Board votes down new math curriculum

Staff Writer
Since 2013, I have primarily covered the Anoka-Hennepin and Spring Lake Park school districts as well as the city of Spring Lake Park for ABC Newspapers.

After much number crunching, the St. Francis School Board voted 6-1 not to approve new elementary and secondary mathematics curriculum June 26.

Concerns about proposed Math Expressions and College Preparatory Mathematics curriculum were twofold: School Board members had heard from some teachers that they were not in support of the curriculum, and money was no longer available to purchase curriculum without harming the district’s fund balance.

Board members agreed that something needs to be done about declining math scores on the Minnesota Comprehensive Assessment test.

St. Francis schools had a larger percentage of students demonstrate proficiency on the math test in 2016 than Minnesota as a whole recorded. But with 61.7 percent proficient in math, St. Francis has fallen 5.4 percentage points in the last five years.

“At the end of the day, our scores just aren’t where they need to be,” Board Member Sean Sullivan said. “I’m in support of this.”

Sullivan provided the lone vote in support of the new curriculum June 26.

To push off a curriculum purchase “is only doing our kids a disservice,” he said repeatedly.

Two years ago, St. Francis teachers began studying curriculum and piloted materials from several companies before landing on Math Expressions for the primary grades and College Preparatory Mathematics at the secondary level.

The Assessment Curriculum and Teaching Committee recommended adoption of both to the School Board.

Board Member Barbara Jahnke found that a survey of teachers showed only “lukewarm support” for the CPM curriculum.

Secondary math teacher Megan Schmidt said she did not think survey results would change if a different curriculum were under the microscope.

“We did an exhaustive search of curriculum,” she said. “I don’t know that there is one that you’re going to have most teachers in support of. The one that requires our teachers to change the most is going to have the most pushback. Change is hard.”

Jahnke said she understood what Schmidt was saying, but wished to engage in further study.

Board Member Rob Schoenrock said he heard from five teachers, all opposed to the new curriculum.

“I recognize that we need to fix our math score,” Board Member Marsha Van Denburgh said. But she was unwilling to support curriculum if it would push the district’s fund balance below 5 percent of district expenditures.

“If we just keep chipping away at it, we’re not going to have anything left.”

On a nine-year cycle, money was budgeted for math curriculum in fiscal year 2017, but when it was discovered that principal and interest payments on a bus lease were not accounted for in the past couple of years, the district pushed back the curriculum purchase.

Money this year – $450,000 – is meant to provide new career and technical education curriculum. That curriculum will set the district back $375,000, but the remaining $75,000 isn’t nearly enough to cover math curriculum costs of $784,688.

With the 2017-2018 budget already showing a deficit and pushing the fund balance below 5 percent, no proposed solutions would allow for math curriculum to be purchased and preserve fund balance.

Business Director Bernice Humnick mentioned the possibility of special education revenue coming in well above what’s budgeted, but that isn’t a sure thing. She also offered the option of rededicating $178,000 from assigned fund balance, but that would not save unassigned fund balance either.

Board Member Amy Kelly proposed pushing back career and technical education curriculum purchases to allow more funding for math, but even an additional $350,000 would not do the trick.

Before calling for a vote, Board Chairperson Mike Starr asked if a pilot might continue if implementation were delayed one year with insufficient funding available.

“We’ve done the pilot of that, and we have the data,” said Nichole Rens, director of curriculum and instruction. “We don’t have enough materials for (College Preparatory Mathematics) to begin it as if we were adopting it.”

Without board approval, it’s back to the drawing board. The district is working to determine next steps, according to Rens.

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