Wednesday, April 29, 2015

The Cost of the Cut

Friday marks the end of the legislative session--at least from the standpoint of when daily per diem for legislators will expire. In reality we are a long way from the final gavel of the 2015 General Assembly. The most important work of this session remains unresolved, and it appears the end is nowhere in sight. Unfortunately this is not all that new since we were in the same predicament just a few years ago. Indeed that year the same questions remained unanswered well into the summer, and I predict this year to be no different. I watched the 6 o'clock news the other night and saw the same traditions being played out that typically end the General Assembly: the Pages stacking the paper cases as high as they could in the Capitol building, until they ultimately topple over. 

I wonder if these unanswered questions will become a new tradition of the General Assembly of Iowa; extending the session late into the summer while Iowa schools eliminate programs, delay hiring decisions, and continue to operate with curriculum and equipment that has far outlived its usefulness. Perhaps those toppling paper cases represent a metaphor of something much more insidious?

Following that news story was another, again about Iowa schools and the consequences of leaving these questions unanswered. The Iowa State Education Association is providing a powerful visual that represents the impact of inaction by our legislators. Each day that passes, the organization visualizes the number of positions that have been cut or will be left unfilled in Iowa. At last count, this number was approaching 860. Hudson's numbers are included in this data set.

Obviously we are not cutting any positions--you would have heard about it by now if we were. But we are most certainly delaying hiring, and in some cases not filling positions that are being vacated. I suppose you could say that we are among the lucky. At least this year no one is losing their job. 

We have worked hard the last five years to turn around the financial metrics of our district. I am sure many of you remember the massive cuts we had to endure in order to get our fiscal house in order. I remember it distinctly, and remember how painful it was. Luckily we have turned the corner with our financial position and will continue working hard to ensure those type of drastic measures don't need to be taken again. However, the current status of the school funding dilemma will mean deficit spending for the fiscal year that begins on July 1, 2015. Projections also suggest deficit spending for the fiscal year that will begin on July 1, 2016.

Because of our hard work and discipline we will be able to weather these 'austerity' measures--at least in the short term. But make no mistake--without adequate funding it will force us to dig deeply into our reserve funds. I hope the irony is lost on no one: the legislature doesn't want to use 'one time' money for ongoing expenses, while at the same time forcing school districts to do exactly that.

Again, I suppose you could count us among the lucky. After all no one is losing their job this year. So you might ask, what is the real cost of this cut for Hudson Schools? Well, it means that we begin to lose some momentum. That's a shame because we have been making real progress in our district! For example the implementation of a Connected Learning Initiative; being selected as one of the first school districts in Iowa to successfully implement a teacher leadership system; the adoption and alignment of two major curriculum initiatives in the elementary school; and a Pirate Term competency based unit of instruction that is designed to rigorously engage students in learning that is truly revolutionary.

We were on track to begin replacing outdated curriculum material in the high school. That won't be happening now. Our FCS teacher will be retiring at the end of the year. Instead of replacing that position, we will instead contract those classes out to another school district. The problem here is it lessens the likelihood students will even elect to take these courses. One of our elementary teachers is also retiring this year. We have decided to delay hiring a replacement for this position until we have a better feel for the size of our kindergarten class. Waiting until school starts to hire an elementary teacher adds a whole new layer of complexity to the equation, and there is a very real possibility the position won't even be replaced. The consequence of this would be larger class sizes. Certainly not something that we want to do, particularly in light of our efforts to improve early literacy.

Indeed, there is a cost to the cut! It might not be readily visible on the surface, but it sure is there. 

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