UDSD administration is proposing to make significant changes in how resources are allocated. Described as “tradeoffs,” and “schedule changes,” these proposed changes would entail cuts to existing programs. Currently, the focus for change is the elementary program; however, it has been noted that changing the high school program would allow for the greatest opportunity to “reallocate resources.” These proposals have been developed without the oversight of the School Board.

In preparation for the two important upcoming meetings on 4/21 and 4/25, UDPC is providing some background information for the community as to why it seems like the spring of 2012 all over again.

Who is the DMC and why are they here?

District Management Council (DMC), an outside consultant firm, was hired by UDSD in April 2015 to analyze resources and make recommendations about how they are used or allocated. There is a special tab for DMC on the District website. There, it says, “DMC partners with public school district leaders to improve student outcomes, operational efficiency, and resource allocation.”

What is Guiding Coalition Team?

The DMC and the District formed a Guiding Coalition Team to conduct diagnostic studies, evaluate best practices, and help create a detailed action plan. The DMC shared its vision with the Guiding Coalition Team at a kick-off meeting in August 2015. There are 29 members of the Guiding Coalition Team – comprised of central administrators, principals, coaches (Math and RTII specialists) and teachers. They were not voted on by any stakeholder group; there are no parents, guardians or community members on the Team, nor are there any School Board directors.

What forms the basis for decisions?

DMC conducted surveys and gathered data in the fall of 2015, and released a report of their findings to the Guiding Coalition in January 2016. Members from the public immediately noted the following concerns about the analysis: co-curricular programs at the elementary level were excluded from the analysis (instrumental lessons, band and chorus); specialists’ time was not accurately captured; half-block classes at the high school level – ex., choir, instrumental classes, AP classes, and ELL interventions – were not counted toward staff utilization or captured for enrollment totals/class utilization. Note: All information about the DMC, as well as some of the comments from the public, is available here: http://www.upperdarbysd.org/district-information/district-management-council

What was the recent problem with Special Education and Gifted Education?

The School District is currently engaged in drafting its 2017-2020 Comprehensive Plan, a plan that has multiple components, including Special Education and Gifted Education. Due to poor communication, particularly at a District Home and School Meeting, in light of a presentation on the Comprehensive Plan, information was circulated that the district was seeking to limit or eliminate pull-out instruction for both learning support and gifted services. Also, the DMC made some recommendations to the Guiding Coalition in their January 2016 report about making broad-scale reductions to special education services. This was upsetting to many parents and guardians, since according to the law, such changes cannot be done without the authorization of each student’s individual IEP team. Note: The last opportunity for comment on the Special Education Plan, available on the district website via the homepage, is April 25th.

What are Ed Specs?

At the March 29th Committee meeting, Education Specifications were discussed. Educational Specifications by definition is a written document that articulates a district’s educational program and the facilities necessary to support its delivery. An outgrowth of the School Capacity Task Force, the UDSD Educational Specifications Committee (also called “Ed Specs”) was created by Superintendent Dunlap in 2014 to examine existing facilities usage and consider the UDSD educational program. In spring of 2015, Ed Specs made a presentation to the School Board proposing changes to our facilities, including renovations to existing buildings as well as the construction of a new administrative building and a new elementary school in the Bywood/Stonehurst area. Ed Specs also proposed a change in programming to offer full day kindergarten by the year 2020. Note: The meeting on 4/21 at 6:30 p.m. will focus on Educational Specifications. More Ed Specs information is available here: http://www.upperdarbysd.org/district-information/educational-specifications  

What are tradeoffs? Is this the new low-hanging fruit, the Academic Realignment Proposal of 2012 and Penn Project?

Over the course of the past nine months, it has been stated by administration, including during their September 2015 presentations to each Home and School association, that the Ed Specs goals could be accomplished with existing resources. Now, the public is being told that to achieve these goals with existing resources, there will be “tradeoffs.” Now it is apparent that finding these opportunity areas so that the Ed Specs goals can be achieved is the work of the Guiding Coalition, as advised by DMC. As explained at the March 29, 2016 School Board Committee meetings, some of these “tradeoffs” were to include eliminating the elementary co-curricular programs, accomplished through “schedule changes.” A document that is now circulating, “Draft elementary scheduled for feedback,” with a publication date of March 9, 2016, shows a proposal to further reduce library specialists, as well as all elementary specialists through attrition, as well as allowing general educators to teach the related arts if specialists are unavailable since they will be shared amongst the schools. Furthermore, during an Ed Specs update during the March 29th Committee Meetings, it was proposed to the School Board that class size “targets” could increase, students’ school assignments and staff levels could be in flux, and as class sizes increased and number of general education classrooms decrease, staff levels could be adjusted through “natural attrition.” Reducing staff through “natural attrition” can help the school district avoid laying off people; however, when positions lost through attrition are not replaced, the school district’s ability to continue programming and delivery of instruction in the same way changes. Note: The meeting on 4/21 at 6:30 p.m. will focus on Ed Specs.

How can teachers give input?

Teachers have union reps in their buildings, can speak with the union leadership, talk with their building rep on the Guiding Coalition. A “Team of 88” has also been referenced in various meetings. It seems to be a committee of teachers tasked with reviewing curriculum. There is no information available to the public about this committee at this time.

What does the School Board think?

During the March 29th meeting, administration said the work of the Comprehensive Plan is guiding the work of the Guiding Coalition Team, but the Comprehensive Plan and its components are still in draft form and not yet approved by the School Board. Yet, the School Board Directors are responsible for ensuring that the educational program reflects the values of the community, and they noted during the meeting on March 29th that they have not approved any curriculum or instruction changes. Remember: The School Board, community and our state legislators came together loudly in 2012 to secure $2 million in recurring funds to override administration’s recommendation and earmarked those monies to preserve the elementary related arts program. The administration stated that their opinion is the School Board does not need to give approval for schedule changes, even if the schedule changes result in program changes; that the Board already approved these tradeoffs when it authorized DMC to create new elementary schedules to better utilize staff. Clearly, this is a significant conflict of perspectives!

What can you do?

Speak up! Email your school board via udsdschoolboard@upperdarbysd.org. Attend both the Ed Specs meeting on April 21st and the Special Meeting on April 25th.

Need some ideas for your emails and questions? Here are a few:

  • What responsibility does the Superintendent have to ensure the Board is informed so that our elected officials can make sure our values are reflected in any decisions about programs?
  • Will the School Board pass a resolution to affirm that elementary related arts – art, music, library and physical education – will continue to be taught by specialists and that co-curricular programs including instrumental lessons, band and chorus will continue to be included in the elementary schedule?
  • How will attrition affect future instructional offerings and delivery to our students in upcoming school years?
  • What is the district’s ultimate goal with reallocating staff through the loss of potions through attrition?
  • How will the quality and depth of the high school program be affected if one block is eliminated from the schedule, or if it goes back to a schedule where full-block courses are delivered as year-long courses?
  • Is the School Board going to direct administration to require its contractor, DMC, to rerun diagnostics to accurately capture schedules?

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