Friday, August 28, 2015

Reflections

Recently I passed my first anniversary as superintendent of North Butler Community Schools. As I reflect upon the past year, there have been some difficult issues, but I am very excited about the things that we have accomplished and the direction we are going.

In September, we were all shocked to find that the district had overspent its budget for the second straight year. As a result of that discovery, the board and administration quickly took action to attempt to get the district on the road to recovery. Since that time we have reevaluated all spending, to ensure that all expenditures are coming from the proper accounts, and that all purchases are approved prior to ordering.

The board has had to make some very difficult decisions. Please understand that when decisions are made, we have to look at what is in the best interest of all of our students within the North Butler Community Schools. There are currently over 700 students being served by the North Butler Community Schools.

Through the course of the reductions that we have been forced to make over the past year, we have also been able to add programs, while still reducing costs. One of the biggest and best things that we have done is to add academic interventionists in both buildings by shifting personnel around. This will allow us to better target the individual needs of students who may struggle in one area or another, while allowing the classroom teacher to still provide fantastic instruction to the rest of the class. We will also be able to have more time for our Talented and Gifted teacher to work with students, as she will not have to spend time traveling.

North Butler also received a grant through the Governor’s STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) Scale-Up program. This has allowed us to bring Project Lead the Way (PLTW) to the Junior High. Project Lead the Way is one of the premier engineering programs in the country, and for North Butler students this currently includes a class in Design and Modeling, and another in Automation and Robotics. Our sincere hope is that as we get the district back to a more stable financial footing that we will be able to expand our PLTW offerings into the High School in order to provide our students a better experience in the areas where there is a higher need.

The technology that we provide our students at North Butler is among the best in Iowa. Our 7-12 grade students are 1-1 with MacBooks, 5th and 6th grade are 1-1 with Chromebooks, 3rd and 4th grade are 1-1 with I Pads, and PK-2 have accessibility to both I Pads and MacBooks for use in the classroom. We are working to ensure that each classroom has a projector, and we are continually working to increase the ability of our teachers to have access to training so that they can make better use of the technologies available to them.

Over the past year we have also made improvements to our facilities. Through the assistance of the community group who raised money for the athletic complex, we have been able to install an 8 lane all weather track, handicapped parking, seating and restrooms at the athletic complex. This is a wonderful addition to the facility and provides accessibility for everyone in our communities. Other improvements that we have made include blacktopping the parking lot at Allison so that teachers, staff, parents and grandparents will no longer have to walk through mud to get to the building; an age and size appropriate playground for our preschool that includes pieces that allow it to be used within the curriculum; video cameras in both buildings to provide security for the district and safety for our students; and eight new school busses for our everyday routes, as we were running very old equipment down the road when I arrived to North Butler, and this has already begun to save us money in repair bills.

Throughout the course of the last year, we have discovered that the curriculum in the district has not been renewed in many years, other than math. This past year, neither of the elementary schools nor the middle school was able to meet Adequate Yearly Progress as measured by the state in the area of reading. As we looked we discovered that the reading curriculum was more than 10 years old, and as such does not meet the Iowa Core Standards. Due to the decisions that have been made and the actions that have been taken, we believe that we are now in a place where we can set up a rotation so that our curriculum can be replaced on a regular basis, as it should be.

Currently we are projecting that we finished Fiscal Year 15 with a positive unspent balance. We will know more about exactly where we finished the year when our annual audit is completed, and our Certified Annual Report for the Department of Education is completed on September 15th. As I have stated before, a school district our size should have an unspent balance of $750,000 to $1.25 Million, so as you can see we still have a long way to go, but we are definitely headed in the right direction.

As always, please feel free to contact me should you have any questions!

It’s Great To Be A Bearcat!


