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New school board members make waves in first meeting

Published: Tuesday, Sept. 24, 2013 11:22 a.m. CDT • Updated: Tuesday, Sept. 24, 2013 11:23 a.m. CDT

Out with the old and in with the new was the theme of Monday’s Newton Community School Board of Education meeting, as the new board members were sworn in and departing board members took part in their last meeting.

“Thanks for the warm seat,” new board member Robyn Friedman jokingly told outgoing board member Dennis Combs, after he and Don Poynter moved from the board table to the audience.

In addition to Friedman, Travis Padget was the other new face and Andy Elbert and Sheri Benson retained their positions on the board.

“I know that we’re going to miss Dennis and Don and we appreciate all their years of service and I know they will be missed,” NCSD Superintendent Bob Callaghan said. “However, this is an exciting time for our board, as two new members of our community have been elected to replace this outgoing leadership.”

“The enthusiasm shown by all of you with the recent forum was enthusiastic and exciting,” he continued. “I can tell you that as a leadership team, our expectations are high and that your impact on our students is going to be vital to their success.”

The new board wasted no time in establishing themselves and a few changes were made. Starting on Oct. 14 school board meetings will start at 7 p.m., so as not to conflict with Friedman’s duties with the Newton YMCA board. The Oct. 28 board meeting will now be held at Aurora Heights and the Feb. 28 meeting will be held at Thomas Jefferson.

The new board also voted to have a joint administrative and support staff board meeting on March 10 and to use another date in March as a board work session.

There was also a shakeup in the leadership of the board. Elbert retained his presidency over the board; however, Nat Clark did not retain his position as vice-president. Benson was elected the new vice-president on a 6-1 vote, Clark was the single “No” vote.

Before the new board members were sworn in, the 2012-2013 board had several action items to take care of. The previous board approved the election results submitted to them by the county and approved the second reading of district policy 1004.1, which is with regard to public use of district facilities.

Callaghan wanted to make sure the intention of the policy was clear to the public and board in case there were any misinterpretations during the Sept. 9 meeting.

“If the facility had to be rented, our goal is to be good stewards of the taxpayer dollar and be friendly to organizations that promote our students, our cause and our programs, while remaining open to community members, businesses and taxpayers who might need to use our facilities to promote a legitimate purpose,” he said.

The policy itself also states the facilities will be made available at a reasonable fee to all local, civic, religious, fraternal, patriotic, and community welfare organizations or groups interested in promoting activities that align with the district’s mission and vision. Also, additional users’ fees may be charged for custodial services, if necessary. Those costs would fall in line with the building’s normal operating costs.

“The one thing I want to make sure that everybody understands is that if we have to hire a custodian, that guy has got to be paid,” Callaghan said. “We have to pay him or her overtime. That would be the only reason we would charge.”

A big ticket item the 2013-2014 board had to deal with was the vote on allowable growth and supplement aid for the district’s negative special education balance. The measure was approved; however, it has no immediate impact on the district.

The vote will allow the board to apply for supplemental aid and allowable growth and to be able to levy property taxes to recoup money that is spent on special education in the district, according to Business Services Director/Board Secretary Gayle Isaac.

“I hate to be the bearer of bad tidings, but we did increase the negative balance this year,” Isaac said.

Isaac didn’t have estimates for the current year, but said last year, the deficit was around $1.1 million. He also emphasized the district can’t apply for either supplemental aid or allowable growth if it doesn’t have a negative balance.

“We can levy the property tax to recoup money spent on special ed,” Isaac said. “That is not saying that you are committing or telling the community that you are levying the property tax — at this point. But you have to pass this resolution to allow you to make that decision in March or April for the certified budget in the 2014-2015 school year.”

“So to recoup that deficit, the only tool that we have is to levy property tax. Is that accurate?” Cook asked Isaac.

“That is correct,” Isaac responded.

Callaghan and the board reassured the audience the purpose of the discussion the district’s special education budget wasn’t to reduce cost, but to figure out a way to be more efficient with the tools and funds that are currently available.

“We recognize our service should result in positive product, regardless of the cost,” Callaghan said. “Our goal right now is to produce a better product, with a more efficient use of funds. There is no stone being left unturned, at this moment in time, to distinguish where we need to improve.”

In other business:

• During his report, Callaghan updated the district’s enrollment figure to 3,073 students.

• Newton High School’s FFA organization was granted approval for two out of state trips. The first of which will take place on Oct. 1 and students will visit Northwest Missouri State University for a career development event. From Oct. 29 to Nov. 2, the students will travel to Louisville for the FFA National Convention.

• The Knights of Columbus donated $1,357.41 to the district for special needs students.

• The district’s various fund balances were discussed. The general fund balance was at $3,426,278, which Isaac said was around $800,000 less than last year. The student activity balance was at $372,820, which was $70,000 more than last year.

• The management fund was $1,123,839, capitol projects fund was $1,634,515, the physical plant and levy fund was $703,520, the debt service fund was $350,864 and

• The food service fund was $888,446 and Isaac said the Iowa Department of Education recommended the district use some of those funds to upgrade kitchen equipment.

Staff writer Ty Rushing may be contacted at (641) 792-3121, ext. 426, or at trushing@newtondailynews.com.

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