In Today’s R-D
Indians win OT thriller at PV — page 1B A stroll down Main Street — page 2A Our salute to academics — page 4B-5B Bridal edition — special insert
At the Rialto
Library offers essential services to a plethora of Poky patrons By Chris Vrba The Pocahontas City Council heard an update on patronage and services provided by the Pocahontas Public Library at its regular meeting Jan. 17. Library director Lola DeWall presented an overview that was heavy on numbers as well as community as she laid out the near innumerable opportunities provided by the facility. DeWall began her presentation with a simple slogan, which represents the role the library plays as a bastion of city education – both as a physical repository of knowledge (books) and as a hub for social learning. “Community + Services = Pocahontas Public Library,” DeWall began, referencing the front page of a flyer she distributed to council members prior to her discussion. Most notably, she was pleased to report that the library’s total circulation for 2010 was 28,348 – an increase of 4,147. She remarked that many area libraries have seen steady to reduced circulation figures in recent years, especially as rural populations have continued to dwindle. “It’s really wonderful! Other library’s with declining populations are seeing their numbers stay the same as the year before,” she commented. She remarked that the facility provides over 75 different services to the community. She highlighted the meeting room as being of essential use for the town’s residents. In 2010, 299 different events were held in the room, an increase of 49 from the year before.
“IT’S A GREAT ASSET to our community,” she remarked. She emphasized the importance of the Internet access for library patrons. Over 10,000 patrons used the library’s seven Internet computers in 2010. Particularly striking, is that this figure – though large enough in its own right – is a 33 percent increase from the year before. “We are pretty busy almost all of the time,” DeWall offered, adding, “It’s been amazing!” Fortunately, the library was able to keep up with the staggering increase in demand by purchasing two new patron computers during the year. She continued that a wide age-range of people use the computers, especially adults who are often submitting job applications, resumes, or other forms electronically. DeWall explained that a commitment has been made to continue to offer modern information and communication services to the people of Pocahontas. The library has expanded its Ebscohost online educational database, adding sections on “Hobbies and Crafts” and “Small Engine Repair.” Ebscohost is an online database that contains full-text articles on any number of subjects. It can be accessed from the library proper or from home by logging on to the library’s website, which is www. pocahontas.lib.ia.us. DEWALL ALSO DISCUSSED THE new downloadable audio book service the library provides. The digital books come via Wilbor ebooks and are a free service to patrons. She remarked that the
service had been a success, with 369 downloads thus far. She also discussed the success of the WiFi program. When the library first began offering wireless Internet on its premises, only two to three connections would register per month. Now, people often bring their laptops to the library to read, chat, study, or simply as a reason to get out of the house. A total of 255 individual connections were made last year. She remarked that frequently the parking lot is full after hours as people take advantage of the connection, which can be accessed just outside of the building. Of course, DeWall would have been remiss not to have discussed the various programs and activities sponsored by the library. The annual summer reading program had record attendance, with 164 children and 26 teens participating. She added the library put on 142 children’s programs and 28 adult programs in 2010. The weekly story hour drew an average of 12 kids, and the traveling story hour program makes stops at six area day cares each month. She also noted the Chatter Talks, where library staff host programs and discussions at the manor are quite popular with the residents. The Pocahontas Public Library also offers home delivery within city limits – an essential bit of outreach for many residents who have difficulty leaving the home. DeWall also addressed what the library’s needs were for the
Playing Jan. 28-Feb. 3 is “How Do You Know,” rated PG-13. Running time: 1 hr. 56 min. Genre: Comedy, Drama and Sports. Starring: Reese Witherspoon, Owen Wilson, Paul Rudd, and Jack Nicholson. Lisa is a woman whose athletic ability is the defining passion of her life, having been her focus since early childhood. When she is cut from her team, everything she has ever known is suddenly taken from her. Not knowing what to do, she stumbles toward regular life. In this mode, she begins a fling with Matty, a major league baseball pitcher, a self-centered ladies man -- a narcissist with a code of honor. George is a straight-arrow businessman whose complicated relationship with his father, Charles, takes a turn when George is accused of a financial crime, even though he’s done nothing wrong. Though he may be headed to jail, George’s honesty, integrity, and unceasing optimism may be his only path to keeping his sanity. Before Lisa’s relationship with Matty takes root, she meets George for a first date on the worst evening of each of their lives: she has just been cut, and he has just been served. When everything else seems to be falling apart, they will discover what it means to have something wonderful happen.
A plaque on the boardroom wall at the Pomeroy school. Years ago, school directors hung the frame as a reminder of their responsibilities to the students of the district.
