Tuesday, December 14, 2010

School Board to Save Taxpayers over $150,000

At their meeting on December 8, 2010, the Earlham Community School Board of Directors approved a resolution directing the sale $2.030,000 of General Obligation Bonds to Country Club Bank from Prairie Village, KS.  These bonds were originally issued in 2002 to build additional elementary classrooms, a practice gym, vocal and instrumental music rooms and the auditorium.  The district earned an A1 rating from Moodys and received refinancing bids from 5 different financial institutions from around the country with Country Club Bank bidding the lowest interest rate.

By approving this bid and refinancing these bonds, the district will save local property tax payers $154,506.50 through the debt service levy beginning in fiscal year 2013 and continuing through May 2021.  

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Helping your Child Succeed at School

I read the following in the November edition of the School Administrators of Iowa newsletter.  Some great ideas!

Helping Your Child Succeed at School
Ron Mirr, Iowa Parent Resource Information Center, www.iowaparents.org

The Iowa PIRC staff has adapted and prioritized 12 ideas for parents to consider to help their children succeed in school. We have put them in order based on what we are finding from various research studies. Feel free to reproduce this and share with students’ parents.

You are your child’s best teacher! Research shows that children whose parents are engaged in their education are more likely to achieve academic success. Use the following checklist to plan how you can best help your child learn. As you organize your efforts, make sure to start at the top of the list and work your way down. It’s okay if you can’t do all of the things on this list! If you only have time to do one thing, work on the first item. As you have more time to work with your child, keep heading down the list in order. It is essential to be as positive as possible as you support your child. Don’t forget, these ideas are effective for children in all grades PreK‐12!

1. Have high expectations for your children. Kids rise to a challenge. Make sure your children understand the clear expectations you have for them and how well they should do in school. Talk to your children about your expectation that they will continue their education after they graduate from high school. Encourage your students to talk with their counselor and their teachers about their options after high school. While it’s OK to reward your children for successes, as your children get older it is important to help them develop an internal desire to do well in school that doesn’t require rewards.

2. Talk to your child about school. Ask specific questions to draw out your child. Instead of asking “yes” or “no” questions, ask “How do you think you did on the math test?” or “What is something funny that happened at school today?” or “What did you do during PE?” It is very important as you talk with your child about school to help him/her believe in him/herself and have the confidence to know that s/he can succeed. (See Questions to Ask Your Children Besides “How Was Your Day” at http://bit.ly/9N81ND.)

3. Get “connected” with your child’s teachers. Teachers and parents should be equal partners. This doesn’t mean you have the same role, but you are both equally important players in supporting the success of your child. Ask teachers about their expectations. What are students expected to master by the end of the year in each class? How will each teacher be gauging your child’s progress toward these goals? Ask about the best way to get in touch if you have questions. Ask what you can do at home to support what is going on in the classroom.

4. Make sure your child has a quiet place to study and to learn at home. Find an area in your home that is free of distraction where your child can concentrate on homework and other learning without being  disturbed by other distractions. Listening to music while doing homework is not the best way for all students to focus on their homework. Be available to offer suggestions if your child has a question. Make sure your child spends enough time learning at home. A commonly accepted rule is 10 minutes of learning at home per
school night per grade level (e.g., 3rd grade = 30 minutes, 6th grade = 60 minutes, 9th grade = 90 minutes, 12th grade = 120 minutes). Students should spend time learning at home every night even if they don’t have specific homework.

5. Get your child “connected” to the school. Students who feel “connected” to adults and other students at school do better academically. Encourage your child to join a club, participate in intramural activities, go out for a sport, or join a music group. If what your child is interested in isn’t offered as a school club or activity, work with the school to start one.

6. Check your child’s homework, but don’t do it. Offer to check math problems, proofread written papers and look over spelling words. If you find a mistake, point it out to your child and help him/her figure out the correct answer. Remember to also point out what your child did well in his/her homework, too. If your child is having trouble encourage him/her to contact his/her peers or look for an online resource. Also encourage your child to ask for help from the teacher. Remember to help your child practice how to ask for help in a positive way. (See Homework at http://bit.ly/cdaU5p.)

