OTTUMWA — School officials hope to have a better sense of what the long-term options for the district’s buildings are sometime this spring.
Monday’s discussion of a facilities master plan follows on the 2019 discussion of a potential new elementary school and the elections which installed a board that did not believe that was the right path forward for the district.
The goal with a new plan is to figure out when the district can approach some of the needs various facilities have. Board member Morgan Brown said planning in a longer term than year-to-year needs should allow the district to make the most of the money it spends.
Brown cautioned that the district wanted to avoid a situation in which it built or updated facilities for the schools, only to find they were not what the students wanted or needed. “We want to avid spending money and then having tp spend money again,” he said.
Superintendent Nicole Kooiker said the situation has been clarified “now that we know what we’re not doing.”
While the facilities assessment in early 2019 outlined a number of needs for the district’s buildings and categorized them for how urgent they were, it did not specify a timeline for the projects. That’s the kind of product that could emerge from Monday’s discussions.
A master plan for district buildings allows the district to plan ahead. If it knows two buildings have major repairs coming over the next couple years, it can budget with those long-range needs in mind.
“I think a master plan … kind of gets us down the road,” board member Jeremy Weller said. “I’m ok with you giving us some options.”
“I don’t think some of the really important stuff was even that expensive,” Brown said.
Monday’s board session included another look ahead with a review of some financial and enrollment projections. Certified enrollment in Ottumwa is up, meaning more students are living within the Ottumwa school district’s boundaries. While that doesn’t necessarily mean more students at Ottumwa schools, it means greater opportunities should they choose to stay within the district.
The overall figure not the number of students who are actually taking classes within the Ottumwa school district, but the number who live within the district’s boundaries. “This doesn’t take into account any open enrollment out,” Berg said.
The figure is unusual for southeast Iowa. There was a significant jump in numbers in 2019, and a more modest increase is expected for 2020. Many areas of Iowa are seeing that figure trend down.
“What that means is each year there’s more students who live in the Ottumwa school district,” John Berg, the district’s board secretary, said.
The district did see a slight dip in some of the financial metrics, but that was by design. The decrease was related to the expansion of programs at the Pickwick Early Childhood Center. School officials have aggressively pursued the center as a means to increase both access to preschool programs and the number of families engaged with the district.
Administrators have previously said they believe there is a greater chance of retaining students if they create early relationships with their families. By creating relationships with teachers and administrators, not to mention the children’s own friendships with peers, the hope is that the families will be firmly knit into the district by the time the students reach the ages at which families most often choose to open enroll to other area districts.