Future of education at stake as PAC, P-P weigh reorganization; vote to be held Tuesday, Feb. 1 By Chris Vrba In the boardroom of the Pomeroy school, a plaque hangs in full view to anyone who sits within. Inscribed upon it, a brief message that serves as a directive for all directors to consider as they weigh the relative merits of each business issue on the board’s agenda. “Is the decision we are about to make in the best interest of our students?” Simple. Concise. In less than 10 words, the plaque spells out the only factor of real import as officials make decisions that impact the futures of young learners in the communities of Pomeroy, Palmer, and Jolley. As voters of the Pomeroy-Palmer and Pocahontas Area school districts head to the polls Tuesday, Feb. 1, they’d be wise to keep that maxim at their mind’s forefront as they weigh whether they will say “Aye” or “Nay” on the merger of the two schools. For a reorganization to be made official, it must pass with a simple majority in each district. If this margin is not attained in either PAC or P-P, a merger
will not occur. If that were to happen, the schools would carry on as separate legal entities with a staggeringly uncertain future. The combination of declining enrollment, state funding reductions, and increased educational costs have coalesced, which, according to school officials, will precipitate deep cuts in course offerings and staff to keep the doors open. And in the case of one district, just keeping the doors open might be beyond its control. The intent of the following article is to provide all readers with the pertinent information they need to cast a confident vote, as well as to examine what is at stake for the districts and the students that they serve.
Not The Last To Go
Populations in rural Iowa have seen a steady decline since the 1940s. Today, Pocahontas County’s population is less than half of what it was during WWII (16,266 in 1940 to 7,346 in 2009). Calhoun County is near that mark (17,854 to 9,671). Inevitably, school enrollments
have fallen too. As a direct result, school consolidations were soon to follow. Since the 1965-66 school year, the number of school districts in Iowa has decreased from 458 to 351; the number of reorganizations has been even greater and whole-grade sharing arrangements even greater still. The pace of reorganization has picked up over recent decades, but quickened during the first half of the 1990s. Since HavelockPlover combined with Pocahontas in 1989, there are 80 fewer school districts in Iowa; 47 mergers occurred between 1990 and 1995. Residents of both districts are no strangers to reorganization. Pomeroy and Palmer joined in 1993. That same year, the reconfigured Pocahontas district merged with Rolfe. At the time, Pocahontas was the only district in the state’s history to undergo multiple reorganizations in a decade’s time. In fact, that year saw the largest single-year drop in districts (21) since 1965-66, and the majority
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Momentous melody makers
Several PAC/P-P musicians recently garnered recognition on various regional honor bands. Top photo (l-r): Chelsey Wiemers - clarinet, Sophia Bowen - contra alto clarinet, Rebecca Mauritz - French horn, Rachel Proctor - flute, and Melanie Nesbitt – clarinet were part of the NCIBA Honor Band held at Iowa Central Community College in Fort Dodge. Bottom photo (l-r): Chelsey Wiemers - clarinet, Hannah Maley - clarinet, Leah Phillips - clarinet, Niles George - trumpet, Lindsey Pedersen - percussion, and Rebecca Mauritz - French horn were selected for the Buena Vista University Honor Band. BVU honor band instrumentalists Anna Hopkins (clarinet) and Alexis Betten (clarinet) were absent.
Musicians of a high scale
PAC-PP sixth and seventh grade students attended the Karl King Honor Band held at St. Edmonds School in Fort Dodge on Saturday, January 22. The sixth grade band was directed by David Ballman of Emmetsburg and the seventh grade band was directed by Jerrold Jimmerson from Manson. Pictured: Row 1 (l-r): Director Steve Brown, Krista Lenz, Karalyn Neumann, Faith Meyer, Ashlyn Weidauer, and director Marianne Youngberg. Row 2 (l-r): Tanner Youngberg, Devin Weidauer, Tyler Behrendsen, and Andrew Klaassen. Row 3 (l-r): Brittany Hornor, Amber Rahn, Grace Meyer, Courtney Melohn, Amanda Dornath, and Emma Anderson.
Page 6A, Record-Democrat, Wednesday, Jan. 26, 2011
Sustained populations losses have forced schools to merge many times in recent memory
occurred in close proximity to our area. Those mergers were: • Cedar Valley with Prairie • Clarion with Goldfield • Clay Central with Everly • Crestland with Schaller • F o n d a w i t h N e w e l l Providence • Lake City with Lohrville • Lytton with Rockwell City • Manson with Northwest Webster • Paullina and Primghar with Sutherland • Sioux Rapids-Rembrandt with Sioux Valley THE MERGERS CAME ON the heels of substantial population losses during the preceding decade. During the 1980s Pocahontas County saw its steepest loss. By decade’s end nearly one in seven residents no longer lived in the county. Over the next 20 years, the county’s population dropped by nearly another 2,200 from 9,525 to 7,346. The mergers between Pocahontas, Rolfe, and HavelockPlover came at the tail end of the largest population decline in county history. The numbers for the past decade are eerily familiar. Between 2000 and 2009, the county lost 15 percent of its residents, virtually the same percentage (16) as in the 1980s. It should come as no surprise that PAC has had to share resources with neighboring districts for the past decade, and is into the second year of two-way whole-grade sharing P-P. Calhoun’s decline was just as severe severe during the 80s (15 percent), as over 2,000 no longer resided in its boundaries. Subsequently, every school district in the county reorganized in 1993. The county’s population declined by another 13 percent (1,837 people to be precise) in the first nine years of the 21st century. During that period, P-P has not been alone in being forced to explore a change in direction. Rockwell City-Lytton and Southern Cal, two financially troubled districts, have begun sharing students and athletics with movement towards a merger under consideration. Newell-Fonda was one of four districts, along with LaurensMarathon, Albert-City Truesdale and Pocahontas to unsuccessfully explore the possibility of a regional high school. Similarly, P-P, along with MNW and RC-L held, to no avail, similar discussions. If the decisions of recent past serve as any indication of the future, it appears as though another round of district mergers is in the offing.
