June 19, 2024

NCSD school board member resigns citing increased workload as AEA worker

Lawmakers who said they would not dismantle AEAs are now ‘handing me the tissues,’ Hammerly says

Liz Hammerly

Newton school board member Liz Hammerly has stepped down from her elected position, citing an increased workload as an employee of one of the state’s nine Area Education Agencies (AEA), which have lost hundreds of workers recently after an Iowa law spelled uncertainty in the profession.

From the moment Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds delivered her condition of the state address and announced her intentions to reform the AEAs, Hammerly has been openly critical yet cautiously optimistic about the changes. She said since the start of the legislative session, she has remained hopeful for Iowa schools.

“I sat across from Jon Dunwell and Ken Rozenboom in a Zoom when they told me that they weren’t looking to ‘dismantle’ the AEAs,” Hammerly said in a statement to Newton News. “I worked to fill my AEA teammates with positives, and here we are, they are handing me the tissues.”

While there is a lot of money still being afforded to the AEAs through the bill, Hammerly claimed there is also a loss of $77 million. The cuts — which she said are six primary contact roles right now in Heartland AEA along with many other cuts — are trickling down, and there are still unfilled positions.

Last week, Hammerly and her team learned of reassignments. She was told her position would consist of serving her current caseload at Newton High School and WEST Academy in 1.5 days instead of 2.5 days, along with grades K-12 at Baxter and Colfax-Mingo school districts.

“I will lose one day and two teachers at Berg (Middle School) and add the district of Colfax and seven teachers,” Hammerly said. “We lost a really great consultant (Jenny Nalvanko), and we are struggling to fill behavior vacancies at NCSD. We know assignments aren’t final, but I can only assume they won’t look better.”

Prior to the reassignment, Hammerly was a consultant for 15 teachers, 197 students, five buildings and two school districts. In a school board meeting with legislators in January, Hammerly said she sees more impact to improving student achievement across the state if lawmakers can get more boots on the ground.

The Des Moines Register reported last week that 341 Iowa AEA employees had retired or resigned. As a result of the new law, even less boots are on the ground.

The past few days have been difficult, Hammerly said. She has a certain way in which she conducts business, and it requires her to complete a lot of paperwork on Friday evenings and Sunday afternoons. With more added to her assignment, she anticipates it will take more time. She will need openings to do her work.

“We have a busy family and Ike is always coaching something,” Hammerly said. “So the laundry, dishes and tasks pile up. It was a hard decision, but my head and heart are working through my potential next moves. We all have choices, and there is often hard — it is about which hard you can tolerate.”

As Hammerly steps away from her elected position, she said she has full trust in the school board. They ask the right questions and they value community input, she said, and they show up. Hammerly said she has learned a lot from them and she is so glad God afforded her the opportunity to work with them.

“Our district is on the rise,” Hammerly said. “We are working through some growing pains, but as a person who has been all over the state, those pains are in every district. We have a few more key players or pieces that will help us go from good to great.”

Hammerly — who was first elected to the school board in the 2021 election — commended superintendent Tom Messinger for his transparency and honesty, as well as his professionalism in answering her many phone calls and questions and taking much unsolicited advice.

“I want to thank the community members and staff; you always gave me a reason to be vocal and brave,” Hammerly said. “In the meantime, I am going to learn to drive a tractor, mow some lawn and pray God will point me down the right path in terms of employment for next year.”

HOW WOULD NCSD FILL THE VACANCY?

Messinger read from a separate statement regarding Hammerly’s resignation. It has been a really stressful year, she said, and this past legislative session “did not help.” The superintendent thanked Hammerly for her work on the school board and he informed officials about how the board fills a vacancy.

According to board policy, if a vacancy occurs prior to the expiration of a term of office, the vacancy shall be filled by board appointment within 30 days.

Newton school board will publish notice stating the board intends to fill the vacancy by appointment. Electors of the school district have the right to file a petition within 14 days after the notice is published, and at which point a special election will be held to fill the seat.

The person appointed to Hammerly’s seat will fulfill the rest of her term, which is to end in 2025. By then voters will have had the chance to elect a successor.

If the board cannot fill the vacancy by appointment within 30 days or a valid petition is submitted, the board secretary will call a special election to be held no sooner than 60 days and not later than 70 days after the vacancy occurred. A board member elected at the special election will service the remaining term.

Tim Bloom, director of business services, said the motion to appoint a new school board member to Hammerly’s seat will occur at the next board meeting. Robyn Friedman, chair of the Newton school board, recommended appointing one of the three past board members who had previously run for office.

The three previous incumbents include: Mark Thayer, Cody Muhs and Graham Sullivan. To Friedman, it would make the most sense to approach them.

Hammerly appeared as a candidate in the 2021 school board election, a year that was stifled by debates over masks in school during a global pandemic. But nonetheless it was one of the most competitive local elections in recent memory. Voters had to fill four seats on the board from a roster of eight candidates.

As a special education consultant, Hammerly campaigned on improving special education as well as the district’s early childhood program. In the end, Hammerly received 1,409 votes, the second most votes for a school board member in the 2021 election, trailing just behind Friedman who had 1,469 votes.

Here is Hammerly’s statement in full:

Since the start of the legislative session, I have remained hopeful for schools and our community. I sat across from Jon Dunwell and Ken Rozenboom in a Zoom when they told me that they weren’t looking to “dismantle” the AEAs. I worked to fill my AEA teammates with positives, and here we are, they are handing me the tissues. While you look at the pie chart that Steve Holt posted, and you see a lot of money is still being afforded to the AEAs, there is also 77 million gone from that. Those cuts (around 6 Primary Contact Roles right now in Heartland - many other cuts), are trickling down, and we still have unfilled positions.

On Thursday, my team learned of reassignments. I was told my position would consist of serving my current caseload at Newton High School/WEST in 1.5 days instead of 2.5 days, serving Baxter K-12, and now adding Colfax K-12. I will lose 1 day and 2 teachers at Berg and add the district of Colfax and 7 teachers. We lost a really great consultant (Jenny Nalvanko), and we are struggling to fill behavior vacancies in NCSD. We know assignments aren’t final, but I can only assume they won’t look better after the most recent YES vote.

These last few days have been hard; I have a certain way in which I conduct business. This requires me to do a lot of paperwork on Friday evenings and Sunday afternoons. With more to my assignment, I know that will increase, and I will need openings in my schedule to get that done. We have a busy family and Ike is always coaching something, so the laundry, dishes, and tasks pile up. It was a hard decision, but my head and heart are working through my potential next moves. WE all have choices, and there is often HARD - it is about which hard you can tolerate.

I have full trust in our board; they ask the right questions, value community input, and show up. I have learned a lot from them, and am so glad God afforded me with the opportunity to work with a great and funny crew. Thank you, Newton.

Our District is on the rise, we are working through some growing pains, but as a person who has been all over the state, those pains are in every district. We have a few more key players or pieces that will help us go from good to great.

Tom has been professional in answering my many phone calls, fielding any questions, and taking much unsolicited advice. He is transparent, and honest. I appreciate that.

I want to thank the community members and staff; you always gave me a reason to be vocal and brave. In the meantime, I am going to learn to drive a tractor, mow some lawn, and pray God will point me down the right path in terms of employment for next year.

RahRahRedPRIDE

Liz Hammerly

Christopher Braunschweig

Christopher Braunschweig

Christopher Braunschweig has a strong passion for community journalism and covers city council, school board, politics and general news in Newton, Iowa and Jasper County.