A mandate from the Tooele County School Board to cut $1.4 million from the 2013-2014 budget greeted new Superintendent Scott Rogers his first day on the job.
That was on July 1. Three days later he sent a memo to all district staff that identified $666,828 in budget reductions — almost half of the goal.
Roger’s scoured the budget and found, what he described as “low-hanging fruit,” several areas in which costs could be cut.
His reductions began with cutting school supplies from $70 to $60 per student for an estimated savings of $143,060. Travel expenses for principals to attend national conferences were canceled resulting in a savings of $21,000. Next, the vacant half-time finance clerk position at the district office will remain vacant, which added an estimated savings of $21,000.
Capital outlay allocations to schools will be held back, creating an $80,000 savings. Capital projects will also be trimmed by $50,000. School checking and student activity accounts will be required to be balanced, netting $212,668 in savings. A full-time custodial supervisor will be hired to manage the department and centralize purchasing, resulting in a $10,000 savings. The replacement of the district’s second assistant superintendent will be postponed for at least one year, saving $131,000 in salary, benefits, and payroll taxes.
According to Rogers, district staff helped him develop the list of budget reductions.
“Many of these cost cutting ideas came from various folks in the district,” he said. “Under normal circumstances, I would spend much effort and time vetting cost reduction ideas fully with all employee groups, but it really is crunch time and most folks are not on contract at this time.”
Not replacing the assistant superintendent means the duties of former Assistant Superintendent Ken Luke will be distributed among the other administrators at the district office.
Rogers will take on the role of elementary education director and work directly with elementary principals, he said.
Asked to describe his leadership style, Rogers sketched a picture on his notepad with a pen. In the center was a circle representing schools, students, and family. Spokes radiated out from the center as the drawing was completed with a larger circle.
“It’s like a wheel,” he said, pointing to the spokes. “One of these is the district, another is the board. The classroom is where the magic happens, that’s where learning takes place, and we all support the classroom.”
Leadership that improves education requires a hands-on relationship driven approach as opposed to a detached corporate style, Rogers said.
“I interviewed the board as much as they interviewed me,” he said. “I wanted to make sure that we were a good fit. I told them if they wanted a stuffed shirt that sits in the office dictating policy, they had the wrong guy.”
Although he is relationship oriented, reducing budgets and making hard decisions are not unfamiliar to Rogers.
While superintendent in Rupert, Idaho, the district’s annual budget dropped from $28 million in 2008 to $20 million in 2013, a 28 percent reduction. During the same time period, enrollment in the district grew by 5 percent.
“The budget reductions were necessary as the state reduced funding to schools,” he said. “Most of the reductions were accomplished through staff reductions by attrition.”
To reach the goal of $1.4 million in budget cuts for 2013-2014, the district will need to evaluate every process and every expense, Rogers said.
“We can not maintain the status quo and keep up with deficit spending,” he said.
However, Rogers is optimistic that budget reductions can be made in Tooele County School District that will not directly impact employee salaries, class sizes, student programs, or staff reductions at this point.
Rogers will begin weekly budget meetings with administrators and start a department-by-department budget review, looking at how things are done with an eye to finding efficiencies.
“For example, I think we can take a look at cell phones and data plans,” he said. “I was offered a cell phone and iPad, both with data plans. I don’t need a data plan for both. We may find small savings, but they add up.”
Rogers wants to get through the budget adjustments, then he has some ideas for new revenue that don’t involve a tax increase, and get on to more urgent business.
“We need to be good stewards of the taxpayer’s money,” he said. “But we need to get on with our real business of educating students.”
Rogers has identified several areas of emphasis that he wants to address.
He rattled off a list: Math scores need to go up; teacher compensation needs to be improved, without raising taxes, to increase teacher retention; he wants to build trust with parents and the public; professional learning communities and response to intervention need to be retained and strengthened; the district needs to demonstrate that it is fiscally responsible and reading scores can be better.
“The public demands and deserves to see improvement and accountability,” said Rogers. “There are things that have happened in the past that we can’t change. Going forward we don’t make excuses. We can make improvements.”
While Rogers was never been a full-time classroom teacher, he does not see that as a handicap in his position as he strives to improve learning.
“Teaching and administrating are two different skill sets,” he said. “I was a school psychologist for four years and was in the classroom working with students and teachers.”
He knows what good teaching looks like and has high expectations of teachers.
“I want teachers that teach like their hair is on fire,” he said. “That’s the kind of intensity I want to see in the classroom. Students should feel their teacher’s passion and joy of teaching.”
The teacher’s role in education is pivotal to him. He had a well-known quote that is attributed to an unknown six-year-old student on his office wall in Rupert. He plans to post the same quote here in Tooele.
The quote reads, “My teacher thought I was smarter than I was, so I was.”
A classic education psychology experiment in 1968 demonstrated to him that student performance will rise to teacher’s expectations.
Rogers will not only be the superintendent, he is also a parent. His family has a home in Stansbury Park with two teenage children who will attend Stansbury High School.
After two weeks in the community, Rogers is already sold on the quality of life in Tooele Valley.
Rogers, who is 50 years old, said he will be content if things work out so he can stay in Tooele until he retires. The school board approved a three year contract with him for $135,000 in annual salary, not including benefits and payroll taxes. He will receive the same benefit package as other district administrators.
His $135,000 salary is $5,000 more than former Superintendent Terry Linares’ contract approved a year ago. While Linares contract was for $130,000, she took a voluntary reduction of $2,500, reflecting three days of furlough that other staff received.
“Dr. Rogers is not a first time superintendent, he comes to us with 12 years experience and a doctorate degree,” said Maresa Manzione, Tooele County School board president, while explaining the increased compensation. “We did not deliberately set out to chose a superintendent from outside the district. After interviews it was evident that Dr. Rogers was the most qualified and a good fit for our district.”
Before going into education, Rogers worked for four years as a psychologist in private practice and for the state of Idaho.
He was the principal of Snake River Middle School in Blackfoot, Idaho for four years before moving to Arco, Idaho to become superintendent of the Butte County School District for four years. Rogers was the superintendent of the Minidoka County Joint School District in Rupert, Idaho for eight years.
Rogers earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Brigham Young University in 1986 and a master’s degree in school psychology from BYU in 1989. He earned a doctorate in psychology from Rochville University and holds an educational specialist degree in educational administration from Idaho State University in Pocatello, Idaho.