7. Find out about homework assignments and school tests. Use your district’s online computer system or teacher’s webpage to monitor homework assignments and get in the habit of checking it regularly. If you can’t find the information you need about upcoming classroom assignments, contact your child’s teachers and ask them to post when there’s an important project or test coming up. If you feel like you need more information, contact your child’s teacher(s) and ask them to post more information that can help you know how your child is doing and how you can support him/her at home.

8. Talk about your own learning. Discuss with your child how you plan, solve problems and think about the future.

9. Post a family calendar in a central place. Write down important school dates, including due dates for projects and tests.  Encourage your child to add to the calendar and to check it daily. Help your child learn to plan and prepare ahead. As your child gets older, help your child take the lead for regulating and organizing homework and study time with you as their coach.

10. Go to school meetings and events. Attending concerts, plays, assemblies, meetings, and other activities is a good way to become familiar with your child’s school community and develop relationships with other parents.

11. Volunteer to chaperone school dances and drive kids to school competitions. You’ll meet other parents, school staff, and your child’s classmates. In this way you can also develop a network of other parents with whom you can share information and discuss ideas.

12. Find a way to make your voice heard. If you have the time and the desire, ask to be part of school committees. Attend PTA/PTO meetings. Many schools now have parent and school teams that share ways to further build a family-school partnerships for student learning.  Ask to form or join such a team.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

School Board Refinancing of Bonds

At their meeting on October 20th, the Earlham School Board started the process to refinance the General Obligations bonds from the 2003 construction project.  The reduction in interest rates make the refinancing attractive and are estimated to save district tax payers approximately $170,000 over the next ten years.  The School Board will be working with Piper Jaffray to complete this process.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Annual Financial Update

Each year in August, I share a financial update with the staff during in-service and a more detailed presentation to the School Board.  Below is the presentation that was shared with the School Board on August 26, 2010.

Finance Presentation August 2010

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Homework Practices - Some Practical Advise for Parents

The following information is from an article in the School Administrators of Iowa monthly newsletter written by Ed Redalen, Director and Tracey Adamowski, parent, Iowa Statewide PIRC.  I found it very helpful and thought provoking.

The January article on homework practices related to homework guidelines from the school perspective. It included suggestions on the roles of parents/primary caregivers relative to the value and importance of homework, expectations and encouragement for homework completion. This article expands on these ideas. Parents/caregivers need to tell their children that homework is important.

They also need to be aware that there are two important attributes to promote with their children to effectively complete their homework: effort and self-reliance. The types, complexity, and amount of homework are determined by the teacher. However, the amount of effort is determined by your child. Your child’s efforts in accomplishing homework assignments needs to be reinforced by providing feedback. For example, it is more appropriate to say, “you were successful on the assignment because you focused on the work and avoided distractions.” This is more reinforcing than saying, “Good job,” as it identifies more specifically what your child did.

The second important attribute is self-reliance. Self-reliance is looking within yourself to identify strategies and accomplish things. It is how your child plans, problem solves and approaches tasks. It is helping them to be proactive in their approach to tasks and learning. It is dependent on learning skills that can be taught by parents/caregivers. For example, by teaching your children how to organize things at home, or asking them to tell you the things they need to do before they go to bed, you are helping them to be organized and self-reliant.

Effort Tips: Effort is defined as exerting hard work and making a serious attempt to try.

• Identify with your child two or three things they do well or enjoy: a school subject, extra-curricular activity or hobby. With each one have them explain how they apply effort to these activities. Tell them that their hard work is what made them successful. Ask what they are doing to get even better.

• Provide reinforcement on things your child does to help the family – clearing the table, yard work, sharing ideas, promoting fun.

• Feedback needs to be specific instead of general, for example:

• “You helped organize your room by taking one thing at a time, and we got it done.”

• “You had a hard work day – from school to soccer practice to homework, and you even wrote a note to grandma.”

• “You stuck with practicing that song on the piano and were able to perform it without hesitation.”

• “When you started your history assignment I heard some moaning and groaning – then things got quiet – later you explained to me the two major causes of all wars. I sure learned some things.”

