Archive for Thursday, March 30, 2006

District officials impressed by RSP’s techniques

March 30, 2006

When looking to form a picture of USD 491's future growth, members on the Board of Education might be getting the equivalent of a new pair of glasses.

If the board decides in favor of signing a contract with RSP and Associates, LLC, results from the district's current projection method could be made comparatively hazy.

"Really our forte has been school district planning," said Rob Schwarz, of RSP Associates said. Schwarz presented the scope of his firm's work at a special meeting Saturday morning.

Schwarz first presented the council with a DVD containing examples of the graphs and tools the firm uses as well as testimonials from past clients.

RSP has worked with school districts in both Kansas and Missouri, Schwarz said.

"We search for the best information and getting the best information means speaking with cities, counties and developers and even speaking with schools and their staff," Schwarz said.

The refined information could be especially valuable given the fact the district has already ordered mobile units to contain its current growth. The results could also benefit the upcoming 2008 bond issue by providing information on the best ways to one day rearrange grade groupings within the district.

RSP's work could also help the district's credibility factor, Schwarz said. In Gardner, the company projected growth with 99 percent accuracy.

"It helps citizens understand the larger picture," Schwarz said.

Currently, Superintendent Marty Kobza runs what is known as a cohort retention model to gauge the rate of the district's growth. The cohort retention model is based on census information and the progression of students from kindergarten to the higher grades.

"Right now, we're just using a flat percentage and that can be hit or miss," Kobza said. "Getting something that's a little more accurate is kind of the thought process I had in mind as I began talking to Rob about it."

Schwarz's company would first speak with developers to find out when they plan to build. Then the company would meet with the city and county to find exactly where the developments might go.

In addition to facts and plans gained from developers and the city, RSP would use the information for the district's database to compile a visual map of where students are located throughout the district.

"Basically, with the modeling we do, you're going to get accurate projections," Schwarz said. "Everything we put together in our model is tailored to your community. We're not going to use anything for Gardner or Carney, Mo., or any of our other clients. It's just going to be what's happening here."

Information from the most recent census would be used by researchers at RSP.

"The reality is that they're going to miss the boat on some of the things that are happening here locally," Schwarz said.

By pooling together all resources, the company will also offer its best guess on kindergarten growth.

"There's really no reliable data out there for kindergarten growth," Schwarz said.

Schwarz said his group could predict accurately out to about five years.

"Naturally, with this type of science, the farther you get, the less accurate you're going to be because the trends are constantly changing," Schwarz said.

Schwarz's presentation seemed to strike a chord with some board members.

"I think this is a great service and this is what we need if we are going to stay on top of where the district is headed," board member Kenny Massey said. "I think we owe it to the taxpayers to know the most we can about this issue."

Board member Joe Pyle said he saw the potential value of RSP's service.

"With the dynamics of our district, we are continuing to grow and we have to do a better job of planning in the future. This provides a professional job of doing this," Pyle said.

The Board decided to begin discussion to draft a contract with RSP to be voted on at a future meeting.

Once signed, district officials could receive the first projection results after a month.

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