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School board sees black

By Adam Burke
North Liberty Leader
IOWA CITY– The Oct. 11 school board meeting sat a majority of newcomers to the Iowa City Community School District (ICCSD) board of education, including a new president, Marla Swesey.
Bringing them up to speed was Executive Director of Administrative Services Paul Bobek, who presented the district’s annual financial report.
His report showed a surplus of $10.6 million in the district’s unspent balance general fund, up from the $8 million surplus at the end of the 2009-10 school year.
Bobek’s report showed an increase in the solvency ratio of the unreserved, undesignated fund balance divided by the total general fund revenues. “We trended up nicely,” he told the board, raising the ratio from last year’s 4.5 percent to 8.5 percent.
Solvency ratio is a measure of the economic health of a district and can be improved by increasing revenues or reducing expenditures.
The general fund net income was also up, jumping to $6.1 million, a $5 million increase from last year. Approximately 40 percent of the general fund income comes from property taxes; state and federal aid represent another 40 percent of the district’s revenue stream.
ICCSD’s 2010-11 general fund expenditures totaled $118,016,086. Salaries and benefits represent about 80 percent of the district’s costs.
The district’s accounting practices were called into question earlier this year after $2 million in bookkeeping errors were found. To the relief of ICCSD, the double entries were in the district’s favor but a late payroll tax payment in March 2011 did incur a $25,000 fine from the Internal Revenue Service.
In July, because of the accounting snafus, the district ordered an outside audit of accounting practices at a cost of $60,000 from Synesi Associates in Wilmette, Ill.
Student discipline
At the meeting, an addendum to the 2009-10 Safety and Climate Report was also released. Expanding on the initial report, the study tracks student behavior and discipline, including incidences of suspensions, bullying and personal threats, attendance and truancy, theft, staff/student relations, cigarette and drug use, removal from buses and police referrals. Board members had asked for additional information at Sept. 12 and Sept. 27 meetings.
Both bus removals and police referrals increased from the previous year. Seventy-two police referrals were made in 2010-11, compared to 68 in 2009-10, and 52 in 2008-09. Twenty-four high school students were removed from buses in 2010-11, up from just 14 in 2009-10.
Meeting dates to change
A change in the ICCSD board’s meeting schedule was approved. Starting in December, the board will meet on the first and third Tuesdays of the month instead of the second and fourth Tuesdays. New board president Marla Swesey explained that other community meetings conflicted with the current first and third Tuesday schedule. Former ICCSD board president Patti Fields was elected to serve as vice-president at the Sept. 27 meeting.
One of the board’s stated goals for 2011-12 is to develop a five-year comprehensive facility plan which will have a plan for building another high school and the actions needed to prepare for covering additional operating costs of the new secondary building.
In related news, Patti Fields was recently nominated as president of the board of directors of the Iowa Association of School Boards (IASB); if confirmed at a November delegation, she’ll serve a two-year term starting in January 2012. IASB has recently been in the spotlight after undergoing investigations and allegations of financial misconduct by its former executive director and chief financial officer.