Actions aren’t always black and white.
Creston School District paid two shared reading teachers with proper funds, but apparently the district did not report it correctly.
“A lot of financial reporting is kind of after the fact,” said Jeff Berger, deputy director of Division of School Finance and Support Services at Iowa Department of Education.
Berger said the budget is looked at locally, and the state does not see it until October after the fiscal year reporting is done.
The funds approved for Creston School District were raised by a modified allowable growth tax increase. This tax is specified for returning dropouts and dropout prevention.
The school district used approximately $50,000 per year for approximately two and a-half years to pay two reading teachers shared with Murray and Orient-Macksburg school districts. This money came from modified allowable growth tax designated for returning dropouts and dropout prevention.
During a special Creston School Board meeting May 23, Chuck Scott, former Creston interim superintendent, said the school district received an email in October from a consultant with the Iowa Department of Education.
“The message said, ‘We’ve been sending you messages and telling you you can’t do this. If you do it again, your modified allowable growth will not be allowed at all next year,’” said Scott.
Scott Driskell, Creston Elementary School principal, said the two shared teachers are not designated at risk/dropout program teachers.
However, according to Brad Baker, Creston Middle School principal, they targeted third- and fourth-grade students that did not meet district reading objectives, and therefore counted as part of the dropout program.
“Poor reading would be a potential cause for a child falling behind and being a poential dropout,” Berger said.
One type of funding for school districts for dropout prevention is a school board-approved, 100 percent local property tax that is supposed to go toward programming to work with kids who are returning or potential dropouts. The use of that tax money is then worked out and becomes part of a plan submitted to the state’s education department.
“Every year, our district puts a plan together, submits it to the state and it has to be approved. If it’s not approved, we can’t have the money. So, we put a pretty detailed plan together, and the state has approved it,” said Roy Stroud, Creston School District business manager.
Stroud said when the district presented the budget, the shared teachers were helping students who were identified as needing extra reading help.
“It’s not our intent to do anything that’s not proper,” Stroud said. “That’s why we spend so crazy much time putting the plan in place and getting in approved.”
Berger said it would be difficult to place consequences on a school district if they had done something wrong.
“If something was brought forwad, and it was irregular,” said Berger, “we may just reinforce the district. ‘Yeah, you were right. You shouldn’t have done it, or you aren’t going to do it, and that’s good.’”
Berger also said it becomes even more difficult when it comes down to the tax.
“It’s a little bit more difficlut with this fund to evoke consequences because the fund is entirely local,” Berger said. “They certainly would get a letter. ... What typically happens is we just kind of prod them into compliance because we don’t have, believe it or not, we don’t have a lot of options on (tax) levers.”