Friday, December 4, 2009

State Budget Challenges Continue: How is the Earlham Community School District Adapting?

I am sure that all who are reading this are aware of the enormous challenges the State of Iowa is experiencing financially. The next Revenue Estimating Conference is planned for the week of December 7-11, but all economic indicators show revenues at the State level continuing to be lower than projected last year. Because of the challenges at the State level, the Earlham Community School District is experiencing budget challenges, as are all school districts in Iowa.

As stated in a previous article, the Governors across-the-board reduction in State Aid equates to a reduction in funding of $290,000 for the Earlham Community School District. In response to this reduction in State Aid, the School Board has approved the following to reduce expenditures for the remainder of the 2009-10 school year:

• Three days of unpaid leave for all administrators and department heads. This includes myself, the building principals, the technology/curriculum director, business manager, head custodian, transportation director and food service director.

• Reduction of one hour per week for all hourly employees. This includes teacher associates, secretaries, custodians and food service. The central office will be closing Tuesday through Friday at 3:45 PM instead of 4:00 PM for the remainder of the school year to accomplish this in part.

• Reduction in out of district professional development when hiring a substitute teacher is required.

• Continued spending freeze on supplies and other nonessential purchases.

• Discontinued purchasing toner for HP6L printers. The plan is to have those staff members print to a networked copy machine when the printer toner is gone. In addition, the district is performing a printing audit to determine other potential savings related to printing/copying.

• Energy conservation is another area that cost savings can be realized. The Energy Committee continues to meet and talk about potential ways to save energy. Although it appears to be a small thing, we are lowering the master temperature in the building.

• Discontinue purchasing of water for the portable building.

• The Board directed me to propose reopening the Master Contract with the Earlham Education Association to discuss possible cost savings measures.

These items alone will not reduce spending the full $290,000 of lost State Aid, but will assist in not requiring additional depletion of the cash reserves. Plans for how to address the 2010-11 school year budget challenges are already underway. I am anxiously awaiting the results of the December Revenue Estimating Conference so that accurate information can be used to plan. Again, I plan to continue to provide financial/budget information to the Earlham Community School District patrons as it becomes available.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

10% Reduction in State Aid: What does that mean for the Earlham Community School District

On October 7th, the State Revenue Estimating Conference met to determine the anticipated revenues for the upcoming State budget. The Governor is required by law to use these figures to develop a State Budget that is revenue and expenditure balanced. You may have read where the Governor used monies from the State Reserve Fund to cover revenue/expenditure differences from the previous year.

With State revenues being estimated to equate to nearly $1 Billion short of projected expenditures for the current year, the Governor is required to make adjustments. In response, the Governor has ordered a 10% across-the-board reduction in State Aid for all agencies. The reductions in State Aid payments are set to begin in November 2009 and continue through June 2010. This obviously presents a significant challenge for all schools in Iowa and Earlham is no exception.

For the Earlham Community School District, this reduction in funding equates to $290,000. The district receives State Aid payments each month. This reduction equates to a loss in General Fund revenue of over $36,000 each month. The General Fund expenditures include salaries, benefits, textbooks, utilities and supplies.

An important concept to keep in mind is that this reduction in revenues does not affect the funding received through local property taxes. The District receives property taxes to pay for the bonded indebtedness for the building, the Physical Plant and Equipment fund which helps to maintain the building and purchase equipment and the Management Fund which pays for property insurance for the buildings, grounds, transportation fleet and liability.

The District is working to develop two plans: One to address revenue shortfalls for the remainder of the 2009-10 school year and another to address budget issues related to the 2010-11 school year and beyond. The District is fortunate to have some Cash Reserve funds that will assist in meeting financial obligations for the 2009-10 school year. Once the budget is approved on April 15th, there is no way to generate additional revenues for operating. We have started work with the School Board Finance Committee and ideas on how to reduce expenditures and operate more efficiently are being solicited from the staff.

It is very challenging to predict the future as the State revenues are always subject to change. The next Revenue Estimating Conference is scheduled for December. The Legislature can affect funding levels during their next session beginning in January. Economic conditions for the State and Nation can change between now and then. As these factors become more clear, I will attempt to keep updated information available.

