Every student, every day: TPSB grad rates, test scores rise amidst budget woes

Bike race coming to Thibodaux this Sunday
August 6, 2013
HLB freshman academy ready for Class of 2018
August 6, 2013
Bike race coming to Thibodaux this Sunday
August 6, 2013
HLB freshman academy ready for Class of 2018
August 6, 2013

Terrebonne Parish students’ graduation rates and test scores continue to improve while the dropout rate declines, which is the silver lining in the financially-strapped school district.

“Things are good,” said public school Superintendent Philip Martin. “Although revenue is declining, our students are improving because of the dedication of our employees to our students. For that, I am very thankful as a superintendent.

“We are doing more with less. Our employees have a deep, sincere concern for our students.”

Last year, high-stakes test scores and graduation rates in Terrebonne Parish were above the state average, and the district’s score was also higher than the state average. This past school year’s numbers will not be released until October. And the school district is also continuing to grow in size.

“Graduation rates are our bright star,” Martin said. “They are up and improving. We are doing remarkably well. But if we have one dropout, we have failed that child. Until we have no dropouts, it is not a complete success. Dropping out is not just detrimental to the child, but detrimental to the community.”

With this year’s statewide implementation of the Common Core Curriculum, Martin is hopeful dropout rates in Terrebonne Parish will continue to decline.

“This is a step in the right direction,” Martin said. “There is a lot of misinformation out there about the Common Core Curriculum, but there hasn’t been a change in the concepts of science, math and grammar. The Common Core Curriculum will help students apply, synthesize and analyze the information and provide them with learning tools. Rather than just knowing the facts, the students will also learn through critical thinking, and that is what the Common Core Curriculum is about.

“Implementing the common core curriculum will be a challenge every day, but it is a good change. That is our most significant curriculum change. It is going on all across the state, not just in Terrebonne Parish.”

While the parish is not alone with implementing the curriculum, the school district is going the extra mile to make sure the transition goes smoothly.

“This summer, highly effective teachers in math, English language arts, science and social studies have been writing lesson plans that align with the Common Core Curriculum,” Martin said. “Teachers will have a road map, a flexible road map that they can customize, delete from and add to.”

Martin said the school district is also in the early stages of planning a curriculum that will graduate students who are career ready as soon as they receive their diplomas.

“We will offer career-ready and college-ready diplomas,” he said. “Hot dogs, apple pies and college are the American dream, but not all children want or need to go to college. The parish has plenty of oil field-related jobs and companies can’t find people with the skills to fill them. This diploma could lead to a lucrative and meaningful career.

“In the next year, we will be working through what this type of diploma should look like. A high school diploma should equal being career or college ready. We want this diploma to be significant.”

With the good news of graduation rates and improved curriculums, the school district has much to celebrate, but this school year will mark another the district will operate with a budget shortfall.

“We are looking at how to resolve that,” Martin said. “Eighty-five percent of our budget goes to salaries, and we are several million dollars short. Our expenses are increasing and our revenues are decreasing, but we have responded to the shortfall very well.”

According to school board President Roger “Dale” Dehart, an increase in retirement and insurance and expenses and no increase in the state’s contribution to the Minimum Foundation Program, a formula used to determine the cost to educate students and state and local funding contributions to each district, have put the board in a bind. Several of the district’s grants have also run out, but new ones are being pursued.

“Prices on things are rising, and the state is supposed to be adding to the formula,” Dehart said. “It’s like with a cost of living increase, but there has been no increase in the formula.”

In an effort to fill this year’s $6 million shortfall, the board has accepted a future lease for the old Houma Elementary School building and reduced 121 positions through attrition and retirement. The board also closed four schools, which saves the district on food services, transportation, electricity and maintenance. Dehart said some of the closed schools, as well as other pieces of unused school board property, may eventually come up for lease or sale in order to generate funds for the district.

The board president sees the wait list for the district’s 4-year-old program as one of the worst effects of the budget shortfall.

“We are limited because of funding sources,” Dehart said. “We see the value in 4-year-old programs. They produce better test scores later down the road.”

Like Martin, Dehart also praised the hard work of teachers, administrators and school board staff for keeping grad rates and test scores up and dropout rates lower. The board president is also proud of this year’s groundbreaking for the new Grand Caillou Middle School and the ribbon cutting for the new freshman academy at H.L. Bourgeois High school. Each project is funded by a $10 million, interest-free federally subsidized loan that will be repaid with a 1-cent sales tax that is already in place.

“We have been very productive with the funding sources we have,” Dehart said. “We have been good stewards of the taxpayer’s money. Education-wise, we are above the middle even though we have the least revenue.”

Dehart is hopeful that the board’s new partnership with the Houma-Terrebonne Chamber of Commerce will lead to more sources of revenue for the school district.

“We are not giving up on the plan,” he said. “We have more needs. We would like to build new schools and add onto others.”

H.L. Bourgeois High School recently hosted the ribbon cutting ceremony for the school’s new freshman academy. This will be the first time in the school’s 40-year history that all the high school grade levels are on one campus.