AEA Reps Inform School Board of Available Services
Representatives from Prairie Lakes Area Education Agency (AEA) paid a visit to the Emmetsburg Community Schools Board of Education during their regular meeting on Apr. 18, at the high school/middle school library.
Chief Executor Jeff Herzberg and Linda Twait, board member from the AEA, met with school board members to discuss the services that the AEA offers to school districts.
“We have been out trying to get to all of our school districts to overcome some customer satisfaction surveys that we’ve had the last couple years about not everyone in the district knowing who we are and what we do,” began Jeff Herzberg. “Board members from your local district-like Linda Twait-are out trying to make sure that we talk to you and can answer your questions.”
Herzberg explained that there are at least 17 AEA staff members who serve the Emmetsburg Community School District. Those individuals work as special education contacts, consultants, and teachers, as a speech language pathologist, occupational therapists, physical therapist, and teachers for the visually- and hearing-impaired, as well as in other positions.
“We want every staff member in every building of the 47 public districts and 11 non-public districts we serve, over this 8,000 square mile area of the state, to know exactly who they should contact and how to contact them if they have an issue with one of the variety of services we provide to your district,” Herzberg said.
Herzberg continued, “The majority of what we do is in special education. That takes up about 80-percent of our budget. The other 20-percent is split almost evenly between media and technology services and professional development for teachers. We try to come out and speak on in-service days, to administration teams, building groups, or boards to help you try and understand what we do.”
Superintendent John Joynt asked, “With the new preschool, is there someone from the AEA helping with that?”
“Our early childhood people are extremely busy with the preschool. There wasn’t a lot of money passed out to the AEAs for the support that we have to do for that,” Herzberg answered. “Our early childhood consultant is trying to make sure that everybody is meeting those standards and we hope those standards for quality education continue.”
“With talented and gifted students, does the AEA offer anything for them?” asked Board President Karla Anderson.
“We have 12 school improvement consultants in the agency, and of those folks, Linda Linn [a school improvement consultant] is actually the TAG (Talented and Gifted) contact person,” said Herzberg.
Herzberg noted that the AEA has been dealing with budget cuts like many schools throughout the state due to declining enrollment.
“This year we’re serving about 32,000 students, which is about 200 less students than last year,” Herzberg noted. “We were happy because it was only 200 because the last few years it’s been 700, 800, 900 students a year less. Without any ability to levy taxes, if there’s a cut, it’s a true cut to the AEA system because we can’t ask folks for more of their taxes.”
He added that the agency is attempting to fill a $1 million hole in their budget, which previously had been funded with stimulus money.
“The stimulus money kept a lot of the special ed jobs around,” said Herzberg. “The declining enrollment has also increased costs for us. We’re trying to fill this hole by attrition and are looking at eliminating five support staff positions in the agency.”
Herzberg introduced Linda Twait, who serves on the AEA board. Nine individuals are elected to serve on the board, which represents multiple districts. Twait is a former educator from the Emmetsburg Community School District.
“I need to thank John [Joynt] for giving me the opportunity originally to be on the board to fill an unexpired term, and also thank you as a board, along with the other six districts I represent, for electing me to the current term I’m in,” said Linda Twait. “It’s really been an interesting learning experience for me to see another side of education from what I experienced for 30 years.”
Twait concluded, “As Jeff said, we have challenges like everyone in education has right now, but I feel confident that he and the administrative team and the board are keeping students foremost and doing the best we can with what we have.”