Monday, October 12, 2009

September 2009 News

Greetings from the District office! As I am writing this, the weather is beginning to cool down, the leaves on the trees are just starting to change color, and the days are getting shorter. Fall is upon us and the students are doing a great job of settling into the routine of school.

One of the Earlham Community School District Belief Statements is; “Successful education occurs in a safe, stimulating, challenging and positive environment.” Let me begin by saying that I believe we have a very safe school with wonderful students and an extremely supportive community. With that said, I also believe that tragic situations can and do happen anywhere. It is the district’s responsibility to be as prepared as possible to address these situations properly. We must plan and be prepared with the hope that we will never have to use the plans. I want to share with you some of the things that the district is working on to make certain that the learning environment is safe for our students.

A Safety Committee was formed two years ago so that the emergency procedures of the district could be reviewed, revised and updated. As this process moved forward, six members of the committee were afforded the opportunity to attend a workshop entitled “Multi-hazard Emergency Planning for Schools” in Emmitsburg, MD. In conjunction with the Madison County Emergency Management services, the district was provided the tuition to attend through a grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. As one of the attendees, I can tell you that it was a very eye-opening experience. There were three other districts that sent teams of staff to attend this week-long workshop from various states. It became clear almost immediately that all schools face the same issues related to safety. What was also apparent was that the method used by each school to address safety issues was dependent upon the size of district.

Upon returning from the workshop, the committee started to again revise the Crisis/Emergency Procedures Plan with a new focus. The updates to the plan that had been made prior to attending the workshop were very good, but they would only guide the district for the initial stages of various crisis situations. Additional planning needed to be done to be prepared for the duration of the various crisis situations. In addition, the committee perceived the need to better educate the staff and increase the realism of the different practice drills so as to better prepare in case an emergency/crisis situation occurs.

The district will continue to practice the fire and severe weather evacuation drills as in the past, but plans are being made to slightly modify the drills so that they would be more like the actual situation. In addition, the committee is planning to practice a “lock-down” type drill in which the students and staff are instructed to keep their students in the classroom, away from the doors and windows so that all students can be safe and accounted for. Practicing this type of drill may be useful in the situation where an intruder may be in the building. The district will also continue to practice bus evacuation drills, instruct students relative to farm safety, and provide content filtering for students researching information using the Internet.

You may have already read about the district receiving a portable AED (Automated Electronic Defibrillator) via a grant from Cintas. The district was also awarded two additional AEDs through a grant from the Iowa Department of Public Health and a donation from the PIE (Partners in Education) organization. The two new units are installed in the building, one near the practice gym/commons area and the other on the stage area in the competition gym. Monica Tibben, the school nurse, has provided opportunities for training on the proper use of the units as well as a refresher course in CPR. By the time you are reading this, we should have more than 15 staff members who have been trained on how to use these devices properly.

In closing, I want to assure everyone that the district is making efforts to fulfill the belief statement mentioned above. We have learned that this is an on-going, never ending process of planning and practicing to be prepared.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Earlham School Board News September 2009

During their meeting on September 16, 2009, the Earlham Community School Board met for their organization meeting at 6:00 PM in the high school library. The retiring School Board approved minutes from previous meetings, financial statements and invoices. Board Manager Jodi Stroud shared the results from the School election from September 8th. Teresa Waldron and Kathy Woolcott were elected to 4 year terms. The retiring School Board, including Craig Hamilton and Neal Hanley, adjourned with appreciation for their service to the district.

Following the election of Mike Madren as Board President and David Morford as Board Vice President, the Board was presented information from Nate Sletten, Band Director, relative to potential purchases of new instruments that would be owned by the district. Mr. Sletten provided the School Board with an inventory and current working condition of each of the district owned instruments. The Board asked Mr. Sletten to continue his research into several vendors and different lease/purchase proposals and share that information at a future meeting.

In other business, the Board approved:

  • The FFA to attend the National FFA Convention in Indianapolis in late October.

  • An agreement with the Earlham Education Association on the distribution of Teacher Quality fund to staff for the 2009-10 school year.