Faces In The Chairs
School funding is a fairly complicated and rather esoteric business; but, when distilled to its essence it focuses on one concept: faces in the chairs. The Code of Iowa includes language to ensure that every student, regardless of location or income status, is given the opportunity to have equal access to education. In Iowa, the equitability directive has been implemented as a funding ceiling. Essentially, no more money can be spent on educational programs for a student living in West Des Moines than in Ware. To achieve this, the state sets a per pupil dollar allotment, which is adjusted annually. This adjustment is called allowable growth. The allotment for the 2010-11 school year is just over $5,800. This figure multiplied by the number of students enrolled in the district is called the Regular Program District Cost. State and local sources are combined to fill this figure. Every district has a mandatory $5.40 property tax, which is called the uniform levy. Because some districts have a higher assessed value (i.e. wealthier) than others, the percentage of the per pupil allotment funded by the uniform levy varies heavily between districts. The state provides funds until 87.5 percent of the district’s allotment is filled. This contribution is called the state foundation percentage. The remaining 12.5 percent is attained with district-wide property tax collections, called the additional levy. Again, the amount of this levy varies with district valuations. Another element of complication enters into school budgets. Some students, especially those with physical or learning challenges, quite simply, cost more money to educate. School districts work with Area Education Agencies to provide the services needed to ensure these students receive an education. Necessarily, the state adds weighting factors for those students. The Combined Program
Pocahontas and Calhoun counties suffered their greatest rates of population loss during the 1980s and 2000s. As a direct result of those lossess in the 1980s, many school districts were forced to consolidate. With similar losses in the past decade, area schools are again facing the same issues of declining enrollments, with several mergers among area schools likely to occur. District Cost accounts for these weightings. IN RECENT YEARS, POCAHONTAS County has been fortunate enough to see its assessed value skyrocket. The 171 existing wind turbines account for about one-fifth the county’s valuation. Though the turbines are capped at a 30 percent tax rate, they will continue to be a great source of valuation for years to come. P-P reaps the largest benefit from construction, as the majority of turbines are sited within its boundaries. However, the windmills do not increase the availability of funds per student. It’s a fact essential to the consideration of patrons in each district, so I’ll repeat it. The windmills do not increase the availability of funds per student. By adding to the district’s total valuation, the turbines go a long way to filling a substantial percentage of the General Program Cost. They also keep the total district levy to a minimum, which offers a measure of relief to individual tax payers in the district. But they do not generate additional funds to be spent on students. They only way for a school district to increase the pool of money for its program is to add students. “If the faces aren’t in the chairs, the money isn’t going to come,” PAC and P-P shared-superintendent Joe Kramer concluded during a Jan. 19 interview.
The Great Phase Out
As the farm crisis of the 1980s hit rural districts particularly hard, the state looked at options to buoy schools crippled by rapid enrollment declines. The legislature introduced a budget guarantee for many districts. The guarantee ensured schools would be allowed to budget for the General Program Cost of the previous year. Because this cost is calculated by enrollment numbers, the guarantee essentially allows districts to count “phantom students” on their rolls. The guarantee was a life preserver for many rural districts, by allowing the schools funding they would otherwise not receive to more easily absorb the substantial overhead of providing a K-12 curriculum. But the guarantee also forestalled the imperative that many districts examine ways to cope with declining student numbers, increasing educational costs and curriculum demands. In 2002, the legislature announced that the budget guarantee would be phased out. Starting with the 2003-04 school year, this guarantee would be decreased by 10 percent annually. Today, state aid to districts for PK-12 education alone accounts for nearly $2.7 billion of the state’s budget. At the time of the decision to phase out the budget guarantee, state aid was at $1.9 billion, and had increased from $1.3 billion in 1993-94. THE LOSS OF THE budget guarantee, which will be gone in two years, has hit small districts particularly hard. During the first six years of the phase down (FY04-FY09), PAC received about $185,000 less in funding; PP’s funds decreased by about $150,000. Over the same period, enrollments dropped by 157 (21 percent) and 92 (30 percent) students in the respective districts. As a result, P-P was forced to find a way to provide an education to its children with about $1,600 less per pupil.
