Friday, July 6, 2018

Update on the Summer

I hope everyone has been enjoying their summer and finding time to relax, heat up the grill, and spend quality time with family and friends. Our projects in the district are moving along nicely, and in some cases we are a bit ahead of schedule. The only sour note is that the air conditioning is still out in the middle school (which includes the central office). We are very optimistic this will soon be remedied! Next week it is supposed to be in the 90s again, so the sooner the better! Now, I don't know about you, but it is kind of hard to believe we are past the 4th of July! To me, once we pass that date on the calendar it begins the mad rush to the start of the school year. 

The renovations in the elementary school include the replacement of windows in the 4th and 5th grade wing, along with the lighting and ceiling grid. These classrooms will also be outfitted with the mini-split air conditioning units like were installed last year in the early childhood wing. The two computer labs in the library are also having doors installed that open into the hallway because we believe at some point in the near future those spaces will be needed for classrooms. We have also approved work to replace the north entrance to the middle school. You may recall all the trouble we have had with that entrance over the last year. It really began to deteriorate by the end of the school year. 

We are ahead of schedule with regard to hiring teaching positions as well. At this time, all our faculty positions are filled. This is great news, and somewhat rare for us. Usually we are waiting until a bit later to make a decision as to whether or not to open an additional section of kindergarten. Enrollment projections came in early and large enough to warrant that third section early so it was nice to be able to make those decisions early on. Likewise, we are not trying to fill a teaching position in a hard to fill area, which has also been commonplace for us the last couple of years. 

In the coming weeks we will really start to ramp up our operations in anticipation for the start of the school year. Supply orders are beginning to be placed, curriculum is on the way, and very soon the registration material will be mailed out. Our custodians are very hard at work getting the buildings ready for the return of students, and before we know it they will be putting the final coat of wax on the floors in the hallways. 

Now, if we could just get that air running! 

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Master Facility Planning Identifies and Prioritizes Needs

In 2012, the Board of Directors adopted a comprehensive and multi-faceted strategic plan titled Hudson 2020. We are now on the eve of a date and time that seemed so far into the future! For certain a lot has changed in those intervening years. Our financial position is markedly improved, enrollment is on the rise with new housing developments driving growth, and most importantly, many of the recommendations from Hudson 2020 have been implemented. With these changes, new challenges have emerged that require our attention. Over the last several months, a group of community members, parents, teachers, administrators, and board members have been meeting with architects and engineers to consider what our next steps forward might be as we consider and contemplate these new and exciting challenges that are now emerging. At the upcoming June board meeting, the Board of Directors is expected to approve this plan as a 'flexible framework for handling varying levels of future community growth' (p. 2). It is very important to note this master plan is not meant as a definitive project or series of projects to be completed in the near term, but rather to inform a long term vision for the school district. 

At a community stakeholder group meeting held at the end of February, the committee developed and determined a list of priorities. While those priorities are listed on page 30 of the report, the top three included completing deferred maintenance and a refreshed image of district facilities, locker room improvements, and improved security. At the same time, we asked the master plan be developed with an expectation that enrollment will grow to a point where a four section elementary school will, at some point be in our future.

Phase 3 work could include some of what is
described in the schematic above.
In the short term, much of our work will be a continuation of what we started last summer which is the renovation of the elementary attendance center. This summer we are completing what has been commonly referred to as 'Phase 2' and includes the HVAC, windows, lighting and ceiling work. But in addition to this deferred maintenance, we are seriously looking at how improved security, a refreshed image of district facilities and locker room improvements will fit into our next project, which we have termed 'Phase 3'. This project would include a new elementary office with a controlled entrance located on the north end of what is now the 4-5 grade wing of the elementary building, an expansion and remodeling of the middle school commons, renovations of the media center, remodeling of the locker rooms directly across from the competition gym, and replacing all the entrances at each attendance center with key fob access for improved security.

A long term plan may include the construction of a junior high
building that connects the elementary and
high school buildings together.
But to complete this next phase of work and consider future projects will require a change to our financing strategy. In the past, the board has operated under a philosophy of 'pay as you go', meaning that design, size, and execution of a project was completely dependent on having cash on hand in order to complete the project. That strategy has served us well, but we have reached a point where it no longer makes financial or practical sense to continue in this manner. As a simple example, the project we are currently contemplating (Phase 3) is between $4-$5 Million. It would take between 8-10 years to accumulate the cash needed to execute on this project. Furthermore, this doesn't consider the rising cost of construction, which historically increases between 4-5% annually.

Instead, a financing structure that utilizes revenue bonds seems to make a lot mores sense, particularly since it has a historic interest rate of 2-3% for schools. In this case, it would seem to make much more economic sense to utilize a revenue bond instead of the pay as you go strategy. That is what the board is currently contemplating and will take up at their June 18th board meeting. It is also very important to remember, a revenue bond is not a property tax increase. A revenue bond for the school district is simply a financing mechanism where we leverage our future sales tax revenue. This is commonly referred to as a TARB (Tax Anticipated Revenue Bond). Aside from the fact there are no property tax implications, the other upside is this enables our district to  meet an immediate need while at the same time preparing for growth. We'll talk more about our plans for future growth and what that means for our district in a future post. For a preview, I would encourage you to take a look at our master plan.

In the interim, if you have questions, comments, concerns, or even other ideas: please reach out to your board members or myself. While the ideas discussed in this master plan are conceptual and would require a lot of community engagement and input, at a minimum they provide us with a framework from which to begin a conversation. This is a very exciting time to be a Pirate.

Monday, May 21, 2018

Superintendent's Message to the Class of 2018: Band-Aids and Gold Stars

Good afternoon Class of 2018! Along with the Board of Directors; I would like to congratulate you. Parents, grandparents and other distinguished guests, welcome to the Hudson Community School District. This is a very exciting day for our seniors. This annual rite of passage known as commencement is one that we are honored to celebrate with these students as they look back with finality on these formative years; and look forward to a future that is yet to be written.

Students: In a little less than an hour from now you will exit this gymnasium as graduates of Hudson High School, thus earning the title of alumni. Take a moment to look around at those assembled here this afternoon. A lot of people; friends and family alike have taken time out of their lives to be here with you today and to celebrate this awesome achievement. 

The Class of 2018 lines up for their 'This is It' Moment
There certainly has been a lot to celebrate. You have had a remarkable year. The fact is, you have had a distinguished tenure as students at Hudson High School. Without a doubt you have left an indelible mark on this school system that has secured a legacy others will inspire to live up to generations from now. Along the way we have cheered you on. For those who love you most, it has been the thrill of a lifetime to watch you grow, become stronger, self-assured, and confident. Then finally, seeing you reach this day—and hopefully not recognizing this moment in time as the apex of your journey; but the beginning—a benchmark if you will. Nevertheless, I expect there will be tears from many in this room when you cross this stage in a few minutes because albeit the beginning of a new and exciting chapter of your lives it also marks an ending.

At the beginning of this school year I asked our faculty and staff to consider their legacy. I posed this question not as a self-check of personalized vanity but as a reflection on the lasting impressions they have on each of you. My hope is that these impressions and lessons will stick with you for years to come and that you remember fondly these experiences at Hudson High School. 

