I attended my first Legislative Briefing on Saturday, January 16 with Jared Klein and David Heaton representing the House of Representatives and Rich Taylor and Kevin Kinney representing the Senate. I appreciated the opportunity to meet all of them and appreciate the work they do not only for Washington Community Schools but all of the other constituents. In times of tough budgets, their work is as challenging as ever.
As I look at the Governor’s comments regarding the budget it becomes frustrating that we fail to get agreement on what money is available for budgeting purposes. “Today’s unemployment rate has been cut nearly in half to 3.4%. Which is down from 6.1% five years ago. Iowa has the lowest unemployment rate since 2001. Iowa family incomes have grown 18.3% from 2010. We have seen over $12 billion in private capital investment. We worked in a bipartisan fashion last session to improve both Iowa’s physical and digital infrastructure”.
He then said “State K-12 education funding is up 35% since 2010”. Wow, why are we working so hard to find cuts when funding has increased by 35%? FY10 spending = $2,146.5 million(AKA $2.147 Billion) FY16 = $2,950.3 million (AKA - 2.950 Billion). By my calculations this is an increase of $806.4 million or 37.4%. Yippee, the Governor was wrong, our funding has really increased more than he said. During that same time, the state cost per pupil(SCPP) has grown from FY10 = $5,768 to FY16 = $6,446. This is an increase of $678 per pupil or an 11.7% increase. SCPP increase is well below the 18.3% family income growth and even further below the increase in state funding for schools. Source: Iowa School Finance Information Services
So how can this be? Back in FY2011 state dollars replaced federal funds. Schools received the federal dollars and freed up state funds to use elsewhere in the budget. Additional the $5.30 uniform levy generates less due to the tax increment financing diversion, now estimated in the neighborhood of $55 million(increase of $10 million since FY10). Although the state is paying more, school’s haven’t received more net dollars to devote to educating students.
Other line items in the budget include Property Tax Relief Phase-In, $25 million for the third installment of the business property tax credit and an increase of $2.1 million for the commercial industrial property tax replacement, for a total of $279.6 million in business property tax relief. I am not opposed to commercial property tax relief, but this was quite a commitment out of the state budget that many different areas have been short-changed in funding, including schools. Teacher Leadership Compensation(TLC) is funding a 3rd year of an additional $57.4 million, which Washington will be a recipient of nearly $533,000. The Governor is also proposing a 1.5% for Community Colleges general aid and they didn’t get an increase in general aid in FY16. Kirkwood is a great partner for not only Washington Community Schools but all schools in Washington County and WACO.
The last issue that is frustrating is constant disagreement of what the State’s cash reserve balance is. I have heard everything from $350 million to $1 billion ending balance for the State. It is very frustrating that this is a point of contention; let’s set priorities, and fund them. During the Legislative briefing, I was asked, “what is more important, a funding decision that is timely or adequate?” My initial response was “timely” because setting our budget blind is not an easy task, especially when we are making reductions. But shouldn’t adequate be just as important? We haven’t even started to figure out how we will pay for remediation for 3rd graders who are not proficient.
If you have made it this far in my ramblings, my only plea is that if education is really a priority, attend the next legislative briefing, February 20th at 10:00 and voice your support. While our Legislators are cordial, they would much rather hear from parents, grandparents, and other interested parties rather than superintendents. I am not asking for the world, but timely and adequate funding, is paramount for the children of Iowa.
The auditorium is really starting to take shape. The building in entirely enclosed and protected from the elements. While there is not a lot happening on the outside, workers are busy on the inside. We hope to take media in for a sneak peak in the next week or two and give some perspective to the progress being made. Take a drive down the newly renovated Sitler Drive and view the progress. This is another great item that will set Washington CSD apart from other schools.
Stewart Preschool/Daycare Update
The Washington School Board approved the final plans at the January meeting and we are now in the bidding phase. On February 10, there will be a public hearing on the project and are scheduled to open bids on February 23rd. The start date will all depend on the weather in the Spring, but certainly we will see a lot of work before school is out. Our goal is to occupy the building by January 2017. The project, much like our auditorium, would have never been possible without the leadership from the WOWIE board, community members, and Mr. Miller. Thank you to everyone in making this project possible, it will be great to get it started.