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Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Aurelians meet to discuss district future

Thursday, October 11, 2007

A group of 80 concerned Aurelia citizens listen as Aurelia School Board President Dan Winterhof opens a Community meeting. Photo by Dan Whitney
A crowd of approximately 80 concerned citizens gathered in the Aurelia High School Gymnasium on Thursday to hear a status report from the Aurelia School Board.

Board President Dan Winterhof welcomed the group and thanked them for their interest and support. Winterhof stated the purpose of the meeting was to summarize the current status of the district, summarize sharing talks that have taken place with two neighboring school districts, and to give the community a forum to provide input and share their thoughts and feelings about the district's future.

Board member Colby Entriken then spoke about Aurelia students' current ACT scores, which compare very favorably with the state average. Aurelia students' proficiency scores in reading, math, and science also ranked far above the statewide average, and Aurelia students have registered considerable achievements in a variety of activities, including music, speech, drama, athletics and DECA. Some problems which have occurred in the past year, due at least in part to low enrollment, include the inability to field junior varsity teams in girls' basketball and baseball. Entriken said that the High School (9-12) enrollment this year is 105, but the projection for the next few years, based on the size of current classes, would see the enrollment drop to 86, 80, and 69 in the next three years.The enrollment is projected to be 78 in 2011-2012, and 72 in 2012-13.

Board Vice President Jim Hultgren then spoke about the three different funds from which the Board can access spending money - the General Fund, used for such purposes as salaries, supplies, and transportation; the Management Fund, used for special expenditures, and the Capital Projects Fund. This fund is used for infrastructure, technology, equipment and tax relief. PPEL (Physical Plant and Equipment Levy) funds come from property taxes and can be used only for these items. This is also the case with SILO (School Infrastructure Local Option) funds, which are raised through the local option sales tax. The Distict showed a balance of $457,000 in these funds at the end of June. Though a good share of these funds have since been spent on the Wellness Center, the Aurelia District raises about $280,000 a year for these funds. Hultgren stressed that the state has specified that each fund is to be used only for the stated purposes, and money from one fund cannot be used in another. The SILO and PPEL funds, for example, cannot be used for programs,salary or transporation.

Hultgren also explained that the state grants each District Spending Authority, which is currently $5400 for each student enrolled in the District. The total amount a school district receives each year is tied directly to enrollment. The figure for next school year will be $5616/student. There has also been a "Budget Guarantee" based on a certain enrollment figure, but this guarantee is being phased out over a ten year period, beginning in 2004. Because of this, the Aurelia District funds will no longer be based on an enrollment figure which was considerably higher than the current enrollment. The Aurelia High School enrollment was 141 in 2005, but is projected to be 78 in 2012. As a result, because of the phasing out of the Budget Guarantee, the Aurelia District would have to reduce the amount they spend "by an amount equivalent to three teacher's salaries" by 2014.

Hultgren stressed that Aurelia is certainly not the only District facing enrollment and budget problems, and reduction of the number of class offerings is not a viable solution to these problems, because High Schools are required to offer certain subjects.

The dilemma that the Board faces, said Hultgren, is "what kind of cuts can we make to meet budget deficits, and still meet the District's Mission Statement?" That Mission Statement states that the Aurelia School District's mission "is to providie a solid foundation of essential skills and an environment of excellence in educational opportunties, so each student will become a life-long learner."

Winterhof then summarized the talks the Board and/or Board committees have had with the Alta and Cherokee Districts over the past couple of years, stating that both Districts offered only "one-way" sharing, and that Alta's proposal also involved a consolidation vote after three years.

The meeting was then broken into five small groups, each of which contained a variety of age groups of both sexes. Groups were asked to consider these questions :

If Aurelia needs to reduce costs, what programs would you cut; With declining enrollment and its effect on the General Fund,will Aurelia be able to maintain an excellent learning experience for the students; How do small enrollments affect the learning environment in High School classes; In High School activities, what is "too small" to be competitive; How would you feel about 9th and 10thgrade students playing for the varsity, and not having Junior Varsity teams.

The groups were asked to take 20-30 minutes to meet and discuss these and any related topics. Following spirited group meetings, the large group reassembled, and heard reports from each group. Several of the groups brought up the possibility of making cuts in Administrative positions, wondering if a school Aurelia's size needs three administartors. They also brought up the question of why the Cherokee and Alta offers were only "one-way," and wondered if either, or both, Districts would be willing to compromise on this issue. The majority of one group's members preferred Alta over Cherokee if the Board decides that sharing is necessary, while another favored Cherokee, and others expressed no preference.

There was some concern over Aurelia students being "lost in the shuffle" when it comes to participating in activities, and all groups wondered about the effect on taxes, especially if sharing is with Alta, which is located in Buena Vista County. Several groups were also concerned with how many of the quality teachers from Aurelia would be offered a chance for employment in a new district.

Some people also expressed concern that quality teachers in Aurelia,seeing no future in Aurelia, would leave the District. One group member, a current student, did not feel that junior varsity athletic teams were necessary.

The subject of just sharing sports was brought up, but it was pointed out that sharing sports is not really a good money-saving idea, given the added costs for transportation and other things. One group spokesman, citing the experience of his High School alma mater, noted that being proud of your school is great, but it is also important not to "stick your head in the sand," or be too stubborn when it comes to making important decisions about the future of the district.

Group members felt that small class size was good, for the most part, because of more individual attention for students. It was also stated that, at the High School level, where students have a choice of whether or not to go out for athletic teams and other activities, declining enrollment may not be the only reason for the inability to field jv teams.

Many people's preference seemed to be to "keep things as they are for as long as possible," citing Aurelia's rich history of quality education and successful alumni. The group also wondered what the status of the Aurelia Foundation is, why Aurelia students open enroll out,and how Aurelia's academic scores compared with those of Alta and Cherokee students

Board President Winterhof again thanked the group for their interest, support, and active participation in the meeting. He stated that the Board would not be making any decisions based on this meeting, but would definitely take the community input into any future decisions which the Board may need to make, He said that the Board "does not have a crystal ball" to know exactly what the future holds for the District, but that there are several trends which they are watching closely, and will continue to do so, so that any decisions made will be made in a timely fashion. As far as a time frame for changes, a subject brought up by many in the crowd, Winterhof said that he felt the Aurelia School District was in "fine shape" financially "for at least 24 months." He also stated that the Board's policy would be to notify students, staff, and the community at least 12 months in advance before any change like sharing actually took place.

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