Archive for Thursday, November 16, 2006

Virtual School takes step toward reality

November 16, 2006

Thanks to School Board member Scott Lauridsen, the Baldwin School District is one step closer to reaching a partnership with Insight Schools.

The Baldwin Board of Education decided to move forward and ask for a contract from Insight, which would provide an on-line virtual school based out of Baldwin High School. The board will review the contract and ask questions at its work session Nov. 27.

"I think the intent is to get someone here to answer questions," Lauridsen said after the meeting. "We will have their contract and we can ask specific questions about language, understanding and about gaps that will probably be in there. If our gaps are too large for them to accept, then we can't get it done. That's the next step."

At Monday's meeting, Lauridsen presented the financial information and possibilities to the board. After several discussions with Insight Schools, Lauridsen prepared a spreadsheet that explains the budget numbers that would impact the district.

"We played with the different scenarios and what the impact of those might be," Lauridsen said. "We modeled what this would do for the next 15 years."

The main problems revolved around Insight trying to understand the Kansas education budget and Lauridsen understanding what Insight's goals were.

"Both sides were trying to figure out the impact of adding the virtual school," Lauridsen said after the meeting. "They weren't really familiar with the state formula, so it was an educational process of how the additional students would impact us from that formula. They needed to explain to us the costs that they anticipated."

"Then if the additional revenues were larger than the costs, then it warranted further conversation," Lauridsen said. "It looks like it does, so I think they want to get together and talk about more specific contract issues now."

During the meeting, Lauridsen explained the financial numbers and what benefits the district would be receiving. He said that if the school enrolled 1,000 students during its first year it would generate a surplus of $7.5 million.

However, if the school brought in 500 students, the surplus would only be $1 million.

"The whole thing is assumptions, so a lot of the conversation was around assumptions of students and costs," Lauridsen said.

Despite the positive numbers, there were a few drawbacks to the proposed virtual school.

Supt. Paul Dorathy said the district would lose state dollars if its enrollment became larger than 1,637.

"We would lose the low enrollment waiting funding with that big of a jump," Dorathy said.

Another concern was whether the initial costs of the school would cost the district anything if the desired enrollment wasn't reached.

"The way they want it structured is that they bear the risk of the assumptions being wrong," Lauridsen said. "They articulated what they want to do is make those assumptions their responsibility. If they are wrong, then they are in a poor financial situation, not the district. That makes it easier for us to move forward when you are dealing with assumptions."

The original cost of the school turned Board President Alison Bauer away, but this new proposal has her interested again.

"I had my mind made up when they said it would cost $200,000," Bauer said. "I thought then that it was no way, we can't do it. Then they came back with this new proposal, so I had to open my mind back up."

Board Members Ruth Barkley and Ande Parks were both concerned about the virtual school not making Adequate Yearly Progress or the state assessment standards. Parks also had another concern.

"We need to have that conversation about what are our outs if things don't go like we want or if a new board comes in and doesn't want this," Parks said.

Despite the many concerns, the board told Dorathy that they want to move forward and ask for a contract from Insight Schools. The board will be reviewing the contract at its work session meeting, which begins at 7 p.m. Nov. 27 at the District Office.

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