With the election less than a week away, I first want to encourage each individual to go vote.

It is important to our country’s future that patrons voice their opinions. In this article I will attempt to address one of the most common questions asked during the past several weeks.

Why is the school district spending money (asking for a debt service levy increase) for facilities, athletics, etc. rather than academics?

Dr. Jim Cummins

This is a fair question as academics should always be our number one priority. To attempt to answer this question, I will first address our focus on academics and our annual expenditures related to academics.

Then, include a rationale for why facilities are important to the long-term growth of the district.

First, our focus on academics. When we asked students, staff, parents and patrons a couple of years ago what was important to them, they responded with these top five; safe schools, reading/math proficiency, high quality teachers, rigorous curriculum, and teaching collaboration and critical thinking.

That led directly to four of our five focus goals: Develop Exemplary PLCs, Provide a Safe Learning Environment, Promote a 21st Century School and Maximize Human Resources.

As a result of this focus, our elementary and intermediate schools were recognized by the state as Exemplary PLC Schools (the only two in SW Missouri and only 21 in the state).

In addition, our Project-Based Learning delivery method is drawing visitors from across the state. We are now recognized as a national training site for Magnify Learning.

The amount of visitors coming to see how we are improving our academics is one indication of the quality of our education.

Our total budget for the 18-19 school year is $14.8M. Here is what goes directly into academics: certified staff pay and benefits ($7.7M), non-certified staff working directly with students ($830K), curricular supplies and services ($850K), and vocational tuition ($90K).

In addition, we spend the following indirectly on education: professional development ($115K), transportation ($875K), food service ($745K), support personnel ($350K), health services ($127K), technology ($196K), and school security ($44K).

Direct and indirect academic expenditures of $11.9M make up over 80% of all school expenditures. In comparison, facilities costs — operation of facilities ($1.3M) and debt service ($946K) make up 15%.

Passage of the bond issue would only raise that to 16% of total budget. The numbers bear out that our allocation of resources matches our focus goals, and the success we are having is validated by the number of districts coming to visit us.

Our fifth focus goal is Improving the R7 Image. We are doing this academically. However, to support our students who attend our schools and to continue to attract families to Seneca, we believe we must also have first class facilities.

Many of our facilities are. But not the performing arts venue in the high school, not our ball fields after a flood has washed them out, and not the non-existence of a track.

I hope I have shed some light on how we ARE focused on academics, but also feel our facilities are a part of providing a complete school system of which everyone is proud.

Thank you for supporting Seneca schools!

(Dr. Jim Cummins is superintendent of the Seneca R-7 School District. He can be reached at jcummins@senecar7.com.)

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