Sharpening our Saw . . .

March 15th, 2014

In January, the Board of Education adopted a strategic plan developed by a group of community members, students and school personnel.  This strategic plan focused on four areas that will guide the District in fulfilling the mission of fostering learning, excellence, and civic responsibility in all.  Earlier in the year I shared the strategies identified by these four teams, but want to reinforce that each of the teams was tasked with the understanding that any recommendations were directed towards supporting learning—learning that allows us to fulfill our mission.

Another area that has a direct impact on learning is professional development.  It is clear that effective professional development empowers our teachers and support staff so they are better equipped to meet the needs of all students.  With that in mind, we applied for the Teacher Leadership and Compensation System grant awarded by the Department of Education.  Our grant application earned a high enough score for us to be considered, but based upon our demographic data, we were eliminated.  We will apply for funding again next year.

While we did not receive the TLCS grant, we are definitely moving forward in our efforts to empower our staff and best meet the needs of our students.  At the elementary level, the primary focus of our professional development will center around two foundational areas:  1) Improving each students’ ability to read and comprehend at the highest levels possible, 2) Helping students develop a strong mathematical foundation with an emphasis on number sense, fact, computational fluency and problem solving.

At the middle and high school levels, the emphasis has been, and will continue to revolve around the framework for Authentic Intellectual Work which focuses on requiring students to:  1) construct knowledge rather than memorize, 2) engage in elaborated communication that requires depth of understanding and the ability to communicate effectively, and 3) application of learning beyond the school building (application).

In addition to the building –specific foci, we have other areas that are important from a K-12 perspective.  One is the continuous evaluating, updating and aligning of our curriculum.  This alignment process includes consideration of the Iowa Core and the vertical alignment that allows students to build knowledge from year to year.  Another is differentiation, which is essentially crafting learning tasks and expectations to meet the learning needs of individual learners.

Finally, one of the most challenging, and potentially powerful opportunities for educators in the quest for meeting the learning needs of all students is the effective use of technology in the teaching/learning process.  As a District, we recognize the importance of meeting this challenge and capitalizing on the opportunities.  To that end, we will be hiring a full-time technology integrationist who will be providing ongoing support to teachers and facilitating collaboration among our K-12 staff.

The importance of professional development is often overshadowed by the reality of time.  I appreciate the wisdom shared by Stephen Covey in his story of the man walking through the forest and meeting a frustrated lumberjack.  The lumberjack was trying to cut down a tree, but was struggling mightily.  The man asked the lumberjack what the problem was and the lumberjack responded, “My saw’s blunt and won’t cut the tree properly.”  The man asked, “Why don’t you sharpen it?’’  The lumberjack responded, “Because then I would have to stop sawing, and I don’t have time to stop sawing.”  Too often in education, we approach the teaching/learning process like the frustrated lumberjack.

With that in mind, we are making a concerted effort to provide time and support that will allow faculty and staff to sharpen their saws.  During the 2014-15 school year, we will be adjusting our Wednesday schedules to allow for regular professional development.  Students will be dismissed at 2:15 on Wednesdays and teachers will engage in professional development that centers around the foci mentioned above.  We do not take lightly the child-care burden that this might impose on some families, but believe that this regular “sharpening” will create a significant benefit to all students!

FY 15 Budgeting Process

March 15th, 2014

The Fiscal Year 2015 certified budgeting process began with a preliminary discussions scheduled during the March Board meeting.  This is my annual article to try and help patrons of the district to understand how the Board of Education establishes its’ tax rate and overall budget.

School districts must certify their budgets by April 15th of each year.  The total certified budget for the district will be approximately $17 million.  By law, the Board cannot spend more than their total budget authority and is limited by Iowa Code as to how revenues are expended.

The general fund is covered in Iowa Code, Chapter 257, which outlines the State Foundation Formula for funding schools.  Some history regarding the State Foundation Formula – In 1971, the first State Foundation Program was created by the Iowa Legislature to fund schools to:

  •  provide a quality education for all students
  •  equalize educational opportunity for all students
  •  provide property tax relief
  •  provide reasonable control of school costs.

It would be appropriate to note that the State Foundation Formula has been changed in every legislative session in some way or another.  This is why some of you may find school finance confusing and the reason for my attempt to bring some clarity to the process.

The State Foundation Formula applies only to the district’s general fund budget (approximately $14.0 million) and sets a ceiling for each district’s total spending authority and the funding mechanism for the total spending authority.  It is “pupil driven” in that the funds are generated by the enrollment of the district multiplied by the cost per pupil as established by the Iowa Legislature.

As was mentioned above, a growing enrollment helps to grow the budget while a declining enrollment negatively influences the annual revenues.  For the 2015 budget, our revenues will rise due to an increase in enrollment of 34 students.

The general fund budget is made up of a combination of state aid, local property tax, and miscellaneous income.  The amount of state aid and local property tax needed to fund the combined district costs are determined by the enrollment, cost per pupil, and the assessed valuation of the district.

During the March meeting the Board we reviewed the levies currently in place and discussed other levies available to build the 2014-2015 budget.  The levies as revenue sources that are described below are restricted by the language indicated as to what they can be used for.  For example, revenues received from the local option sales tax cannot be used for general fund purposes:  Following is a summary of those levies and their current rates and their purposes:

  • Board-approved physical plant and equipment levy ($.33 per $1,000 of assessed valuation).  Uses of this levy are for facility maintenance, transportation, and equipment purchases of over $500.
  • Voter-approved physical plant and equipment levy.  Uses of this levy are for facility maintenance, construction, transportation, and equipment.  This levy has expired.
  • Debt service levy – is used to pay down bonded indebtedness. The Floyd Valley and MOC indebtedness from previous bond issues has expired.  There is no debt service levy.
  • Management levy ($.52 per $1,000) is used to pay for the district’s liability insurance, tort liability, unemployment insurance, and early retirement.
  • The general fund is supplemented by three levies, the cash reserve levy , the general fund operating levy,) and the instructional support levy (a combination of property tax and income surtax).  Uses of this levy are for salaries, supplies, equipment, plant operation and maintenance, and student transportation
  • The local option sales tax was voted on in June of 2003 and may be used for renovation or construction of a school house, gym, stadium, school bus garage, or improving an athletic field, but cannot be used for general fund or instructional purposes.

The total tax levy is comprised from the levies listed above to finance the operations of the MOC-Floyd Valley Community School District.  A 13 year comparison is provided below.  The state average total tax levy for fiscal year 2014 was approximately $13.99 per $1,000.  We are proposing a total tax levy for 2014-2015 of $10.44 per $1,000 of assessed valuation.

Our cash balance at the end of fiscal year 2013 was $2,654,207.  This amount would seem to be adequate but the district’s auditor recommends approximately $3,000,000 as a goal.  This would allow for the district to pay for 100 days of bills if state dollars were ever slow or cut coming to us.

As you can see, there are many financial constraints that will influence the decisions that need to be made before a certified budget is approved.  If you have questions or concerns regarding the budget please feel free to address the Board during this time, or, contact one of the Directors or me prior to the April Board meeting and your input will be shared with the entire Board.