Thursday, January 30, 2014

Rural Schools Fighting For Their Future -

Claire Powell
More than 30 rural school leaders are standing up to lawmakers on issues they say needs fixed in rural school districts.
Twenty-four schools have disappeared, consolidated or relocated since 2008. More are heading that direction in coming years.
"There's a great amount of fear, there's a great amount of tension," said Joel Davis, Coon Rapids-Bayard School Board President and co-chair of Rural Schools Advocacy of Iowa.
Rural schools all across the state, like Coon Rapids- Bayard, are facing declining enrollment and thinning budgets. They have a total of 400 pre-K-12 students, but have lost 50 students in the past three years.
"When you have declining enrollment, you have to look at cost saving measures," said Brent Jorth, Principal of the 6-12 grades.
The school district has closed an elementary and another school building to combine K-12 into one connected facility. School leaders said this was an effort to cut costs in transportation, faculty and utility costs.
Still, the enrollment is declining and programs are being hurt. The state aid funds are based off of school enrollment numbers, and when the numbers are decreasing, funds disappear.
"It becomes frustrating when we talk about education being number one priority in Iowa and we feel like we're being shortchanged," said Superintendent Rich Stoffers. "That impacts programs, that impacts teachers and staffing and bottom line is it may negatively impact student achievement."
They next major budget issue is transportation costs. There three rural routes can travel anywhere between 25-40 miles round trip just to get kids to school.
"Some districts are driving 10 miles total. We're driving ten miles just to get to the first place," said Davis.
If a bus needs repairs, that expense is covered by general funds which are supposed to be used for educational purposes. Another option is consolidation, but it doesn't make any sense for Coon Rapids-Bayard because they're twenty minutes away from the closest district.
"We have students who travel an hour to get to school, so when you look at consolidating, we're really geographically isolated," said Jorth.
That's just one school out of the hundreds that Rural School Advocacy of Iowa group hopes to bring attention to. They say that staying silent isn't an option anymore and that legislators need to hear their concerns.
"In the past we've been trying to sing our own praises and tell our own story, but now since we've organized, we have a collective voice," said Jorth.
"I think we've been too quiet for too long. We need to start speaking out on behalf of our kids because that's what it about. It's about our kids, about learning and out here in rural Iowa, we want fair, quality, equitable education," said Davis.
Davis believes the RSAI could see 50 school districts join within the next month and hopes to grow to over 100 in the future. They're planning on hiring a lobbyist to represent them in front of legislatures and will continue to work with local representatives to push the issue. 

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

New Group Forms to Advocate for Rural Schools -

PRINGVILLE, Iowa - School leaders of smaller districts across the state are taking a stand.

They've formed a group called Rural School Advocates of Iowa.

District representatives just started meeting this month, but they’re already getting to work.

It's pretty quiet after school in the hallways of the Springville school district. Other than basketball practice, most of the district's 350 students have gone home.

But behind the scenes school leaders are working on a project of their own.

"Our purpose is to speak up for children in rural school districts, to make sure they get a fair, quality and equal education,” said Springville School Board President Lee Ann Grimley.

The Rural School Advocates of Iowa are taking their mission straight to the statehouse. They're pushing for legislative support that strengthens rural education. Springville's board president and superintendent are both taking part in the new initiative.

"I'm hoping we can get a true understanding of legislators that just because we are small, doesn't mean we are an inferior school -- not at all,” said Springville Community Schools Superintendent Brian Ney.

The group has a list of concerns to discuss with law makers.

"Transportation costs, operational sharing costs, flexibility in some of the funds that we operate, those kinds of things hit us maybe a little bit harder than bigger school districts do," Grimley said.

The Springville school leaders said rural districts drive farther to pick up students. That cost isn't easy to cover under current funding rules.

"We want enough money to fund the school is what we want to do,” Superintendent Ney said.

The group is just getting started, but its members are already making trips to Des Moines to stay on top of all the issues.

The group said it may eventually hire someone to help them lobby for their issues at the State Capitol. Their goal is to eventually get representatives from at least 30 small districts involved.

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Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Minutes of the RSAI January Organizational Meeting - January 18, 2014 at Prairie Meadows Conference Center

Minutes of the RSAI January Organizational Meeting
January 18, 2014 at Prairie Meadows Conference Center

The meeting was called to order at 10 a.m. by Steering Committee Chair Bob Olson.
Thirty-three schools (33) were represented at the meeting.  Also, in attendance as observers were Tom Downs and Galen Howsare from IASB; and Larry Sigel and Margaret Buckton from ISFIS.

           Approve Proposed Rules for Organizational Meeting
 A motion was made by Karleen Stephens, Second by Brad Breon to approve the proposed rules for the Organizational Meeting.  Motion carried.
            Discuss, Amend and Ratify By-Laws
Discussion was held and action was taken on the following amendments.
Organizational Name - Motion by LeeAnn Grimley, Second by Jeff Hiser to adopt the organizational name as Rural School Advocates of Iowa.  Motion carried

Mission statement -  Motion by Jeff Hiser, Second by Brad Breon to approve the amended Mission Statement as follows - Rural School Advocates of Iowa will  advocate for students in rural schools to assure a fair, equal, and quality education.  Motion carried.

