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Part 5: MNSD Community Budget Committee's Virtual Learning Recommendations

Several recommendations were presented to the Marple Newtown School Board at Tuesday's Budget & Finance Committee meeting by the appointed Community Budget Committee.

NEWTOWN SQUARE–In part three of the five-part series of recommendations to the budget made by the appointed seven-member Community Budget Committee, is recommendations on activity fees for the district.

The committee was formed in September and has been meeting monthly since then to review the district's budget and to analyze revenues and costs of district operations. Committee member Jim Lanzalotto urged the school board to communicate more openly with the public about the limitations they are faced with in the budget due to state mandates.

Opportunities to reduce costs and for potential revenue growth in the budget were discussed in five areas: Transportation, Facility Usage, Activity Fees, Advertising & Sponsorships, and Virtual Learning.

Marple Newtown Patch will cover the topics in a five-part series.

What is Virtual Learning

Committee member Ray Gutowski shared the more the committee learned about what virtual learning was, the more possibilities they thought of to "embellish the education program here at Marple Newtown...and experiences of our student."

"But also to capture real dollars to benefit the taxpayers, and in some cases to recapture the dollars that have left the school district," said Gutowski.

Virtual Learning is a web-based education system, where students can learn in "real-time classrooms" and chat with the teacher through a computer.

"The justification for adopting or implementing a Virtual Learning system for highering and furthering education is to economize the time of the teaching staff and the cost of instruction," said Gutowski. "It's to provide students with learning in a flexible manner by benefiting the students with a varying time and location–such as students who are involved in sports, in the arts, or who work and have family commitments–can provide instruction to a web-oriented generation of students."

According to Gutowski, Virtual Learning can connect students and teacher from different districts and campuses. Statewide–"there are no boundaries, they can attract students from anywhere in the state."

Why Should MNSD Consider Cyber Charter Schools/Virtual Learning

Right now, Pennsylvania cyber charter schools are "one of Pennsylvania's largest and most successful public online schools," according Gutowski, about 11,000 students participate in a cyber charter school.

The cost of charter school funding to school districts is, on average, between 73-83 percent of what school districts spend per student, according to Gutowski. Currently, Marple Newtown School District spends about $10,859 on one regular education student and $31,500 on one special education student, costing the district approximately $400,000 annually.

Students in a school district attending cyber schools elsewhere have been costly for districts trying to bridge a deficit or to bring down tax increases, according to Gutowski. There are currently 39 percent eligible students in the district who do not attend a Marple Newtown public school.

In addition, while districts have cut programs and teachers, Gutowski said cyber schools are continuing to grow. By 2010, charter schools have become a $1 billion industry.

"It is a dilemma already for many school districts and we must meet it head on," said Gutowski.

Committee member JoAnn Flett also added some of the strengths of a Virtual Learning/Cyber Charter School program: struggling students may be able to receive credit recovery, gifted students may take more AP courses, students who are involved with many activities can manage their course load better, augmentation of the school curriculum with SAT courses, and the possibility of a student graduating earlier.

According to Flett, students who are not currently enrolled in a school within the district as well as students even further away may consider coming back to Marple Newtown if they were able to access a course whenever and wherever via online.

"Virtual education is here–it's the wave of the future. It's here to stay," said Flett. "It's to our benefit to start investigating on how we do this and how we do this well."

Economically, while student enrollment continues to grow the incurring additional overhead cost will be very minimal. In addition, Flett said this will give students an opportunity to utilize technology and better prepare them in their college careers.

"We’re not just giving them just an option. We’re not trying to be a University of Phoenix–that’s what we’re not trying to do," said Flett. "We would much rather be a Yale University with our iPad and iPod. There’s money in this—there are grant-writing opportunities. This is an opportunity–not just a budget relief but enhancing our school’s reputation."


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