Sunday, June 17, 2018

North Tama’s Financial Future



Superintendent News & Views
North Tama’s Financial Future
By David Hill,
North Tama Superintendent

I’ve recently had a few North Tama district patrons inquire about the school district’s financial stability. These people are asking because they care about North Tama, and they are concerned because they’ve heard about the financial troubles that many of Iowa’s smaller school districts are going through.  They’ve heard that most Iowa districts are experiencing a decline in enrollment, and they know that Iowa’s schools have had several consecutive years of low supplemental state aid.
Since these folks have taken the time to contact me due to their concern about the future of North Tama, I figured there are probably others that have had the same questions but haven’t taken time to inquire.  That’s why I decided to address the topic in this week’s column. 
I want to make it perfectly clear: North Tama’s current major financial indicators are POSITIVE.  Our cash balance is healthy, and our spending authority is even greater than the level recommended by the Iowa Association of School Boards.  I believe that North Tama can and will remain a financially viable school district for many years to come as long as your school leaders – including myself – manage resources appropriately.
That’s a very basic analysis, in “layman's terms” as they say. Now, I’ll explain the reasoning behind that assessment. The number one indicator of a school district’s long-term financial viability is the Unspent Authorized Budget, abbreviated as UAB.  UAB represents the district's legal authority to spend. Districts with a negative UAB may be dissolved by the state; or, the state may give these districts a two or three-year extension if they can come up with an approved financial “work-out plan.”
For optimum financial health, the IASB recommends districts maintain a UAB ratio (calculated by taking the UAB divided by the Maximum Authorized budget) between 5% and 15%.  North Tama’s UAB ratio at the end of fiscal year 2017 was 22.9%, well above the recommended range
Even with several years of declining enrollment and low supplemental state aid, North Tama’s financial health (as indicated by the UAB ratio) has continued to improve.  Your school board’s careful decision making and outside-the-box thinking are the primary reasons for this. We have implemented three shared administrative positions (including my own) and two shared teaching positions in recent years.  This provides savings as well as additional revenues through state incentives.  We’ve realized significant savings by reducing a bus route. North Tama has joined a health insurance consortium to get a better deal on employee insurance. To the extent legally possible, we have used sources of revenue other than the general fund to pay expenditures.  Some teaching and support staff positions have been reduced to part-time and others have been eliminated completely.  Our general goal is to look for opportunities to reduce staff without layoffs, so we look for opportunities to reduce through attrition whenever possible. We also carefully consider all general fund expenditures. All of these measures have contributed to an improved UAB ratio. 
North Tama uses an approved financial model to project the UAB ratio five years into the future.  Our model predicts an average decline in enrollment of ten students per year and supplemental state aid increases of 1% per year.  Using these assumptions, our projections show the UAB ratio declining to about 10.9% by the end of fiscal year 2022. While this declining ratio is a concern, the projected ratio still falls within the recommended range.
Keep in mind that the whole purpose of these projections is NOT to tell us when the district will be in financial trouble; rather, it is to PREVENT that from happening by providing a warning to the district – along with time to adjust. Knowing that our spending authority is likely to decline will help the school board make informed decisions to secure the long-term financial viability of the district.  Looking ahead 5 years gives us time to make adjustments now to ensure the district's viability. This means we can implement cost-saving measures and take other actions this year, next year, and in the following years which will positively affect the district’s outlook well into the future.
For the past 13 years, I have served as an administrator in schools with declining enrollment. Based on my experience as well as the information provided by noted school finance experts, it is my honest belief that as long as there is a collective desire among the school board and school community to make it happen, the North Tama County Community School District will be able to maintain its financial viability for the long term
I'm proud to be North Tama’s superintendent, and excited to have the opportunity to provide leadership as we work together to ensure a quality education for students in the North Tama district – now, and for many years to come.
I welcome any questions you may have about the district’s financial status. Feel free to visit my blog at http://redhawksupt.blogspot.com where you can leave comments or ask a question about the information in this column. You can also refer back to other blog posts and Star-Clipper articles that I’ve written over the past few years.  Also feel free to reach out or follow me on Twitter, where my handle is @DavidRobertHill

Thursday, May 31, 2018

Keep Kids Learning During the Summer



Superintendent News & Views
Keep Kids Learning During the Summer
By David Hill, North Tama Superintendent

Summer is a great time to seek out opportunities to extend a child’s learning. There are many opportunities to learn during the summer – story hour at the public library, swimming lessons, vacation Bible school, scouting and 4-H activities, summer camp, volunteer activities, and summer sports are just a few examples.

