Tuesday, October 10, 2017

At the Table or on the Menu

I would like to begin by thanking the city council and staff for their bold and progressive vision of growth and development. Over the past two years, I have been impressed and encouraged by the thoughtful study, deliberation, and action with regard to many of these positive steps forward for our community. Further, I can appreciate and empathize with the stress our council must be under as they make decisions that will be met with mixed reviews. However, I believe the scales of popularity will be tipped in their favor if they proceed with this proposed development. For the record, I am in support of the Echo Development residential subdivision that will be located in the vicinity of Ranchero and Butterfield Roads. Regarding the schematics and plat configuration of this development, I will not pretend to know or understand where roads or entrances should be located. Yet I would recommend we trust the opinions and counsel of the engineers that have been hired to do this work. They are certainly more qualified than anyone else to make these determinations in consultation with the developer who is making this significant investment of capital in our community.

My opinion on residential development in Hudson is well known and documented. It has not changed from my November 29th, 2016 statement. However, at this time I would like to re-affirm this position and offer additional context through my personal experience.

When school districts hire superintendents, one of the statements school boards like to hear during the interview is that the superintendent is planning to move to the community. This makes a lot of sense for a multitude of reasons. So, when I was appointed Superintendent in 2010 my wife and I made the decision to move to Hudson. The trouble was, it was late in May and we didn't have a lot of time. Very quickly we found out this was not going to be an easy task. At that time, there were literally seven houses on the market in Hudson. None of them suited our needs, and building a home wasn't a realistic option at that point in our lives. Some of these homes were 'fixer uppers', which, within my role as Superintendent of Schools, I really don't have time for, while others were simply out of reach (not to mention Ann gets nervous if I pick up a hammer or a saw), so our search continued for a home in Hudson. Then it got cold. And then the weather got weird. Commuting from Marion wasn't going to work anymore, so we reluctantly decided to purchase a home in Cedar Falls. It literally took us one day to find a home, and we were as close to the district line as we could get at that time. 

In the intervening years, we continued to monitor real estate in Hudson but the inventory remained relatively stagnant. You all know the rest of our story. During the summer of 2016 we built a home in the second addition of Upper Ridge Estates and couldn't be happier. We are thrilled with our home, and at all the homes that are being built in our neighborhood. And I will eagerly support an expansion to the North of me when the time comes.

As I opined on November 29, 2016, housing inventory in Hudson is critically important not only to our school district but to our business community. Families who want to move to Hudson and send their children to our schools are often dismayed to learn they can't. New homes and new families to our community will create tertiary benefits that are difficult to quantify, yet scholarly research indicates job creation, and an increased tax base that will allow our community to improve amenities that will result in an overall improved quality of life for our citizens. With our geographic location to a major population center and a regent university, I have often wondered why Hudson hasn't reaped the benefits that other similarly situated locations in Iowa have. Hudson to Cedar Falls should be likened to Tiffin or North Liberty to Iowa City. Or Gilbert to Ames.

I'll remind you again that schools are located where there are children to educate. As we saw play out over the last couple of years, a decision to close a school in a town not too far away from Hudson tore a school district apart and pitted neighbors and longtime friends against one another. No one wants to see a school close, but the fact of the matter in this case quite simply was that there weren't enough children left to justify that attendance center. Stories like that are all too common in our state as we have seen school after school shutter its doors.

Granted, Hudson is not faced with that situation; we have geography and top-notch schools to thank for that (which is one of the reasons we must embrace this development), but we do have other challenges. Primary among them has been a pattern of minimal state supplemental aid over the last several years. Because of this, the only way our budget will grow is by increasing our student count. Without housing, the students will not come. And evidence suggests with this development, they will indeed come!

A few years ago the citizens of Hudson voted overwhelmingly to retain the tract of land known as the 'Northern Tier'. This decision was made with the intention development would occur, and that it would occur under the terms of our choosing. This proposed development calls for 67 single family homes, 20 Western Home Community duplexes, and the possibility of commercial development. In my opinion, this project is ideal for Hudson and will bring tremendous economic benefits to our community, protect and create jobs, increase the enrollment for our school district, and improve the quality of life for our entire citizenry.

The Cedar Valley is booming right now. You can't drive through Cedar Falls without noticing a plethora of development ranging from residential to commercial. That school district is building new schools and homes can't be built fast enough. I believe it is important for us to move forward now and do so without haste. A delay in making a decision could come with negative consequences. We can either take advantage of this boom and use the leverage and timing we have or miss out entirely. We must ask ourselves: Do we wish to be at the table, or do we wish to be on the menu?

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Words of Advice from Retiring Board Member Liz Folladori

You are about to feel as if you have been thrown into the deep end of the pool. It will quickly pass. Ask questions and if you still don't understand ask again. You are about to hear a lot of new terms and have information zooming pas you that you most likely haven't dealt with on a daily basis before. The most important thing I can pass on is to remember you were elected to oversee our community's school district. It is a great honor, because without a local school, communities tend to wither and die. Remember to listen when someone tries to talk to you about a situation. Yes, the first thing you must ask them is if they have gone through proper channels already, however, they just want to be heard. If it is a situation that you can tell is really off limits for a board member to hear, tell this person in a polite and caring way that it isn't that you don't want to hear them but right now you just can't. I can't begin to tell you how many people have gotten in touch with me over the last three years and even though I have directed them to someone else, they just want to know that someone is listening to them. 

This is a wonderful learning experience. Enjoy it!

Liz Folladori

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Reflections from Retiring Board Member Jerry Griffith

When asked to reflect on my eleven years as a Director on the Hudson School Board, five of which I served as President, I have a deep sense of accomplishment as well as gratitude to those who supported the Board, Administration, Staff, and students to make Hudson Schools an outstanding environment to raise a family and have all of our children receive a top rate education.

Our family moved to Hudson Schools in 2002.  My wife, Susan, and I enrolled three children in school:  Ian, 8th grade, Zach, 6th grade, and Olivia, Kindergarten.  I always wanted to be involved in our kids’ education and soon found myself visiting classrooms in the elementary, participating on the board of the Athletic Boosters, and actively supporting the Music Boosters.

In 2006, I was encouraged to run for school board and was elected with 100% of the vote.  Needless to say, I was the only candidate on the ballot, but it was still nice to get that vote of confidence that stakeholders in the school cast their vote for me.  Ever since that first election, as well as the subsequent elections I won in 2009 and 2013, I have taken my responsibility as a school board member very seriously.  Often times, we get asked as board members why we decided to take the action or make the decisions that we do as a board.  My thoughts on this are if others were to study the issues and understand all the facts with clarity without mixing in personal opinions, rumors, or only a part of the whole story, they would very likely come to the same conclusion.

There are four areas of accomplishments of the school board over the last 11 years I would like to elaborate on:  leadership, financial responsibility, student achievement, and facilities enhancements.

One of the most important roles of the school board is making sure we have excellent leadership in our Superintendent of Schools.  During my time on the board, we have worked with four different Superintendents:  Mr. Dave Pappone was just leaving our district as I was coming on the board.  Due to the timing of his departure, after the school year had begun, we had an interim Superintendent for a year in Mr. Ron Crooks.  We then hired, in my opinion, two outstanding Superintendents to lead our district, Dr. Roark Horn, 2008-2011, and Dr. Anthony Voss, 2011-present.  It has been a pleasure to work with them in that relationship between the School Board and lead administrator of our district.

