Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Revenue Purpose Statement-What it is and Why It's Important

Most of the time when we have discussions about school finance and the status of our financial condition at Hudson, I am specifically talking about the general fund.  This is the largest fund that makes up our budget, the one that bears the cost of operations for our school district including salaries for staff, electricity, and other instructional supplies.  This is the fund that we are typically most concerned about when we talk about such things as financial solvency ratio and unspent balance. 
The Greenhouse project was funded through a combination
of PPEL and LOSST funds.  The total cost of this project
was in the neighborhood of $53,829.50.
In addition, there are other funds that we use in tandem with the general fund that are incredibly important to our bottom line.  Each fund has a separate purpose and only certain expenditures can be attributed to that particular fund.  For example, the nutrition fund can only be used for expenses related to the hot lunch program, while the management fund can only be used to pay for such things as property/casualty insurance or benefits for our early retirees.  The health fund is pretty self explanatory; we use that to pay health insurance premiums and claims, while the dental fund serves a comparable purpose.

We also have two funds that are designated specifically for physical plant purposes such as the repair, replacement, or upgrade of our facilities.  Those would be the PPEL Fund (Physical Plant and Equipment Levy) and the LOSST Fund (Local Option Sales and Service Tax).  While repairs and upgrades can also be paid out of the general fund, our guiding philosophy is to pay for as many of our repairs and upgrades as possible out of our building funds in an effort to protect the financial stability and solvency of the general fund.  When we are preparing to initiate various projects, it is important during the planning phase to determine which fund is most appropriate.  Part of that consideration has to be what is currently allowable under state law.  Provided the sum of the repair project or upgrade exceeds $500, we can use these funds for repairs to the buildings and grounds, furnishing buildings and providing equipment for classrooms, or they can be used to fund improvements and building projects in our school district.  Without these funds and the revenue they generate, the cost of repairs and improvements would be borne out of the general fund.  I think everyone is aware of the challenges we are facing in our general fund, and the fact that our general fund simply could not support these building projects. 
This may not look like much, but it was the best I could
come up with for a photo!  Phase One of our elementary
school electrical upgrade was completed this summer.  The
total cost of this project (excluding engineering and
architectural fees) was approximately $87,000.  The
school was also the recipient of a $25,000 Harkin Grant
to help defray the costs of this project.

The PPEL fund is supported through local property taxes at a rate of $1.67.  This rate is calculated through the combination of a board approved levy (.33), and a voter approved levy ($1.34).  In our current fiscal year, we expect to collect approximately $277,624 in our PPEL fund.  The voter approved levy is scheduled for voter re-authorization in 2014.  The LOSST fund is supported through collection of the 1 cent sales and service tax.  During this fiscal year, we expect to collect approximately $535,690.22 in sales tax revenue.  In all, we expect revenue in our building funds (PPEL and LOSST) to exceed $810,000. 

When we specifically talk about the 1 cent money, the voters of the Hudson Community School District have the opportunity to decide how those funds are going to be spent, which becomes the purpose of today's post.  This is decided through what is commonly referred to as a Revenue Purpose Statement.  The Revenue Purpose Statement is just that, a statement, or letter of intend to the voters of the Hudson Community School District, on how the school district intends to invest the 1 cent penny tax back into the Hudson Community School District.  On September 13th when you cast your vote for school board members, you will have the opportunity to case a vote for the renewal of our Revenue Purpose Statement.  We think it is important for you to know that the current Revenue Purpose Statement doesn't expire until 2019.  Because of that you may be wondering why we are putting a question on the ballot at this time.  Well, there are several reasons for doing this, but the main reason is to align our Revenue Purpose Statement with the most current legal language.  Here are some specifics:
  1. The penny sales tax is now a statewide sales tax and not county by county. 
  2. The statewide sales tax expires in 2029; in Hudson our Revenue Purpose Statement is set to expire in 2019.
  3. The name of the fund is no longer called LOSST; but now is referred to as SAVE (Secure an Advanced Vision for Education fund).
Although it may not look like much, almost $50,000 was
invested in the drainage around the high school over the
summer as we make preparations for paving the high school
parking lot next summer.
PPEL or LOSST funds.  Without this Revenue Purpose Statement, we would not be able to fund these project, or many of the other projects that we have undertaken this past school year. 

