How the school board balances budgets and resources for maximum educational opportunities
Local school boards must balance responsible financial management with the goal of providing the best education for every student.
“Like other parts of the country, we have to manage with state funding that isn’t keeping pace with inflation, and the declining enrollment common to rural districts further reduces our available funding,” says Rob Levis, V-S school board president. “Our goal is to minimize expenses, maximize the available resources, and stay focused on the job everyone in the school has – the job of doing all we can to teach kids.”
Adjusting to funding changes is exceptionally difficult in the school environment because around 80% of most district’s expenses are for staff. “You can’t just cut people,” says Levis, “because people are what make teaching possible. The same is true of all the staff. We need people safely driving buses, answering the phone when a parent calls, and keeping the inside of the buildings clean and the outside maintained.”
The board credits Superintendent Hainstock with providing the guidance necessary for them to make informed financial decisions. “When I was an administrator in the district, we weren’t taught a lot about finances of the district or at the building level,” explains board member Sue Gates, who retired in 2003 as principal at Shellsburg Elementary. “We were told we had X dollars to run our building, and that was pretty much it. Mary Jo spends much, much more time explaining the principles of funding and expenses, not only
One hallmark of Superintendent Hainstock’s approach is a 140-page budget workbook that board members and administrators are expected to review. The board annually conducts a budget workshop where they discuss goals, the upcoming funding outlook, and any financial topic that could impact student opportunity. Many board meetings also include an agenda item concerning budget analysis.
All of the focus on money can be misleading, however, because the board and the school see careful management of resources as the way to deliver superior opportunities for students.
One example of how the two facets work together is the commitment to teachers in their first and second years in the profession and to the continued professional development of all teachers. (see the article titled “Enhancing the New Teacher Experience”.)
“Good stewardship allows us to be supportive of innovative programs and experiences for our teachers and that means better programs for our students,” explains board member Kathy Van Steenhuyse. “Project Lead The Way is a program that has earned national recognition. The staff at Tilford Elementary has received a Blue Ribbon School Award. Eric Upmeyer was able to attend a month-long immersion in Shakespeare this past summer, and Kelly Stefen spent the summer at Gettysburg. Those are just a few examples of the outstanding commitment our teachers have to students. I like to think of what we do as good management in the service of great teaching.”
Superintendent Hainstock receives recognition and praise for her guidance, but she wants the community to understand how important it is to have a school board committed to education. “The best boards have members from diverse backgrounds who encourage the sharing of ideas by all members and who listen to each other. As individuals, they must be passionate about the importance of education, yet put the final decision of the board above their point of view on any given issue. They are asked to shoulder tremendous responsibility, yet respect their role as a member of the board, not a manager of the school. It’s an incredibly difficult position, and we are all fortunate that our Vinton-Shellsburg school board handles their responsibilities so well.”
The current board includes Rob Levis, now serving as board president. Rob is retired from the U.S. Army and is now Region Director of the Americorps NCC campus in Vinton. Board Vice President Sue Gates is a retired V-S principal. She and her husband Dave are active volunteers at school events. Brenda Bartz works at the Iowa Department of Social Services as a child abuse investigator. Jason Hicok is a software engineer for GoDaddy. Kyle Schminke
Board member Kyle Schminke thinks he knows why this diverse group of people works so well together. “We may be very different, but we share one thing in common; we care about all our students, and we believe every child deserves the best from all of us.”