Financial Responsibility
During the first several years on the board, our financial position was slowly deteriorating.  There are many financial metrics we monitor and try to manage, but the most important gauge of our financial health is that of Unspent Balance.   It was quickly going to be in the “red” if we didn’t take action.  The primary contributors to our Unspent Balance are student enrollment and employee salaries.  We have been on a downward trend in enrollment almost every year during my time on the school board.  The good news is, there appears to be some optimism that this trend will start to reverse itself soon as we are seeing several developments and housing opportunities to allow families to move into our school district with school-age children.  But while we continued to see reduced numbers of children enrolled in our schools it became necessary to make some adjustments to our staffing and curriculum to balance our funding available and start to turn the trend around regarding the status of our Unspent Balance.  Some of these required adjustments were not very popular with certain stakeholders in our district.  They were not taken lightly and much debate and thorough analysis took place at the board table to try to make the best decision for our students, staff, parents, and others invested in our schools.  I am happy to report we have achieved a much more comfortable level of Unspent Balance during the last several years given the size of our budget, and continue to monitor it very closely.

Student Achievement
In addition to our regular review of student achievement goals, navigating our direction due to changes at the state and national level regarding the core standards for education, measures of academic progress, and funding support for new curriculum materials, there have been four paramount initiatives the board has worked hard to fund and support our administration and staff to incorporate into our learning environment:  Professional Learning Communities (PLC), the Teacher Leadership System, Connected Learning, and 4 Year Old Pre-School.

The school board has provided the funding and support for the entire staff to participate in training during the summers over the last several years to become knowledgeable and proficient in the use of the concept of professional learning communities.  This has allowed them to be more effective team members and problem solvers. 

Hudson Schools was fortunate to be one of the first schools chosen to participate in the new Iowa Teacher Leadership System.   Now, four years later, all schools in the state of Iowa have the ability to participate in this system and gain the benefits that it provides through an additional emphasis on teacher coaching and support. 

A few years ago we began our connected learning initiative, which some refer to as a one-to-one computer environment where every student has a school-issued laptop.  We were deliberate in how we rolled this out and funded this initiative, as this is a very expensive undertaking.  But when you measure this against the expense of continuing to support computer laboratories or other technology in the classrooms, the numbers started to make sense when we began the initiative, and now we have a connected learning environment at all grade levels, with laptops available for every student in grades 5-12.

I am excited to see Hudson Schools begin a four-year-old preschool this year.  For many reasons, this took a lot of persistence and persuasion by our administration to convince the state that we should be allowed to proceed, but in the end, we now can provide this education service that had been a gap for our school district relative to almost all other schools in the state.

Every graduation during the past 11 years I have had the privilege of being a participant in the graduation ceremonies.  This is, in my opinion, one of the best parts of being a school board member.  Almost every year, we have 100 percent graduation rate for our seniors.  It is with great pride we hand out the diplomas to our graduating seniors, especially when I can be the proud father to hand a Hudson High School diploma to each of our three children.

Facilities Enhancements
The last area I would like to reflect on is some of the improvements we have made in our facilities over the last 11 years.  These are often times much more visible to the public than the first three areas above that I have discussed concerning leadership, financial responsibility, and student achievement.  During each board meeting, we first focus on these items as well and then discuss our needs regarding facilities.

One of the first improvements I sought as a board member early in my time on the board was a five-year plan for investments of PPEL (Physical Plant and Equipment Levy) and SAVE (Secure an Advanced Vision for Education) funds.  This is a rolling plan that is a living document and serves as our roadmap of spending for projects to improve our facilities through the use of these funds.  I have appreciated the board’s approach to funding our facilities improvements.  We have been patient and waited until the funds were available before we have taken on new projects.   We could get anxious and aggressive and try to fund much larger projects through seeking bond referendum approval, but I much prefer the pay as you go philosophy, which provides much more flexibility to changing needs and careful consideration on how the school’s limited funds are being utilized while minimizing the tax burden on our constituents.

We have accomplished many facilities improvements over the last 11 years through funding solely from the PPEL and SAVE funds directly under the control of the school board, but many projects have been done in conjunction with other school support groups such as the athletic boosters, music boosters, FFA support groups, and PTO, to name a few:
  • Greenhouse for Vo-Ag and Science curriculum
  • Parking lot and lighting improvements: East of Elementary/Middle School, North of Middle School, and High School
  • Weight Room, Concession and Restroom enlargement
  • Baseball/Softball Lights, new Concessions Building, and Dugouts
  • Acquisition and Development of adjacent hotel property for additional green space and future campus expansion flexibility if needed.
  • High School Auditorium upgrades for Fine Arts
  • Recurring budget committed for band instrument needs
  • Carpet and flooring replacement throughout campus
  • All locker rooms refurbished
  • Wrestling practice room refurbished
  • Middle School Commons and restrooms refurbished
  • High School Commons refurbished
  • High School Gymnasium bleacher seating and enhancements
  • Elementary restrooms refurbished
  • Building entrance security improvements
  • Bus, van, and automobile fleet upgrades

A study was commissioned several years ago titled Hudson 2020.  One of the results of this study was the priority we should put on updating our Elementary School facility.  As a result, we are on a several year project to do just that.  The first phase was completed this summer and as a result, 100 percent of our campus is now air-conditioned.  During the first phase this summer, air conditioning, new windows, LED lighting, ceiling tiles, exterior lighting, and handicapped parking stalls were established for the East portion of the elementary school.  Future phases will accomplish similar improvements to the remainder of the building.  But one of the enhancements I am most proud of is the completion of handicap access to our competition gymnasium in the Middle School for our students as well as our visitors via a ramp along with an ADA (Americans with Disability Act) accessible restroom in this hallway.

In summary, my goal 11 years ago was to have a better understanding of what was happening at our schools and to have a positive impact on the education for all of our students. I wanted Hudson to come to mind first when people think of a vibrant, thriving mid-sized school.  We have exceptional students, outstanding faculty and staff and a forward-thinking administration.  I worked cooperatively with fellow school board members, administration, faculty, staff, and other stakeholders in the community to continue building on the positive momentum we have at Hudson Schools.

I encourage everyone to get involved in Hudson Schools in some way, whether you have children in school or not.  The vitality of our school has a big impact on the vitality of our town.  Whether it is as a classroom volunteer, student mentor, PTO, Lego League coach, music, athletic, of FFA booster, an audience member at a fine arts performance, a fan at an athletic event, or maybe even consider serving as a school board member, all of these actions help support our students and the mission statement of our school board, “We create effective learning environments that result in success for all students.”

It has been a pleasure and an honor to serve the Hudson Community School District.
Thank you for this opportunity and Go Pirates!

Jerry Griffith
Director, Hudson School Board
President, Hudson School Board

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

A Flat World

This blog idea has been percolating in my draft bin since 2011. I have been patiently waiting for that moment of inspiration to arrive, and it finally has! The title is a nod to the New York Times columnist and best selling author, Thomas Friedman. I became a fan of Friedman's after reading his book, 'The World is Flat', and have subsequently read most of his work including his columns in the NYT. While the purpose of this post is not to review or provide crib notes, to briefly summarize, the book is about the power of connectivity in today's society and how that has led to, in Friedman's words a 'flattening of the world'. Modern day technology has given us the capability to connect with anyone, anywhere, and at any time. The power to collaborate globally is now on a scale that was unimaginable twenty years ago. My apologies to Mr. Friedman for boiling down his book to a few meager sentence, I certainly don't do it justice and would recommend you read it!

