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School district receives additional COVID-19 funds from state

By James Grob,

The Charles City School District received a little more money Monday to help with COVID-19 relief.

At Monday’s meeting, the Charles City Board of Education adopted a resolution authorizing the expenditure of the Governor’s Emergency Education relief grant (GEER) for the 2020-21 school year.

Superintendent Mike Fisher told the board that the district had previously received money from the CARES act from the federal government in the amount of about $281,000.

On top of that relief, the program announced by Gov. Kim Reynolds recently allotted $86,400 to Charles City, although Fisher said there were tight restrictions on how the additional funds could be used.

“This money can only be used for internet connectivity and purchase of devices to help students who might be in digital or remote learning,” Fisher said.

The Iowa Department of Education made the money available to districts to increase connectivity for students in preschool through 12th grade for the 2020-21 school year, beginning on Sept. 1. Districts may only use GEER funds to lease hotspots, provide a discount on broadband internet service to student households with need, or loan devices to qualifying households.

If all funds cannot be spent on connectivity, it may be spent on devices to ensure that students can access content when they are learning away from school. The GEER funding budget includes $13,765 for connectivity and $72,635 for devices.

Fisher said that money left over after the district had set up internet hot spots would go to devices. The district will amend the recent Chromebook lease with HP financing to purchase some of its new Chromebooks using GEER funds.

Also on Monday, the board heard a recommendation from the recently-established conference realignment committee. The committee was charged with looking into the possibility of Charles City athletics leaving the Northeast Iowa Conference and either forming a new conference or joining a different conference.

Chris Rygh of Long View Facilitation, Activities Director Todd Forsyth and several Charles City student-athletes who were on the committee told the board they recommended Charles City leave the NEIC and form a new conference.

Fisher told the board that he had been in contact with more than 10 other school districts with similar values to Charles City, and all were interested in forming a new conference. He said that the process would take at least two years.

No official action was taken at Monday’s meeting regarding the issue. Fisher said the official plan would be presented in detail to the board at a future meeting.

Also on Monday, the board heard an update from Fisher on the strategic plan that will create board goals for the district, and unanimously approved the plan.

One part of the strategic plan included improvement goals on the state-reported comprehensive school assessments. Fisher said the long-range goal was that by the year 2021, 85% of students in grades K-4 will score at or above benchmark on the FAST assessments.

The short range goal was to increase to 70% of K-4 students at or above benchmark on the FAST Assessment by the spring. In the spring of 2019, 57% of K-4 students scored at or above benchmark on the FAST.

Fisher also explained the school district’s equity partnership agreement with the Storm Lake Community School District, which the board unanimously approved.

The two districts have entered into a formal partnership to collaborate with resources, knowledge and support to actively address inequity and bias “to be the systemic change for a better future.”

Fisher said both districts have a mission, vision and values based on equity for all students and are committed to equitable outcomes by identifying inequity, removing inequity and cultivating equity to ensure all children have access to the life and learning they deserve.

In other business on Monday, Director of Finance Terri O’Brien provided the board with a summary of the 2019-20 certified annual financial report. The board unanimously approved the report as submitted.

O’Brien explained that the general fund undesignated fund balance was $1,590,997 in 2019, compared to $1,257,987 in 2020 — a 20.9% decrease. Total fund balance is made up of categorical and committed funds reserved for a specific purpose and carried over from year to year and undesignated/unrestricted fund balance.

Total general fund revenues for the year were $18,578,864, an increase of 2.1%. Of those revenues, local taxes saw a 0.9% increase, tuition and other local sources saw a 1.9% decrease, tuition in revenue saw and increase of 22.3%, interest income decreased 57%, there was a 4.7% increase in revenue from state sources, an 11.3% decrease in revenue from federal sources, and Medicaid income decreased by 40%.

O’Brien said that general fund expenditures increased by $773,785 or 4.27%. Salaries increased 5.53% and benefits increased 7.92%, and combined salary/benefit increased 6.1%. Other Expenses decreased 3.8%. O’Brien said that salaries and benefits are 83.0% of total general fund expenses, up from 81.5%.

In other action Monday, the district appointed members to the School Improvement Advisory Committee (SIAC), as required by Iowa Code. The committee consists of members representing students, parents, teachers, administrators, and representatives from the local community, which may include representatives of business, industry, labor, community agencies, higher education or other community constituents.

The 2020-21 committee consists of parents Brandi Johnson, Veronica Litterer, Thad Johnson and James Cavanaugh; staff members Katelyn Stultz, Michelle Williams, Dave Bahe and Sandy Thomson; community members Carter Melrose and Kris Wegner; administrators Mike Fisher and Kara Shannon and Immaculate Conception teacher Katie Jarvill.

As part of the annual meeting, the board also nominated and accepted members Josh Mack and Pat Rottinghaus as school board president and vice-president for the 2020-21 school year. The board also named O’Brien as the district secretary and treasurer for 2020-21. Each officer was administered the official oath of office.

In other business on Monday, the board:
• Named Marcia DeVore as the District’s Level I Investigator for Allegations of Abuse of Students by School Staff for the 2020-21 school year. The Level II investigator is a liaison from the local police department.
• Approved the resignation of Kady Korbel, 9th-grade softball coach, effective Sept. 14.
• Approved the resignation of Brenda Bailey, assistant CCHS speech director, effective Sept. 4.
• Accepted the August 2020 financial reports as presented by Terri O’Brien, director of finance.
• Heard a presentation from O’Brien regarding the June 30 affidavits of school depositories.
• Appointed Ahlers & Cooney as district legal counsel for 2020-21.
• Named the Charles City Press​ as the District’s official publication.