Like many schools in the state and across the nation, Stillwater has seen a decrease in our literacy scores in the past several years. This is very concerning. It is absolutely vital for students to know how to read and teaching kids this essential skill is a responsibility we take very seriously as a school district.
The COVID pandemic has certainly contributed to this decline, especially for our youngest students during those critical times when they’re developing the foundational skills of reading, writing and mathematics.
But this downward trend in our early literacy scores began before the pandemic. And while there are many factors that may be contributing to this, we know that unstable funding is certainly having a negative impact on our ability to serve our kids.
Since the 2001-2002 school year, the district has had to cut its budget 14 times. In the past 8 years alone, we’ve reduced our budget by more than $7 million. We’ve reached the point where we cannot keep cuts from impacting our students. Since our operating levy was approved in 2013, we’ve had to make very difficult decisions that we believe have negatively affected our kids, including: Loss of classrooms teachers resulting in higher class sizes’; reduction of administrators, support staff; fewer curriculum coordinators, administrators and other support positions.
We’ve actually made cuts to our support staff - including people directly responsible for the areas of teaching and learning — three times.
Our budget for training and ongoing staff development has been significantly reduced, meaning our teachers aren’t receiving the training they need to implement curriculum or keep up-to-date in the best practices for our classrooms.
We’ve had to delay updates to our curriculum and hold off on purchasing new textbooks, materials or classroom resources. That means our students and teachers don’t always have the most up-to-date materials available to them.
We continue to ask more and more of our staff, with fewer and fewer resources available to help them do their jobs.
On Nov. 2, district taxpayers will be asked to replace our expiring operating levy and consider new funding to help maintain quality learning and invest in technology for kids and classrooms. We believe this is a very conservative request to help us stabilize the budget and maintain what we currently have.
Without a new levy, we will lose between $11 and $12 million in annual funding - resulting in even more cuts to our already tight budget. Without new funding, class sizes would grow even higher and students would lose access to elective classes and academic support.
We’d also have to reduce the extra opportunities we offer our students, like music, arts and athletics and make cuts to specialized programs like the Gifted and Talented Education program and Spanish immersion.
You can learn more about the two questions that will be on the ballot at stillwaterschools.org/levy2021, as well as find out about early voting options, polling locations and the tax impact of this request for your household.
Ultimately, we will not be satisfied until every child in our schools is a proficient and confident reader.
We have a solid plan to get there and a staff committed to doing the hard work, but we also need the support of our community.
We need volunteers to read with kids. We need concerned citizens to lobby the state legislature for funding to support literacy initiatives.
And we’ll need levy dollars to help us retain our staff and invest in quality learning for our kids. It’s my hope that improving academic achievement is something our entire community can rally around and that together we can make a difference for our kids.