By Julie Ann Madden
Akron-Westfield School District has six positions shared with the West Sioux School District this year.
Four of the shared positions qualify for state Operational Sharing dollars.
First is the Shared Transportation Director position, which is in its third year of being shared. The Transportation director is Gerad Gradert.
Second is the Shared Superintendent position, which is held by Randy Collins who is in his second year as A-W and WS’s shared superintendent.
Third is Human Resources Director Tami Degen’s position, which the two districts began sharing last year.
This school year, A-W and West Sioux began sharing a Director of Operations. Bob Bak serves 20 percent of his time at Akron-Westfield where he primarily helps with the implementation of the 1:1 Computer Initiative. With this position, A-W will expend $15,000 to $20,000 but get the $62,000 each shared position is worth in state Operational Sharing dollars.
The amount of Operational Sharing dollars each Iowa school district is eligible for is based on student population, said Collins. “Currently, we have four because that’s what it takes for us to earn the maximum amount of revenue: $250,000 annually for the next five years,” he said. “That’s based on today’s enrollment numbers.”
It’s projected state legislators will bump school districts’ Allowable Growth up 4 percent next year, said Collins, explaining as Allowable Growth goes up so will the $250,000.
Although some worry about state legislators’ future Allowable Growth decisions, “I’d like to think the next two or three years, we’re going to get some kind of increase in Allowable Growth,” he said, adding it could also fluctuate some because of student enrollment increases or decreases.
The state legislature passed this new state Operational Sharing law in 2013 after the first one expired.
In doing so, they expanded the shared categories from five to 12 positions, said Collins, explaining districts can now receive Operational Sharing dollars for sharing guidance counselors, school nurses, social workers, curriculum directors, mental health therapists, school librarians and for sharing employees in the functions of superintendent management, business management, human resources, transportation, operation and maintenance.
However, legislators didn’t realize the cost to state coffers would be $90 million because every school district can earn that $250,000 if they do enough sharing agreements, he explained. Every district can earn up to 40 Full Time Equivalents (FTEs) of a student.
In our district, each student is worth $6,172, said Collins, explaining FTEs are calculated as for every 100 students, the district can have two FTE positions paid with Operational Sharing dollars. Since Akron-Westfield has more than 500 students, it has 10 FTEs.
The legislature passed the law but the Iowa Department of Education implements the law, he said. Immediately, state educational officials began imposing restrictive spins on the new law — especially in light of the fact that one-third of Operational Sharing dollars come from local property taxes.
In May 2013, A-W officials had announced a plan to share a curriculum director with the Hinton School District this school year. It was proposed to have A-W Preschool-Grades 6 Principal Cathy Bobier as the shared curriculum director. However, one of the restrictions state educational officials implemented was districts could not receive these dollars by creating a new position.
“Everybody could use a curriculum director,” said Collins, “and the state was going to pay us to have one (with the expanded eligible positions’ list). But (Department of Education) said we aren’t going to pay you to create a new position.”
Therefore, A-W still has no curriculum director.
“(Department of Education officials) are still developing what the administrative rules will be,” said Collins. “We still don’t know today what the final administrative rules are. They will hammer this out during the upcoming legislative session.”
“We’ve covered every possible base we can think of,” he said. “I’ve consulted with (Department of Education) on every position. If at the eleventh hour, one of the shared positions is denied for funding, then we’re going to lose $62,000 out of that $250,000 but there is really nothing else we can do.”
Furthermore, at the end of the five years, there is no guarantee the law will be continued, said Collins. “It’s up to the legislature. They could extend it, kill it or come up with something new.”
“I think what they are seeing is it’s a good thing to encourage districts to work together,” he said, “and it’s not so much just small districts they’re seeing. Mason City and Clear Lake, which have significantly large student populations, are sharing a superintendent now.”
“Whenever we can increase efficiencies, and to me, that means reduce your expenditures, raise revenue and expand opportunities for kids, that’s what is really the purpose,” said Collins. “We’re trying to save money on these types of functions and operations so that money can be channeled into resources for students.”
“We’re still in limbo (until the state legislature and Department of Education officials decide the rules),” he said.
In addition to the shared positions which qualify for Operational Sharing dollars, Akron-Westfield and West Sioux School Districts share two other positions.
Two years ago, the districts began sharing Food Service Director Charlotte Anderson.
This year, West Sioux purchased one-fourth of A-W’s Industrial Arts teacher Matthew Jongeling’s contract. He teaches two periods a day at West Sioux in addition to A-W’s Industrial Arts classes.