With decreases in certified enrollment an issue, staff reductions could be in store for the Mason City Community School District.
At Monday night's meeting, Superintendent Dave Versteeg shared with the school board a rough draft of an enrollment and staffing report of the entire district. The report detailed the decline in certified enrollment, where those students went, and what the outlook of the district might be.
Versteeg explained to the board that a majority of students were leaving for out of state schools or out of the North Iowa area.
“(In 2011), we had 3,918 certified enrollment students and this year we’re at 3,469. It’s been a consistent downward trend for enrollment at Mason City schools,” Versteeg told the Globe Gazette on Wednesday. “So it is what North Iowa is; declining population equals declining enrollment.”
The certified enrollment report is created each year, analyzing how many students the district will have in each grade, according to Human Resources Director Tom Drzycimski. From that report, the district can generate models of what the future will look like.
Certified enrollment reports are used by school districts to determine the positive financial impact every student has on the district. Determining the weight of that impact is based on the number of students sitting in a classroom, in addition to any specific needs each student may have. A typical student brings in around $7,000 of funding to the district.
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Declining enrollment means less money being received by the district. With the drop in numbers from grade to grade, Versteeg said the district has to either make up for the lost funds through reducing the expenses of each school building, which includes payroll.
Versteeg said the largest group of employees affected by job cuts and discontinued contracts would be those who hold roles with the district, such as teachers, nurses, counselors, and social workers.
School board director Alan Steckman said the board has little control over the situation, but that the district's plan for tackling enrollment issues can be passed along to the school board, which will decide whether it will endorse the approach.
Because of the district’s open-enrollment policy, the struggle is knowing what the student population will be like from year to year. “Like Dave (Versteeg) indicated on Monday, there is a certain number of students that turnover throughout the year and that’s hard to predict,” said Drzycimski.
“That’s the challenge and that’s why we’ve got to put this information out for people to think about and to strategize about,” said Versteeg. “We could cut every administrator, supervisor and superintendent and (still) not come up with enough money to cover the loss of the 280 kids over the last two years. This is the business side of running a school.”
The district evaluates each building to determine what is absolutely needed in terms of staffing.
“The teacher part always boils down to that ratio of what’s an appropriate sized classroom for a teacher to be able to efficiently operate. There’s no standard number across the state or across the country,” said Versteeg.
“(Other districts) have consistently had numbers in the upper twenties. We are in the low twenties. Everybody’s got a different feeling on that. But my point is that you think about 280 kids over the last year and that $7,000 number,” Versteeg said. “That’s almost $2 million [of] income that we need to account for.”
Versteeg also noted that due to state law, the tax dollars being used for the construction of the district’s new fieldhouse cannot be diverted to cover other expenses. “We can’t use those dollars for wages. We can’t use those dollars to hire staff. We can only use those dollars to fix our buildings and to build buildings,” said Versteeg.
He said one way the district might avoid letting teachers go is by using early retirement as a strategic tool. Versteeg told the board there are over 100 employees currently eligible for early retirement.
“I think it is a better advantage for us to offer early retirement and absorb some of those jobs to lessen the blow for possible nonrenewal of people when we get to that point because we just need to be leaner next year than we are this year,” said Versteeg.
Drzycimski says with the rough draft to keep in mind to not come to conclusions at this point in the year. “It’s hard to draw, at this point in the year, any conclusions or any definitive direction from it. What we have right now are what ifs and not a firm direction in which we’re headed until we have more data later in the year.”
“It’s a conversation that will get more serious as the year progresses,” Drzycimski said.
“We are very confident, even with declining enrollment, that we continue to offer the students of Mason City schools the most well-rounded and best education they can get compared to anyone else,” said Versteeg.
A review of the district’s financial situation will be completed by March, with any affected employees notified no later than April 30.
Abby covers education and public safety for the Globe Gazette. Follow her on Twitter at @MkayAbby. Email her at Abby.Koch@GlobeGazette.com