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.