One big goal of Daniel McMinimee, Jefferson County Schools' new superintendent, is to give principals what he calls “defined autonomy.” That is, more flexibility. The district will still set expectations, but principals, he says, should have more say in choosing how to meet them.
McMinimee came from neighboring Douglas County, which ushered in reforms popular among conservatives, including a pilot voucher program to send kids to private schools. He discussed his views on those changes yesterday. But McMinimee says discussions around “school-based budgeting” have been on-going in Jefferson County for a couple of years – and now is the time to get it off the ground.
“We’re hoping to put this in a play in a limited fashion –we’re not going to have it fully rolled out - but in a limited fashion for this next budget year, for the school year 2015/16,” he says.
He says Denver, Adams 12, Douglas County and other districts employ this style of decentralized budgeting in which a principal oversees decisions for his or her school. Principals can choose how to allocate resources, for example, towards more advanced placement courses or for more reading intervention specialists.
JeffCo schools would still be allotted teachers based on their student populations, but there wouldn't be "strings attached” to discretionary dollars, McMinimee says.
He says Jefferson County has students from a wide range of backgrounds with different needs. "As a building principal, you should have the latitude to put dollars, discretionary dollars towards those programs that are going to a make a difference for your students," he says.
Jefferson County, he says, currently has some flexibility. For example, some schools offer the International Baccalaureate program, a rigorous globally recognized curriculum. But overall, McMinimee says he sees challenges in the current system.
For instance, he'd like high school principals to have the autonomy to choose to offer more Advanced Placement classes or more "concurrent enrollment” classes for college credit, for instance.
At the elementary level, “I think they [principals] can personalize around reading programs, around math programming around life skills ….opportunities that individual building principals can say, ‘this is what we believe in as a community and this is what we want our kids to do,’” he says.
McMinimee acknowledges that changes in how schools are funded causes trepidation about resources. For instance, hs says he knows educators worry, “What happens if we go into another recession and we have to cut dollars, what does that look like?”
The district would still set goals for achievement and state standardized tests would measure whether those goals are met.
McMinimee cautions that school leaders not in budget-cutting mode should not cut arts, PE or technology programs in elementary schools.
“Kids need to have exposure to those for a well-rounded education,” he says. “You have to do the whole child piece.”