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ELC administration answers queries

By Staff | Jun 6, 2008

Estherville Lincoln Central Community School District Superintendent Dick Magnuson, Board President Molly Jo Anderson, and Business Manager Kate Woods Thursday in an interview with the Estherville Daily News addressed a list of questions put forth to the board by district patron Amber Houge.

The same list of questions was left at the Estherville Daily News offices with a note that the questions would be answered at Monday night’s school board meeting. However, Magnuson, Woods, and Anderson said the board meeting would not provide enough time to address all the questions. They also questioned whether a board meeting would be an appropriate forum to address a list of 17 individual grievances.

Following are the administration’s and board’s responses to the questions.

1. What is the purpose of the $3,000 a year in gas money Mr. Magnuson receives annually? Can he not drive a school vehicle?

Magnuson said before his tenure the district provided a car to the superintendent for in-district use. However, the board thought it was more cost-effective to pay him to use his own vehicle.

Anderson said the district might not always have a vehicle available.

2. Why is Mr. Magnuson renting a house from the school district? Do you feel $150 a month is market value? Who pays the utilities on this house? Who takes care of the lawn upkeep?

Magnuson said the district bought the house he is renting for $300 a month with the intent of demolishing it to make way for the new school. “It was too good to demolish,” Magnuson said. “The board did not want to get into the renting business.” He said the board wanted someone in the house that could leave with little notice. Magnuson can also observe school construction from the house.

Anderson said Magnuson pays utilities and for upkeep and that the district stores supplies and equipment at the property.

Magnuson said the district is now advertising to sell three homes for removal, one of which he is occupying.

3. Why are most of the high paid administrators living outside the school district?

Woods said the Iowa Association of School Boards Human Resources division advised that the district could not legally require that employees live within the district as a condition of employment.

4. Comments from the public indicate that they believe that the school board is in the “pocket” of Mr. Magnuson. How do you explain this perception?

“We make the decisions based on the best needs of the district,” Anderson said. “It’s not always what Mr. Magnuson recommends.”

5. When the buildings merge how many administrators will be needed? How do so many administrators benefit our children’s education? Could this money be used more for programs to challenge the talented and gifted area? Why are we not challenging these children?

Anderson said administrators will still be needed for various levels.

Magnuson said the district is down an assistant middle-school principal from when he first came to the district. “We spend much less administratively than other schools our size,” he said. “We adjusted to enrollment change.”

Magnuson, Woods, and Anderson also noted the large number of programs the district has for talented and gifted students, including TAG, the Challenge program, dual credit for high-school students, and the career academy at Iowa Lakes in Emmetsburg.

“The board has heard nothing but positive comments from its talented program,” Magnuson said.

6. Have you encouraged your co-workers, students, or parents to give suggestions on how to improve the testing scores and general education of your students?

Magnuson said there is a site council at each building and that the student councils also suggest improvements. “The site council is the avenue that we choose” to make many improvements, Magnuson said. The site council is comprised of parents, teachers, and students.

7. Have you asked your co-workers, students, or parents on ways to cut costs?

Magnuson said the district tries to cut costs through attrition rather than staff reductions in force. He said he is always looking for ways to contain costs. “We have to constantly monitor our expenditures,” Magnuson said.

Magnuson said the board and administration have done a good job of containing costs and there are no areas of extravagance.

8. Why are student grades not updated on the computer system in a timely fashion?

Magnuson said it is up to each teacher to update grades and acknowledged some recent problems with technology. If parents need to know how their children are doing, they should contact the teacher, he said. “Our teachers are very good about getting back to parents,” Magnuson said.

9. Why are testing scores so low in our school district?

Magnuson said some of the scores Houge mentioned were for ASSET testing which indicates how prepared high-school sophomores are for college classes. Sophomores actually have another two to three years to reach an adequate performance level. Magnuson also questioned a claim that 40-60 percent of 10th graders were in need of special education. He said that in some classes 25 percent of students had an individualized education plan.

10. Why are students being passed on to the next grade level when they are not proficient in their current one?

Magnuson said research shows that holding students back a grade hurts more than helps their academic progress. He said if a student is held back, it is with the mutual agreement with the parent, teacher, and principal.

Anderson said the district has tutoring and a credit recovery program available.

11. What impact will the SILO tax have on our school district?

“Right now we don’t know for sure,” Magnuson said, noting though that the district will probably get a higher per-student dollar amount from SILO given the fact that it will become a statewide penny tax July 1.

Magnuson said any additional funds will be dedicated toward school infrastructure and tax abatement.

12. How will you budget for upkeep and maintenance for the new school buildings?

Magnuson said the district reviews the previous year’s budget and estimates what the new costs would be. He said equipment, materials, and food are going up 7-10 percent.

13. What innovative program or classes are there at ELC?

Magnuson noted Second Chance reading, advanced placement calculus, the Career Academy, Cognitive Guided Instruction, and APL are all programs which have been publicized in The Communicator and The Pepper as well as at board meetings. He said he is going to ensure that innovative programs are highlighted at every board meeting.

14. What research-based evidence supports the Accelerated Math and Reading programs?

Magnuson said the board has had teachers present programs over the last two or three months on the Accelerated Math and Accelerated Reading programs.

15. What is being done to inform parents of new teaching methods?

Magnuson said the district uses The Communicator and school newspaper to tell parents of new teaching methods. Other means of communicating those new methods are board meetings, parent-teacher conferences, site council, and principal reports.

Anderson said parents can contact teachers directly if they have questions about new teaching methods. She said every grade has different methods of instruction. Anderson also said parents receive Friday folders for students through middle school.

16. What is being done to decrease the amount of homework for these children?

Magnuson said each grade level has a homework policy and that teachers discuss the amount of homework they are giving to ensure there is not too much homework for any given grade level.

Anderson said teachers also give students time to do their work in school.

17. How many total school days did the students attend classes in the 2007-08 year?

Magnuson said students attended 175 days of classes last year. They missed three snow days which they made up. He said next year’s school calendar calls for 177 days of classes.