While the time you have spent here with us will be warmly remembered, what of your legacy beyond Hudson High School? It may be thought provoking to consider the answer to that question from the vantage point of your future. It is both fair and expected that you consider the ‘where you go from here’ question as a short term problem to solve. For example, many of you are thinking about the graduation party you will attend this afternoon. Now don’t get me wrong, I do believe that most of you are relatively certain where and how you will spend the next several years. Furthermore, I’ll admittedly concede that you even have thought about your plans following this next brief interlude in your lives. Of this I am convinced, since I enjoyed reading your reflections in the Hudson Herald. What intrigues me most about these ‘words of wisdom’ if you will, is this question posed in these personal narratives: Where do you see yourself in 20 years? Your answers have been both normal and customary: career, family, and a house with a white picket fence enjoying life. However, as my last request to you, I would encourage a more deliberate and reflective response to this question. Don’t worry; this won’t be on the test, because your time for taking tests is over! 

Certainly your answer to this question is both conciliatory and with merit. You have checked all the boxes that will set you on a path of reaching that what we have come to describe as the American Dream. I can promise you: all of us gathered here today have those same hopes and aspirations for you. But what else? Now that you have metaphorically checked all the boxes is there anything further to yearn for? Allow me to pose this to you: Where do you see yourself in 50 years? 

From that perspective those hopes and dreams that you previously worked so hard to achieve would now be 30 years in the rear view mirror. Hopefully with that realization you would come to understand there is much more to life than checking those boxes. Allow me to paint a picture. Consider, for example a scenario where you are sitting in this very gymnasium 50 years from now and your grandson or granddaughter is preparing to cross this stage. Approaching 68 years old, you will be at, or very close to retirement. So perhaps to properly frame the question, it may relevant to think about that future child, that grandson or daughter that is now sitting right here, where you once sat so very long ago. 

To wrap your minds around such a long time span, think about those who are gathered here today for you. Parents. Grandparents. Teachers. Consider anyone really who has nurtured you, put a band aid on your knee when you fell off your bicycle, or stuck the gold star on the refrigerator when you finished cleaning your room. 

Granted, we now have the benefit of hindsight and certainly didn’t have the fortitude or vision to realize so long ago that our future, our 30, 40, or even 50 years ago: Was you. You see, Class of 2018 you are the best version of us. You are our legacy. Our wish was and is that you succeed where we didn’t. That you live in a world that is a little bit kinder, cleaner, and peaceful. 

So when you are sitting out here, in the audience 50 years from now I promise you too will be looking at your own legacy. Those tears that will flow in a few moments are a testament to that.


President Finn's Message to the Class of 2018

Welcome to our Faculty, Administrators, staff, Parents, Families and of course to the Graduating Students.  Thank you for supporting our students at this year's commencement ceremony.   I am proud and honored today to represent the Hudson School Board of Education in celebrating our Graduates and offering some encouraging words as you look to your future.  

Over the years with great community support these graduates have provided countless hours of volunteer service, provided leadership to our younger students, earned district, state and national recognition awards not only in a variety of sports but also in vocal performances, instrumental music, journalism, FFA, model UN, National History Day and LEGO League to name a few.  As a result these young people have become emerging Leaders, Collaborators, Problem Solvers, Creators & Innovators.

The significance of graduation rates cannot be underestimated. One of the fist questions on any application is do you have a High School Diploma or GED?  A High School Diploma is a key milestone for future success, regardless of your next pathway.  It is easy to become complacent when Hudson has had so many years of 98% or greater graduation rates.  But it is more than just graduation rates. It takes effort in many areas of college and career readiness especially in areas of math and reading. A result of consistent efforts by our educators, the recently released US News and World Report on Education ranked Hudson 21st in the State of Iowa! In addition,  Hudson was recognized Nationally at the Bronze level placing Hudson in the top 30% of schools in the Nation.  Not bad for a small town in IOWA!! 

I am reminded of quote from one of our great American Leaders, Teddy Roosevelt,...“there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly.” 

Graduates, where will you go?  What will you do? How will you make a difference?

I challenge you to DARE GREATLY as the precious Treasure and Pride of Hudson.

DARE GREATLY Class of 2018!! 

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Music Department Shows Tremendous Growth

As this year is beginning to draw down, my biggest regret is that I missed too many music performances. Most of you are aware that in my former life I was a music teacher, so to see our students perform gives me a lot of enjoyment. Unfortunately a series of family emergencies and out of town commitments kept me away more than I would have liked. Luckily I had the opportunity to attend both the instrumental music concert last week and the vocal music concert this week. To say I was impressed would be an understatement.

While there are numerous components the define what makes a school successful, a lot of stock is placed in student growth and achievement in core academic areas. Largely, student growth and achievement of this nature happens outside public view. This is because when we talk about student achievement, we consider what is occurring within the confines of the regular classroom setting. Please forgive me for boiling this down to such a rudimentary cycle, but teachers teach, give a test, and record the results. At the end of the year they can look back to see how much that student has grown and make a scientific judgment as to how successful their instruction was. Outside the parents, the student, the building principal, and a handful of other people no one really knows all that much about the growth of those students in the classroom. Now, this is certainly not meant to diminish the tremendous amount of growth our students have made in the classroom, because we have plenty of metrics that point to successful classroom instruction. None is probably more public that the Iowa Report Card.

On the other hand, when considering music, we can see very clearly how much improvement our student musicians have or have not made. That is because the amount of growth our student musicians make is demonstrated in a public event know as a concert. Even to the untrained ear, it is self-evident if something sounds good--or sounds bad. Now, although I did unfortunately miss some of what happened in the middle of the year, I do have two pretty good bookends. The beginning of the year concert, and the end of the year concert. What I heard and witnessed over the last week is, well--astounding. Don't just take my word for it, both our large group ensembles received across the board Division I ratings. That means in contest, all three judges agreed the ensemble (both band and choir) were superior in quality. Earning a Division I rating doesn't occur by mere happenstance. It takes very hard work, attention to detail, and incredible concentration. After listening to these groups perform, that being the concert band last week and the concert choir last night, it was really no wonder. It is one thing to be able to successfully execute on the notes, rhythms, and harmonies. It is an entirely different game when the ensemble is able to flawlessly execute on the mechanics and turn the selection into music, rich with dynamics, tone, and emotion. It was very impressive for me to hear these groups not play notes on a page, but to perform music as an art. 

The band concert last week was a real treat. For starters, the growth is pretty obvious. Being able to see how the students progress from fifth grade through high school is as big a contrast as day is to night. These young musicians are able to witness and hear firsthand that practicing your instrument does pay off, and if you stick with it long enough the opportunity to play in a high caliber band is an experience like none other. Yet, not to diminish the growth of any band, I was very impressed by the amount of growth made by our sixth grade band! I was very surprised to hear them playing multiple parts! Then last night, out of nowhere the junior high choir opened up with an a cappella piece. You don't normally do that with junior high students! 

How about considering the noteworthy (pun intended) accomplishments of our music department this year? Aside from the Division I ratings, our jazz band finished 4th at the state jazz championships. Three students were selected to the prestigious Iowa State Jazz Band. One of our vocal soloists not only earned a Division I rating, but also earned outstanding vocalist of the center. 

These are but a few of the accomplishments of our students in music this year. As I summed it up last night, our music department is very good.

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

What is Your Story?

Spring is such a wonderful time of the year! We begin to see the grass turn green, leaves budding on trees, and flowers in bloom. The smells in the air this time of year makes it refreshing to be outdoors. For me, there is nothing quite like the aroma that comes from the first time I smell fresh cut grass in the spring! Of the four seasons, spring is my favorite. After what we have experienced over the course of the last month, I think we are all looking forward to the promise of new life and fresh beginnings that come with this season. Indeed it seemed like we were experiencing the winter that would never end. And lets face it: after a long winter of being cooped up indoors we are all eager to head for the exit at the first possible moment! 

