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North Tama watching Iowa Legislature in 2019

January 14, 2019
CJ Eilers - Editor ( , Traer Star-Clipper

The 2019 Iowa Legislative session will convene on Monday, Jan. 14 as school district across the state will keep their eyes focused on the Capitol, including North Tama on several relevant issues for the small school district.

"The North Tama School Board voted on their priorities for this year's legislative session in July," North Tama Superintendent David Hill said. "They selected Teacher Leadership, School Funding Policy, Supplemental State Aid, and Sharing Incentives as their top four priorities."

Teacher Leadership, according to Hill, is a statewide initiative that was part of Governor Terry Branstad's Blueprint for Education, a program current Governor Kim Reynolds has continued to support as Hill believes "it is making a real difference in teaching and learning throughout the state."

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"North Tama has built an exemplary system of support for teacher professional growth over the past three years through our Teacher Leadership System," Hill said. "Our board placed this item high on their list of priorities because they are proud of the good things that have been accomplished through teacher leadership at North Tama and they want to see that continue. We need the legislature to fully fund teacher leadership."

North Tama has been involved in Operational Sharing, the sharing of programs and people with other area school districts that Hill stated has been a key factor that has helped North Tama and other small school districts in Iowa "to weather the storm of declining enrollment and decreased state aid in recent years."

"The sharing incentives offered by the legislature have helped us to maintain a strong financial position," Hill said. "State Representative Dean Fisher offered legislation last year that would have made the current sharing incentives permanent. While that legislation didn't pass, the legislature did extend the current incentives for another five years. We're very pleased with Representative Fisher's efforts on our behalf. It shows that he understands how important the school is to our small towns. Our board made this item a priority because we would still like to see these sharing incentives become a permanent thing. Small towns and small schools are two factors that make Iowa such a great place to live, work, and raise a family."

Supplemental State Aid (SSA) is the rate used to increase the per-pupil funding amounts that generate funding for all districts. Over the last several years, school districts have received less state aid than what they potentially need to run their schools effectively. According to Hill, school boards have had to make "difficult decisions" on where to make budget reductions.

"It is imperative that schools receive enough funding to provide a quality education for every student," Hill said. "It is also important that the SSA rate is set early so that districts can proceed with their planning for the coming year. At one time, the law required the legislature to set the SSA rate over a year in advance. Now, the law states that SSA must be set within the first 30 days of the legislative session, and the legislature hasn't always met this timeline. Districts need to certify their budgets in mid-April, and these budgets must be published in advance, so we really do need the legislature to meet the legal timelines that they have established for themselves."

The final priority for the North Tama board Hill believes goes hand-in-hand with Supplemental State Aid: general school funding policy. In 2018, the Iowa Legislature passed two new laws to help with what smaller school districts have stated are major inequities in school transportation requirements as well as the inequity in per-pupil funding, and these two pieces of equity legislation have made a positive impact on North Tama's current budget in Hill's eyes.

"If anyone tells you that we now have true equity in school funding in Iowa, don't believe them," Hill said. "North Tama is still at the very bottom of the state in terms of per-student funding. Last year's legislation simply took North Tama and similar districts from being 'shorted' by $175 per student to now being shorted by $170 per student. We appreciate the additional five dollars and it is great that the legislature has finally done something to address this issue, but at the rate of $5 per year, it will take THIRTY-FOUR more years to achieve per-student equity and that just isn't acceptable. I have repeatedly asked the question, 'Why is a kid from Hudson or La Porte City worth more to the state of Iowa than a kid from Traer or Clutier?' It shouldn't be that way -- per-pupil funding amounts should be the same regardless of where the student happens to live. I understand that it would be just too expensive to fix the inequity all in one year, but I hope the legislature will show that they are serious about addressing this per-student funding equity issue by making a major stride toward equity in 2019."

The North Tama Board of Education has been selected a member to represent the district at the Delegate Assembly of the Iowa Association of School Boards (IASB), which took place in November. North Tama's delegate was Tiffany Feisel, and worked with the other delegate assembly members to craft a legislative platform for the coming session. According to Hill, IASB does have a paid lobbyist who represents the interests of Iowa's School Boards, and the lobbyist's work is driven by this legislative platform.

"The principals and I belong to the School Administrators of Iowa, which has a lobbyist who represents the interests of school administration," Hill said. "Many of our teachers belong to the Iowa State Education Association, which also has lobbyists which advocate on behalf of public education."

In addition to those resources, Hill works with the state senator and state representative who represent the territory covered by the North Tama district, and encourages board members and "anyone else who cares about our school" to also have their voices heard.

"Representative Fisher has reached out to me several times to ask how a piece of proposed legislation might affect our district," Hill said. That personal touch is really appreciated.

While these priorities hold great importance to North Tama, renewing and extending the statewide sales tax penny for school infrastructure is also an issue Hill has concerns about.

"For North Tama, the statewide penny has become a vital source of funds that have been used to maintain and improve our aging facilities," Hill said. "These funds have allowed the district to provide a safe, modern transportation system and to become a leading district in technology. With portions of North Tama's buildings being over 100 years old, it is reasonable to expect that additional improvements and maintenance expenses will be warranted well beyond the impending expiration of the statewide penny. In the coming years, North Tama Schools will have needs such as roof and boiler replacements, major repairs to the heating and HVAC systems, concrete replacement, improved handicapped accessibility, new school buses, and technology upgrades. The statewide penny will likely be critical in meeting these needs in the years ahead."



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