Journal Express, Knoxville, IA

May 17, 2013

Higher costs are in Knoxville Schools' future

By Steve Woodhouse Editor
The Journal Express

---- — The Knoxville School Board, in trying to prepare for the future, looked at figures prepared by Business Manager Craig Mobley regarding enrollment and possible available funding. Looking at the figures provided, Superintendent Randy Flack said the district will likely have to look at more cuts, sharing and retirement incentives in the future. He suggested retirement incentives could be offered next year, as several staff members will be eligible.

The board has not spent much time discussing revenue increases, though there may be some more revenue available. The Legislature has extended a program that allows districts to “weight” their official enrollment if they share a position with another district. For instance, Knoxville shares a teacher librarian with Pleasantville. Because of this, funding the equivalent of 40 students becomes available to Knoxville.

Flack said he intends to look into other ways to share. He has been in communication with other superintendents, and all of them are exploring these options as well.

“I’m not sure what we’ll find,” Flack said. “All the schools are interested in whatever we could find.”

Knoxville already shares staff with other districts. At Monday’s meeting, sharing was expanded when the board approved an agreement with Pella to share a Nutrition Services Director. Connie Boldt holds this position and is already serving Knoxville and Melcher-Dallas. The agreement with Pella should not impact the one with Melcher-Dallas.

Flack told the board that menu requirements, handed down from the federal government, are becoming more “complicated all the time.” This includes meals for adults.

Federal health care mandates will present new challenges and costs to the district. After Jan. 1, 2014, the district will see an 11 percent increase in health care costs. The increase would have been 14 percent, if the board did not choose to change its insurance company. These services will be taken over by the Mercer Educational Trust, a Wellmark initiative.

Rules associated with the health care law will also make it difficult for the district to provide coverage for those employees who average between 30-34 hours a week.

“There are some issues we’re going to have to look at,” Mobley said.

There is also a stipulation that charges employers $3,000 per employee whose health care costs are greater than 9.5 percent of their gross monthly income. The law gives employers a “pass”on up to 30 employees who fall within this gap. As of now, the district may be able to avoid any penalties because fewer than 30, employed by the district, fall into this area.

The discussion of the future also included possible enrollment numbers. If enrollment increases are seen, and changes in averages per grade occur, the district may have to again realign the use of its buildings. Grade levels among the buildings may be shifted.

In another plan for the future, Matt Heston, KHS Math Teacher, was appointed to the Governor’s STEM advisory council, focused on setting goals for science, technology, engineering and math education into the future. Heston provided a brief report to the board.

“I’ve learned quite a bit,” Heston told the board. He is serving on the committee’s licensure subcommittee. This group has established education levels for teaching engineering. It is the one area the entire group has been able to reach a consensus. A recommendation will be made to the State Board of Educational Examiners. The four endorsements included in the recommendation are:

• 5-8 STEM Endorsement

• K-12 STEM Specialist

• K-8 STEM Endorsement

• Career and Technical License. For this one, a professional engineer can follow a path to become a teacher.