By BAILEY POOLMAN
CNA staff reporter
CLEARFIELD — Clearfield Community School District hosted a dissolution hearing Monday, with approximately 30 people from the town and surrounding areas making an appearance.
Clearfield District has been in the process of dissolving since March.
“The choice to dissolve is not an easy one for the school board to pursue,” said Joe Drake, shared superintendent of Bedford, Clearfield and Mount Ayr. “But, we got to the point financially where we just simply have run out of kids.”
Clearfield School Board presented the public with a slide show of information detailing the dissolution’s process: how it came about, the steps that were taken and what will happen next.
The district’s attorney Rick Engel was also present to explain the legal steps the district took to draw lines and place land in one of four neighboring districts: Bedford, Diagonal, Lenox and Mount Ayr.
“This was a board-initiated effort, to appoint a dissolution commission, which is the first step in the dissolution process,” said Engel. “Every school district has to end up being constituted, has to have contiguous territory.”
On the dissolution proposal map, Bedford is blue, Diagonal is green, Lenox is yellow and Mount Ayr is red.
A safety issue that was brought up was where school buses would stop in Clearfield city limits for students. Many audience members voiced their opinions, asking about possibly moving the drawn district lines to accomodate Diagonal, Lenox and Mount Ayr districts at one main meeting point.
Engel explained that it was not up to Clearfield District to discuss this issue, but for the districts coming in because Clearfield District will no longer exist after the 2013-14 school year if the dissolution is passed during the September vote.
Some people at the meeting voiced their opinion about the oddly placed school district lines in the proposal.
“You can’t have islands, you can’t have separations. You have to be attached,” said Engel. “Even though, many of you have looked at dissolution maps before and know that external boundaries of school districts aren’t all that logical.”
These lines were drawn because a survey was sent out, and those that were returned stated their top school district preference. One Lenox finger pushes into the Mount Ayr School District, while two Mount Ayr fingers push into the Lenox District.
These fingers are located in the rural area surrounding Clearfield, not in the town itself. Board members said several times during the hearing they followed the surveys as closely as they could to make as many property owners as possible happy.
However, because the lines for each school district must be contiguous, it was not always possible to make the district lines based on the surveys.
Members of the Clearfield District School Board made the decision to dissolve the district at the regular monthly meeting March 19.
The decision was based partly on involuntary and voluntary dissolutions. Involuntary dissolution means the state of Iowa would take control of the school district’s dissolution. However, the board voted on a voluntary dissolution, which means the district is in control.
At the meeting, the board also appointed a dissolution commission made up of seven members: three board members and four eligible voters within the school district. The commission members are board members Bob Cameron, Patty Parrish and Becky Kerns, and voters Gina Knox, Doug England, Sara Deskin and Michele Sobotka.
The commission put together a proposal of dissolution containing the lines of the new school districts and what each district would attain in assets and liabilities based on enrollment.
School districts receive money from allowable growth, which is based on enrollment and used for things like water, supplies and electric. Any money that isn’t spent can be put toward the budget authority, which can be spent how the district wishes, as long as it follows stipulations put forth by the state of Iowa.
Unfortunately, Clearfield District’s enrollment has declined so much not enough money is coming in.
“The state gives us a spending authority. They give us the authority to spend based on the number of students that we have ... in the district,” said Drake. “We don’t have enough students to generate enough income to keep the school open.”
Clearfield District estimated it received allowable growth and miscellaneous money totalling $911,596. With the unspent budget authority, the maximum amount of money the district can spend for the 2013-14 school year is estimated at a little more than $1 million.
It is predicted the district will spend $1.25 million, which is $202,040 more than it can afford.
“Schools can bank up some of their unspent authority, and this district did that for a number of years and that’s the reason we’re open now,” said Drake. “Because the district spent less than they’re authorized to spend, and they were very frugal with their money. They did that for decades, ... but over the last, say, eight, 10 years, ... the enrollment has continued to decline and our expenses have stayed the same, so we spent our authority plus more.”
Clearfield school board sent a survey to property owners in the town of Clearfield and surrounding rural areas asking which district they will want to be part of after the dissolution.
Based on the returned surveys, the dissolution commission created the proposal and set the public hearing date during the regularly scheduled June board meeting.
Following the hearing, the Clearfield School Board voted on the proposal during their regularly scheduled meeting Tuesday.
The dissolution will then go to a vote during the Sept. 10 election. It must have an approval rate of 51 percent to pass. If so, 2013-14 will be the final school year. If not, the process starts over.