Updating computers and other technology hardware is
a never ending venture!  Over the course of this past summer
we invested over $100,000 in computer replacement, including
the addition of a new computer lab in the elementary school.
These funds are pretty important, not only for projects like the ones that have been described in this post, but also when dealing with the unexpected.  I am no longer surprised when a piece of equipment breaks down and we need to get it fixed immediately.  One quick example I can share with you is some ongoing maintenance issues with the cooling tower at the high school.  It doesn't take long to spend $20,000 to $25,000 when a heating pump or cooling tower fails.  While these items can be covered as a general fund expenses, it can have the unintended consequence of significantly eroding the general fund and depleting the unspent balance of a school district.  With repairs like this, it wouldn't take very long at all to put the district into a much more difficult financial position.  This is exactly the kind of contingency that our Revenue Purpose Statement is designed to address.  Not only is it enabling us to plan for future improvements like parking lot upgrades, or paying off bonds for our high school (which has the effect of a lower tax rate); it also enables us to respond to unplanned emergencies, like a boiler going out or a water leak!

As you consider the merits of the proposed Revenue Purpose Statement, you may have questions.  Please feel free to contact my office at any time.  You may also be wondering if the Revenue Purpose Statement is a tax increase.  The answer to that is an unequivocal no!  This question is simply deciding how we will allocate the funds that we will generate through the one cent sales tax.

Please remember to vote on September 13.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Meet the School Board Candidates

September 13th is an important day for the Hudson Community School District, because on that day we will elect two new members to the Board of Directors. Long time Board Members Maureen Hanson and Trent Goodnight have decided not seek re-election.  Tanya Higgins and Karyn Finn have filed paperwork for the election, and we thought it would be a good idea for you to learn a little more about them. I had the opportunity to have lunch with both candidates yesterday and get to know them better.  You will be impressed with the passion they share for education and the enthusiasm they have for board service.  To help you learn more about our candiates, I posed a few general questions to each of them. 

Tanya Higgins
Where did you grow up, go to school, college, and where do you work?  I grew up in northeast Ohio, a small town called North Jackson.  My husband also grew up in this town and our family still lives there.  I attended Ursuline High School in Youngstown, Ohio.  It was a parochial high school and afforded me the opportunity to take honors classes.  My undergraduate was completed at Youngstown State University with a degree in Materials Engineering.  I graduated Cum Laude.  My Master's degree was completed at University of Wisconsin, Madison and is a Master of Engineering, Professional Practice.  Upon graduation from Youngstown State University, I worked in a manufacturing facility in Ohio and a steel mill in Kentucky before joining Johne Deere, where I have worked for the last 10 years.  I am the A&T Division Quality Deployment Manager for North America, Australia, and New Zealand.

Tell us about your family. 
My husband and I have been married for 17 years.  We have 2 daughters, Peyton (10th grade) and Reese (7th grade).  At school, our daughters are involved in academic clubs, athletics, and the arts.  Outside of school, they are both accomplished riders and show horses in the hunter/jumper discipline.  The rest of our family still lives in northeast Ohio.

What drew you to board service? 
Honestly, there was a need.  I have children in the school district and have always been involved in their activities and in their education.  I have a great amount of respect for our past board members.  It is not an easy job and sometimes difficult decisions have to be made, especially in today's environment.

What do you believe is the greatest challenge facing education in Iowa? 
The report released this summer by the Iowa Department of Education detailing the overall decline in Iowa academic achievement scores from 1992-2009 in math and reading is very concerning.  Other states and countries are passing us up which will ultimately limit the opportunities available to our students.

What do you believe is the greatest challenge facing education in Hudson? 
Given the status of the economy today, we must be more creative in how we use all of the resources available to us so that our students are fully prepared to be globally competitive.

What do you hope to accomplish by serving on the Boad? 
I hope to find a way to continue the great traditions and reputation that the Hudson School District has and to strengthen the learning environment to give our children an advantage when entering college and the job market.  Personally, I hope to further develop my leadership skills and strengthen the community where I live.

