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Takeaways from Jefferson County Public Schools' New $1.3-Billion Budget

The largest budget in Jefferson County Public Schools history is set to take effect on July 1.The Jefferson County Board of Education approved the $1.3 billion budget Tuesday night on a 5-2 vote. Board members David Jones Jr. and Chris Brady voted against it.Jones said he did not have adequate information about long-term trends related to fund spending. But he didn't take issue with “any of the particulars" in the spending plan.“I think the district has a good handle on where its monies come from and where we spend them,” he said.  “A board’s power over budgeting, in my experience, is to not get down into details of particular things, but look at broad trend lines.”Board member Debbie Wesslund said the budget is an example of how district leaders have remained “true to the goal” of putting students first and advancing student achievement.JCPS' 2014-15 budget budget covers a lot of territory—and, as noted above, it's the biggest ever. It also comes a week after a critical state audit was released.Here are some a few of the standout points:Expanding English as a Second Language program.Cultural competence training is meant to empower teachers and staff to “be more responsive to diverse needs,” said Dewey Hensley, JCPS’ chief academic officer.  In terms of academic performance, ESL students are among one of the lowest performing groups.  Hensley said plans are in the works to transform Iroquois High School into an international school.  Nearly $1 million will go towards the ESL/Newcomer Academy program to help hire additional bilingual teachers and provide resources for facilities expansion.A surge of mental health counselors.Hensley said in order to better “encircle” students, more than 50 "mental health initiative" leaders will be placed in schools, or regions of schools, to help progress thePositive Behavioral Interventions and Supports programs already in place in schools.  They'd be brought in to help make schools safer and more healthful, he said.The goal of these positions will be to “support kids that need extra attention,” Hensley said.Transition CentersStudents that have transition difficulties—such as those with excessive, consistent absences or students that are returning from alternative schools—can benefit from a specific set of teachers focused on developing a strategy to help them achieve and accelerate their reentrance into the classroom, Hensley said.With $4.5 million, transition centers will be established within high schools and middle schools where certain students can meet, face-to-face, with teachers that will help them develop individual goals to work to recover credits or find skill sets.  More than 46 teachers are expected to be hired to fill these roles.Bus Safety“We need our buses to be more safe and more orderly so kids can get to school and learn or kids can get home without any fear that anything is going to happen,” Hensley said.  Nearly $200,000 is set to be spent on hiring certified security personnel to ride select buses.  Hensley said he was not sure how many positions would be created.Early Childhood Revamp As much as $1.5 million is set to fund an expansion to the Early Childhood Education programs by 240 seats. Hensley said the goal is to return to previous years’ level of preschool funding.  He said by increasing student participation in this program the school readiness levels will increase and, in turn, the achievement gaps will fall.Develop a field of Next Generation teachers, leaders and learners.Hensley said the district’s goal is to send as many as 50 principals and assistant principals to the National Institute of School Leadership.  “It is nationally known and tied to a lot of higher number of academic achievement in larger districts across the country,” he said.  He cites Professional Learning Communities as the “one strategy that is the most important that seems to have moved the district forward.”In accordance with continuing to create Professional Learning Communities, the budget provides nearly $500,000 to allow more than 100 teachers from 19 schools to participate in the intensive Bellarmine Literacy Academy Project.  The project aims to increase reading literacy among students.Here's the entire pre-approval document:

Jacob Ryan is the managing editor of the Kentucky Center for Investigative reporting. He's an award-winning investigative reporter who joined LPM in 2014. Email Jacob at jryan@lpm.org.

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