Nonetheless, my interest in his work is to understand how these dynamics impact our P-12 educational system and our goal of preparing young people for this ever changing and globalized work environment. Certainly, our work with connected learning in our schools has given us the tools to engage in the modern, globalized world. As one example, a colleague of mine believes the advent Google is the most transformational component of our modern educational system. He points to the way Google, for example, has made collaboration locally and globally seamless. Taken further, the use of connected devices allow teachers to transform the educational experience and take our students to places that we never would have dreamed of even a few years back. I was at a presentation with George Couros last week where he commented that while we have great teachers in our schools with deep content knowledge on a whole host of topics, there is no substitute for an expert in the field. Consider a classroom unit on space. While our teachers are knowledgeable and qualified to deliver this content, the most capable teacher would be an astronaut because of the experiences they bring to bear. Connectivity allows us to bring those experiences and 'expert teachers' to our classrooms, and teachers do just that!

Education is meant to prepare our students for the day they will be members of a global community, not students in a classroom. And indeed, we often tell our students that in many cases we are preparing them for jobs that haven't yet been invented. One of my favorite stories comes from a business internship I participated in during my preparation to become a superintendent. At that time, (about a decade ago), I sat with young college graduates who had majored in 'Global Supply Chain Management'. While commonplace now, at that time it was an unheard of field of work. These young professionals were working to ensure the supply of a raw material from China made it to the manufacturing plant in the southern United States. There was great concern of a disruption (I can't remember exactly what the problem was anymore) that would have cost thousands of dollars for every hour the line was down. I think that major or occupation probably isn't all that fascinating or unique anymore. But how about this?

What about those careers that are considered 'traditional' occupations, that are just done differently now? Or high skilled jobs that may not require a BA, but the training and knowledge one must have to be successful in these careers is just, well....fascinating!

My wife Ann and I have a son Nathan who farms South of Cascade. After graduating, he attended NICC in Peosta and completed a welding program. By the way, Nathan's welding skills were discovered and honed by his agriculture teacher at Cascade High School. In addition to welding, Nate enjoys working outdoors, in particular agriculture and farming, so he also completed a beef production program at Kirkwood. These days, Nate operates a custom feeding operation on his farm, has some row crops and has carved out a nice career for himself. I am often amazed when he explains to me the complexity of the work he does in the cattle business, the calculations that go into the feed mixtures that are used, how much corn to feed, grass, etc. With his calculations, he can tell me how much weight a particular steer is going gain each day. His cattle barns are very pretty high tech, giving him the ability to change the air flow to maintain the temperature and comfort of his stock.

But what is really interesting is how Nate has built his welding business. Now, for starters let's understand that he is very good at what he does. I'm not bragging here or anything, but the evidence can be seen in the amount of business that comes his way. Recently he has begun to see an increase in custom fabrication, and one project he completed not too long ago included installing a cab on a piece of farm machinery that wasn't originally designed to have one. The engineering that went into this was complex for sure. But what happened in the last two weeks is what really blew my mind and brings us back to this idea of a 'Flat World'.

Nate was contacted by a guy who lives in Dubuque and works for a company in San Francisco. Interestingly enough, he got Nate's number from a competitor! Anyway, the guy wanted to know if Nate would be able to design and fabricate some parts that were going to be installed on skyscrapers in Pittsburgh. Well, during the planning process he needed a little more information in order to determine what material would be best suited for the parts. He found out that the company was piloting an autonomous car project in Pittsburg and needed these parts to affix GPS locators that would be used by the cars. I'd show you a picture of the part he designed, but I think it's proprietary so better not. I'm sure you've even heard of the company: it's called Uber.

Make no mistake. It's 2017 and the jobs that we are preparing our students for are changing. Whether it is a job in the high tech field of agriculture, designing for Uber, or working as a chemist on a cure for cancer; the ability to collaborate across the country, or globally is a pre-requisite for success.

Thankfully we are making those type of learning experiences commonplace in our school district. From the connected learning environment to the inquiry space: our students have the tools and the teachers to prepare them for this future and these type of careers!

Oh, and the revitalization of our business program and the 'Entrepreneurialship' class has come at just the right time,don't you think?

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

A New Era Begins

I hope that everyone enjoyed the long Labor Day weekend. I think the three day break provides a nice respite for our students as they have started to return to the routine of school. I know many parents were headed out of town, perhaps to experience one final camping trip in the twilight of summer? Nevertheless, school is now in full swing and we have completed two weeks of instruction! The nervousness that comes with the start of the school year is waning and we are settling into the familiar pace of school. 

Yet for one group, the school year is just beginning. Yesterday began a new journey for the Hudson Community School District with the launch of our preschool program. Our statewide voluntary preschool program is designed to serve students who are four years old; and those who have specialized educational needs. We are so excited to be bringing this program to our district!

This day has been a long time coming. Over the last several years we have mused internally about starting preschool, while at the same time recognizing and uncovering barriers that existed in addition to the financial challenges this endeavor would bring. We would wrestle with the problem, considering multiple scenarios and configurations before ultimately shelving the project. "Maybe next year", we would decide. Meanwhile, students requiring services were staffed to neighboring districts where programs existed that could meet their needs. 'Tuitioning Out' these students was not something that we really wanted to do, but it was the option we were left with at the time. 

The urgency with which we approached the 'preschool problem' began to change one year ago with you, our constituent. Our stakeholder. Our parent. As many of you pointed out, Hudson is a growing community. A community of young families with small children. We have an apartment complex under construction on the North end of town. The subdivision where I live has multiple homes under construction. And the city council is making plans to open a new residential development at the intersection of Ranchero Road and Butterfield. Our strategy to shelf the idea of starting a voluntary statewide preschool program 'for one more year' no longer seemed a viable option. Preschool soon became a front burner issue that our community was eager to see implemented.

So then, a year of planning began. As many of you know, our hurdles were significant. But perseverance ruled the day. With the assistance of countless people, ranging from consultants at Central Rivers AEA, to even consultants with the Department of Education, we continued our journey. We even got the legislature involved when a financial hurdle seemed destined to stop us in our tracks. Then on April 3rd, we got the approval that we had worked so hard for. It was all systems go!

But alas, that was when the real work began! It was when we had to prepare a classroom, secure staffing, purchase curriculum. Develop procedures and publish a handbook. Consider transportation. Procure supplies. (As I understand it the kitchen set still isn't here.) All moving in the ever quickening pace of the first day of school. Luckily we have a great team in place. Again, we have to really give a nod to Central Rivers AEA for their assistance. Our preschool teacher, Miss Cartney, has done a fantastic job of preparing for the eventuality of this day. Her close work with Mr. Schlatter ensured everything was ready to go when yesterday finally arrived. 

Our plan always was to start immediately following Labor Day. So as school started for the remainder of the student body two short weeks ago, our preschool staff was busily putting the finishing touches on the classroom and completing home visits. The day has finally arrived!

I said it once before, but I'll say it again: Now the real work begins!

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

An Awesome Responsibility: Vote September 12!

Service on the local school board is perhaps one of the most thankless jobs in public service. Consider this: of all the elected offices one can choose to run for, a seat on the school board is the only one that doesn't come with a salary. Instead, it oftentimes comes with a plethora of complaints! Class sizes are too large. The teachers are mean. The administration makes awful decisions. Why on earth are they teaching 'that' in math class? The list goes on and on, and if you ask your school board members, they may have even more examples. 

