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School board passes levy; hears about success of AmeriCorps program

The Nevada school board passed a levy rate of 16.60 in approving the next fiscal year’s budget on Monday.

One member of the public attended the public hearing on the budget, just prior to approval, and stated concerns about higher tax levy. The current levy is 15.71 per thousand dollars of valuation. He asked the board to think with “common sense” when determining its needs.

Board President Marty Chitty said, “I’d like to think as a board we have done the best we can… We do a good job of putting money aside. We are in a position where we can pay our bills, we can offer raises and we can keep up our buildings along the way… We feel the cost is both bearable and appropriate.”

The new tax levy falls pretty much in the middle of where the levy has been throughout the past 10 years. It was highest in the 2005-06 and 2006-07 years at 17.76.

On Monday the board also listened to presentations on compentency-based grading, part of a series of presentations on grading, and it heard from a group of FFA members about their recent Renewable Energy Conference (covered in last week’s Nevada Journal).

Also making a presentation Monday were Jean Kresse of United Way of Story County and Barb Mittman, AmeriCorps, Iowa Reading Corps volunteer at Central Elementary this year.

Kresse said that funding for the AmeriCorps Reading Program is provided federally and matched locally. United Way of Story County is providing the local funding for three AmeriCorps members, who serve at Central, Ballard East Elementary and Sawyer Elementary in Ames this year. The Iowa Reading Corps’ goal is to have all children become proficient readers by completion of third grade.

Kresse explained that in September of 2012, United Way was looking at how to pilot a reading program and invited all school districts in Story County to attend a meeting. She said Kathy Goecke and Joel Fey, Central Elementary principals, were among people from four Story County districts who attended.

Of the four districts, Kresse said only Colo-Nesco, which wanted a part-time AmeriCorps member, was not able to be put in the program this year. She said it is the hope of United Way that the program can be expanded to other schools in the county in the coming year. United Ways of Iowa, the statewide organization, has applied for a grant. If received, this will help expand the program in Iowa, which is being offered in five other Iowa school districts outside of Story County this year.

Mittman explained her work as an AmeriCorps volunteer, noting that she serves 17 students one-on-one each day. As students work through the reading strategies their growth is charted, and those who attain proficient levels then exit the program, but continue to be monitored on their reading skills to be sure they don’t drop back down.

Mittman said the AmeriCorps Reading Program is helping those kids who often fall through the cracks, because they aren’t low enough in reading scores to qualify for Title I help, but they aren’t quite at a high enough level to read as proficiently as many of their peers.

Tutoring the students one-on-one is Mittman’s favorite part of being an AmeriCorps volunteer, she shared.

The good news of the evening, Kresse told the Nevada school board, is that Mittman has said that she’d like to stay on in Nevada another year. As part of her AmeriCorps agreement, Mittman will also continue to work with United Way this summer, helping the school district and United Way with expansion of the summer food and enrichment program.

“We are going to expand the (food) program from 16 days (in 2013) to 28 days this summer,” she said. “We will be working with the school on that, and Barb and a team of volunteers are creating the enrichment program to go with that. I can’t tell you how excited I am that we’re working with the school to make this program even bigger and better than it was last year.”

One change United Way and the school are hoping to make in the summer food and enrichment program is “where” the meals are served. Last year, they were served at St. Patrick’s Church, which falls within the boundaries mandated for the program and is based on where the low-income populations are most centralized in the community. Even though it’s only a couple blocks away, the elementary school doesn’t fall within those boundaries. Still, United Way has applied for an exception with the USDA to allow meals to be served at the school. There has been no answer given yet, she said.

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