Alta-Aurelia’s superintendent retiring

Friday, March 15, 2019

“In a way, this is my graduation,” said Lynn Evans, Alta-Aurelia’s superintendent since 2003, as he announced his retirement to the school board. “I started school at age five and never left.”

Having served as a teacher, sports coach, principal and superintendent for several different districts since his 1986 start in education, Evans said it’s time to obey the Rule of 88 and step down, passing the baton while the district is in excellent condition for transition.

The Rule of 88, which adds one’s years of experience to their age, allows public servants to step down and receive IPERS retirement benefits once their number is at or above 88 and they’re at least 55 years old.

At 33 years experience and almost his 55th birthday, Evans says he’s had a fulfilling career, leaving him young and healthy enough to pursue other unplanned ventures. He will continue to pursue a new path in education.

The widely-respected administrator saw Alta and Aurelia, separate districts when he started, through a reorganization hailed as an example by other districts around the state on a horizon of often contentious mergers with districts that become part of five- or six-letter acronyms.

“A lot of a small town’s identity is tied to a public school district,” Evans said in a previous interview. “Any time there’s a sharing or reorganization, that does play with the culture of a community. That’s why we feel it’s important to have a presence in most communities as best as we can.”

The consolidation of districts is likely to continue with increasing financial pressure posed by rural depopulation and an extended trend of state funding that doesn’t keep pace with the rate of inflation.

“They touted 2 percent as great, and that worries me a bit,” Evans said of the most recent bill passed by the Republican-controlled legislature, appropriating a 2.01 percent per-pupil increase in funding for schools.

That’s about half of what education advocates say is necessary for schools to survive.

Board members credit him for the collected and reassuring presence he brought to the district throughout its reorganization.

“Most superintendents don’t get to [oversee a district reorganization] in their home towns,” Evans told the Pilot-Tribune.

Alta’s cash balance was hundreds of thousands in the negative before reorganization. Aurelia had no spending authority left to use.

“You were a huge asset for us to be able to get past stuff. So, thank you,” said board member Gigi Nelson.

Now, they have a $4.6 million positive balance, mostly backed by cash in the bank.

“You got us where we needed to be,” said Jon Turnquist.

“As a parent and board member, I thank you,” concluded Jen Kaskey at Monday’s Board meeting, as the volume of chatter dimmed around the table to yield to a bittersweet moment.

It was a pregnant pause when the board realized that with this retirement, an invaluable confluence of knowledge and skilled leadership would be departing, too.

“I’m glad my kids go here,” she said.

Palpable emotion hovering over the conversation made it a small challenge to push through to approve the other retirements on the agenda.

“I put a lot of work into development and take a lot of pride in it,” said Evans after the meeting. “I’ve got to hand it over to somebody else, which will be difficult.”

But through all his years in Remsen Union, Saydel, North Iowa, Sanborn and Buffalo Center districts, the reorganization is one of his proudest accomplishments, leaving his hometown’s district better than he found it. Alta-Aurelia is one of the most fiscally solid districts in the state with academic achievement scores trending upward continually.

“They shouldn’t have a mess to clean up,” he said of whoever will be his successor.

The superintendent’s position is a lot different than what it was when he first started 16 years ago, he said, mostly with rapid changes in technology and communication styles.

Now, a superintendent is on-call 24/7, every day of the year—a stress he won’t miss.

Evans also has concerns about the future of the public school as an institution.

“The other piece I’m not going to miss is continual erosion of local control,” he said, as more and more state legislation comes out to dictate what districts have to do—whether they want to fund it or not.

“The issue is taking decision-making away from those closest to communities, which is school boards,” he said. “Decisions driving legislation have very little to do with rural Iowa.”

He also takes issue with robbing taxpayer coffers to fund private education, while private institutions don’t have to abide by the same standards and guidelines as public schools.

The legislative trend may be growing in part due to the growing number of elected officials on the Hill whose own children are either homeschooled or in private education.

“I’m a product of private colleges,” the superintendent said, “but they need to be held to the same standards and expectations that public schools have.”

But he’s proud to have turned the district’s biggest weaknesses—finances and academic and extracurricular offerings—into their biggest strengths, and will miss working with the Board that helped make it happen.

And they did it without being scrooges, he chuckled.