TONTOGANY - For educators, times are quickly changing in the state of Ohio, and the Otsego Local Schools are running to make sure they're ahead of the curve.
At a work session Monday night, members heard about upcoming plans and challenges, as the state implements new testing measures and other requirements.
"We just need to prepare our kids for college, career and life after high school," said Superintendent Adam Koch during the presentation.
The session began with a discussion from District Treasurer Dawn Jacobs. She noted that, while staffing levels - and, consequently, money put out for salaries - have declined in the district, fringe benefits have continued to rise, reaching just under $2 million for certified staff during 2012. Those costs are due to rising medical expenses.
"It's such a volatile expense that we have in the budget," she said.
Other institutional costs have been reduced in recent years, however, such as institutional purchasing, which was below $200,000 last year. Money spent on library supplies and textbooks have fallen as well - largely foregone in favor of other expenses, such as the new school buildings.
"We needed to cut some costs," said Koch. "But with everything going on, we're going to need to spend some stuff, spend some money in these areas."
"That (low) level of spending is not sustainable," Jacobs said.
Koch said that a new evaluation system for teachers will be put in place next year, with half based on student growth measures, and the other half based on teacher performance. The changes are mandated by state law.
"We'll be working on a board-adopted evaluation policy that needs to be in place by June 30 of this year," he said.
However, the implementation of the new teacher evaluations could be cumbersome. It is expected that each teacher evaluation will take approximately eight hours to complete, and there are more than 100 teachers in the school district. School Board President Mark Tolles commented that doing those evaluations would take a staff member a third of the school year.
"Administratively, we only have four principals," said Koch. "It's going to be a lot of added workload to the administration to get that done."
"Our ultimate goal," he said of the evaluations, "is not to beat up everyone. It really needs to be focused on improving teaching and learning."
A new state-mandated Common Core Curriculum is coming online for the 2014-15 school year, and the district is "slowly getting to them," said Koch.
Among the state's mandates are online assessments for students to take.
It is expected that the schools will need to increase spending on computers, Koch said, to keep up with the state's demands.
"Because we can't get behind."
The district will also need to buy new textbooks due to the new core standards, raising the issue of possibly moving to electronic textbooks, which are cheaper but come with their own headaches, such as the technology needed to run them and user fees.
Koch acknowledged that wireless Internet service will need to be drastically improved in the district. He said that it is currently spotty at best in the buildings.
Koch also discussed the possibility of bringing all-day kindergarten and its "tremendous benefits" to Otsego. He said there would be room in the new elementary building once the sixth graders are moved to the new middle school. However, it would have to be determined if the larger Otsego community would support such a move.
Koch noted that they are currently conducting a parent and community survey of the schools to get feedback, as well as a survey of students. A staff survey is in development.
"So it gets really everyone's input on strengths and weaknesses that we have," said Koch, saying later that "it's really encompassing everything that we do, not just in the classroom."
Koch emphasized the need to provide opportunities for students outside of the classroom, and expressed a desire to see golf, pep band, elementary music programming, and field trips come back to Otsego, as well as computer classes for all grades, additional technology, and instructional supplies.
"Those are things that we're going to have to invest in so we don't fall behind with all the educational changes down the pike."
"We've invested a lot of great things in the buildings, now we have to move on."
Board member Jamie Harter stated that there needs to be a focused strategy regarding how to communicate these issues and needs to the public - especially since many of these items will doubtless require a levy to finance.
"We all want to improve," said Koch. "The changes are good for the most part. But it takes a lot of time to effectively implement all of these changes at once. We're working our tail off, but I'd love to see the timeline slow down."
"It's going to be trying over the next few years, but we will focus on every one of these areas and get better. But I think it's going to get harder before it gets better."