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Early retirement policy moves forward, Clark elected as board VP

Those looking to retire from the Newton Community School District via the district’s early retirement policy under School Board Policy 410.1 can breathe a bit more easily after Monday night’s regular meeting of the Newton Community School Board of Education.

The measure, which was up for a second reading, received the most attention and garnered the most discussion of any item on the meeting’s agenda.

Revoked just two years prior, the policy rose to relevance once again as a tool to contribute to the $180,000 in cuts the district must make heading into the 2013-2014 school year, said NCSD Superintendent Steve McDermott.

“This kind of a tool will be effective for us this year,” McDermott said. “If we have people thinking they want to do something else, it’s a chance for us to get some good, new talent.”

Currently, five staff members have applied for the early retirement program, a move that McDermott said would save a sizeable chunk of money on the district’s way to complying with budget cuts.

“We’ve seen a strong interest from several employees, and I see no reason not to bring back the policy for this year,” McDermott said. “With average experience and average level of degree, we’re looking at a savings of $110,000.”

“Knowing what I do about personnel, now is a good time (to offer it),” he added.

Board member Donna Cook brought up the issue of fairness to those working in the district who may or may not have retired a few years back based upon whether the policy would be in place versus the two years it was not.

Board member Nat Clark interjected that, if the NCSD were to decide not to offer the program, other staff would likely need to be laid off in order to adequately reduce operating costs.

“If we decide not to do this, are we going to have to issue pink slips after this year?” he asked.

The second reading of the policy passed by a 5-1 vote after it was decided that implementing the policy as a tool to reduce costs opposed to as a benefit to employees would be the most effective way of keeping costs down for the upcoming academic year.

Also on the agenda:

• Newly-elected board member Sheri Benson took the board’s oath of office following last week’s special school board election in which she was victorious over school board appointee Joe Klingensmith. Klingensmith was not present for Monday’s meeting.

• The board elected Nat Clark to board vice president, a position for which he was then sworn in.

• Two NCSD Food Service employees addressed the board regarding the early retirement policy, which is currently limited to employees who work 31-plus hours per week and thus receive benefits through the district.

They explained that most food service staff work just 30 hours per week, making them ineligible for the program despite many having put in decades of work with the district. She then asked for a consideration to be placed in the early retirement program to recognize part-time workers who have served the district consistently over the years.

Later, during the discussion regarding the policy, it was agreed upon that a policy for part-time workers would likely need to be drafted separately from the current policy in question, which addresses senior, full-time staff.

• Newton Senior High School Principal Bill Peters presented the NHS Improvement Report, detailing how Newton’s high schoolers performed on the latest standardized tests and how at-risk students have responded to early intervention programs designed to improve student performance and behavior.

Peters explained that Iowa assessment scores for the high school have shown “strong growth” in the areas of science and math and steady growth in reading. Programs targeting at-risk pupils have decreased the instance of behavior referrals while, at the same time, helping students pass more classes.

• Peters also presented the revised NHS Course Catalog for the 2013-2014 academic year. Many of the changes within the catalog were due to either lack of student interest or doubling of course material. Additionally, an emphasis will be placed on classes, such as Algebra II and English I and II, that align with Iowa Core Curriculum Standards.

• The board approved the purchase of a new sound system for H.A. Lynn Stadium, not to exceed a cost of $25,000. While McDermott explained that in order to move forward, the approval of the board was not necessary, he advised they take a look at the proposed purchase. The sound system, which will be purchased through Daktronics, will consist of a single-component unit placed on the stadium’s scoreboard and will feature much simpler controls than the facility’s current system.

• The board listened to a presentation from Michael Mathis of U.S. Bancorp regarding the district’s current investment choices. Currently, the NCSD invests via the Iowa Schools Joint Investment Trust, which returned just $43 in interest over the last fiscal month — a return of 0.0005 percent.

Mathis, at the request of board secretary Gayle Isaac, spoke to the board regarding possible alternative investment options that would yield higher returns. Choosing a new option while ensuring that the district stay within its investment policy would likely be a lengthy process, explained McDermott, but the discussion necessary to kick off the process was welcomed.

• Basics & Beyond Associate Director/Principal Laura Selover updated the board on Modified Allowable Growth programs, many of which Peters addressed in his update. Selover explained that, because staff have seen such success in a short period of time among at-risk students, an increase in funding per student would be advantageous to the district. Thus, the board approved a 66-cent increase per student toward the MAG Fund.

Nicole Wiegand can be contacted at (641) 792-3121 ext. 422 or via email at

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