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RANGELY I The Rocky Mountain Area of Chevron’s Mid-Continent Business Unit gave $20,000 to the RE-4 school district at its board meeting Jan. 15. Chevron operations supervisor Luke Allred and plant operations supervisor Kelly Brown presented the check, which will help fund an upper-level math and science faculty position, to Rangely Junior-Senior High School principal Berry Swenson Tuesday night.
The funding is the result of a partnership between Chevron and the district after a STEM (Science, Math, Engineering and Technology) consortium created as part of a board initiative last August aimed to provide academic support for the top third of Rangely students.
“We know we have a void in our offerings at the high school in upper-level math and sciences, which is not an uncommon problem,” RE-4 Superintendent Todd Cordrey said. “Part of the problem is attracting individuals who can teach that content in a compelling, robust way….Generally, those people have private-sector opportunities where they’re paid substantially more than what a school district pays teachers.”
Which is where private industries like Chevron, which could eventually benefit from the higher-level math and science training students receive, come in.
“Chevron is pleased to help the Rangely School District launch the STEM Consortium to provide advanced science and math education for high potential students,” Chevron community engagement specialist Cary Baird said in an email Monday. “We encourage other businesses and industry members to join us in helping the Rangely School District increase its capacity to serve all students.”
The Chevron donation will supplement an average high school instructor’s salary and benefit package of $45,000, bringing the pay to $65,000 in an effort to be competitive with private-sector pay scales. The instructor, whom the district plans to hire for the 2013-2014 school year, will preferably have a master’s degree, though a teaching license coming into the position is not required.
“The ideal candidate could be someone who has not taught before but who has a high level of knowledge,” Cordrey said. “They have to know their material and be able to teach it. We could certify them…(so that) while they’re teaching, they are also getting credentialing from the state. It’s not a disruptive process.”
Right now, the consortium is looking to universities, the National Science Teachers’ Association, and the Colorado Association of School Executives, along with teacher fairs in Colorado, Utah and Michigan, for potential candidates.
“For years, we’ve talked about the higher achievers without any success,” school board president Adair Norman said. “There were lots of reasons for this, the biggest one being that the state and federal government are really good about making mandates about not leaving anyone behind. Everyone on the board has been about doing something for these upper-level kids. So finally this year, we said, ‘You know what? We’re going to make the top one-third of students a priority.’”
The district hopes that companies like Chevron, which have long-term investments in the community, will help them to do that.
“Chevron’s very excited about funding this. It’s exactly the type of initiative they want to support,” Cordrey said. “It works for them in a pragmatic sense and fits their objectives philosophically….We’re fortunate to have great industry partners. In looking to these partners, they’ll be the ones to help us bridge the gap and make this a reality.”
The consortium’s goal now is to build a reserve that will allow the district to fund the STEM instructor’s annual salary and provide supplemental materials like curriculum and lab applications for three to five years at a time, Cordrey said.
Following Chevron’s presentation, parents Chris Bishop and Kris Denny, chairs of the elementary and junior-senior high school parent action teams, reported on the teams’ current activities, including a special $1 admission night for basketball games last month, incentives for attendance in the junior-senior high school, and upcoming writing and math nights for both schools.
“We’re seeing firsthand the struggles schools face: how do you get parents involved?” Bishop said. “It’s good to have that understanding. We also know that the higher the involvement of parents, the greater the success of the child.”
The board’s focus on improving parental involvement has led to the district’s collaboration with Johns Hopkins University’s National Network of Partnership Schools, which provides a framework for family and community engagement and for the committees formed last fall.
“Now that we have the support of the superintendent, we’ve been really pushing parent involvement,” Norman said. “I hope (these steps are) just the tip of the iceberg. We want parents to feel welcome to come to the schools. We not only want them to be involved, they need to be involved.”
During the meeting, time was also spent reviewing Rangely School District’s annual audit prepared by Colorado CPA Services. The audit found that the district’s records were well organized and that internal controls appeared to be effective and working, said Colorado CPA owner Matt Scoggins. It also reflected an unqualified opinion, which means that “our financial statements are accurate, fairly presented and contain no material misstatements,” Rangely School District Chief Financial Officer Steve Kraft said.
The management letter accompanying the audit contained three recommendations for improvement. The first was to respond to an overage on the district’s spend-down building fund, created when contractors completing HVAC projects submitted bills after the June 30 fiscal year closing.
“The CDE (Colorado Department of Education) requires that I respond to how to remedy this from happening in the future,” Kraft said. “I will be meeting with the superintendent and department supervisors and directly involved in getting estimates for end-of-year billings from contractors so they understand they are billing for work completed through June 30. We’ll be making sure these numbers are really going to tie out.”
The second was to place additional financial documentation on the school district’s website to reach compliance with the 2010 Public School Financial Transparency Act. Those documents will be online by mid-March, Kraft said, and staff has received training to post and maintain documents on the webpage.
The final area of improvement involved having appropriate documentation and controls in place for Parkview Elementary School activity fund expenditures, Scoggins said.
“Everything we expend needs to have a receipt behind it,” Kraft said. “We understand that a receipt may get lost from time to time. But our protocol is that the individual needs to write me a note acknowledging the charge and date and that they lost the receipt. If somebody loses a receipt, we still have documentation.”
Segregating duties is the other key factor in having internal controls and necessary checks in place, Kraft said. Bringing Susan Steele in to fill the accounts payable/payroll technician position vacated in June 2010 is one way to do that.
“We have to have an audit by law,” Kraft said. “But part of the value to an organization is that you also get a management letter that has suggestions on things that you can improve….It’s not unusual to have some suggestions on the management letter. The key thing is to get an unqualified opinion.”