“Once you take out the budget guarantee, if your enrollment drops your budget drops, too,” Kramer explained of these effects. Not surprisingly, about this time, the school began to see a steady erosion of its unspent balance. Between the 200506 and 2006-07 school years, the district’s unspent balance plummeted from nearly $800,000 to just under $475,000. The following year it dropped by another $200,000. By the end of the 2008-09 year, the unspent balance dipped below zero, to -$12,762, for the first time. The state’s School Budget Review Committee (SBRC) granted the district its request for modified allowable growth, which allowed the school to levy its taxpayers to make up the difference. During this time PAC’s unspent hovered around $2.6 million. The 2009-10 school year continued to show more of the same. PAC’s enrollment declined by 55 students, to 495; P-P had a slight increase of 10, to 221 students. However, the impact of another 10 percent reduction in the budget guarantee resulted in what Kramer described as an effective enrollment loss. State allowable growth increases could not overcome the impact of the budget guarantee cut. The schools “have had no new money in seven years,” he commented at a public information meeting held at the Pomeroy school Jan. 19. P-P ended the school year with a negative unspent balance in excess of $180,000. With two consecutive years of negative balances, the school again had to appear before the SBRC. Kramer hoped the panel would grant the district’s request for modified allowable growth, but at the many meetings leading up to its scheduled appearance, he expressed his concern that the SBRC still might deny the request. The panel, composed chiefly of retired education administrators, has grown noticeably weary of schools with perpetual financial problems. In 2008, it approved a Phase II audit for the Russell school district. The school was dissolved shortly after. Kramer has often used a baseball metaphor to describe the SBRC’s approach to financially failing schools – “Three strikes you’re out.” If a district appears before the panel for a third consecutive year, it will likely face the wrath of the Phase II audit. In December, P-P’s request was granted. Kramer attributed the whole grade sharing agreement and a reorganization petition up for vote as the primary reasons a reprieve was given. However, Kramer has said P-P is projected to finish the current year with a negative unspent balance. To try to bring this figure back to zero, he anticipates at least $30,000 in cuts needed yet this year. In a Jan. 19 interview, Kramer said the cuts would come through reductions to non-teaching employees, which include a d m in i s t r a t io n , a s s o c ia t e s , custodial, transportation, kitchen, and summer staff. “Where can you squeeze a little here and a little there and have the least amount of impact on the kids?” he reasoned of the cut’s direction. Kramer said he would make the personnel recommendations to the P-P board of directors this week. As part of the recommendations, he will request his compensation from the district be reduced as
well. However, as Kramer has stated, even those cuts provide no guarantee that the district won’t be called for strike three.
Deep Cuts Coming
In lieu of budget guarantees, the state has offered temporary funding incentives to districts that enter into whole grade sharing agreements. For the first three years of such sharing, schools receive state aid, which helps cover General Program expenditures and ultimately reduces the additional support levy paid by district patrons. But, there’s a catch. After the three-year period this funding goes away and does not come back. However, if the schools formally reorganize within that threeyear window, they are eligible to receive an additional three years of support. Additional operational sharing incentives exist for shared staff, administration, and other positions. All told, these additional funds amount to an overall levy reduction of about $1 in each district. Feb. 1 is realistically the only opportunity to reorganize before these funds will expire. A failed merger would mean that the additional support each district currently receives would end after next school year. The two districts are in their second year of what has been a, more or less, successful partnership. Because of the success, Kramer explained he’s been asked on many occasions the equivalent of “Why rock the boat?” with a merger. His invariable response is that funding won’t allow a viable longterm whole grade sharing plan. “When you look at projected budgets, it just won’t work,” Kramer answered during the interview. “It means staff, services, and programs will be impacted down the road, if you work from the assumption that we leave it the way it is.” IN THE NEAR FUTURE PP can expect to see the most substantial cuts. At the most recent informational meeting, Kramer informed attendees that he projects the school will be forced to make anywhere from $600,000 to $800,000 in cuts for the 2012-2013 school year. There are several factors that compound to require such a heavy toll that year. Continued enrollment declines comprise a big impetus for cuts, as the district will have a smaller pool of money to work with. “You can deal with that (enrollment declines) for the short term, but in the long term those types of budget impacts have to be addressed,” he explained at the meeting. Coupled with the end of the budget guarantee phase out and, if reorganization does not go through, the end of whole grade sharing incentives, the steady dwindling of students will put the district on unsteady financial footing. Once the two-way portion of the whole grade sharing agreement ends, beginning in 2012-13 school year, P-P will be required to pay tuition for all of the middle and high schoolers it sends to PAC. Kramer projected this expense to be between $450,000 and $500,000. If the districts reorganize, this cost would not have to be paid. To further complicate matters, state legislature and the governor have indicated their desire to suspend allowable growth (the
School reorganizations have steadily occurred for the last 50 years. The rate of mergers increased dramatically in the early 1990s following massive rural depopulation in the preceding decade.
