Dear Governor Branstad,
I have tried a couple of times to contact you in the last week or so to no success. I was hoping we might correspond prior to April 15th when Iowa school districts need to certify their budgets for the 2015-2016 school year, but it appears that you must be too busy. I won’t bother you any more after today’s letter, since it will be too late to have any impact.
My superintendent sent out a note today to inform our community that we are beginning the process of cutting $350,000 from our 2015-2016 budget. I can’t find anyone in my community who can identify $350,000 in superfluous staff and programs, but that’s what we have to do. I am confident that our school board, administrators, staff, and entire community will spend a great deal of time trying to do what we can to minimize the impact of these cuts on our students, but our students will no doubt see an impact.
It just seems hard to rationalize a state that has a $319 million dollar surplus (beyond the $700 million surplus we are required to maintain) not funding our public schools beyond the rate of inflation. It is also worth noting that much of your 1.25% proposed increase is tied up in supporting the Teacher Leadership and Compensation system. Former Iowa Director of Education Jason Glass has said clearly that the money identified for the TLC program was never intended to supplant other K-12 educational funding. Republican legislators are telling me that we simply can’t be certain that future revenues will be able to sustain more educational spending long term. If that is the case, why did Republican legislators commit to long term tax relief? Are you watching what is happening in Kansas?
61% of increased state aid to schools since 2011 has been to replace other funding streams or provide new categorical funding and does not help to pay for increases in district costs from year to year such as compensation and utilities. The percent of funding for school districts coming from the state General Fund has slid from 45.7% in 2011 to 40.9% in your proposal for 2016. These statistics seem inconsistent with a governor who claims to want Iowa to have world class schools.
You know these numbers and at the end of the day I guess my real frustration is that there is an unwillingness to compromise. I don’t have claim to have all of the answers, but I do think there is a place for true leaders to build consensus. Yet, here is what I read Republican lawmakers saying:
Representative Forristall (who I communicated with several times today) says there is zero chance that there will be a compromise. A zero percent chance? Is that leadership? This editorial from the Cedar Rapids Gazette speaks to your current leadership style:
It is too late to have a real dialogue about education or school funding for the 2015-2016 school year with legislators. I promise that my colleagues and I are having daily conversations about how to make our schools better next year. We are studying high yield strategies that we believe, when instituted with fidelity, will increase student achievement and teacher effectiveness. My building will have more students and less staff next year, yet we will do our best to do more with less. I invite you to actually work to lead Iowa to educational greatness. If your agenda is to crush teacher unions or increase charter schools and the privatization of education in Iowa, say so. If that’s not your plan, offer one. Bring educational leaders together to figure out how current legislative action can be cohesively woven into a real plan for better schools in Iowa. I promise that, if invited, school leaders will come to the table.
There is a divisive tone in our state when we talk about education these days. I’m not really sure why and it is entirely possible that I am serving to contribute to that division. It has been suggested that, by virtue of being a teacher, I am not objective when I talk about education. It’s a confusing notion to me. I have a great doctor and I’m not concerned that he tells me that he is an MD when he gives me medical advice. He has dedicated his life to medicine and I presume his education and experience will help me make reasonable medical decisions. Somehow my 25 years of teaching experience and education degree don’t afford me the same respect in my field? We need to start a dialogue with legislators, teachers, parents, and students from all over Iowa that brings people together.
My school board is meeting at this very moment to wrestle with the realities of the inaction of Iowa’s legislators. Who is to blame? Who cares? Our school board and administrators are preparing a plan that leaves our students with fewer resources. That’s a simple fact. It doesn’t appear that anything I would say would change your mind or the mind of your fellow Republican legislators. Zero chance for a compromise. It just seems wrong to me.
Patrick J. Kearney