Joel Foster, Superintendent.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Special Board Meeting 8-18-15

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North Butler Community Schools
Special Board Meeting Tuesday August 18, 2015, 6:30 PM
North Butler High School - Media Center, Greene

1.     Call to Order
2.     Review and Approve Agenda
3.     Discuss/Action on Bids for Elementary
4.     Approve Elem student handbook
5.     Approve Elem faculty handbook
6.     Human Resources
7.     Adjournment


Next Meeting Monday September 14, 2015, 6:30 PM NB Elementary Media Center, Allison.


Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Air Quality Test-North Butler Elementary

Air Quality Test-North Butler Elementary

Summer Lunch Program


North Butler Community Schools is very happy to announce that our summer lunch program was a success. We served 2185 meals during our summer lunch program. Over the 44 days that the program was active we served an average of 49.65 meals per day.

During the month of June 1227 meals were served. This was an average of 55.7 per day. The month of July saw 958 meals served. This was an average of 43.5 meals per day.

This program provides a very needed service in our communities, and we are hopeful that we will be able to expand the program into Allison for the summer of 2016.


Thank you to all who participated.

Facts from North Butler Schools

Facts from North Butler Schools.

Recently Elizabeth Schroeder and Andrea Ramker sent a letter to the editor of several publishing’s with information that they believed to be true about the North Butler Community Schools, and things that are going on within the district.  The board and administration would like to clarify and correct some of that information, as well as address other rumors and comments.

As quoted from Ms. Schroeder’s letter, “Here are a few of the building expenses approved by board over the last few months. Allison Building: drainage for the parking lot $6,862.50, asphalt for parking lot: $63,513.60, sidewalk widening $10,800, Fortinet Security $4,325.93, playground $87,500, video cameras both schools $106,895, entry at high school $17,660, and concession stand up to $120,000. Technology purchases: iPads $78,965 and Chromebooks for 2015-'16 fiscal year, $35,528.75. These expenses total over $530,000.”

1. All of these expenses are from either the one-cent sales tax or PPEL funds, of which North Butler has had a high balance, and will continue to carry a solid balance after these projects are completed.
2. The sidewalk widening was done for the safety of the North Butler elementary students.
3. The parking lot in Allison needed work. We could not in good conscience continue to ask our staff or patrons to park in this area, which was a muddy mess any time it was wet, and through the entire spring thaw.
4. Fortinet is the security/firewall for our Internet at the HS. Without that we cannot protect our students from things that they may inadvertently access.
5. The playground was needed to have a place for our small children to play that is age appropriate and fenced in.
6. Video cameras at the buildings do several things for us. First they provide us with a security system. We have had two break ins during the past year and needed additional security. Secondly, they assist us in providing a safe environment for our students as they assist in dealing with disciplinary issues and help to substantiate/prove wrong bullying and harassment claims. Thirdly, they can help in the case of injuries/accidents to allow us to verify what actually occurred.
7. The entryway at HS is for safety/security so that we can funnel all visitors through the office during the day.
8. The concession stand is being done as part of the athletic complex. This addition is not about a concessions stand, but about handicap accessibility. It includes handicapped parking, seating and restrooms. The funds for this project include over $220,000 members of our communities raised. If we would have not moved forward with this project the complex committee risked losing several large grants.
9. Technology purchases were made to ensure that we are doing everything possible to meet the needs of our students. Our goal is to work with our teachers to transform teaching and learning to meet the skills that our children will need in the workplace of the future.
10. We believe that we should be working to improve our facilities and not hoarding the money that is meant for facility upkeep and improvement.