At the same time we are witnessing the new life that is blooming in the great outdoors, there is irony in the fact that for us, spring is also a signal that our time together is drawing to a close. In just a few short weeks, we will be ending the story that was the 2017-2018 school year. I remember how exciting this time was for me as a teacher, especially as I began to reflect on how far my students had come and the growth they had made. Perhaps as you enter this final stretch of the year you too will have the opportunity to reflect with pride in the progress the students under your tutelage have made. Indeed for many, there will be sadness as you say goodbye to the students you have shepherded through the trials and tribulations of this school year. And also, for many, there will be joy, as you say goodbye to the trials and tribulations of the school year!

This school year has given us cause for great celebrations. We have seen our student soar: in the classroom, on the stage, and at athletic competition. These accolades; these accomplishments haven't occurred by mere happenstance. When that goal was met, you were standing there quietly in the background beaming with pride. In the humbleness and grace with which you conduct the business of 'educating our youth' the credit was placed where it most certainly was due: with the student. The nobility with which you will fade into the memories of that achievement are most certainly laudable. But make no mistake: that feat would not have come to fruition without the guidance of our educators. Granted, not all our students' accomplishments have played out on the front page of the Hudson Herald. The fact is most of them occurred in the quiet [or at times chaotic] refuge of your classroom. They materialized in an environment devoid of public view. So who knew? You did. Your students did. And there parents did. Thank you for your commitment and dedication to the students you serve.

With just three weeks remaining, I invite you to consider your story for the 2017-2018 school year. Think back on this journey we began together in August. When we began, I shared with you many positive and visible examples of those things we can hang our hats on. But what about those moments that are not so easily seen? What about those brief flashes of wonder that will hang with your students decades from now? What then, of your legacy? Indeed many of these moments are subtle and happen so quickly within the space of recess and lunch; that if we are not careful, we will miss them. So I'll ask you once again: what of your legacy? A month from now when you are packing up your classroom for the summer, what memories will you take with you from this school year? I promise, those memories will be the reminder and the motivation that first inspired you to choose a career in education.

So then on behalf of the students you serve, the parents who ask what at times may seem like endless questions, the community who has entrusted you with this most precious of resources, and the board and administrators that you don't always see eye to eye with: thank you. 

Thursday, May 3, 2018

Not Quite That Easy

The Hudson school board holds its regular meeting on the third Monday of each month. Our meetings follow a rather structured and predictable formula. For starters, a consent agenda is used that is designed to streamline routine matters of business which include the hiring and resignation of personnel, and the adoption of noncontroversial resolutions. Paying the bills and reviewing monthly financial statements is another matter for the board to deliberate at the meeting. They also receives reports from administrators on the status of their area of supervision, and special topics that are of interest and importance to the board. This includes hearing about the progress of various updates and upgrades to our facilities. Then our predicable meeting format ends with discussion and action on items that generally do require a greater amount of discussion, debate, and deliberation. 

When you read the minutes in the newspaper after each meeting, the results and actions of those meetings is usually boiled down even further. One may even begin to wonder why the vote on issues before the board are so predictable. In fact, you may be thinking: he just boiled down the work of the school board to two short paragraphs. 

Perhaps to a casual observer this is all there is to it. However, this oversimplification of the work and commitment necessary to be an effective board member does not do justice to the responsibilities inherent in board service. For certain, it is not as easy as it looks. As a start, the material each board member is required to study and understand in preparation for a board meeting is staggering. A typical 'board packet' will run several hundred pages and include detail which requires a high level of concentration to comprehend. In addition to this, board members must have a working knowledge of complex financial metrics that are unique to Iowa public schools. Preparation for a meeting will take hours, if not days of study. Not only will it include the material in the board packet, but follow up questions and discussion are almost always necessary to fully understand and appreciate the multiple perspectives of varying issues. In fact, before a final vote is ever taken, an agenda item is likely to have been debated, discussed, and sent back for revision over the course of multiple meetings. It may also surprise you to know that some of the final votes taken by the board have been discussed and debated for over a year. And in at least one case spanning multiple boards. The school board works hard toward consensus, and while the majority of the time it is reached, accepts and appreciates that fact that sometimes dissent occurs.

The lion's share of the time issues before the board are noncontroversial. With study and an understanding of the perspectives at play, the decision to be made is oftentimes clear. But at the same time, clarity does not always make for the noncontroversial adjudication of an issue. During those rare occasions, boards have the opportunity to hear from their constituents. Sometimes that commentary is driven by a misunderstanding of the issue before the board, while at other times it may be a situation where only one perspective is being argued. Or in even some cases, there is just simple disagreement in positions. Thankfully, those are rare occurrences in our school district.

But when they do happen, it can be stressful and taxing on school board members. Now, while its true board members 'signed up for this', at the same time it is important to understand and respect the work they do on behalf of our community. School board service is perhaps one of the purest examples of how our democratic republic is supposed to work. Steeped in the tradition of local control and the idea of no taxation without representation, your local elected officials on the school board are truly volunteering their time. They do this work without any pay for the betterment of our school district. They are representing your voice in the governance of this important and most noble  of institutions. May is school board appreciation month. When you see your school board members out in public, please thank them for their service.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Springtime! Really?

The calendar tells us that today is April 18th. But if you peak out the window it looks more like February 18. A friend of mine remarked in an email a few weeks back that yes, it's spring. But winter keeps cutting in line. So, here we are with another snow day. We are going to have to figure out how to deal with this one, because we have just crossed over into June 4th. Our summer construction season is starting to get a little more compressed than we would prefer. Originally the school year was supposed to end on May 25th, the Friday before Memorial Day. 

We had been keeping our eye on this snow event for several days. Truth be told I was convinced that it wouldn't amount to much, and hadn't really been all that concerned. I was at the track meet last night when I got a text telling me that the forecast had been upgraded. Admittedly, I thought someone was playing a cruel joke! But it was true, which meant the networking with other superintendents started around 9:00 last night.

April 18, 2018. Our fourth weather related cancellation
of the school year and fifth day of school that was missed.
Today started around 4:30 a.m., and if there is good news in that, it has to be that I didn't have to check the roads! At that time, no one had made any decisions about school for today. It was still dark out, but when I turned the outside lights on it was apparent that it wasn't doing anything yet. It was clear the trouble was going to be the timing on this storm. So with a pot of hot coffee brewing, the remote in one hand, and my phone in the other, it was time to get started. I got my first message at 4:50 a.m. from a colleague who stated, 'might be the toughest weather call of the season'. I agreed. Again, it was all about timing at this point. After that, the text and phone traffic was very heavy. Everything fell like dominoes beginning about 5:15. By 5:20, we had all thrown in the towel. 

By the way, it still wasn't doing anything at this point. But again, we had to think about timing. While our buses weren't ready to roll yet we had to contend with notifications so parents could make alternative arrangements. We also wanted to make sure that students who had morning activities didn't have to make an unnecessary trip. And yet it still wasn't doing anything outdoors yet! I found myself watching Eileen and willing it to start snowing, sleeting, anything! Finally at around 6:30 it started sleeting (or was that hail)? It hasn't really stopped yet. I ran home quick for lunch and the roads were not in very good shape, which made me feel better about this decision. 