But at the same time, in my opinion, there is no better example of seeing our democratic form of government in action than the local school board. Former Speaker of the House Tip O'Neil is often credited with the phrase, 'All politics is local', and I think he is more right than we realize. Think about it for a moment. How much of what happens in Washington truly impacts your everyday lives? Now how much of what happens at your local school district impact your daily lives? The Hudson Community School District will manage a total budget of $10,752,144 in fiscal year 2018. I contend school board service is rich, rewarding, and an enormous responsibility. Indeed, it is a very exciting time for our school district as we make plans for a future that includes projected enrollment growth, significant improvements to our facilities, and the opportunity to cement our place as an educational destination in the Cedar Valley. We are on our way! It is within that context that I introduce to you the following candidates for the school board. Your vote counts. Don't forget to vote on September 12!

Traci Trunck, Incumbent
Traci Trunck
Traci has local roots, growing up not too far away in Reinbeck, Iowa. As a graduate of Gladbrook-Reinbeck, Mrs. Trunck comes from a long and proud history of school board service. Following in the footsteps of her father who served on the Gladbrook-Reinbeck Community School District Board of Directors while she was growing up, Traci is completing her first term on the Hudson school board. 

Mrs. Trunck earned a business degree from the University of Northern Iowa and has been employed by John Deere for the past 19 years. Currently, she serves as the Supply Management Manager for the Central West and South East regions. Traci and her husband Charlie have two children who attend Hudson schools. Elyse will be going into the 8th grade this year and Ansley will be in 5th grade. 

Traci recognizes and appreciates the responsibility of governing a school district and is running for re-election because she wants to continue to serve our community and make a positive impact on our school district. When asked about the greatest challenge facing education in our state, she points to an inability of the legislature to determine what the core curriculum should be and alignment of the state assessment to that content. She is also concerned about the lack of adequate funding for schools in Iowa. 

When asked about the challenges facing the Hudson Community School District, Mrs. Trunck first highlights our strengths: "The Hudson school district is a leader in many ways. In the past four years, we have invested in teacher leadership, mentor teachers, 1:1 technology in the middle school and high school, i-Pads in the elementary, new curriculum, and building renovations. Our superintendent and board have a strong voice in the Iowa legislature and with local representatives." She goes on to state that our school district is currently well positioned for the future needs of our district and is hopeful that our greatest challenge in the future will be to find space to house an explosion of new kids in the district! "We are working hard to build and promote an excellent school district that will attract many new families to Hudson."

Traci wants everyone to know that she is proud of this district and is invested in our children's education. She is passionate about making certain Hudson remains strong for years to come. If re-elected, Mrs. Trunck will continue to lead with students being the main focal point of her deliberations and make decisions that support student achievement, faculty development, technology investment, and school building improvements.

Matt Sallee, Candidate for School Board
Matt Sallee
Although Matt hails from Indianola, Iowa, he has been proud to call the Cedar Valley, and specifically Hudson home for over twenty years. As a newcomer to board service, Mr. Sallee is excited to have an opportunity to serve on the school board.

Mr. Sallee earned a marketing degree from the University of Northern Iowa and currently serves as the Vice-President of Marketing and Innovation at Waterloo industries. Matt and his wife Dee have been married for 21 years and have two wonderful daughters. Madison is a proud graduate of the Hudson High School Class of 2017 and will be headed just up the road to the University of Northern Iowa this fall and majoring in business. Their daughter Kylee is eager to start her career as a high schooler this year when she crosses the street to begin her freshman year. Both of Matt and Dee's daughters have been very actively involved in school and have had outstanding experiences in the Hudson school system.

When asked about what drew Matt to board service, he talks first about the experience his children have had in Hudson and he is grateful that they have the opportunities that are available in our school district. He feels this is a great way to give back to his community while ensuring that all students will have the same positive experiences as his own children for years to come. Mr. Sallee understands the challenges facing Iowa schools are multi-faceted, complex, and unique to the local context. However, commonalities facing our state educational system include safety of students and staff, managing a budget with scant funding sources, and attracting and retaining quality teachers.

Matt understands that Hudson is not immune to some of those very challenges. However, the size of our school district creates both unique challenges and in some cases opportunities for Hudson. Mr. Sallee would make it a priority to ensure that we continue to offer our students a balanced education while ensuring top quality academics as well as a wide variety of extra-curricular activities. He believes this well-rounded approach is critical for our students as we prepare them for the next step in their lives.

Mr. Sallee is excited to have an opportunity to run for school board and hopes to bring the same common sense approach to board service that he uses every day in his work life. He believes that he can play a key role in providing our students the best education possible.

Brenda Klenk, Candidate for School Board
No stranger to small schools, Brenda is originally from Ossian, Iowa where she attended South Winneshiek Community School District. Mrs. Klenk then moved to Waukon and graduated from Allamakee schools. Following graduation from high school, Brenda did a stint in the United States Army Reserve before being honorably discharged with the rank of Sergeant. She continued her education at the American Institute of Business where she earned her Associates Degree. These days she can be found in the courtroom where she serves the Honorable Linda M. Fangman as a licensed and certified shorthand and registered professional reporter for the State of Iowa as a First District Official Reporter.

Brenda and her family tried out the big city life for a few years, settling in the suburban Chicagoland area before realizing it just wasn't for them. The schools were just too big, and both Brenda and Ken wanted their children to have a school experience that resembled what they knew growing up. With family in Hudson and after having visited here several times and knowing Hudson offered a great education, they knew right away Hudson was where they wanted to call home. After visiting several small towns in Iowa, they fell in love with Hudson and relocated here in 2008 when their oldest daughter Ellie was in the 6th grade. Now, almost 10 years later, Ellie is a student at the University of Northern Iowa. Annelise graduated from Hudson High School in May and is off to Iowa State Unversity this fall, which leaves Amelia who is excited to start the 5th grade. Brenda and her husband Ken have been married for 22 years.

Mrs. Klenk gravitates toward board service out of a desire to serve her community. As a parent and citizen of this community, she feels the experiences her children have had in school have been excellent. At the same time, there is a recognition her youngest child still has 8 years to enjoy as a student at Hudson. She wants to ensure all her children have the same great experience. Brenda understands the challenges that face schools in Iowa and points to a continued lack of funding for school districts and the changing demographics of the student population.

Nevertheless, Mrs. Klenk is quick to point out the strengths of Hudson schools! She points to a tradition of academic excellence that has been a mainstay of Hudson year after year and attributes that first and foremost to the amazing educators that work so hard in our school buildings. However, she understands that our challenge will be to retain these educators in light of continued funding challenges.

Brenda is excited about her candidacy and would love the opportunity to work collaboratively with other members of the board and the administration, while at the same time providing the best possible advocacy for our number one priority: the student.

Kala Featherstone, Candidate for School Board
Kala Featherstone
Originally from Sioux Falls, South Dakota, Kala and her family are proud to call Hudson home! Her parents still live in Sioux Falls and she has a sister who lives in Minneapolis. Mrs. Featherstone attended Iowa State University and earned degrees in accounting and management information systems. After obtaining her CPA license she worked for a firm in Des Moines which gave her great insight and experience in multiple industries including school district auditing.

Kala currently works in the risk management division of Wells Fargo bank. She has been with the bank 13 years holding positions in financial planning, accounting controller, and technology/risk divisions. Mrs. Featherstone feels her position is a great fit for her young family because it provides the opportunity to work from home so she can be with her children before and after school.

