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Marysville School District hosts ‘town meeting’

Marysville School District Superintendent Dr. Larry Nyland explains the Citizens Planning Committee’s recommendation for a 2010 bond issue. - Kirk Boxleitner
Marysville School District Superintendent Dr. Larry Nyland explains the Citizens Planning Committee’s recommendation for a 2010 bond issue.
— image credit: Kirk Boxleitner

MARYSVILLE — The Marysville School District invited its families to a “town meeting” in its Board chambers Sept. 1, during which MSD Superintendent Dr. Larry Nyland reviewed the school district’s progress toward its goals and updated attendees on the state of the district’s finances.

Among the Board’s goals for the 2008-09 school year were to close the achievement gap for Native American, Hispanic, special education and low-income students, and to continue to improve student learning in literacy and math. Nyland noted that the school district had made some progress toward closing the achievement gap, but still fell short of its goals on that score.

As for student learning, he pointed to growth in the district’s focus areas of kindergarten, first, sixth and ninth grades, as well as to “major gains” made by Tulalip and Quil Ceda elementary schools and Totem Middle School. He added that English language learners showed more progress than ever before, and that all three middle schools made great gains in reading.

Nyland cited classroom observation data which showed that the district is above average in “powerful teaching and learning” at the elementary level. This same data showed that 83 percent of district classrooms demonstrate “safe and positive” learning environments, and 67 percent show evidence of “active student engagement” in learning, the latter of which is 9 percent above the state average.

Looking to the 2009-10 school year, Nyland explained that the Washington Assessment of Student Learning will be replaced by two new state tests — the Measurements of Student Progress for grades 3-8, and the High School Proficiency Exam for 10th grade. He reminded families that passing the state test is still a graduation requirement for students.

On the subject of Small Learning Communities, Nyland praised the SLCs for fostering closer relationships between students and their teachers, as well as their peers, since students are required to take most of their classes within their SLCs. At the same time he promised that students will have more elective options for the 2009-10 school year, in areas such as music, AP and world languages.

New math books were already purchased for the elementary and middle schools during the 2008-09 school year, and new high school math books will be purchased over the course of the next two years, as the district transitions from the “Core” to the state-recommended Holt curriculum. Nyland explained that Core math integrated subjects such as algebra and geometry, while Holt teaches them in discrete units. With the Board increasing the math requirement from two to three credits, all high school students will now have to take four years of math.

Nyland described the progress of the 2006 bond issue as “promises made and kept,” noting that both Grove Elementary and Marysville-Getchell High School have come in under budget. Grove Elementary opened last year, one year early, while Marysville-Getchell is half-complete and set to open in 2010, also one year early.

Nyland listed a number of potential strategies for meeting district needs reviewed by the Citizens Planning Committee, including moving the Academy of Construction and Engineering to Marysville-Getchell, using the Marysville-Pilchuck campus for a high school and a middle or elementary school, considering modular construction as an acceptable alternative to stick-built, and using the 2006 bond interest earnings for pre-bond planning, land purchases and improvements to the track and turf at the Quil Ceda stadium. The CPC originally identified $160 million in facility needs, but has since recommended just under $88 million in bond priorities for 2010.

The CPC is recommending a 2010 bond issue to replace or modernize the district’s oldest and most obsolete schools, as well as to address health, safety and infrastructure needs. The recommended bond issue would also cover educational technology, which Nyland believes should be updated every five years, and basic upgrades to the Marysville-Pilchuck pool.

Nyland described the 2009-10 district budget as “the most difficult in 30 years,” since it reduced $6.5 million of a $112 million budget. The Board sought to spread these reductions to avoid repeated cuts in the same areas, and Nyland credited unions with volunteering for reductions to their previously negotiated salaries. At the same time, Nyland emphasized that the budget had to maintain student services and a reserve level sufficient to make payroll.

“Bonds are for building and levies are for learning,” Nyland said, to explain why these monies cannot be mixed. The 2006 levy is expiring, and pays for one-fifth of the schools’ day-to-day learning expenses, including teachers, books and transportation. The next election is Feb. 9, 2010. As for the bond, Nyland identified the current recession as “the upside of a downturn,” since construction costs are “the lowest they’ve been in years,” which means that tax dollars spent now will go further, even into the future. Nyland added that the district’s 50-year-old school facilities can no longer support the educational and technological needs of their students.

While Nyland could not provide an exact figure, he estimated that the total annual cost of a bond and levy approved in February would be lower than that of the current expiring bond and levy, which would result in slightly lower taxes.

More information is available at the Marysville School District Web site, at www.msvl.k12.wa.us.

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