At today's Duval County School Board workshop, Education Resource Strategies presented the final report to the district, a product of a year's worth of work to discover ways the district can maximize its limited resources.
A little background: Last year, the Jacksonville Public Education Fund began looking at how other large, urban school districts tackled the challenge of increasingly limited resources. We identified ERS as the firm that could help find ways for the district to more effectively use its time, people, and fiscal resources in a way that gets the greatest return on investment. JPEF, with the support of Superintendent Ed Pratt-Dannals, successfully advocated for the Duval County School Board to work with Education Resource Strategies, Inc. (ERS).
ERS is a non-profit consulting organization dedicated to ensuring people, time, and money are used effectively in school systems to maximize student achievement. The group has partnered with large urban school districts around the country-such as Charlotte, Baltimore and Los Angeles-to build strategies for improved instruction and performance.
They began working with the district in fall 2010, delivering monthly reports as they went systematically through the district's budget, class schedules and teacher assignment. They also recoded district expenditures to allow for apples-to-apples comparisons to other cities and against documented best practices. They conducted working sessions with the district's top leadership to develop action plans.
"As standards for achievement rise and resource levels fall, DCPS must build on current efforts and be more deliberate than ever about the way it uses people, time, and money to support student success," said ERS Director Jonathan Travers. "Our objective was to show how DCPS, even with its low funding level, can reduce costs, rethink existing resource use, and make limited new investments to improve teaching effectiveness and student performance overall."
"This study provided the district with valuable insights on how to take existing money and focus on more efficiency to improve the outcomes for our students," said Duval County Public Schools' Superintendent Ed Pratt-Dannals. "Benchmarking our district against other large urban districts provided a critical analysis of our funding, staffing levels, planning and instructional time."
Among the report's key findings:
• Duval County Public Schools is one of the lowest funded districts ERS has studied. Compared with peer districts, it spends the lowest share of its budget on central management functions and the most on instruction.
• Duval County Public Schools should focus on improving teacher effectiveness by comprehensively implementing the new evaluation system and bringing together pieces of DCPS's current >$100 million investment in instructional support to strengthen teaching teams.
• The school district must expand and improve individualized supports for highest-need students.
• DCPS must change strategy to attract and develop top talent and better support students' readiness to learn in turnaround schools.
• Through school consolidation the district can free up some of the $26 million invested in smaller school size to increase the funding it can allocate based on prioritized need.
Gary Chartrand, chairman of the board of directors for the Jacksonville Public Education Fund called the completion of the report a bold step toward improvement.
"It's not easy to put yourself and your organization under the microscope for this type of analysis," Chartrand said. "We look forward to supporting the district as it takes action on these findings."
Chartrand, who is executive chairman of Acosta Sales and Marketing and also sits on the Florida Board of Education, said he knows first-hand how valuable it can be for organizations to bring in outside experts to evaluate policies and practices.
"The superintendent and school board members should be applauded for undertaking this work. This short-term investment will yield significant, long-term, positive change for our district and the kids of Duval County, just as it did for our business," Chartrand said.