Kala and her husband Joe have been married for almost 10 years and have 3 children who currently attend (or will soon attend) Hudson schools. Their oldest, Katie is in 3rd grade, Chase is in 1st grade, and Brooke will be in preschool and can't wait until she can start kindergarten so she can ride the school bus! Kala wants to point out they moved into the district prior to Katie starting kindergarten so their children would be in a community with great schools and people. Their children are very active, love school, their teachers, and all the friends they have made at Hudson Elementary!

Mrs. Featherstone is interested in board service out of a desire to ensure the needs of our elementary children are considered in all decisions. She is attuned to the fact that new neighborhoods are under development which will lead to an increase in enrollment in the district. Within that context, she wants to ensure class sizes don't become too large, particularly in the elementary school where studies suggest student achievement is impacted by class size. Kala also believes her skill set will be a great fit for the board and a way to give back to the community, ensuring Hudson Schools is a top district in Iowa! At the same time, she recognizes the challenges that schools in Iowa have with regard to funding and other legislative requirements and mandates.

In Hudson, Kala believes the greatest challenge facing our schools is the ability to provide diverse offerings and extracurricular activities to meet the needs of multiple student interests and remain fiscally responsible. At the same time, it is important to consider the additionals costs that parents must contribute in order to participate in these activities. She is also a proponent of new cutting-edge technology and wants to ensure Hudson remains a leader in this arena. Kala is excited about school board service and would look forward to working with school stakeholders to make Hudson a premier school district in Iowa. She feels her perspective and skillset would be a valuable asset to the board and points out that with young children, she would be able to be a voice on the board for years to come.

Build Your Legacy-Message to the Faculty and Staff on the Eve of the 2017-2018 School Year

I thought a You Tube video would be a great way to provide insight into the busy hiring season we have had in the district. Perhaps a fun way to shed light on the rigorous selection process our then ‘candidates’ for teaching positions had to go through in order to earn their spot on this faculty. A satirist video for sure, but nevertheless I know that you will inspire, engage and prepare the students you will see in a few short days for experiences decades in the future. For those of you sitting out there right now, you are called to this vocation of teaching and your legacy will be built on the foundation of the work you do in your classrooms. 

Wow! By my count, that is 10 new teachers, representing 16% of our faculty. What is exciting about that is 4 of those teachers are taking positions that were added new this year.  Please take a few moments and introduce yourself to your new colleagues and offer them a helping hand. What an exciting time for all of our new faculty and staff! It has been my joy to work in collaboration with our teacher leadership team and administrators this past week welcoming these new and eager employees to our district. While much of our time together was spent showing them how to run the copy machine, we also painted for them a picture of what it means to be a Hudson Pirate. We have shared with them what we already have come to know and believe: “It’s great to be a Pirate”. Undeniably, this past week has caused me to reflect on my first days as a teacher and what my induction and mentoring process looked like: “Here are your keys. Your room is down the hall, first door on the left. I think there are some books on the shelf, I don’t know a lot about music, but let me know if you have any questions”.

Yesterday I shared with our new faculty that they represent the future of the educational landscape at Hudson. However, at the same time, we honor the skill, experience, and commitment our veteran staff bring to our schools. Each of you; no matter if you are in your first year or thirtieth contribute a special talent and skill to our district. I promise we wouldn’t be who we are without you. So as we lean into tomorrow and prepare for the start of new year, consider where we have come—where you all have come from, the change you have witnessed, and the journey that lies ahead.

But don’t just consider the physical changes in our schools which are readily apparent, but the educational changes that are much more subtle. For sure, education has evolved a lot in the intervening decades I was handed a set of keys and pointed down the hall. In the infancy of my career, and many of you sitting out there [now] can remember; we didn’t have email, the internet, smartphones, or even telephones in our classrooms. Although we did have one computer that we shared in our wing among six different teachers. Can you imagine? You would think that there was constant fighting over who got to use it. The fact is there wasn’t: no one could really figure out an effective way to use one computer to impact instruction for twenty plus students—so it basically sat in the hallway collecting dust.

The advances we have seen in technology, instructional practice, and even the organizational structure of schools is quite remarkable. Now, as I have taken this nostalgic trip with you down [my own personal] memory lane it is worth noting that I do still consider myself a young man! However mortality is a touchy subject, and it is within that context I admit that as I reflect on my career thus far as an educator it has become painfully obvious that I have "fewer days ahead of me as I do behind me" (Bill Clinton, DNC, July 26, 2016). Mind you, I still have a lot of days in front of me, but nevertheless, life events and experiences have caused me to spend time pondering over the last couple of months on this idea of ‘legacy’. I do so not because of vanity, but merely out of speculation. Perhaps you too have considered the question, “How will I be remembered?”

My long walks in these empty halls over the course of the summer certainly give pause for reflection, and frankly, this summer has been quite a remarkable time in our district as the renovation of our early childhood wing has taken shape. Admittedly for a long time, I thought that I would be remembered at Hudson as ‘the guy who built the parking lots’. While those were worthwhile and much-needed improvements, I do hope that is not the legacy I leave behind. In fact, I am not even certain the accomplishments of this summer are the significant building blocks of one’s legacy.

But what of your legacy?

For a moment, think about your body of work and what lasting impression you will have on the lives of those you touch. I have said before, you may not always remember the names of the students in your classroom, but they will always remember you. Why is that? Was it because you were the one who taught them to read? Or could it be during a particularly rough day, you smiled and greeted them? Truthfully you may never know until one day decades from now. Or you may never know. I have shared many of my personal stories of some of these former students with you. I encourage you to reflect on your own stories. Share them with your colleagues, especially those more junior than you. I promise, at some point this year they will need to hear about how you made a difference for a child. Because you did. You do. You will. Hopefully, we are all remembered for the impact we have had on the children that we serve.

But let’s talk for a bit about the summer we are wrapping up and how special it was!

You may recall me talking with you about our new friend, Richard. At 101 years of age, he is what remains of the Hudson High School class of 1933. We had the honor of hosting Richard during the annual Hudson Days celebration a few weeks back where he participated as an honorary grand marshal of the parade. There are undoubtedly many unique and interesting details about Richard’s long life including his 70+ year marriage to his wife, his service in the US Navy, or his ties to our school district. But what I think is most interesting is his career as a 7th and 8th-grade teacher in Ohio.

If you take a look at the enclosed photo, notice the lady standing to Richard’s right. Her name is Sherri and she was a student of Richard’s. Now retired herself, she still lives in Ohio. By the way, Richard lives in Dallas, Texas. Sherri acts as Richard’s power of attorney and handles many of his daily affairs. She drove Richard to Hudson so he could participate in the parade. In fact, she makes the trip to Dallas every two or three months to personally visit with him, and speaks with him on the phone every day.

Sherri likes to tell stories of what Richard was like as a teacher. It is pretty obvious he had an enormous impact on her life. What a special relationship they must have! I have a hard time grasping a point in my senior years where a former student becomes my caregiver. I think Richard’s legacy is cemented!

That singular event was truly a highlight of the summer. However, I suppose there was one other thing that you may be wondering about and it has to do with that little project in the elementary school.

