Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Evolution of the Renovation.

With just a week to go until school starts, I am thankful we are finishing the 'punch list' for the early childhood wing in the elementary school. Over the last couple of weeks, I have enjoyed giving tours and explaining how the project evolved over the course of defining the scope of work; to planning, design, and execution. A long time coming, this renovation was first envisioned in the strategic plan titled, 'Hudson 2020' adopted by the Board of Directors in 2013. Isn't it awesome that a vision laid out in 2013 continues to guide us today? Not only does this honor the work of previous boards, but it gives the current board the latitude and flexibility to meet the needs of our students and community in 2017. Recommendation #4 broadly asks the Board to prioritize renovation of the elementary without boxing them in to include any specific scope of work or project. 

We began this task with many work sessions that included brainstorming projects that needed to be addressed in our elementary school. Working in consultation with our School Improvement Advisory Committee (SIAC), we were able to narrow the scope of this work into different projects and priorities. Rising to the top of the list of priorities was the replacement of all the windows in the facility. With a single pane of glass, the seals were beginning to break down and they were not all that energy efficient. Teachers reported that in the winter wind would blow through unsealable gaps, making it cold. Obviously, some of this could be attributed to the window air conditioners we use to keep the rooms comfortable during those periods of hot humid weather.

At the same time, it was important to maintain the ability to air condition our classrooms. The board liked the idea of window air conditioners because they were relatively inexpensive and easy to replace. If one went bad, we could simply swap it out for another one. However, it didn't seem to make a lot of sense to put in a new window that would let in natural light, seal up the gaps, and then install a window air conditioner. Ideas to install the units above the windows were quickly scrapped when we realized predicting the size of future air conditioners was an exercise in futility. That is when we landed on the idea of the mini-split unit, which is a ceiling mount unit controlled by a condenser on the roof of the building. While not as inexpensive as a window air unit, they more than made up for this additional cost through the energy efficiency that we will realize. Not to mention they are so quiet you can hardly hear them running!

We have also improved our energy efficiency in this wing by replacing all the lights. The light fixtures in the elementary school are currently fluorescent bulbs, which are not very efficient by today's standards. So it was determined it would be a wise investment to replace all these fixtures with LEDs. Not only are they more energy efficient, but they have very little maintenance associated with them. This new lighting is also designed in a way to complement the natural light that comes in through our windows. On a bright sunny day, the LED lights will automatically adjust to the amount of light that is needed in the classroom by using a photo cell mounted in the ceiling. Further, if there is no one in the room, the lights will automatically turn off. 

Perhaps the number one priority of the school board was to make our competition gym handicap accessible. Navigating the stairs on the North or South end of the valley has always been the primary way to get into the competition gym, and not all that practical for those who use walkers or wheelchairs. For years, the only way for our patrons in wheelchairs or walkers to enter the gym was to come through the emergency exits on the East end of the gym. Many strategies were discussed that included installing an elevator, putting in a lift, or installing a ramp. Ultimately, the Board decided the best course of action was to remove half the steps on the South side entrance and create a ramp, which turned out great! By the way, if you are visiting the district and need to access this ramp, we have three handicap parking spots right outside this entrance. 

As we continued to identify and refine the scope of this work, it became obvious the entire project could not be completed at one time over the course of the summer employing the financing strategy that has been the goal of this Board. For example, the estimated cost to replace the windows in the entire facility was estimated at over $550,000. That is the sum the Board had budgeted for one year in renovation expenses.  We discussed the option of completing each of the different phases of the renovation as a stand alone project, but that idea was abandoned at the advice of our architect, engineer, and local contractors. They recommended a renovation where we completed each section of the building at one time so we only have to contend with demolition in one area of the facility at a time. 

Now that this phase of the project is wrapping up, it is time to start considering phase two of the renovation. We have the benefit of hindsight and have clearly articulated the scope, it will be up to the board to decide which area of the building to tackle next and how best to finance the project!


Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Consider Our Priorities

The last three weeks we have discussed priorities the Board of Directors have identified for the upcoming legislative session. To recap, we have covered a lot of ground, including the importance of removing the sunset on the one cent sales tax, the benefit of operational sharing and ensuring those incentives continue, and the unintended consequences of unfunded mandates. Today we save the best for last, and if you have been following me for awhile, you probably know what is coming next.

Timely and adequate supplemental state aid. Specifically speaking, we are interested in the amount of inflationary increase associated with per pupil funding for the fiscal year that will begin on July 1, 2018. During the 2016-2017 school year, the state 'cost per pupil' was $6,591. Supplemental state aid increased the state cost per pupil by 1.11%, so for the 2017-2018 school year, the state cost per pupil increased by $73 to $6,664. To put that in perspective, CPI for the month of August is 2.4% and for the last year has averaged 1.48%. 

I think it is also important to note that then Governor Branstad recommended an increase of about 2.45% in his Condition of the State address in January of 2017. At the time, we all lamented the fact that it was low, but now with the benefit of hindsight, we are thankful we saw an increase at all. As the year continued to unfold, the Revenue Estimating Conference downgraded revenue projections at each meeting. We are in a situation now where it seems very likely that a special session of the Legislature will be called in October to deal with an even greater shortfall. We will undoubtedly have an opportunity to debate the reasons for those shortfalls in future articles, but for the meantime, I'll focus on the need for adequate and timely supplemental state aid. My point is that, yes we get it and understand, but wonder if the larger issue is one of priority. 

Nevertheless, and thankfully this issue was settled relatively early in this past session. Although it is worth pointing out that we should have been discussing supplemental state aid for the fiscal year that begins on July 1, 2018. You see, the law as previously written required the legislature to set supplemental state aid 18 months in advance of the new fiscal year. This was designed to give school districts ample time to make changes to personnel and programming decisions.  But when they set the new funding levels, they also changed the law that removed the 18 month lead time. Now we have a mere 6 months. 

Indeed the budget is going to be tight this next year and I recognize that. I further realize that there are many, many competing priorities that we have as a state. But perhaps as a state it would be wise to consider our priorities. Many of our politicians talk about their support of education as a priority and the fact that Iowa has traditionally found itself recognized as a leader in education. They talk about how important it is to retain (or regain depending on who you talk to) that coveted status.

But at 1.11% supplemental state aid, it makes it incredibly difficult to maintain our standing as a leader. At 1.11%, Hudson schools will see an increase in revenue of $45,955. With a general fund budget of $8.4 Million and an overall budget of $10.7 Million, that hardly seems adequate. Consider this: It's August and we have already invested $33,275 in a new science curriculum. School doesn't start for two more weeks.