Zachary schools changing standards

The Zachary Community School District may spend about $192,000 during the school year in making the transition to new, national standards for what students are expected to learn and know.

All Louisiana schools are shifting to so-called Common Core standards adopted by Louisiana and 44 other states, as well as new standardized tests that rely on those new standards.

Common Core standards was one of numerous topics the School Board covered Thursday during its first lengthy planning session with the district’s new superintendent, Scott Devillier. The meeting lasted more than three hours.

The district budgeted $200,000 for the Common Core transition this school year but may not need quite that much, Human Resources Director Yolanda Williams told the board.

The district spent $61,500 in the last school year for teachers involved in writing transitional curriculum.

Common Core curriculum is being used in kindergarten and first grade this year and will be fully implemented in the 2014-15 school year.

Federal grants totaling $34,000 are being used to train teachers this year, and $128,000 in local funds will be used for additional transitional curriculum writing.

Michelle Clayton and Williams said another $30,000 will be paid to teachers who will grade “pre-tests” to be given to be sure that the curriculum adheres to Common Core standards.

Clayton rejoined the board this week in the new position of executive director of academics and special programs. She was the fourth person hired in the district before it began holding classes in 2003 and was the director of accountability for much of her tenure.

She briefly held the position of director of accountability for the Baton Rouge Recovery School District earlier this year, but left after several months.

After Finance Director Gordon Robertson presented figures showing that the district’s revenues are expected to be more than anticipated this school year, board member Kenneth Mackie asked how he could persuade a skeptical constituent to support the renewal of a 38.2-mill property tax on the Dec. 8 election ballot.

Several board members suggested Mackie show his constituent the Common Core training expenditures.

“It’s an unfunded mandate,” board member Sharon Samuel said.

The tax is a continuation of the property tax millage levied by the East Baton Rouge Parish School Board before Zachary formed its own district.

Devillier said the district would lose $6 million to $7 million in funding a year if the tax is not renewed and would be bankrupt within a few years.

The state’s Minimum Foundation Program allocation to Zachary will be about $278,000 more than the board budgeted this year because the district’s Oct. 1 enrollment grew by 72 students between 2011 and this year, Robertson reported.

Zachary’s enrollment has climbed every year but one since the district was formed in 2003, going from 3,246 to this year’s count of 5,138. In 2004, enrollment dipped by 45 students when Baker students, who had been attending Zachary schools under a desegregation consent decree, returned to Baker.

The MFP enrollment does not include pre-kindergarten students. Zachary has 231 4-year-olds enrolled in pre-kindergarten and 34 younger children who are eligible for special education services.

The board discussed several possible ways to minimize the number of students who are attending Zachary schools illegally, saying they want Zachary taxpayers to have assurances that their money is not supporting students who live outside the district.

Devillier said School and Home Relations Supervisor Tim Jordan is aggressive in following up on tips that students may live outside the district, but he said requiring students to register every year possibly could be an extra step in monitoring student attendance.