By Sally Absher

By Sally Absher

When Dr. McIntyre planned the Community Meeting to discuss his FY 2016 budget, he probably didn’t expect the majority of the questions and comments to revolve around his decision to end AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination), a program comprising a mere $280,000 of the massive proposed $440.7 M FY 2016 budget proposal.

Approximately 100 people, plus the usual contingency from Central Office, attended the meeting last week at Amherst Elementary school. Also in attendance were BOE members Mike McMillan, Gloria Deathridge, Tracie Sanger, Terry Hill, Patti Bounds, and Amber Rountree, and Commissioners Jeff Ownby, John Schoonmaker, Dave Wright, and Brad Anders.

McIntyre announced that he had decided to revise the budget to include $3.2M in APEX bonus payments, saying “APEX was promised, it’s a little late in the game to be changing the rules.” But, in order to do this, he is reducing the pay raise for certified teachers from 4% to 3%. The 4% raise was also promised…is it OK to change the rules on that, since it’s for next year?

Teachers deserve, and need, a raise. KCS ranks 37th in the state in terms of teacher salary, but Brenda Ownsby later pointed out that as of three years ago, KCS principals ranked 17th in the state in salary. She asked why not give more money to raises for classroom teachers, rather than principals and many certified central office personnel who already received additional raises in the last three years.

McIntyre discussed the proposed budget reductions and capital recommendations. (He has since announced his support for a new Hardin Valley, but not Gibbs, middle school). He said the revenue growth has been 1-3% over the past few years, while “necessary” expenditures have averaged from 3-5%. He wrapped up his presentation in about 25 minutes.

McIntyre opened the floor to comments and questions, which fell into one of five areas: support for AVID (23 comments); support for Hardin Valley/Gibbs middle schools (7); teacher compensation (3); capital improvements at other schools (2); and support for related arts (1 comment).

The discussion on AVID might lead an outsider to think all McIntyre needs to do is restore $280,000 in funding for AVID and everything will be grand. If only it were that easy.

From the KCS website, “The mission of AVID is to close the achievement gap by preparing all students for college readiness and success in a global society. AVID targets students in the academic middle–students with a 2.0 to 3.5 Grade Point Average–who have the desire to go to college and the willingness to work hard. AVID is a regularly scheduled elective class that meets during the school day empowering students to achieve academic excellence.”

AVID students receive instruction in writing, reading, collaboration, inquiry, note-taking, and organization; receive academic support from tutors through collaborative group sessions; and are motivated to pursue academic excellence through cultural and college field trips, classroom guest speakers, and AVID team building activities. This used to be part of every child’s education, until education reform and the toxic culture of high stakes testing tied teachers hands.

Currently AVID is in 3 Knox County High Schools (Austin East, Karns, and South Doyle) and 5 Knox County Middle Schools (Bearden, Cedar Bluff, Northwest, South Doyle and Whittle Springs). The program was already slated to end at BMS with the start of the IB MYP next year.

The decision by KCS to end AVID seems contrary to the motto “excellence for every child.” AVID students are more likely to take Advanced Placement classes, to complete their college eligibility requirements, and to obtain admission into four-year colleges, than students who do not take AVID.
Almost all AVID students who participate for at least three years are accepted into college, with roughly 75% being accepted into four-year universities. AVID also helps to ensure that students possess the higher-level skills they need to be successful in their lifelong academic pursuits.

Parents, students, and teachers, mostly from Northwest and Cedar Bluff middle schools, spoke passionately about what the program has meant to them. Students who didn’t care about school are now planning their college – and postgraduate studies. Parents have seen the difference the program has made for their child. Many said the program should be expanded, not cut. Betsy Barkow, AVID teacher at Cedar Bluff MS, was clearly proud of the CBMS students who spoke.

McIntyre conceded that not being able to fund the program district-wide doesn’t mean the program has to go away. He said KCS could possibly come up with $50K to cover the AVID dues and materials. Title 1 schools can potentially use Title 1 funds to retain the program, and principals at other schools have flexibility in how they use their teacher resources if they choose to keep the program. Barkow asked if it would put other programs in jeopardy if a principal elected to keep AVID.  McIntyre said, “Potentially, yes. Budgeting is about tradeoffs.”

AVID has been partially funded since 2007 by Great Schools Partnership. The mission of GSP is to serve as a “think-tank, catalyst, incubator and start-up funder for making Knox County Schools globally competitive.” But like grants, this funding had a limited life, ending in 2015. KCS neglected to plan for the future, and instead, is using students involved in this very popular, successful program as pawns in the upcoming battle with County Commission over funding. For shame.