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The view from the top

CCA supt. gives his State of the District report

OXFORD– The President of the United States reports on the State of the Union to Congress. The governor gives a State of the State report to the Legislature. Some mayors give a State of the City report to their city councils. In like fashion, Clear Creek Amana (CCA) Community School District Superintendent Tim Kuehl gave a State of the District report to the school board of directors in a pair of work sessions on Tuesday, June 4, and Tuesday, June 11, at Clear Creek Elementary in Oxford.
Kuehl and District Finance Officer/Board Secretary Lori Robertson compiled a wide array of data utilizing the Forecast5 Analytics software the district purchased last year and were able to compare and contrast CCA with several other districts of similar size. The report looked in-depth at topics including the district’s students (demographics, socio-economic status and enrollment trends), the staff, property and taxes, the district’s spending, the district’s revenue, student achievement and the future of the district.
As the district’s enrollment continues to increase, so too does the number of students on the Free and Reduced Lunch program. Twenty-three percent of the district’s students qualified for the free and reduced program this year, up from 20.7 percent in 2018 and 18.8 percent in 2017. Forecast5 compared CCA to Sergeant Bluff-Luton, Decorah, ADM (Adel, DeSoto, Minburn), Marion, Waverly-Shell Rock, Pella, Norwalk and Dallas Center-Grimes. Norwalk and Dallas Center-Grimes, located near Des Moines, had lower percentages (19 percent for Norwalk and only 16.1 percent for Dallas Center-Grimes) while Sergeant Bluff-Luton (in NW Iowa) had the highest in the group at 30.6 percent.
Kuehl speculated that with more multi-family housing coming to the district, coupled with the continued rise in enrollment, CCA’s percentage will likewise continue to increase. He noted 20-30 percent free and reduced seems to be the trend across the state.
In general, the high school, in Tiffin, continues to have the highest student population in the district, followed by the middle school (also in Tiffin), North Bend Elementary in North Liberty, Tiffin Elementary, Clear Creek Elementary in Oxford, and Amana Elementary. Six hundred forty-two students were enrolled in the high school this year with 551 at the middle school, 484 at North Bend, 481 at Tiffin, 291 at Oxford and 139 at Amana.
Ethnically, the district’s non-Caucasian student body consists of 5.96 percent two or more ethnicities, 5.89 percent Hispanic, 5.32 percent black, 1.41 percent Asian, and a bit less than 0.50 percent American Indian for roughly 19 percent of the total student population. This, too, is a trend, which continues to increase for the district.
Kindergartners, first, second, third and fifth-graders made up the highest enrollments by grade level this year, continuing the trend of larger classes (as a group) at the lower elementary levels.
The district has stated a desire for smaller class sizes and has worked to maintain a staffing ratio trending from a high of 17.8 students to staff in 2013 to 16.7 this year. Kuehl pointed out the ratio only looks at FTE (full-time equivalent) positions in the classroom and does not account for para-educators and classroom assistants. In general, the district’s goals are for 20 students or less in kindergarten through second grade, and 25 for grades three through five. In addition, Kuehl said CCA has, “the second-lowest ratio” among the other eight like-sized districts used for comparison.
As the district has continued to add FTEs in response to increasing enrollment, so too has the average salary increased from $45,000 in 2011 to $50,000 this year. However, CCA has the lowest average salary in a comparison with schools such as LeMars (approximately $65,000), Waverly-Shell Rock (approximately $61,000) and Marion (approximately $54,000).
Nearly 20 percent of the teachers have between five and 10 years experience, with nearly 10 percent having up to one year of experience and roughly 5 percent having more than 30 years in the classroom.
Property and Taxes
Taxation is the primary means of financing any school district, and each district has multiple avenues into taxpayer funds, including the voter-approved Instructional Support Levy (ISL). In the 2018-2019 Fiscal Year (FY 2019), the ISL taxable valuation per students was $477,844 for CCA, which puts the district above the statewide median of $392,435, but well below the statewide maximum of $1,385,187.
