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Fisher asks board to consider ‘common sense changes’ to early retirement policy

By James Grob,

The Charles City School District will not be offering early retirement incentives this year, at the recommendation of Charles City Superintendent Mike Fisher.

“This year we are up in enrollment and we’re in a much better financial position,” said Fisher, who said this was also the recommendation of the district’s director of finance.

“Our past history would say that we would not offer early retirement packages in a year like this,” he said.

The Charles City Board of Education agreed with the recommendation and voted unanimously at the board’s regular meeting Monday to not offer early retirement incentives for employees retiring at the end of the 2019-20 school year. This is the second consecutive year the board is not offering the incentives.

Fisher talked the board through his reasoning.

“We typically offer early retirement in the spring of years the district is short money, and oftentimes we have made cuts,” said Fisher, who told the board that he would like to “think of a new way of doing this.”

“The way we’re doing it violates our own district principles of ‘no surprises,’” Fisher said. “We have some people in a retirement situation, never knowing year after year — ‘will we offer it or will we not?’”

Board President Josh Mack said that the issue needed to be settled this year, so teachers can plan around it, and that the board should look for a long-term recommendation before the next school year.

“In the past, it’s been more like we just wing it every year,” said Mack.

Fisher said there needs to be future conversations as to how to best balance the needs of the taxpayers, the staff and the district.

“What is the purpose of early retirement?” Fisher asked. “Early retirement for us has to have some cost savings for the district, and to the taxpayers. There is turnaround savings — as people depart, and we hire people who are less tenured, there is a savings. But we don’t want to see some of our best people just walk out the door, either. There has to be a balance there.”

The board’s negotiations committee met with teacher leaders on Nov. 22 to discuss the issue.

“We’re having great discussions with our teacher leadership and negotiations team, and also with our support staff negotiation leadership,” Fisher said. “I have met with teacher leadership to talk about what would be a common sense practice on how we would know when and where people might be eligible for early retirement, and how it would make sense with our budget practices.”

In other business Monday, the board approved a request from Fisher to travel to Pike County Schools, in Georgia, to do an essential competencies site visit sometime in January, and to provide Fisher with professional leave days and hotel expenses.

Fisher told the board that Charles City has started a collaborative conversation with Pike County Schools, having connected with the district through the Portrait of a Graduate process.

The district has been able to use the next steps to engage essential competencies, an area where Fisher said Pike County has done “outstanding work.” Additionally, Pike County is interested in learning more about Charles City’s student leadership model.

Fisher proposed visiting the Pike County school district, and in turn, Pike County would visit Charles City in the spring. Fisher said the trip would only cost the district his professional leave days and hotel costs. He would drive his own vehicle and take care of his own meals. The trip would be scheduled on a Friday or a Monday. The board approved the trip unanimously.

The board also unanimously approved updated board operating principles Monday. The board had gone into work session on Nov. 25 with Harry Heiligenthal and Mona Nelson from the Iowa Association of School Boards to draft operating principles.

The operating principles the board approved Monday were: “Information for one is information for all. No surprises. Verify facts. Think ahead. Disagree and then commit.”

In other business Monday, the board:

— Directed Fisher to send a letter of support to Charles City in favor of the city’s broadband project.

— Heard a review from Estes Construction regarding the facility needs study Estes completed for the district in November 2018 and November 2019.

— Scheduled a work session for Wednesday, Dec. 18, starting at 7 a.m., at the NIACC building in Charles City. The work session will continue discussion of the district’s facilities and assessment needs. The meeting is open to the public.

— Approved Flexibility Fund expenditures, resolving to expend funds from the district’s unexpended and non-obligated professional development flexibility account, at a total of $63,018.

— Approved the resignations of Mikaila Sloter, assistant varsity volleyball coach; and Rachel Vaughn, Washington para-educator. Sloter’s resignation is effective Dec. 9 and Vaughn’s resignation is effective Feb. 9.

— Approved the appointments, effective immediately, of Teresa Boge, Pinecrest car driver, at $16.77 per hour; Diane Stewart, SE bus monitor, at $14.91 per hour; Phillip Frenchick, assistant middle school drama, at a salary of $1,040.

— Modified the contract of Susan Leeper, home school assistance and IC vocal music teacher, adding additional hours and salary increase of $4,963.12.

— Approved the transfer of Robert Hebert, from ninth month Washington custodian to ninth month custodian/driver.

— Approved the 2020 Iowa Drug and Alcohol testing program fees of $1,375. This program is for random testing of current drivers.

— Approved a memorandum of understanding with the Foster Grandparent program, to provide up to $2,000 of support for fiscal years 2019-20, 2020-21 and 2021-22.

— Shared some of the things board members learned at the Iowa Association of School Boards convention, which was held Nov. 20-21 in Des Moines.