It has been a rough spring. I feel bad for our student athletes who have had track meets, golf tournaments, and soccer games cancelled. As I mentioned, last night I was at the track meet and it was very chilly. Following that, I stopped by the girls soccer game and, quite frankly I am not too sure how much fun they were really having running around in shorts!

But if there is a silver lining, its that we haven't really had to contend much with 'spring fever'. The kids haven't been all that excited to be outdoors, although they have been good troopers with the extra snow on the ground. Today has been really quiet here in the office, allowing me to get some of the larger projects I have been working on completed. The best news of all: this snow won't last too long, and the weather is forecast to be in the mid 60's next week! Let's all just cross our fingers and hope the weather cooperates for prom this weekend!

April 9, 2018. Our elementary students made the best out
of a bad situation with this wet heavy snow that was perfect
for snowman building during recess.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Spending Authority Explained

Spending authority is a unique concept to Iowa public schools that is designed to ensure equity in spending for public schools across the state. Largely formula driven, a primary goal is to ensure school districts don't raise taxes in an effort to provide unequal access to programming in different parts of Iowa. While there certainly are equity issues within the formula that we have seen debated in our legislature and in some parts of the state, for the most part the idea of spending authority has stood the test of time.

Essentially, what spending authority does, is limit by statue the maximum amount of money that can be spent in the general operating fund of a school district. Exceeding spending authority is a violation of state law, and in some cases can lead to a state takeover of the school district and a dissolution of that school. This most recently happened in 2015 when the state dissolved the Farragut Community School District for financial insolvency.

Spending authority is comprised of three main components: combined district cost, miscellaneous income, and unspent balance. The combined district cost is the largest component of the budget and is the most dependable of our revenue sources. Driven by pupil count, the revenue for the combined district cost is composed of a blend of property tax and state aid. We sometimes refer to the combined district cost as the 'controlled budget' because it is entirely dependent on the formula and is a known quantity. In other words, absent an across the board cut, we can count on the combined district cost annually. Miscellaneous income, on the other hand requires a bit more deliberation, consideration, and forecasting to arrive at the total for this revenue stream. In a nutshell, anything that isn't property tax or state aid lands in the miscellaneous income bucket. This includes federal title money and tuition for students who are attending a school district under open enrollment laws. In Hudson, open enrollment makes up a large component of our miscellaneous income stream so it is very important for us to be thoughtful about the calculations we use to arrive at this revenue stream. Unlike the controlled budget, if a student open enrolls and then decides not to enroll in our school district, that is an automatic loss in revenue. The third and final component of spending authority is the unspent balance, which is the districts savings account. In years where a school district's spending plan consumes only the combined district cost and miscellaneous income, the unspent balance will remain stable. In years where the district overspends these two components, it will decrease. If the district spends less, then the unspent balance will grow. Put all three together, and it resembles something that looks a bit like this:

It is important to understand the function of the unspent balance. It is helpful to think about this as a savings account to determine when and if it is appropriate to utilize these resources. In any given year, a school district may deficit spend their budget for a variety of reasons. Sometimes it is a planned deficit, while other times it may be an unplanned deficit. Whenever these deficits occur, the district uses the unspent balance, or savings account to  make up the difference. A situation where a planned deficit might be appropriate could be a case where a teacher or teachers need to be hired to address an unmet and unplanned need. An unplanned deficit could occur when utility consumption is greater than the budget or if miscellaneous income revenue projections don't materialize. Nonetheless, using the savings account or unspent balance for recurring expenses isn't good budget practice. Quite simply stated, once the savings account is depleted that resource is gone and there is no way to replenish it. Consider the following scenario:

Albeit a rudimentary example, this illustration does an adequate job of demonstrating the impact of using the unspent balance, or savings account. At the far left, our sample school district has total spending authority of $10,000,000. They execute a budget and spending plan whereas overall general fund expenditures are $9,000,000, using $1,000,000 of the unspent balance. That means the next year, their spending authority has decreased by $1,000,000 to $9,000,000. If in the next year they spend $9,000,000, their spending authority for the following year will be $8,000,000. Obviously if the district spends $9,000,000 the following year, the school district has violated Iowa statute and is in petty significant crisis.

Not to complicate the issue any further but instead to add more clarity to how this works, it is important to understand that total spending authority does not automatically represent cash in the bank. Authority quite simply means that you have the ability to spend those funds. It is not uncommon in school districts to  have more authority than they have cash in the bank. The only way to create the revenue to fund the authority is to increase the property tax rate and fill the cash reserve. But, by Iowa law you can only fund to what you have authority for. In other words, [looking at] our example above, if we wanted to create a scenario where we had $11,000,000 in spending authority, you cannot levy for more cash. That is the beauty and the danger of the Iowa public school finance law. Cash creates cash to fund authority. Cash does not generate authority.

At some point, the question becomes: how much savings should a school district have? Well, frankly that depends on who you talk to, the wishes of the school board, and what your overall priorities for student learning are in the school. Yet at the same time, it is imperative that school districts have the ability to 'look around the corner'. For example, what does the forecast model do? In our case, if the growth in cost per pupil were to continue at a rate of 1% annually and our expenditures increased at a rate of 4% annually; we would consume over $1,500,000 of our savings account over a five year period. However, it is also worth debating whether or not the revenue is going to increase at even a 1% per pupil rate. There are signs that it may not.

Consider this: the legislature is currently debating a tax reform bill that, if enacted will reduce state revenue by over $1 billion a year. To put that in perspective, the entire state budget is roughly $7.3 billion in revenue. As the largest line item of the state budget, school aid accounts for 55% of state budget expenditures. It seems nonsensical to assume schools won't be impacted by this type of legislation. And that's not all. Last week we learned the state is considering eliminating the 'back fill' that was promised when the commercial and property tax reform legislation was signed in 2013. For Hudson, that would be a cash loss of roughly $30,000; ironically the same amount of revenue that is being generated by the cost per pupil growth rate for this year. If that weren't enough of a reason to be concerned, it is also important to consider changes in federal policy that undoubtedly will have tertiary effects for local school districts. The implementation of tariffs between China and the United States will impact our soybean and pork producer markets. A recent decision by the Administration to grant hardship waivers to oil refineries in an effort to avoid ethanol blending will have a negative impact on our corn market. We can't forget, Iowa's economy is driven by agriculture.

But there is some good news in those dark clouds. A silver lining if you will. Right now we have ample reserves to weather the storm. If we are smart about the allocation of our resources, strategic about the deployment of our capital, and mindful of the extraneous forces that are impacting our ability to do the work of educating our youth--we will be just fine.  

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

School Safety

Senate File 2364 was passed out of both the House and Senate unanimously and has subsequently been transmitted to the governor where I have little doubt she will sign the legislation into law. This bill will require all school districts in Iowa to ensure they have a high quality safety plan to address natural disasters and active shooters by the end of fiscal year 2019. I was very surprised to learn that in a recent state survey, only 9 percent of Iowa schools have what is deemed a high quality plan. I am very supportive of this legislation and look forward to collaborating with all respective state and local agencies to make certain our plan meets this high quality threshold.

Ensuring our students safety while at school is of paramount concern to us. I was happy to field the phone calls and email from many of you inquiring about our school safety plan and procedures in the wake of the school shooting in Florida a few weeks back. As a start, you are probably aware that all doors to the attendance centers are locked during the day. In order to gain entry, patrons need to buzz in at the camera by the door where the administrative assistant can grant access. While this is a very visible safety measure, there are many other components in place that are not easily seen and are unknown to the general public.

