District considers opt-in school for low income students
9/29/16, Print & Online
The closing of Riverside Place, one of Oxford’s only section 8 public housing complexes and home to several Oxford School District students, may lead to students being relocated from Oxford. Section 8 housing provides subsidized apartment complexes for low-income families, the elderly, and the disabled.
In February, Riverside Place will be closed and replaced with Housing Choice Vouchers. “The Housing Choice Voucher commonly known as ‘Section 8’ is a federally funded program that provides rental assistance for standard quality units chosen by the tenant in the private rental market,” said Teasha Sanders, head of Public Housing and Occupancy for the Oxford Housing Authority.
Riverside Place is largely falling apart, a main reason for its closing come February.
“Riverside Place was built in the late 1960s and doesn’t have basic amenities such as washer/ dryer hook-ups, central A/C, and there isn’t a laundry facility on-site,” Sanders said. “We also have plumbing and electrical issues due to the age of the buildings. Our goal is to ultimately provide the current Riverside residents with better living conditions.”
Residents were first notified of Riverside’s closing on Feb. 6, 2016. Since then, Sanders and the Oxford Housing Authority have been attempting to find landlords in Oxford that will accept the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) vouchers.
However, finding landlords who will accept them has been difficult. Sanders and the Oxford Housing Authority have only been able to find around 17 landlords willing to accept the vouchers and about 40 potential units for residents.
There are currently 91 families living in Riverside.
“I think most (landlords) don’t think that the HUD voucher provides enough money,” Alderman Robyn Tannehill said in a recent Board of Aldermen meeting. “That is the perception of the voucher, but it isn’t true.”
For a one bedroom apartment, the HUD voucher will cover up to $701; and for a two bedroom apartment, the voucher will cover up to $832 for a lease.
A large reason why the HUD voucher is seen as more beneficial is because it allows for residents to live wherever they choose in the US.
“The major difference in the two programs is the funding they receive now is attached to the unit at Riverside Place,” Sanders said. “The Housing Choice Voucher attaches the assistance to the family which gives them the option to stay in Oxford or relocate anywhere in the United States.”
However, this may soon create a problem for those residents of Riverside who want to stay in Oxford. The ability of these residents to find affordable housing in Oxford is very limited.
“Right now subsidized type housing of any nature or any housing designed for moderate income people, you are looking at the unincorporated [outside of Oxford City and Oxford School District limits] areas of Lafayette County,” owner of Bridge Properties, Mike Bridge said in a recent Board of Aldermen meeting.
According to Fred Laurenzo, Chief Administrative Officer of LOU-Home, the lack of affordable housing in Oxford will only continue to be an issue.
“The Vision 2037 Comprehensive Plan adopted by the city government predicts in the next five years a shortfall (deficit) of 400 affordable rental units and 200 single family homes,” Laurenzo said.
Laurenzo also believes that the closing of Riverside may even further increase the prices on more affordable housing options.
“The closing of Riverside would tend to push prices up since you have 91 additional families competing for apartments in the market at the lower end,” Laurenzo said.
For students who will not be able to stay in Oxford when they are evicted in February, such as sophomore Dorian Webb, the closing of Riverside will force them to leave their school half-way through the second semester.
“We’re probably going to Tupelo, when Riverside closes in February,” Webb said. “I don’t want to leave. Oxford has always been my home, but I can’t pay for a house here.”
Before being forced to move from Riverside, Webb was already previously evicted from a trailer park.
“I used to stay in a trailer park and the guy that owned it sold it to Dick’s Sporting Goods Company,” Webb said. “Then I moved to Riverside, and now that’s closing down.”
“My mom is tired of Oxford,” Webb said. “They just don’t care.”
Oxford School District Superintendent, Brian Harvey, and Sanders both said that they did not know the number of OSD students that currently live in Riverside. Sanders did say, however, that the month selected about when Riverside would close was not something she or the Oxford Housing Authority could control.
“The contract renews every February 28th, so the timing was not anything that we could regulate,” Sanders said.
When asked via email if Harvey had been communicating with members from the city to discuss the closing of Riverside and its effects on OSD students, Harvey responded with the statement, “We will certainly work with students during this difficult time.”
Sanders expects that the Riverside residents will be able to receive their vouchers come January 2017. She also stated that Riverside would not officially close until every family had been relocated.
“We will continue to actively recruit landlords and assist the families at Riverside until they are all relocated and housed,” Sanders said. “We are committed to the families we serve and we will continue to work hard on their behalf.”
