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. 

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Twenty Five Years From Now

In my opening convocation to the faculty and staff this year I articulated the idea of legacy. In those remarks I spoke of the time capsule we buried and our intention to have it opened some 50 years from now. Certainly this was a great 'hook' for a legacy speech. But more importantly, intertwined throughout my address were rhetorical questions posed to those assembled, "How do you wish to be remembered?" My emphasis was placed on the fact that it is likely 'through the little things' that youngsters who become adults will recall decades from now. Undoubtedly we hope the memories created are from positive experiences and interactions we have with our students. Yet, at this point in our lives and career, we never really know, do we? But maybe, just maybe it will be a time when you reached out with a hand to help; a simple gesture. Indeed, the allure to this inquiry lies with our inability to see into a crystal ball. But what if we could?

I submit examples are all around us, and frankly are easy to spot. On the evening of January 5th, we hosted what was a routine wintertime event at Hudson: basketball games (or in our parlance a 'quad'). These evenings typically bring out large crowds because not only do we host a varsity double header, but the junior varsity teams play as well. On this cold January evening, we had an even larger crowd on hand, and at the time I assumed it was simply because it was after the holidays and people were looking for something fun to do. 

But that is not all there was to it. You see, on that night we honored the 1993 Hudson boys basketball team on the 25th anniversary of their historic state championship run. While it was fun to bring these men back to their school and introduce them to the crowd during halftime of the boys game, the true significance of that evening was lost on me. It wasn't until I read the 'Soo Line' last week that it really sunk in. You see, as great as that basketball team was, and as memorable as winning a state title is for a community, that evening wasn't about basketball. It was instead, about the legacy of a coach who united a team to overcome insurmountable odds and win a championship. But again, it was (and is) not really about basketball. In Soo's article she asks each of the players to do two things. First, what are they doing now; and second, what are their memories from that season. The first takeaway was that each of these men are incredibly successful in their chosen fields, all with college degrees, several with advanced degrees, and two with terminal (doctor) degrees. That in and of itself should be a source of great pride for our school district and community! Secondly, and even more important was the impact Coach Dober had on these young men. Each spoke eloquently about the philosophy of coach, his spirit, demeanor, and the way in which he inspired his team to do their very best. It was evident from these reflections that Coach Dober loved his players, and they loved him. Not only did Coach guide this team to a state title in 1993, he taught them valuable lessons that helped turn them into the successful men they are today.

Hopefully each one of us can recall a teacher or coach who had a positive impact on us as youth. Perhaps it was that extra encouragement you needed before a big test, game, or performance. Now, year's later you can smile when you remember that time in your life. For me, it was senior year in high school and I was auditioning for the Iowa All-State Chorus. This was my last shot, and each previous year I came up short. Resigned to the fact that I was probably going to come up short again, my teacher encouraged me, worked with me, and believed in me. In the end, I made the choir, and that achievement served as the catapult to where I find myself today. I wanted to someday have that same kind of impact on students that my teacher had on me.

I'm not a whole lot older than the men who made up the 1993 state title team, but the similarities in the trajectories of our lives are similar. It was a coach and a teacher who created a spark. That is how a legacy is created.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Compensating Teachers

Several weeks ago I posed the question about a looming teacher shortage. I rhetorically suggested that a time may be coming where this is reality not only in the far reaches of our state, but right here in Hudson. Today though, we have been able to attract high quality faculty to our ranks by offering a competitive compensation package. Nonetheless, a large number of retirements over the last several years have dramatically altered the demographic makeup of our professional teaching ranks. We currently have a faculty of 62 educators. Of those, 11 (18%) are initial license holders. An initial license is issued to educators who are in the first two years of their career. They can't qualify for a standard license until the building principal signs off they have met a series of requirements related to the Iowa Teaching Standards. In addition to these 11 new teachers, we currently have an opening for a special education teacher that will likely be filled by another brand new teacher. This will push the number of initial license holders to 12 or 19%. Let that sink in for a minute: almost one-fifth of our teaching force is in the first two years of their career. And over the last two years we have hired a total of 21 teachers, which means that one-third (34%) of our teaching force wasn't here three years ago. In five years? Roughly 42%.

Certainly there are a lot of valid reasons for this. A few that come to mind include retirements, growth in enrollment that requires additional faculty, and the new positions that were added when we implemented our teacher leadership system. During the 2013-2014 school year, we had a faculty of 55, which has grown to a faculty of 62 in the intervening years. We have also had a few teachers that decided they wanted to continue their careers out of state, so at least at this point we haven't lost any to our main competitors for talent. All that being said, the numbers do seem to be a bit startling! So back to that November 8th article about a potential looming teacher shortage. Multiple hypotheses were discussed, including a decrease in young people entering teacher preparation programs, mobility in the teaching force (moving to a different school district), and a high overall turnover rate (leaving the profession altogether). The one factor we didn't discuss was the idea of teacher wages. Now then, it is reasonable for one's opinions and perspectives on employee compensation to be shaped by the work they do, the wages they earn, and their overall job satisfaction. Indeed some of these variables and opinions were what led to sweeping changes in the collective bargaining law last legislative session. To understand teacher compensation though, let's first unpack what it takes to be a teacher from a purely clinical standpoint.