Here is what I can share with you. Our school district has in place a comprehensive school safety plan that incorporates detailed procedures for a variety of emergency scenarios. The most recent iteration of this plan was updated and communicated with our faculty and staff at the beginning of the school year. Working in concert with our local law enforcement agencies and the Black Hawk County Sheriff's office, our school district utilizes a response to an active shooter known as ALICE. This acronym stands for Alert-Lockdown-Inform-Counter-Evacuate. This type of response is different from what schools employed in the past, which was to barricade and hide, and has not been proven to be the best option. Instead, our plan relies on an approach that provides the teacher with options in ALICE to be made based on the situation. Teachers and staff are receiving training about what these options look like in the classroom.

Again, this plan was rolled out to staff at the beginning of this school year. In the interim we have had local law enforcement agencies working with our school safety officer, Mr. Bell to fine tune the plan and identify weaknesses. By the end of April, the staff will participate in additional training that will include practical demonstrations for each option and a possible tabletop exercise. It is our intention by the end of the school year to introduce age appropriate components and procedures of this plan to students. This is a challenging topic to address with students and we intend to be both timely and sensitive with our planning and implementation.

As our plan is rolled out to the students additional information will be coming. If you have questions, by all means reach out to us. But, keep in mind some portions of our plan will need to remain confidential.

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Fair and Competitive Compensation for all Classes of Employment

It is very important for the Board of Directors that they find the balance and flexibility needed to ensure competitive salaries not only for our professional teaching faculty, but for our professional employees across all sectors and classifications in our school district.

It is within that context you may have heard rumors the school board is considering a change to the compensation structure that is used for the teaching staff. That is a true; but what isn't true is that teacher wages are being cut in any way. In fact, every teacher that is currently a member of the Hudson faculty will see an increase in their take home pay next year. The size of that increase is where the debate lies. Indeed, these are complex and emotional issues! In order to fully understand those issues, it is important to understand where this is coming from, why the Board feels it is necessary, how teacher compensation is determined, and how our faculty stack up against peers in similar institutions.

For starters, this isn't a new idea being proposed by the Board. It predates me, and I can recall a great deal of energy being expended on this concept early in my tenure here at Hudson. Nonetheless, it really began to gain traction about a year ago when the Board of Directors instructed me to evaluate and recommend a change to our teacher salary schedule. Our current teacher salary schedule is an indexed matrix that increases at an annual rate of 4%. Quite simply stated, this means a teacher on the schedule will receive an automatic 4% pay increase with the start of a new school year. That 4% by the way, is prior to any base salary maintenance. So when the base wage is adjusted upward, because of the index, it compounds the 4% salary increase. Depending on how much the base wage is increased, it increases many teachers' salaries much greater than 4%. Because of the current realities we are experiencing with annual increases to the state cost per pupil, proposed tax reform legislation in excess of $1 billion a year, and other proposed legislative changes, it has become apparent to the Board our current index is unsustainable over the long term.

Think about this; when the legislature finalized the growth in cost per pupil at 1%, that equated to  a $33,940 increase in revenue for our school district. Under our current system, to advance teachers one vertical step on the salary schedule comes with a price tag of $80,466. This is before we increase the base wage even $1. Nevertheless, we will annually invest approximately $180,000 for increases in employee compensation. Yet under the system we have been using, the lions share of that investment has been used for teacher wages. The natural effect of that strategy has been the depression of wages for other classifications of employment. 

The Board has a multi-pronged strategy for employee compensation that includes comparable, competitive, and sustainable wages for all employees. It is within that frame of reference changes are being studied. As a start, the Board is prepared to make a similar investment in employee compensation for the 2018-2019 school year. If we use a $180,000 investment as a benchmark, it simply means the division of that investment will look different.

Keep in mind, the Board is committed to competitive and comparable wages: for all employees. This makes an analysis of pay from our talent competitors a very valuable exercise. As you will recall from my post Compensating Teachers, the average Hudson teacher will earn $54,410; whereas the average salary for a teacher in our peer group is $50,263. When considering total compensation, the average teacher at Hudson will earn $76,967; and the average amongst the peer group is $67,255. For a detailed look at these analyses, click here; or here to see how our pay compares in the Metropolitan area. On the other hand, when considering our classified groups of employees, an entirely different compensation picture emerges when comparing averages:

Making a change to the teacher compensation system is a very difficult needle to thread. Ensuring all employees are held harmless and see a raise in pay is challenging when working with an index. Over the course of the last year, multiple models have been built, tested, and discarded. At this time, a prototype exists that meets the Board's objective(s) of sustainability, flexibility, and competitiveness. Instead of an automatic 4% annual increase, this model starts with a 2% automatic increase. When coupled with base maintenance, teachers on the salary schedule will see an increase in pay exceeding 2%. You can view a draft model of this index by clicking right here.

The Board believes this model is reasonable and appropriate when considering legislative proposals and variables that are well beyond the scope and control of the school district. They believe this model will give them the flexibility needed to ensure competitive salaries not only for our professional faculty, but for our professional employees across all sectors of classification.

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Lofty Goals Sometimes Require Outside Assistance

The regulations and guidelines required for the operation of food service programs in schools have become increasingly complex since the adoption of the Healthy Kids Healthy Foods Act several years back, and they are not getting any easier. Consider the challenges we face: The procurement of food, for example, is a lengthy process that includes not only the foods we are going to use, but it also requires planning menus that meet federal requirements. Those requirements can be very tricky and not always 'student friendly', particularly when such ingredients as sodium content have to be closely monitored and moderated. Unfortunately, some of these requirements become a burden and make it difficult to serve a meal our students find appealing. Additionally, we have to make certain both our breakfast and lunch program stay in the black, which means maintaining a delicate balance between charging too much, or charging too little. Then there are a multitude of federal and state regulations to navigate and to ensure we are in compliance. Some include the free and reduced lunch program for low income families (in Hudson this hovers right around 26%), the commodity program, and the Department of Defense fresh fruit and vegetable program. Making certain we leverage these programs for their maximum value takes great skill and expertise. Nevertheless, our food service employees are doing a good job, and continue to navigate the myriad of regulations that come with operating a substantial food service operation every day. But in spite of that hard work, it has become abundantly clear they deserve additional help. It is for that very reason we have contracted with an outside company to manage our food service program. Yes, in the purest and truest sense of the concept we are outsourcing our hot lunch program. But the caveat is that no one is losing their job. Truth be told, everyone who wants to continue to work in the lunch program will continue to do so. In fact, most will be paid a higher wage, will have an opportunity to work more hours, and have the chance for promotion within the company. So while it is true we are outsourcing; more than that we are contracting for a program, or philosophy of food service that is designed to give our food service employees access to the resources they need in order to improve the daily dining experience of our students. Our goal for food service is quite simple: increase the lunch count. Our current participation rate for hot lunch right now hovers around 41%. We can do this first and foremost by eliminating the ala carte line. But when we do this, we have to make certain that what is served on the main line is going to attract our students. Here's how we are going to do that: Offer more options. In grades 7-12 for example, we plan to offer no fewer than four main entrees per day. In addition to that, a full service all you can eat fruit and vegetable bar will be provided for students daily. At the elementary school, the same approach will be employed, the only difference being students will not have quite as many main choices. But increasing the lunch count by offering greater choices is only part of the strategy. As a student growing up myself, I can recall walking into the school each day and smelling the wonderful aromas coming from the kitchen. This was an era where everything was cooked daily, from scratch. You could smell the bread baking or the hamburger cooking. The program we are implementing will include a return to hot lunch, cooked from scratch daily. Indeed these may seem like lofty goals. They are. Currently, we don't have the capacity to operate this way. We lack the purchasing power, expertise, and the training necessary for this transformation. However, we do have the manpower. This is where the food service management company becomes an important partner. After a lengthy process spanning approximately two years, we will be partnering with OPAA!, headquartered out of Chesterfield, Missouri to help us as a school district and as a food service program to achieve these goals. OPAA! is the Greek word for 'Hurrah'. With the company mission statement, 'Make Their Day', we are very excited about providing our students with a hot lunch experience that truly does, Make Their Day!

