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Monday, March 24, 2014

Funding Education is More Pressing Than Opposing Utah Core Standards

If you are more concerned with education funding than opposing the Utah Core Standards, send the pre-drafted message to your newly elected delegates (adjusting to your values) or “like” the article.  The list of delegates is at the bottom of the page.  If you’re not sure which precinct you belong to, here is the map.

“As a member of your district, I am more concerned with education funding than opposing the Utah Core Standards.  I believe it is important to work with the legislators in a spirit of cooperation to ensure schools are funded appropriately for the success of students emphasizing smaller classroom sizes and ensuring quality teachers through proper compensation.  Please emphasize my desire to allow local districts the ability to make decisions about allocations that are appropriate to their situation and demographic and/or fully fund line items for mandated expenses.  I believe a more pressing need is consistent effort and emphasis toward education funding which is vital to the success and growth of our children and state.”

At the caucus meetings on Thursday evening, the selected delegates of my district seemed to consistently have strong opinions against the Utah Core Standards.  I, too, have heard alarming information regarding the new standards.  After attending a few meetings with Martell Menlove, the State Superintendent, and our previous State School Board Representative, Tami Pyfer, my concerns were addressed and I felt comfortable moving forward.  However, the Utah Core Standards, are still at the forefront of discussions regarding education in Utah.  It is not my objective to change your opinion either way on the Utah Core Standard. 

My concern is that the Utah Core Standard issue is overshadowing what I believe is the greater issue, overall education funding.  It is no secret that Utah is in last place in per pupil spending, given our demographic, it is unlikely that will change.  However, there is still tremendous room for improvement.  Morgan County, in particular, is close to the bottom within the state.  But Morgan’s test scores, including ACT and overall graduation rates are competitive and above other districts that spend 2-3 times what we do per pupil.  That speaks volumes about our district, teachers and families.  Statistically, there is no indication to our legislators that Morgan County School District is not able, with current funding, to deliver a fair and appropriate education for our students as compared to other districts.  I don’t believe legislators will make funding exceptions for our district until our results begin to falter.  I’m not prepared to allow results to decline or sacrifice education excellence merely to send a funding message to legislators.

Overall State education funding is still not back to pre-recession value, as a percentage of the State’s budget.   I would like to see that improve.  Districts are still struggling to fund ongoing expenses and less funding with cuts and one-time money.  Morgan’s increased enrollment helps add some money back to the budget but it’s a double-edged sword.  Morgan still needs to house and educate those students.  Our student/teacher ratios make teaching more difficult, at best.  I oppose any criticism that if our district had more money in the operating budget it wouldn’t be used to improve student teacher ratios.  I would like to see our delegates work more cooperatively with our district to buoy funding from the State.

A few points regarding the Utah Core Standards that appeased my concerns are following.  Utah receives no federal funding for participation and is under no obligation to continue.  Utah has adopted only a portion of the Core; math and language arts, rejecting science, social studies and sex education.   Refer to the Common Core Resource Guide on pdf page 19 or document page 11. The resource guide contains background on the standards, assessments, curriculum etc.  It is a very comprehensive guide for those interested.  Utah has written their own tests to correspond to the standards rather than using pre-drafted tests.  (That is taken from Superintendent Menlove’s message at a local meeting.)  The State also had a parent panel review the test questions.   Changes were made as a result of that input.  There is a lot of concern regarding data collection of non-academic information.  The State superintendent, at a local meeting, said they have hired a company for their data collection that does do data mining; however, that is not in their contract.  In fact, because of the concern, the contract has been amended to make it void immediately if the company collects any additional data not specified.  No identifying student information is shared, required or otherwise, to the Federal government.  Refer to the Common Core Resource Guide on pdf page 23 or document page 15.  Reassurances were also made that the Core is a set of standards and actual curriculum is still the decision of local districts.  If it is still the desire of individuals to opt out of testing, that is available.

In meeting with some teachers from MGES, the feeling is the standards in math and language arts are more rigorous and the students are rising to the challenge.  Teachers have not mentioned feeling confined or stifled in their ability to teach appropriately.  On the other hand, the budget issues have made teaching much more challenging.  The adoption of some of the standards has not had that much of an impact on their teaching.