Also from Ms. Schroeder’s letter, “Better educational opportunity for whom? Did we reduce a secretary position? No. Did we hire more teachers? Yes. Do our children have adequate space to learn at the Allison Elementary Building? No. Were you aware the classroom that will be used for Pre-Kindergarten is about half the size allotted in previous years? Staff members looked into getting a loft due to lack of space for the state-mandated sensory areas.”
1. The changes will create better educational opportunity for all of the children of the North Butler Community Schools. This is what drives the decision making process at North Butler. We believe that having all of the teachers together will provide for better professional development opportunities and allow us to better align our curriculum. It will also allow for better administrative supervision. All of these will lead to improving our teachers and what they do in the classroom.
2. We did reduce a secretary position. That was actually accomplished at midyear this past year.
3. There will be 1.5 fewer teachers in the district this fall. This reduction number is not as large as we had hoped, but we are determined to and have told the community that we will manage class size. This has allowed us to keep all class sizes in a range conducive to student learning.
4. The Allison building has adequate space for all of our elementary children.
5. The classroom for PK in the Greene building is roughly 1098 square feet. The classroom for PK in Allison is 969 square feet, but also includes a 90+ square foot room for working with small groups. This equates to about a 40 square foot difference. Also please note that there will only be about 10 students at a time in that preschool classroom.
6. It has been brought to my attention that an elementary staff member had complained that they could not actually get their desk in the classroom at the Allison building, when in fact the classroom in Allison is 30 square feet larger.

Another point from the letter was “Did you know there were issues with management of funds? What was the real issue to start with? Did you know that the state is in the process of performing an audit of North Butler’s finances? The citizens of the North Butler school district filed a petition with the state to find answers. We will have answers."
Here is a post from Superintendent Foster’s blog: A lack of oversight and financial controls falls back on the superintendent’s office. It is currently my responsibility and mine alone to set proper oversight and controls in place.”

1. The board knew there were issues with management of funds. At that point they made a change in administration.
2. The issue to start with is too much expenditure of funds, with not enough state aid. Iowa has not funded schools to an adequate level in many years. This year alone inflation is at 3.9% and we received 1.25% new money ($96,459). Of this, $69,212 went to raises for the certified staff in negotiations, $22,700 to classified staff raises, and $7,457 to administrative staff. The board worked diligently to come to a lower settlement but finally had to settle at 1.87%. Two years ago the administration and classified staff took a pay freeze. We did not feel that it was appropriate for that to occur again, so all employees received the same percentage on their compensation package.
3. The State Auditor’s office is not performing a full audit of North Butler. I spoke with a member of the State Auditor’s staff on Monday July 27th. They did say that they looked through the work papers from the audits done by Oltrogge’s office. The lady I spoke with (who did the actual review) stated that when she completed her CPA review that there were some concerns. She believed that only 2 concerns warranted additional procedures, which she was recommending. Both of these items were in the area of special education funding from FY 2014, which would have run from July of 2013-June of 2014. These items were not a question of the work of Oltrogge’s. We will gladly cooperate if/when the State Auditor decides to review the FY 14 Special Education fund.
4. I still stand by the statement that financial controls fall back upon the Superintendent and fully accept responsibility from the time of hire.

On May 15th, Ms. Schroeder filed a complaint with the Iowa Public Information Board (IPIB) against the board and myself that stated-
Description of alleged violation:

The North Butler School Board adjourned the meeting and following the meeting held a closed session.  No vote or statement is given to the public about the closed session.  It is also not included in the minutes of the meeting.  If anything is decided(this is not known), the meeting is over and nothing can be publicly announced.  This order of proceedings has happened for the last 3 months.

They are not following law below:

2. The vote of each member on the question of holding the closed session and the reason for holding the closed session by reference to a specific exemption under this section shall be announced publicly at the open session and entered in the minutes. A governmental body shall not discuss any business during a closed session which does not directly relate to the specific reason announced as justification for the closed session.

What would you like the board to do? I would like the North Butler School Board to work transparently.  I am requesting that the board and the superintendent follow the Iowa Codes that are in place.  I would like to see them announce a closed session will be held, the reason, and see a vote that all members agree with the action. I request that when closed sessions happen that the action of holding this type of session be noted on minutes.  I would like the State to take some action, so the Board will follow the Codes put in place.