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

School Attendance Matters

Twice a year I take time to visit one on one with all our new teaching faculty. As you can probably imagine, the routine is pretty predictable. What is the best thing that has happened to you this year? What has been most frustrating? What can I do to help you? Among other things, I am very interested to hear about how their transition to Hudson Schools is going. These conversations are very insightful and have led to substantive changes to our mentoring and induction program over the last several years. Other times, I learn something that is quite surprising and incredibly enlightening. As it turns out, I am right in the middle of those visits as our school district sits idle for spring break this week, which has made my commentary here so timely. 

You see, I was visiting with one of our new teachers who was tidying up for the break and asked what was one of the most surprising or frustrating things encountered this year. The response was very interesting: student attendance. I learned that, while we were on the eve of spring break several students had been absent the entire week prior for other vacations. Now, I do get it. Sometimes families have to take vacation at certain times during the year and that they don't always align to school breaks and vacations. But other times they do, or at least they can. We wondered, does flexibility exist that isn't take full advantage of? The point this teacher was making is that students can't learn when they are not in school. Of course not! This is common sense, right? But nevertheless, it is something that happens more than you might think. 

It makes me wonder if we are doing enough as a school district to emphasize the importance of daily attendance. This, in spite of the fact we run what equates to an 'extra bus route' almost daily all over the district where youngsters have overslept and missed the bus. Or their parents have left for work early in the morning and the student decides they don't want to come to school that day. That would never happen would it? 😏 I guess what surprised me most about this teachers' comment was that I had assumed our strategy of running out and collecting our stragglers was enough. Quite the contrary!

To see what our attendance actually looks like, I took a look at the Iowa Report Card. I'll remind you that our Iowa Report Card Rankings are very high. The high school continues to be ranked as one of the highest performing high schools in the state, whereas the elementary school is ranked 'Commendable' the second year in a row, with our overall score increasing three years running. But, digging into the rankings, I do notice attendance is an area where we can do better. While both scores are well above 90%, I recognize this is certainly something that should be celebrated. In the elementary school, attendance is 96.5% compared to 95.5% at the state. In the high school, attendance is 93.5% compared once again to 95.5%.

At first blush, this is perhaps not something to get too worked up about. I mean after all it has been a pretty rough flu season. However, the trouble occurs in instances where the 5-7% absenteeism rate represents those who are chronically absent from school. Students cannot progress academically if they are chronically absent from school.

We are very appreciative of parents who call and ask us for help and advice from time to time in dealing with chronic absenteeism in their own home. If there is anything we can do as a district to help you, please don't hesitate to reach out to us! We want all our children to thrive at Hudson! It starts with good attendance!

Monday, March 5, 2018

Our Assessment Challenge

In a rare display of bipartisanship, the Iowa House advanced HF 2235 to the Senate on a 95-3 vote. A Senate education subcommittee subsequently approved the bill, and the full Senate education committee is expected to take up the issue this week. I suspect the Senate will overwhelmingly approve the bill. Again, with bipartisan support. The bill of which we speak will once and for all settle the ongoing five year drama that has plagued our ability to select the successor to the Iowa Assessment. And the successor it will name: The Iowa Assessment.

But before we go celebrating the fact the legislature has suddenly decided to get along, I think we first need to understand how poorly this entire issue has been handled. It seems the legislature was perfectly fine ceding the authority to select the successor assessment to educational professionals; provided the decision was that the Iowa Assessment was selected. Twice now, the General Assembly gave legislative directive to the Iowa Department of Education to select the successor assessment. And twice now, a recommended assessment was selected. Both times the legislature has said, 'not so fast'. 

A debacle five years in the making, the legislature first directed the department to convene a task force of education stakeholders to evaluate proposals and come up with a recommendation. That recommendation landed on a test developed by the Smarter Balance consortium; and that instrument checked all the boxes. Moreover, it was aligned to the Iowa Core Academic Standards. The final vote of the commission was something like 20-1, and the State Board of Education approved. Then the legislature intervened and said 'do over'. This time, they directed the Iowa Department of Administrative Services to oversee the RFP process, (for reasons that escape me) so they executed the process. The RFP came back, was scored, and the American Institute of Research was awarded the bid. 

This time, Pearson (the parent company of Iowa Assessment) sued, stating the RFP process was unfair. Ultimately the suit was tossed with the judge saying the process was indeed fair. But, nevertheless, our elected officials are full steam ahead on circumventing a process they had previously legislated. With the only common denominator of course being the fact that the Iowa Assessment wasn't selected. 

The legislature believes their intervention is necessary in an effort to prevent litigation. Frankly, that is quite laughable considering the numerous lawsuits that have piled up over the years due to some piece of legislation 'here or there' that has been enacted. I think we just need to be honest and say this is about the Iowa Assessment. After all, if the Iowa Assessment isn't give in Iowa, that would be bad optics. The other argument, which actually does have a bit of merit is there is a cost difference. Yes, the Iowa Assessment is less expensive than the assessment from the American Institute of Research. But you get what you pay for. 

Look. I'm all for doing business locally. In fact, anytime our school district can partner with a local business we will do so. It is good for the school, it is good for the local economy, and it is good for the business. However, this can't [and shouldn't] supersede the local businesses ability to be able to deliver the product that is required by the RFP. Quite honestly, I hope everyone can see this for what it is: a political decision.

There are some important facts that are being completely ignored in this debate. First, the Iowa Assessment, in it's current iteration isn't aligned to the Iowa Core Academic Standards. This is a huge problem that no one is even paying much attention to. Think about it this way: what if we taught our students algebra and then gave a trigonometry test. Second, this is a recurring theme with Iowa Assessments. They have claimed time and again the current test is aligned. It isn't. There are two reputable studies that are contrary to this claim, in addition to the fact that the Iowa Assessment hasn't passed a peer review process that is a requirement of the USDE. Fourth, without the USDE peer reviewed status of alignment complete, Iowa is at risk for losing Title 1 funding, and in Hudson that comes with a price tag of $46,500.  Finally, and perhaps most important: the next generation of the Iowa Assessment hasn't even been developed yet. All we have is a 'proof of concept'. 

I don't know about you, but I am not even sure what that means. But hey, like I said. Its cheaper. After all you get what you pay for. Even if it doesn't work. 

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Champions in the Classroom

I've spent the last several weeks discussing the implications of several policies and legislation that is being debated in the legislature right now. While it is important for you to understand how these policies will impact Hudson Schools, I think we can all admit these discussions can get a little deep into the weeds and complex. So, today I wanted to spend a little time bringing us back home to understand that at the end of the day; what this is really all about is our kids. We want our kids to have the very best educational experience that can be provided, and we are so excited and proud when they do well! We have had a lot to be excited and proud about this year, and our students have shown that the future is indeed bright for them!

