Coping with the Governor's recent statewide, 10-percent across-the-board budget cut, approving a resolution increasing the District's Instructional Support Program levy (ISP), and the possibility of a flu pandemic dominated much of the discourse at Cherokee's regular Board of Education meeting Monday night.
Superintendent Dr. John Chalstrom told the Board that the District's 2009-2010 K-12 enrollment certified October 1 is 971 students, a drop of 30 students from last year due mostly to a large senior graduating class weighed against the incoming kindergarten class. The enrollment is expected to adjust upward beginning next year, according to Chalstrom.
The dwindling enrollment that all rural Iowa schools face, coupled with Governor Chet Culver's 10-percent budget cut, has seriously impacted all Iowa school districts, with that tandem blow totaling an estimated $492,000 shortfall in state aid payment for the Cherokee District.
Chalstrom explained that the District still has its spending authority to spend what was budgeted, but doesn't have the cash. This means districts can draw on their reserves if necessary.
"It could be worse," noted Chalstrom. "We (District) have a healthy unspent balance and that's a credit to this Board and past Boards and Administration. These are tumultuous times for the economy. If we draw on our reserves too much, in the future we could be facing a cash reserve levy to build back our reserves."
Chalstrom also said a keen eye will be kept on any District purchases until this economic storm passes, including delaying scheduled purchases and not filling any positions that might open.
Regarding the fears surrounding the well-publicized H1N1 flu and a possible pandemic, Chalstrom reported that the District is experiencing a 15-percent absenteeism at Roosevelt Elementary and similar numbers at the Cherokee Middle School.
"Washington High School is not as bad," said Chalstrom, who added that if a school building reaches 30-percent absenteeism due to illness, that it would be under consideration to close that building until the absenteeism subsided. "Basically, we're seeing flu-like symptoms and upper respiratory issues," said Chalstrom.
The District has a flu pandemic program worked out in close association with the Public Health and the Cherokee Regional Medical Center.
The Board approved an ISP resolution of participation during a Public Hearing on the matter before the regular Board meeting.
The District's existing ISP calls for 4.5-percent levy and that will be raised to 8-percent with Monday night's action.
A school district may establish an ISP for up to five years to provide additional funding in the General Fund not to exceed 10-percent of the regular program District cost. The ISP is funded by either all property tax, or a combination of property tax and income surtax. That revenue may be expended for any purpose allowed from the General Fund, but cannot be used to supplant funding authorized to be received for returning dropout and dropout prevention programs, gifted and talented programs, PPEL levy, Management levy, or special education deficits.
The Cherokee District has participated in the ISP for several years and those monies at 4.5-percent ($196,000) have been used annually for curriculum, technology needs, and funding the K-12 vocal and instrumental music programs.
Chalstrom said in light of increased costs of curriculum and technology, the 4.5-percent is no longer adequate. The proposed 8-percent ISP levy would generate an estimated $152,750 additional, which would cost a household an estimated additional $33 per year.
In light of all the doom and gloom regarding the economy and budget cuts, Chalstrom also told the Board the District must act soon on repairing or replacing the lights at George Hicks Field used for football games and track and field meets.
The existing lights are more than 50 years old and the poles are 90-plus feet high and hard to access for the few people still doing that kind of work, said Chalstrom, who had a representative from MUSCO Lighting in Muscatine recently inspect the lights.
Chalstrom said the Cherokee lights are irreparable and are rated at about 15-18 candlepower and should be 40 candlepower. Also, new poles are 40-feet high and easier to work on. MUSCO told Chalstrom that the six existing poles could be replaced with four new poles and today's lighting is much more energy efficient that would save the District considerable money in the future.
"We're on borrowed time," said Chalstrom, who gave no cost estimates for any new lighting.
Chalstrom also said the proposed seating renovation for the WHS baseball and softball fields also needs to be addressed.
In other action, the Board accepted the resignation of Tiffany Voge as special education associate at Roosevelt Elementary, accepted the resignation of Ray Gallagher as custodian at WHS, and accepted the resignation effective dec. 22 of special education instructor and student council sponsor Teri Hockenson, who is relocating.