At no time had we held a closed session. We had held exempt sessions as allowed by law to discuss strategy for collective bargaining. Collective bargaining and the exemption from opening meeting laws during collective bargaining are explained below.

Collective Bargaining or Strategy Sessions

Bargaining sessions, strategy sessions of boards or employee organizations, mediation and the deliberative pro-cess of arbitrators in a collective bargaining process are exempt from the open meetings law. IOWA CODE § 20.17(3). Burlington Community School District v. Public Employment Relations Board. 268 N.W.2d 517, 524 (Iowa 1978). This exemption from the open meetings law applies to all sessions in the collective bargaining pro-cess except the first two bargaining sessions with employee organizations. At these two sessions the board and the union present their initial proposals in an open meeting, and the presentation of their proposals should be a board agenda item. This requirement does not prohibit a board from having exempt strategy sessions prior to the two open meetings. It is logical that a board would have to hold exempt strategy sessions to develop its initial proposal.

This complaint cost valuable time and resources that could have been dedicated to other needs. On Tuesday May 19th the complaint was withdrawn, but only after we had spent considerable time collecting documentation, submitting it to the IPIB, several phone calls to the IPIB, and several discussions with legal counsel (which is costly).

We are still spending time having to battle with inaccurate information being spread and attacks on the board for doing what is in the best interest of our school district. My children attend North Butler Schools also, and it is my personal and professional goal to make this the best possible place for all children.


Several times I have been asked why we are closing the Greene Elementary building, since we are just going to add onto the Allison building in two years. At no point has there been an active discussion about adding on to the Allison building in two years. Yes, North Butler has seen growth in enrollment over the past several years, but I believe that is going to change and that our enrollment is going to level off or decrease this fall. I am hopeful that I am wrong in that projection, but the fact of the matter is that right now we have plenty of space, and there are empty spaces.

As for the size of the classrooms, I will refer back to my statement earlier in this article, and add that it may be a good time for teachers to go through the things that they have collected throughout their careers and weed out articles that they no longer need, this would free up much more space.

I have received complaints about the number of kids in classrooms. As of July 29th, no teacher will have more than 25 kids in their classroom nor less than 19, with the exception of Transitional Kindergarten (which was added due to the needs of our students/families) and Preschool which will be lower in numbers. I believe that these are very acceptable and productive class sizes.  It is true that some teachers will have more than the 14-15 students from previous years, but this is not overcrowding.

Several times I have had to field complaints that if we closed the Greene Elementary building no one with small kids would move to Greene, yet we have had families do so this summer.

In the July 29th edition of the Greene Recorder Andrea Ramker also has a letter to the editor that addresses space,class sizes and growth. We have teachers who will have only a few students in full size classrooms and open space. We have room. It would take considerable growth to cause us to need more space.

Ms. Ramker also questions why there would be wording precluding a buyer from using the building as a school in the future in the advertisement for bids in regards to the Greene Elementary. If the building was to become a private school, and we lost 50 students for even one year, that loss of revenue (more than $300,000) would cripple the school district. This would not keep anyone (NIACC for instance) from being able to hold college classes in the building or a three-year-old preschool.

Ms. Ramker also states that there are rumors out there about expanding the Allison building. I am really not sure where those rumors came from, but they did not start at the school. Again, there has never been a discussion about adding on at the Allison building.

North Butler Community Schools are working to move forward and prepare for the upcoming school year so that we can provide all of our children with the best education possible. We believe that the decisions that have been made are providing that. I believe that our communities and school district should be working together to accomplish this goal instead of having a faction trying to tear down every decision that is made and micro managing the district.

I would be more than happy to sit down and discuss facts and accurate information with anyone and my door is always open. If you do not believe that, please have a discussion with Eileen Cheney about my visitor policy.

Joel Foster, Superintendent, North Butler Community Schools
Eric Bixby, Board President
Laura Staudt
John Heuer
Gail Arjes
Scott Bruns
Kristy Lammers