On this last day in February, the finality of our winter sports season has come and gone. Ironically this week is also the girls state basketball tournament. While our girls are in Des Moines today, they find themselves cheering on their friends and neighbors from the NICL. I am pretty certain they would have preferred to be playing in the tournament rather than watching it, but the growth and improvement of our team this year was out of this world! I am so very proud of the work our girls put in this year and enjoyed watching them play. I would be remiss if not to mention the great season our boys basketball team had as well. I am quite certain they too would prefer their season hadn't ended prematurely; with the boys state basketball tournament scheduled for next week they undoubtedly would like to be there as competitors. To me, it seemed like they were peeking at just the right time. I was really impressed with the play and athleticism of our boys, and was really happy for Parker Ingamells when he scored his 1,000 point! Yet, perhaps the most thrilling event of our winter sports season was Cam Fulcher winning the state individual wrestling title! I was so excited to see this come from behind win late in the third period! Nonetheless, without trying to sound too cliche, the lessons learned in our athletic programs can very rarely be boiled down to a win/loss record. I believe that perseverance, commitment, and teamwork are among the most important attributes learned in our athletic program. For certain, the success of a season should never be measured on an championship or appearance at a state tournament.

Student athletes, I can assure you the job you apply for or the college you attend will likely find little value in the athletic prowess exhibited in competition. Those accomplishments, those feats, that thrill of victory is undoubtedly a sense of pride for the athletes, community, and school. It adds to our school spirit and to the stories we will tell decades from now.

Future employers or educational institutions are going to be much more interested in our students' performance between the hours of 8:05 and 3:15 Monday through Friday. That is what makes what our students have done here at Hudson so exciting! Thinks about this: Every single one of our athletic teams so far this school year has been awarded the highest academic achievement award, which requires an accumulative grade point average between 3.25 and 4.0!

  1. Volleyball 3.63
  2. Cross Country 3.67
  3. Football 3.49
  4. Football Cheerleaders 3.72
  5. Girls Basketball 3.80
  6. Boys Basketball 3.47
  7. Basketball Cheerleaders 3.91
  8. Wrestling 3.44
  9. Wrestling Cheerleaders 3.47
These students have earned a championship where it counts the most, and I couldn't be prouder! Congratulations to all our student athletes on a great season. You have thrilled us during competition and 'stuck the landing' in the classroom! 

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Feasible and Responsible

Last week the House released HSB 647, a bill that will extend the sunset of the SAVE (Secure an Advanced Vision for Education) to January 1, 2050. In layman's terms, SAVE is the one cent sales tax that is dedicated to school infrastructure. The current law is set to expire in 2029, which may make one wonder what the rush is, but believe me; there is urgency to extend the expiration of this valuable resource. That's because many school districts bond against future sales tax revenue. School districts are now faced with a much smaller bonding capacity due to the impending 2029 sunset of the SAVE fund. One of the biggest benefits of using revenue bonds for capital improvement projects is that they don't impact property taxes. Without the ability to complete these projects with sales tax revenue, schools will turn to general obligation bonds which are bonds paid back with property tax proceeds. 

Because of limited bonding capacities, we are already beginning to see a greater reliance on general obligation bonds, as was demonstrated by the special election that was held on February 6th, 2018. Multiple school districts all around Iowa held special elections that night to pass bond issues for school infrastructure projects. Requiring a 60% super majority for passage, all of these bond issues will be funded through property tax. Because of the high threshold for getting voter approval, it is not uncommon for the issue to be brought before voters multiple times before ultimately receiving approval to move forward. Many of the issues on the ballot during this last election had previously been brought before voters.

In Hudson we have been working hard over the last several years to upgrade and renovate our facilities. The most recent project included the early childhood wing of our elementary school and the installation of the accessible ramp on the South end of our competition gym. In December, the board approved the second phase of this project, which will include the 4th and 5th grade wing of our elementary. All of these projects are being funded using our sales tax revenue, which generates approximately $600,000 annually. So as to not stretch ourselves too thin, we are budgeting roughly $500,000 annually to complete these infrastructure projects. This strategy does not come without challenges. First, it limits the size and scope of what we are able to do. Second, it creates a situation where other important projects are delayed; and third, it makes long range strategic planning formidable because there are numerous high need projects to address, often at the same time.

So to meet our challenge, at that same December meeting the board voted to move forward with a feasibility study to evaluate our facilities, determine and prioritize our long term goals, and help us develop a strategy in which to meet these needs. The timing for this work couldn't be better because as you know our school district is preparing for enrollment growth. It is important then, that we evaluate our facilities with this bright future in mind. In the coming weeks we will be engaging multiple groups of stakeholders in this process through meetings, strategy sessions, and public hearings. I'm not certain where this process will lead us. Whatever we determine is a 'feasible plan' will undoubtedly be executed in a responsible manner.

In the interim, here's how you can help. We have engaged with Invision Architecture to lead our feasibility study. With a local connection, we have had a longstanding positive relationship with this firm and have worked together on multiple projects. The most recent being the work done this past summer. In preparation for our study we would like to gather some baseline information to help identify our needs and priorities. If you would be so kind as to complete this brief survey that will only be open until February 20th we would b grateful. You can access the survey here

For certain, this makes the extension of the SAVE incredibly important for the Hudson Community School District. 

My Remarks in Opposition to HSB651 (Educational Savings Accounts)

This morning I had the proud honor to stand up in defense of Iowa public schools by speaking in front of the House Subcommittee for Education. The subject of this meeting was to discuss HSB 651, a proposal to introduce a voucher system in Iowa; whereas private schools would have access to public funds for tuition and other education related expenses. At a time when our public schools have been historically underfunded, it is inconceivable and highly inappropriate to advance a bill that undoubtedly will funnel even more funds away from our public schools, the backbone of our democracy. Although my testimony in front of the subcommittee was time limited, I am grateful to be given the opportunity to speak. The full text of my prepared statement is included below.

To begin, I would first like to express my gratitude for the work of this committee. I do believe that each of your care deeply about the young people in our state and want for them to have the very best educational experience they can. For certain, there have been policy changes during this 87th General Assembly that will shape the educational landscape of our state for generations to come. Further, I am thankful that I have the opportunity to contribute to this conversation here today, and for the good fortune I have to engage with Representative Rogers, who not only chairs this committee, but is my locally elected Representative. Mr. Rogers and I speak regularly, and I am pleased to be one that he seeks input from on a consistent basis. I ask you to please hear my input today and respectfully request that you reject HSB 651 in its entirety.

Notwithstanding the draconian financial implications for Iowa public schools outlined in Division II, section 3; this proposal is deeply flawed. For certain, this bill is incompatible with other legislative priorities that are being debated by this body. As one example, we saw yesterday a productive discussion about transportation and district cost per pupil inequities in our educational system. We witnessed a dialogue that, by its very nature, was designed to improve the inequities in our public school system. Today, I submit to you HSB 651 is the antithesis of those efforts.

Take for example Division II, subsection 3(a-g). It is in this section we learn the sum of the proposed savings grant is ninety percent minus the local property tax portion of the cost per pupil for public school students, plus 90% of the supplemental amount for each category. Under current open enrollment laws, the local (receiving) public school district is not eligible to receive the supplemental amount for each category. This undoubtedly creates an inequity. For certain, the aforementioned scenario will likely propagate a condition where the student receiving the Educational Saving Account will generate more revenue than the open enrollment student.