increase in annual per pupil funding which sets the ceiling for funding allotments) for at least the upcoming school year. At the Pomeroy meeting, Kramer explained to an audience of about 100 that this is the first year in the history of the funding formula that at this point in the calendar year administrators still did not know the per pupil allotment. This figure will be used as the schools prepare their FY12 budgets in the coming weeks. When pressed by an attendee to hazard a guess, Kramer replied, “I’m estimating zero and hoping for that.” ATTENDEES QUESTIONED WHY BOTH schools had made significant facility improvements in recent years. By law, improvements cannot come from the general program. School facilities, such as buildings, grounds, and other related elements are paid for with other funding sources. The Physical Plant and Equipment Levy (PPEL), a property tax in each district, and the School Improvement Local Option (SILO) sales tax, voter approved in each district, comprise the majority of these funds. Reciprocally, facility funds cannot be used to pay staff salaries. These facility funds were used to build the new bus barn in Pomeroy. When asked by an audience member why the school built the bus barn, Kramer explained that as long as P-P and PAC were intertwined in some capacity, buses would need to run from the town. The large geographic size of two districts (sixth largest in Iowa when combined) has forced student travel times to brush up against the maximum of one hour. Currently, drivers shuttling between districts make in-route switches. If there is any delay, students can wind up on the bus past this time. At the meeting P-P board member Roger Eichelberger explained the logic for the new barn. “You can’t start those buses out in Pocahontas and bus the kids throughout the districts.” It is because of travel time restrictions, school configuration consultants advised locating primary attendance centers centrally. For this reason, both districts agreed to send their middle school students to Pocahontas. When asked if bussing students between Rolfe and Pomeroy was viable moving forward, Kramer replied, “In the short term? Yes. In the long term? No.” ANOTHER ATTENDEE QUESTIONED WHY PAC built a new building if it knew enrollments were on the decline. Kramer responded that the existing high school building was, in large part, quickly approaching its useful lifetime. “If your building can’t stay operational and the fire marshal shuts it down, what are you going to do?” he asked rhetorically. After previous attempts to partner with surrounding districts to build a regional high school fell through, PAC’s board of directors began to plan a modern building to accommodate its middle and high schoolers for the foreseeable future as well as to replace the near anachronistic and quickly aging central structure. Voters in the district agreed and overwhelmingly approved a $10 million bond to build the new school in Pocahontas. A key tenet of the reorganization petition deals with how assets and debts for each district
are distributed. After tense negotiations, the reorganization committee settled on a fouryear period following a merger before current P-P patrons would assume a portion of PAC’s bonded debt. As someone who observed every committee meeting, the characterization of ‘tense’ is, by no means, hyperbole. An equitable deal was struck after one member made some back of the envelope calculations to discover that if a four-year grace-period was used, P-P would pay roughly 30 percent of the new school costs, which is about its share of students – 29 percent. These figures were later confirmed by commissioned school finance experts Iowa School Finance Information Services.
“There’s no cut that doesn’t hurt,” he commented, before concluding, “We’re talking about people who do a good job, and are building relationships with the kids. When you’re talking about cutting positions, you’re talking about people.” When asked what type of curriculum would be offered, he simply responded, “Bare bones.” For PAC, the depth of cuts is not anticipated to be nearly as severe. At this point no projections have been made available, but Kramer and school board members have indicated that the variety of courses offered at the high school would be pared back to levels more in line with state minimums.
WHERE WILL $600,000$800,000 of cuts come from? They will have to be made in the General Program budget. About 85 percent of general expenditures go to faculty salary and benefits. With average teacher compensation around $50,000, I’ll leave it to the reader to do the math. In recent years, both districts have weathered declining funds through what Kramer described as “attrition.” When staff members retire, teaching duties are distributed among faculty when possible. When this is not possible, young teachers are hired at a significantly lower cost. Part of the distribution of duties occurs through staff sharing between the two schools. PAC also shares several instructors, some staff, and one principal with neighboring districts. Many teachers lose their prep period to travel time between schools, which is an added strain on the instructors. Kramer explained to the audience that he was reticent to make such severe cuts, but if P-P were not to merge with PAC, budget realities would force the reductions.
