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District nutrition program operating at $100k deficit

SOLON– The school nutrition program, while being heralded for its success in bringing fresh produce and a daily salad bar to the schools, fell in a $116,000 hole this year.
The kitchen budget shortfall was inflated by the purchase of new kitchen equipment and fix-ups that ran about $50,000, according to Kelly Crossley, Solon’s nutrition program director. After federal reimbursements, a school’s kitchen should be self-sustaining and essentially pay for itself, she said.
Just eight percent of Solon’s students receive free or reduced meals, the lowest percentage in any school district in the state.
All Iowa schools get 26¢ per lunch served in federal money; the rest is supposed to be made up at the cash register. Free lunches bring the schools $2.77 per meal in government aid.
Solon currently charges $2.15 at Lakeview and $2.40 at the middle and high schools. Neighboring Mount Vernon charges $2.50 for upper grades.
Solon Superintendent Sam Miller told school board members last week a 25¢ raise would generate almost $39,000 next year with current participation rates but it was likely that raising meal prices alone wouldn’t make up the difference; the schools would need to cut expenses. The board members discussed cutting kitchen staff benefits as another other option to cut expenses and get out of the red.
Following a joint session with Solon city officials, the school board approved its 2012-2013 budget and a resolution to pre-pay some of its pending debt.
Paying down the interest on the loan for $1.938 million to complete the Outdoor Events Center (OEC) allows the district to create some financial breathing room for future projects.

Standards-based grading
Solon’s upgrade of its grading system for upper-level grades was moved ahead as the district concluded its year-long study of standards-based grading (SBG). The new system is already in place at the elementary school and in some middle and high school classes.
Matt Townsley, director of instruction and technology, took questions from the board before asking them one of his own, “Why wouldn’t we want to tell parents exactly where their kids’ level of understanding is?”
Townsley presented some research requested by the board with results of anonymous student and staff surveys.
Board member Dick Schwab asked “Will there be higher grades? Lower?”
Townsley explained that in the new system, no extra credit would be given or points for turning in homework. “Students have to work to get an ‘A’ and the homework is no longer inflating their grades,” he said.
The impact of the new system would depend on the type of student, he added.
SBG stresses understanding of key concepts in classes and teachers must allow multiple opportunities for students to demonstrate knowledge.
Near the end of the discussion, high school principal Nathan Wear told the board “This is reform that doesn’t cost anything.”
Board members will vote on a plan to fully implement the system by 2013-2014, with some level of SBG being used by all teachers at the end of next year.
Townsley also said, “(he) would love to talk with more parents about (SBG).”
The schools have planned a SBG work session for language arts teachers with teachers and administrators around the state and country for April 20.

Kirkwood memo approved
The board approved a memorandum of understanding between the district and Kirkwood Community College’s Johnson County Regional Center, a multi-district academy that will offer technical and college-credit courses.
Solon committed to busing up to 45 students to the center that will open in 2014 on the University of Iowa’s Oakdale Campus in Coralville.
The Johnson County Regional Center is modeled on one in Jones County, also run by Kirkwood, and will also offer core classes like social studies and language arts so students can remain in the building for a three-hour block of classes.