Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Foundations in Education

Is this Washington D.C.? Nope, it's Iowa.

Pardon my play on the quote made famous in the 1989 film 'Field of Dreams'. In that movie, Shoeless Joe Jackson, (Ray Liotta) asks Ray Kinsella (Kevin Costner) "Is this Heaven"? To which Kinsella replies, "No, its Iowa". Like many of you, I am proud to be a lifelong Iowan and can't imagine living anywhere else. Whenever my wife and I vacation, we are always happy when we return home. While we enjoy visiting other states, there really is no place like Iowa. Sometimes those of us living here forget the beauty of our state. Anyway, I can remember when that movie was made, and how excited we all were that Iowa was being showcased in a major Hollywood movie! We wanted to let everyone know what a great place Iowa was (and is)! Not only that, we have a reputation of being a relaxed citizenry that treats folks with respect. You have probably even heard the phrase that we are 'Iowa Nice'.

So why the Washington, D.C. reference? Because our state legislature is behaving like Congress. I don't know if you have checked lately, but Congress has an approval rating of about 15%. They can't seem to get anything done. Kind of like our state legislature. We are deep into the legislative session, well past the first funnel deadline and still have some pretty significant unfinished business. Business that left undone and delayed quite simply puts school districts in a bind. Just like Congress, our General Assembly can't seem to accomplish the most basic of tasks. Further, Iowa has long valued education and has a history of putting it first. In fact, our state quarter proclaims that our Foundations are in Education. I am not certain we are still in a position to make this proclamation.

We are over a year late in determining state supplemental aid for the school year that is set to begin on July 1st 2015, and going on six weeks late in determining state supplemental aid for the school year that is set to begin on July 1st, 2016. Our budget for the next fiscal year was recently certified by the school board without knowing supplemental state aid. Unlike the state legislature we have to follow the law. As you know, the big hangup right now is the amount that the state cost per pupil is set to grow. There are currently two proposals that are stuck in a conference committee that is gridlocked: 1.25% or 4.00%. Please be reminded, these two numbers do not represent the amount that a school budget will grow, but rather the percentage that the state cost per pupil will increase. Basic school funding is calculated by multiplying the number of students by the cost per pupil. So budget growth is directly tied to supplemental state aid and enrollment. At 1.25%, Hudson's budget growth will be .59% or $25,895; while at 4.00%, Hudson's budget growth will be at .70% or $30,592. So for us we had a pretty good idea of budget growth, and it is not sufficient. By the way, we called for supplemental state aid of 6%, which translates to 2.58% of actual budget growth or $113,396. Unfortunately, that ship has sailed. But yet for us, the tricky part in this whole mess is that supplemental state aid has a direct impact on you, the taxpayer. Interestingly, the higher state supplemental aid is, the lower your property tax rate! This is because of a complicated mechanism in Iowa School Finance known as the budget guarantee (I'll explain how that works in a future post).

Meanwhile, when does school start next year? That is the other million dollar question to which we don't have an answer. In a normal year, I introduce calendar options to the board in January after receiving feedback from parents, teachers, and anyone else who cares to give an opinion. At that January meeting, the board has the final say and gives me direction on which calendar option they like the best. We set a hearing for February and subsequently finalize the calendar at that meeting. None of that has been decided yet. Because the Department of Education decided they would be changing they way in which waivers were granted, it kind up upset the apple cart! Now, we are waiting to see how the legislature responds. Again we have two competing bills--one that sets the earliest start date to include the week of August 23rd, while the other calls for a complete repeal of the 1985 law, returning the authority of setting the school calendar solely to the school board where it belongs. Until we know for certain the board can't really take any action. Sure, we have started to get some phone calls on this--people wanting to know when school is going to start. All I can really say is that we are either going to start on August 24th or August 31st.

There you have it. Two big issues that need to be resolved sooner rather than later. Come on Iowa! Let's be nice and make us all proud of that Iowa quarter! We need our General Assembly to work together! Let's remember, this isn't Washington, D.C.! It's Iowa!

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