BURNSIDE – An informational meeting on grade-sharing was held at Southeast Webster Grand Community School District Thursday. More than 50 people attended.
SWG is discussing expanding its grade-sharing options with Prairie Valley Community School District in Gowrie. According to Launi Dane, co-superintendent of SWG and PVCSD, both districts are experiencing decreased enrollment, and because of it a loss of state funding. The result has been belt-tightening.
According to Dane, SWG has lost 80 students in six years. At $6,021 per student, this is a loss of $481,077 in state funding that the district will not recover. Fifty-five percent of the district’s general fund comes from state aid. And 80 percent of the general fund goes toward staff.
With about 500 students, the maximum spending authority SWG currently has is slightly more than $3 million.
“If our enrollment starts to drop our state funding drops,” Dane said. “Can I predict what’s going to happen in 10 years? No, I can’t. But I know this district cannot take those huge losses.”
She added, “We will end up sharing, one way or another.”
Also a factor, SWG’s head count enrollment has decreased by 15.3 students, or 2.8 percent from last school year. This is the number of students physically in their seats on their count day in August.
“We’ve had kids come in and they don’t get counted,” Dane said. “They have to be in your building that day.”
With expanded grade-sharing, the biggest impact would be with the high school. There would be no affect on its elementary school, Dane said, with the exception of fourth grade.
“You can share more in high school,” she said, “than you can in kindergarten.”
Dane explained that SWG teachers are not being used to their full potential. Teachers can have classes for as many as six periods, and must prepare for each, though some classes have fewer than five students.
“Regardless of how many are in it, three or one, they still have to prepare for that class,” she said. “I believe we’re as thin as we can go with the high school without cutting classes.”
Because of declining enrollment, the district has lost its Building and Trades Program, a librarian, an administrator, multiple staff members, its business manager, a full-time science instructor, K-6 activities director and paid extra-curricular clubs, among other items.
“This year,” Dane said, “I don’t plan to do any cutting of teachers.”
Sports programs are also being affected. With so few athletes competing, other districts are unwilling to participate, Dane said. Sports risk being dropped.
By expanding grade-sharing with Prairie Valley, Dane explained, the district gains a Spanish course, higher level math courses, more industrial tech offerings, greater collaboration with teachers, more participants in extra-curricular activities, and more.
Also, both districts would receive increased funds. Each school can count the same student, and a shared teacher counts as 2.5 students.
Grant Gibbons, SWG board president, said grade-sharing was “a logical choice” with “great potential” and asked community members to ignore any rivalries toward Prairie Valley.
“We’ve lost 80 kids in the last seven years,” Gibbons said. “We don’t want to keep cutting, or for our teachers to get 17 endorsements.”
The benefits, Gibbons said, include giving students access to more teachers with master’s degrees and more opportunities for dual credit, college-level classes.
“We can build a lot of pride together, I think,” he said. “Now is the right time to consider it.”
A joint meeting between Southeast Webster Grand and Prairie Valley will be held in Burnside at the SWG building on April 24 at 6:30 p.m. A representative from the Iowa Department of Education will also be attending.