This article originally appeared here, in myPalmBeachPost.com.
The consultant group brought in to review the Palm Beach County School District budget — and how the district invests its people and time — presented its earliest findings at a workshop Wednesday and outlined what the school board can expect for its $570,000 over the next year.
The discussion, described as “a mile-wide and a few feet deep,” by David Rosenberg, partner at the Boston-based nonprofit Education Resource Strategies, began with students.
Palm Beach County students generally outperform their peers across the state, but a closer look at poor students and those just learning English reveals they lag behind even their counterparts in other districts, Rosenberg said, touching on concerns also expressed by Superintendent Robert Avossa and his staff.
That picture is particularly worrisome considering forecasts that the county’s Hispanic population will grow from about 30 percent of students now to nearly 44 percent in 2024.
But solutions may be found in schools where those students are bucking that trend. According to ERS that includes schools such as Wynnebrooke Elementary in West Palm Beach, where at least 90 percent of students qualify for the federal free and reduced price lunch program and more than 60 percent are considered English language learners.
In its first look at spending, ERS found that the school district spends more per student at $8,580 than other large Florida districts, but break that down in a way that considers how many students are poor, aren’t native English speakers or have special education needs, and the adjusted per pupil spending falls to the middle of the pack in-state and on the low end nationally.
In addition to looking at students in the early weeks, ERS surveyed principals.
The takeaway there: Principals across the district would recommend a job here to their peers across the country but bemoan a lack of flexibility with their budget and staffing. They report having difficulty getting ineffective teachers out of the classroom.
Just identifying an ineffective teacher is challenging.
The reasons and what-should-happen-next discussions are still down the road, Avossa told board members, who were eager to pepper Rosenberg with questions at each new slide in his presentation.
Other districts that have hired ERS have used the analysis to see, for example, why more time with math coaches failed to boost scores in ninth grade. They were using too many novice teachers, Rosenberg said. “Another district was having a flight of high performing novice teachers at the end of five years.”
ERS was hired by the board in October. Avossa had worked with the organization in his former district in Georgia. A grant may cover $50,000 of the cost. The rest will be offset by savings created by a hiring freeze that began over the summer on administrative positions. The next report is due March 2.
“I’m really looking forward to getting into the weeds with this,” board member Debra Robinson said.
“This is just the tip of the iceberg,” Avossa said. “You will see enough work in the next nine months that will keep us busy for the next 20 years. … It will get us to a point to make better decisions.”