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School board approves ‘Flexibility Fund’ expenditures

By James Grob,

Over $60,000 worth of non-budgeted or unexpected items were financed by the Charles City Community School District Board of Education on Monday thanks to a procedure enacted by the Iowa State Legislature in 2017.

At the recommendation of Charles City Superintendent Mike Fisher, the board unanimously approved a resolution to expend funds from the district’s unexpended and non-obligated professional development flexibility account, totaling $63,018.34.

This included $8,500 to furnish an extra elementary classroom, $4,992 for a tool storage cage in the high school wood shop and $5,330 for advanced instructional reading material in the middle school library, among other things.

In 2017, the Iowa State Legislature lifted restrictions on how school districts can spend state funding. At the time, state money provided to schools flowed into a series of funds that carried restrictions on their use, including money for professional development, preschool and building maintenance.

“The Legislature loosened restrictions on categorical funds. They were very restricted,” Fisher explained. “They created flexibility accounts for money we couldn’t spend, couldn’t use or had large balances. We can transfer that money to a flexibility account that could be used for any general fund purpose.”

Fisher said the funds can be “a big help for essential things that don’t get budgeted” or unexpected items that come up.

One unexpected item came up at the start of the football season. Just before the first home game, it was discovered that the scoreboard needed about $1,500 worth of repairs. Fisher said that without the Flexibility Fund, the money would’ve had to come out of the school’s athletic and activities budget.

The law states that increased district flexibility in unexpended, non-obligated amounts from certain categorical funds “can now be used by creation and utilization of a Flexibility Account within the General Fund.”

There are some requirements. A district has to explain how it’s using the fund and what the purpose is, and it is also obligated to hold a public hearing. The board had the hearing Monday. No written comments were received prior to the hearing, and no one from the public commented at the meeting.

“We also set up some internal controls,” Fisher said. “These funds are basically grants that can be written by the senior leaders, and senior leaders can write the grants on behalf of teachers. Teachers and staff can request grants to be written.”

Then Fisher and district Business Manager Terri O’Brien review the grant requests.

“If it benefits all kids in the district, those grants get prioritized,” Fisher said. “We were blessed this year, with the money we had we were able to approve all the grants this year.”

Fisher said all of the grants have a direct impact on teaching and student learning, and many had connections to safety and facilities.

Approved Flexibility Fund expenditures, Dec. 9, 2019 (Total $63,018):
Washington Elementary — $2,000 (common learning spaces update); Washington Elementary — $8,500 (furnish additional 2nd grade classroom); Middle School — $5,330 (5th grade classroom library, Lucy Calkins reading material); Middle School —$4,463.10 (Big Ideas math material for 6th and 7th grade); High School — $4,167 (AP history books); High School — $4,992 (tool storage cage for wood shop); High School — $1,169.35 (literature that is modernized, relevant and engaging); High School — $4,795.99 (dust collector system with new ducting); Activities — $1,500 (football scoreboard repair); Building and Grounds — $1,377 (Washington signage); Building and Grounds — $595 (Carrie Lane signage); Communication — $2,053 (seven radios and base station, antenna); Board of Education — $300 (microphone for local channel audio); Board of Education — $12,500 (consultant fee, community information); Public Relations — $2,500 (beautification projects); Technology — $5,775 (PowerSchool/Performance Matters set-up fee).