Journal Express, Knoxville, IA

March 15, 2013

State Senate approves education bill

By Steve Woodhouse Editor
The Journal Express

---- — Sen. Amy Sinclair reports that the Education Committee passed an education reform bill the afternoon of March 7 along party lines, 9-6.

The Senate’s education reform bill, SSB 1228 calls for 4 percent allowable growth, compared to the House’s 2 percent allocation. The 4 percent increase falls more in line to school districts’ needs, according to Knoxville Superintendent Randy Flack and Pleasantville Superintendent Bob Miller.

“As far as budgets are concerned, 2 percent allowable growth is not sufficient,” Flack said. “Across-the-board cuts that have been made in the past few years, an average of 1.3 percent allowable growth for the past three years and elimination of state contribution toward the Instructional Support Levy have led to local cuts in spending and programs. Four percent allowable growth…is essential.”

Rep. Guy VanderLinden said the House passed 2 percent allowable growth because it is what the state can afford. When the final rate is established, approved by both the House and Senate, VanderLinden said he would be willing to consider raising the amount, if there are spending decreases in other areas of the state budget.

“I’m concerned about the 2 percent versus 4 percent Supplemental State Aid (allowable growth),” Miller said. “The number of school districts that will need to use the budget guarantee will increase dramatically. When schools go on the budget guarantee, the extra money that is needed to get to the 101 percent of last year’s budget is pure property taxes.”

The Knoxville School Board passed its budget guarantee resolution at Monday’s regular meeting. The board also approved a budget for publication, based upon 0 percent allowable growth. The budget is included in the Legal Notices.

Knoxville Schools Business Manager Craig Mobley said he used this number “because that was the law when this was done.” Flack told the board Monday night that, for every percentage of allowable growth approved and paid by the state, Knoxville’s property tax levy would decrease by 30 cents. A public hearing on the budget in Knoxville is scheduled for Monday, April 8, at 5:30 p.m., at 309 West Main.

“For our Governor to continually harp about property taxes, and then underfund schools so the property taxes will increase because of the guarantee is not good form,” Miller added.

Included in this bill are reforms for defining different levels of teachers, as proposed by Gov. Terry Branstad, as well as financial proposals and school district requirements into the future.

“I’m still trying to wrap my mind around the different levels of teacher-leaders and how that will affect our district,” Miller said.

Several pages of the bill spell out the duties and responsibilities of each level of teacher, as well as providing time and compensation for peer discussions among teachers. When asked about the role of teachers teaching teachers in an education reform, Knoxville High School Principal Kevin Crawford agreed that teachers should continue learning. Teachers can use their experience to find out what works to reach students and what may not. Time is not always afforded to teachers to be able to do this during the course of the school day. Annual peer reviews are included in the bill.

The base salary for a beginning teacher in the Senate bill is established at $35,000. The House bill set starting salaries at $32,000. In Knoxville, every new teacher is afforded three years’ of experience when setting pay. The Senate’s standard may not affect this.

Sinclair and the other Republicans on the committee voted against the bill. Among her concerns with the bill are that the cost is unknown. There is also no mention of parental or student responsibility. She believes that if education is going to be reformed, parents and students need to be part of the discussion.

Iowa law also dictates that allowable growth be addressed in its own bill, separate from any reform bill. The Senate passed 4 percent allowable growth for the next two years earlier in the session, then repeated the statement in the Education Reform bill. Accountability for students is also not addressed.

Sinclair was unsure when the bill will be brought to the Senate floor for a full vote. She believes this bill was rushed out of committee to avoid the self-imposed funnel deadline.

The Senate bill also changes the requirement of time students must attend school from 180 days to 1,080 hours. Miller calculated hours spent by Pleasantville students this year, and 1,080 hours is less than the hours currently attended by students.

“The Senate will debate and pass a bill with significant differences from the bill approved by the House,” Flack wrote in a memo to board members. “Unfortunately, we may not know allowable growth until after our budgets are certified, which may lock us into a budget and tax levy that does not reflect actual circumstances.”