Saturday, October 13, 2018

North Tama Board Agenda for October 15, 2018

The October monthly meeting of the North Tama Board of Education will be held on Monday, October 15, 2018 in the ICN Room at North Tama Schools.  The tentative agenda can be viewed here.  

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Act NOW to SAVE Iowa’s schools & taxpayers

Superintendent News & Views
Act NOW to SAVE Iowa’s schools & taxpayers
By David Hill, North Tama Superintendent

To many people, the year 2029 seems like a date in the distant future.   To school boards, superintendents, and others responsible for long-term planning in local school districts like North Tama, 2029 is approaching quickly.
North Tama has used Iowa's statewide one-cent  sales tax (which
expires in 2029) to maintain & improve aging facilities, to provide
a safe & modern transportation system, and to  become a
leader in technology.
Why focus on the year 2029?  That’s when the current law giving schools a share of the state's sales tax revenues is set to expire. The "Secure an Advanced Vision for Education" Fund (often referred to as SAVE or the “statewide penny”) is funded by a statewide one-cent sales tax.  This revenue is distributed to schools as a categorical funding stream that can be used for infrastructure needs, technology upgrades, and for the purchase of large equipment such as school buses.
Even though the SAVE expiration is between 10 and 11 years away, this is a major concern NOW for many schools.  In previous years, districts facing major infrastructure needs (examples: a roof replacement, a new school building, or a major addition to a building) have been able to borrow against future SAVE revenues to meet these needs. Borrowing against future SAVE revenues is no longer an option for most schools because of the pending expiration.  Extending SAVE now would bring this option back for schools immediately.
Without the SAVE extension, the cost of facility maintenance and improvements will shift to local property taxes.  You may have noticed an increase in the number of school bond referendum votes in recent years; these bonds are financed by higher property taxes.  During the 2017 fiscal year alone, thirty-three Iowa school districts held such an election. The impending 2029 SAVE expiration is the primary reason we’ve seen so many of these votes. 
There has been a statewide effort to extend SAVE beyond 2029. During the most recent legislative session, the Iowa House of Representatives overwhelmingly approved the extension of SAVE by a margin of 95-3; however, the Iowa Senate did not take up the measure. I’m confident the SAVE extension will be proposed again in the next legislative session, as there is bipartisan support for SAVE as a key component of maintaining low property taxes while meeting the educational needs of Iowa’s future workforce.
For North Tama, the "statewide penny" has become a vital source of funds that have been used to maintain and improve our aging facilities; furthermore, SAVE funds have allowed the district to provide a safe, modern transportation system and to become a leading district in technology.  We’ve been able to accomplish this while maintaining one of the lowest property tax rates in the state and the region.  88% of Iowa’s school districts had a higher property tax rate than North Tama in the current fiscal year, and North Tama’s property tax rate is the lowest of the 48 districts that have a presence in the 9-county region that includes and surrounds Tama County.
With portions of North Tama’s buildings being over 100 years old, it is reasonable to expect that additional improvements and maintenance expenses will be warranted well beyond 2029.  In the coming years, North Tama Schools will have needs such as roof and boiler replacements, major repairs to the heating and HVAC systems, concrete replacement, improved handicapped accessibility, new school buses, and technology upgrades. The SAVE extension will likely be critical in meeting these needs in the years ahead. 
With legislative elections approaching next month, I hope our readers will consider asking the candidates where they stand on the extension of the SAVE statewide penny.  Once the dust has settled following the November election, I encourage North Tama patrons to contact your legislators to encourage the extension of SAVE during the 2019 legislative session
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 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.

Friday, August 17, 2018

1,080 Hours to Make a Difference

Superintendent News & Views
1,080 Hours to Make a Difference
By David Hill, North Tama Superintendent

