R-A moves forward in talks with G-T

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Prior to their regular monthly meeting, the Ruthven-Ayrshire school board offered members of the community an update regarding the potential sharing agreement with Graettinger-Terril Community Schools.

At last week's combined board meeting, Ruthven-Ayrshire anticipated approaching the community with the possibility of a one-way sharing agreement for grades 7-12. They had set a baseline tuition percentage of 80 percent, subject to change.

In the past week, however, Graettinger-Terril approached Ruthven-Ayrshire with an alternate proposal: A one-way sharing agreement for grades 9-12, with a tuition percentage of 65 percent. This agreement, however, would not include any additional programming, such as Ruthven-Ayrshire's industrial technology program.

In addition, a Ruthven-Ayrshire sub-committee had started talking with Emmetsburg Community Schools about the possibility of a partial-day share. In the partial-day option, grades 9-10 would spend three periods of the day and grades 11-12 would spend four periods of the day at Emmetsburg. The tuition percentage for this option would be 50 percent.

"From the beginning, we saw five ultimate options," Ruthven-Ayrshire Superintendent Andrew Woiwood said. "We could enter into a two-way sharing agreement, a one-way sharing agreement, a partial-day sharing agreement. Either that, or we face reorganization or disillusionment."

The board offered three options to the community. One option was to do nothing, to try to stay solely Ruthven-Ayrshire.

"After Fiscal Year 2014, our unspent balance is in the negative," Woiwood said. "After two years in the negative, we run the risk of the state coming and closing the school down for not being financially viable."

The second option is to enter into a one-way sharing agreement with Graettinger-Terril schools. Should the board decide this option, all high school students who would have attended Ruthven-Ayrshire would attend Graettinger-Terril.

"A one-way 9-12 share works financially, but we hadn't informed the public," Woiwood said. "In our projections, we try to work with realistic numbers so that we can have a good idea of our situation."

One community concern was the amount of sacrifice Ruthven-Ayrshire would make in this agreement in comparison to Graettinger-Terril. In order for this option to work financially, Graettinger-Terril needs to cut about $400,000 from their budget. Ruthven-Ayrshire needs to cut about $150,000 from their budget, additional to the cost savings of losing the high school.

Woiwood noted that he couldn't "speak for Graettinger-Terril," but assured the community the school would make reductions where they are needed.

"How are we in this position now, when in May we were told that the school was 'fine for the next five years?'" A community member asked.

Ruthven-Ayrshire is one of the smallest preschool-twelfth grade schools in the state. The enrollment, down 100 students in the past 14 years, has one of the largest effects on the school's unspent balance. While the amount of cash the school received increased, the spending authority remained the same.

"You can't tax your way to more spending authority," Woiwood said.

The state's formula regarding spending authority is based on the enrollment, and was created to maintain equality between districts, and function as a credit line to the school,: about $6000 per student enrolled.

"The problem with a student-driven formula is that it doesn't account for declined enrollment," Larry Sigel, with the Iowa Schools Finance Information Services, said. "Yet, when we look at overall impact on a school's finances, enrollment is the No. 1 driver."

"If we had about 20 extra students per year, or if we'd been given 4% allowable growth for the last several years, we wouldn't be in the position we are now," Woiwood said.

The third option is to enter into a partial-day sharing agreement with Emmetsburg Community Schools. This agreement would allow Ruthven-Ayrshire high school students to maintain their home-school identity, though it would increase the amount of transportation and force Ruthven-Ayrshire to balance the schedule between three different schools.

Ruthven-Ayrshire is currently in its first year of an athletic sharing agreement with Graettinger-Terril. If they shared with Emmetsburg academically, student athletes would attend Emmetsburg for half of the school day, attend Ruthven-Ayrshire for half of the school day, then practice or compete alongside Graettinger-Terril students as a G-T/R-A Titan.

One community member questioned the need to maintain two athletic facilities for one combined team. The board noted that the decision to maintain the facilities was made to retain the identity of Ruthven-Ayrshire students.

Should the board decide to move forward on their own, the unspent balance will fall into the negatives by Fiscal Year 2014. Both sharing agreements give the district another three to four years with a positive balance.

"It's not insignificant," Sigel said. "It buys time to see the future. At this point, they have the most control because they have not yet been in the negative."

A whole-grade sharing agreement requires a board approval on or before Feb. 1, with a public hearing 30 days prior to the final decision. A partial-day sharing agreement does not require a timeline.

The board, at the end of their discussion, voted unanimously both to counter Graettinger-Terril's proposal and to continue discussion with Emmetsburg. Graettinger-Terril proposed to share at the high school level, with a tuition rate of 65 percent, which would not allow them to add any new programming. Ruthven-Ayrshire's counter-proposal lowers the tuition rate to 50 percent and adds the industrial technology program to the course offerings.

"There's still a lot of work that needs to be done, and a lot of decisions that need to be made," Woiwood said.

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