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Superintendent Robby Parker's 10-Year Vision for Madison City Schools

 Madison City Schools 10-Year Vision 2018-2028

Superintendent Robby Parker presented his 2018 "State of Madison City Schools" report to a crowded auditorium at James Clemens High School Jan. 23.
Three community input meetings have been held to receive questions and comments from citizens. All were well attended with helpful input from the public.
A Schools Growth Impact Committee submitted its report March 22, giving a blueprint on how to meet many of the challenges facing Madison City Schools.

View Mr. Parker's original Vision Plan presentation in the box below:

Click here for  supporting slides in his address.

As a followup to the presentation, we have created an FAQ page to answer frequently asked questions, a summary of his long range plan, and have added a public comment section. The FAQs and public feedback link are at the bottom.
The public input meetings following the State of Schools were scheduled to ensure maximum community participation. In each of those meetings at the Central Office, West Madison Elementary and Columbia Elementary, Mr. Parker outlined where we are and where he would like to see us go as a school district. Public comments then followed. One major component is to expand the district's Pre-K program. Here's a recent article on the important role Pre-K plays in closing the achievement gap between kids who take it versus those that don't. 


Lets begin with a summary of where Madison City Schools is as a school system and some of the challenges before it.
In just 20 years as a school district, Madison City Schools has emerged as one of Alabama’s top 3 school districts and is certainly among America’s best.

Superintendent Robby Parker delivered his State of Schools report Jan. 23, 2018 that outlined its successes and challenges over the next decade.

Topping the challenges are issues related to growth.
Madison City Schools has more than doubled in enrollment since separating from Madison County Schools in 1998 to become its own school system.
The number of schools has also more than doubled, with 12 campuses now serving an enrollment of nearly 11,000 students.
Schools come with hefty price tags. Building that many schools over a short period of time has capped the district's ability to borrow from the bond market unless there is a new revenue source. We are still paying for them.

In addition to all those schools, there's now a stadium, a transportation depot for the ever-growing bus fleet, a central administrative office, central office annex, and other facilities that have been added including special education classrooms and alternative school, not to mention all the school expansions to accommodate huge enrollment gains.
That’s a lot of brick and mortar in a short period of time that has driven up our mortgage payments. “The significant growth of students in the past 20 years has caused us to max out our debt borrowing until 2028 unless there is a new revenue source,” Mr. Parker reported.

A looming challenge to sustain Madison City as a top quality school district is being able to afford the needed improvements. Investments in teachers, professional development and operational support will remain a priority, as will initiatives that continue improving academic, arts and athletics offerings.

Voter approval of the tax renewals in December 2017 was helpful in that it protects what the district was receiving. For that, Mr. Parker and Board are most grateful to the taxpayers.
The Limestone tax settlement helps, but is far short of what’s needed to meet growth challenges. The settlement helped close the gap on the inequity in what Madison-Limestone residents pay in school taxes, and what Madison City Schools receives in return. Settlement helped avoid protracted, costly litigation with a potentially unfavorable outcome. Still, no side got everything it wanted. Here's more background on the Limestone Tax case.

Mr. Parker’s 10-Year Vision also outlined goals to:
* Grow the district’s model Pre-K program (space is now maxed out).
* Expand language offerings so that every child can be bi-lingual when they graduate,
* Provide more accelerated math for elementary students.
* Build on career tech programs for “new collar” jobs that non-college bound students will be pursuing.
* Strengthen the arts programs in schools.
* Ensure maximum capacity utilization of schools through rezoning, which hasn’t been done in five years except for a minor adjustment. This will be done with careful consideration of growth projections so that no school is unnecessarily burdened by crowding.
Rezoning will also be designed to ensure proportionate mixes of socioeconomic populations. Diversity is a strength and it is to the advantage of students, and the district as a whole, for schools to be demographically equal to reflect the city’s population as a whole. A key to Madison City’s success has been ensuring that where you live makes no difference in the quality of school that you will attend.
Any rezoning proposal that is recommended will be done at the Feb. 22 Board meeting. There will be ample time for public discussion before coming back to the Board in a future meeting for a vote.

