Fairfield Ledger

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Neighbors Growing Together | Jul 16, 2018

Public inquires into school board seats

By Nicole Major, Ledger staff writer | Jul 19, 2017
Photo by: Nicole Major/Ledger photos Monday night, Ottumwa teacher Kelly Scott asked board members what trials they expected to face in the near future beyond finances and demographics during the Fairfield Community School District’s school board info session held at the Administration/Curriculum/Technology building.

A little more than a dozen community members showed up Monday evening to learn the ins and outs of what it might take to be an elected member of the Fairfield Community School District’s board of directors.

The school board election is Sept. 12, and the deadline to submit nominations is Aug. 3.

“It’s a big responsibility where you listen and learn, and at times we make [decisions],” school board President Phil Miller told the crowd at the start of the meeting. “That’s the way school boards have worked ... it’s one of the best decisions I’ve ever made in my life.”

One by one, each board member shared their personal reasons for wanting to serve on the school board.

“I firmly believe in public education,” said board member Jennifer Anderson, adding that she had served more than one term on the board, and that seeing students graduate was the biggest highlight for her.

Board member Joe Carr, who is a retired school administrator, said that he “felt it was appropriate to give back.”

“I feel like the board has tried to ensure that the best decisions were made,” Carr said, explaining that the board has tried to do the best it could as a district for the long-term.

Miller also explained the time commitment that would be required of school board members.

“When you decide to commit, [it’s] not just show up and do nothing until the next meeting,” Miller said. “There’s studying and reading ... if you have free time, you will have less of it.”

School superintendent Laurie Noll echoed Miller’s comment about commitment. She also spoke about the district’s vision of “Dream, Think, Lead, Act,” and how it has sustained the district for 10 years.

After introductions, board members fielded a variety of questions from audience members concerning issues such as the current district challenges, standardized test scores, graduation rates, declining enrollment and student retention.

Fairfield resident David Sands asked about the challenges that might be facing student achievement.

“Poverty is a challenge,” Miller said. “Teachers are required to do more; some of the kids that come to us require more.”

Paul Miller said more parent involvement was needed.

Anderson mentioned several issues, too, including environment and that fact that all students don’t learn within the same time frame.

However, Anderson said there wasn’t a single answer to that question.

Board members also discussed how demographics made a difference, as well as budget challenges, and replacing teachers who leave with those who provide the same quality of instruction.

Noll said that the board had worked hard and had improved the district’s financial stability by following recommendations and making difficult choices.

She said the district had also seen improvements when it came to infrastructure at the high school, and that more improvements were in the works for this coming school term, such as a new heating and air conditioning system and new lighting at Pence Elementary and improvements to the middle school’s parking lot.

Carr commented on the budget and explained to the group how funds for different projects come out of different funding sources, and that money cannot be used interchangibly from fund to fund.

“We’ve had declining enrollment since 1978,” Carr said, adding that the funding formula wasn’t that different, but the state supplemental aid had changed.

“The state made that change,” he said, explaining that when a district loses students, funding is also lost and that the changes put a lot of stress on rural districts.

Paul Miller agreed.

“We don’t have a lot of control over money in the General Fund,” he said.

Audience member Christie Walsh asked about school graduation rates.

Paul Miller said the state of Iowa has led the nation for two years in a row when it came to graduation rates.

Although several board members said this year’s graduation rates would not be available, last year’s was.

“Even though we’ve had financial challenges, we still have a high graduation rate,” Miller said. adding that it was around the 90th percentile.

Walsh also asked about teacher turnover.

School board member Paul Miller said that turnover was based on “where people are in life.”

He said that those teachers who have established roots in the community were less likely to leave.

“It’s the younger [teachers] who are still putting their families together,” Miller said.

Noll said that teachers who retired early were also included in the turnover rate, and that the district was currently working on a handbook to dispel any fears that teachers might have about it.

Ben Picard asked the board what it was doing to counteract open-enrollment out of the district.

“Enrollment should be up here,” he said. “It seems like a marketing problem.”

Miller said that the demographics had changed, and that when he initially moved to the area, there were hundreds of small farming families with four or five children. He said that there are less babies being born as well.

However, Miller championed the district for the quality of students it produced, such as a recent tennis champ, and the “only kid in state of Iowa” to win an award at the national Future Business Leaders of America Convention.

Board member Warren Schaefer said that there had to be marketing, but that there also had to be jobs and opportunities that needed to be available, too.

“There’s no reason why we can’t be at a point where the student population stabilizes,” Miller said, questioning why people who worked in Fairfield chose to put their kids in other districts.

“It’s not like people are fleeing our district because they are so concerned about it,” Carr said, adding that he did think the district could be marketed better.

Anderson said she also felt that there was a lack of young people in their childbearing years within the district, but that hopefully there would be economic shifting for the better.

She said that was a huge question with an even bigger answer.

But for the district, it was about doing the best it could for every single student.



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