February 19, 2002
Hank has asked us to tell him what number of students he should assume will attend a voluntary school so that he, Betty, and the rest of his staff can tell us what the academic and co-curricular offerings would look like.
That number for me is the number which would maintain the strength and diversity of the current academic program.
This board has talked about how having two schools would - theoretically at least - provide more co-curricular opportunities for students. What we have not talked about is the loss of academic opportunities that a voluntary school would cause. That is because counting co-curricular opportunities can be simple. Football teams have a fixed size. Doubling the number of football players by having two teams is easy math.
We will not have a definitive description of the loss of academic opportunities at a voluntary school until this board gives Hank the numbers he is required to assume for his projections and his staff has time to crunch those numbers. But I have done a quick and dirty calculation equivalent to assuming that having two football teams creates a whole football team's worth of new opportunities. I did this by seeing what courses would be cut because there would not be enough enrollment by current standards. It is not a pretty picture.
I started by taking the draft 2000-2001 Master Schedule Listing which Hank gave us last year. I then assumed that a voluntary school would have 1/4 the number of students, or 907 based on last year's enrollment. That works out to 227 students in each of the freshman, sophomore, junior, and senior classes.
I then looked to see which courses had three or fewer sections. I assumed that if a course had four or more sections then at least one section in that course could be offered at a voluntary school. Conversely, I assumed that if a course had three of fewer sections that it would not be offered at a voluntary school, unless of course we decide to spend more per student on voluntary students than Winnetka students.
According to the methodology I just described, here are some of the courses which would NOT be offered at a voluntary school:
discussion and debate
English 1 team, three level
English 3 team, nine level
English 4 team
Algebra 2 team
senior writers seminar
multi variable calculus
AP computer science
French 1 and French 5
German 1, 3, 4, and 5
AP Spanish 5
AP physics B
AP Physics C
AP European history
AP political science
In addition, some large visual and performing arts courses would require smaller sections and additional faculty to service two schools. I do not have the knowledge or capacity to hazard a guess as to what the additional cost would be.
I told you this was quick and dirty. The departments, Betty, and Hank would undoubtedly do all they could to minimize the loss of academic opportunities. I assume the final picture they paint for us will not be so bleak, although I suspect it will be more expensive because they will decrease some class sizes to avoid cutting some courses. But if their report is half as bad as the rough numbers predict, then the cost of a voluntary school in terms of lost academic opportunities is high.
If a goal of opening a voluntary school is to clone the current program but make it small, then it can not be done without either having unequal funding per pupil in order to pay for the same program with smaller class sizes at the voluntary school, or equal funding per pupil but with a lesser program at the voluntary school. Fewer students mean fewer academic choices or higher costs or both. That is the nature of economies of scale.
I believe all of us intend the natural consequences of our actions, including school board members. I am not clear what each of the proponents of the voluntary school wants to see: a different program at the voluntary school, or more money spent on voluntary school students.
If we vote to close the freshman campus and to open a voluntary school, I do not think it will be fair to spend more per pupil on voluntary school students than on Winnetka school students. Neither do I think it would be a good idea to diminish the academic choices available to voluntary school students.
So for me the number that Hank should use is the number which would maintain the strength and diversity of the current academic program at a voluntary school, but only if that can be done without spending more per student on the voluntary school. Maybe Hank can figure out a way to do that. The raw data suggest otherwise.