Property owners in the district, particularly in Johnson County, have seen a sharp increase in their assessed property value over the past decade in general, and especially in the past year. Property values increased 9.16 percent in 2018, but skyrocketed up 39.59 percent in 2019. By comparison, property owners in the Pella school district saw a 1.64 percent decrease, property owners in the Marion Independent School District only saw a 0.36 percent increase, and Dallas Center-Grimes property owners saw a 13.88 percent increase.
A key factor in the increase, Kuehl explained, came from the Coral Ridge Mall coming off of TIF (Tax Increment Financing). Residential property owners in the CCA district make up 48.6 percent, or the majority, of the taxable valuation while commercial is 33.3 percent and agricultural land is only 6.5 percent.
Kuehl emphasized the district has lowered its property tax levy rate for two consecutive years. Property owners have seen an increase in their taxes due to the higher valuations, not due to the district asking for more money.
The district spent nearly $18,000 per student in 2018 with teaching staff making up the largest of nine different expenditure categories at approximately $6,000 per student. The district topped $28,000 per student in 2008 and 2016 with property acquisitions accounting for a large chunk of the spending.
Looking at General Fund dollars per student, CCA spent roughly $10,500 for each student across nine categories. Marion however spent nearly $12,000 in General Fund dollars per pupil with Norwalk the lowest of the comparison districts at roughly $9,500.
School districts have multiple revenue streams, including income tax surcharges, local sources (taxes, tuition, investment income), State Supplemental Aid and grants, other state aid (including area education agencies), and federal dollars. Money from Washington, D.C., made up the smallest component of CCA’s finances in 2018 while other financing sources (such as selling bonds, interest on investments) made up the largest percentage. Local and state sources were roughly even in comprising the district’s general fund revenues per student in 2018 with federal dollars per student at about $1,000.
Taxes, not surprisingly, brought in the lion’s share of revenue in 2018 with $20,281,429 generated for the district, up from $19,184,857 in 2017, and $17,849,298 in 2016.
Student Achievement
The district has shown improvement in student achievement in the areas of math, reading and science. The percentage of students demonstrating high proficiency has steadily grown in math since 2014, and reading since 2015. Students demonstrating intermediate proficiency, however, still outnumber the highly proficient, while the number of students displaying a low proficiency has remained somewhat steady, and make up the smallest percentage. Science proficiency has fluctuated since 2013 (the first year in the report) through 2018 with those meeting intermediate proficiency again making up the largest percentage. Students showing a low proficiency outnumbered the high proficiency group in 2018, and science proficiency declined somewhat from 2017.
CCA’s math proficiency in 2018 was on par with the comparison schools at slightly above 80 percent and was better than Marion, which was below 80 percent. Dallas Center-Grimes showed the greatest proficiency with 90 percent followed closely by Decorah and Pella at nearly 90 percent. Reading proficiency was similar with CCA just below 80 percent, but fairly close to the comparison schools, which again were led by Dallas Center-Grimes and Decorah at just under 90 percent proficiency. CCA was one of the lower performing in science among the districts compared.
The Future
The Forecast5 software generated a series of projections for 2020 through 2024, which show a steady increase in the certified enrollment. CCA grew by 187 students this year, and at least 190 are anticipated for the next school year with an assumption of 200 per year from 2021 forward.
RSP & Associates will provide its latest enrollment projections to the board this month.
Budgetary predictions were made with assumptions of what the State Supplemental Aid (SSA) might be. SSA has varied from years with no growth (schools received the same amount of aid as the previous year) to 2-3 percent increases over the previous year. The forecast steadily increases budgetary categories such as salaries, and dropout prevention while leaving the voter-approved Instructional Support Levy (ISL) unchanged at $.10, and the ISL surtax at $.04.
The forecast also calls for staffing changes to remain steady through 2024 with an increase in 2020 due to the opening of Oak Hill Elementary in Tiffin. It anticipates leaving the board-approved Physical Plant and Equipment Levy (PPEL) at $.33, and the voter-approved PPEL Levy rate at $.67 through 2024 with the surtax remaining at 3 percent through the period.
The board’s next regular meeting is scheduled for Wednesday, June 19, at 6:30 p.m. in the new administrative building at the intersection of Highway 6 and Upper Old Highway 6 Road NW (in the former Hummer Trucking headquarters).