Creston School District plans to end sharing agreements with several smaller school districts.
Creston shares John Calahan, Creston Elementary School band instructor, with Murray Community Schools 50 percent of the time. In April, Murray offered Calahan a full-time contract, and he will no longer be teaching in Creston starting with the 2013-14 school year.
Creston District also shares two other music teachers with Diagonal Community Schools. Patrick Oswald, instrumental instructor, is in Creston approximately 60 percent of the time. Mary Lange, vocal instructor, is in Creston approximately 80 percent of the time.
Once the 2014-15 school year begins, however, Creston and Diagonal school districts will no longer share music teachers.
“I appreciated Chuck Scott (Creston interim superintendent). He said, ‘I’m going to give you another year,’” said Karleen Stephens, Diagonal superintendent. “I just appreciate him giving us some time to plan. ...There’s no hard feelings on our end. Districts have to do what’s best for their students first. You always have to look out for your own district’s needs first.”
According to a Legislative Services Agency document, approximately 20 percent of Iowa school districts shared students in 2010, while approximately 18 percent shared teachers.
“Districts would have to show some sort of savings or cost-effectiveness in order to want to do it,” said Jason Chapman, with the Iowa House Republican Caucus staff. “They aren’t looking for ways to spend more money. Often times, rural districts or districts with declining enrollments may not have much of a choice. With funding tied to the number of pupils, the money to fund salaries goes down with declining enrollment, but the need to provide a class for the remaining students is still there.”
There are good things that come come sharing students and teachers, such as monetary incentives and stronger district relationships.
“We’ve shared for several years, and the prior superintendent was big into sharing,” said Stephens. “And, I think, for numerous reasons, it helps both districts. You get sharing dollars for both districts, and it helps build relationships for both districts.”
There are also downsides to sharing, which made themselves known at a Creston School Board special meeting May 23. Those disadvantages to sharing with other school districts were scheduling, time out of the classroom and the possibility of being overstaffed.
“Could we utilize some of that person in a different aspect of things?” said Creston School Board member Sharon Snodgrass at the May 23 meeting. “What about schedules? ... Can we make it work without an additional person?”
Scheduling can become a problem in the situation of fixing schedules for the shared teachers while they’re in the school district. Creston shares teachers with approximately six other districts.
Another concern is with the teacher out of the classroom, that leaves less time for students to be taught.
“I can see it from the teacher’s standpoint, ‘I want to spend my time with these kids, and they deserve as much time as I can spend with them.’ From a parent standpoint, they might say, ‘Don’t take that great teacher away from my kids,’” said Scott. “But when you look at the big picture, we have to do something to raise student achievement.”
Incentives are available for those school districts that want to be part of the sharing program. Each student or teacher shared between districts has a certain weighted compensation rate depending on the program they are in, be it whole-grade sharing, where whole grades may go to a different district if they are too small, or Iowa Communications Network.
The weighted compensation rate is multiplied by percentage of time, number of students or teachers and cost for each district student, totalling the amount in monetary incentive the district will receive.
However, a monetary incentive is not the only available one.
“Sharing is a way for districts to save costs and provide efficiencies. Whole-grade sharing is often a catalyst for the sharing. If a district has a smaller class one year versus the next, they may opt to share grades between districts,” said Chapman. “Perhaps two districts share their early grades, but keep their own separate high schools. A lot factors into this. Some use sharing as a way to ease into consolidation. Some use sharing to avoid consolidation as long as possible, to maintain the school and, sometimes, town identity. Some share for certain subjects where it doesn’t make sense to have a full-time teacher (teaching Chinese language, for example).”