To become a teacher in Iowa, an individual must earn a Bachelor's degree in education. To stand out in the field, most candidates for teaching positions will earn an extra endorsement in a specific content area to further specialize their skill set. In Hudson, a candidate for a lower elementary position without a Reading endorsement is unlikely to get a second look (at least today). Upon earning the BA in teaching, the candidate is required to pass what are known as the Praxis Exams. The number of exams a teaching candidate must sit for is dependent on the number of credentials they will ultimately have on their license. Not only are the tests stressful, but can cost candidates hundreds of dollars to take. If they pass these exams, they can apply for and receive a license to practice in Iowa, which as we have already discussed is a two year probationary license. After that two year period, if the principal verifies and signs off the teacher has met all the requirements outlined in the Iowa Teaching Standards, they can apply for and receive a standard license which is good for five years. In those intervening years, the teacher will need to take and accumulate continuing education credits in order to renew that license.

A brand new teacher will earn a salary of $37,491, have a decent health plan, and become enrolled in the IPERS pension system. Then each subsequent year, the teachers salary will increase based on the adopted salary schedule. If they decide to earn an advanced degree, that will further bolster their wages. In case you are wondering, the average teacher at Hudson earned a salary of $54,410 during the 2016-2017 school year. When considering this, understand that 24% of all faculty hold advanced degrees beyond BA, and 11% have earned education beyond a Master's Degree. Also worth mentioning, the average teacher at Hudson is 41 years old. With the level of education required for these jobs and the responsibility placed on teachers, are these reasonable wages for educators? Again, this very much depends on your perspective.

But let's weave the collective bargaining changes into the mix and couple that with the idea of a looming teacher shortage. Outside of setting the base wage, districts are free to compensate employees how they wish. As I mentioned above, we are currently looking for a special education teacher. So are a lot of other school districts. In fact in a school district not too far away from here, since the passage of the new collective bargaining law they have decided to pay a $6,000 premium for special education teachers. I can assure you of this, we don't have the ability or desire to get into a bidding war for teachers! I do also wonder if this will create a labor market of dis-proportionality within the ranks of teachers. Will high school teachers earn more than elementary teachers because of the complexity of the content they teach? Or will elementary teachers earn more because of the importance that has been placed on early reading literacy? Will this create a market where the teacher will go to the highest bidder, with smaller schools left on the outside looking in? I suppose time will tell.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

The Big News of 2017

I have usually avoided a recap of the 'year that was' for fear of forgetting to mention some big news story or event that happened over the course of the last twelve months. But, after pouring through my calendar for 2017 and looking at previous blog articles I will offer this look back with a caveat. It is entirely possible that something significant is not going to be mentioned below, so I propose some audience participation! If you recall something that I have missed or something that I should have otherwise included, please let me know using the 'comments' section. I would love to hear your thoughts and will respond where I can. However, please keep in mind I can't comment on every single news story or event, there just simply isn't room, so I am going for those that I believe to be the most impactful and broad based. Oh, and for the most part, these aren't in any significant order. So here we go!

Most would probably agree the most significant news story to impact not only Hudson schools, but schools around the state was the collective bargaining reform that was passed into law in the middle of February. This bill implemented significant changes to the way in which teachers can negotiate wages and benefits. In the end, it essentially struck most mandatory items of bargaining, leaving only base wages. All other items that were previously deemed mandatory were declared 'illegal' or 'permissive'. The long term impact of this law remains to be seen, but the changes in the law that had been in effect since 1974 were significant. From the time the bill was introduced in the House of Representatives, it went through debate to the governor's desk in about 10 days.

This last year also brought the statewide voluntary preschool to Hudson Schools. Originally enacted over a decade ago statewide, the challenge to bring this program to Hudson can't be overstated! The original legislation only provided a three year window with which to launch the program, and with the window firmly closed, there was no funding mechanism with which to make it happen. Due to a lot of hard work and diligence from our elementary principal, Mr. Schlatter, we were able to remove those barriers one by one! So, this fall we opened our doors to 32 preschool students! Also worthy of note: our program is one of the few in the area to offer door to door transportation to our registered child day care providers! We are really looking forward to seeing this program grow in the coming years.

