There was a packed room for a regularly scheduled Board of Education meeting at Camdenton this week. Among the attendees were a large contingent of students who came to share their concern, alongside parents, about the future of educational opportunities.

There was a packed room for a regularly scheduled Board of Education meeting at Camdenton this week. Among the attendees were a large contingent of students who came to share their concern, alongside parents, about the future of educational opportunities.

One of the items on Monday night’s agenda was a review of the preliminary budget for the upcoming school year. The students and parents were seeking answers on how the board may address the responsibilities teachers, counselors and deans may face when it comes to managing weighted classes under the Advanced Placement (AP) or International Baccalaureate (IB) programs or programs like the A+ program that can provide financial aid for students seeking higher education after high school.

The Camdenton R-III preliminary budget currently estimates revenue to be $55,221,087 for the upcoming school year with expenditures coming to $55,605,003.17. The revenue assumptions are conservative due to the upcoming year not being a reassessment year. The budget assumes a slight increase on assessed valuation and a low return on investments that is projected to be better than recent years. The budget also noted that construction activity has increased in the district and it is anticipated that revenue will be generated from the new construction, according to information provided by the school district.
As for teachers, the budget assumes the district will approximately employ the same number of staff members next year with a 1 percent raise to base salaries with certified staff members seeing a 2 percent raise due to movement along and down the salary schedule. Major capital projects, such as the approval of six new school buses and the re-turfing of a 13-year-old high school practice field, have also increased the numbers on the expenditure front.
It is important to note that the numbers in this budget, available on the school district’s website, are preliminary and subject to change significantly over the next few months.

“School budgets are interesting because you are legally required to approve a budget prior to July 1 but we don’t get our assessed valuation numbers until the middle of July,” Superintendent Tim Hadfield said at the meeting. “So, you are approving a budget, you don’t even in this district have what your greatest revenue source is going to be until you already had to approve it. To do a preliminary in March is really kind of wild, but you have to plan.

“It is hard to plan for next year,” he continued. “Class sizes, how many kindergartners we are expecting- some of that information has yet to come in. Again, this is very preliminary.”

Students and parents were quick to share their passion and concerns about how the budget will impact various programs. Several shared their concerns about what it could mean for the future of classes and programs they participate in and they did not hesitate to bring their points of view to the board for consideration. Some originally expressed concern over the idea that programs or classes would be eliminated completely, but Camdenton High School Principal Brett Thompson quickly dispelled the notion that was the case as the board goes through the process of finalizing the budget.

“That is not at all how we approach that. That wouldn’t be responsible and wouldn’t be providing students the classes they need. There is a lot more that goes into the process versus just a raw number,” Thompson explained, noting there was no want or discussion of eliminating programs. “I’ve shared that with students and faculty. That is not the goal, intent and not what we are going to do. As a matter of fact, we’d like to increase the enrollment in those advanced level classes.”

There are currently 1,305 students at the high school and 684 students between Lake Career Technical Center, Horizons Laker Educational Center and the Justice Center the district serves as well. There are 18 AP and 18 IB courses currently offered by Camdenton.

According to data the district has collected, 50 percent of graduates in 2018 took at least one AP, IB or Project Lead The Way dual credit course. In 2019, the number rose to 59 percent and the class of 2020 will feature 63 percent of students who have done so. But there is concern among parents and students currently involved in such classes that co-seating or combining different weighted courses for an instructor to teach in a single class period due to small class sizes makes the subject matter more difficult to get through.

Camdenton junior Emma Price, a student who has represented Camdenton in state, national and international competitions and has science research published in a national journal, illustrated that experience for the board and also previously shared her concerns during the public comment portion of the meeting.

“I’m in AP Physics 2 right now with Mr. (James) Jackson. Mr. Jackson is undoubtedly the best teacher I’ve ever had, but I am lost in that class,” Price stated. “In AP Physics 1 and 2 I passed the test and was the only student in the entire district my year to pass AP Physics 1. That was not because of me but because of him. Now he has a co-seated class, I am lost beyond all recognition and a study hall i s not going to cut it because I need someone to teach me what is going on.

“I love Mr. Jackson and he is my favorite teacher but he is not teaching me because he is teaching three other classes at the same time.”

Parents also took the time to speak and there were several who currently has a sophomore and sixth grader in the district. Prior to coming to Camdenton, both students were part of an online school and they found the public school to be a “pleasant shock” due to the quality of education and opportunities that come with it.

