Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Walt Rogers Visits Hudson Community School District

Representative Walt Rogers explains to Mr. Simmer's
Government class how a bill becomes a law.
In educations circles around the state, there is much conversation centered around the education reform effort that will be proposed by Governor Branstad.  It is his intention that education reform will be a centerpiece of the 2012 General Assembly.  This is in response to the Governor's Summit on education that was held this past July.

Right now, policy makers are busy drafting proposals and sharing ideas.  The Governor and Department of Education have included various stakeholder groups in the conversation, including representatives from the Iowa Association of School Boards, School Administrators of Iowa, and the Iowa State Education Association.  At this time, we do not know exactly what will be included in the proposed reform initiatives, but continue to receive regular updates from the organizations the represent us in the legislature.  The draft proposals are scheduled to be released on October 3rd, and between that time and when the legislature convenes, we will all have an opportunity to provide feedback as the proposals are refined and sharpened. 

When school starts in the fall is an opportune time for us to visit with our local legislators about these types of issues or others that are important to Iowa school districts.  In light of what we expect to be major education reform that will result in a significant paradigm shift, there is no time like the present to visit with people that have been elected to represent us.  I extended an invitation to Representative Walt Rogers to visit with me at Hudson Schools on September 6th.  We used that time to discuss educational issues, the challenges that we face at Hudson, and what education reform may look like in our state.  This was followed up with a tour of district facilities and an opportunity for Representative Rogers to answer questions from teachers and students.

Over the course of the last session, Representative Rogers and I shared many email correspondences in which I disagreed with the position that he was taking with regard to some of the issues that directly affected our school district.  One example was the funding formula as it relates specifically to allowable growth for Regular Program District Cost.  Because of some of these differences, I wasn't quite certain how our conversation was going to go, or how it would progress.

What I will share with you is that Representative Rogers was eager to learn about the Hudson Community School District!  He asked very good questions, and took notes during our conversation.  He shared with me the rationale behind some of the decisions that he made during his first session as a state legislator.  I felt that he really took the time to try and understand the difficulties that we are facing, not only at Hudson, but statewide. 

As we continued our conversation, I wanted to share three main areas for Representative Rogers to think about during the 2012 General Assembly:
  1. Modified Allowable Growth.  Some of the rules and constraints on the use of this funding has made it very difficult for school districts to adequately serve the At-Risk population.  This has the unintended consequence of becoming a program designed toward response instead of prevention.  We are of the belief that it is much better, and cost effective, if we can use preventative measures in our work instead of response when something becomes a problem.
  2. Education Reform.  Undoubtedly this will be a huge topic of the next General Assembly.  I encouraged the Representative to listen closely to what constituents are saying back in his district.  I also shared that it is not going to be enough to simply to say what the reform effort is; but rather make sure there is a solid plan to pay for it, less it become an unfunded mandate, which brings me to my final point:
  3. Unfunded Mandates.  I explained how unfunded mandates are having a very negative impact on our ability to educate students, and that every time an unfunded mandate becomes law it has the effect of diverting money from some other purpose in our general fund.  I shared that we can't do everything in education with fewer and fewer resources every year.
Finally, we had a walking tour of the school district.  My point during this tour was to brag about the wonderful education we have occurring in our district daily.  I wanted to show him our students, and how proud I am of them each and every day.  I wanted him to see the wonderful things that are going on daily in the schools, and we had an opportunity to do that.

Equally important, I wanted him to see the impact of our budget cuts from last spring, and how difficult it was becoming for all schools, not just the Hudson Community School District, when our budgets are continually cut.  So what is going to happen going forward?  I really don't know.  What I do know is that unless we visit with our local legislators and share with them what the impact is of the decisions they make in Des Moines, we can expect more of the same.  Will we continue to have disagreements?  No doubt about it.  But now that we have had this important conversation, we can be assured that Representative Rogers understands the challenges we face and is able to put them into context!

If you are interested in hearing more from Representative Walt Rogers, he has accepted an invitation to attend our board meeting on October 17th.  Please plan to attend.

Representative Walt Rogers listens as kindergarten
teacher Andrea Hottle explains the challenges associated
with a large section of kindergarten.

For those of you who are wondering, I am scheduled to have this same conversation with Senator Jeff Danielson on September 19th.  Our local legislators are available to you!  I would encourage you to contact either one with questions or concerns.  They are more than willing to listen to you!  Take advantage of this time to visit now before the session begins!

1 comment:

  1. You made some excellent points to Rep. Rogers. He needs to see for himself, the impact his decisions in Des Moines have on the schools in his district so he will get off his ideological high horse and start working in the best interests of his constituents. I wish I had been able to come up with what I really wanted to tell him, which is, "Don't cut programs that, in the long run, add value to the state. Look past the immediate savings and consider the big picture. It makes no sense to save a few bucks now on value-added programs that will impact our future positively."