Over the summer months, children can lose a shocking amount of what they’ve already learned unless there is an intentional effort to keep their brains engaged. That means the kids who put forth just a little bit of effort are going to be ahead come fall. Parents, you owe it to your kids—and to their futures—to incorporate learning activities into their summer.

Reading and learning activities can be an important part of your child’s summer experience while still allowing plenty of time for play and relaxation. Here are a few suggestions, courtesy of the National Association of Elementary Principals.

FIND ACTIVITY BOOKS TO EXERCISE THEIR MINDS. There is a huge variety of activity books available, usually catered to specific age groups. Give your children their own activity book and let them work at their own pace to finish it. (Set a “due by” date to keep them on track.) Crossword puzzles, math activity books, and number puzzles all keep children’s brains in motion.

INCORPORATE “THINKING” INTO TRAVELING. If your family takes a vacation during the summer, include stops at a few places that will incorporate learning along with fun. Zoos, children’s museums, and historic sites are educational as well as entertaining. For bonus learning, have your children help you plot out the trip using an atlas or online mapping software. Older children can tally up the miles, keep track of expenses, or figure out gas mileage.

SET A READING TIME EVERY DAY. Set aside a certain time every day where everyone puts away their smartphones and turns off the computer, TV, music, and video games. Spends 15 minutes or more reading. Parents can set an example by participating in this reading time along with your child.

GET BOOK RECOMMENDATIONS FOR YOUR CHILD. Check out the American Library Association’s recommended Summer Reading lists for kids at https://tinyurl.com/summer-reading-list-18. Be sure to sign your kids up for summer reading programs at the local library, too!

BE “INTERNATIONAL.” Set aside one or two nights during the summer to have an international evening. Together, find recipes from a different nation and put together a special meal. Learn a few basic words in that country’s language and find a children’s book or online information on what life is like in that country. Get out a world map or a globe and show them where the country is and talk about what you’d want to visit if you could go there.

PARTICIPATE IN SPORTS AND EXERCISE. T-Ball, little league, dance, and other organized activities offered in the community are a great way to build foundational skills and squeeze in some physical activity. Even if your child can’t participate in a local sports league or community-based team, there are plenty of ways to get exercise—family trips to area swimming pools, jumping rope, taking family walks around your neighborhood, or visiting the playground equipment at an area park.

While it does take some effort and planning to keep kids engaged in learning during the summer, the benefit to a child’s education is beyond measure.

I hope parents, grandparents, and others who have an influence on the lives of young people will find these suggestions to be helpful. Do you have another tip to share, or a comment about this article? You are welcome to visit my blog at at http://redhawksupt.blogspot.com/ where you can read all of my columns from the Star Clipper and leave comments if you wish. I also occasionally post pictures and other content that is not submitted to the paper or additional information that expands upon what was submitted to the paper. You are also welcome to follow me on Twitter, where my handle is @DavidRobertHill. Have a great summer!



Tuesday, May 22, 2018

PUBLIC NOTICE – SCHOOL BOARD VACANCY


North Tama Patrons:
We are seeking a qualified individual to fill a vacancy on the school board until the next school board election in November 2019. To qualify, an individual must be a registered voter whose residence is located in Director District 5. A detailed description of Director District 5, along with other requirements, can be found in the "PUBLIC NOTICE" below. The accompanying photo shows a visual description of Director District 5.

PUBLIC NOTICE – BOARD VACANCY
The North Tama County Community School District’s Board of Education publishes this notice to inform district patrons of a vacancy on the Board of Education. Pursuant to Iowa Code 279.6, the Board intends to appoint a person within 30 days to fill this vacancy on the Board. Any eligible persons residing within Director District 5 who may be interested in filling this vacancy are asked to contact Superintendent David Hill at 605 Walnut Street, Traer, Iowa 50675. Telephone (319) 478-2265. Potential candidates may be asked to fill out a questionnaire or complete an interview with the board.
Director District 5 includes areas within the city limits of Traer that are south of 2nd Street (Highway 8) and east of Main Street (Highway 63). The Superintendent can provide a map of the director district or answer any questions about specific addresses.
Eligible electors of the North Tama County Community School District have the right to file a petition requiring that this vacancy be filled by special election. Petitions must be received by the board secretary within 14 days after the publication of this notice. For signatory requirements, contact Board Secretary Terrill Karr at 605 Walnut Street, Traer, Iowa 50675. Telephone (319) 478-2265.