“Only a percentage of students are going to take accelerated classes. Naturally, the class sizes would be smaller,” one parent pointed out, stating that co-seating classes would be a detriment. “I’ve never heard of any school system in the country where small class sizes are a problem. Everyone is talking about large class sizes being a problem and to my knowledge, the classes at Camdenton are well within the threshold of national class size restraints. I think we should be proud of that and should not be penalizing kids for taking advanced classes.”

Thompson, who has served with Camdenton for 11 years, said it was great to be having this discussion with the community because it validates what they are doing and measuring and those concerns have been heard.

“Is that the most ideal? Maybe not, but we have qualified teachers and that was indicated how qualified those teachers are and they can do that,” the principal said of the co-seating arrangement. “When individually those classes would not equal 10 (students), you combine those together we’re at 11. We are still getting the classes our students need and so the conversations I’m having with parents and students to try to put people’s minds at ease, give us a minute to work through the process like we’ve done the past 11 years to make sure kids are getting the classes they need and want. Quite frankly, we want the numbers to go up in those classes.

“If by chance- and I explain this to students, too- if by chance there is a class we just cannot offer, maybe that is a class we offer every other year. Either as a junior or senior you take that class or maybe there is an alternate class that is very similar we can provide,” he continued. “I can also tell you in the summer, all of our counselors and deans work very closely with seniors in August to make sure they have the classes they need and want.”

Other students were worried about the idea of counselors and deans being asked to take on more responsibility as well. Hannah Rogers, a student advisor who regularly attends board meetings, made a point that the idea of redistributing in a way that “functions more efficiently like a business” may take away some of the access students have in terms of resources and junior Alexia Jones echoed that sentiment as well, acknowledging the difficulty the board also faces in being fully prepared to address the complexities of the school district before each meeting.

“What you are imposing is that a counselor or somebody who has another job entirely in itself has to also take on an entire other program and without my A+ money, I am not going to be able to pay for college,” Jones explained. I’m the first generation to graduate high school out of my family so it is going to be a really big deal to be able to do that.

“You have to be able to email and plan ahead of time when you are going to have a meeting and how it is going to line up with both of your schedules. As it is, with the responsibilities they take on, it is difficult to balance everything,” the junior went on. “Imposing they have to take over these other programs, not only is that unfair to not only the educators, counselors and deans to take over that, but also the students because you are hindering them being able to have access to be able to talk to them as frequently which is not as frequent now as it should be.”

Students, like Camdenton sophomore Finnegan McNally, expressed they take these classes and go the extra mile to follow their passions and dedicate themselves to specific fields. He also stressed the importance of open communication in these pursuits and Camdenton senior Jake Thoenen also shared his own story about the help he received from staff to have the opportunity to be accepted to the United States Coast Guard.

“They helped me so much in the process to do this entire thing and it is so difficult to not only write all the essays, they took their time to look at them and revise them many times,” Thoenen remarked. “They looked at all the specific classes I did to prepare me to reach the academic excellence the service academies hold.. They also provide fundraisers for students who cannot afford AP and IB tests. I just want to thank them so much for their jobs and don’t want to see their positions go to other deans.”

Hearing the stories and experiences of the students and parents who came forward, another parent weighed in and called for some kind of additional forum to allow more discussion to take place regarding these concerns, or even surveys asking for opinions.

“What I’m hearing tonight is your community reaching out. Your students, Emma Price here is a perfect example and you should all be gleaming with pride to see that young woman stand up here,” the patron said. “She is your foundation. Life throws us challenges all the time and we have to make choices. Sometimes we don’t like them, but we should never let our foundation be rocked. Emma, these children, are your foundation.

“You are being good stewards of the taxpayer’s money and I don’t think anyone is questioning that… You are in charge and we entrust you with our children and their education,” the attendee continued. “You should wave your flag high, but remember your foundation. These parents are concerned and sometimes it is harder to get between the hustle and bustle and come to what is right. Raise the bar and become academic excellence leaders in this community because that is what you’ve done in the past. I would congratulate you and would not easily let either something that looks unbalanced to some of your staff or have an educator be pressured to teach three different levels of classes within an hour. That, to me, certainly appears to be unbalanced and also to the children in the room to learn."

Well, while the solutions are not exactly clear at this point, school board meetings are regularly scheduled for the second Monday of each month and the next meeting is slated for April 13. At the closing of Monday night’s meeting, the board reflected the call for further discussion.

“Sounds like we do need to have further discussion and sounds like we will. We can certainly do that,” one member said. “I think important information that allows Mr. Thompson and the staff at the high school to work through the rest of the enrollment process, we can have some better information before we get to a point. I know there are questions and uncertainty and obviously there is passion about it. Thy have not worked through the process enough yet to have answers back. That would be an appropriate thing I would suggest that we do.”