Homewood schools maintain a level of achievement rivaling or surpassing other affluent systems while meeting the needs of more transient, educationally challenged, and poor students than any of those other systems, schools superintendent Bill Cleveland told the city council tonight. And it is due to Homewood’s dedicated 1 cent tax to schools that the system is meeting those students’ needs, he said.
“This would not be possible without what you provide. And I say “you,” you do provide this–it’s an ordinance. Bless their hearts in Hoover, they’re are good friends…. But folks they’ve got a mess on their hands and the state isn’t providing [for] them, and they can’t go to their city leaders and say thank you. But honestly, I can.”
Cleveland went overtime at a 45-minute council work session on the state of the school system, presenting statistics on the system’s financial challenges, ballooning enrollment, and eye-opening level of need among this affluent city’s children.
Bulleted findings at each the three elementary schools, and expenditures since 2006, when the Jefferson County penny sales tax for school construction became available, follow:
- Hall-Kent Elementary — Out of 576 students K-5, 247, or 42%, receive free or reduced-priced lunch, a measure of poverty. The school also has 97 pre-kindergarten students. $3.8 million has been spent since 2006 on capital improvements. The system has budgeted $750,000 to convert the facility from obsolete lighting.
- Edgewood Elementary — Of 778 students, 162 or 21% receive free/reduced lunches. $4.8 million has been spent in capital improvements.
- Shades Cahaba Elementary — There are 532 students, of whom 123, or 23%, are at poverty based on free/reduced lunch status. $3.6 million has been spent on capital improvements.
Cleveland said the central office was looking at ways to balance out the number of students in poverty at any single elementary school.
- Homewood Middle School — 895 students are enrolled of whom 279, or 31% live at or below the poverty line. $7.7 million has been spent on capital improvements since 2006;
- Homewood High School — Out of 1,019 students, 293 or 29% receive free/reduced lunches. Since 2006, $7.7 million has been spent in capital improvements.
Academics & student achievement
Academically, high school students composite ACT scores have climbed from 22.1 in 2006, to 23.3 this past year, while composite ACT scores nationally have actually dropped from 21.2 in ’06 to 20.9 in 2012-13. Cleveland explained, however, that those average scores would go down now that the state has decreed that all students–not just those who are college-bound–must take the test. Two weeks ago, all 11th graders at HHS took the test, he said.
Advanced Placement, or AP course performance
The number of students taking AP tests in various subject has risen from 299 in 2007 to 393 in 2013. Cleveland said the numbers of students taking AP and those “passing” with scores of 3 and above out of 5 contribute to the high school’s top rankings on U.S. News and the Washington Post. Importantly, local funds of $41,840 paid for students who can’t afford to take AP tests. “Our board of education many years ago said, ‘We want to take that (financial disparity) totally off the table,'” he said. “…We’re paying for that with local money and that is not happening at other schools systems.”
Last school year 49% of graduating seniors accepted $3,488,861 in scholarships offered for higher education. Cleveland warned against comparing this figure to inflated “scholarships offered” amount certain surrounding systems publish at graduation. A student can only go to one college at a time, he said.
Growth and other concerning enrollment patterns.
Kindergarten enrollment has topped 300 in each of the last five years, Cleveland said–despite the school system’s purchase and literal demolition of the Magnolia Apartments residential community. Calling the growth both a compliment and a concern, Cleveland zeroed in on the problems of student transience and how the state’s new way of tracking graduation rates might reflect on the high school.
Approximately 40 percent of Homewood students are from non-homeowning households, he said. This has been the case for some time and by itself is meaningless educationally. But that figure is concerning when it points to underlying poverty or frequent moves to different school systems. As an example of the increase in transient students, in August 2013, 199 students in Homewood schools didn’t return as expected, of whom 43% were signed up for free/reduced lunches, he said. That same year, 328 new students entered the system (not including new kindergarteners) including 189–or 57 percent–who met that standard of need.
Cleveland praised Homewood’s ability to hire additional teachers, paid with local funds, to help these students catch up when they have fallen behind. (Homewood ranks second in the state in per-pupil expenditures, he said.) But the situation can become critical when those unprepared students enter during high school lacking enough credits toward graduation. The effort to help these students “recover” lost credits, combined with a new formula the state began using in 2012 to track how many students graduate within the usual four years of entering high school, can bring down a high school’s graduation rate. Students taking extra time due to disability, catching up, dropping out and returning, etc., aren’t counted in a high school’s graduation rate.
Cleveland said grappling with the problems of transient student population was perhaps the biggest concern facing the school system.
No praise for the state
Finally, taking a look at the state versus local funding, Cleveland said state funding has decreased $514 per student since 2008. In addition, he said, Homewood schools used more than $3 million in its local reserve funds to cover state-ordered proration in 2009, 2010, and 2011. “Sixty three percent of our revenue comes from local sources, with 29% coming from the state,” he said. “Don’t believe it when you hear them (in the state legislature) say, “We’re giving more for this or more for that. It’s a shell game.”
In summation, with time running out, Cleveland presented a list of necessities paid for with local funds: Ninety-five teachers at $6.5 million; supplemental textbook funding; technology; AP tests; school Resource Officers (police), and professional development.
Council members present: Michael Hallman, Britt Thames, Vance Moody, Patrick McClusky, Walter Jones, Jenifer Champ Wallis, Heather Reid, Peter Wright and council president Bruce Limbaugh.
Members absent: Fred Hawkins and Richard Laws. Mayor Scott McBrayer was also absent.
Staff present: City clerk Linda Cook, city attorney Michael Kendrick, mayor’s chief of staff J. J. Bischoff, Police Chief Jim Roberson, Fire Chief John Bresnan,
Audience attendance: 1, plus six Homewood City Schools central office administrators and two school board members.
The meeting adjourned to the regularly scheduled council meeting at 6:15 p.m.