The administrators came up with an idea of burying a time capsule, which was both a way to mark the accomplishment of this project and contemplate what our school district will look like in the future. Truthfully it is also when we began to ponder this idea of ‘legacy’. As you walk that hallway, please take notice of the ‘X’ on the floor which is directly above the buried capsule. We placed that ‘X’ as a nod to our mascot, the Pirate. When people ask you, tell them that we are Pirates, and as such we bury our treasure where ‘X’ marks the spot. As to the contents of that time capsule, we’ll never tell. I have written a letter to my successor, the contents of which is also a secret but here is a small snapshot:

“Dear Superintendent,

Just moments ago we buried this time capsule. Obviously, we are Pirates, and as such, ‘X’ marks the spot! If it is at least May 1, 2067, you should be preparing to open it at this time! The two students in the enclosed photo are siblings, Taylor and Lane Rogers. They should be in their early 60s. I do hope you are able to look them up for this special occasion. The fact is, they do not know what is contained in the time capsule. The contents of this capsule have been a closely guarded secret for the last 50 years! Also included in this letter is an inventory of the contents. I do hope you are able to make this a school event where all the children can participate. It was our intention to have the capsule opened while school was still in session. We have taken great pains to prepare the capsule in a way to preserve the items inside. Hopefully, everything is in good shape! As for me, if I am still alive I am approaching 96. Enjoy!....”

As for the remainder of the letter, I guess you will have to come back in 2067 to find out!

The beginning of a new school year is always an exciting time. New teachers nervous for the excitement that will come the first time they stand in front of a group of students alone. Veteran teachers looking forward to a fresh start with a new group of students eager to learn and take the next step on their educational journey. Students looking forward to returning to the routine of school—seeing friends they may not have seen all summer long, and for some of these students returning to the only ‘normal’ part of their lives.

So as you prepare to start the school day in just a few short days remember, you are preparing your students for life and your reach is far into the future—it will, in fact, be decades in the making. What you do within these walls will cement your legacy and occur at the intersection of where ‘X’ marks the spot.

Have a great start to the school year and continue to build on your legacy. And always remember, it’s great to be a Pirate!

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Evolution of the Renovation.

With just a week to go until school starts, I am thankful we are finishing the 'punch list' for the early childhood wing in the elementary school. Over the last couple of weeks, I have enjoyed giving tours and explaining how the project evolved over the course of defining the scope of work; to planning, design, and execution. A long time coming, this renovation was first envisioned in the strategic plan titled, 'Hudson 2020' adopted by the Board of Directors in 2013. Isn't it awesome that a vision laid out in 2013 continues to guide us today? Not only does this honor the work of previous boards, but it gives the current board the latitude and flexibility to meet the needs of our students and community in 2017. Recommendation #4 broadly asks the Board to prioritize renovation of the elementary without boxing them in to include any specific scope of work or project. 

We began this task with many work sessions that included brainstorming projects that needed to be addressed in our elementary school. Working in consultation with our School Improvement Advisory Committee (SIAC), we were able to narrow the scope of this work into different projects and priorities. Rising to the top of the list of priorities was the replacement of all the windows in the facility. With a single pane of glass, the seals were beginning to break down and they were not all that energy efficient. Teachers reported that in the winter wind would blow through unsealable gaps, making it cold. Obviously, some of this could be attributed to the window air conditioners we use to keep the rooms comfortable during those periods of hot humid weather.

At the same time, it was important to maintain the ability to air condition our classrooms. The board liked the idea of window air conditioners because they were relatively inexpensive and easy to replace. If one went bad, we could simply swap it out for another one. However, it didn't seem to make a lot of sense to put in a new window that would let in natural light, seal up the gaps, and then install a window air conditioner. Ideas to install the units above the windows were quickly scrapped when we realized predicting the size of future air conditioners was an exercise in futility. That is when we landed on the idea of the mini-split unit, which is a ceiling mount unit controlled by a condenser on the roof of the building. While not as inexpensive as a window air unit, they more than made up for this additional cost through the energy efficiency that we will realize. Not to mention they are so quiet you can hardly hear them running!

We have also improved our energy efficiency in this wing by replacing all the lights. The light fixtures in the elementary school are currently fluorescent bulbs, which are not very efficient by today's standards. So it was determined it would be a wise investment to replace all these fixtures with LEDs. Not only are they more energy efficient, but they have very little maintenance associated with them. This new lighting is also designed in a way to complement the natural light that comes in through our windows. On a bright sunny day, the LED lights will automatically adjust to the amount of light that is needed in the classroom by using a photo cell mounted in the ceiling. Further, if there is no one in the room, the lights will automatically turn off. 

Perhaps the number one priority of the school board was to make our competition gym handicap accessible. Navigating the stairs on the North or South end of the valley has always been the primary way to get into the competition gym, and not all that practical for those who use walkers or wheelchairs. For years, the only way for our patrons in wheelchairs or walkers to enter the gym was to come through the emergency exits on the East end of the gym. Many strategies were discussed that included installing an elevator, putting in a lift, or installing a ramp. Ultimately, the Board decided the best course of action was to remove half the steps on the South side entrance and create a ramp, which turned out great! By the way, if you are visiting the district and need to access this ramp, we have three handicap parking spots right outside this entrance. 

As we continued to identify and refine the scope of this work, it became obvious the entire project could not be completed at one time over the course of the summer employing the financing strategy that has been the goal of this Board. For example, the estimated cost to replace the windows in the entire facility was estimated at over $550,000. That is the sum the Board had budgeted for one year in renovation expenses.  We discussed the option of completing each of the different phases of the renovation as a stand alone project, but that idea was abandoned at the advice of our architect, engineer, and local contractors. They recommended a renovation where we completed each section of the building at one time so we only have to contend with demolition in one area of the facility at a time. 

Now that this phase of the project is wrapping up, it is time to start considering phase two of the renovation. We have the benefit of hindsight and have clearly articulated the scope, it will be up to the board to decide which area of the building to tackle next and how best to finance the project!

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Consider Our Priorities

The last three weeks we have discussed priorities the Board of Directors have identified for the upcoming legislative session. To recap, we have covered a lot of ground, including the importance of removing the sunset on the one cent sales tax, the benefit of operational sharing and ensuring those incentives continue, and the unintended consequences of unfunded mandates. Today we save the best for last, and if you have been following me for awhile, you probably know what is coming next.

Timely and adequate supplemental state aid. Specifically speaking, we are interested in the amount of inflationary increase associated with per pupil funding for the fiscal year that will begin on July 1, 2018. During the 2016-2017 school year, the state 'cost per pupil' was $6,591. Supplemental state aid increased the state cost per pupil by 1.11%, so for the 2017-2018 school year, the state cost per pupil increased by $73 to $6,664. To put that in perspective, CPI for the month of August is 2.4% and for the last year has averaged 1.48%. 

I think it is also important to note that then Governor Branstad recommended an increase of about 2.45% in his Condition of the State address in January of 2017. At the time, we all lamented the fact that it was low, but now with the benefit of hindsight, we are thankful we saw an increase at all. As the year continued to unfold, the Revenue Estimating Conference downgraded revenue projections at each meeting. We are in a situation now where it seems very likely that a special session of the Legislature will be called in October to deal with an even greater shortfall. We will undoubtedly have an opportunity to debate the reasons for those shortfalls in future articles, but for the meantime, I'll focus on the need for adequate and timely supplemental state aid. My point is that, yes we get it and understand, but wonder if the larger issue is one of priority. 

Nevertheless, and thankfully this issue was settled relatively early in this past session. Although it is worth pointing out that we should have been discussing supplemental state aid for the fiscal year that begins on July 1, 2018. You see, the law as previously written required the legislature to set supplemental state aid 18 months in advance of the new fiscal year. This was designed to give school districts ample time to make changes to personnel and programming decisions.  But when they set the new funding levels, they also changed the law that removed the 18 month lead time. Now we have a mere 6 months. 

