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Third Grade Issue Examined At Mid-Year

By Staff | Jan 27, 2011

High student enrollment in the third grade class and what to do about it were reexamined during the Jan. 17, meeting of the Emmetsburg Community Schools Board of Education. Currently, the third grade enrollment is at 57 students split between two classrooms.

“The legislature must adopt our allowable growth for 2011-2012 and will likely adopt the 2012-2013 allowable growth, as well,” explained Superintendent John Joynt. “I feel a zero-percent allowable growth may make it difficult to implement another third grade section.”

Joynt noted that district administrators have been checking achievement scores and attendance for the class. Attendance has improved by 25-percent.

Other options for creating space for an additional third grade section, if one is needed, were mentioned. One idea involves adding a portable building at the West Elementary or leasing a suitable building within the community for the preschool students, making an additional room available for the third grade. Another option is to return the West Elementary Library to two rooms and make one room a classroom and the other room the library. “Art on a cart” was also mentioned as a possibility-the art room would become a third grade classroom and art instruction would “travel” to students in their main classrooms.

“Next year we’re going to split our federal funds for our federal ed jobs this year, so we have the paras and teacher covered for one year,” said Joynt. “After that, it’s going to be hard to maintain that.”

West Elementary Principal Matt Pugh added that the only other option might be changes to the preschool program.

“It depends on what Governor Branstad does with the preschools, whether the state will give us funding or not,” said Pugh. “Then we’ll decide whether or not we’ll keep that classroom. If we don’t, that will be another room that would be available for third grade.”

“Then what happens to the preschool teacher?” asked Laure Egland, board member.

“We’d have to figure that out,” Pugh answered.

“For one year we could use that federal funding to keep all our teachers and have a third grade section, if that’s what you want to do,” Joynt noted. “We have looked at leasing a building in the community, but we’d need to have a fenced-in playground available according to the state rules. We’d really like to keep it on site. We’re still considering all options.”

Board member Linda Tienter asked when the district would know how much allowable growth would be.

“As soon as the governor assigns it,” answered Joynt.

Joynt went on to explain that zero-percent allowable growth would actually increase property tax because more schools would utilize the budget guarantee, which is all property tax. Two-percent allowable growth would actually be less property tax for the state because fewer schools would be on the budget guarantee, which is totally funded by property tax.

“Two-percent would keep property taxes low, but your state aid costs would go up and that’s what the state wants to save,” said Joynt.

“Is there a timeframe for this? When do we need to decide if we need to add on or bring in a portable?” asked Don Hagen, board member.

“When you get up to $100,000 you need to have proposals,” Joynt answered.

Hagen wondered, “So, if we’re going to do something as soon as school is out, what’s the timeline for that decision? March?”

“You just need 20 days for a hearing,” said Joynt. “You could have a special meeting and make a decision.”

“So, we should know by April 15?” Hagen asked.

“We won’t have a lot of achievement data at that time,” Joynt noted. “But we could make a decision and start moving forward and begin getting proposals.”

“If the preschool is not funded, then we’d have to charge tuition. Is that correct?” asked Board President Karla Anderson.

“We could. I did a little research, and we’d have to charge close to $300 a month per student,” said Joynt. “It’ll probably cost us about $85,000 to run our preschool this year.”

“If we didn’t charge tuition then it would take taxed money to continue the preschool?” Anderson asked.

“That’s right. There’d be no equitable way to keep the preschool going without running our spending authority down,” Joynt answered.

“So, we could have the expense of adding a third grade teacher plus running the preschool on either tuition or taxes plus if we add a third grade teacher, we’ll have to find a classroom,” said Anderson.

“I think the possibility of running our preschool is pretty slim. I just don’t see families paying $300 a month,” said Joynt.

“We need to prioritize things,” said Hagen. “We’ve got huge classes coming up for the next six or seven years. Maybe we need fix that problem first. The word on the street is there’s support for doing something to decrease class sizes.”

With no further comment, the board brought the discussion to a close.