Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Board Sets Legislative Priorities for the 2014 General Assembly

Each year local school districts work in collaboration with the (IASB) Iowa Association of School boards to develop a legislative platform for the coming General Assembly. IASB provides approximately 35-40 position statements that are drawn from previous platforms or other educational issues that have come up during the course of the legislative session, and presents those position statements to local boards for discussion and debate. Through our discussion, we select five of the positions to forward on to the IASB for consideration. During the annual meeting [of IASB] held in November, a Delegate Assembly  is convened and the collective membership will vote, and again debate the issues. This process is used to develop a legislative platform that provides focus and context for the legislative session.

During the regular board meeting held on July 22, the Board evaluated the platform and discussed the issues. What follows are the five priorities of the Hudson Board of Directors that have been forwarded on to IASB  in rank order and a brief discussion of their merits and why they were selected.

  1. Strike age requirement language in Section 279.46 Code of Iowa regarding retirement fund incentives (SF 220). Special note: This particular issue is not included on the IASB platform, but is a proposed piece of legislation that the board has been working on for a couple of years. During the 2013 General Assembly, the legislation did pass out of committee and was voted on and subsequently passed by the Senate. Unfortunately the House did not take up the issue. While we did not fully succeed, great progress was made during this last session. Why this is important: First, you need to understand the context of this law. This law states that school districts may provide incentives to staff in an effort to retire early, and to pay those incentives out of the Management Fund. We often times provide these incentives as a way to encourage turnover of staff. While a difficult decision because this means that our most experienced teachers are encouraged to retire, we counterbalance this with the realization that this type of incentive has the net effect of reducing General Fund expenditures. By utilizing the Management Fund to pay for these incentives, it does exactly that. The problem is that this incentive can only be paid out of the Management Fund for employees between the ages of 55-65. The original intent of this law was to encourage early retirement. The problem is Board Policy cannot legally be crafted in a way to fit those parameters. When a retirement incentive is offered, it must be for all employees (with at least 20 years of experience in the district), regardless of age. While employees between the ages of 55-65 can be compensated out of the Management Fund, employees over the age of 65 must be compensated from the General Fund. Remember: we have to offer the incentive to all employees in that job classification that have at least twenty years of experience. I would argue that it is counterproductive to offer a retirement incentive for the purposes of reducing General Fund expenses if you can't pay for that compensation out of the Management Fund. I would even go so far as to state that 279.46 is discriminatory in it's language.
  2. Supports flexibility in the use of modified allowable growth for dropout prevention and the expansion of the definition of at-risk to also include low socioeconomic status as a factor in determining a student's at-risk status. Why this is important: In recent years, the flexibility afforded this program has become very restricted. Expenses that previously were permitted to be coded as part of the dropout prevention program are no longer acceptable. Because of restrictions to this fund, some positions had to be scaled back. In addition, the requirements for qualifying students have become much too narrow and inflexible for the purposes of this type of programming. Now, at-risk programming is determined solely through an attendance threshold, whether or not the student has a connection with the school, behind in credits for graduation, or behind in student achievement. We believe that there are additional factors in addition to those aforementioned when making a determination of at-risk status, and would argue that socioeconomic status is an indicator and one that is overwhelmingly supported by current educational research. Furthermore, as a district that boasts one of the most successful at-risk and dropout prevention programs in the state, restrictions on local control of this programming have at times hamstrung programming options for students deemed at-risk.
  3. Supports a school foundation formula that adequately, and in a timely manner, funds changes in demographics, including declining and increasing enrollment challenges. Why this is important: This causes a problem in funding because school budgets are formula driven, and the most important variable in the formula is school enrollment. The enrollment is calculated using a number we commonly refer to as Certified Enrollment, which is due on October 15th each year. To put it into it's simplest terms, that number is multiplied by the DCPP (District Cost Per Pupil) and becomes one of the primary drivers when developing the budget. The problem is [that currently], when you couple declining enrollment with little or no allowable growth, it makes it very difficult to adequately address instructional needs of students. 
  4. Supports the use of (PPEL) Physical Plant and Equipment Levy funds for the maintenance and repair of equipment or infrastructure that can be purchased or financed with PPEL funds. Why this is important: The key in this issue is to reduce General Fund expenses. There are many indicators of financial health in a school district, from financial solvency ratio, to investment income ratio; and the unspent balance ratio. All of these are prime indicators of the overall financial health of a school district. I would argue that the unspent balance ratio is the most important indicator of financial health, and unspent balance is a function of the General Fund. Anything we can do reduce General Fund expenditures is a way to increase unspent balance. The important word in this issue is maintenance. Because of the way our RPS (Revenue Purpose Statement) is worded, most repair functions can be paid for out of the PPEL or SAVE (Secure an Advanced Vision for Education) Fund. If general maintenance was a permitted PPEL expense, we could not only increase our unspent balance ratio, but reinvest some of those General Fund dollars back into instruction. Let me give you one quick example that is applicable to the Hudson Community School District. A year ago, we had the transmission go out on one of our activity buses. To replace that transmission, it would have been a General Fund expense. However, if I replace the bus, it becomes a PPEL expense. Does that sound a little silly to you?
  5. Opposes and seeks to repeal unfunded mandates. Why this is important: During the 2013 legislative session, a new law was enacted that requires background checks of all employees on a five year cycle. We are supportive of background checks and believe they provide valuable employment information to determine continued employment status. There have been multiple cases in Iowa alone where had a background check cycle been instituted, it would have deemed some ineligible for employment. So, this law was written. The only trouble is that no appropriation was provided to carry out this function. In Hudson, we do background checks on everyone, but not on a cycle. Consider this: in the 2010-2011 school year background checks were $1,104; in 2011-2012, $1,440; in 2012-2013, $2,880. Those were all background checks on candidates for employment. What will the cost be when we factor in current employees?

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