Indeed the budget is going to be tight this next year and I recognize that. I further realize that there are many, many competing priorities that we have as a state. But perhaps as a state it would be wise to consider our priorities. Many of our politicians talk about their support of education as a priority and the fact that Iowa has traditionally found itself recognized as a leader in education. They talk about how important it is to retain (or regain depending on who you talk to) that coveted status.

But at 1.11% supplemental state aid, it makes it incredibly difficult to maintain our standing as a leader. At 1.11%, Hudson schools will see an increase in revenue of $45,955. With a general fund budget of $8.4 Million and an overall budget of $10.7 Million, that hardly seems adequate. Consider this: It's August and we have already invested $33,275 in a new science curriculum. School doesn't start for two more weeks. 

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Operational Incentives

Over the last several years Iowa school districts have endured very small increases in supplemental state aid year over year. We'll talk more about that next week, but the impact of a low growth rate has a pretty significant negative impact on schools over time. This issue is further challenging in school districts where enrollment is decreasing, and in fact, often times this has a compounding effect. The consequences of this are obvious and lead to school districts cutting positions, and unfortunately in some cases eliminating programs. But as a general rule of thumb, when considering budget cuts in schools, the idea is to keep the cuts as far away from students as possible. That means creating efficiencies wherever we can find them.

One common way to create efficiencies in Iowa public school districts is through operational sharing. This type of arrangement allows school districts to share the services of some employees with other school districts. Basically, one school district serves as the district of employment for a particular employee and 'sub contracts' out the employee to a neighboring school. In Hudson, we share two positions with other school districts: business manager and transportation director. With our business manager, we share the cost of employment 50/50 with Grundy Center. Hudson holds the contract so the business manager is employed by the Hudson Community School District. In the case of transportation director, we share the cost of employment 75/25 with North Tama. In this arrangement, North Tama is the agency of employment and holds that contract. (If you have ever wondered or noticed a Hudson bus in the North Tama garage, now you know the reason why.)

The benefit of this type of arrangement is probably pretty obvious. The cost of employment is split between the two school districts per the agreement. The downside is that the employee can't be in two places at once, and as a result organizational changes in operation are necessary. This might mean that other operational employees have to pick up some of the extra work, or work that is the primary responsibility of the shared employee has to wait until that employee is in the school district. Needless to say, operational sharing does mean that people aren't always readily available to handle issues and some tasks take a little longer to complete. (Admittedly advances in technology make this less burdensome, but there are tasks that need to be completed onsite.) We've been sharing our business manager for several years now, so pretty much have the organizational aspects of this ironed out nicely at this point. Sure, it is not without challenges from time to time, and everyone has to take on a few more responsibilities....

But the state has made it worth it. School districts are incentivized to create these efficiencies by sharing key operational positions. It works like this: you share a business manager, each school district receives the equivalent of five students for funding. If you share a transportation director, each school district receives the equivalent of five students for funding. To keep it from getting out of hand, districts are limited in both the number of operational positions that can be shared and the equivalent amount of funding they can receive. Nevertheless, this funding can go quite a long way to fill the gap created by inadequate funding. So, the equivalent of ten students we receive for operational sharing generates $67,766 in revenue for the school district. Pretty neat deal! But here is the problem: when the law was enacted it had a sunset of five years. That was three years ago. We, and numerous school districts around the state have come to rely on that revenue to keep programs running and afloat. For that reason, the board has set removing the sunset on operational sharing as a legislative priority during the second session of the 87th general assembly, set to commence in January. 

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Everyone Likes Puppies!

You may be surprised by the number of items that are mandated to be taught, addressed, or otherwise taken care of in your local public school. A primary reason for this is that the public school system is the only sector of society where we have a captive audience. Attendance is required by law, whereas there is not a requirement that folks go to the doctor. I suppose that is the reason schools have the responsibility of monitoring whether or not children have all their immunizations prior to enrolling. So, when the new requirement came out requiring that we monitor meningococcal vaccine administration, it is, in fact, an unfunded mandate. Truthfully, tasks like this have very little overhead, because after all we employ a school nurse and she already has the responsibility of verifying a number of vaccinations. Nevertheless, it should be pointed out this adds to the workload of our personnel. At last count, we had over 50 students that were not yet immunized. Because of that Nurse Brandhorst will need to come in next week and start tracking them down. Now, don't get us wrong, this is a good idea and probably should be done. But, that is how a lot of these unfunded mandates get started. They are all good ideas. After all, most people agree vaccinations are a good idea. It's kind of like puppies. We all like puppies, right?

Now then, let's consider again the cost of unfunded mandates. Some of these costs are hidden, much like the new vaccine monitoring requirement. I'll concede the point that the cost of monitoring may be minimal, but the sum of many of these 'minimal cost' mandates can add up to a pretty large number. But let's set aside the purely financial component of unfunded mandates and consider the impact they have on other aspects of the educational program.

Take for example the requirement that all students must be taught CPR before they graduate. Who can argue that is a bad idea? Everyone should know CPR and the basics of this life-saving procedure. So, several years ago the legislature mandated that all schools teacher CPR. Of course they didn't appropriate any funding to implement the training so it was left to schools to figure out how they were going to pay for it. But again I argue the monetary implications are but one way to look at the idea of unfunded mandates.

Again, because of the fact that schools hold a captive audience, all sorts of ideas and requirements are mandated upon them. The problem is that nothing is ever taken away. Once again I concede the administration of CPR has a pretty minimal cost associated with it. But set that aside. When are schools supposed to meet this requirement? It's not like we are sitting on a block of time that isn't used for something else, just waiting for us to plug in another curriculum or content. The trouble is, nothing is ever taken away! We just seem to continually add more and more content and curriculum to our school day without adding any additional time. And time certainly does cost money!

I suppose the good news is the last couple of years, the Legislature has been sensitive to ensuring they don't burden school districts with unfunded mandates. But, I argue that some of the decisions that have been made are not always in the best interest of the school. Yes, some mandates are necessary and should be funded. During the first session of the 87th general assembly, the legislature eliminated the funding for mentoring programs that are designed to support teachers that are new to the profession. Because of their sensitivity to unfunded mandates, the requirement to provide these programs was eliminated. (It actually is still required but how it works is a bit complicated.) Now I don't know about where you work, but providing support to employees that are brand new to the profession seems like a pretty important part of the induction process. In a state where teacher attrition is part of the formula the determines a school's 'report card grade', it seems like this decision may have been a little short sighted. School districts are going to continue to provide mentoring programs not because we necessarily have to or are mandated to, but rather because they are a good idea! Yet the money is no longer provided. (This would be a great opportunity for you to review my blog article from a few weeks back: Held Harmless? Sort of...)

Again, I give credit where it is due. Our legislature is listening when it comes to unfunded mandates, but the recent move to add computer science to the scope and sequence of course offerings isn't all that helpful. There was no money appropriated for schools to implement computer science programs so they weren't mandated. But let's say money was appropriated and we were mandated? Well, then I suppose we would probably have to find room in the schedule for the course--at the expense of something else. (There's that time constraint element again.)

For those reasons, the Hudson Board of Directors advocates against unfunded mandates. But you know, I like puppies too!

