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SES co-founder says properly marketed school system can recruit more students

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By Bill ShortFlag City Logo

A founding partner of an educational consulting firm said recently that Millington’s school system can recruit additional students if it is properly structured and marketed.
Dr. Tim Fite of Southern Educational Strategies said the new system will include approximately 750 students enrolled at Millington Central High School next fall. But he acknowledged that it will have a larger capacity than that.
Noting that several of the area’s private school headmasters are wondering whether some of their students might not come back, Fite said the system will be like a “magnet” drawing them to it.
“In my view,” he said, “Millington’s sitting in a good position to be able to get some students, if you structure it and market it right.”
The consultant made the comments during a Nov. 20, 2013 meeting of the now-decommissioned School Transition Committee, to which the newly elected school board members were invited.
While noting that the board must submit a “transition plan” to Tennessee’s Assistant Education Commissioner Stephen Smith, Fite said SES has a “prototype” that can be used for that.
“Let him tell you what needs to be tweaked and send it back,” he said. “And we’ll send a final copy to him.”
At that point, Fite said, the state can issue a “number” for the school board that officially designates it as a Local Education Agency. Then, the board can decide which schools it will operate.
SES has estimated that, if the board does not establish an open enrollment policy, Millington’s school system will have approximately 2,400 students. So, Fite said it could possibly operate with MCHS, the middle school and only one elementary school.
While acknowledging that the system might “get a lot more” students through open enrollment, he said that is dependent upon the number of seats available.
After a school is “filled up,” Fite said, the Millington fire marshal will not allow it to enroll more students than it can actually hold. While noting that one way “around that” is to lease portable buildings, he said it is his understanding that E. A. Harrold Elementary has some that are “relocatable.”
“It costs you about as much to move them as it does to lease them,” he told the board members. “But you may not want to get into that. I would say that’s the worst-case scenario.”
Fite said SES updated the feasibility study for the system with 2013 fiscal data to help the board structure its budget for the 2014-15 school year. He noted that the board must decide what program of study it will offer and determine how many employees it wants to have at each school.
“You get your revenue side,” he said. “Then, you decide your program of study based on your expenditure side and your staffing patterns.”
But he acknowledged that another factor dictating that will be the students with disabilities.
“You’ve got to educate every child in your school district who has a handicapping condition from his 3rd until his 22nd birthday,” he noted. “You don’t have any option there. That’s federal law.”
Because the system will need more teachers than the state’s Basic Education Program will pay for, Fite said local funds must also be used. But he noted that the board is required to have a BEP “match” covering that.
“If you’ve got teachers, you’ve got students who they’re serving,” he said, “and those students are generating money. So, it’s not going to be like you have to fund those without some revenue sources coming back in.”
Although it will have an Average Daily Attendance rate, Fite said the system will be paid by the state based on its Average Daily Membership, which consists of every student enrolled. And for the system to “really be financially feasible,” he said its total enrollment must be about 85 percent of what its full capacity would be.
The consultant also said the board must determine the salary schedule it will offer the teachers based on their amount of experience.
“You’re not going to be able to pay people less than they were paid this year, if they’re working in the schools,” he noted. “When you hire new people in, you have some discretion over that.”
He said the board will also have to determine what “package of benefits,” including health and life insurance, it can afford to offer the system’s employees. Among the options it can consider are to “self-insure” its hospitalization or to go with the state plan, which he called “real secure.”
“There’s not a lot of risk involved in it, and the benefit package is pretty good,” he noted. “I’m on it myself, and I love it. All my doctors are in there, and I don’t have to worry about all this other stuff.”
While declaring that the board members have an “awesome responsibility,” Fite encouraged them to visit Millington’s schools, have lunch there and see what they are actually doing. He also acknowledged that there will be some “tough times” involving some “gut-wrenching decisions.”
“It takes a lot to be on a school board in this day and time,” he concluded. “But it’s so rewarding in the sense of accomplishment and satisfaction that you get out of it.”

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