In the same division, subsection 8(a) creates another alarming inequity when it states that 'any pupil with a positive balance'...upon graduation...may use those funds for higher education costs for virtually any accredited post-secondary education institution in the State of Iowa. This indeed would put those who participate under the 'Educational Savings Account' program at a tremendous advantage over their public school counterparts. 

Perhaps the most egregious inequity in this bill can be found again in Division II, subsection 9. My friends who are proponents of this bill will contend that it is through competition that we will improve educational outcomes for all. The theory that a 'rising tide will lift all boats' I believe, is based on the premise of fairness. After all, the 'tide' of which we speak in this metaphor impacts each boat equally. This paragraph is anything but. In this section, it is made clear the nonpublic school does not, in fact, have to adhere to the same academic admission standards as the local public school. To further emphasize and expand on that theme, the final sentence of that paragraph states, "Rules adopted by the department to implement this section that impose an undue burden on a nonpublic school are invalid." In essence, what we will have here is a public school system operating under one set of rules, while the nonpublic school operates under another.

Where the shortcomings in this bill are numerous, I have outlined but a few. It is for those reasons I again respectfully request this proposal be rejected in its entirety.

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

They Won't Know Unless You Tell Them

This is the time of year where I have a lot of travel to and from Des Moines. With the legislative session now in full swing, it is partly my responsibility to advocate on behalf of Hudson schools and for education policy that improves public schools all around the state. But here is the thing: legislators expect to hear from me, and the majority of the time know what I am going to say when I approach them in the rotunda of the Capitol. In some ways, meeting with me is not all that impactful. Sure, I can provide information and facts to back up my position, but at the end of the day I'm just a hired guy in a suit doing my job. 

But for the vast majority of you reading this right now, you have a much more powerful voice, and one that resonates deeply with our legislators. You are a parent, a grandparent, or member of our community that has a connection to our school that will cause legislators to pay close attention. Where I can speak clinically, offer facts, and talk about the real life application of the policy that is being debated; you can speak passionately about your children, your community, and how important your public school district is to you. It is within that frame I urge you to become involved and advocate on behalf of your local public school district! Plus, you don't have to 'go it alone', and try to figure out what to say, who to say it to, and how to gain access.

There are some great resources and groups that can help get you started. First, check out Parents for Great Iowa Schools. This grass roots non partisan organization has membership in every county in Iowa and does a fantastic job of sharing information on current legislation that affects our public school system. Then, there is also the Iowa Association of School Boards, which launched the 'Promise of Iowa' campaign at the beginning of the last legislative session in an effort to focus on the future of public education in Iowa and to "rally support to ensure our public schools lead the nation." Either of these resources can help get you started in your advocacy efforts. As always, I stand ready to assist you in your advocacy, because I can't begin to emphasize enough the impact your voice can have on this dialogue. The time to act is now, because legislation will begin to move very quickly as we approach the first funnel and the legislators have set a goal to finish this session early.

Iowa superintendents visit with legislators on January 31st.
I anticipate this week we will learn what supplemental state aid will be. By law, it must be set with 30 days of the governor's release of her budget, which happens annually during the Condition of the State address. That 30 day deadline is February 9th, and both the House and Senate have indicated they intend to move forward with a 1% increase in the cost per pupil. While this is less than the 1.5% the governor recommended, we are appreciative of the fact there is an increase to the cost per pupil, and it appears to be on a fast track to approval. Certainly more growth is needed, but with the status of the state budget there were some who thought schools wouldn't see an increase at all. In real dollars, this increases our district cost per pupil by $67 to $6,906, which equates to a .74% increase for Hudson or $33,940.

The legislature is also working out details on a larger education bill that will include a couple of items I believe will be helpful to our school district. Among them are the extension of the SAVE, which for us is particularly important as we begin a feasibility study where we will consider broadening the scope of upgrades and renovations to our facilities (more on that later). There is also a desire on the part of the legislature to expand on the flexibility that was given to school districts last year, specifically with regard to categorical funding mechanisms. 

But at the same time these bills are being debated, we have concerns about other discussions that on the horizon. Among them are plans to overrule the recommendations of the State Board of Education and decree Iowa Testing Program as the vendor to administer and develop the statewide assessment, which will be the next generation of the Iowa Assessments. Based on their history of misalignment, we should all be asking questions about the logic behind this move. Then of course, last week we discussed the idea of school choice and voucher programs. Any introduction of vouchers will have a negative impact on our school.

So I urge you to get involved and contact your legislator! Our Representative is Walt Rogers and our Senator is Jeff Danielson. Thank them for the work they have done on behalf of Iowa public schools, and respectfully challenge them on the issues being debated that will not strengthen our public school system. If you don't give them input and feedback someone else will. And that someone else may encourage them to do something we don't support.

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Revenue Neutral for Who?

During the legislative session last year, expansion of school choice was a topic that was brought up during the General Assembly. However, it didn't get a lot of traction largely because the price tag for implementation was far too expensive, particularly in light of the strain it would place on the state budget. The estimated price tag for expansion: a whopping $260,000,000. That's because students who currently attend non-public schools do not receive the per pupil funding that is based on a blend of property taxes and state aid. The basic premise of the plan would have been to allow students who attend non-public schools to receive a voucher or educational savings account equal or close to the amount of dollars received by the public school student. So to suddenly include non-public students in the formula would have been a very tough hill to climb from a budgetary standpoint. 

A bill establishing Educational Savings Accounts, or vouchers
for non-public schools was introduced in the Senate last week.
Touted as revenue neutral, for local public school districts it
will actually be revenue negative, siphoning funds away
from local public schools.
This year a new idea has emerged that is being touted as revenue neutral. In this bill, vouchers or educational savings accounts are being proposed only for students who currently attend public schools. The claim is made this is revenue neutral due to the fact the students eligible for an educational savings account or voucher are already in the public school system. From the standpoint of the state, no additional funding is needed because those students already receive the state per pupil allocation for attending their public school district. The trouble is, when that student leaves the public school, those funds would travel with them, thus reducing the revenue flowing into the public school. Advocates argue that with the student no longer attending the public school; so goes the expense of educating that student. No big deal, right? To believe expenses can be offset by a per pupil ratio is nonsensical. Let's assume a school district has 22 students that opt to utilize the voucher system. Since 22 is the typical size of an elementary classroom, would it stand to reason the school could reduce one teaching position? I think we all know that is not how it works. The fact is, losing 22 students across the broad spectrum of a K-12 system is unlikely to create a scenario where this kind of budget reduction is going to be popular or even possible. After all, it's just 1.69 students per grade level.

From a state budgetary standpoint it is revenue neutral. From the standpoint of the public school, it is revenue negative. So how revenue negative would it actually be? Well, it depends on how many students we are talking about.

Based on the governor's recommendation of a 1.5% increase to the state cost per pupil for next year, 22 students at Hudson would generate $152,658. By the same token, that 1.5% would generate $56,281 in budget growth. So if this scenario were to play out here, we would be net negative in new revenue approximately $100,000. We would also be in a position where it wouldn't be possible to reduce a teaching position, or in the case of a $100,000 loss in revenue, two teaching positions. While indicating that it is important to give parents a choice, Governor Reynolds also stated in the Des Moines Register Thursday that it's important we have a strong public school system. Creating a system that siphons off revenue from public schools certainly won't do anything to strengthen our public school system.