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School Sharing Talks End Abruptly

Ruthven-Ayrshire Cancels Talks and Public Hearing

December 18, 2012
Dan Voigt , Emmetsburg News

Less than 48 hours after voting to continue negotiations with the neighboring Graettinger-Terril Community Schools about the subject of academic sharing, the Ruthven-Ayrshire Community School Board changed their mind.

With the clock ticking on a deadline to decide on sharing arrangements, the Ruthven-Ayrshire School board pulled the plug on those talks with Graettinger-Terril around mid-morning on Wednesday, Dec. 12. The decision to suspend the sharing discussions came just hours before a second scheduled joint meeting of the two school boards that evening in Ruthven. The decision also cancelled a public hearing scheduled for Thursday, Dec. 20, for public input on the sharing topic.

After a public work session on Monday, Dec. 10, and the regular December board meeting, R-A board members had voted unanimously to continue their negotiations with Graettinger-Terrill on a one-way, whole-grade sharing for students in grades 9-12. The board approved the idea of asking G-T for a tuition rate of 50 percent of the state student aid allowance of $6,015 per student, and also asking G-T to implement an industrial technology program.

In a roll call vote on a resolution containing those provisions, all seven R-A Board members voted to approve the resolution.

But at the same time, the R-A Board also gave unanimous approval to an amendment to the resolution that called for continuation into other sharing options, such as Partial Day sharing, specifically with the Emmetsburg Community School District, who had made an informal offer a 50 percent tuition rate for a one-way whole grade sharing agreement or partial day sharing for students in grades 9-12.

But following Monday's votes, several members of the Ruthven-Ayrshire board apparently had a change of heart. That change of heart led to the decision to halt the talks with G-T, according to R-A Superintendent Andrew Woiwood.

"In discussions by board members since Monday night, enough of their opinions changed to call a halt to the talks with Graettinger-Terril and continue to explore options with Emmetsburg," Woiwood explained.

The news came as a surprise to the administration and staff at Graettinger-Terril.

"They made a decision that whole-grade sharing was not their best financial option," said Graettinger-Terril Superintendent Jesse Ulrich. "Sure, we're disappointed by this development, but we just need to keep this in perspective. Ruthven-Ayrshire approached us to ask if we were interested in whole-grade sharing - we talked about it and it just didn't work out at this time."

Even though the idea of academic sharing with Ruthven-Ayrshire is no longer on the table, the Graettinger-Terril district will continue to do what is best for their students, according to Ulrich. "We're disappointed we couldn't come to a positive and mutually beneficial agreement with Ruthven-Ayrshire, but at the end of the day, it's their decision."

Although not cited as a reason for the cessation of talks, a very tight timeline in which to arrive at an agreement had often been mentioned by R-A board members and district patrons. Under that timeline any agreement for whole grade sharing for the upcoming 2013-2014 school year needed to be filed with the Iowa State Department of Education by Feb. 1, 2013. Coupled with the required public notices, a final vote by both Ruthven-Ayrshire and Graettinger-Terril would have had to been completed prior to Jan. 1, 2013.

The discussions on sharing were prompted earlier this Fall when the Ruthvne-Ayrshire district's financial status prompted the board to explore the options available to them, with an eye to the future of an independent Ruthven-Ayrshire district. Given current state funding, and with the prospect of no allowable growth being granted by the state for the coming year, RA is projected to face a deficit in the district's Unspent Budget Authority estimated at $116,227 in fiscal year 2014.

Under Iowa school finance law, a budget deficit requires a district to appear before the School Budget Review Committee to present plans to eliminate the deficit. If a district has a deficit in its unspent budget authority for two consecutive years, the SBRC can institute action that leads to the closure of the school district by the state.

A zero-percent allowable growth scenario is a worse case, according to figures supplied to the board, while a two-percent allowable growth would reduce the deficit to $86,947 at the end of fiscal year 2014. Projections for the budget going out five years with a zero percent growth balance resulted in a negative $1,324,666 balance in fiscal year 2017. A two-percent allowable growth would give the district a balance of a negative $1,205,636 over the same time span.

Facing those gloomy projections, the R-A board began discussions on sharing with Graettinger-Terril in late October, and talks progressed up to but those talks came to a close with Wednesday's decision.

R-A has examined partial-day sharing for the past few years, using a similar program in the Paton-Churdan schools as a model. Additionally, board members have noted that partial day sharing retains the identity of the Ruthven-Ayrshire district, while a whole-grade sharing arrangement would not.

There are also financial benefits to partial day sharing, as projections give RA a positive balance of $137,834 in the unspent spending authority budget at the end of FY2014 with zero percent allowable growth, and $38,624 at the end of the FY 2017 budget year. A two-percent allowable growth would result in positive balances of $167,114 at the end of FY2014 and $80,766 in FY2017.

"We have had conversations off and on over the years with Ruthven-Ayrshire on various types of sharing," noted Emmetsburg Superintendent John Joynt. "We've shared some athletics in the past, and in the last week, the Ruthven-Ayrshire board visited our facilities. We haven't had any formal discussions as of yet, but we will discuss it at our next board meeting. We would certainly welcome their students here and it would definitely be positive for our district as well."

Emmetsburg's School Board will discuss the developments in its meeting Wednesday, Dec. 19

While Ruthven-Ayrshire and Graettinger-Terril have discontinued academic sharing talks, the sharing of all athletics remains in full effect, as the districts signed a six-year agreement in 2011. That agreement will continue to be reviewed annually by the two school boards.



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