So, if PAC and P-P continue with just a whole grade sharing agreement, why would high school offerings need to be reduced? Quite simply, it costs more money to educate a senior than a kindergartener. A five-year old doesn’t take Biology, Calculus, Computer Aided Drafting, or any of the innumerable advanced or elective classes offered in secondary education. And they most certainly have no need for the many dual-credit college classes that are offered by PAC and accessible to students from both districts. Of course, these courses cost more money to offer. A general rule of thumb is that it costs about 125 percent of the per pupil allotment to educate a high schooler; by comparison, elementary students require only 75 percent. In essence, elementary students subsidize high school education. This works well, as long as elementary numbers stay stable. Unfortunately, enrollment declines are first felt in the lower grades. Though class numbers
Some Students Are More Equal Than Others
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Schools: from 6A
appear to be bottoming out, the long-term indicators suggest continued depopulation, in both the counties and schools. As mentioned earlier, Pocahontas and Calhoun counties have seen substantial headcount losses over the past nine years (15 and 13 percent, respectively), and sustained population declines for six decades. Moreover, both counties have low birth rates; 9.4 and 13.2 newborns per 1,000 residents respectively. Those rates translate to just under 200 potential students each year between the two counties. However, those students would be distributed among at least 10 school districts if current configurations stand. If trends hold, it will be difficult for any current school district in either county to maintain its suite of courses. A diverse curriculum is necessary to provide students with the education and skills required to succeed in an ever shrinking and more competitive world. Simply, a high school diploma isn’t worth what it once was. For educators to properly fulfill their mandate to provide a quality education to their students, secondary course offerings must include a variety of advanced courses to prepare the segment of students who wish to pursue university education as well as an array of equally challenging vocational courses help prepare students who wish to pursue a trade. Currently, high school students from both districts have the opportunity to take over two dozen dual-credit classes, both at the university and community college level. The Voc. Tech building has been rated among the state’s best, regardless of school size. The dual-credit total is equal to or greater than that of many larger districts in the area. Last fall, the members of the Gilmore City-Bradgate school board met with the PAC and P-P boards as they explored possible sharing partners for the next school year. Although they ultimately chose to share with West Bend-Mallard (the hotly contest board decision was 3-2), they commented on the educational opportunities available to our students, saying that they were better than WB-M and Humboldt. If reorganization does not go through, PAC will functionally take on added program costs by educating P-P high school students. P-P would pay the per pupil tuition to PAC, but high schoolers cost more than that allotment to educate. It is within that cost differential that class offerings would be trimmed. To keep the whole grade sharing agreement as is would functionally short change the educational prospects of both PAC and P-P students.
Several attendees questioned if, or for how long, the Pomeroy building would remain open if a merger were to occur. Kramer was honest in telling them that there are no certainties when it comes to building operations. However, he said it was not in the interest of the both districts to close the Pomeroy building as long as attendances remain relatively stable. Once the middle school students move to Pocahontas, the preschool will be moved from the trailer to the building. This would allow the school to save some expense. However, he said the primary reason for keeping the building open would be to keep young learners as close to home as possible. Members of both school boards have expressed their desire to keep the Pomeroy building in operation as long as financially possible. It is anticipated that the gym will continued to be used for practices and likely some middle school and high school games in the coming years. Kramer said the scheduling of athletic events would continue for at least the next year. Ultimately, Kramer said population trends would determine whether or not an operation Pomeroy PK-6 would be viable in the long term. If too few elementary students enter the P-P district, the Pomeroy building would need to be closed. When asked if it would be possible to keep at least an elementary in the town, P-P board president Cathy Charleston answered that it likely could, but only if the community comes together to support the merger and keep their children in the
Drastic educational cuts await both P-P and PAC if reorganization does not go through
Pomeroy-Palmer’s enrollment has steadily declined for over a decade. However, the school’s financial woes did not begin until shortly after the state began it’s phase out of the budget guarantee. Between 2006 and 2007, two years after the 10 percent annual reduction began, P-P’s unspent balance was cut in half. As the guarantee continued to winnow, the school soon found itself with an unspent balance in the red. P-P superintendt Joe Kramer estimates between $600,000 and $800,000 in cuts will need to be made in two years if the district does not merger with PAC. reconfigured district. “It depends on the loyalty of the P-P district,” she replied. “If we stay loyal and keep our kids coming, they (PAC’s board) want to keep K-6 open as long as feasible.”
