The Ottumwa Courier

December 25, 2013

Van Buren, Harmony discuss sharing options

Courier correspondent

---- — KEOSAUQUA — Van Buren Community School Board weighed in on the prospects of establishing greater ties with their neighboring district, Harmony Community.

At the regular board meeting Dec. 18, Van Buren board member Andrew Lydolph said he had discussed with Dan Smith, a Harmony board member, sharing possibilities with Harmony.

Members of both school boards met during Van Buren’s regular board meeting on Oct. 16 to discuss sharing opportunities between the two school districts. It was agreed to tour each district’s buildings. However, since then, there has not been momentum to craft additional opportunities, as each district weighs its own needs and desires.

“While they are not opposed to continue talking, right now they would like to discuss among themselves bench marks, where they are at and where they want to go. They might have something in January or February. They agreed with you Bob (Steingreaber), that there needs to be specifics and plans," Lydolph said.

Van Buren board member Bob Steingreaber said, “these discussions need to be board to board. I think complete boards need to get together, not committees.”

“That was brought up,” Lydolph said. “What they want to discuss is secondary sharing proposals. They didn’t want to be pushed into it.”

Van Buren board member Sheila Parsons said, “I think the best way to communicate, is to keep it simple and direct.”

Board members said they would like Harmony board member Smith to put his opinions in the form of a letter to the Van Buren Community School Board.

In other action and discussion:

• Secondary principal Chuck Banks asked the board to consider adding staff to the secondary music department. A few years ago, there were two instructors in the secondary school, one teaching instrumental and the other choir. However, budget cuts forced the district to reduce the staffing to just one. That caused the school to reduce its offerings. In the meantime, the popularity of music has grown in the district. According to Banks, in 2009, there were three full-time instructors in elementary and high school, with 62 students in band from sixth through 12 grades.

“Today, that figure is 85 for 7-12,” Banks said.

There are four students from Harmony. They participated in the pep band during the Van Buren-Harmony game.

No action was taken.

• Superintendent Ewell requested additional hours for district office staff. She asked for an additional six hours per day for 102 days, with a cost of $11,000. During the budget cuts three years ago, the district eliminated some secretarial positions. She said there is need for additional staff in this area. The board approved the request for the remainder of the year

• The board met with Senator Mark Chelgren and Representative Curt Hanson. Superintendent Dr. Pam Ewell, administrative staff and board members asked the elected officials several questions on a wide variety of educational issues. Ewell and others are concerned with the impact of the new state law dealing with Independent Private Instruction (IPI), which relates to homeschooling.

“IPI has unintended consequences,” Ewell said. “It affects truancy and and how many dropouts there are. With IPI there’s no accountability.”

Chelgren said he would address those concerns with ranking Senator Amy Sinclair.

Other topics include early childhood funding, late school start, allowable growth and the state core.

Hanson said one issue that he hopes the state focuses on during the upcoming session is infrastructure.

“There’s a lot of things the state can do to keep the economy going,” Hanson said, “one of the things is to concentrate on infrastructure.”

Chelgren said the state should trust local districts more and not manage education from the top down.

• Board member Rick Plowman asked Ewell about a curriculum sharing arrangement with Harmony where the district names Mary Dawn Schuck as the person in charge, but she is not the one administering the project.

“Since we’re in the business of educating kids, are we comfortable with putting a name on an application to get money, when someone else is doing the work?” Plowman asked.

Ewell helps perform the duties, however, “I can’t put my name down, because my title in BEDS (a department of Education term) is superintendent, not superintendent/curriculum”

Schuck does some work with the program, Ewell said.

“It’s like auditing. You have someone sign the audit, when someone else does most of the work,” Ewell said. “The main thing is that the curriculum work is getting done and it’s irrelevant whose name is on it.”