The administration is requesting that students consider taking additional Advanced Placement exams in order to help alleviate a budget deficit of almost $375,000. The shortfall is caused by a decrease in the amount of funding the school receives per exam.
Principal Andrew Ishibashi is encouraging students to self-study for exams they have a knowledge base for, such as languages they are already proficient in, even if they are not enrolled in the preparatory course. Ishibashi mainly appealed to juniors taking regular U.S. history and seniors taking an English elective in the hope that they will sign up for the AP United States History and AP Language and Composition exams, respectively. After discussing the plan with department heads, these non-AP classes were identified as courses that give students a strong step towards taking the exam, according to Ishibashi.
In order for juniors in U.S. History and seniors in regular English to pass or perform well on an AP exam, some teachers in the social studies and English department believe the students will need to go beyond the class curriculum and work to familiarize themselves with the structure of the exam. “There are definitely some extraordinarily intelligent students in regular USH who could get a five on the AP exam, but many students need additional preparation in respect to writing essays and analyzing documents,” APUSH and AP European history teacher Alexander Schwarz said. “Lowell students are good at multiple choice test-taking, but their ability to tie all the pieces together will translate in the essay.”
In terms of regular English students planning to take an AP exam, AP Language and Composition teacher and English department head Bryan Ritter said he recommends they explore the resources provided online by the College Board and study the terminology likely to appear in the multiple choice and essay questions sections of the exam. “We teach close reading in all of our English classes, so in that regard students should be relatively well-prepared,” Ritter said.
At a department meeting on Feb. 25, the social studies department outlined a plan to provide supplemental instruction to students who wish to take the exam, according to Schwarz. Each APUSH teacher will be paired with a regular U.S. history teacher, whom they will aid in preparing non-AP students for the exam. Additionally, the APUSH teachers are inviting regular U.S. history students to attend after-school APUSH review sessions, according to Schwarz.
This year the school is on track to administer 3,360 AP exams, according to AP co-coordinator Steve Granucci. As of Feb. 22, 26 students from regular U.S. History and no students from regular senior English have signed up to take the exam.
Ishibashi also said he wanted to emphasize that he only wants students to take an exam if they can handle it comfortably. “I did receive some negative publicity for this from people who think I am trying to pressure them into more APs,” he said. “Stressing you guys out is the last thing I want.”
To ensure that no students are prevented from taking an exam for financial reasons and to encourage more sign-ups, the administration will pay the entire exam fee for students who qualify for free and reduced lunch, according to Ishibashi. “I’ll pick up the tab for them,” he said. “We have a student body fund that could pay for it. Additionally, if there are students who are not on free and reduced lunch who can’t afford it, I will consider helping them. Just because you don’t qualify doesn’t mean you’re rich.”
The plea is a last-ditch attempt to avoid cuts for next school year, according to Ishibashi. “If we don’t try to think out of the box, we are going to have to make cuts,” he said. “I felt I needed to do something, so that if I have to go to teachers with bad news I know we did our best.”
After receiving his budget from the district on Feb. 22, Ishibashi said he hopes as more students sign up for exams, the school will inch closer towards a balanceable budget. When the exact deficit is clear, he will discuss with the Parent Teacher Student Association and the Lowell Alumni Association whether they will be able to close the gap, according to Ishibashi. If the money does not materialize, Ishibashi said he is committed to avoiding staff cuts except as a last resort. Electives are often the first curricular programs to see cuts, but the large supplies and operations budget will be downsized before any teacher or class offerings are cut, according to Ishibashi.
The deficit is due to a change in the new educator contract for the current school year, which outlines that the school is due to receive less funding from the district for the same amount of AP exams administered, but that the money is not as restricted to spending on teaching periods. Last year, Lowell received one AP preparation period for every 25 exams taken. At the average district-wide full-time employee salary with benefits of $90,000 per year for five periods taught, each period costs the school about $18,000. In the past each exam earned the school $720 that the school allocated to both AP teacher preps or teaching time for other courses, according to assistant principal of student support services Michael Yi. The additional teaching time was utilized to build teaching positions in order to reduce class sizes, among other benefits.
Under the new contract, the district will pay the school a reduced flat fee of $600 per exam administered — as before, the payment is based on students taking the test, not their scores — which can be appropriated according to the school’s needs, according to Yi. The net loss of $120 per exam over the roughly 3,100 exams administered figures to a deficit of almost $375,000 for the 2013-2014 school year.