I have intentionally published this article on For Morgan Kids as a personal contribution rather than from the group as it may not represent the feelings of the entire group.  I also wanted to be personally responsible for any errors there may be in the message.  If there are any, it is not intended or made in an effort to be manipulative in any way.  My sincere desire is to make a positive impact in education in the county with no political objective.  My personal belief is that after food, shelter and clothing, education is next in line to improve the condition of the human family and we have an obligation to make and keep it a priority personally as well as legislatively.

Morgan County Republican GOP Representatives

Precinct 1:1 Lydia Nuttall, Randy Sessions, Kelly Wright, Pamela Smith
Precinct 2:2 John Barber, Jim (James) Bledsoe, Lanelle Butterfield, Karl Jensen
Precinct 3:3 Stephen Smith, Robert Harvey
Precinct 4:4 Brett Bowcutt, John Hubbell, Anna Phelps
Precinct 5:5 Barbara Wilkinson, Clay Wilkinson, Jim (James) Brown, Cori Morgan
Precinct 6:3 Matthew Barr, Clark Porter
Precinct 7:5 Chris Sauer

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

School Board Meeting 1-14-14

The School Board meeting was short and sweet.  There are a few items of note:
  •          The district is forming District Growth Committee to assess future needs and finances.  Some members will be appointed.  Community members may fill out an application to participate.
  •          The scholarship board is looking for new donors.  Any suggestions are encouraged.
  •          The district is taking nominations for Honoring Excellence.
  •          Amanda Campbell and Becky Thurston from MGES were spotlighted.
  •          MHS and MMS SEOP day out will be on April 22 instead of April 18.

The Board reports began with Mark Farmer discussing the new finance committee that will include Dr. Jacobs, a principal, appointed community council members and community citizens that can apply to participate.  Their goal will be to assess long term needs district needs and find solutions to finance those needs.  He visited MGES and said they currently have enough students to fill the school.  With a few additional teachers from growth, the classrooms will fill up.

Jodi Hipwell met with the DATC and approved their annual report as well as visited their new facilities at the Freeport center.  Box Elder is piloting a program that will allow high school students to complete course requirements by their junior year allowing them to attend the ATC full time during their senior year.  This would mean they could get their high school diploma as well as a certificate to begin more meaningful work immediately while going to college.  The scholarship board is getting ready to send letters to donors.  They are looking for new donors.  Anyone with suggestions of new donors is encouraged to let them know.

Neil Carrigan has been working with the C.O.G.  They have a new project to allow kayaking along the Weber River.  He is continuing to pursue a bridge to ease traffic congestion near the Morgan schools.  The board members completed their training giving them the status of Master Boards.  The award includes a certificate and letter from the governor as well as $10,000.  Carrigan visited MHS during reality town as well as other classrooms.  He congratulated Renn Hoopes on hosting a 9 –school wrestling match tournament for JV and Varsity.  They held over 1,000 matches in one weekend.  The choir was praised for their excellent performance.  The district is taking nominations for Honoring Excellence.  Please notify the principal to nominate an outstanding district employee to be recognized during graduation.  Their name will be put on a plaque on the Trojan statue at the high school.

Ken Durrant is impressed with the quality of the teachers in our district and mentioned several he visited, the MHS and MMS gym teachers as well as the history, science and health teachers.  He said the physical facilities need updating and he is pleased with how well the earth science teacher handles big classes with limited resources.  He always likes visiting the special education classes and encouraged anyone interested to visit.

Miss Beardall mentioned spring conditioning has begun.  They are using the TCC because it has been too cold to train outside.  Ken Durrant encouraged anyone interested to also visit the Trojan Century Center saying it is well used and has been a great resource for the community and the students.  There is a dance coming up on February 1st.

Superintendents’ Report
Dr. Jacobs said he has been impressed with the district employees.  The spotlights came from MGES and were presented by Dr. Andreasen.  The spotlight employees are Amanda Campbell, the head custodian and Becky Thurston, a first grade teacher.

Enrollment is up 146 students this year from last year.  D’Lynn Poll reported on how we obtain funding from the State.  It is based upon two items; first, enrollment as of October 1 and second, the average daily membership.  The district enrollment has outpaced State projections.

