Zero Allowable Growth Could Devastate Waukee Schools Budget Says Superintendent
Waukee Superintendent David Wilkerson analyzes Gov. Terry Branstad's proposed education reforms and outlines their potential affect on the Waukee school district.
Note: David J. Wilkerson, Ph.D., Superintendent of Schools, wrote this article for the January 2013 Waukee district bulletin.
As we enter another new legislative session a great deal of attention is once again focused on the state budget and various school reform proposals. After throwing many different reform plans out there during the 2012 legislature, none of which stuck, a number of study committees/task forces were appointed by the legislature. Most notable was the committee focused on teacher leadership and compensation. It appears this will be the centerpiece of the Governor’s reform efforts. There are five components to the Governor’s plan. I do support the plan being brought forward to improve Iowa’s education system.
The first component contains the following key elements:
• Raising teacher starting salaries statewide from a minimum of $28,000 to a minimum of $35,000. (For reference purposes, the starting salary for beginning teachers in Waukee for the current school year is $42,346 so this will not have any impact on our district or teachers.)
• Improve entry into the profession by creating a residency year for all new teachers that includes a reduced teaching load and increased learning opportunities. (Obviously there would be a cost associated with this, as it would increase the number of teachers necessary to serve students if some are not teaching a full schedule. In Waukee, with the number of new teachers we hire each year, this could be a significant number.)
• Enhance career opportunities by designing a system of career pathways with differentiated pay and responsibilities. (Nothing like this currently exists in Iowa, so this would be groundbreaking in that regard. It does, however, contain an instructional coaching model very similar to what we have successfully implemented in Waukee K-8 and hope to expand to the high school)
• Address labor market issues by providing incentives for teachers in hard to fill areas as well as teachers in high-need schools. (Again, this would be new ground for the state of Iowa.)
With the second component the Governor is advocating a Teach Iowa Initiative that would provide tuition reimbursement for top students who commit to teach in Iowa schools for five years, with many of the awards going to students in hard-to-hire subject areas such as science, technology, engineering and mathematics. He would like to see the student teaching experience lengthened from one semester to a full year.
The third component he has titled Iowa Promise Diploma Seals. This is a program that uses diploma seals to identify and recognize graduating seniors who have demonstrated through certain competencies that they are college and career ready.
Component four is an Educator Development System. It involves updating teacher and administrator standards. The main goal of this component would be to develop and implement an evaluation framework that differentiates performance using three levels and factors in student outcomes.
The final and fifth component of the Governor’s plan is Expanding the Iowa Learning Online Program. Money would be appropriated to expand the current on-line learning opportunities for students from fewer than 1,000 students currently to about 2,500 students per year.
This education reform proposal includes a phased in funding model to lesson the economic impact of the costs on the state budget, with $14 million proposed for FY14, $72 million for FY15 and eventually $187 million in FY18.
One thing the Governor has not proposed, and in fact has said he is opposed to, is an increase in allowable growth for schools. The Governor’s budget proposal calls for no increase (0%) in allowable growth for each of the next two school years. Allowable growth refers to the mechanism in place currently that provides for increased funding for schools to meet their day-to-day program costs. It is supposed to be set by the legislature within the first 30 days of the session for two years in the future. The 2012 legislature did not set an allowable growth rate, so schools are currently “operating blind” as we begin budget preparations for the 2013-14 school year. Basically we must assume that we will not receive any additional funding to operate our schools.
The Governor has stated that he won’t even consider any allowable growth for schools absent passage of his reform measures. If the legislature does nothing, then the rate is 0. That could be pretty devastating for a district like ours, and for most districts in general. Keep in mind that allowable growth for this school year was 2%, the previous year (2012) it was zero, marking the first time in the history of the school funding formula that there was no additional growth.
In 2011 it was 2%, but that was coming off the previous year when our budgets were reduced by 10% across the board as the severe impacts of the recession decimated state revenues. We understood that the money just was not there, and schools tried to do their part by cutting expenses, reducing staff, finding efficiencies, and dipping into reserves. The economy in Iowa has improved, state revenues are up, we can afford some allowable growth. The district’s costs go up for heating, gas, paper, books, technology, insurance, and we are required by law to negotiate pay changes with our unions. Not appropriating any allowable growth doesn’t magically make these costs disappear.
In my 19 years in school administration I have yet to have a parent call me and ask me to increase the number of students in their child’s classroom, to ask if we couldn’t please squeeze a few more students onto their school bus, provide less supervision, reduce our students access to technology, or cut back on our co-curricular and extracurricular offerings. In fact, it is just the opposite.
We also have a rather unique situation in Waukee compared to many other school districts in the state in that we have had continued, rapid student enrollment growth. And while enrollment is a good thing from a funding standpoint, many don’t realize that funding is always a year delayed. So for the current school year, Waukee is receiving NO FUNDING for the 610+ new students we are educating this year. Some would argue that you receive that funding the following year, which we do, but we also grow by 500-600 students again, so we never catch up. To compound that even further, any student that moves into our district after October 1 we educate this year with no funding, AND next year with no funding. At any given point in time we have anywhere from 50-90 students that we are educating for 1 ¾ school years with no funding from the state.
One of the things people always seem to point to first when school budgets are challenged is administration. “Just cut some of those administrators” and “reduce the bureaucracy” are comments we often hear. The accompanying chart in this bulletin illustrates that we are arguably the most efficient district in the state regarding administrative costs per pupil as we have the lowest administrative per-pupil costs of the 359 school districts in Iowa.
I consider myself a fiscal conservative. I was raised in rural Iowa with a mindset that if you can’t afford something, you don’t buy it, you don’t borrow for it, you simply do without or scrimp and save until you can afford it. At this point in time, Iowa can afford to support its’ schools. We have been scrimping, increasing class sizes, asking more out of teachers, associates, custodians, secretaries and administrators and providing them with fewer resources while doing so. We’re not asking for pie-in-the sky.
To ask schools to implement substantive reforms, without providing them even minimal funding to maintain their day-to-day operations is wrong. As I stated earlier in this article, I do support the Governor’s package of school improvement efforts. But putting the educational system on a starvation diet won’t lend itself to successful implementation of these efforts. If basic needs aren’t being met, how can we ask those in our system to implement major changes?
Administrative Cost Comparison
Waukee has the lowest administrative cost perpupil of any school district in Iowa. It's true! Waukee Schools operate at over $370 less per pupil than the state average for administrative cost.
Waukee is both the 11th largest and the fastest growing district in Iowa, each of which brings special administrative pressures. Yet, the district operates very cost-efficiently from an administrative standpoint.
The chart includes all executive adminisistration, school administration, special areas administration, business administration, and district-wide and administrative leadership expenses.
Source: FY12 Certified Annual Reports submitted by school districts to the Iowa Department of Education.
School District FY12 Certified Enrollment Per Pupil Admin Cost
1. Van Meter 585 $1059
2. State of IA average $918
3. S.E. Polk 6214 $892
4. Adel-DeSoto-Minburn 1435 $868
5. Urbandale 3311 $804
6. Dallas Ctr.-Grimes 1982 $801
7. Ames 4224 $780
8. Linn-Mar 6727 $771
9. Johnston 6147 $717
10. West Des Moines 9050 $640
11. Ankeny 8963 $591
12. Waukee 7111 $544