  • A schedule for regular and special meetings for the 2009-10 school year. Those dates are posted on the district website.

  • Teresa Waldron as the district representative for the IASB Delegate Assembly on November 18.

The next regular Earlham Community School Board meeting will be held on Wednesday, October 28th at 6:00 p.m. at the school library. The School Board is also planning a special meeting/work session for October 7th at 6:00 PM in the school library.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

March School Board Meeting News

On March 18, 2009, the Earlham Community School Board met for their monthly meeting at 6:00 PM in the high school library. During the meeting, the Board approved a proposed calendar for the 2009-10 school year. Key dates to note include:

- August 24-25 – Back-to-school Conferences
- August 26 - Classes Begin
- November 5 & 10 – Parent/Teacher Conferences for Grades 7-12
- November19 & 23 – Parent/Teacher Conferences for Grades PK-6
- December 23 – Winter Break begins @ 1:30
- January 5 – Classes Resume
- March 4 & 9 – Parent/Teacher Conferences for Grades PK-6
- March 25 & 30 – Parent/Teacher Conferences for Grades 7-12
- May 27 – Final Day of School (If there are no snow days)

In addition, the district will have three all-day professional development days for staff on August 20th, September 21 and January 4th. During the current school year, the district had one all-day professional development. The Teacher Quality Committee agreed to use the funds from the State Department of Education to provide funding for these two additional days. A final copy of the approved calendar is posted on the school website.

In other business, the Board approved:
- Two foreign exchange students for the 2009-10 school year
- Application for a Physical Education Grant to provide equipment, supplies and training for the district physical education teachers

The next regular Earlham Community School Board meeting will be held on Wednesday, April 8th at 6:00 p.m. at the school library.

Friday, February 27, 2009

February 2009 Board Meeting

On January 18, 2009, the Earlham Community School Board met for their monthly meeting at 6:00 PM in the high school library. During the meeting, the Board accepted a gift from the Earlham Foundation. The gift will allow the District to purchase a piano for up to $7,000 to be placed in the auditorium and used for concerts and other productions.

The Earlham Foundation is a non-profit 501(c) (3) organization formed in 1993. The Foundations Articles of Incorporation state that the purpose of the Earlham Foundation is to “further the educational effectiveness of the Earlham Community School District”. The Foundation serves the interests of the students by providing financial support for current students and programming. The Earlham Foundation is funded thorough charitable donations and a growing endowment fund that generates income.

The Earlham Foundation has been a somewhat inactive organization for the past several years. The Foundation recently installed a new Board of Directors and plans to reinvigorate its fundraising efforts. A revision of the brochure, a link to the school district website, and additional on-line presence are among the ideas being considered by the Foundation to revive their mission. Foundation Board members include: Trish Hopkins, President, Kathy Woolcott, Vice President, Vicky Boyle, Secretary, Dale Brooks, Treasurer, Nick Price, Connie Ramsey and Michael Wright.

In other business, the Board approved:
An update to Board Policy 401.1 – Educational Credits
An Agreement with DMACC for the STRIVE (Selected Training Received In Vocational Education) for a student in the high school
Approved a committee to review the District Special Education Services Delivery Plan

The next regular Earlham Community School Board meeting will be held on Wednesday, March 18th at 6:00 p.m. at the school library. The School Board is also planning a special meeting/work session for March 4th at 6:00 PM in the school library.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

January 2009 Board Meeting

On January 21, 2009, the Earlham Community School Board met for their monthly meeting at 6:00 PM in the high school library. During the meeting, the Board was presented information from the Middle School and High School Science teachers and the Middle School/High School Dean of Students and High School At-Risk Coordinator.

The presentation from the science teachers included information relative to curriculum taught to students in grades 7-12 in the area of science. Curriculum units included biomes, genetics, virus, bacteria, mass, density, populations, communities, ecosystems and many others. In addition, Mrs. Anne Mendoza presented information on how she is now better able to use the Chemistry classroom for hands-on student experiments due to the remodeling project completed last summer. Students and teachers can now safely perform a wide variety of experiments that were not available in recent years.

