A legislative visit

Smith, school board talk 2018 session, Hernández at-risk budget vote rescinded

Following a visit from three state lawmakers at the previous Marshalltown School Board meeting, state Rep. Mark Smith, D-Marshalltown, discussed the upcoming legislative session at Monday’s meeting.

“The intent of these meetings is mainly to just get your temperature on what you anticipate with the upcoming session,” said district Superintendent Dr. Theron Schutte.

State supplemental aid to schools, the Secure an Advanced Vision for Education (SAVE) penny sales tax, unfunded- and underfunded state mandates for districts and more were discussed.

“We think this will be a year when there is a great deal of focus on the budget,” Smith said of the legislative session beginning Jan. 8, 2018.

He said the December Iowa Revenue Estimating Conference prediction did not bring good news for the state budget.

“We will be pushing, on our side of the aisle, for strong support for public education,” Smith said. “We’re concerned about the level of funding that has occurred over the past seven years; not only the level, but the timeliness of the decisions for setting state supplemental aid.”

Board member Mike Miller asked Smith about his thoughts on the amount of state supplemental aid growth coming in 2018.

“I would anticipate … based on the information that we got from the December Revenue Estimating Conference, flat,” Smith said.

Board President Bea Niblock said the both the amount and the timing of the legislature’s decision on state supplemental aid are important.

“I think one of the biggest issues that we wrestle with in doing a budget is the timeliness of what you propose for school districts,” she said. “Joined with the underfunded or unfunded mandates, it makes it remarkably difficult for us to negotiate with all of our groups, as well as budget for the future.”

Smith said such mandates should not be underfunded or unfunded.

“I could not agree more,” he said. “I think we do have an obligation, if we put forth requirements on schools, to fund those adequately.”

The SAVE sales tax, set to end in 2029, was also discussed. Smith said he has heard “mixed things” on the issue from a legislative perspective.

“It’s one of those things that we’ll wait and see as we go through the session,” he said. “I’m in favor of [the cap] being removed completely.”

Smith’s visit follows the Dec. 4 school board meeting in which State Sen. Jeff Edler, R-State Center, and state Reps. Dean Fisher, R-Montour, and Walt Rogers, R-Cedar Falls, discussed the upcoming session and education issues.

After a conflict of interest concern over a vote by Karina Hernández on the district’s 2018-19 at-risk budget last week, the board approved a rescission her vote on the item. Hernández had written a formal request to the board for her vote to be rescinded.

The at-risk budget included funding for a summer school program planned to be facilitated by Mid-Iowa Community Action (MICA), of which Hernández is an employee. The approval was unanimous at last week’s special board meeting.

Data on the supplemental ST Math program was also shared at Monday’s meeting.

“ST Math is a supplement to our K-6 Go Math curriculum, so those curriculums compliment each other,” said district preschool-sixth grade Curriculum Leader Erica Finders of the digital program students access via chromebooks.

The presentation outlined the progress students had made in the program since its implementation in August. According to guidelines and reports from ST Math, Marshalltown students showed medium to high “effect size” from second grade to sixth grade.

“Starting at second grade, when students get to a new objective, they take a pre-quiz, and then they work through all of the puzzles within that objective, and then at the end of that they take a post-quiz,” Finders said, describing effect size as “A way to quantify the effect that an implementation is having on students.”

Positive feedback from teachers was also shared during the presentation.

“They can do it at home, they can do it at after-school tutoring; a lot of teachers let them do it during free time or when they have other things done,” said District Director of Instruction Dr. Lisa Stevenson of ST Math. “Given the challenges of getting something new off the ground right away in August … I’m pretty impressed with the amount of information and growth that we’ve seen.”

In other business

The board voted 7-0 to accept a proposal from Controlled Asbestos Inc. for asbestos removal from the Marshalltown High School Roundhouse (MHS) Phase II project. Some materials containing the hazardous substance had been found on the construction site.

District Buildings and Grounds Director Chuck Stringer called the discovery an “anomaly” and added he doesn’t expect any more materials containing asbestos to be found during the project.

Lenihan Intermediate School Principal Kyle Young shared a building update, and several sixth grade students showcased their knowledge on the dimensions of fluency. They also read poetry.

MHS senior Victoria Johnson discussed being nominated by U.S. Sens. Chuck Grassley and Joni Ernst for consideration for appointment to the United States Military Academy at West Point and the U.S. Naval Academy.

“Each senator has a packet that you must complete … it asks for two personal essays; Ernst asked for a video instead of an interview,” she said, adding nominees must excel at sports or other areas, have a job and log many volunteer hours to be considered.

Johnson also said if given the choice between the two academies, she would “choose Navy all the way.”

The next Marshalltown School Board meeting is set for 5 p.m. Jan. 15, 2018 at the Central Administration Office, 1002 S. 3rd Ave. It is the only regular meeting scheduled for January.

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Contact Adam Sodders at (641) 753-6611 or asodders@timesrepublican.com