Graduating Class of 2017
On May 24th we celebrated graduation with the Class of 2017. Boy that seems like a long time ago, doesn't it? This was significant not only for the vast talents and accomplishments of this outstanding group of now alumni, but also for their size. This class represented one of the smaller classes that we have had graduate from Hudson, and one of the smallest we will likely see again for a very long time. While that doesn't in anyway diminish their contributions, it did represent a shift in student population and closed an era of declining enrollment. In my remarks to the graduating class, I reminded them to 'Be kind, compassionate, and generous'. 

Over the summer we completed the largest renovation project in the school district in over a decade with the first phase of the elementary school. Perhaps the biggest priority for the school board with this project was the installation of the ADA accessible ramp on the South end of the entrance to the competition gym. This project set the stage for phase two of the project, which was approved by the school board during the December board meeting. This work is evidence of a school district that is thriving and poised for significant growth, which brings us to our next big news story of the year.

While the long term impact on Hudson schools remains to be seen, all can agree the recent interest in residential development in our community will have a positive impact on the school district. On December 21st, we had the ribbon cutting for the Meadowbrook Condominiums, a series of apartment complexes on Springfield Avenue that, when completed will have approximately 48 units. Ann and I live in the second addition of Upper Ridge Estates, which has 26 residential lots (of which about half are already built), and of course the city council recently approved the preliminary plat for the Twin Oaks development, which will include 73 single family residential lots!

New Hudson Faculty-2017
We would certainly be remiss if we didn't acknowledge the changing demographics of our certified teaching faculty! This August, we welcomed ten new teachers to our ranks. While some were hired to replace retiring faculty, others were hired due to anticipated or realized growth in enrollment. I don't want to single anyone out here, but being able to revitalize our business program after it being dormant for the last several years was a big win for students in the high school. As an added bonus, we are pleased that we will have a permanent replacement for our Family and Consumer Science department, hopefully by the time you read this post!

Finally, I think it is always newsworthy, noteworthy and significant when there is a change in leadership! This past September, long time board member Jerry Griffith retired after serving on the Hudson school board for 11 years. Jerry was the last serving board member still on the board from when I was appointed in May of 2010! Additionally, Director Liz Folladori decided not to run for a second term. That left us with two vacant seats on our five member board, with incumbent Traci Trunck running for (and winning) a second term. After the election, we seated newcomers Brenda Klenk and Matt Sallee.

Well, that is my snapshot of 2017. What do you think? Please let me know what I missed in the comments section below!

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

The One Word: Opportunity

Happy New Year to you all! I hope that each of you had a very Merry Christmas and were able to spend some quality time with your families. Now we are at the dawn of 2018 and hopefully looking to this year with a renewed sense of optimism and hope. Tomorrow we will begin the second semester, giving our students the opportunity and chance for a fresh start. Yes, January 4th we will start anew with our pupils, working hard for the next two and a half months, the entire third quarter of the school year! I sometimes refer to this period between the holidays and spring break as the 'Long Stretch'. With no scheduled instructional breaks between now and March 9th, we are getting ready to settle in for a long stretch of learning. I suppose that is what makes the occasional snow day such a special treat!

But, I like to think this long uninterrupted period of time is ripe for huge gains in student growth and achievement. After all, it's too cold to be outside long. There is a lot of evidence to suggest this cold period of the school year is where we see our students make the most progress. Our teachers have long since figured out how to take advantage of this long stretch to get the most out of our students. Indeed, they will be taking advantage of a great opportunity!

In about a week the legislative session will begin, which hopefully will provide us with opportunities to help shape an agenda that improves public schools in Iowa. There will certainly be areas of sharp disagreement with some members of the legislature over areas of policy, but at the same time we will look for opportunities to find common ground. We look forward to working with legislators to ensure adequate and timely supplemental state aid, an extension or repeal of the sunset on the SAVE fund, an extension or repeal of the expiration of incentives provided through operational sharing, and eliminating the burden that comes from unfunded mandates (let's make certain we fund the new statewide assessment). Okay, I'll admit that sounds a bit more like a wish list than anything else, but let's at least agree we have opportunities to make our voices heard. After all, it's an election year and everyone up for re-election wants to be able to say they supported our public schools!

Our school board has taken some key votes over the last few months, using the opportunities in front of them to leverage our resources in a way that improves the educational experience of the students we serve. Recently, they approved the second phase of the elementary renovation project that is scheduled for this summer. This work will be be a continuation of the goal to modernize and renovate our K-6 building that was begun last summer. They took further steps to embark on a feasibility study of district facilities. This because the school board has recognized the opportunities that exist with significant residential development in three locations throughout our community. I have no doubt this will create some exciting opportunities for future projects in our school! We'll most certainly be talking more about this later!

So there you have it! My word for the year is opportunity! As we settle in for the 'Long Stretch' my plan is to look forward each day for opportunities to make a difference in our school district. I sincerely hope each of you has a great 2018. Stay warm and enjoy this long stretch. Spring is just around the corner.