The other presentation focused on informing the Board relative to a trend being tracked by the Dean of Students and At-Risk Coordinator showing an increase in the percentage of students who are not completing their education or receiving their diploma at alternative sites. The district allows students to utilize the Youth-At-Risk Credit Recovery program through DMACC, the Winterset Alternative High School program known as “Bridges”, and General Education Diploma or GED through DMACC if the student is struggling to accumulate the required credits toward a traditional diploma. During the presentation, the Board was presented with new requirements related to the “No Child Left Behind” federal legislation. This requirement forces districts to count students who receive their diploma through these alternative ways be counted as drop outs for the local district. The Board asked the Dean of Students and the At-Risk Coordinator to bring a proposal to them in February on how the district can address this issue.

In other business, the Board approved:
An agreement with Prairie Meadows relative to the $5,000 grant awarded the district to offset costs related to the remodeling of the high school science rooms.
Board Policies in the first 1/3 of the 400 Section of the Policy Manual. The entire 400 Section will be reviewed and revised where necessary during the 2008-09 school year.

The next regular Earlham Community School Board meeting will be held on Wednesday, February 18th at 6:00 p.m. at the school library. The School Board is also planning a special meeting/work session for February 2nd at 6:00 PM in the school library.

Monday, January 12, 2009

January 2009!

By the time you are reading this, the second half of the 2008-09 school year will be in full swing. Hopefully, the weather has been cooperating and the students have been able to attend each day. At the time I am writing this, we have missed two days of school due to weather conditions that will be made up on April 14th and 15th. Any days beyond these will have to be added on to the end of the year.

Each January, a new legislative session begins in Des Moines, and many decisions are made that eventually affect the district. Some of these decisions affect all districts in Iowa in terms of funding for future programming. Arguably the most important decision made by the legislature and governor each year is what is referred to as allowable growth. You will probably hear or read about X% allowable growth for public schools and wonder what that means.

Basically, allowable growth refers to the per pupil amount increase to provide funding for schools. During the current school year, each district receives property tax revenues and state aid that equates to $5,546 per pupil. If the legislature and governor approve a 4% allowable growth, each district would receive an additional $221 per pupil or $5,767 per pupil for the next school year. The legislature and governor have set allowable growth at 4% for the 2009-10 school year during the last legislative session. With the current financial challenges facing the state of Iowa, I wouldn’t be surprised to see this number reviewed during the current session and at this point, it is impossibly to predict what percentage of allowable growth the legislature and governor might consider for the 2010-2011 school year.

For school districts that have stable or growing enrollment, this type of increase would allow additional funds for operations (salaries, benefits, utilities, books, supplies, etc.). For school districts that are declining in enrollment, even with the increase in the amount per pupil, many will see either the same or slightly less total funding for operations. Earlham Community School District has been fortunate to be a district with steady increasing enrollment, until this year. In comparison to the previous year, the district has experienced a decrease of 16 students. As I had stated in previous articles, I am hopeful that this is just a one year anomaly and not the beginning of a trend.

I’m sure that most of you have either heard or read about the Governor’s 1.5% across the board reduction in state aid. In addition to the basic State Foundation Aid, there are several categorical funds that each district receives for specific purposes from the state. The total reduction for the district equates to $48,032. The following is a breakdown of the reductions from the state:

1. State Foundation Aid = $41,546
2. ISL = $0 – The District currently does not have an Instructional Support Levy
3. Teacher Comp. Basic Allocation = $4,303
4. Teacher Quality – Professional Development = $356
5. Teacher Quality – Professional Development specifically for Iowa Core = $151
6. Phase I - $871
7. Phase II - $805
8. Early Intervention - $0 – All Iowa districts have already received these funds

In anticipation of this reduction in funding, the district has been on a spending “freeze” since the beginning of November. The district continues to purchase items that are needed for operation, but are very cautious with spending and are not looking to any new initiatives. My concern is that it appears as though another reduction in state aid may be possible in March after the next revenue estimating conference from the State. The district’s current financial position is solid, but another reduction in state aid would bring about some unique challenges.

Finally, thank you for your continued support of the Earlham Community School District. The academic and extracurricular programs provided by the district would not be possible without the continued positive support of the Earlham community.