Board weighs budget options

IHS block schedule will end in 2016-17; this school year to end early

Persephone Means and Katie Bauer, Staff Writers

Iola USD 257 is not immune to the hardships created for Kansas schools by education cuts at the state level, and with news of more than $500,000 in spending cuts on the horizon for the district, the halls at IHS have been filled with speculation and anticipation.

A couple of weeks after deciding to approve an attendance center reorganization plan for lower grades, the Iola Board of Education on April 14 debated such topics as the removal of block scheduling at Iola High School and school calendar options.

After discussion at the meeting, district officials voted to put off IHS block scheduling changes until the 2016-17 school year and also approved a plan to end classes for students early this year on May 15. The board was meeting again April 27 as this edition went to press.

Superintendent Jack Koehn recommended in mid-April that the district consider a seven-period school day at IHS to match scheduling at the middle school. He told the board it could save as much as $80,000 down the road if the schools are able to share staff members.

Although some parents and students in late March voiced concerns about the academic effects of losing block scheduling, the board decided April 14 to vote to get it on record that the high school will be dropping the block system effective fall 2016. There is still the potential that the board will also consider an eight-period day, in light of worries about IHS students losing elective options with a seven-period day.

Those who question such a move say shifting from eight classes every other day to seven classes every day would limit course offerings for IHS students, which in turn limits student growth by eliminating some opportunities.
Lisa Wicoff has expressed her concerns:

“When we cut down on electives, we cut down on the well-roundedness of our students,” she said. “I hope they look at the modified block. I think there’s a lot of benefit.”

Attendance centers

At the late March board meeting, district officials approved a plan to reorganize elementary schools. McKinley Elementary will now house preschool and kindergarten, Jefferson Elementary first and second grades, and Lincoln Elementary third and fourth grades. As a result of this shift, fifth grade will be relocated to the third floor of Iola Middle School, where it will share a principal with sixth grade.

The latter part of this plan has perhaps been the most controversial. But, officials say, fifth and sixth-graders will be on the top floor so they can be isolated from seventh and eighth-graders for the large part. The different grades also will have separate lunch and recess times.

On the academics side of things, Brad Crusinbery will serve as principal of fifth and sixth grades, while Jack Stanley will lead grades seven and eight.

The district says that the attendance center plan will increase equity for students in technology, class sizes and demographics. Increased consistency for students is also expected to improve comprehension and achievement for students. More positive behavior supports and efficiencies and more space for special education students also are expected, Koehn has said. Another added bonus of the plan, officials say, is that band and orchestra might be able to be offered to fifth-grade students.

The Bowlus

Another topic of discussion during the debate over budget cuts has been the Bowlus Fine Arts Center. In the end, the school board approved a $40,000 reduction in the high school’s payments for use of the Bowlus. That is a bit more than a third of the annual price tag of renting space in the facility for IHS classes.

Students attending IHS travel to the Bowlus to take fine arts electives, and Bowlus Director Susan Raines said the institution will always be available for students’ use. The question in the end, officials say, is how many classes will remain there.

One recommendation has been be to pull certain classes out of the Bowlus, such as choir and speech, while leaving others there, such as art, band and drama. However, it isn’t guaranteed that high school classes would be conducted there permanently.

Raines said a board made up of Bowlus employees, high school administrators and Allen Community College administrators has been meeting since 2010, knowing that classes may have to be redone in the future.

If the Bowlus were not used for IHS, she said, the facility could be utilized in different beneficial ways. “I think the Bowlus could become a magnet school for the arts.” Raines said. This means classes there would be for all ages of students.

Some people have said they wonder about the strength of the relationship between the school and the Bowlus. But Raines countered such notions: “It’s actually a great one. We just have to figure out how to make things work.”

The board members, she said, are “in a very difficult situation, and they’re doing the best they can.”