The Board Speaks
My sources indicate that the scuttlebutt around P-P recently has been that several of the board members do not support reorganization. In a particularly telling portion of the Jan. 19 meeting, one attendee bluntly inquired how each member felt. It was evident by the members’ responses that they had taken deep consideration in coming to their recommendation to move forward with reorganization. Palpable was their reluctance to merge the districts if it were not in the best interests of the children and their educations, which they as directors are charged with overseeing. Charleston, the board’s most tenured member, expressed that experience informed her decision to support the committee’s recommendation. “Looking back, one of the more difficult decisions was closing the Palmer building. But, a building is a building.” She continued that having to lay-off many teachers prior to whole grade sharing was an even more difficult, but necessary, choice. “We’re now in a financial mess. We’re at the end of what we can do.” She offered a personal plea to PP’s patrons. “I ask each one of you to look at the information as you make your decision and vote with your head and not your heart.” She continued that she had four children graduate from the district and currently has four grandkids going to school. She said it is her wish is that they have the same opportunities her kids had received, and that in her opinion, reorganization is the only avenue to achieve that. “Personally, the only way we can do that is to take the next step.” Eichelberger echoed Charleston’s sentiments. He noted the large percentage of program budget dedicated to staff compensation as he told the audience staff reductions would happen if reorganization does not pass. “I’m not the one that wants to cut programs for students. I want them to have the same choices they had 10 years ago.” Rachel Olson, who has children currently in school, said opportunities provided by a merger swung her decision. “The deciding factor is their education.” She commented that reorganization has been “a long time coming,” before asking the audience, “Ultimately, what is best for our kids?” Brent Aden told the crowd that the new building in Pocahontas provided P-P students with an appealing opportunity. “For our kids, it’s an awful impressive building.” He addressed that P-P patrons were getting a bargain by paying a representative share towards the building’s costs if the merger vote passes. “It’ll be darn worth it, cause it’s a nice building.”
Upon Further Reflection
I’ve only closely covered the schools since May. I was out of state when whole grade sharing talks occurred several years ago, but I have attended every committee meeting, every public information meeting (even the one in Pocahontas where myself and some of the school board’s wives were the only members of the public to attend), as well as the AEA hearing. After having learned more than I can say I ever cared to about the nuances of school financing and configuration theory, I’m not going to try to tell you I haven’t formed an opinion. Nor will I urge you, the voter, to mark a particular box on your ballot. I will say that although I am a PAC alum, I have no inherent loyalty to my alma mater aside from pulling for the Indians or Maidens in any given extracurricular competition. My only personal loyalty stands with the responsibility I hold as a voter. On this particular occasion, we are asked to weigh whether reorganization is, as that plaque on the P-P boardroom wall so presciently asks: “Is the decision we are about to make in the best interest of our students?” AT THE CONCLUSION OF the Pomeroy meeting, former PP board member Dean Holtorf addressed the crowd. He reminded the audience of the sign, and implored them to consider it as they make their decision. “If you don’t vote yes on this reorganization, you are doing a great disservice to your children, grandchildren, neighbors’ children and neighbors’ grandchildren. What’s most important isn’t names and it isn’t buses. What’s most important is the children’s education. This (reorganization) has to happen.” Holtorf’s conclusion was met with sustained applause. I only ask that after you objectively weigh the evidence, you cast your ballot on Tuesday, February 1. Polling places will be the courthouse in Pocahontas, the Rolfe Community Center, and the Pomeroy school. Polls will be open from noon until 8 p.m. Absentee and in-car balloting services are available. If you have any questions about the reorganization, contact the school or board members. They’ve all expressed that they’d be happy to provide patrons with information about the petition.
Pocahontas Area’s enrollment, like P-P, has also declined steadily in recent years. The loss of students is first felt at the elementary level. Elementary students cost less to educate than their high school counterparts, which significantly strains program budgets. If PAC and P-P do not reorganize, school officials have said the array of high school course offerings will need to be pared back to near state minimums.
To the Editor
To the Editor To the editor: On Tuesday, February 1, the Pomeroy-Palmer and Pocahontas Area patrons have an opportunity to go to the polls to vote on the reorganization of our two school districts. We as teachers at Pomeroy-Palmer encourage you to go to the polls and to consider these points: • Our declining enrollment and the loss of the budget guarantee money by the state will result in receiving less money each year. A $600,000 budget deficit is projected for the 2013-2014 school year, which will result in further cuts to our staff and to the programs we offer. • Following the terms of our sharing agreement with Pocahontas, the middle school will move to Pocahontas the beginning of the 2012-2013 school year regardless of the vote. However, if reorganization does not occur, we will begin paying tuition for our middle and high school students at that time, and our 5-year sharing agreement with Pocahontas Area would continue until June 2014. • Operational sharing incentives from the state are being phased out at a rate of 20% each year and will end in one year. • Reorganization gives us the best opportunity for our elementary to remain open and for the continued use of our gyms. • Our students and staff have built positive relationships with the Pocahontas Area students and staff during this time of sharing academics and athletics. We have also been able to increase the number of class offerings and extra-curricular opportunities available for our Pomeroy-Palmer students. • Reorganization of the Pomeroy-Palmer and Pocahontas Area school districts will help to create stability for students in both districts. Pomeroy-Palmer School district’s patrons will vote at the Pomeroy-Palmer School in the new gym lobby from 12:00 to 8:00 p.m. Pocahontas Area patrons will vote from 12:00 to 8:00 p.m. at the Pocahontas County Courthouse or the Rolfe Community Center depending on township residence. Thank you for your support in the past of our students, staff, and school, and we ask for your continued support. Please feel free to contact any of the teachers listed below for more information or for their thoughts on reorganization.
