The cost of a new flexible educational model at Frederick High School is still largely unknown, even as the school board prepares to approve a plan for the program this month.
State lawmakers and education leaders envisioned the LYNX, or Linking Youth to New Experiences, School as a model to change the traditional high school experience. It would let students leave campus, enroll in night classes at Frederick High, and have more flexibility in taking internships or work studies.
The program passed by state legislation this year was so innovative, it required the Maryland State Board of Education to grant LYNX exemptions of most state regulations applying to public education — except for high school graduation requirements and mandated state and federal testing.
Now, the Frederick County Public Schools team charged with planning LYNX is figuring out how to reduce costs after the district didn’t win a $10 million grant from a competition sponsored by the widow of Apple founder Steve Jobs.
The school system’s plan for LYNX has been scaled back considerably without the $10 million, though district leaders maintained from the start that the program would continue.
In October, the Frederick County Board of Education asked for more details of LYNX, outside a bare-bones plan that it must approve by December before it is vetted by the state education board. Frederick County board members expressed discomfort with approving a plan, required by the state law, without seeing pieces of LYNX, such as a budget.
A preliminary LYNX budget was presented to the school board on Wednesday, estimating that LYNX would cost the district a little less than $650,000 in fiscal 2018. District officials said the estimates that were presented on Wednesday are likely to change.
A little less than half that estimated budget, roughly $312,000, was dedicated to four new positions the school district created for LYNX called “team 1 advocates.”
These 11-month teachers would take on additional duties outside classroom teaching.
They would help craft plans for incoming and first-year Frederick High students as a guide for their four years in high school, supplement counselors’ work, and help connect students with opportunities outside the school building.
Most Frederick County Public Schools teachers are 10-month employees.
Superintendent Terry Alban told school board members that she intends to give them a new staffing formula incorporating the “advocates” into the district’s calculations and eliminate that $312,000 cost. Alban hopes to make the proposal next month, but said it could come in January.
A significant cost reduction related to LYNX would hinge on the school board approving that staffing formula in the future.
The district also estimated $150,000 in costs related to doing more bus pickups for students operating on alternative schedules, but this could be reduced as the school system investigates other options.
Other expenses are mostly personnel-related, such as hiring two instructional assistants, a secretary, an evening security guard, and workers to serve dinner.
The district has secured an $80,000 grant for teacher training through federal money specifically designated for that purpose.
Initially, the school system hinted that business or corporate donations could float some costs for LYNX. The school system is not actively seeking donations, but it is talking to businesses, Deputy Superintendent Mike Markoe said in an interview.
Markoe stressed that even before the system considered the $10 million grant, it was pursuing innovative forms of education, such as the personalized student plans.
Costs for LYNX would be woven into the operating budget, which Alban is due to introduce in January. LYNX-related expenses would not be an immediately evident, separate line item in the budget. Liz Barrett, the board’s vice president, requested that it be provided with how much LYNX will cost the system.
Alban said in an interview after the board’s morning meeting that she hopes the “advocate” jobs would spread to other of the county’s 10 high schools besides Frederick High. LYNX is only for Frederick High students. But Alban said the advocates could help relieve the workload of school counselors at other schools, or possibly assist with certain groups of students such as those with a poor academic record, at a principal’s discretion.
At the end of the meeting, most board members seemed supportive of the plan. A vote is planned for Nov. 16.
About 300 new freshmen would be part of LYNX when it launches alongside the opening of the new Frederick High building in the fall of 2017. Upperclassmen can take advantage of some LYNX services, but are not technically participants.
School administrators have said the flexibility of LYNX particularly will benefit Frederick High students, who are largely from low-income families or are minorities.
LYNX at Frederick High will benefit other schools in the county because the work can be replicated, Kevin Cuppett, the executive director for curriculum, instruction and innovation, said at the meeting.
Under the current LYNX plan, the last face-to-face class that students could take would wrap up a little after 5 p.m., but they could enroll in online course work or receive advising until 8 p.m. Students can still opt for a traditional schedule.