Laurenzo says that he knows that the majority of Riverside families do not want to move out of Oxford, but that if those unable to find housing in the city limits relocate, it will affect the diversity of both the city and the Oxford School District.
“The children and families who live in Riverside are predominantly African-American,” Laurenzo said. “To the extent that they move out of Oxford or the school district the number of minority students would decline.”
Oxford neighborhood closing may lead to relocation for
12/13/16, Print & Online
The Oxford School District is considering a radical approach to combat the achievement gap in the school district.
According to edglossary.org, the achievement gap refers to the “observed, persistent disparity of educational measures between the performance of groups of students, especially groups defined by socioeconomic status, race/ethnicity and gender.”
“We have long had a problem with the achievement gap,” Superintendent Brian Harvey said. “We have a lot of smart kids and because there is not a private school or other real viable options this creates a gap where we have the people who are high achieving students and then the low achieving students. We have one of the largest gaps in the state.”
For Harvey, minimizing the achievement gap meant inviting Dr. John Hodge, founder of the Urban Learning and Leadership Center (ULLC), to Oxford over the summer to discuss the possibility of creating a separate school for students who qualify for free or reduced lunches in the district.
“It is geared towards those who are in the low economic groups,” Harvey said. “There is a correlation between achievement and poverty.”
In the district, 36% of students are eligible for free lunches and 4.2% are eligible for reduced lunches.
The ULLC believes that they have found an approach that will help close the achievement gap.
According to their website, ULLC participants (schools) exceeded the state pass rate in Virginia by 11-25%. These schools use a SAME approach which stands for Social Interaction and Social Environment, Academic Environment, and Moral Environment.
These ideas are defined by the ULLC as “the three essential components of a school.”
One of the schools in Virginia that implemented these policies is An Achievable Dream Middle and High School in Newport, VA. There, students attend 8 hour-a-day classes and attend school for 210 days out of the year. Their curriculum consists of “intensive reading programs, accelerated math courses, and mandatory etiquette classes.”
The Oxford School District is considering a model that would create an opt in school using similar ideas as An Achievable Dream Schools. This would mean that everyone who qualified for free or reduced lunches would choose to be opted in to the program.
While Harvey believes that this is a viable option to reduce the achievement gap, some criticize this approach seeing it as a form of segregation.
“That is a valid concern,” Harvey said regarding these criticisms. “It is a conversation we need to have, and I’m not scared of it. Hopefully they will see what my motivation is. I certainly don’t want to go back to separate but equal. In reality though, this isn’t separate but equal; it may be separate but more.”
For Harvey, race is not the issue; poverty is the issue.
“There is nothing that says that you have to be black to go to this school,” Harvey said. “This is a socioeconomic issue. We have poor white people. We have poor African Americans. It, however, is a little bit touchier in the South because of the history we have. As a superintendent, my job is to get all the kids to learn and give them the best opportunity to succeed whether they are black, white, yellow, or red; it doesn’t matter to me.”
However, according to Professor of Sociology at the University of Mississippi, James Thomas, race must be considered when discussing socioeconomic issues.
“Poverty is highly racialized–the rate of poverty among blacks in Oxford is more than doubled that of whites,” Thomas said through email. “The Oxford School District has declared that if such a school is built, it will be an opt-in model. But, given that poverty is disproportionately concentrated among black residents, and given the racial history of Oxford, it’s unlikely poor whites will send their children to a school where the number of black children could constitute a numerical majority. That is, the racial history of this town and this state may lead poor whites to declare ‘I’d rather my kid stay in a school with fewer blacks than with more blacks’. This means that the potential new school would become even less diverse, with even fewer networks, and even fewer opportunities to acquire social capital (resources people gain through their social networks, or relationships with other people).”
The school district is considering many different options besides the ULLC model, and the school board has not voted or made a decision on any of these plans. The district is exploring a variety of options to try to alleviate the achievement gap.
“Before we make any decisions, a group from here will visit Virginia to see ULLC’s program in action,” School Board President, Marion Barksdale said. “We will look at other options as well, and compare outcomes. We have a lot more research to do.”
Harvey does not know when a plan will be made, but he knows that action of some kind must be taken. “I can’t say at this point,” Harvey said regarding a time line of when a program will be implemented. “The important thing is that the discussion is being had. People can like it and dislike it, but the option to do nothing isn’t there.”
1/30/17, Print & Online
Legislators differ over effects of newly proposed education funding formula
Mississippi legislators are considering a new approach to education funding. EdBuild, an education consultant based in New Jersey, advanced a new funding formula before the legislature on Jan. 16.
