Friday, August 7, 2015

Parents, Please Advocate for Hudson Schools!

Although the 2015 legislative session only recently ended, its time to begin planning for the next General Assembly which is set to convene on January 11, 2016. The last legislative session was not good for education in Iowa, so our advocacy is as important now as it has ever been before. Legislators are used to hearing from school superintendents, administrators, teachers, and board members. After awhile it seems like our advocacy falls on deaf ears and legislators just get tired of hearing from us. Recently you may have heard the story about a teacher in Waterloo who was told by a legislator to 'stop whining' when he advocated for a special session to overturn the Governor's recent veto. I read the text of this email exchange and was very surprised at the tone of the legislators response. Because of this and the fact that our efforts were not very successful it is evident that we need your help. There are a lot more of you than there are of me, and if we can get parents involved in our advocacy efforts I think you can help make a difference. Here is what we believe are the highest priorities for the next legislative session.

Adequate and Timely Supplemental State Aid: You should not be surprised to see this item at the top of the list. Supplemental state aid is the primary driver of how much our budget will grow year over year. To put this into context, we expect our general fund budget expenditures for the fiscal year that just began to be somewhere in the vicinity of $7,800,000. On the revenue side, total state aid for Hudson Schools this year is $4,115,969 and grew by a total of $25,895 (supplemental state aid). The remainder of our revenue is comprised of property taxes, miscellaneous income, and reserve funds (what is commonly referred to as unspent balance). As we make final preparations for the 2015-2016 school year, we are carefully evaluating enrollments at each grade level. If it became necessary to hire a teacher the expected expenditures will grow from the expected $7,800,000--and I can promise you that the $25,895 in revenue growth will not cover this increase. That increase will be paid from our reserves. Reserves can only be spent once.

Management Fund Flexibility: School budgets are comprised of multiple funds. In the example above, I was talking about the general fund which is the largest component of a school budget. However, in addition to the general fund there are six other funds that make up our total budget. The sum of all these funds projects total spending of around $10.07 Million. If you have been following this blog for long, you are aware of the concept of categorical funding. Basically, you can have one fund that has no money in it, while the other fund may be flush with cash. You can only spend this money only on specified purposes. Once such fund is the management fund. Flexibility in the number of allowable expenditures in the management fund would relieve pressure to the general fund. We made some progress this last legislative session with this fund but much work remains!

Continued Funding of Early Literacy Initiative: Thankfully this has been funded the last three years. For Hudson, we are looking at approximately $17,329. This money is used to purchase curriculum, target strategies that are proven to be effective in remeidating reading deficiencies, and screening tools. Very soon, a portion of this will be used to help pay for intensive summer reading programs for struggling readers. Keep in mind that Iowa law requires students to be proficient in reading by the end of 3rd grade beginning in 2017. If they are not, they must be retained and/or participate in a mandatory summer reading program.

School Governance: School districts in Iowa are governed by what is know as Dillon's Rule. This means that local school boards only have the authority that is explicitly granted to them in the Code of Iowa. Bottom line: if there is a question about the authority of the local governmental entity, then the governmental entity does not receive the benefit of the doubt. By contrast, local municipalities (such as city governments) operate under what is known as Home Rule. This allows the local municipality to make decisions for itself without receiving specific approval from the state. The extent of this power, is subjective to the laws of the state and constitution. Indeed Home Rule epitomizes the concept of local control, whereas Dillon's Rule creates barriers and is a cumbersome and outdated statute.

If you would like to learn more about these or any other advocacy issues that are important to Iowa schools, please feel free to contact me! Your help and advocacy will be critical as we move into the next legislative session.

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