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Giving students out-of-the-box experiences on a budget


SmartBlog on Education in an ongoing content series will illuminate challenges and best practices in rural education.
Interested in contributing to this series? Contact our team with your ideas. In this blog post, the superintendent for a rural Iowa school district shares her biggest challenges and how she uses technology and community to overcome them.

I am in my fifth year as superintendent of Estherville Lincoln Central Community School District in Northwest Iowa. Estherville is a town of 6,600 located near the beautiful “Lakes Area” of Iowa. We have approximately 1,380 students enrolled in four schools: two elementary buildings, one middle school and one high school.

As a rural school district, our biggest challenge is being able to create opportunities for students to see the world through a global perspective. We are limited in the cultural experiences we are able to provide our students, and yet we must prepare them to enter a workforce or higher education where they will no longer be working in the isolation of our rural communities. 

We are working diligently to seek out what opportunities we are able to bring to our community and students that expand the viewpoints and challenge the thinking of many. We want work within our budget box to provide out-of-the-box thinking and experiences to help prepare students for the world they will be entering.

Our community and county resources have also been cut dramatically when it comes to mental health services. We deal with students who need specialized services, including mental health, and with less and less funding, it is harder and harder to get the students the outside help they need to be productive. It takes all of us to educate students, and this is a link that is missing in many rural districts.

Another unique challenge to rural districts is attracting top quality applicants for teaching positions. Most new teachers want to begin their careers in a city school with lots of social activities and amenities. As a rural district, we are challenged to find candidates who are willing to move away from those things to a quieter way of living. And we do believe that we can provide our teachers with social events that require face-to-face interactions and meaningful ways to make a difference not only in the lives of their students, but also in the life of the community.

A final issue we deal with is purchasing. Whenever possible we work to buy local, but this can cause us some trouble because we are a small enough community that following district purchasing procedures can easily be overlooked. It is the “friendly neighbor” mentality that we do not want to go away, but we do want to make sure that we follow procurement procedures for accountability purposes.

So, because of our size, we also do much of our purchasing out of town. Tracking the multitude of vendors that our staff likes to use as well as managing the line-item accounts can become cumbersome in a district with such a small staff. Using a cloud-based purchasing platform has helped us on a local and global level. In our program, we are able to run reports that show line-item expenditures, which can then be compared to our internal budget numbers to keep us on track. Having this data at our fingertips allows us to spend more time looking at ways we can reallocate funds within our budgetary box to provide those out-of-the-box experiences for our students.

Tara Paul is the superintendent of Estherville Lincoln Central Community School District in Iowa, which uses k-Purchase to manage its purchasing.

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