Starting a new year – Marshalltown Times Republican

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It was a discussion-filled first Marshalltown School Board meeting of Fiscal Year 2017-18 Monday evening, and topics ranged from computers to cash to district goals.

Marshalltown Schools Director of Instruction Dr. Lisa Stevenson presented the most recent data available on attendance, bullying and harassment, and drop-out and graduation rates, among other information.

“While our average daily attendance is increasing, which is a good thing, there is concern over the fact that the number of students that are considered chronically absent … is increasing,” she said.

“Chronically absent” students are those who missed 18 or more days of school for any reason over the course of the school year, Stevenson said.

According to the presentation, the total number of chronically absent students in the 2016-17 school year was 1,180, or 23 percent of the student population between preschool and 12th grade. The average daily attendance information was not yet available.

On a different note, Stevenson said the number of students who bully or harass other students looks to be trending down.

“We are decreasing the percentages of students who are bullying and harassing, so these would be the ‘bulliers,’” she said. “There were 112 students who had one or more incidents of confirmed bullying or harassment.”

Though the Marshalltown High School graduation rate for 2016-17 is not yet available, Stevenson said the total number of drop-outs last year was 97 students.

Recent graduation rates at MHS have been below 90 percent in each of the last four school years, and she said reaching or surpassing the 90 percent figure is one goal going forward.

On attendance, Stevenson said another goal is to have no more than 15 percent of all students classified as chronically absent; another is to get students who bully or harass others down to or below 2 percent.

For drop-out numbers, she said the goal is to lower the total to 80 students or below.

Another item of discussion Monday was the transfer of $52,061 from the general fund to the activity fund, a measure that was approved unanimously by the board.

“There was not enough revenue being generated to cover the cost of transportation, so to help the activity fund out, we came up with the idea of having them pay for half of the cost of transportation for their events,” said district Director of Business Operations Brian Bartz. “That has helped somewhat, but not enough to alleviate their deficit, so that’s why, moving forward, we’re proposing that they don’t get charged for any transportation costs, and we may look at it year to year to see if it’s feasible to charge them anything.”

After receiving emails and calls from some school coaches, board member Mike Miller said some student-athletes had raised money for uniforms that, when the funds were transferred to the activity fund, could not be purchased.

Bartz said part of the deficit in the activity fund was unauthorized spending from the other athletic funds, meaning cash was used up.

“You could say they’re borrowing money from some of those other funds … there were some purchases made that should not have been approved,” Bartz said. “The reason we ran into trouble is there wasn’t enough cash in there, their deficit was so large, there wasn’t enough cash in there to even fund those activities that have a positive cash balance.”

In discussions with recently-arrived Athletic Director Rollie Ackerman, Bartz said the athletics fund had a balance of $90,000 5 years ago, and that has decreased the current $120,000 deficit for several reasons.

“It’s a matter of just getting the cash balance across the whole fund up, so that those that actually do have the money in their accounts can spend it,” he said. “Part of it is just to make sure that … before they spend the money, they have the money in their accounts.”

Miller said he sensed some coaches were unhappy with the inability to spend money that would otherwise have been available.

“It sounds like we made some bad decisions there,” he said.

Also approved at the meeting was the purchase of an Apple iMac lab for use by the MHS Art Department. The cost was listed at $27,876.64, and the lab will replace the one currently used by art students.

The meeting dates for FY17-18 were also approved. A public hearing on Phase Ii of the MHS Roundhouse project was set as well, and will take place Aug. 21, along with the school board meeting that same day at 5 p.m. at the Central Administration Office.

The next Marshalltown School Board meeting is set for 5 p.m. Aug. 7 at the Central Administration Office, 1002 S. 3rd Ave.

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Contact Adam Sodders at (641) 753-6611 or asodders@timesrepublican.com