NEH looks at options for administration

BLAIRSBURG – At a special meeting Tuesday night, the Northeast Hamilton School board accepted the resignations of two administrators and discussed future strategies.

Superintendent Patrick Hocking submitted his resignation to the board after 19 years with the NEH district as school principal and more recently as superintendent. Hocking will take the superintendent position at Lisbon CSD on July 1.

“Thank you,” NEH school board President Kim Schaa said, expressing the district’s gratitude to Hocking after the vote. “We appreciate all you have done in the past 19 years and we wish you well.”

The board also accepted the resignation of Susie Fiscus, district business manager. Fiscus was appointed to the position last year and leaves the district due to a business transfer.

“It was short, but it was a good year here,” Schaa said to Fiscus. “We appreciate all you have done.”

The board then entered into discussions with high school Principal and Administrative Assistant Dennis Bahr.

In his career, Bahr has assisted in 35 administrative searches for school districts throughout the state.

At 70 years of age, he rejected the offer to fill the NEH position, but vowed to help the district develop a plan of action and locate new administrators.

Bahr outlined scenarios that the board needs to consider in making future plans.

“What is the district going to be in two to three years?” asked Bahr.

Bahr asked the board if it will continue to participate in high school partial day sharing with Webster City or convert to whole grade sharing in the coming years.

That decision will determine which strategy to pursue, he said.

Bahr suggested the board investigate administrative services that Webster City CSD could offer. While he suggested that NEH could seek shared business and administrative services, he recommended the school retain an elementary school principal.

“You will always need an principal in the elementary school,” he said.

Board member Roxanne Anderson questioned the enrollment trend which continues to drop and what effect that would have on the decision.

Hocking estimated that next year’s enrollment will remain steady although he reported that since the beginning of the current school year, six students have left the district. For next year, three students have filed for open enrollment.

With the declining enrollment, the district may lose $183,000 in state aid in fiscal year 2014, Hocking said.

“I don’t know how you get the enrollment slide to stop,” he said.

Board members discussed the breaking point for the district. While Mike Rapp speculated that enrollment will be the deciding factor, Randy Greenfield questioned about future state funding.

In looking forward, Bahr noted that Stratford has been in a high school whole grade sharing agreement with Webster City since 1986.

As with the sports program, declining enrollment may force the NEH district to consider additional staffing options, said Bahr.

“It might get down to a point where you don’t have enough students to justify hiring a teacher,” said Bahr.

The board proposed adding another class period of sharing with Webster City. This extended day would keep the students over the lunch period.

Taking students out of the NEH lunch program would have a domino effect on an already struggling meal service, said Rapp.

In sharing administrative duties, Greenfield questioned sharing a superintendent position.

“I’m not sure I like the idea of a shared superintendent,” he said, preferring the district has an advocate with only its best interests in mind.

“You need your own voice (as a district),” agreed Hocking.

Board member Rapp outlined what he felt were the district’s three options: share a superintendent and employ a full time principal for the K-12 school; hire a part time superintendent and a full time principal; or continue to have a full time superintendent/elementary school principal and a part time high school principal.

“We need to decide what will get us through the longest,” he said.In determining the financial officer role, Fiscus noted that the AEA could provide business manager duties but the district is required by state law to have a board secretary. Fiscus has filled both roles this year.

Hocking recommended that the district investigate sharing business services with Webster City.

“Shared expenses can help the district stay viable for additional years,” said Bahr.

Hocking also suggested the NEH district research other possible staff sharing options with WCCSD.

Before the conclusion of the meeting, Bahr contacted Webster City Superintendent Mike Sherwood and scheduled a meeting between Sherwood and NEH board members Kim Schaa and Roxanne Anderson for Friday at 9 a.m.

In addition, the district will continue to advertise both positions on the Iowa School Board website and in the Des Moines Register.