Before school districts can turn the page on a new academic year administrators have to open and close the books.
The annual transition from one fiscal year to the next is only one item on a busy agenda of work that needs to be done each summer between graduation and back-to-school day.
Every Pennsylvania school district operates on a fiscal year that starts on July 1 and ends June 30. This cycle is funded by an annual budget each school board approves in June.
The closing weeks of each fiscal year are spent settling up the business of the old year as July 1 approaches. “We are flipping over accounts,” said Richard Fry, superintendent of Big Spring School District. “We are closing accounts and moving over money to new accounts.”
While administrators research products and contact salespeople, no supplies for the next fiscal year can be purchased before July 1, said Christina Spielbauer, superintendent of Carlisle Area School District. “We are getting the budget out to all the different departments. We process all the invoices and payments.”
There is bound to be some overlap between the fiscal years. “We continue to collect Earned Income Tax [revenue] through the end of August,” Fry said. Much of the summer work in the business office involves getting the district ready for its independent audit, which starts in August, he said.
State law requires every district to complete the annual audit by October. The state could come in and do its own audit at any time, Fry said. Districts are put into a rotation where a state audit team could visit once every three to four years.
For Joel Hain, principal of Boiling Springs High School, the summer months represent a transition from the frenzy of day-to-day operations to a slightly slower time of behind-the-scenes legwork that includes everything from managing the clean-up of his building to reviewing teacher evaluations.
“We need to have everything prepared so that when teachers come in, they can hit the ground running,” Hain said. By late-August, his role switches from getting his building ready to providing daily support to educators.
The wheels on the bus were going round and round long before the first day of school.
The day-to-day demands of managing a building or district make it a challenge for administrators to address strategic planning during the school year. Many districts use the summer as a chance to take on long-term, big-picture items.
At Big Spring, officials convene a two-day administrative retreat shortly after school lets out for students, Fry said.
Sometimes the retreat is held off-campus at someone’s cabin, but never at a place that would require the expense of an overnight stay.
“We review progress within the strategic plan which is the guiding document,” Fry said. “It’s truly a collaborative effort.” The review turns into a discussion of specific building goals about halfway into the second day. The legwork for the retreat goes back to the spring.
“We have a ton of student voice,” Fry said. Twice a year, Big Spring sends out age-appropriate surveys to students in grades 3-12. Each question asks students to rate the district on a scale. That data is then compiled and distributed to officials before the retreat.
“The students are getting back to us on how they feel about their learning,” Fry said. “Are they engaged? Is the work rigorous? Are they challenged?” The fact-finding doesn’t end with students. Big Spring uses a service called Thoughtexchange to gather input from the public.
Thoughtexchange allows the district to field a question on the internet and then gauge the response each question receives to get an idea of how the community is leaning on an issue. Officials do a Thoughtexchange among themselves just prior to the retreat.
Later in the summer, Fry has follow-up meetings with the same administrators to discuss their progress in moving goals forward heading into the start of the new school year. Fry also uses early to mid-August to prepare his annual state of the district address to staff.
At South Middleton, building principals met in early July to discuss common goals so the district is moving in a uniform direction. “We need that time to get together,” Hain said. “We have a to-do list.”
Superintendent Matthew Strine defines the broad strategic mission for the district. The principals use the summer to discuss how to implement building goals around that theme. Building goals become specific classroom goals for teachers.
One product of strategic planning can be major construction and renovation projects that are often timed to take place during the summer when students are not on campus.
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Cumberland Valley School District, for example, used this summer to replace the entire HVAC system at Sporting Hill Elementary School, replace the heating and cooling system in the high school natatorium, conduct final preparations to open Mountain View Middle School and to refurbish the roof at Shaull Elementary School.
The Sporting Hill project required the mobilization of 70 district custodians to box up and remove all the furniture and equipment from the building so that the construction crew could go in and start the project, said Mike Willis, director of finance and operations. He said all that material was packed into 10 shipping containers parked in the school playground.
“My guys are on site at those projects every day,” Willis said. He was referring to the district facilities director and other high-level supervisors tasked with monitoring the work, answering questions and trouble-shooting problems.