Dr. Jacobs mentioned they are considering moving to a semester rather than trimester to save some money.  The State requires 24 credits to graduate.  Morgan currently requires 30.  By moving to a semester system, it would allow students to have more electives and still spend as much time in core classes without additional employees.  He said it was something they were looking into but not certain.  A comment was made that, last time there was a similar change, the community had some difficulty adapting.

District Calendar
Three options were put to faculty and staff for next years’ calendar.  Option 1 has school begin 8/14 and end 5/22 with 3 days for Thanksgiving, 10 for Christmas and 3 for Spring Break.  Option 2 began later, dismissed at the same time but only had 2 days for Thanksgiving, 8 for Christmas and 2 for Spring Break.  Christmas break would have the students attending a Monday before the break and a Friday after.  Option 3 began 8/20 and went to 5/28 with 3 days for Thanksgiving, 10 for Christmas and 3 for Spring Break.  The majority of voters voted for option 3.  The district was inclined to support the majority.  They will vote to approve next month.

Policy Updates
There are three proposals that will be reviewed.  Copies were sent to the principals and community councils.  If anyone is interested, contact the district office for an electronic copy.  The board members will be reviewing them this month and discussing them next month.  The district is looking at policies drafted by the State that have been reviewed by their legal department to be in compliance with the law.  In order for Morgan County School District to mitigate liability, Dr. Jacobs recommends adopting these policies with minor local adjustments.

Two new home school applications were approved.

The CDA (Community Development and Renewal Agency) requested approval for tax incentives so Young Ford could expand its’ business in Morgan.  They would be taxed at a rate of 20% for 7 years after which would be taxed at 100%.  Even at the reduced rate, the additional business would generate more taxes for the additional land than are currently being collected.  The proposed area is currently taxed at much lower greenbelt rate but would move into a commercial rate.  The proposal was approved.

The drill team requested a travel permit to compete in Southern California.  The cost for the students is $550 each.  Fundraising will be done to offset the cost.  The request was approved.

The district proposed a calendar change for MHS and MMS.  They would like to host the Sterling Scholar Region on April 22.  Currently the students are out of school on April 18 for SEOPs.  Instead they would have a regular school day on April 18 and take April 22 for SEOPs allowing the school to be free for the competition.  The change was approved.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Color Us Bright Fun Run

School Board Meeting, 9/10/13

The school board meeting on September 10 had a lengthy agenda now that school is back in session. Below are just a few of the items in brief. The rec board will now pay $1,250 annually to use the gym. The Color Fun Run is coming up on September 21st at 9am. Teachers at MES won 3rd place in innovative reading strategies from UVU winning $500 to continue PLCs. Congratulations!

The Superintendent’s report included a presentation of the employees of the month to Roxanne Rich, Food Service Supervisor and Denise Rich, District Secretary. Enrollment is up 107 students this year. The district budgeted for 50 students and the State budgeted for 134. ACT report scores Morgan students above the state average in every category with a comprehensive score of 22.6 as compared to the state average of 20.7. Morgan also has a higher percentage of students taking the ACT. The legislature has mandated every junior take the ACT and will cover the cost of that test. Because more Morgan students take the test that other high schools, the test scores may prove be even higher as compared to the state average after this year. AP results were equally good. Students passing the AP test in each category are as follows; English literature – 33, English language composition – 29, Biology – 7, European history – 25 and Calculus – 32 (terrific change over last year where 1 passed the test). AP Biology is not a class offering this year. The transportation department representative showed a video recounting a fatality in Missouri involving a child and a distracted bus driver as part of their bus driver safety training. She pleaded for more help to address concerns caused by the increase of children walking or biking to school as well as more parents driving children to school. The district is forming a transportation committee involving all needed parties to address concerns.

The discussion items began with a transportation update and introduction of the new transportation director, Ron Litchfield. Sell of the bus garage is earmarked for the cost of new buses. There is continued discussion as to whether that will be one full-sized bus and one smaller bus or two full-sized buses. A board member asked that the total amount from the garage be itemized on the spreadsheet for the purchase of buses. Transportation to the DATC is being provided and funded through an additional fee to those students/families. Bus route issues are being evaluated and resolved.

The last items were approvals before the board went into a closed session to discuss personnel. The new transportation director was approved. Home school requests were approved with a new requirement to have the application notarized. The agreement for certified employees was approved as well as the district calendar dates. The drama club and FCCLA trips were approved.

