North Tama looks to reduce costs by more than $409K

Board to explore 2024-25 superintendent sharing agreement

The North Tama County Community School District located at 605 Walnut Street in Traer, Iowa. TAMA-GRUNDY PUBLISHING FILE PHOTO

TRAER – A combination of the worst inflation the U.S. has experienced since the early 1980s, state supplemental aid not keeping pace, and the exhaustion of pandemic school relief funds has led many area school districts to consider cost-reduction measures including North Tama which is currently exploring avenues to trim its 2024-25 budget by more than $409,000.

During the Feb. 12 meeting of the North Tama Board of Education, Superintendent David Hill presented board members with a list of recommended cost reductions for the fiscal year beginning July 1, 2024, that would save the district’s general fund $409,254.83.

After handing out a budget projection forecast for the next five years, Hill said there were a number of reasons behind the need to reduce the district’s budget.

“The increases from the state in recent years have not been enough to keep up with inflation, that is one of our primary things. Also, we have added some programs, added some opportunities for kids … We’ve added some staff in recent years to help meet those needs. We’ve also given nice increases to our employees the last couple years – I’m not saying that’s the wrong thing to do, but the right thing to do. But with all that – and considering the minimal increases we’ve received from the state – we’ve decided we’re at a course correction.”

In recent weeks, Hill said, a budget committee made up of North Tama administrators, a select group of board members, and SBO Sara Forrester met to create a list of possible cost reductions.

Reductions proposed by the committee include:

-Eliminate curriculum director position or renegotiate sharing agreement with Gladbrook-Reinbeck: $5,018.00

-Pay athletic officials from general athletics fund rather than district’s general fund: $23,725.00

-Eliminate the iJAG Program: $25,500.00

-Eliminate behavior interventionist position and behavior para positions: $124,886.00

-Reduce one elementary section: $64,092.83

-Eliminate the district’s online substitute system (Frontline): $4,500.00

-Reduce building supply budgets by approximately 25%: $31,940

-Eliminate secondary science position: $87,269.00

-Other early retirement savings: $42,324.00

For added context, Hill explained that most schools already pay athletic officials using the general athletics fund.

Hill also said enrollment for the 2024-25 sixth grade class is low enough to only need one section and the committee believes the reduction can be managed through attrition.

Eliminating a secondary science position can also be accomplished through attrition, Hill said, as longtime high school science teacher Mike Skopec is retiring.

In terms of other retirements effective at the end of the current school year, those positions will need to be rehired.

“Going forward it definitely keeps us in that healthy (budget) range,” Hill said.

A lengthy discussion took place among the board members following Hill’s presentation.

Several board members expressed concern with eliminating both the online substitute system (which allows teachers to find qualified substitutes without manually calling through a list) and the iJAG program (Iowa Jobs for America’s Graduates), a school-to-career program which Principal Taylor Howard said currently serves about five students per section for a total of around 30 students.

As part of the board’s discussion, activities director Andrew Knaack briefly spoke and answered questions about the athletic budget.

“I’m still trying to figure out where we can move money around,” Knaack said, in part, before later adding, “Realistically, [we’re] going to need to do seven to eight fundraisers throughout the year.”

Knaack said he has been talking with the North Tama Athletic Boosters as he works to make up the roughly $20,000 he still needs for next school year.

One of the changes he plans to make is implementing a charge on some junior high events.

“Maybe not every game. … Volleyball tournaments, junior high wrestling – big events. … Right now, we gotta make up that $20,000 somehow.”

Following the discussion, the board elected to wait on eliminating both iJAG and Frontline in the hopes that sharing a superintendent next year with a neighboring school district would replace the needed savings.

Superintendent search

As part of the meeting’s consent agenda, Hill’s resignation as North Tama superintendent was accepted by the board, effective June 30, 2024.

Hill recently signed a superintendent contract with Waverly-Shell Rock for next school year.

Hill told the board that since news broke he would be leaving, he has received four separate inquiries from area school districts interested in possibly sharing with North Tama.

But he also cautioned the board, “It may not even be an option to share a superintendent – you may not find a good fit.”

Hill had a proposal in hand from Grundmeyer Leader Services to conduct a superintendent search on behalf of the board. The contract would cost the district $12,000.

Some concerns were raised by board members regarding sharing a superintendent 50/50 while the district was working to build a new school.

The board eventually decided to investigate sharing options first before pursuing a search.

Currently, Hill’s service to the district is 0.75FTE. He is paid an annual salary of $132,005.60 in addition to various benefits.

Other business

As part of the consent agenda, retirement applications were approved by the board for three longtime North Tama educators including high school business teacher John Daub, high school industrial tech teacher/Redhawk wrestling coach Rick Samuelson, and high school science teacher Mike Skopec.

Samuelson spoke during the public comment portion of the meeting, telling the board, “Many times as an educator, when I had to move from school to school, I had to take steps back all the time … finally fairness came up for me. … Thank you for the offer and I did accept it. And thank you for being school board members because it’s a thankless job. … Thank you for doing it.”

The board approved the real estate purchase of 606 South Main Street for $141,000. The ranch style home is located close to the district’s industrial tech shop.

While the district will take possession of the property immediately following the purchase, the agreement allows the current owners to lease the property through the month of June 2024.

A resolution was adopted by the board to authorize the issuance of no more than $10,000,000 at this time in general obligation school bonds as part of the district’s bond referendum which was passed by the voters last November.

The employee health insurance plan for fiscal year 2025 was approved. There has been an increase of $30 per month for a single plan and $75 per month for a family plan; coverage remains the same.

Hill provided an overview of the district’s proposed budget for fiscal year 2025.

In total, Hill recommended the board set the school tax levy at $13.42 per $1,000 of taxable valuation – $4.05 higher than last year.

No board action was required on the budget during the meeting.

The board will hold two public hearings on the budget including the new taxpayer impact hearing in April.