Allowable growth factors into Atlantic School Board decisions on several matters


May 14th, 2013 by Ric Hanson

A decision regarding allowable growth funding for school districts in the Iowa legislature that was expected in March, is still being discussed, and that lengthy delay has forced many school districts, including Atlantic, to hold off on making decisions on spending for things other than those that directly related to students’ academic growth. The Board Monday night discussed the possibility of hiring a School Resource Officer versus a Dean of Students, the addition of a teacher and two para-educators, along with the need for extra-curricular activities.

Atlantic Superintendent Dr. Mike Amstein was not willing to step out on a limb and fully recommend to the Board the hiring of a Sheriff’s Department employee as a School Resource Officer, simply because the district doesn’t know what the Allowable Growth rate will be. He says the district hopes for four-percent, but they have budgeted for zero-percent. The difference in how much the school gets would range from $85,625 at zero-percent, to as much as $300,000 at four-percent.

The Iowa Legislature has been setting the statewide allowable growth rate since 1993. Before that the rate was automatically determined by a formula which examined enrollment figures, state revenue growth, inflation and economic indicators. The monies received typically are used to fund teacher salaries and benefits.  Even if the money was available now, Cass County Sheriff Darby McLaren said it would take “Months” to hire someone, train them if necessary at the Iowa Law Enforcement Academy, and have them ready to serve the district. Cass County Sheriff’s Deputy Corey Larsen currently serves as the SRO on a part-time basis. A full-time SRO would cost the district $78,000 per year for salary and benefits. The County would provide the officers’ car, uniform and equipment. Sheriff McLaren said an SRO’s contract would have to be for a “Multi-year deal,” and not one-year at a time.

In other business, the Atlantic School Board will act during its next regular meeting, on recommendations from Activities Director Josh Rasmussen, for the addition of Dance, Archery, Bowling and Swimming to the district’s extra-curricular activities in the coming years, but approval seems unlikely, given the Board’s desire to focus on spending for programs essential to student academic achievement, and the fact there is no system in-place to evaluate current, much less future student involvement.

Board member Phil Hascall said he thinks Atlantic has “enough activities,” and the board should throw its support behind proven methods of teaching, such as a those exhibited in a report Monday evening about the Lindamood-Bell teaching program which emphasizes spelling, comprehension, critical thinking, and express language.