Sunday, May 20, 2018

North Tama Board Agenda for Monday, May 21, 2018


Monday's school board meeting will begin at 7:00 p.m. in the ICN room.  The agenda is posted at the link below:

https://bit.ly/2Iy9lKr

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Taken for a Ride




Superintendent News & Views
Taken for a Ride
By David Hill, North Tama Superintendent

During the 2016-2017 school year, North Tama’s school buses traveled over 48,000 miles on regular daily bus routes and over 16,000 miles on “non-route” transportation such as field trips and activity trips.  An average of 178.4 students were transported on our routes each day, with an annual average cost per transported pupil of $1,210. 
This might sound like a lot of miles and a very high cost per student, because it is.  The North Tama district includes 155 square miles of total land area, and our students are distributed among large area including Traer, Buckingham, Clutier, and Dinsdale, and the rural areas surrounding these small towns.  Many other large rural districts are in a similar situation. My other district (Gladbrook-Reinbeck: 189 square miles) is in a similar situation, spending about $1,261 per transported student last year. 
Compare this to a district like the Marion Independent School district which has a total land area of 3.6 square miles.  That district’s annual average cost per pupil transported last year was $517.57.  In the West Burlington district (land area: 2 square miles), the average per-student cost was $532.86.
Statistically speaking, school buses are the safest way for the district to transport hundreds of students to and from school and on their various activity trips; furthermore, Iowa school districts are required by law to provide free transportation for any elementary student living 2 or more miles from the school and any secondary student living 3 or more miles from the school. 
In some urban and suburban districts with a higher population density, a bus can travel three or four miles and be filled to capacity, while in some rural districts a bus can travel three or four miles and only stop for the occasional stop sign. Here at North Tama, we were able to reduce a bus route this year, so we’re now operating three daily routes rather than four.  We’re doing our best to make our transportation system as efficient and effective as possible so more of our limited funding can be used to provide educational opportunities for students.
 
Yes, busing is expensive – that’s nothing new.  The problem is that the funds used to pay for most transportation expenses such as bus driver salaries, fuel, and most bus repairs must come from the general fund – that’s the same funding source that is used to pay for most educational expenses such as teacher salaries, textbooks, classroom software, and supplies. The general fund dollars come to the district based on a per-pupil allocation that is essentially the same for all districts.  Therefore, school districts like North Tama that serve a large rural area and spend more on transportation have less to spend on classroom instruction. Or if you look at it another way, students from urban and suburban districts that spend less per-student on transportation have an advantage, since their districts have more money to spend on classroom instruction.
Either way you look at it, this situation is inequitable.  A student who lives in Clutier or Traer should have access to the same educational opportunities as a student from Waterloo, Waukee, or West Des Moines.  But the only way to ensure that would be for there to be some sort of separate funding source outside of a district’s per-pupil funding to pay for transportation costs.  Transportation equity legislation was proposed during the 2017 legislative session, but the legislation wasn’t supported…primarily because it would just be so expensive to provide the equity that districts like North Tama need and deserve. 
Consider asking your elected representatives their feelings about this transportation equity issue. I still believe the Iowa legislature should be asked to provide an additional funding stream for transportation, or use a formula based on population density when determining Supplemental State Aid.
Perhaps you saw the recent news story on KWWL News called “Taken for a Ride” which looked on this topic in depth, focusing on the Western Dubuque Community School District which is Iowa’s largest at 555 square miles.  Yes, that’s where I got the title for this column – and I believe it is an appropriate title because there truly are many students and school districts that are being “Taken for a Ride.”  The video portion of the story has now been taken down from the KWWL website, but you can read the associated article here: https://tinyurl.com/Taken4aRide 
Our rural students represent the future of Iowa. No matter where they live, they deserve equal access to a top-notch school experience! Each and every one of them deserves a quality education regardless of whether they live in one of Iowa’s large metro areas, a growing suburb, or in a rural area that may be losing population.

You are welcome to visit my blog at http://redhawksupt.blogspot.com/where this column and all of the columns I have written for the Star Clipper are posted. You are also welcome to follow me on Twitter, where my handle is @DavidRobertHill

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Don’t Miss a Winter Weather Announcement!



Superintendent News & Views
Don’t Miss a Winter Weather Announcement! 
By David Hill, North Tama Superintendent

