State Supplemental Aid Matters…A Lot

Back on October 1, 2019, I shared a blog titled Count Day Matters…A Lot.  In that blog I described the critical role student enrollment plays in school funding and budget development.

Today, I want to address another critical piece of the school funding formula, Annual Per Pupil Cost.  Each student enrolled in our district generates a specific amount of money.  For the 2019-2020 school year, that amount is $6900.00.  In order to maintain effective operations, and quality services for our students, it is critical that Annual Per Pupil Cost increases at a rate that keeps pace with the natural increases in our expenditures.  For example, when your electricity rates increase, our electricity rates increase; when you are spending more on gas, we are spending more on gas.

Setting a percentage increase for Annual Per Pupil Cost is a function of the Iowa Legislature.  Each year, the legislature sets a percentage increase for State Supplemental Aid (SSA).  That percentage increase is applied to the current Per Pupil Cost, and that new number allows school business managers and superintendents to begin the task of building a budget for the next school year.

The last five years have not enabled school district budget growth to keep pace with the natural increases in the cost of doing business.  The graph below shows the past 20 years of percentage increases in annual per pupil funding.  The graph also shows 15 years of five-year rolling averages.  You can see that the five-year rolling average is currently at the lowest point.  We have to do better as a state in providing this basic funding for our schools.

But Wait, I Read an Article About “Historic” Funding of Education

In recent years, Governor Branstad and Governor Reynolds, and the Iowa Legislature have talked about historic investments in education.  We hear numbers like $150 million dollars for Teacher Leaders and Compensation Programs, or “calling for $103 million dollars for education,” as mentioned in Governor Reynolds’ 2020 Condition of the State Address.  Unfortunately, many recent funding increases have been to categorical funds which can only be spent in certain ways.  These categorical increases reduce the local control of school boards, and can lead to significant surpluses in certain funds, while we struggle to have a General Fund that meets our basic needs.

While we appreciate the intent of the governor and legislature when they approve categorical funds, adequate increases to State Supplemental Aid empower local school boards and educators, and make the greatest difference in purposeful budget planning.

This year, School Administrators of Iowa, an organization of which I am a member, and the Rural School Advocates of Iowa, an organization of which our school district is a member, are calling for the percent increase to State Supplemental Aid to be set no lower than 3.75%.  I will advocate strongly with our elected officials for this percentage of growth, but your voices are what can truly make the greatest difference.

I encourage you to follow Parents for Great Iowa Public Schools.   You can find them on Facebook and Twitter.  They are a great source of information about how parents and community members can advocate for their local schools.

Additionally, I am always happy to talk with parents and community members about our local context, and how the actions of the legislature might impact our district.

Thanks for reading, and thanks for your support of Decorah Schools!

DCSD Condition of the District

Almost a year ago, I came to Decorah to interview to be the next superintendent of schools.  When I was invited to interview I was told I should be prepared to present an entry plan to the board of directors.  I could prepare a handout for the entry plan presentation, but I was told they did not want a Power Point presentation.  The handout I prepared began by communicating my purpose, and how I intended to present information back to the board about what was learned through deployment of the plan.

Since starting work July 1, I have engaged in a variety of activities designed to do what I told the board I would do during the interview process.  Earlier this month, I had an opportunity to have a mid-year check-in with our board members, and I shared a bone diagram capturing key elements of what I think I have learned.

On Wednesday, January 8, 2020, our Decorah Community School District staff met in the DHS Auditorium for a Condition of the District presentation.  We dedicated one of our late start Wednesday mornings to learning key information about who we are as a system.

I think it is important that our community be aware of these key desired outcomes as well.  Therefore, I invite you to watch a summary what was shared with staff using the video below.

Much of the work that is described in the video will be done in order to bring greater clarity to the shared why, how, and what of continually improving our Decorah CSD system.  As we do this work we will strive for transparency in our efforts, and to provide ongoing communication to you our stakeholders.

To that end, I am sharing a working document that is guiding our efforts to ensure we are creating a great environment for our employees to work, and for our students to learn.

Thank you for your continued support of Decorah Community Schools!