As talks on the proposed Partial Day sharing agreement with the Emmetsburg Community Schools have continued, the Ruthven-Ayrshire Community School Board met Wednesday night to look over proposed class offerings for the high school students and a draft of the proposed sharing agreement with Emmetsburg. Several district patrons and members of the RA School faculty were on hand to listen to the proposals and information.
The Wednesday meeting was similar in nature to one held Wednesday morning by the Emmetsburg Community School Board on the same topic.
"The first thing to remember is that these are all draft copies," explained RA Superintendent Andrew Woiwood. "None of this is cast in stone it's all in draft form and must be approved by both you and the Emmetsburg board."
Woiwood shared a listing of courses that would be taught each school day for the high school students in Ruthven, and then required and elective courses that RA students could choose to attend in Emmetsburg as part of the Partial Day sharing arrangement, which would put the RA ninth through twelfth graders in classrooms in Emmetsburg each morning with Emmetsburg students.
"Right now, we need to get this information to our students, and let them choose what courses they want to take at Emmetsburg, and get that information to Emmetsburg so they can set up the class schedule," Woiwood explained.
"Remember, this is just a start," Woiwood continued. "We have a long, long way to go."
"Yes, this has been a very collaborative process," agreed Josephson. "But there are still issues that will have to be ironed out for both of us."
Board President Barry Fischer asked if college course availability for RA students was known at this point in time. "It is hard to know for sure what the college will offer for courses each Fall, but Emmetsburg works very closely with Iowa Lakes to lock in a block of classes every year, and the career academy courses are always available each year," Josephson answered.
As board members reviewed the class lists several questions were posed and answered by the two administrators.
Board member Tracy Enderson questioned that since math would only be taught in Emmetsburg, how would RA students get questions on those assignments answered when they were back in Ruthven. "They could send the instructor an email, or call them," Josephson answered. "That is a good question we will look into further."
With an option for RA student to participate in instrumental and vocal music in Emmetsburg, Enderson asked what would happen to a pep band for basketball games or halftime performances at football games.
"That could be a difficulty," agreed Josephson, "But Emmetsburg suggested that they would like to give concerts here in Ruthven, and I thought that was a very nice offer on their part. Perhaps the middle school band might be able to do some of that."
Woiwood explained RA's high school students would board buses in Ruthven at 7:55 or 8 a.m. and travel to Emmetsburg, returning to Ruthven at noon. They would eat lunch in Ruthven and attend afternoon classes in Ruthven. If a student were enrolled in a college class at 8 a.m. they would need to travel to Emmetsburg on their own.
A question was if the sharing agreement would accomplish some $150,000 in budget cuts discussed by the board in December of 2012.
"Almost," Woiwood said. "You have to understand, we don't want to do any of this, but it is something that we have to do because of our financial situation. Financially, we just cannot continue as we are. Our whole focus is to make the best possible education for our students, and I really think the offerings in Emmetsburg will give our kids the best opportunity."
"This conversation has to be rooted in what is best for our kids," agreed Josephson. "The reality on the ground is that we can't keep doing what we're doing and survive. If you offer a class, you must teach it. When you have one kid in a class it takes an expensive teacher. Our goal has to be to get as many students in front of teachers that we can."
Some changes to the school day will also be necessary. With buses leaving for Emmetsburg at 7:55, the RA route buses will need to be at the school at 7:55 a.m., meaning elementary and middle school students would arrive at school about 35 minutes earlier than the current start time. RA's current teacher contract day runs from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., but a change to bus times would require changing teacher contract hours to 7:45 a.m. to 3:45 p.m. Elementary and middle school students would start classes at 8:10 a.m. instead of 8:30 a.m., which would add 20 minutes to the educational day at RA.
"Emmetsburg classes starts at 8:15 a.m., and they have said that they would be willing to adjust their start time to 8:20 a.m., to accommodate our kids," Woiwood noted.
Reviewing the draft sharing agreement, Woiwood stated his preference for a three or four-year contract, with a reimbursement rate of 50 percent of the student cost for the first year and a cap of the reimbursement at 70 percent at the end of the agreement. Since RA is considering a partial-day sharing agreement, the district would receive supplemental weighting funds from the state to help offset the cost.
There would be no additional state funds in the first year of the sharing, but RA would receive half of the previous year's funds in the second year and full funding in the third year of sharing. Estimates of the sharing cost were around $110,000 per year, with possible reimbursement from the state of up to $90,000 in the third year.
Acknowledging that moving to a sharing arrangement would have affects on RA staffing levels, Woiwood declined to disclose any of those contemplated cuts in staff until RA and Emmetsburg school boards reach a final agreement.
"I'm not going to talk about specific positions yet," Woiwood said. "I know it's frustrating for the staff and for parents and students, and I don't want to be evasive about it, but we're talking about people's jobs, and we won't definitively say anything until we're sure on what's going to happen here."