• Discuss with your child how effort leads to new skills and learning. These things make us feel competent, that we have good brains and can learn new things. One example, “You are learning so much – at the start of first grade you were mainly reading words and now you read whole sentences!”

• Explain how your efforts at work, problem-solving or completing a job have helped you.

• At least once a week share with your child something you are learning. (Some families make a regular practice of sharing what each member has learned that day.)

Self-reliance Tips: Self-reliance is defined as being able to figure things out by yourself, to be proactive.

• Tell your children if they don’t know what to do, there are at least five things they can do:
1. Re-read or study the material again.
2. Contact a classmate. (In some cases teachers provide their phone numbers to students)
3. Identify what you do know.
4. Think about it and wait awhile. Don’t panic, brains slam shut when we panic.
5. Identify problem parts of the homework you need to ask your teacher about the next day in class.

• Discuss and provide a regular homework routine such as where to study, time to study and have materials available. If there is no homework assignment, then use that period of time for reading. (Have a family reading time for everyone – even the youngest non-readers can look at books, parents may read the newspaper or other written material.)

• Help your children organize their work – based on first, second and third areas of importance so that all work is prioritized.

• Discuss with your children how distractions interfere – cell phones, TV – and they need to learn how to set aside the distractions during homework time.

• At times your child may be overwhelmed with homework, “shut down” and have trouble getting started. Have them decide two things they can start now and then discuss the next steps later.

• As a parent/caregiver, share how you do “homework for work or life.”
- preparing for a meeting - planning for family events
- learning a new activity - preparing for a teacher conference
- reading articles about your work - learning how to fix something

Questions to ask your child:
• What are your homework assignments?
• When are they due?
• Do you have the materials you need?
• Have you started any of the assignments? Finished any of them?
• Do you have any long-term assignments (term paper, science project, book review)?

Other ways parents/caregivers can help:
• Look over the homework, but don’t do the work or make corrections. Gently guide them to anything that is wrong.
• Learn about the school’s/teacher’s homework guidelines.
• Meet with teachers early in the year or semester to find out about homework guidelines.
• If your child cannot solve a homework problem and has asked the teacher for help, consider contacting the teacher.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Allowable Growth: What does it mean?

As the page of the calendar turns to January, the State Legislators come back into session in Des Moines. One of the issues that will be discussed that directly affects the funding for public schools districts is allowable growth. Normally, allowable growth is expressed as a percentage. During my tenure as a superintendent, allowable growth has ranged from 1%. to 4%. But what does that really mean? Does that mean that schools have 4% more money than the previous year?

All Iowa school districts are funded on a per pupil basis. Each student equates to and generates a certain dollar amount for districts to operate. The amount of “growth” in that per pupil amount is referred to as Allowable Growth. For example, the funding per pupil for the 2008-09 school year was $5,546. The Allowable Growth set by the Legislature was 4% for the 2009-10 school year. This 4% increase added $222 per pupil for the 2009-10 amount per pupil. The new funding amount equated to $5,768 per pupil. Since this funding is based upon the number of students, it is important to remember that districts that are declining in enrollment may actually receive less total funding even though the amount per pupil has increased.

As we all know, the State is continuing to have significant financial challenges. I do not expect the $290,000 of lost revenues from the 10% Across-The-Board reduction in State Aid to be funded. Calculating that loss in revenues per pupil would equate to $453 less per student. In effect, this had a -8% allowable growth in revenues per pupil. The added difficulty with this scenario is that this revenue reduction happened in October and the district is required to certify their budget in the previous April.

Normally, the Legislature sets the Allowable Growth rate fairly early in the session. The current legislative session will set the rate for the 2011-12 school year. In addition, I am sure there will be some conversations as to the 2% Allowable Growth rate set last year for the 2010-11 school year. According to the most recent revenue estimating conference, there has been very little improvement in State revenues and the difference between State revenue projections and obligations is approximately $1Billion. With education constituting almost one half of the obligations, certain reductions will need to be made.

I hope this information helps you understand the term allowable growth and how it is used by the legislature and the school districts.