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Advocacy is a Year Round Job

At our regularly scheduled board meeting on July 17th, the Board of Directors completed the annual exercise of setting our legislative priorities for the upcoming session. One of those priorities includes the extension or repeal of the 2029 sunset of the statewide penny (SAVE) for school infrastructure. While 2029 seems like a long time away, when it comes to school infrastructure needs it isn't all that far into the distant future. Especially when it comes to strategic planning!

Currently three basic options exist for meeting the needs of school district infrastructure projects. We can either issue general obligation bonds, revenue bonds, or adopt a pay as you go philosophy. Since we paid off our general obligation bonds for the high school a few years back, we have adopted a pay as you go philosophy.

Issuing general obligation bonds requires a vote of the public and must be approved by 60%, or what is known as a super-majority. The super-majority creates a very high bar for passage and it is quite common for these type of funding options to take several attempts to gain voter approval. In many cases, projects tend to be scaled back in order to be passed. The reason these issues are so difficult to pass is that they usually come with a property tax increase. If you watch the news on the night of a special election, it is not uncommon to see general obligation questions fail, not because they didn't have the majority vote, but because they didn't reach that 60% majority. I have seen these referendums fail with a 59.99% approval--missing passage by only a couple of votes!

View from the East end of the new ADA ramp right after
the concrete was poured.
For that reason, many school districts have elected instead to issue revenue bonds. Unlike general obligation bonds, revenue bonds can be issued following a board resolution and do not require a super-majority vote. The reason for this is that these bonds are being issued based on anticipated future sales tax revenue. In other words, there are no property tax implications. Revenue bonds are attractive to property owners and school districts because of the fact there is no property tax implications or super-majority threshold. However, in order to generate the bonding capacity to meet the need of a large scale building project, school districts have to bond against their sales tax for about 20 years. The trouble is the current sales tax law sunsets in 2029, which is a short 12 years away. This has the impact of significantly limiting bonding capacity for schools.

As I mentioned above, at this time Hudson has adopted a pay as you go philosophy. Quite simply that means the board has elected to complete projects as funds become available. But, our needs are just as significant as those of school districts who are building new buildings! This is clearly illustrated by the very significant renovations that are occurring in our elementary school this summer. Our early childhood wing classrooms are all being updated with new windows, air conditioning, lighting, and ceilings. On top of that, we are installing a new ADA accessible ramp and restroom on the South end of the competition gym. This pay as you go project is budgeted at right around $579,000. Next year the board plans to move on to phase two of what will end up being a three or four phase project over the next several years. When finished, we will essentially have remodeled and renovated our entire elementary attendance center.

When we finish our elementary project it will be time to move on to the high school building. You know, people still refer to that building as the 'new high school'? Were you aware the new high school is 20 years old this year? Like our homes need maintenance and updating, so to do our schools! We have already started to replace sections of the roof on the building, and certainly our mechanical systems will start to reach the end of their life in the next several years. That is why it is so important that we have a dependable source of revenue for our school budgets with which to address infrastructure needs.

In this photo I am reminding legislators that
our new high school is 20 years old.
Last week, school board president Karyn Finn and I had the opportunity to host two legislators in our district and advocate for an extension, or better yet a repeal of the sunset on the SAVE. I enjoyed discussing the importance of this resource with our legislators and was able to demonstrate to them how we were wisely investing our taxpayer resources. The legislative session runs from roughly January to May. The pace is very quick during the lawmaking process and our legislators are often times lobbied from multiple sources representing varied positions. This makes it incredibly difficult for them to fully understand and appreciate the complexities of the decisions they are being asked to make. That is why I think this is a great reminder to all my colleagues and school board members around the state that advocacy is a year round task. If we wait until legislators are in session, it might be too late. And when it comes to this issue, what better time than the summer when we all have building projects underway to show our legislators the impact SAVE has on our schools and community?

In the future, I am uncertain as to whether the board will continue with a pay as you go philosophy. We certainly don't want to handcuff future boards or administrations from making decisions that make the most fiscal sense at that time. The one thing I do know for certain is that our facility needs will never go away. We will finish one project and then move on to another. While I am relatively confident this board has no appetite for a general obligation bond, it is somewhat interesting that the number of school districts bringing bond referendums to voters is on the rise. According to the Cedar Rapids Gazette, the number of bond issues was 24 this last year, up from 14 in 2008-2009. The article goes on to surmise this is due to the uncertainty of the SAVE. I don't think we will ever eliminate the need for school districts to bring general obligation referendums to voters. Each school district in Iowa is unique and has its own philosophy and needs for the citizens and students it serves. But as a practical matter, one way to reduce the number of general obligation bond issues is to restore certainty that SAVE will be there in the future. It certainly will have a positive impact on property taxes.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Additional Flexibility is a Legislative Victory

On June 30, 2016 the district carried $265,529.97 in six different reserve fund categories. We are still in the process of closing out our books on fiscal year 2017, but I anticipate those reserve funds will grow as they have the last several years. Luckily this should be the last year we will have to deal with such large reserve funds, since HF 564 and 565 have been signed into law. A categorical fund is a dedicated fund that can only be used for a very specific purpose. In most cases, the rules for expending these funds are very narrowly defined. Revenue flows into these funds through our foundation formula and is typically pupil based. The point the legislature was trying to make in setting up and appropriating these funds was that they wanted to ensure that they were being expended on the intended purpose. I think we can all agree this is a noble and justifiable goal.

The question of course became, once the need is met, what happens to the remainder of the funds? Well, in Hudson and most other school districts it becomes part of a reserve fund balance like those mentioned above. Since it can only be used for a specified purpose, it has to sit until such a time the district can figure out how to use it for that specified purpose. Often times this can, and has been to the detriment of other needs in the district. It is entirely conceivable that some investments are delayed or scrapped in school districts because there isn't any money available--at the same time the district is sitting on a $265,529.97 reserve fund balance.

Furthermore, in my opinion it would be a complete waste of tax dollars if we were to spend down these reserves on the specified purposes outlined in the Code if they weren't really needed. That is why for the past several years, our school board has advocated for greater flexibility when it comes to utilizing these categorical funds. You may recall over this last school year we had to work incredibly hard to secure permission to use existing funding to start our preschool program. We had to jump through some pretty significant hoops and get permission to invest resources that we already had--all because of the constraints within our categorical funds.

Our request and advocacy really focused on two areas when it came to flexibility. One: we wanted to expand the menu of items that could be fit into each categorical fund. As one example, when it comes to At-Risk and Dropout prevention programs, I argued that guidance counselors should be an allowable expenditure for these funds. Interestingly enough, some school districts were allowed to do this while others may have perhaps only been able to fund fractional FTE through this fund. It didn't make sense and appeared to be inconsistent around the state. Two: we believed that if a school district had satisfied and could demonstrate that a need had been met, any remaining funds should be able to be captured and redirected to other needs in the school district.

Representative Walt Rogers, who chairs the House Education Committee provided valuable leadership during this past session, shepherding these bills through the legislative process. Because of his work, and his colleagues on both sides of the aisle,  these bills gained traction and were signed into law with the passage of HF 564 and HF 565. Interestingly enough, both bills passes on a 98-0 vote in the House and a 49-0 vote in the Senate. Since we had been advocating for several years on this issue, I wonder why they finally passed with such ease this year? Truthfully it shouldn't have been all that surprising. In the past, every legislator I talked to thought these were reasonable ideas and supported them. The final vote clearly shows these laws had broad bi-partisan support. Heck, how many  times do we EVER get a law changed [basically] unanimously? Hopefully all our legislators can hang their hats on that and agree to work in a bi-partisan manner come January.