Wednesday, June 13, 2018
The School Board for the Pulaski County Special School District voted 4-2 Tuesday against the immediate purchase of new science textbooks to replace books that are more than a decade old and do not match the state's new science standards or the district's science curriculum.
A committee of district teachers, school administrators and others had recommended earlier this year that the district purchase new science books for kindergarten-through-12th grades.
Jennifer Beasley, science program administrator for the district, returned to the board Tuesday with that recommendation but at a newly discounted cost of slightly more than $1 million, and with an alternative option that would spread the purchase of the new science books over three years.
In the first year of the three-year plan, classroom sets of textbooks and digital subscriptions to those books would be purchased for high schools at a maximum cost of $409,544.
Textbooks for middle schools would then be purchased for the 2019-20 school year and for the elementary schools in the following year.
"The committee's rationale for allowing the high schools to be first to adopt books was that all of our high schools have a D on the state report card," Beasley told the board, "and committee members agreed it is important for students and teachers to have resources aligned to the new standards."
The high schools will be teaching to the new state science standards for the first time in this coming school year. The elementary schools incorporated the new standards in the previous two years, Beasley said, and the elementary teachers feel they are better prepared to continue with the instructional materials and lessons they've developed. Additionally, the elementary schools typically earned A's and B's on the state report card.
Beasley said that without textbooks that track with the state standards and district curriculum that is based on the standards, teachers must spend time researching on the Internet and other sources for lessons, typically about eight hours for a week's worth of lessons, she said.
In an interview before the meeting, Beasley said teachers shouldn't have to "wing it" and that modern textbooks can provide them not only with information vetted for accuracy but also lessons differentiated for student groups that receive special education services or don't speak English as a first language.
The textbooks are supplemented with online activities, interviews with scientists and with routinely updated articles on science-related current events.
Board members Brian Maune and Tina Ward favored the three-year purchase plan while board members Shelby Thomas, Alicia Gillen, Eli Keller and Mike Kemp opposed the purchases.
Gillen, the granddaughter of a chemistry teacher, said she knows science is important but wanted to wait on book purchases until later this year when she can be assured that the district has the money necessary to pay off its school building projects -- a new Mills High, a new Robinson Middle, a greatly expanded Sylvan Hills High and the relocation of Fuller Middle School. The buildings are her top priority, she said.
Maune said he knows of families that are removing their children from district schools because of concerns with the age and condition of science books, or with the lack of science books that parents can refer to when helping their children.
Denise Palmer, the district's chief financial officer, told the board earlier in the meeting that the district can expect an $8.4 million draw on its reserves in October to pay off the Mills and Robinson projects.
District leaders have proposed issuing second-lien bonds to raise the money to finish paying for the capital projects. The board is expected to make a decision on borrowing that money later this summer.
Metro on 06/13/2018
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