Submitted By Dr. Jeremy Burright, Superintendent
It has been a big year for Fairfax R-3 School District! We have passed a levy, hired additional staff, purchased a bus, increased staff salaries, started construction, and still managed to deal with the regular day-to-day work of making sure a school district runs the way it should. Our board and community continue to be incredibly supportive of what we do and their wisdom and work have been essential in moving our district forward.
The 2017-2018 school year began with the following district needs: increasing revenue, maintaining and upgrading our facilities, and attracting and keeping good staff. In order to do this, our budget had to be closely examined for areas that needed additional funding and priorities had to be made for short and long term goals. We began the year working with a deficit budget, indicating how important it would be to make good decisions about spending. We are thankful that in the spring of 2018 our community passed a $0.75 increase to our property tax levy. Current estimates show that this will increase our general operating fund by over $200,000.00 per year. Before last spring, the Fairfax R-3 District hadn’t passed a tax increase levy for 14 years. The fact that it passed this year by a margin of over 70% shows the deep commitment of our families and stakeholders to our school.
While our 2014-2019 model for instructional staff is sufficient, in 2017-2018 we needed to add or modify support staff positions. We were able to add a Special Education paraprofessional and increase the hours for one of our maintenance staff members. The para position allows us to provide additional services to our special education students through one-on-one instruction and supervision. The increased hours of our maintenance position gives us the opportunity to appropriately maintain the appearance of the building and have someone available after school hours. These two changes to personnel were made in response to observations and needs assessments conducted in our district. As leaders we try very hard to ask, listen, and respond as much as possible.
We have also increased 2018-2019 staff salaries for all Fairfax R-3 employees. While modest, the raise given this year brings our district to a starting teacher wage that is more competitive with our surrounding districts. We also set new base pay rates for support staff and will continue to examine employee pay in the 2018-2019 school year. Our board has made it a priority to ensure our staff members are paid appropriately and that incentives exist that attract and keep the best staff members we can get. However, like all other spending in school, any changes to payroll have to stay within the budget for years to come. We must always balance the goals of our district with financial reality.
We were also able to utilize reserve money to purchase a new, and badly needed, addition to our transportation fleet. Bus #17 began service with us in November of 2017, and it has been our go-to bus since then. We still maintain two other buses and two vans in our transportation fleet that are aging. These vehicles serve the vitally important role of getting students to school and to events. I can’t stress how important it is for us to maintain this fleet and replace old, malfunctioning vehicles with reliable alternatives. If you are like me, when you were 16 having a car felt like the ultimate freedom. It wasn’t long before I found out that there was a huge responsibility that accompanied that vehicle. Our transportation fleet is no different. Our district vehicles allow us to get students where they need to go, but also require a maintenance investment. The Fairfax R-3 Board of Education has identified our needs in transportation and in the next few years, the district expects to shoulder the cost for the replacement of our vans and for the replacement of another bus.
While we are in a brief break, we have construction well underway. Storm damage prior to the 2017-2018 school year led to a near, total roof replacement this summer. Our elementary, high school, cafeteria, and gym are all tagged in a project estimated at $586,125.00. Luckily, through insurance all costs but our deductible are covered. The elementary and high school roofs are both finished, the cafeteria will be started the week of July 23, and the gym roof will be repaired after other construction projects have been completed.
Construction projects extend beyond the repair of our roofs and into other areas of our building. Our district has entered into a lease purchase agreement for bonds that will allow us to complete many deferred maintenance projects. First, our gym will get structural repairs on the support beams, new windows, and upgrades to our locker rooms; the bathrooms in the high school and gym will receive new fixtures and partitions; the cafeteria will receive new paint, tables, and flooring; the first floor of the high school and our elementary classrooms will receive new windows; our high school science lab will receive upgrades to make it safer; and our indoor concession stand is receiving new paint, flooring, cabinets, and countertops. Be prepared to see a lot of construction this fall around our facility. We are ecstatic that we are able to fund so much work and we know we couldn’t do it without the support of our community.
Support of the community in the Fairfax R-3 School District continues to be a blessing for which we can only attempt to express thanks. This year, through donations and student fund-raising, our district received over $100,000.00 in monetary, facility, and time donations. These donations were used to fund educational initiatives like Project Lead the Way, upgrade our Fairfax weight room, upgrade our art room for the use of an electric kiln, pay for technology, keep our grounds and facilities well maintained, help fund concession stand renovations, pay for prom and senior trip, and purchase library books. The faculty and Board of the Fairfax R-3 School District know how our district is loved in our community and we are grateful to be stewards of our community’s trust. While an increase in taxes will allow us to finally care for our neglected facility, community donations continue to be essential to the educational experience of our children.
While construction and donations are very big news, a district is only as good as its educational practices. To make sure we are staying on top of student instruction, in the fall of the 2018 school year, we will implement new NWEA educational assessments. These tests are designed to help teachers identify learning needs in their classrooms and select interventions for students. Assessments are completed online and allow us to examine and communicate information about our students within our school system and, when appropriate, to stakeholders. We will be partnering with ACDC as our students learn about entrepreneurial work in our Family and Consumer Science program and our hope is to light the spark of small business ownership in our students. We will continue with our second phase of Project Lead the Way and implement regular, structured teacher collaboration focused on student writing.
We are thankful that with the work of families, staff, and other community members, our district is not only persisting, it is improving! It is our hope that we can build on this momentum for the 2018-2019 school year and for years to come. Teachers have been in this summer working in classrooms and our maintenance team has been hard at work painting, refinishing, repairing, and cleaning. On the first day of school, August 15, 2018, we will be ready to go to work! The students in the Fairfax R-3 School District will attend school where a clear partnership between school and community exists, and where we do everything we can to provide the best learning environment possible.