For the first time since they began discussions about academic sharing, the school boards of the Ruthven-Ayrshire and Emmetsburg Community School Districts sat down across the table from each other to talk about sharing. An open house prior to the joint board meeting Monday night at Emmetsburg High School attracted around 25 Ruthven-Ayrshire district patrons to visit Emmetsburg's facilities.
Emmetsburg Superintendent John Joynt opened the meeting. "We feel that wee can make a schedule happen. We've also been working on a calendar for the school year that will work for both districts, and we've had our attorney review the draft sharing agreement, along with our insurance agents, and they are all OK with the agreement."
Joynt continued, "what we're here to do is have discussions on the term of the agreement and funding."
Joynt noted that in his presentation to the Emmetsburg board, he had proposed a multi-year agreement, with tuition payments starting at 50 percent, and rising to 80 percent in the first four years of the agreement. "It's our thinking that a long-term agreement would be a commitment to look to the future."
Ruthven-Ayrshire Superintendent Andrew Woiwood reviewed his district's take on the talks. "The goal of a partial-day sharing agreement is to provide a quality education for our kids and to do it economically. With the exception of math, we will offer core classes at Ruthven-Ayrshire and take elective courses in Emmetsburg."
"We're looking at this agreement obviously because of our financial situation, but we also need something that still provides a quality education for our kids. We're looking for a partner in that." Woiwood noted. "Ruthven-Ayrshire is buying educational time, seat time for our kids in Emmetsburg. Emmetsburg is an ideal partner for us because of your reputation for quality education."
Woiwood noted that RA students would have more elective course choices at Emmetsburg than they would in Ruthven-Ayrshire. "It's an advantage for our students to have that opportunity."
The current draft sharing agreement calls for RA to pay Emmetsburg tuition of 50 percent of the current state student cost per pupil in the first year of the partial day sharing agreement, which would have RA students in grades 9-12 attending classes in Emmetsburg during the four morning class periods.
The draft agreement would call for an increase of tuition payments of 10 percent per year over three years, ending in 2017, with an 80 percent tuition payment.
One of the incentives for partial-day sharing is supplemental weighting for students involved in the sharing. Ruthven-Ayrshire would not receive any supplemental weighting in the first year of the agreement, and would pay an estimated $106,000 to Emmetsburg in the first year.
The second year of the agreement, RA would receive supplemental weighting for one-half of the first year of the agreement, as state aid payments are always a year behind. Then in the third year of the agreement, RA would receive a full-year's supplemental weighting, which could amount to as much as $95,000 a year reimbursement to offset the tuition payment out.
Knowing the delay in supplemental weighting, Woiwood and the RA board countered with a suggestion of a tuition rate of 50 percent for the first two years of the agreement, then increasing by 10 percent for each of the next two years, resulting in a 70 percent tuition by Fiscal Year 2017.
RA Board President Barry Fischer explained the counter proposal simply. "We need that bit of a buy-in until we receive the money from the state."
Using the 9-12 enrollment of 71 students at RA, the best estimates of tuition costs would start at $106,000 in to Emmetsburg at the 50 percent tuition rate. A 60 percent rate increases tuition to $128,000; tuition rises to $149,000 at 70 percent and at 80 percent, the yearly tuition would total $170,000 a year.
"Could you make 50-50-60-70 work?" RA Board member Larry Conlon asked the Emmetsburg board. "If we were to go 50-60-70-80, then we're in the red with two percent allowable growth, by 2017."
Woiwood noted that Paton-Churdan had been involved in partial-day sharing with Jefferson-Scranton at a higher rate, while the partial-day share between Northeast Hamilton and Webster City was a two-year agreement at 50 and 60 percent tuitions.
But, the possibility of open enrollments also figured into the discussion. A consensus was arrived at projecting 60 students as a more realistic number of RA students that would attend classes in Emmetsburg.
"If you file open enrollment papers, when does it take effect?" asked Emmetsburg Board member Tammy Naig.
"The first day you attend classes," Joynt answered. "People can file papers, but change their minds. You're not obligated to attend another district if you take out the papers by March 1."
Noting that the draft proposal had been based on using 71 students as a figure, the Emmetsburg board asked RA to calculate projections using the 60-student figure to be more realistic.
"We would like to see a long-term agreement between Ruthven-Ayrshire and Emmetsburg with more funding," Joynt said, "That's why we'd like to see some different numbers using the 60 students."
"I'd like to see a provision in the agreement that if Supplemental weighting ends, that the sharing agreement would end," Conlon suggested.
"If that were to happen, it would force our hand," Woiwood agreed.
As the discussions wound down, RA Principal Jon Josephson noted that RA had visited Paton-Churdan to view and learn about their partial-day sharing and found out some surprising information.
"We learned that Paton-Churdan actually saw their enrollments improve after they went into a partial-day share," Josephson said. "Since they've been in partial-day sharing, they've rebuilt their unspent balance and been able to keep quality teachers in their district. They're a school half Ruthven-Ayrshire's size, but they're thrilled with the results of partial-day sharing."
As the two boards agreed to meet in February at a date to be determined, the joint session ended with Woiwood's observation. "It doesn't sound like we're miles apart at all on this."