Brownsville Area School District officials said the district is showing positive signs of academic growth as it attempts to tackle financial and societal challenges in educating its 1,600 students.
The district’s administrative team recently hosted a “State of the Schools” forum to give the Brownsville community an opportunity to learn about the current condition of its local schools.
Superintendent Dr. Keith Hartbauer reported improvement in student performance in several categories on the 2017-18 Pennsylvania System of School Assessment and Keystone Exams, as well as high school SAT and ACT scores and the district graduation rate.
“From a data standpoint, there are some positive signs for the first time in years that we’re making some academic growth in areas that are important in how we’re evaluated,” said Hartbauer.
The district began last year to use data to better target instruction, he said.
While the district has shown improvement and growth in certain areas, Brownsville test scores remain below the state averages for proficiency in all categories at all grades levels.
“Sometimes you feel like you want these things to happen overnight. You have to understand there’s a process to this whole program that we want to put forward,” said Hartbauer.
“The academic gains sometimes don’t happen as quickly as you want them to. So many of our kids don’t have their basic needs met,” he said, noting that the district has a high poverty rate and a high number of students with learning disabilities.
“Those are all huge obstacles for any district,” Hartbauer said. “The only way to address this is to continue to try to have meetings like this where we try to educate as many people as we can of what’s going on in the school system so we can hopefully make things better.”
Dr. Beth Hutson, assistant to the superintendent, detailed the criteria on which the district is now evaluated under the new Every Student Succeeds Act and measured through the Future Ready PA Index that launched last November, including student proficiency and growth on state assessments, attendance and graduation rates and career standards benchmarks.
Hutson noted the district is deficient in student attendance at all three of its schools.
“That is a very hard thing to work on being better because it has to do with us working with families in the home, and we can’t control conditions that are there so we do our best. We are always looking for new strategies to try,” she said.
Business manager Bill Boucher reported that financial expenditures in several categories are on the rise for the district, with Brownsville paying more than neighboring districts for expenses such as special education, homebound instruction, alternative education and charter school tuition, which has increased roughly 150 percent over the last six years, he said.
However, a positive trend in the district’s finances has been the growth of its fund balance nearly tenfold since 2015 to $1.4 million through consolidation and bond refinancing, Boucher said.
“Those numbers need to continue to increase. We want to be at about $1.6 million to have us in a safe harbor. Maintaining that is going to be difficult in light of the previous five slides,” Boucher said, referring to the presentation slides showing the aforementioned rising expenditures.