Graham is a wonderful, tightknit community that values schools. We try hard to reflect our community in everything we do. In fact, back in 2011-12, when our district was hit with tough economic times in the midst of a national recession, we worked hard to not only enact millions in cuts and reductions, but we stabilized the district by stretching our finances further than any school district in the area. Some of these cost measures have made it harder for our staff and students to compete. We need to fix that now.
Last spring, a core group of concerned citizens worked with school staff to forge Graham 2020, our new strategic plan. One of its five goals was a financial goal to plan for additional operating funds to be able to realize the success of the plan’s objectives. Those objectives include new technology for students, new pathway programs to help foster careers; enhanced classroom design; support programs for students and families; and maintenance on our facilities, which are no longer new.
Now, after years of lean operations and of stretching, cutting and reducing, we are to the point where we cannot operate much longer at this level without additional funds.
We have done our part to operate frugally. In fact, in our last round of cuts we lost 24 teachers and other administrators and staff. The work did not go away when those positions were cut. Instead, we now have fewer teachers and staff left who are now doing more work. At the same time, our operating funds have not kept pace with inflation, and state funding has decreased. We cannot continue in this capacity and expect our student achievement to increase, or stay the same.
Future restraints placed on our budgets would be putting at risk the quality of education we are trying to build on and enhance. Graham 2020 is about asking a better future here over the next five years. Why face future rounds of cost cutting measures when we ought to be planning for how our students can better compete with their peers in other school systems for college and careers? We need a future we can count on for our Graham students.
Our work in arriving at next steps is very strategic. Graham 2020’s financial objectives provided a clear message. Following a third-party survey of our district’s citizens, the community overwhelmingly responded that a levy would be preferred over making deeper, extreme cuts. This is heartening to us, but by no means does it make any effort easier. A November ballot issue will still be very difficult, and it’s important that we rally now.
Regardless of how the board proceeds, the need is here now. You can rest assured that we will continue to operate in a frugal and lean manner. We are only pursuing this path because we have spent years exhausting all others. We have spent time over the past three months meeting with small groups of concerned citizens to garner their input and feedback regarding a fixed term, earned income tax issue. The Board will seriously consider this type of issue.
As we move forward together, we will work to inform you as to what’s next with plans for the November 2017 ballot. I will continue to keep you posted, and value your opinions.
There is a lot to be done before there is an official proposal for the ballot. This will be a top priority for the board, and for me moving forward. We will continue to promote the goals of Graham 2020 and respond to our community’s charge to realize the vision of Success Today, Prepared for Tomorrow.