Frequently Asked Questions. ( updated 3/05/18 )

What’s the most critical need of Madison City schools to remain a top performing school district?
* Schools. Continued growth of 200-300 students per year will push capacity of schools at all levels beyond 100 percent within a few years if steps aren’t taken.

So, what’s the proposal?
* A new elementary school opened by 2021 and repurposing West Madison Elementary into a Pre-K Center. A new middle school opened by 2023, and new capacity for high school students whether it be expansions to Bob Jones and James Clemens or a third high school by 2026. Be mindful that schools take a lot of time from inception to opening. Approximately 3 years from board approval, to site acquisition, design, bids, construction, inspection, staff and operational decisions, and final completion. Add to that discussions and authorization for a new revenue source and the timeline could stretch another year or two.

Can we afford to build?
* Not without a new revenue source. Our borrowing capability - or mortgage - is tapped out.
If a new city-wide revenue stream occurs. all tax dollars that are designated to go toward education will be directed to Madison City Schools.

What is the school system's debt burden?
Of 137 public school districts, Madison City Schools ranks 23rd highest in debt-to-total expenditures, according to the finance division of the Alabama State Department of Education using 2016-17 figures. The state average is 5.37 percent of debt in relation to total expenses. Madison City is at 7.66 percent.
Looking at it from a debt-per-student standpoint, Madison City spends $715 per student annually toward debt compared to the state average of $515.

If a new city-wide revenue stream can be found to help pay for new schools, will families on the Limestone County side of Madison see their education tax dollars go to Madison City Schools?

* Yes. If a new citywide revenue stream occurs, all tax dollars that are designated for education will be directed to Madison City Schools regardless of whether one lives on the Madison County or Limestone County side of Madison.

Where will the new elementary and middle schools be built?

* There are no identified sites yet.

When will a decision be made to build a new high school or build on to JC and BJ?
* No decisions have been made. We will continue to monitor growth trends and seek community input.

When will West Madison Elementary become a Pre-K Center?
* That depends on whether our community is in favor of creating a second Pre-K Center and whether we can find a way to pay for a new elementary school. If a new elementary school is acceptable and approved, the best practical and financial decision is to build it on a new site. West Madison Elementary would add new Pre-K classes as they are awarded to MCS by the state and become a Pre-K Center when the new elementary school opens.

Why West Madison as the school to covert to a PreK Center?
* At 53,649 square feet, WMES is the smallest elementary school. The average size of other elementary schools in Madison City is 89,232 square feet. It's also the oldest (1953) not counting Madison Elementary, which underwent a costly major renovation in 2015. Coversion to a PreK will be less costly than building a new PreK or transforming an existing facility that is not already built to school building codes. Classroom size at WMES is also smaller which is more acceptable in a Pre-K with teacher ratios of 18:1.


Why is it better to add a second Pre-K Center instead of just spreading out additional Pre-K classes throughout all of our elementary buildings?
A major benefit of a separate Pre-K Center is the ability for teachers to collaborate. That is diminished when Pre-K is scattered into individual elementary schools. Having a separate Pre-K makes teachers feel better connected to their learning environment, as opposed to being simply a part of a broader school operation. A stand-alone Pre-K allows for more developmentally appropropriate furnishings, bathrooms, water fountains and playground, and more focused instruction and leadership support. A concentrated Pre-K can improve the chances of grant approval for subsequent Pre-K classrooms by allowing a greater focus on Pre-K standards and requirements. Putting Pre-K in multiple schools strains resources because of separate requirements governing elementary versus Pre-K.

Can we add Pre-K classes if we do not make West Madison a Pre-K Center?
* We will be limited in our ability to expand our Pre-K classes if we do not open a new elementary school in 2021. WMES enrollment currently stands at 440 for K-6 grades. It is projected to open in the 2018-19 school year with 390 enrollment for K-5 grades. Enrollment projections estimate 481 by 2022 for K-5 grades (not counting Pre-K), which would put WMES at 96.2 percent capacity.