Karyn Finn
Where did you grow up, go to school, college, and where do you work? 
I grew up in Metairie, Louisiana just 5 blocks from the parish line of New Orleans “The Big Easy”. I attended parochial school from K-8th  grade. Yes, uniforms and tradition like you wouldn’t believe. I attended Archbishop Chapelle High School, an all-girls school (1200 total students), in a class of 300 still in plaid skirt & white shirt uniforms. Chapelle HS was then and continues to be a model of educational excellence, focused on preparing confident young women for the future.  College preparation was a very important part of the program and I have to admit I was well prepared for entry into college without taking any college classes in HS.   I earned my Bachelor of Science in Physical Education-Athletic Training from Tulane University in New Orleans, LA.  I also earned an Associate of Applied Science in Surgical Technology from Kirkwood Community College. This Fall 2011 I will add to that a Master of Arts in Community Health Education.   My Grandfather who was an immigrant from Mexico in the late 1920’s always said “get an education; it is something that can open doors and can never be taken away”. It was a true statement then and is especially true now in preparing our children for the future: forward-thinking innovative education will be the key.

Tell us about your family. 
Our family moved to Hudson 12 years ago due to work at UNI and since then Hudson has grown on us in ways that I would never have imagined. I have to admit that those first couple of years I wondered if we shouldn’t be in one of the bigger towns to the north but could never justify leaving the hidden benefits of living in a small town with access.  Needless to say, we stayed and have enjoyed raising our three children, Juliann, Ryan and Carmen in Hudson. Kevin, my husband, is a professor at UNI in Exercise Science. I was a part-time instructor for UNI Kindergym for 10 years and also worked at Covenant Medical Center in Surgical Services for 7 years.

What drew you to board service?
After the challenging events of last year in meeting budgets and providing continued excellence in academics for the students of Hudson I thought that there is no better time to get off the sidelines and get into the game than now. In July I considered greater involvement in the community especially in education. I spoke with current and previous school board members to get a better feel for the obligations and expectations of the role.  I was pleasantly surprised at the enthusiasm and support that I received during these discussions.  Since that time I walked the neighborhoods in Hudson to get the petition signatures needed from community members; some with children in the district and many with grown children that were educated in Hudson.  It was an interesting few days during which I gained a new respect for community service.  The opportunity to listen to concerns and ideas from across generations is at the same time overwhelming and inspiring.  The Hudson people are passionate and steadfast with pride in the community. I am glad to count myself among the citizens with pride in Hudson, IA.  The challenges continue and it is in the best interest of the community to have a school that continues to have a great reputation in providing excellence in education and activities that prepare students for future opportunities locally and globally.

What do you believe is the greatest challenge facing education in Iowa?
The greatest challenge for education in Iowa is to be caught resting on the laurels of past performance and reputation without adapting the vision to be a leader in cutting-edge educational preparation for future job skills both locally and abroad. 

What do you believe is the greatest challenge facing education in Hudson?
The greatest challenge for Hudson is how to prepare our youth with an eye toward an ever changing world.  I tell my kids all the time that the world is bigger than your own backyard.  Hudson has had a great reputation for excellence in education but we need to continue to press forward with a unified vision.  We need to look beyond enrollment and budgets by tapping into our community talent pool during this financially challenging time.  By more effectively utilizing our citizen assets and building partnerships to capitalize on available resources, I have great confidence that we will prevail. Hudson will become a stronger school and community that will attract more families to our town, just as our family was drawn here 12 years ago.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Thanks to Our Custodial Staff!

In the final couple of weeks before the start of the new school year, it becomes a flurry of activity around the district.  Our staff is working under an incredibly unforgiving timeline and really pull out all the stops to ensure we are ready to go for the start of the school year.  I think you will all agree that the facilities look fantastic!  If you see one of our hard working members of the staff, please thank them for their hard work!

Late last week I was visiting with Mr. Schlatter and asked him if he could find someone who would be willing to clean out the flowerbeds and landscaping along the East side of the elementary building.  He told me that it wouldn't be a problem and that he would take car of it.  The next day as I was walking over to the high school I noticed that this area had been taken care of.  I asked Mr. Schlatter who it was that took care of it so quickly, and he remarked that he had no idea.  I did some checking around to see who it may have been, but no one seemed to know who this wonderful person was who completed such a selfless act of volunteerism.  We still don't know who the "Flower Bed Fairy" is, but if you are out there reading, I would like to extend a heartfelt thank you!

The Board of Education met last night in a regular business meeting.  As far as meetings go, it was a pretty routine meeting.  I will get to some of the specifics in a moment, but first wanted to extend a thank you to the parents who came to the meeting to advocate for an additional teacher in the kindergarten.  We all recognize that the kindergarten sections are larger than we would like them to be, but we also recognize this isn't a problem that is isolated to just the kindergarten.  We made pretty dramatic cuts in staff from last year, the by-product of which is larger class sizes; systematically.  Believe me when I tell you that we hear what you are saying, and if we could there is no doubt we would add teachers to our staff to reduce class size.  Unfortunately until we are in a better financial position, it is important that we stay the course.  We will continue to monitor the situation in the coming weeks.

