TIFFIN — A small meeting room in the high school library was packed, as teachers concerned for their futures with the Clear Creek Amana (CCA) School District attended a board work session Feb. 17.
Staffing projections for the coming year was on the agenda, and with budget cuts looming, the teachers’ attention was warranted. The board also discussed attendance areas, an issue with potential impact down the road.
Superintendent Dr. Paula Vincent presented what she referred to twice as “arbitrary numbers,” assuring the board and the teachers nothing had been decided for the 2010-2011 school year. The board is beginning the process of putting together the budget for the upcoming year, which is due by April 15.
“The important thing is for you all to think about this (process of determining staffing) and give us some parameters for how you want us to approach establishing our budget, knowing that we will probably have to set a budget with some additional reductions,” Vincent said to the uneasy assembly.
Vincent showed a computer-based model that calculates staffing levels and teacher-to-pupil ratios. She plugged in some class size numbers to demonstrate the program as a tool to assess various staffing levels. Vincent said she also is relying on research to help guide the decision.
“Our research base shows no impact, truly, on class size until you’re about to 1:25,” Vincent said. She cited another bit of research showing that under certain circumstances, ratios of 1:17 or less could have potential impact on educational quality, especially at the lower elementary levels.
Vincent said she takes a practical approach. Seeing row upon row of boots and coats in the elementary, for example, she said she wonders how many snow boots can one teacher put on in a day?
“That’s not the most important part of the day, obviously, but there are some practical pieces like that, Vincent said. She cited other examples, such as time spent with kindergartners early on in the year and having to help them with trays, or in the case of advance placement students, spending time engaged with in-depth discussions.
Vincent told the audience she hopes the district can continue to staff no higher than the 1:25 mark, or lower if possible. She also said they would look at how to get help to the teachers, for example, in special education cases or Title 1 students.
Board Vice President Betsy Momany asked how Vincent and the administrators staff for at-risk or special needs students. She wondered how classroom numbers are adjusted for “a severity index of special need.” Vincent replied they staff initially as if they are all general education students.
“And then we bring the extra resources to bear,” Vincent said. “We really double-program for those kids.”
Vincent added she wants to leave it to the principals to determine their needs in each building, feeling the faculty and staff know the students best.
Discussion then turned to the district’s attendance areas. A group of bus drivers are working on new and better bus routes, and Vincent said they are asking if attendance areas are correctly established.
Currently, Amana Elementary covers from the district’s western border to the Iowa-Johnson County line. Clear Creek Elementary boundaries run from the Iowa-Johnson County line to Greencastle Road, and North Bend Elementary covers from Greencastle to the district’s eastern boundary.
Vincent said within the next two to three years, the boundaries may need to be reconsidered. She pointed to the northeast corridor as being where most of the district’s growth is occurring.
“You may want to begin thinking about that this fall for the following school year.”
At the present time, Clear Creek is comfortable; space is available at North Bend Elementary but, depending on the size of the incoming kindergarten class, the new school could be very close to capacity this fall. Complicating enrollment factors are people living along the attendance area lines going in multiple directions. Vincent suggested the board may want to develop a clear policy on the issue. She said altering attendance areas may not necessarily mean redrawing lines, as the Iowa City Community School District is considering, but could involve altering the uses of existing buildings.