Five things to know from the April 2 STC School Board meeting

Janelle Pirkl.

South Tama will welcome in a Director of Curriculum this summer as schools all over Iowa prepare for upcoming changes to the state’s Area Education Agencies (AEAs).

Under the most recent education bill signed by Gov. Kim Reynolds on March 27, schools will be given control over 10 percent of special education funds that previously went directly to AEA organizations. Additionally, the bill will give full control over the funding that previously went to AEA organizations for media services and general education services.

South Tama opened up a curriculum director position last month in anticipation that the legislative changes to the AEA would require current Director of Curriculum and Student Services Samantha Peska to take on more special education duties for the district that had previously been offered by the AEA.

At their regular meeting on Tuesday, April 2, the South Tama County Board of Education approved the hiring of Janelle Pirkl as the new Director of Curriculum at South Tama.

Pirkl will begin work at South Tama on July 1 and was hired at a salary of $97,000.

Pirkl, who is from the Gilman area, currently works as a School Improvement Consultant for Central Rivers Area Education Agency (AEA). In her work as a consultant, she serves AEA Region 11 which includes South Tama County along with five other districts including East Marshall, Grinnell, BGM, Montezuma and GMG.

Prior to her time with Central Rivers AEA, Pirkl worked as an educator and administrator at East Marshall schools for a number of years. She served as the middle school principal there from 2018 to 2021.

Sound system project

A project to replace a 20-year old sound system at the high school gym is a little bit closer to the finish line this month. During their most recent meeting the South Tama school board accepted a donation from Iowa Premium of $5,000 toward the project.

The current sound system was first installed at the Roundhouse in 2004. But in recent years, it’s become clear that the system is in need of an upgrade as one of the overhead speakers and one of the amplifiers have completely gone out.

During the fall semester, the high school received three bids for the sound system project with the lowest coming in around $47,000.

High School Activities Director Chelsea Ahrens launched a fundraising campaign to seek out local support that could help offset the unexpected high cost of the project.

Ahrens reported that donations from local businesses and families have raised roughly 50 percent of the total cost. However with the recent failure of the Physical Plant and Equipment Levy (PPEL) vote, the district is having to reassess the timing of the project.

Grant seeks accessible swings

The board also approved to send a grant request to the state’s 5-2-1-0 Healthy Choices program this month. The grant, which was prepared by Elementary Assistant Principal Kris Collins, seeks $6,000 for two swing sets to be installed on the elementary playground.

Should the grant be awarded, the swing equipment would be located within the preschool playground area which currently does not have a swing set.

One of the proposed sets would be handicap accessible and would allow all students the opportunity to build their sensory skills through outdoor play. Using this type of swing set would help kids stay upright against gravity, allowing them to develop stronger balance, equilibrium and coordination.

Risk pool discussed

Superintendent John Cain made the board aware that the district was looking into a risk pool financing solution for its natural gas bills.

The program is offered through a private third party company and according to Cain is already being utilized by 155 other school districts around the state.

Under the risk pool program, South Tama would pay the company a fixed lump sum payment that would be used to pay their natural gas bill over the course of the year.

The proposed benefit would be to have a stabilized amount to budget for natural gas in the upcoming year. If the school’s natural gas usage were to spike in the event of something like an abnormally cold winter, the district would still only pay the fixed amount to the company.

Cain said another reason many districts have moved toward the risk pool financing option for their natural gas services is that it allows them to shift that budget item to their management fund instead of the general fund.

Increased flexibility with the general fund may be needed in future years as the district works to keep its facilities maintained without the support of a voter-approved PPEL levy.

The board took no action on the natural gas financing topic at the April 2 meeting. Cain said he would be contacting some of the schools that currently use the risk pool program to get their feedback about how it’s been working.

Staff tech upgrades

South Tama Information Technology Coordinator Mary Mixdorf presented a proposal to the board that would update most of the laptops and iPads that are being used by staff.

Mixdorf reported that the laptops the principals, teachers and other certified staff are using are between five to seven years old, while the desktop computers being used by district secretaries are 10 years old.

The quote from Apple to purchase 175 new computers at a cost of $163,257 was approved by the board.

Funding for the new computers will come entirely from the district’s remaining COVID-19 relief grant that had previously been earmarked for technology upgrades. Mixdorf also said that some of the old devices will be retained to be used for substitutes or student teachers and that the rest will be sold to a reseller. Mixdorf hopes to recoup between $20,000 and $40,000 from the reseller buyback.

In other board news,

Cain updated the board on the status of open positions within the district for both this school year and next. At the time of the meeting on April 2 the district had 20 openings, which included 12 positions for the 2024-25 school year and eight for the current year.

At the midway point of the 2023-24 second semester, the most pressing staff needs are paraeducators at the elementary and a head varsity coach for the baseball team.

The board approved the following personnel hires: John Loos, 7-12 Music Teacher; Jayden Terrill, Health/Physical Education Teacher; Shawn Arey, bus driver; Carlie Herdlicka, assistant middle school boys soccer coach.

The board approved the following resignations: Chris Drummer, high school football and wrestling cheerleading coach; Rashell Mendoza, high school paraeducator and concession manager; Irene Benda, transportation paraeducator and Kerry Kucera, elementary kitchen staff.

An invoice to Garling Construction for the middle school project was approved in the amount of $1,176,929.82. The board received only one bread bid for the 2024-25 school year, which was accepted from Pan-O-Gold.

In an update on the district’s budget restructuring efforts for next year, Cain said he anticipates the full plan to be ready for a board vote at their upcoming meeting on Monday, April 15.