School district is lauded
Hard work and tight belts helped achieve a top ranking for the Baldwin School District from the just-released Standard & Poor's analysis of how Kansas schools are using taxpayer money to reach academic goals.
The S&P report, which is preliminary, shows Baldwin as one of 16 schools in Kansas that are achieving quality education and using tax dollars efficiently. The report was released Tuesday by S&P and Gov. Kathleen Sebelius. It was music to Supt. James White's ears.
"Yes, it is good news," White said Wednesday. "It's always great to be notified that you're doing things that other people see as positive. I think that Standard & Poor's in studying the school in Kansas found we were one of the best 16 schools providing education for our students at the best cost to our tax payers.
"It comes down to the fact that we're getting good results for each dollar we're spending," he said. "I think it does show we are doing things right. It has been a difficult three years with slightly declining enrollment and dollars. I just think it shows our teachers, administrators, staff and students have just done a great job."
The federally mandated "No Child Left Behind" program forced new standards on school districts and, initially, the Baldwin district was identified as not meeting requirements regarding a small portion of district students with special needs. That resulted in a district-wide effort to improve state-wide test scores and the district has shown improvement each year.
The new requirements unjustly implied the district wasn't making the grade, White said.
"It was ridiculous," he said. "I think we just happened to be caught in the middle when the law changed. I don't think it ever said or meant to say we were a bad school district. I guess the frustration was because the school board's position was that the district would set the standards for the district and the law changed that. It was a big change.
"Our staff did a wonderful job adjusting to the new standards," said White. "Look at our results. They are fantastic. All the hard work paid off. And, it was hard and grueling to start off with. Our people were down right mad because the rules had been changed in the middle of the game."
The S&P study of Kansas schools was limited to districts with more than 200 students, which is 264 of the 300 districts in the state. The other districts in the top 16 identified as "highly resource effective were Arkansas City, Geary County, Halstead, Hays, Hesston, Lincoln, Macksville, Nickerson, Renwick, Rock Creek, Scott County, Spearville, Stafford, Vermillion and Wamego.
"It reinforces what we here in Baldwin City already knew," said Tom Mundinger, principal at Baldwin Elementary School Intermediate Center. "We work at every level. Everybody has a stake in being good stewards of tax dollars."
Gov. Sebelius said protecting taxpayers and maximizing returns on the $3 billion spent annually in public schools is important. This year Legislators increased that total by $290 million.
"Our new investments in schools require increased accountability," Sebelius said.
The S&P audit was funded by the Kauffman Foundation in Kansas City, Mo., and considered various student demographics and financing capabilities to allow the districts to be compared.
White knew the S&P audit was being done. But, Tuesday's news that Baldwin was proven to be among the state's best caught him off guard.
"Yes, I was surprised," said White. "I was surprised from the stand point that it had been some time since we'd been asked questions regarding the district from S&P. I didn't know the timeline.
"I was surprised yesterday (Tuesday) and I'm extra pleased today (Wednesday)," he said. "We're excited and the people of the Baldwin community and the school community can be proud."
Baldwin continues to grow with new housing developments. The school system is one of the reasons for that growth.
"I think it's why people continue to build and seek out housing in Baldwin because they want their children exposed to outstanding educational opportunities and I think people are experiencing that when they come to Baldwin," White said.
The S&P report can be viewed in its entirety at www.schoolmatters.com.