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Charles City School District sees staff turnover in budget-targeted areas

By Travis Fischer,

As the school year ends and the Charles City Community School District prepares for next fall, two specific areas of the district will see an influx of new faces.

Earlier this year, the school’s music program took the spotlight as district administrators said they were forced to make difficult budget cuts. Needing to make up for a $609,000 budget shortfall, the district developed a controversial budget reduction plan that, among other things, reduced one position from the school’s music program.

It was decided that one of six music positions could be reduced, with those responsibilities distributed across the remainder of the staff, without eliminating any of the program offerings.

“Being fiscally responsible with tax dollars, I have to ensure that all of our employees have full-time assignments,” said Superintendent Dr. Anne Lundquist. “Sometimes that means we have to rearrange schedules to make sure that’s the case.”

The teacher’s contract dictated that K-6 music teacher Grace Becker, as the most recent hire in the program, be the position eliminated. Since then, choir instructors Tara Dean and Derek Sturtevant have both resigned, having moved on to opportunities elsewhere. Orchestra instructor Sam Naumann has also given the district notice of resignation, which is expected to be formally approved once he is contracted for a new position.

Lundquist said that Becker was encouraged to apply for one of the newly opened positions, but she had already started looking for jobs closer to her home in Minnesota.

In all, of the district’s six music instructors, band instructors Renee Boss and Jacob Gassman will continue on to next year. They will be joined next year by new choir teachers Katelyn Kluver and Andrew Weber.

As an orchestra instructor, Naumann is proving more difficult to replace on short notice and that position remains open.

“We’re not giving up,” said Lundquist. “We value orchestra and we want that to continue.”

In a related performing arts note, this is also the last year for musical and drama director Michelle Grob, who is retiring this year. Along with being a teacher for the Talented and Gifted program, Grob also dedicated extra time to guiding students to create he fall and spring productions.

“We already have people interested in applying for that position because it’s a lot of fun and the kids are so talented,” said Lundquist.

Coincidently or not, a second area of staff targeted by the budget reduction plan is also seeing a notable amount of turnover. Along with reducing a music position, the budget reduction plan approved in January also called for the elimination of an administration position if necessary to meet budget goals.

Ultimately, that turned out to be unnecessary as turnover among the current administrative staff contributed to overcoming the budget shortfall.

In February, High School Principal Bryan Jurrens announced his resignation effective the end of the year. This was followed in March by the resignation of Associate High School Principal Heather Phillips and Lincoln Elementary Principal Marcia DeVore.

Both Marcia and her husband, Justin DeVore, worked for the district, however Justin’s position as the director of communications was eliminated for next year as part of the budget reduction plan. Both of the DeVores have since accepted jobs in the Oskaloosa School District.

Finally, in April, Washington Elementary Principal Nanette Smith announced her resignation, accepting a position closer to her home in Mason City.

Of the district’s administrative staff, middle school Principal Joe Taylor and Associate Principal Dana Sullivan will remain for next year.

Joseph Carney and Danny Phipps will take the lead as principals of Washington and Lincoln Elementary, respectively. Jeromiah Bliss will start as the new high school principal, with associate Susan Johnson.

Between new hires coming into the district and productive negotiations with the teacher’s association, the district met its budget reduction goal without needing to eliminate an administrative position, Lundquist said.

“They were willing to be prudent in their settlement, knowing that we were in a budget reduction year,” said Lundquist. “Our association truly are interest-based problem solvers and are willing to come to the table and compromise, making decisions with an interest-based approach.”

Outside of the music and administration divisions, Lundquist said turnover for the district has been otherwise normal for the 300-plus employees as staff are encouraged to go into early retirement to put less strain on the general fund while others find higher paying jobs elsewhere and, in some cases, take a spouse that also works for the district with them.

“Career advancement is hard to say no to when it’s a good fit,” said Lundquist. “I don’t see it as particularly unusual.”

Going into next year, the district has had little trouble filling vacancies themselves, recently filling a difficult-to-find high school science position and finally filling staffing needs for physical education, she said. Along with a new orchestra instructor, the district is still on the hunt for a special educator teacher and TAG instructor.

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