BLAIRSBURG - With declining enrollment and restrictive state funding, the Northeast Hamilton school board considered its options and voted Monday night to begin negotiations with Webster City Schools for renewing its partial-day sharing program and/or entering into whole grade sharing for the 2014-2015 school year.
A school district has until Feb. 1 to change its status, but it is required by state law to submit a resolution of consideration to the state before Nov. 1.
Forced to consider additional options of sending students outside the district, all board members empathized that the district was only exploring its options at this time.
"We want to make it clear that the district is not committed but will file possible intent by Nov. 1," stated NEH school board President Roxanne Anderson.
Iowa school funding is based on a policy of equalization with the cost of educating each student statewide at $6,200. The formula differs in each district as property values determine how much the state needs to contribute.
According to NEH school board member Marlin Pruismann, the State of Iowa only contributes $885 to the NEH district with local property taxes pays the balance. But even while it is rated as the eighth richest school district in the state, NEH is limited by the state's budget guidelines.
With this year's certified enrollment of 204 students, the projected budget for FY14 is $207,000. If enrollment continues to take a downhill trend, the projected FY15 budget will be $23,000. After that the school district will be operating in the red.
Earlier this month, Larry Sigel of the Iowa School Finance Information Services spoke to district patrons and outlined the district's budget projections. He warned that the State of Iowa has the option of taking over a district that operates two years in a row with a deficit.
More than 25 district patrons attended Monday night's meeting and the board fielded their questions regarding the district's strategy to deal with the situation.
Board member Marlin Pruismann read from the state statute regarding the whole grade proposition. He said the district would hold a public hearing before the original Jan. 1 partial day sharing agreement deadline.
He also noted that patrons could seek redress by requesting a feasibility study. With 1,006 voters in the district, 20 percent or 200 signatures would be required to call for the district to conduct a
feasibility study of the proposal.
"But my door is always open," said Pruismann who asked patrons to share their input.
"I am a numbers guy," admitted Pruismann, who noted that the loss of 56 students this year to open enrollment has hurt the district.
Pruismann told patrons that his goal was to the keep the district's school open. Board members Roxanne Anderson, Bruce Mark, Eric Patterson and Mike Rapp agreed.
"I don't know if we can do it, but we can try," Pruismann said as he encouraged patrons to contact their state legislators and request a change in state school funding laws.
Questioned about whether the district's decision to enter into the partial day sharing agreement with Webster City two years ago resulted in students leaving the district, board President Roxanne Anderson questioned if there was anyway to know that answer because so many factors are at play in a family's decision to open enroll.
She noted that over the years there have been students in all three of the district's communities who have never attended NEH. The district is also centrally located so there has been the option for families to open enroll to South Hamilton, Webster City or Iowa Falls whether it is a question of convenience or school policy decisions.
"We can't strategize on a guess," she said.
After a query from Administrative Assistant Dennis Bahr, Board members requested that the administration collect additional information on whole grade sharing. Some of the topics to be researched included class offerings, effects on sports teams and extra curricular activities, preferred grades to be considered in a whole grade sharing program, cost savings to the district and any possible state incentives for whole grade sharing.
In other news, Superintendent Larry Frakes reported on the status of the district's proposed day care facility.
Frakes reported that personnel interviewed for positions at the district's day care facility did not meet state requirements for certification and the center could not open as planned on Oct. 21.
In addition, Frakes proposed that the board lease the building for $1 to any interested persons in the community who would like to open an independent day care business.
The board also heard that two sewer lines have been cited by the Department of Natural Resources as leaking. One line runs from the day care building to the north. Repair on that line would cost approximately $3,000. The other line from the football field concession stand to the highway and would cost an estimated $34,000.
Bids will be sought for the repairs.
In other business, the board accepted the resignation of school nurse Jill Bosch and will advertise for a school nurse with employment to begin on Jan. 1, 2014.
The meeting adjourned at 8:43 p.m.