In other action last evening, the Board spent time touring the facilities to see how some of the updates and upgrades to the district have come along.  There was also a review of some policies that will come up for action in the next couple of months (we are specifically looking into our policy on student permits for school), along with a policy on staff use of technology.  

This will be an interesting conversation in the coming months, especially since the state of Missouri recently banned the use of social media in the schools.  They no longer permit teachers to use such sites as Facebook for student learning opportunities.  What do you think about that?  Should teachers be permitted to use social media sites, such as Facebook for educational purposes?  

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Iowa: Did You Know?

During the last several weeks, I have been commenting on the Education Summit and some of the challenges that we face with the whole idea of reforming our educational system in Iowa.  I belabored the point that, although important, this work can't move forward without the full support of the decision makers at the state level.  In fact, in my conversations with people who have asked, my comments about the education summit have been summed up in a pretty simple phrase, "talk is cheap".  Perhaps there has been some skepticism in my tone.  I find myself asking the question, "Does Iowa have the political will to transform our educational system?"  We don't yet know the answer to that question.  Time will tell.

In Hudson, we know all too well that money is tight.  Our current financial position has caused us to make some tough decisions and no doubt there are still difficult decisions to come.

To reform our educational system, from the state down to the district level, it is going to force all of us to view education through a different paradigm.  Unfortunately, the schools we have today look very much like the schools that you and I attended.  I say 'unfortunately', because so much has changed in that time frame.  Computers and the Internet have changed all of that.  We are a global society, and yes, we are training our students for jobs that don't even exist yet. 

When we think about school, we think about what it was like when we were there.  Tragically, we often think that is what school should look like for our children.

So then, have I made my point?  Change is hard.  We have financial considerations, and a system of educating our population that is based on a model that is over 100 years old.  Those are two pretty huge obstacles that stand in our way.  It would be very easy to kick the can down the road and leave the task to someone else. 

But what is at stake?  Take a look at the video that is included with my post this week.  Some of you have probably seen the popular "Did You Know" videos.  This one has been specially prepared for Iowa and very clearly illustrates what is at stake.  The video is authored by Dr. Scott McLeod of Iowa State University, who is also a co-author of the very popular "Did You Know" series.  After viewing the video, I would encourage you to join the conversation by visiting and bookmarking the Iowa Future website.

For those of you that are avid readers like me, I would recommend you read The Global Achievement Gap by Tony Wagner, co-director of the Change Leadership Group at the Harvard Graduate School of Education.  In his book, Wagner outlines seven 'survival skills' for today's youngsters.  These are not the same skills we were taught in school.

We can all agree that this will be difficult.  The challenge will be to get everyone to agree that this is necessary.  Shall we roll up our sleeves and get to work?

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Welcome to our New Employees!

Earlier on this summer I had the privilege of introducing you to a couple of new faces that you will see around our school district this year.  Now that summer is wrapping up and we are on the eve of a brand new school year, I am very happy to announce that all of our remaining positions have been filled!

There will be several new faces joining us in the hot lunch staff this year.  Donna DaBillo has accepted our invitation to serve in our hot lunch program in the elementary school.  She has 25 years of experience in food service management.

Denise Trainor is also a new face in the kitchen this year.  Denise is a people person who loves being around children, so she will fit right in at Hudson Elementary School!  She is also very active in her church, and has helped out with the religious education program as both a director and a teacher.

Rounding our our newcomers on the hot lunch circuit is Terri Hoffman.  Teri is a graduate of East High School in Waterloo and enjoys staying busy and being around people. 

Mrs. Dieken has left her position as 7-12 Counselor for a position in another school district.  We are happy to announce that just this week we were able to find an outstanding replacement for Mrs. Dieken who will undoubtedly be able to pick up on the good work that has been the tradition in the Hudson counseling department.

Marcy Baltz  joins our staff after serving at Boone High School since 2005.  She began her tenure at Boone as a middle school science teacher, and in 2008 joined the counseling department at Boone High.  Her husband's job brought them to the Cedar Valley, and we were fortunate to be able to grab her up!  Marcy holds a Bachelor of Science degree in secondary education and a Master of Science degree in counseling, both from Drake University.