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year from all of us at North Tama Schools!  I hope our students are all enjoying their break from school and finding an opportunity to rest and rejuvenate in preparation for their return to school on January 3. 
I’m pleased that we haven’t had had any big snowstorms or ice storms that have disrupted our school schedule yet this school year. It’s always great when we can make it to Christmas break without a weather-related cancellation. Parents, teachers, school administrators and even many students agree – while we don’t like disrupting our schedule and taking away scheduled learning time due to severe weather, we understand that there are times that safety simply must come first. 
While we try to keep disruptions and calendar changes to a minimum, there are times when changing our schedule at the last minute is simply the right thing to do for the safety of all.  Our school district is responsible for transporting hundreds of young people every day. We need to consider the safety of everyone concerned when making the decisions about school cancellations, delays, or early dismissals. 
As Winter progresses, there will be days when decisions of this nature will need to be made. Fortunately, there is no need to sit by the TV or radio waiting to find out if school has been canceled or delayed. Anyone can have real-time text message notifications sent directly to their cellular phone. This system is available to anyone who may be interested, whether or not they have children in school. 
Parents of North Tama students are already included in our alert system for inclement weather notices. Parents - if you need to change your number, please contact the secretaries or log in to your PowerSchool Parent Portal account to update your information. Community members that wish to receive our text alerts regarding delays, cancellations, and early dismissals are invited to sign up for this service at no charge. Just visit the following link and enter your information: http://www.n-tama.k12.ia.us/textalerts.  If you signed up last year, you are still signed up and do not need to enter your information again.
While it’s great that we’ve made it to Christmas break without a snow day, keep in mind that Winter actually just began on December 21 – so there is plenty of time for Mother Nature to hit us hard with snow, extreme temperatures, ice, and reduced visibilities.  Be sure to get signed up for North Tama’s text notifications today so you don’t miss out on an important announcement! 
2017 has been a great year for all of us at North Tama Schools – not just weather-wise, but educationally as well. We’re looking forward to another great year in 2018!  I encourage you to visit my blog at https://redhawksupt.blogspot.com/ to keep up-to-date on my activities and opinions as your superintendent in the coming year. You are also welcome to follow me on Twitter (@DavidRobertHill) where I will occasionally post updates, photos, and other information not found on the blog.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

A Holiday Gift That’s Also an Investment in the Future



Superintendent News & Views
A Holiday Gift That’s Also an Investment in the Future
By David Hill, North Tama Superintendent

I have a possible solution to your gift-giving dilemmas this holiday season, especially if you are connected to anyone under age 18 and would like to make an investment in their future. Instead of trying to figure out what is on the “wish list” of the special young person in your life, you can give one of the most meaningful gifts a child may ever receive. You can even earn yourself a state tax deduction in the process.  I’m talking about opening or contributing to a College Savings Iowa account. 
A contribution to a College Savings Iowa account is a great present for Christmas, birthdays, or other nearly any other special occasion.  It will show the child in your life that you value education and that you want to invest in their future.  Whether they are a toddler, a preschool student, in grade school, or in high school, a contribution to their College Savings Iowa account is a great way to show how much you care. Even if the special young person in your life is getting very close to their college years, it’s never too late to start planning for the future.
 Opening a College Savings Iowa account has two-fold benefits. Not only are you helping a young person prepare for his or her future education, but you can take advantage of the tax benefits as well.
College Savings Iowa lets anyone — parents, grandparents, friends, and relatives — contribute towards college costs on behalf of a future scholar of any age.  Iowa taxpayers contributing to College Savings Iowa can deduct up to $3,239 per account from their state taxable income in 2017.
Contributions and earnings grow free of federal and state income taxes while invested. They remain tax-free when they are used to pay for qualified higher education expenses.
Administered the office of Iowa’s State Treasurer, College Savings Iowa allows multiple investment options, including options that take into account the child's age and the account owner's tolerance for risk. As a general rule, age-based accounts opened for younger beneficiaries are invested in stocks early on; these accounts try to maximize returns by taking advantage of the longer time horizon. As the beneficiary nears college age, the assets are automatically shifted to more conservative portfolios. This allows you to protect your capital and reduce the market risk before you begin making withdrawals for college expenses.
It takes just $25 and 10 minutes to open an account online. Investors can withdraw their investment tax-free to pay for qualified higher education expenses, which include tuition, books, supplies and room and board at any eligible college, university, community college or accredited technical training school in the United States or abroad. While participants do not need to be an Iowa resident to invest in the plan, they do need to be an Iowa taxpayer to take advantage of the Iowa income tax deduction.
For more information about College Savings Iowa, call (888) 672-9116 or visit CollegeSavingslowa.com.
I encourage your feedback on this column, along with any questions you may have. These SUPERINTENDENT NEWS & VIEWS columns, in addition to my blog and Twitter postings, are part of my plan for open communication with the community as a part-time superintendent with duties in another area school district. If you’ve missed any of my columns or would like to re-read or share them with your friends and family, you are welcome to visit my blog at http://redhawksupt.blogspot.com/ where they are all posted. You are also welcome to follow me on Twitter (@DavidRobertHill) where I will occasionally post updates or other information not found on the blog.