Pomeroy-Palmer Teachers, Leslie Aden, Angie Axman, Megan Benson, Steve Brown, Linda Christoffers, Deb Erickson, Peggy Fitzgerald, Jan George, Courtney Hamilton, Carlene Heschke, Marieta Irwin, Lisa Johnson, Tony Johnson, Emily Gentry, Robert Maske, Jamie Maulsby, Amy Meyer, Bill Meyer, Elizabeth Short, Kristen Stock, and Greg Towne
To the Editor An Open Letter to the Patrons of the Pocahontas Area Community School District Dear PAC Patrons: Pocahontas Area has had a board goal to develop collaborative partnerships with its surrounding neighbors. Our partnership with the Pomeroy-Palmer school district has grown over the past five years. The board voted three years ago to begin sharing athletics with Pomeroy-Palmer. Two years ago, we decided to begin whole grade sharing with Pomeroy-Palmer, and last year we voted to share a transportation director and building and grounds director. This year we added another shared position by sharing our superintendent with PomeroyPalmer. This fall a joint reorganization committee recommended to both district’s school boards that our two schools should reorganize. On February 1, 2011 a special election will be held on the issue of the proposed reorganization of the Pocahontas Area Community School District and the PomeroyPalmer Community School District into a new school district. The voters of Pocahontas Area will vote at their regular board election poling location. Polls will be open from 12:00 o’clock noon until 8:00 p.m. Any voter who is physically unable to enter a polling place has the right to vote in the voter’s vehicle. Eligible residents may choose to vote by absentee ballot. Absentee ballots can be obtained by contacting the Pocahontas County Auditor’s. We hope everyone will take the time to let their voices be heard on this important decision. The school board cannot make decisions like this alone; it requires that a special election be held to decide. Please Vote! Pocahontas Area Community School Board of Education Ray Seehusen, Jeff Kerns, John Behrendsen, Dan Duitscher, Richard Garner, Greg Fritz, and Darwin Eaton
To the Editor To the editor: Patrons of the Pocahontas Area and the Pomeroy-Palmer School districts will go to the polls on February 1st to vote on the merger of these two districts. We have had three informational meetings in Pomeroy to inform the voters of this district of the financial status, declining enrollment, the process of combining the districts and boards, and the advantages of the merger. The Pomeroy-Palmer School Board has supported this endeavor from the beginning,
and they have been open to answering any questions the patrons might have. The board cannot tell people how to vote, but as an individual of the school district I can share my thoughts. As board president, contrary to the rumor mill, I support this merger because of the many opportunities it will offer to our students, and that is what it is all about. If you choose to vote “No” please do so because after hearing all of the information presented to you, it is still your belief that we are better off just sharing, but do
not vote “No” because you heard rumors that that was the way you were told to vote. There is still time to ask questions, clear up any misinformation, and talk to board members. Please take the time to vote on February 1st, and go to the polls with the facts, and vote accordingly. Cathy Charleston Pomeroy-Palmer Board President
An Open Letter to the Patrons of the Pomeroy-Palmer Community School District Pomeroy-Palmer is among many districts facing difficult decisions regarding the future of their district. The board voted three years ago to begin sharing athletics with Pocahontas Area. Two years ago, we decided to begin whole grade sharing with Pocahontas Area, and last year we voted to share a transportation director and building and grounds director. The terms of the whole grade sharing agreement included the Middle School being in Pomeroy until July 1, 2012. This year we added another shared position by sharing a superintendent. The challenges that PomeroyPalmer has been facing for years have not disappeared due to sharing. Years of declining enrollment along with the loss of the state’s budget guarantee and sharing incentives are going to make it difficult for our district to continue to offer the programs we currently offer. We recently appeared before the School Budget Review Committee in Des Moines because of the district’s second year with a negative unspent balance. The board would like
the patrons of the district to realize that staff, services and programs will need to be reduced. On February 1, 2011 the voters of Pomeroy-Palmer will be given the opportunity to decide if it should formally merge with its sharing partner, Pocahontas Area. The residents of Pomeroy-Palmer will vote at the Pomeroy School Building, Pomeroy, Iowa. Polls will be open from 12:00 o’clock noon until 8:00 p.m. Any voter who is physically unable to enter a polling place has the right to vote in the voter’s vehicle. Eligible residents may choose to vote by absentee ballot. Absentee ballots can be obtained by contacting the Pocahontas County Auditor’s Office or the Calhoun County Auditor’s Office. The school board cannot make decisions like this alone; it requires that a special election be held to decide. We hope everyone will take the time to let their voices be heard on this important decision. Pomeroy-Palmer Community School Board of Education Cathy Charleston, Brent Aden, Roger Eichelberger, Jason Gerdes, and Rachel Olson