The school year is about to begin. The excitement and enthusiasm has been evident among our students as they’ve been in our school buildings for registration, athletic camps, and practices. Our teachers are ready to get started, and along with the tried-and-true methods that they have implemented for many years, they will also be using some new strategies to engage our students and maximize learning in the coming school year.  I’m expecting GREAT things to happen in the 2018-2019 school year, and I hope you are, too!  
Back when most of us were in school, Iowa’s school districts offered 180 days of instruction each year. A few years ago, Iowa law was changed to allow schools to base their calendar year on either 180 days or a minimum of 1,080 hours of instruction per year.  Given that option, North Tama (and over 90 percent of Iowa’s school districts) switched to hours-based calendars to allow for greater flexibility.  North Tama’s planned calendar for the coming year exceeds the required minimum, offering just over 1,204 hours of instruction – of course, this will likely be reduced due to a few weather-related late starts and early dismissals. 
Regardless of the type of unit used to count instructional time, the new school year provides each student with a “fresh start,” and a new opportunity to use this time to their advantage to further increase his or her skills, and to grow and develop as an individual and as a member of our community.  It is my sincere hope that the 1,080+ hours that will be invested in each student this year will truly make a positive difference in each of their lives. 
I want to challenge all North Tama students to make the most of every one of the 1,080+ hours this school year.  By being an active participant in your own learning, you can get the most out of the time that you invest in school.  Perhaps you’ve heard the saying “You can’t win if you don’t play.”  Often this phrase is used in advertisements for the lottery.  While I don’t want to promote gambling, I do think this phrase makes a good point about participation. While your odds of winning a jackpot are very slim, I guarantee you that there is a 100% chance that those people who DON’T buy a lottery ticket WON’T win a jackpot. It’s true that you can’t win if you don’t play. 
The same thing is true of our learning...You can’t win if you don’t play. What does that mean?  To me, it means two things: 1) ATTENDANCE IS IMPORTANT. Students need to be at school - every day, on time, so they won’t miss out on important opportunities for learning; and, 2) PARTICIPATE!  At North Tama, we have so many wonderful ways for students to extend their learning beyond the classroom.  I challenge every 7-12 student to participate in in at least one sport, at least one club or organization, and at least one fine arts activity. Students that participate in activities are more likely to have higher academic achievement, less likely to drop out of school, and more likely to become involved members of their communities as adults.
Parents can make a big difference in a child’s education by doing their part to encourage good attendance and participation. They can encourage their children to participate in extracurricular activities, and provide the necessary transportation, resources, and support. While all students may need to be absent from school on occasion, parents can also play a critical role in ensuring good attendance. Here are some tips for good attendance provided by the National Association of Elementary School Principals:

1.     Plan ahead when scheduling vacations. Take a look at the school calendar (you can find it on the school website). There are several three-day weekends and even longer breaks during the year that will allow family fun without having to miss school. Also, plan ahead when it comes to parents and siblings’ appointments – does every child in the family need to go if the appointment is just for one family member?
2.     Prioritize your schedule. Many times, doctor appointments can be scheduled to take place in the hours immediately following school or on Saturdays. At minimum, appointments can usually be made so that a student misses a half-day of school rather than a full day.
3.     Have a regular bedtime. Establish an evening routine that includes time for reading and other activities that help your child to become calm and relaxed before bed.
4.     Teach organizational skills so your child can get out the door with the proper materials, homework, etc.
5.     Encourage healthy habits. Make sure your child has breakfast and nutritious snacks. Emphasize hand washing and cleanliness each and every day.

I hope you will find these tips to be helpful. Do you have another tip to share, or a comment about this article? You are welcome to visit my blog at 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.  We at North Tama truly appreciate parents’ efforts in teaching their children the importance of good attendance and participation. The school year is upon us…Let’s make each and every hour of the 2018-2019 school year count!  

Thursday, July 26, 2018

Save $10 if you ACT NOW

Superintendent News & Views
Save $10 if you ACT NOW
By David Hill, North Tama Superintendent

Did the headline of this column get your attention?  Did it sound more like a television infomercial than the headline of the superintendent’s newspaper column?   Well, the truth is, I was trying to get your attention and if you’ve read this much of the column, I guess it worked! 
Yes, the headline was designed to get your attention – but, if you are the parent of a North Tama student, it’s absolutely TRUE – North Tama’s back-to-school student registration process is taking place right NOW, and parents who take care of their fees online no later than July 31 will automatically receive a discount of $10 per child!  July 31 is approaching quickly – it’s this coming Tuesday – so don’t delay. 
From August 1 to August 6, registration fees will be automatically discounted by $5 per student.  Those who register late (after August 6) will miss out on the discounted rates. 
Once again this year, our registration process is streamlined through an online option.  Parents can visit anytime day or night to take care of their child’s back-to-school registration.  The online registration process worked quite well in 2017 and it is back by popular demand.  It’s a great way to avoid waiting in line and to take care of student registration on your own terms and your own timeline. 
The Traer Public Library has computers available for those who do not have access to a computer at home. Another option is to come to the main office at school during our regular daily business hours of 8 to 4. We have a computer set up for parents to use for online registration.
We will hold a single in-person registration day once again this year on August 6, from 3:00 to 7:00pm in the Main Office. We are not able to take walk-in registrations prior to this date.
If you have questions or need to fill out an application for free or reduced-price lunches and a possible partial waiver of registration fees, please visit for more information.  We’re looking forward to a great school year! 
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 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.

Thursday, July 12, 2018

North Tama Board Agenda for Monday, July 16, 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:

North Tama is a PK-12 school district located in Traer, Iowa. Our district strives to empower every student to become a life-long learner who is a productive, responsible, and engaged citizen of our society.  We envision a school where all students achieve a degree of academic success which will equip them to adapt to our rapidly changing society.

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 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 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 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!