The first of two public meetings addressing the possible closing of the Mallard school building was held on Thursday night, Jan. 9 in the Mallard school gymnasium. The West Bend-Mallard School Board, along with about 50 community residents, heard a presentation made by Superintendent Amanda Schmidt prior to the comment portion of the meeting.
Before she began her presentation, she asked those in attendance to think about the main focus of the district. "It is the students," she said.
When discussing the general fund and school district enrollment, Schmidt said the general fund is a child-driven formula. The state of Iowa provides approximately $6,000 per student to the district. If the district loses students, it loses money but does not lose costs. She went on to explain that the tax rate of a district is also formula driven and only a small portion is impacted by actions of the school board.
"Certain funds have to be spent on certain things. This explains why a district might have the funds to pave a parking lot, even though they don't have money to pay teachers," said Schmidt. "We cannot use Sales Tax or PPEL (Physical Plant and Equipment Levy) funds for salaries or benefits or other General Fund expenses," she added.
She also told those gathered that most of the district's expenses are staff. "Approximately 80% of a district's General Fund expenditures are made up of staff salaries and benefits," said Schmidt.
In a crash course in school district finance, Schmidt gave the definitions of both Unspent Authorized Budget as well as Maximum Spending Authority. The definition for Unspent Authorized Budget is the amount of the maximum spending authority left at the end of the year after deducting the general fund expenditures. The Maximum Spending Authority is the amount of money authorized under the school funding formula that a district has available for a given budget year.
"The amount of unspent authorized budget is the most important key measure. If the district's unspent authorized budget goes below zero for two years in a row, the district, by law, is required to present a plan to the School Budget Review Committee to raise the unspent authorized budget above zero," said Schmidt.
She shared a graph showing performance of the Unspent Authorized Budget over the last ten fiscal years. A fiscal year runs July 1 to June 30. According to the graph, the district's budget dropped below zero in fiscal years '05, '06 and '07 and has been rising since that time. "That line is rising because we cut expenditures," said Schmidt.
Schmidt then turned to the topic of the school district's enrollment and how the grades are housed within the district's facilities. The Mallard building currently houses grades K 4 and has 110 students. The West Bend building has the Early Childhood program as well as grades 5 12. There are 264 students attending that building. In other enrollment information, Schmidt informed those gathered that 26 West Bend-Mallard students attend Seton, Garrigan or Emmetsburg Catholic Schools. Also of the 85 total students classified as Mallard students using the old district boundaries, 50 students attend West Bend-Mallard, while 35 students open enroll out to Emmetsburg, Laurens and Pocahontas.
When discussing projected enrollments, Schmidt said they that for fiscal year 2015, the certified enrollment will be 325. She went on to say the state recommends the district project a loss of five students per year. With that in mind, by fiscal year 2018, the projected enrollment of the West Bend-Mallard school district will be 295 students. "We need to prepare for 2018," Schmidt said. "We need to be proactive, not reactive."
In presenting the estimated savings to the district by closing the Mallard building, Superintendent Schmidt said that closing the doors and walking away from the building could save $119,930. She added that $70,000 - $90,000 could be saved if the building's gym continues to be used as well as parts of the building for storage.
"If projections are accurate, the savings from closing the building can close the budget gap, preserve the ability to continue course offerings and improve the long-term outlook for the district," said Schmidt.
Schmidt shared a possible floor plan for the combined grades at the West Bend building. She also shared information that she had received from the State Fire Marshal regarding the building usage.
For grades preschool through first grade, the rooms normally occupied by the students cannot be located above or below the exit doors. For second grade students, their normal rooms cannot be located more than one story above the exits. The fire marshal indicated that additional lockers could not be located in stairwells, but could be added to the hallways. With regards to tornado and fire safety, the fire marshal feels that there is enough space in the West Bend building to shelter the students safely.
Superintendent Schmidt informed those in attendance that the staff had developed a list of pros and cons for closing the Mallard building. "I took a vote at the end of the sessions with the staff," she said. "The two options were to close for the Fall of 2014 or close for the Fall of 2015. The results of that vote were: Fall of 2014, 14 said no, twenty said yes. For a Fall of 2015 closing, two said no, everyone else said yes."
Following Superintendent Schmidt's comments, School Board President Wendell Schmidt opened the meeting for public comments. By the end of the meeting about 17 people made their opinions known.
Jim Gehrts, Mallard Mayor, began his comments by saying that change is a fact of life. He asked what was going to happen to the building and indicated that the city could not afford to take over its responsibility.
Pat Vonnahme inquired about the costs associated with moving everything to West Bend as well as operation costs at the West Bend building.
Elementary Music Teacher Peggy Kenyon said her main concern about the plan is the space. "I am concerned that there will be things that I won't be able to do in my music classes, because there won't be room", she said.
Several people asked about bussing details and expressed concerns about losing children to neighboring districts if the Mallard building closes.
Heath Sabin wondered if there were any action plans to get back some of the students that the district has lost.
Keith Wirtz told the board he did not envy the position they are in. "It is a big decision. I encourage you to not be hasty, " he said.
Kim Gehrts thanked the board for the transparency of the meeting.
Near the end of the meeting, board member Dawn Schmidt told the group that the board has not made a decision. "Hopefully you feel we are honoring the request for transparency," she added.
Board member Marc Collins addressed the group saying, "For three years we have known this was coming. We know there is a problem. Rest assured, there will not be a hasty decision made."
As the hearing concluded, Superintendent Schmidt commented that many questions had been asked and they purposely had not answered many of them.
"There will be a meeting in West Bend on January 13 and the same information will be presented at that time. We wanted to gather all the questions and address them at the same time," she said.
She also told the citizens that the results of the public hearings will be discussed at the January board meeting which will be held in West Bend on January 21.