The Ottumwa Courier

February 23, 2013

Naming new school a delicate decision

Reviewing school budget presents slew of ‘what ifs’ with no decision on allowable growth from legislature

CHELSEA DAVIS
Courier Staff Writer

OTTUMWA — The school board will try to answer the question that continues to rattle around everyone’s head: What will they name the new elementary school?

At the Ottumwa Community School District’s board meeting Monday night, the board will discuss a name for the new school, the upcoming school year’s budget and the possible suspension or expulsion of two students.

Possible names for new elementary school include Liberty, Fahrney and Prairie View.

Board president Carol Mitchell said “Liberty” is still pretty high on the list of possible names for the new elementary school, as well as Fahrney, from the family who presents college scholarships to Ottumwa students.

“I’m not positive we’ll make a decision that night, but we’ll certainly narrow it down,” Mitchell said. “One thing you don’t want to do is decide haphazardly. We want to give it some thought.”

Superintendent Davis Eidahl said a few months ago the board narrowed down the list of names generated online by the community to a few, but since the entire board was not at the last meeting, he wanted to make sure every member was present before a decision was made.

“There’s a strong military service record in our community, and we’ve had a lot of people in the history of Ottumwa serve in multiple wars, including the 833rd [Engineer Company], which was deployed for its third time,” Eidahl said. “Liberty was a name that floated to the top as a way to honor all those who serve, that commitment to giving.”

He said the board has also considered naming the school according to a scene that would fit that specific area, such as Prairie View.

“We just walked through it this [Friday] morning,” Eidahl said. “Colors are going up and cabinetry. It’s moving along nicely.”

The plan is to “take residency” on Aug. 1. School will begin Wednesday, Aug. 21. The school, which will house grades two through five, is expecting to seat around 720 students this fall.

The school district is also developing a technical plan for the school that will include a device for every two students.

“The building will be saturated with technology,” he said. “There will be a variety of laptops and tablets for student use.”

Analyzing budget options based on allowable growth

The board will also discuss three different possibilities for a school budget for the 2013-14 school year, since allowable growth still has not been set by the Iowa Legislature.

“We’re going to give them a good look at the budget as if we would receive a zero percent, a 2 percent or a 4 percent allowable growth,” Eidahl said. “This will be a look at the budget based on whatever comes out of Des Moines, and since we don’t know, we’re just going to plan on three different scenarios.”

The Legislature needs to set allowable growth (the formula that determines funding per student), Eidahl said, because when it’s unknown, it’s hard to finalize a school district’s budget for the upcoming school year.

The budget must be finalized in April, so Eidahl hopes this will give the board enough time to review the three different budgets “so we have direction.”

“It’s been difficult over the last few years because we haven’t gotten the commitment from the state until late, so we just have to do the best we can,” Mitchell said. “That’s all you can do. Do the best you can with what you know, which isn’t much yet. In reviewing the numbers, there are a lot of ‘what ifs.’”

The Democrat-controlled Iowa Senate passed a 4 percent allowable growth this week, but the Republican-controlled Iowa House is waiting due to Gov. Terry Branstad’s push to finalize an education reform bill before there is any discussion of allowable growth.

“I’m hoping they will commit and stay committed,” Mitchell said. “It’s been a long time since we’ve gotten 4 percent.”

The school district has been very fiscally conservative the past few years, “so we’ll be OK,” Eidahl said.

“The best-case scenario is 4 percent, but if we have a minimal scenario, we’ll be OK,” he said. “We aren’t participating cuts in any of the three scenarios, but that doesn’t mean there wouldn’t be.”

Two students up for suspension, expulsion

The board will also meet in two separate closed sessions “to conduct a hearing to suspend or expel a student,” which will then be brought back to open session to announce their final decision.

“As a district, we always do our best to put supports in place that I would never have to make this recommendation,” Eidahl said. “But based on board policy and infractions that have occurred, we leave it to the board to decide.”

In the last five years, Eidahl said the school district has expelled or suspended less than five students.

“If it is truly impeding on a safe learning environment, then it’s necessary for the board to decide how they want to proceed,” he said.

Eidahl and Mitchell could not discuss the names of the two high school students or the circumstances surrounding their possible suspension or expulsion.

“We try not to expel any students, but there comes a point in time when we have to take that student and the entire student body into consideration,” Mitchell said.

The board will meet at 6 p.m. Monday in the second-floor conference room at the Board/Administration Office at 422 McCarroll Drive.