Written by Tom Deighan, LPS Superintendent
A little proud and a little ashamed – that is how I felt as the board of education approved $100 for certified classroom teacher’s needs this week. I am proud we could do it but ashamed we could not have done more sooner. I wish I could take credit for the idea, but it was suggested to me by several people after hearing what other communities have done and after a recent Constitution article highlighted that teachers nationally spend an average of $490 per year on their classrooms. Over the last three years, we have restored millions of dollars in funding to the sites, but this year it was definitely time to give allocations directly to classroom teachers.
We started restoring classroom funding by establishing annual budgets to the principals in 2013. The modest annual allocations of $400,000 only equaled about $25 per student, but it was sustainable. Three years later, we have been able to maintain that funding. Amazingly enough, our principals are so frugal and accustomed to doing without that they have never spent the entire pool of money made available to them each year. Don’t ever doubt that LPS staff are the most resourceful miracle-workers in the state.
Last year, we added more funding through site-based bond funds for educational equipment and materials. Each site established committees that included at least one parent, one teacher, one support employee, and a member of the community. Final purchases required full faculty review. This allowed the principals to purchase things like library books for the first time in years. We also created a site-based bond fund for building repairs and upgrades with the same process. These two allocations placed an additional $500,000 in the hands of our principals, which meant $900,000 available to spend at their sites. The same amount, plus the new allocation for classroom teachers approved by the Board of Education, will be available this year.
We started small with $400,000 three years ago, but this year could easily top $1 million in new funding directly to the sites for educational supplies, materials, and building improvements. We have also set aside $1.2 million for textbooks, a process that is taking a little longer than expected while our staff charts the most beneficial ways to invest those funds in the classroom.Considering the $800,000 we have also spent on new teacher laptops,it all adds up to $4.7 million in new funding for the sites in the last three years (in addition to the other bond and sales tax projects). The initial amounts were very small, but as you can see, small steps add up over time.
Change is not swift and dramatic; it is slow and steady. As we continue to take small, measured, and sustainable steps to support our students better, LPS can do amazing things. In order to do so, we must lock our focus on the classroom because everything we do centers on learning. Shifting funds back to the principals for classroom and site needs has been a priority since 2013, but it will take a continued, long-term commitment to have a noticeable impact.
For perspective, our general fund budget is $15 million less per year than it was just six years ago, but our needs continue to grow. I wish to thank our staff, the community, and the board of education for this commitment to restore funding to the classrooms of this district. I am proud of this district, our staff, and our students in countless ways, but I will always be a little ashamed that we are unable to do more, faster. We have made a lot of progress since 2013, and I can only imagine where we will be in the years ahead if we stay the course. Keep bringing me good ideas to improve our classrooms, and please do not forget to pray for the safety of our schools this second Sunday of the month.