Missouri Governor visits Cassville High School

Thursday, January 30, 2014
Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon speaks to a full gymnasium of Cassville High School students Thursday afternoon. Nixon visited the school to discuss his "Good Jobs, Good Schools" plan, which will bolster district coffers by more than $654,000 next year. Kyle Troutman/editor@cassville-democrat.com

Gov. Nixon discusses education plan, increased funding to district

Cassville High School students heard from a distinguished guest Thursday -- Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon -- who visited multiple classrooms and spoke to a gym packed full of students.

Nixon, who was at Cassville High School discussing his "Good Schools, Good Jobs" plan, which raises funding for Missouri schools and puts a greater focus on early childhood education, technology and post-secondary education.

Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon, left, gives a signed basketball to Raeghan Blisard, a junior basketball player at Cassville High School, after the two had a free-throw competition won by Blisard. Kyle Troutman/editor@cassville-democrat.com

Included in Nixon's 2015 fiscal year budget proposal is a $278 million boost in funding for K-12 schools, and the Cassville R-4 School District will receive more than $654,000 from the plan that will be used for hiring more teachers to reduce class sizes, improve technology and bolster the district's pre-school program.

The foundation formula, which is Missouri's primary method of distributing money to public schools, would be fully funded in two years. The Foundation Formula was created by state law in 2005 and is the major source of basic state support for public schools providing money based on attendance, local property tax rate, and the amount of students in a district who are disadvantaged or need special education, among other factors.

"Good schools lead to good jobs, and as schools improve, we want to get that economic benefit," he said. "Children have to be ready to learn from kindergarten, so all three aspects, go hand in glove."

Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon, left, speaks to a Cassville High School biology class about the direction of education and the challenges of a global economy and how important post-secondary education is in today's job market. Kyle Troutman/editor@cassville-democrat.com

Nixon said the biggest benefit of his plan is how it puts the money in the hands of local districts and school boards, as he said schools are only as good as their communities demand them to be.

"We want to provide these resources in a way that allows local districts to make the best decisions at local levels that best fit the community's needs," he said. "We want to get more kids into preschool, make high school more rigorous and offer more resources."

Richard Asbill, superintendent of Cassville Schools, said Nixon's visit is an important part of understanding the challenges rural school districts are facing.

Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon focuses on the hoop as he attempts to make a free throw in an impromptu competition against Raeghan Blisard, junior basketball player at Cassville High School. Kyle Troutman/editor@cassville-democrat.com

"Cassville R-4 School District has worked hard to deliver a quality education to our students," he said. "Recognized for outstanding academic and extracurricular

efforts, we are very proud of the work our teachers and students achieve. This work is rewarding, but is made more challenging by the reduced state funding."

Since 2008, Cassville schools have dropped five teaching positions and eight support staff positions due to funding issues, which have in turn led to larger class sizes and a reduction of teaching resources.

Students and teachers at Cassville High School stand and applaud as Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon prepares to speak to the group about his "Good Schools, Good Jobs" plan, which will bolster district coffers by more than $654,000 next year. Kayla Monahan/Cassville Democrat

John Sullivan, president of the Cassville Board of Education, said Nixon's visit to the high school and the increase in funding is a big deal to the district and to its students.

"It's great for the governor to come and mingle with our kids and it's great what he said to them," he said. "He really challenged them because today's economy is not local, it's global, and he challenged our kids to look beyond Cassville.

"The money will also be a tremendous help because there are some things we've had to cut back on, like staff, so that extra money will help us tremendously."

Asbill said the district is already forming specific plans for how that money will be used.

"The first priority would be expansion of classroom teachers to reduce enrollment in classrooms," he said. "This would include addressing our early childhood educational needs and priorities in [kindergarten through second-grade classes]. The district would look to maintain the two new teaching positions [recently] added, and look to add three more positions in grades K-5."

Asbill said the district will also put a focus on technology, specifically with the STEM and 1:1 initiatives.

"Cassville R-4 School District would also look at the funding as an opportunity to keep and maintain high quality, qualified teachers within our rural areas," Asbill said. "Too often, we compete for top teacher candidates or lose teachers due to our rural location and inability to be competitive in the workplace compared to more urban locations. Our tax base limits our ability to pursue raises and funding for additional teachers."

After visiting a pair of classrooms at Cassville High School, where he boasted about Cassville's above-state-average graduation rate and the 75 percent of Cassville graduates that go on to further their education, Nixon addressed the student body in the gym, explaining the goals of his plan and offering advice to the soon-to-be graduates.

"You should all think of education as a lifetime commitment," he said. "Keep going after high school, because the more education you can get, the more economically independent you will be, and that will move the economy forward."

Nixon even gave advice to the students about what they should tell their parents concerning his visit.

"When you go home tonight, tell your parents the governor came to your school and said the school you are in now is harder than the school they went to," he said. "It's more challenging than when they were in school because of the competitiveness and technology."

Nixon also talked to some of the students, such as seniors Hayden Prater and Brent Thompson, about their plans after high school, as Prater is pondering a decision to play football at Northwest Missouri State University or Pitt State University.

"Next year, I will cheer or boo for you, depending on which one you pick," he said.

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