Motion by Dwight Widen, Second by Jennifer Varallas to approve all by-laws including amendments.  Motion carried.

            District organizational meetings were held and the following were selected
A.  RSAI District Representative to serve a term as defined in the by-laws
Southwest - Gregg Cruickshank/Sidney and South Page Superintendent
Northeast - LeeAnn Grimley/Springville Board President
Southeast - Brad Breon/Seymour and Moravia Superintendent
Northwest - Bob Olson/Clarion-Goldfield-Dows Superintendent

B.  RSAI Legislative Representative
Southwest - Jeff Hiser/Shenandoah Superintendent
Northeast - Michelle Arneson/Nashua Plainfield Principal/Curriculum Director
Southeast - Tom Rembe/Seymour Board Member
Northwest - to be filled

C. At-Large Representatives - will serve on the Leadership Group and as liaisons to Legislative Representatives
Joel Davis/Coon Rapids-Bayard Board President - 2 year term
Brian Rodenburg/Midland Superintendent - 3 year term
Kevin Fiene/East Sac County Superintendent - 1 year term

Motion by Gregg Cruickshank, second by Jeff Hiser to approve the appointments.  Motion carried.

Legislative Priorities - discussion was held as a group on legislative priorities.  Priorities brought to the attention of the group for further consideration were.

Transportation - a cost equalization formula per pupil.
Management Fund - eliminating the caps based on age and using Management to fund School Business Officials.
PPEL and SAVE - providing for greater flexibility for uses.
Local referendums - expanding the funding of the Instructional Support Levy through local referendum.
Allowable growth/supplemental state aid - calling for 4 - 6% for 2015/16 and setting the number within the first 30 days of the legislative session.
Operational Sharing - early clarification on funding.
Drop out prevention - review the formula and provide greater flexibility.
Open enrollment - only send state aid portion to receiving schools.

A Google survey will be developed to prioritize legislative initiatives and will be taken under consideration by the Legislative Representatives and At-Large Representatives.
Authorization of RSAI Leadership Council          
Motion by Joel Davis, second by Jim Sandy to authorize the RSAI Leadership Council to take all steps necessary to form an organization according to the by-laws, subject to law.  Motion carried.

Next steps/other business
            The organization website was shared:
            Dues will be set at no more than $1,000 per district.
            Put board approval for membership on your district’s next agenda.
            Get Legislative Representatives organized and set priorities.
            Share job description for a lobbyist.
            Mass email to all districts of 1250 and less that the organization exists.
            January 22 Joel Davis and Gregg Cruickshank will meet with IASB.
            Leadership Council webinar scheduled for January 24 at 9:30 a.m.

Respectfully submitted
Gregg Cruickshank - Steering Committee Secretary

Rural School Advocates Missed You

All Interested-Quick Update;

We are pleased to announce the creation of the “Rural School Advocates of Iowa”.  RSAI will advocate for students in rural schools to assure a fair, equal, and quality education.  Member schools will collaborate to promote legislation that strengthens rural education for students, by;
1.  Educating others about the value of rural education to the state’s economy and future of Iowa as an educational leader in the nation and the world;
2.  Building the capacity and understanding of other groups with similar interests on legislative and educational issues to build a stronger voice;
3.  Securing adequate resources, academic and financial, to provide first class educational opportunities for rural students; and
4.  Maintaining local control through the flexibility and authority of locally elected School Boards.

The Legislative Group is working on the final list of Legislative Priorities which will be sent out to all interested districts for their vote in the week ahead.  Our search for a Professional Advocate is already underway.  In addition, Board materials are being developed and the website ( is being updated to assist in explaining RSAI’s Mission, Vision, list of Legislative Priorities and the benefits of membership for rural schools. 

We are asking that each Board place membership in RSAI on its next Board Agenda.  Please remember, that 100% of dues collected will go to pay for a Lobbyist representing our issues at the Capitol.  We cannot set dues until the Lobbyist is retained, so we are suggesting that in your Board action approving membership, you set a limit of $1,000 in dues.  Dues will not be collected until the necessary legal and financial frameworks are in place.

If you feel that it would be helpful for a member of the Leadership Group to introduce RSAI to your Board, please let us know and we will try our best to get someone there.  For further information, please contact any of the Leadership Group:
                Brad Breon, Moravia/Seymour, Supt,
                Gregg Cruickshank, Sidney/South Page, Supt,
                Joel Davis, Coon Rapids-Bayard, Board President,
                Kevin Fiene, East Sac, Supt,
                Lee Ann Grimley, Springville, Board President,
                Robert Olson, Clarion-Goldfield/Dows, Supt,
                Brian Rodenberg, Midland, Supt,

Much Thanks,
Joel Davis