The Woodward News

Local News

January 16, 2013

Funding of virtual schools a concern for superintendent

Woodward, Okla. — Woodward Superintendent Tim Merchant expressed concern with the allocation of state money to virtual private schools during his report at Monday's Board of Education meeting.

"A great deal of state aide money was set aside for those schools," Merchant said. "There's a great deal of questions from many people across the state as to the fairness, because virtual school students receive the same amount of money as all other schools do, when in reality those schools might have 100 students to 1 faculty member, all their work is computer based, and they're not required to follow any of the regulation public schools have to."

Merchant pointed out a new virtual school through Choctaw-Nicoma Park received a mid-term adjustment while the Woodward district with basically the same number of students received $5.1 million.

"You can see a big chunk of the state aid pie is being taken up by new virtual students," Merchant said.

Merchant discussed other concerns with the situation as well.

 "They (virtual schools) have to have a public school or public entity like a university to sponsor them, but it's private companies which they contract with that actually run the classes," the superintendent said. "Our argument is that the money is being channeled through a public entity, but it's going directly to private, for-profit companies. It's an issue that warrants conversation at least, not only just the fairness, but the legality of it."

Merchant also discussed the Woodward district's 3 highest priorities determined by the Long Range Planning Committee – transportation updates, technology updates and current overcrowding at the Early Childhood center – and means by which the issues could be addressed.

Merchant suggested that possible future bond issues might be looked into to help remedy the concerns. For instance bond issue one could be spread out over 5 years instead of coming to the district in a lump sum. He said this would encourage the district to make smaller updates or repairs more periodically rather than making huge leaps every 5 years.

The issue of school security was also a highlight of Merchant's address to the board.

"There's been discussion of piecing in of some security in future bonds," he said, nothing that could include the installation of more buzz doors to enter a facility as well as the replacement of doors and locks.

"We're getting close to having some serious recommendations," Merchant said. "We've met with construction managers to discuss things and we're already being approached by architects with ideas."

Merchant said he'd have more discussion of facility updates for security in February.

Woodward has done some work with security, holding intruder simulation drills at Cedar Heights and the Early Childhood Center.

"In my opinion and from what I've gathered from school resource officers Jack Brown and Chris Woods, the drills were very beneficial," Merchant said.  "At first I was very apprehensive going into it, it's so far out of our realm of thinking to bring a gun into a school and fire it even if they're only blanks, but that's what we need to prepare for and I think the whole simulation was very worthwhile."

Merchant said the drills worked to both desensitize teachers to the sound of gunfire within the building as well as to get them thinking about what they would do in a real life situation. It also highlighted the strengths of school security as well as the areas that need improvement.

Following the success of the Cedar Heights and ECC drills, Merchant said a communitywide intruder drill is scheduled to take place at Woodward High School on Feb 18.

Merchant expects this simulation to be much more comprehensive as multiple agencies have expressed interest in participation.

"We've had EMS, Woodward Fire Department, Emergency Management, Woodward Regional Hospital, Woodward Police Department and the Sheriff's interested in participating," he said. "Everyone's interested in getting involved."

Merchant also expects this drill to be more realistic, as high school student volunteers will be allowed to participate in the drill.

 "This will be solely on a voluntary basis and the students must have their parents' permission to participate," he said.

Merchant said other superintendents from Northwest Oklahoma are expected to attend to see what they can learn from the drill, and afterwards there will be a large debriefing among agencies and high school faculty.

Following Merchant's report the board went into executive session to discuss filling several positions. Upon their return the board appointed Jama Ludwyck as the district activity bookkeeper, Thomas Koen as the Middle School ISD instructor, Connie Johnson as the Early Childhood Center's secretary, and Marsh Hoock as an ECC teacher.

Merchant also mentioned two upcoming school fundraisers in February, a chili supper at Cedar Heights on Feb 4 and a fish fry at Horace Mann on Feb 7.

An approval request for an upcoming Middle School PTO fundraiser was submitted as well. The Middle School PTO will be selling Yankee Candles starting Feb 18 through March 8 to help support technology needs for the middle school such as computers and projector bulbs.

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