Friday, July 12, 2013

MEF Golf Tournament

Save the Date!
Tuesday August 6th
                  We are excited to announce the 5th Annual Morgan Education Foundation Golf Tournament!  We are grateful to all of you who participated with us last year to make this a successful event.  Thanks to you and your support we were able to fund 30 Classroom Grants to teachers this year.  We hope that as you put together your budget this year, you will set aside some money to support us in this worthwhile event.

Morgan Education Foundation Annual Golf Tournament
August 6, 2013 9 a.m.
Round Valley Golf Course 

     There are many ways that you can support our event such as major sponsors, hole sponsors, golf foursomes or gift donations for our prize drawing.
Major Sponsor:  $300  (more information to follow on benefits received with this category)
Hole Sponsor:  $150
Golf Team:  $300 for a foursome or $75 per person
Gift donations for our prize drawing are also greatly appreciated 

                  We will contact you at a later date with more details of our tournament. In the meantime if you have any questions, you can contact D’Lynn Poll at 801 829-4775 or
                  Thanks again for your past support of our foundation as we work together to
                                                    “Enhance our Children’s Education”

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

School Board Meeting

July 9, 2013
The school board continued its discussion on how to trim the district budget. Decisions will be voted upon at the next meeting on July 26, at 8:00 a.m. to accommodate the schedule of board members. The money generated from foreign exchange students was not automatically applied to the budget shortfall leaving the deficit at $313,000 though that money could be applied to help balance the budget.The business administrator and superintendent made several recommendations; however, final budgetary decisions were not made at this meeting. The dollar amounts of line item savings were not disclosed for all line items.

1 – Transportation cuts = $32,000 in savings. Routes will be reduced and consolidated. Only students living without the 1.5 mile legal distance for elementary and middle school and the 2 mile legal distance for high school will be bussed. There was some discussion of eliminating transportation altogether except where legally mandated with special education and where reimbursed for extra-curricular activities. The State reimburses transportation at a 60% rate only if all the transportation guidelines are met. Eliminating transportation all together is very unlikely. Of the current drivers, only 2 are accepting health insurance benefits though all receive retirement benefits.

2 – By not replacing the 3 teachers that have resigned (1 MGES teacher, 1 MES teacher and a shared MMS and MHS science teacher) the district will save $180,000.

3 – Two furlough days for classified staff and administrators would save the district $26,000. This option was not the recommendation of the business administrator and the superintendent. This would be one-time savings. The recommendation was to give teachers their steps and lanes. Classified employees would receive 1 furlough day instead of 2. Teachers would receive 1 day of professional development.

4 – Replacing two full-time media specialists with part-time employees to save on benefits will amount to $15,300 in district savings. This suggestion was met with sharp criticism reiterating the value of media professionals and their contribution. This cut was to be viewed as one-time savings as priority would be on returning to a full-time professional once the financial situation improves.

5 – The district distributes funds to MHS and MMS for textbook. The schools have some residual textbook budgets for future needs. For this year, the district would not fund the schools with any money for textbooks. Schools will use their residual funds for purchasing and replacing any textbooks for the upcoming fiscal year. Again, this is a one-time savings. There was no dollar amount of savings announced at the meeting associated with this line item.

6 – Personnel and Real Estate. It was mentioned there were some personnel cuts being considered. The board went into a closed session to discuss those items.
Other Items

There was no discussion about raising the tax rate of the board levy, although there was a public comment encouraging them to do so.

A meeting was scheduled to finalize rental fees for the Trojan Century Center. There was a public comment discouraging the rate increase for renting the facility.

Public comment period has been moved to the beginning of the meeting to allow those that comment to leave, if needed. The process for commenting at board meeting is to contact the district office prior to the meeting to be added to the schedule.

The superintendent recommended the proposal for the 4-day school week not be part of the budgetary discussion. Further review was necessary. There was a public comment opposing the 4-day school week and asking the board to consider the ramifications for working parents.

The superintendent pointed out that an increase in student fees was not being considered to balance the budget. After conversations with other districts, Morgan’s student fees are in line or more expensive than most districts. There was a public comment concerned about the increase in extra-curricular fees.

Final levy voting results were presented.

One last public comment asked the board to not unfairly burden the teachers with cuts to balance the budget.

A link to the district minutes will be posted once they are available.