithe disregard for academically preparing students to be successful in life.

The proficiency listing below shows most of those targets in middle school and high school are unattainable.  For example, only 20% of 8th-graders in Blue Valley Middle School are proficient in math on the 2021 assessment, but the district’s goal is 55% proficient for 2023.  10th-graders at BV Southwest are expected to go from 38% proficient in ELA to 65% in two years.  (The 2022 state assessment results have not been published at this time, but it was noted at the August meeting of the State Board of Education that 10th-grade math results barely changed statewide.)

And most of the elementary schools are already above the 2023 targets.  Still, the 2021 elementary outcomes should be disturbing because proficiency plummets between elementary and middle school…and then again in high school.

District officials won’t directly answer questions

We asked school board president Patrick Hurley to identify specific budget actions taken in response to the barriers identified, whether he believes the proposed 2023 budget sufficiently shifts resources to address all of the barriers in each building and if he believes the proficiency improvement targets are realistic.

District spokesperson Kaci Brutto responded on behalf of Hurley.  She didn’t directly respond to the first two questions but said the district believes the proficiency goals are “realistic” and “attainable.”  However, district history indicates that attaining those goals for middle and high school is about as likely as the Houston Texans winning the Super Bowl this season.

Blue Valley’s disregard for this legislative effort to close achievement gaps is just the latest in a long history, and it exemplifies the need for universal school choice.  The threat of a student taking their funding to another school is the only thing that gets the attention of many school board members and administrators.  The pressure to compete prompts a reallocation of resources that benefits all students in public education, as evidenced by the outsized gains in Florida and Arizona, where school choice flourishes.

Even in affluent Blue Valley, less than half of middle and high school students are proficient, and about a quarter are below grade level.  And that won’t change much with an intractable administration and a school board president who won’t answer simple questions.