The state hired EdBuild to review the current formula, the Mississippi Adequate Education Program (MAEP), and recommend an updated formula.
Representative Jay Hughes of Oxford faults the hiring process for lack of transparency. He and other legislators learned of the EdBuild contract through news reports rather than through the normal legislative process.
Prior to the EdBuild presentation, Hughes observed, “I find it very unfortunate, bordering on nefarious, that an out-of-state company is going to come tell us how to do education funding in Mississippi, yet they won’t share that information in advance to allow us to be informed and ask intelligent questions at the presentation.”
Opinions differ dramatically on the value of the newly presented funding formula.
The current formula, MAEP, starts with a base student cost which is multiplied by the average daily attendance. Also factored in is a mandated weight for students receiving free and reduced lunch and add-ons for vocational education, special education, and transportation, among other factors. Local contributions are designed to contribute 27% of funding, with the state providing 73%. This formula has only been fully funded twice in its 20 years of existence.
“While we may do some adjustments to the MAEP, I think that we simply have to try it before we throw it away,” Hughes said. “It’s like having a 20-year-old car and it doesn’t have enough gas in it and you claim it won’t go as far as it’s supposed to go. Well the car’s not broken. The fact that you’re not funding it enough is what’s broken. The formula isn’t broken. The legislature is broken because it’s not funding the formula. So it’s not fair to say the formula’s a failure, because we don’t know. We’ve never put enough gas in it to run it.”
Tollison noted that recession and budgeting constraints have led to the program’s underfunding.
The new EdBuild formula is based on weighted, or “student-centered,” funding which starts with a baseline cost for each student and then adds weights, or multipliers, based on the specific needs of individual students. According to the EdBuild report, students who would receive multipliers include English Language Learners (ELL), special needs students, gifted students, students in career and technical programs, and students in small or sparse districts.
“In 20 years since MAEP was created, states have been moving towards more student-based and technology has allowed us to do that,” Senator Gray Tollison said. “We have 490,000 students across the state and not all of them are the same.”
Tollison noted that new technology that did not exist when MAEP was created allows a student-centered formula to be more practical today.
“We need to recalibrate and use the latest models to properly or fairly disperse the money that we have for education,” he said.
Hughes fears that assigning a dollar amount to each individual student could be a precursor to the use of school vouchers in Mississippi.
“I completely believe in recognizing the fact that special needs students have higher costs, at-risk students take more money to educate,” Hughes said. “The troublesome part for me about assigning it specifically to the child is that it opens the door for private businesses to recruit that child and take that money with them. When the student leaves a school district and takes their money with them, it doesn’t necessarily mean it costs less to operate the school district.”
EdBuild’s report also asserts that Mississippi’s “27% rule” commits the state to providing 73% of funds, exceeding the national average of 46.7%. The report further suggests that the “27% rule” should be eliminated altogether and replaced with a rule that better suits their recommendations.
Hughes stated, in a live stream following the presentation, that eliminating the “27% rule” would lead to an increased tax burden on local communities.
“Think of what that’s going to do and how devastating that’s going to be to our perpetually poor and underperforming districts,” Hughes said. “It’s beautiful the way that they presented it today, but the reality is it means shifting tax responsibilities to the local level.”
The EdBuild formula’s impact on funding for Oxford School District is in dispute. Tollison stated that “hopefully Oxford would be more or less within the same range as it is now,” and noted that this is one of the issues they will be dealing with during the legislative session.
He added that the 27% rule of the MAEP formula creates inequity between poor and wealthy school districts.
“The wealthier districts will get wealthier and the poor districts will get poorer and that’s just the way it probably will remain, which is unfortunate,” Tollison said.
Hughes asserted that Oxford, along with Madison, Lee, Desoto, and Lowndes counties, would actually lose money due to the new formula.
“That’s big,” he said. “That’s a lot of schools.”
Oxford School Board President Marian Barksdale stated that the Oxford School District would likely receive less money due to the new formula.
“Oxford would likely be one of the districts getting less state money than we get now, even with the under-funded MAEP formula,” she said. “Our district may have some very tough decisions to make, starting with the upcoming budget cycle.”
In a school board meeting on Jan. 23, Harvey asserted that the Oxford School District could lose as much as $5.1 million of state funding if the EdBuild proposals are enacted.
“In theory, I can say those who have more probably should pay more, but that has an impact on our district and we will have to look at how that impact is measured,” Harvey said.
The tug-of-war over the EdBuild proposals is likely to continue during this legislative session.
“All of these things are going to be considered and debated during the legislative session,” Tollison said.