Please join me in welcoming all of our new faces at Hudson this year!

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Unfunded Mandates

We can be proud of the fact that in Iowa, we averted a government shutdown by ensuring budget bills were presented to the Governor before the end of the fiscal year.  Just in the nick of time too, because the final bill wasn't presented until June 29th (the fiscal year ends on June 30).  With all the controversy surrounding Minnesota's shutdown and the recent debt ceiling debate, it is any wonder anything ever gets done around here.  Nonetheless, Iowa somehow managed to get it's house in order to avert some of the problems seen in other states.  All that being said, it wasn't until just a few days ago that the dust began to settle and we truly are able to see where the appropriations are in the new budget bill.  Because the bill wasn't passed until the eleventh hour, the Governor was granted authority to keep the government running for 30 days in House File 698 while he reviewed the bill.  (HF 698 appropriated 1/12th of the FY11 appropriations for the month of July).
We wanted to paint our hallways in the elementary school
this summer.  Unfortunately that wasn't able to happen because
of the electrical upgrade.  However, we did have several
teachers who volunteered to paint their own classrooms.
Pictured above is one of the finished rooms.  (Mrs. Hottle's 
room is pictured.) 
There was some fear that the Governor would use his line item veto pen to put a stop to some of the previously agreed upon legislation.  My biggest concern was that he would veto the 2% allowable growth for FY13.  Thankfully that wasn't the case.  I won't go into every single detail of the legislation, but I do think it is important to point out a few points in the funding and appropriations this year, especially since we are gearing up for a General Assembly in January that is going to focus on education reform. 

Okay, time to get down to the brass tacks of the topic.  House File 645 is the Educational Appropriations bill that was ultimately signed on July 27th.  The total funding in this bill is $809.9 Million, which is a decrease of $30.7 Million compared to FY11 appropriations.  I won't get into what each line item contains, but I counted twelve appropriations that will experience a cut in FY12.   Many of these will experience a decrease in funding by an average of six percent.  Probably the biggest blow to us and many other school districts is that the state aid portion of the instructional support levy was completely eliminated.  The instructional support levy permits local school districts to increase general fund budget authority by ten percent through a combination of property tax, income surtax, and state aid.  The state aid portion is calculated through a complicated formula, and has been underfunded for years.  By eliminating the state aid portion entirely, Hudson has lost approximately $13,000 in cash and spending authority.  The saying goes "Cash is King", but in Iowa school districts "Spending Authority is King".  There is no mechanism to make up for this loss in authority.

In reference to specific appropriations, some of the difficulty that we are now going to see is [that in some cases] the funding for a particular program has been eliminated, but we are still required by law to provide that service or program.  Then it becomes what we refer to as an unfunded mandate.  One such program is new teacher and administrator mentoring.  It is absolutely critical that our new teachers and administrators have qualified mentors available during their first two years of service to ask questions, problem solve, etc.  Now that the categorical aid has been removed, the funding for that program will have to come from another area of our budget.  Believe me, I am not arguing that we shouldn't have mentorship programs, but there should be a recognition that these programs cost money, and a funding stream should be provided.  Otherwise it has the unintended consequence of diverting money from another area of the budget, such as textbooks.

Granted, this doesn't amount to a lot of money, but when it gets piled on top of other unfunded mandates, it doesn't take long before we are inundated with a plethora of requirements and no way to fund them.  In case you are wondering, there are a number of unfunded mandates that are a part of the legislation.  There have been attempts in this legislation to remove these and other unfunded mandates, but it is tough!

After all, who can argue with the fact that we should be teaching CPR to all students before the graduate?  That is definitely a noble cause.  Or, how about the mandate that we use green cleaning products with our maintenance department.  That is also pretty tough to argue with.  The problem is, that in order to teach CPR, you have to pay to rent equipment, and in many cases an instructor.  Green cleaning products?  Well, they are pretty expensive when compared to traditional products.

The AEA system was also cut by $20 Million, and support to the DE for the implementation of the Iowa Core/Model Core Curriculum was also reduced. 

We are just coming off an educational summit where the talk of the town was, and is, educational reform.  Education reform can happen in our state, and Iowa undoubtedly has the capacity to return to the stature of 'best in the nation'.  It is just a matter of if we are going to be provided with the resources to return our state to greatness.