I am reaching out to our awesome community of Lone Tree in order to share some concerns at our school. I have spent my entire life in our community. In addition, I am currently employed at our school.

I must also note that our current school board members are family, friends and neighbors of mine, of which I truly appreciate all of their time and service to our school. It is often a thankless job, and when things go awry, it can become a very difficult and daunting road that lies before them. 

With that said, I would like to address some concerns and disparities that currently lie within our district. 

I attended my first school board meeting in March in order to better understand how our administration works or how it might be different from past regimes. This led me to attend the April work session and April board meeting. 

To say enlightening might be an understatement but enlightened I have become.

Without getting into sordid details (if you want those, I highly encourage you to start attending board meetings), the first issue to arise was the school calendar. This correlated to the certified teacher handbook, which relates to their contracts, which are based on days, not hours (of which our student contact time is correlated to).

Maybe you see a little confusion in just this information alone. In the April meeting, I learned about the certified staff negotiations meeting with the board on April 17. Because I have now become more than curious, I decided to attend this meeting. 

What I learned and what I watched was disheartening to say the very least.

There are 335 school districts in Iowa. Lone Tree School ranks 329 in pay but is located in “the highest cost region of the state overall, Johnson County,” according to the website IowaPolicyProject.org. The certified staffs’ negotiating team presented information on a PowerPoint comparing Lone Tree’s starting pay, average pay and average teacher retention in years with other area schools.

For example, Lone Tree’s starting salary is $33,961 compared to Highland’s at $38,507. Lone Tree’s average pay is $38,639, and Highland’s is $50,869. Average teacher retention years for Lone Tree is 4.1 and Highland’s is 13.2 years.

Yes, average retention numbers will skew average pay numbers, and I do think the retention is a red flag that needs to be addressed. But before I get sidetracked on that issue, let’s continue comparing some other numbers, because our naysayers will indicate to us that Highland is a larger district, so let’s look at Wapsi Valley, whose enrollment numbers were almost identical to Lone Tree. 

Wapsi Valley’s starting pay is $5,105 more ($39,066), average pay is $13,463 more ($52,102) and retention at Wapsi Valley is, on average, 14.4 years.

I must also note here, Lone Tree’s administration negotiating team declared those numbers are wrong. An attempt to clarify how the numbers presented were wrong (of which I did not understand) was made, but certified staff rebutted with the numbers they used were given to them by our administration and are public information.

Are you confused? I was; nonetheless, let’s continue onward. 

You will find on the school website, Lone-Tree.k12.ia.us, the school board goals for 2018-2019. Under Culture it reads: “Foster a culture that provides for staff learning, growth and retention.” Under strategies and data points I see nothing that addresses the retention piece. I have to question this omission as a lack of understanding on how to adequately address it.

Regardless, it is on the board goals, for that they need to be accountable. Are they working to achieve staff retention?

The certified staff is asking for a 10% increase in their pay and to unfreeze the pay scale. Even at this rate, salaries will still be lower than average. Unfreezing the pay scale will mean the teacher who has taught in our building for three years will finally be off the first-year salary. 

After the presentation and request was made the school administration recessed to the superintendent’s office. Thirty minutes later they returned to present the school board’s offer of adding $145 to base pay and continue the freeze. 

No explanation, no appreciation for service, no apology for rejection, actually, no nothing. 

Another meeting date of April 25 was set, and administration immediately left the meeting. Let’s pause here a moment, by my calculations $145 equates to roughly $0.82 a day. Or another way to look at this, Lone Tree School has 40 certified teachers, multiplied by $145 each, this will equal an additional expenditure of $5,800.

Are you contemplating what is right and what is wrong here? Have you seen posts on all the various social medias showing the amazing work of our staff? 

Teachers guided students to lead particularly fabulous events at our school such as Dance Marathon and World Hunger Day to name a couple. Our preschool morning greeting literally went viral on social media.

Several major events were hosted by Lone Tree School, led by teachers of those student organizations.

I think you see where I am going here. Teachers are here because they want to make a positive difference for our students. They want to encourage, guide, inspire and educate our small district students to have or make an impact in a very big world. They certainly are not here for the pay. 

But, in that respect, we need to make sure they are financially supported, and if we are not able to do that, we need to be respectful enough to explain why and gracious enough to show appreciation in other ways. 

I left the negotiation meeting embarrassed, disappointed, let down and sorry.

Embarrassed that a school I am so deeply rooted in has decided to treat our teachers in this way. 

Disappointed because I was expecting so much more regarding respect and integrity from our administration. 

Let down because I understand the significance of team culture and how this will play out in our building. 

And sorry for our teachers who struggle to support their own families in order to make a positive difference in the lives of others, more specifically, our own Lone Tree students.

I am encouraging you to reach out to our board and administrators with your own concerns. Attend board meetings and work sessions. Ask questions. Become involved. I strongly feel it is important to start paying attention to the business of the school business.

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