Discussing the issues

Legislators visit school board, at-risk budget discussed ahead of Dec. 11 vote

A little more than a month out from the start of the 2018 session of the Iowa Generally Assembly, the Marshalltown School Board heard from three state legislators at Monday’s regular meeting.

State Sen. Jeff Edler, R-State Center, and state Reps. Dean Fisher, R-Montour, and Walt Rogers, R-Cedar Falls, attended the meeting. State supplemental aid (SSA), the Secure an Advanced Vision for Education (SAVE) tax, and unfunded and underfunded mandates were discussed, among other topics.

“The budget is always a big issue,” Fisher said. “It looks like it’s going to be a pretty tight budget year.”

He said the state’s agriculture economy is “still lagging,” meaning lower-than-expected revenue estimates for the state budget.

“We all know the budget is the driving issue of what we have to do,” Edler said, adding he was interested to hear district leaders’ thoughts on the upcoming session.

Rogers, the Iowa House Education Committee chairman, was invited by Fisher to attend Monday’s meeting. He shared his thoughts on state supplemental aid to schools for the upcoming session.

“K-12 funding gets 43 percent of everything we do,” Rogers said of the “status quo” for SSA funding by the legislature each year, adding “That’s where I will start … I can’t promise that’s where it will end up.”

Marshalltown Superintendent Dr. Theron Schutte said the district has been “fortunate” in the last two years to see increases in student numbers. The increased number of students brought in more per-pupil funding to the district.

Board President Bea Niblock said whatever the amount of SSA growth is appropriated in 2018, the figure should be released as soon as possible.

“The later it comes, the later negotiations and those sorts of things go on,” she said, adding low growth can be difficult for districts dealing with “inflationary increases” in costs.

Also discussed was the SAVE tax, which is currently set to expire in 2029. Schutte said extending SAVE is a district priority, adding focus for the district is installing air-conditioning at Marshalltown High School.

Funds from SAVE can be used for things like “construction, repair, demolition work, purchasing, or remodeling of schoolhouses, stadiums, gyms, field houses and bus garages,” according to the Iowa Department of Education website.

“There are several different factions on SAVE,” Rogers said, describing viewpoints expressed in the House.

The “factions” he described included representatives who want to leave SAVE as it is to expire in 2029, those who want to extend the program as it is, those who want to extend it with some restrictions on what funds can be used for and those who want to extend it and add provisions on how funds can be used.

“My opinion is that we will address it this year,” Rogers said of SAVE, adding his belief is that the program should be extended as it is.

Fisher said he would consider extending the program.

“One concern I do have is how some of that money is being spent,” he said, citing some uses of the funding to build stadiums or fitness gyms. “I’d probably be in favor of extending it for some period of time.”

Edler also said he had some concerns on how some districts use the funding, but added he thinks districts should be able to control how their funding is used.

“I also fall back to the local control,” he said. “I think we need to address [SAVE] and have it available as a tool.”

Schutte said the district opposes unfunded and underfunded mandates from the state. Board member Ross Harris said such mandates can mean making tough decisions.

“When an unfunded mandate comes, something’s got to go,” he said.

The impact of changes to the state’s collective bargaining laws during the last legislative session was also discussed.

“We have a two-year agreement with our teachers,” Schutte said, adding the district plans to continue “business as usual” when it comes to collective bargaining negotiations.

Rogers also discussed the Iowa Employees Retirement System (IPERS) at Monday’s meeting.

“The Iowa House has no plans to do anything with IPERS,” he said, calling it a “good program.”

State Rep. Mark Smith, D-Marshalltown, was not able to attend Monday’s meeting, Schutte said. Smith is set to attend the Dec. 18 regular board meeting.

Also discussed Monday was the district’s proposed 2018-19 at-risk budget. District Director of Instruction Dr. Lisa Stevenson followed up on her presentation on the topic at the Nov. 20 meeting.

The total proposed budget amount is $2,229,556. The board is scheduled to vote for or against the budget during a special meeting set for 4:30 p.m. Dec. 11 at the Central Administration Office.

Marshalltown Learning Academy, credit recovery for students, juvenile court liaisons, literacy interventionists and in-school support services are among the areas that receive at-risk funding. Also set forth in the proposed budget is a summer school program for 2018.

That program represents about $130,000 of the proposed budget, and 375 elementary school students who are not proficient in reading and/or are chronically absent will be invited to the program.

“We’re planning to host at Rogers and Woodbury [elementary schools], and then Anson and Hoglan,” Stevenson said, adding the program is set to take place in two sessions. She said some aspects of the program are still being planned.

In other business

The board unanimously approved a renewal of the district’s Microsoft Open Value Subscription Agreement for Education in the amount of $28,539. This is the second year of the three-year agreement.

Mary Poulter of the Colfax-Mingo School Board received the board’s vote to represent District 5 of the Iowa Association of School Boards (IASB) on that agency’s board of directors.

The district’s Family Coding Night is set for 5-6 p.m. Dec. 6 at Miller Middle School, 125 S. 11th St. All district families and students are invited to attend.

The next regular Marshalltown School Board meeting is set for 5 p.m. Dec. 18 at the Central Administration Office, 1002 S. 3rd Ave.

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