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School board selects new method to develop school calendar

The debate between 180 days and 1,080 instructional hours is over.

The Newton Community School District Board of Education voted in favor of the 1,080 hours method to design the 2014-15 school calendar on Monday night.

“Board members, I don’t know what to tell you other than at the forums, and some of you were at the forums, so you saw the votes … I don’t think you can say it was anything but unanimous (in favor of the 1,080 hour method),” Superintendent Bob Callaghan said.

Callaghan also mentioned the district’s School Improvement Action Committee and administration were also unanimously in favor of the 1,080-hour method. He added this method was still preferred despite the current hang-ups in legislation in both the Iowa House and Senate.

“Those could come into play, but I don’t think it would change any of the direction,” Callaghan said of the pending legislation.

Basics and Beyond Principal Laura Selover, who also serves as the Administrator of the SIAC staffing sub-committee, said her group will work on creating a draft of the potential 2014-15 school calendar.

Weather has played a significant factor in causing the district to change the way it designs its calendar. Under the 180-day method, students would have to attend class for six hours for the day to count as an instructional day.

Callaghan addressed this school year’s weather issues with the board. According to the district, three school days were canceled this winter, there were four late-starts, two early-dismissals and one day where buses were limited to hard roads.

“Of particular interest is the Feb. 17 (make-up) day. It’s ironic, first it was a paid holiday, then it was reclassified as a make-up day and someone didn’t want us to go to that day, because then it snowed and (school) was later canceled,” Callaghan said. “So the make-up day for Feb. 17 is now June 2.”

During the Feb. 11 board meeting, in a unanimous vote, the board agreed to end all talks with AT&T for the placement of a cell phone tower on district land near Newton Senior High School.

At last night’s meeting, AT&T Representative Steve Ward submitted a written communication, which Callaghan read aloud, to ask the board to reopen the talks.

“A typical rural cell phone tower yields about $1,000 a month in rental and that rentals on the tower yield between 25 and 33-percent of the rental fee,” Callaghan read. “He challenged us to check the landscape and check his figures, Steve said he was sorry that things ended up this way and AT&T has apologized. He would hate for three years of work to end so abruptly.”

AT&T would have paid the district $12,000 annually for a period of 25 years and if it rented out space to another provider, the district would have received 25 percent of that amount, had the deal ever been finalized.

The board agreed that reentering discussions with AT&T was not a viable option.

“I don’t know if anything would sway me,” board member Travis Padget said.

“I agree,” board president Andy Elbert added.

“I’m done with it,” board member Bill Perrenoud chimed in.

In other business:

• The board thanked Underwriter’s Laboratory for its donation of four high definition TVs to the district.

• Teachers who received the 2013-14 Excellence in Education were formally recognized by the board.

• Building administrators gave updates on the Feb. 14 professional development day.

• Callaghan reported three certified staff and four classified staff opted into the district’s voluntary retirement program.  The last day to turn in applications is March 3.

Senior staff writer Ty Rushing may be contacted at (641) 792-3121, ext. 426, or at

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