Why not build the new elementary school on the West Madison site?
* At 8.1 acres, the campus isn't large enough to meet current standards. The Administrative Code governing school size for the Alabama Department of Education requires elementary school campuses to have aminimum base of five acres, plus one acre for every 100 students. A new elementary school needs to be much larger than what would be allowed on the WMES site to meet long range growth needs. Additional concerns are destroying a useable building that is also significant to Madison's history.

What will happen if we do not build new schools?

* We will become overcrowded, and the quality of education will erode.

Who will be rezoned?
* The whole district is subject to rezoning.

What are the cost projections and proposed timetable for new schools?
* A 900 capacity elementary school for opening in 2021 is projected at $34 million.
A new middle school (2023 opening) for 1,200 students with a planned Performing Arts Center for use by the entire district will cost $61 million.
A new high school (2,000 capacity with estimated completion in 2026) will cost up to $120 million in tomorrow’s dollars. That includes the cost for 80 acres of land and also a construction of a stadium since one stadium will not be sufficient for three high schools and three middle schools. An alternative to a new high school would be expanding Bob Jones and James Clemens for a total of $18 million to accommodate 500 more students each.

Are you exploring other funding sources besides, or in addition to, tax increases, such as developer impact fees?
* A City Growth Impact Committee comprised of residents and city and school leaders across Madison is studying growth issues and will make a recommendation soon that could include new revenue options.

How will you incorporate the arts center into the curriculum of students?
* Our Instruction Department will work on any curriculum issues related to a Performing Arts Center.

How will you keep teacher-to-student ratios low?
* Student-teacher ratios are dependent on funding. As student enrollment grows, so does the state allocation per student. However, state funding for teaching units is in arrears, meaning it is based on the previous year's enrollment. Funding in arrears hurts growing school systems like Madison. Only the Legislature can correct this. The current formula requires us to use local funds to fully cover additional teaching units until the following year when allocations catch up. Madison City ranks 61st our of 137 school districts in per-student expenditures, and has the 20th worse student-teacher ratio out of 137 school districts.

Should we grow the city at all costs?
 * That is a question for the City of Madison since the school district doesn't decide annexation and growth issues. Controlled growth can be healthy, as opposed to the alternative of a  shrinking population that can decrease tax revenues and force school closings. However, there must be smart growth with adequate funding for schools so that Madison's best asset - its schools - doesn't diminish in quality.

How accurate are your projections in light of the Toyota-Mazda announcement?
They are based on the city's master growth plan for areas currently designated for residential growth. The growth will occur at a more accelerated rate if the influx of residents choose to live in Madison City. If the city annexes new property or rezones property to residential (particularly high density residential like apartments), growth projections will underestimate the impact to our schools.

We have two huge high schools which is awesome, but the middle schools are running out of room as well. Are we going to try to accomodate room for more students as time goes on?
* Liberty Middle is undergoing a $9 million expansion that includes a new classroom wing, enlarged lunchroom and gym and other improvements. The project is tied to plans to move 6th grade from elementary schools into both middle schools starting in the 2018-19 school year. Discovery Middle has more space because it was originally built as a high school (the former Bob Jones High School site). Construction will begin soon at Discovery to expand the lunchroom, improve the gym and create special education (DD) classrooms.

Now that you have laid out the plan and options for school expansions/building, I would like to see some funding options to come up with the money.
* The Growth Impact Committee is looking into that. It was launched by the mayor's office and is headed jointly by a former councilman and school board member. They are considering all options and will make recommendations.

Do we have an energy policy for our schools that will embrace renewable resourcess and energy efficiency? I understand upfront costs are high, but over time, will pay off.
Madison City Schools is very cognizant of utilities usage and efficiency. The district spent hundreds of thousands of dollars in the past few years in LED lighting for all interior and exterior use, motion activated switches, timed water faucets and other technology. We have partnered with the Better Buildings Challenge of the Department of Energy to share Energy Star portfolio data with them in the monitoring of energy and water costs. MCS just received a state grant to upgrade lighting efficiencies at Mill Creek Elementary. We do not have resources in place for renewable energy at this time, but constatnly look for ways to reduce water and energy costs.


Finally, Mr. Parker and the Board would love your feedback now that you've had an opportunity to learn about the vision for Madison City Schools.

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