It is easier to get contractors in during the summer to do projects like renovating the restrooms and the gymnasium in the McGowen building of Carlisle High School, Spielbauer said.
The optimal period for construction and renovation work encompasses the last two weeks of June, all of July and about a week or so in August, Fry said. “You have two months, but every other district around you has those same two months.”
It can be tricky to have multiple school districts compete for the same pool of contractors and specialists. Big Spring School District is in its final phase of a 10-year capital improvement plan that includes a full renovation of Mount Rock Elementary School, improvements to the high school technology wing and a middle school auditorium retrofit.
Summer also means a thorough cleaning of every classroom and common space in every building in each district. Surfaces are dusted and polished. Walls and windows are washed. Carpets are shampooed. Furniture is removed to clear the way for staff to scrub, strip down and wax the floors.
This is no small undertaking. Depending on the size and scope of the district, the thorough cleaning could last the entire summer. “There are districts out there that do what is called gang cleaning,” Fry said. “All the custodians come together at one building. They knock it out and then they go to a different building.” Under this scenario, the typical elementary school takes about a week while a high school could take up to two weeks.
Big Spring made use of gang cleaning until summer construction projects disrupted the practice. Now custodial staff is just responsible for their own building. Because construction tends to produce dust, the thorough cleaning has to be coordinated with the project timeline and the start of the new school year.
Cumberland Valley has two million square feet of space under roof in 13 buildings. Custodians there post a checklist of items on the door of each completed classroom along with a map depicting the setup of the furniture, Willis said. The cleaning started the day after school let out and was still going on in late July.
Along with the thorough cleaning, Cumberland Valley staff members did preventative maintenance on every HVAC system in every classroom in the district, Willis said. This involved removing the covers of vent units, cleaning and lubricating the equipment and replacing the filters.
As staff members with every district worked their way through each building, they used the summer months to make repairs, touch up paint, check lockers, change light bulbs and do preventative maintenance. Meanwhile, there were staff members planting trees and shrubs and keeping the grass mowed.
While many of the spaces were empty of students and residents throughout the summer, buildings and grounds staff members have to continue to maintain and clean those areas that were put to use for camps and other activities.
It was all hands on deck the first week of June to clean the second floor of Boiling Springs High School, Hain said. As the largest building in South Middleton School District, the high school is an important venue for special summer programs organized by the South Middleton Township parks and recreation department.
Teachers routinely use the summer as an opportunity to take college-level courses tied to certification and professional development or to tackle a second job to earn more money.
The food service department of each district goes through two rounds of thorough cleaning during the summer. The first round usually takes place in early June after the last day of school. The second round occurs in August in the weeks leading up to the start of the new school year.
The second round often coincides with late summer football and band camps, Fry said. “Staff members have to stage the cafeteria, and those camps help them do that.” The summer is also used to prepare menus, order food, replace equipment, conduct preventative maintenance and submit an annual report to the state.
Other prep work
Athletic departments of school districts use the summer to replenish and recondition equipment and to update the inventory of uniforms, helmets and other gear, Willis said. Athletic directors spend time over the summer to evaluate the coaching staff and to arrange transportation to future games and matches, he said.
Along the same line, athletic department staff schedule play and practice fields and other facilities in preparation for the upcoming sports seasons, Hain said.
Technology-wise, summer is when school districts upgrade networks, change out servers and wireless nodes and move computers and other equipment in and out of service, Willis said.
Districts like Carlisle and South Middleton use the summer to update the software on laptop computers that are distributed to students at the start of each school year. “We are making sure all the devices work and we are ordering replacement devices,” Spielbauer said.
Summer is also when districts review and update building security systems and protocols. Cumberland Valley, for example, recently started a security department, which includes staff members hired this summer to reinforce staff hired earlier this year, Willis said. The new director of public safety recently led first-responders on a tour of the Mountain View Middle School to familiarize them with the new building, he said.
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“We need to have everything prepared so that when teachers come in, they can hit the ground running.” Joel Hain, Boiling Springs High School principal