The value of a strong school system

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Last week, the Cassville R-4 School District received a visit from Dr. Dennis Cooper, area supervisor from the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, who was in town to conduct the district's MSIP evaluation. Because of Cassville's outstanding test scores and overall performance, the district was granted a full MSIP review waiver and the visit was described as a celebration of all that Cassville was doing right as a public school district.

Over the years, the Cassville Democrat has reported on district achievements, and sometimes I think the public doesn't always grasp how important an exceptional school system is to the economic wellbeing and overall strength of the community. As Dr. Cooper's visit reflected, Cassville is a shining example of what is best about the state's public education system, and the R-4 school board, administration, faculty and staff need to be commended for their efforts to continually improve the education our young people are receiving.

A school district is not unlike a big business. In the case of public schools, their revenue is derived from local, state and federal taxes with a few grants thrown in for good measure. The school's stockholders are the taxpayers, and the dividends are educated young people who constitute the future of this community.

Running a school district is a huge operation. Consider this: The Cassville R-4 School District has an operating budget of $17,522,930 for the 2010-11 school year. The district employs 254 people with an annual payroll of $11,782,914, making the school one of Cassville's largest employers. The district serves 1,920 students. On a daily basis, the school is responsible for transporting approximately 60 percent of the student population to and from school, which requires 19 bus routes and approximately 1,500 miles of travel each day. Not only is the district responsible for transporting and teaching students, they also feed them. Cassville operates three kitchens, serving approximately 1,800 breakfasts and lunches per day.

I knew the numbers were big, but I was blown away when Superintendent Richard Asbill provided me with the actual figures. And I might add, that I had the answers to my questions within 10 minutes, which reflects an impressive responsiveness and public transparency.

As "stockholders" in the R-4 District, I believe we, the taxpayers, are reaping dividends that far exceed our investment. Both my sons graduated from Cassville High School and are continuing their educations at the undergraduate and graduate school level. They were both prepared for college, and maybe more importantly, I think they learned how to reason and think for themselves during their years at Cassville. Along the way, dedicated teachers made a difference in their young lives, and that kind of influence is priceless.

Beyond my own personal experience with the R-4 District, I have seen newcomers to the area choose to buy a home in Cassville and relocate here, because they wanted their children to attend Cassville Schools. The R-4 District has earned a reputation as an outstanding school system, and our community is reaping the benefits. Even under these trying economic times, the district is surviving and even thriving thanks to long-term planning, financial oversight, efficient management of resources and a dedicated teaching staff who puts the task of educating our children above all else.

So congratulations Cassville Schools on another achievement. I hope citizens and taxpayers will view the district a little differently after reading this editorial and realizing all that it takes to keep one of this community's largest contributors operating at such an exceptional level.