Dear Governor Branstad (A 3rd Attempt)

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:

http://www.nonpareilonline.com/news/local/gop-education-funding-can-go-no-higher/article_3f65fdd0-cfa2-50bd-9cd3-140665110ef9.html

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:

http://thegazette.com/subject/opinion/branstad-knows-whats-best-20150409

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.

Sincerely,

Patrick J. Kearney

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34 Comments

  1. The Republican game plan is to eliminate the Middle Class. They have to hijack Education to make the masses ignorant enough to accept it.
    At this time in our history we all have to vote against all Republicans and get them all out of office. Then the Bob Dole moderates can take the party back from the feudalists.
    We need a Constitutional amendment for term limits for Congress, Governors, and state legislators.

  2. The lack of leadership in the statehouse is painfully obvious to even the casual political observer. People, stop voting for idealists. They are unfit for public service because they believe they, alone have all the answers and therefore, have no use to debate or discuss anything. You cannot run a state or country that way and survive unless you are willing to live in a dictatorship. These politicians do not believe in democracy because democracy demands compromise.

  3. Typical democrat spending propoganda. His thought is we’ve got 319 million sitting around so let’s spend it. The same way democrats run their personal lives so that when times are tough they have nothing to fall back on.

    • You do a good job of judging an entire political party in one ignorant statement. Instead of stigmatizing and supporting the polarization of our politics system perhaps you should consider adding real insight instead of refusing to acknowledge the steady decline of education in Iowa over the last two decades. We use to be a top 5 state for public education and today we sit at 35th. So much for world class schools. I think educators across the state are tired of being told that our field is a top priority but then our professional judgement isn’t considered or even heard. At least it seems that way. We just want compromise on a workable budget and 1.25% is hardly workable considering we are coming off multiple years of either 0% – 3% increases…

      Thanks Pat.

    • I’m not sure that is a fair comment. Let a alone very divisive and offensive, the Legislative Service Agency of Iowa has reported numbers that would keep the 99% expendeture balance budget law, still end the year with a surplus, keep the 700 million in the states saving AND reasonably fund public education. Note – this plan would not touch the 319 million sitting around. We can fund education and still have plenty to fall back on. Thank you Patrick for fighting the good fighet for all of us.

    • My thought is that I can’t think of a better way to invest in Iowa’s future than to provide the resources that all 330 of Iowa’s school districts are telling the governor they need. There is also a quote out there somewhere about glass houses that seems appropriate, but maybe I’m wrong.

    • Student learning has stayed steady and in fact gone up slightly as funding for education has dramatically declined. That happened even though there are increases in the kids we serve in poverty, students learning English, etc. Good stewards of their resouces invest in what will improve their lot. Iowa should INVEST in education. We are $1600 below the national average and the suggested 1.25% increase makes barely a crack in that divide by just adding $80 per student. Your criticism of “typical” Democrats rings hollow at best.

  4. “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.”

    So: 2015-2016 Budget = 2014-2015 Budget + Inflation
    So you have the same purchasing power as you did last year and you are calling this a 350k cut in the budget? Intellectually dishonest much?

    I hope i get a raise at my next performance review. But If i only get a raise in accordance with inflation, no one in their right mind would call my salary cut just because i was hoping for something bigger.

    • I’m not completely following your point, but I’ll offer what I can by way of response. First, the $350k cut is what is happening in my school district based on the legislature taking no action (in violation of their own laws by more than a year). At this point we are assuming a 0% increase in funding because that’s what happens if the legislature takes no action and school budgets must be certified by tomorrow. A 0% increase in funding and raising costs require a $350,000 decrease in our operating budget for the 2015-2016 school year. I don’t set the budgets, I don’t vote in the legislature, I simply get the notice from my superintendent that says we are cutting $350,000 out of our budget next year (a note he certainly didn’t want to spend). Iowa has the money to fund the compromise of a 2.6% increase in k-12 education spending, but Republican legislators don’t believe that we should. There’s nothing untrue about any of the above statements.

    • I am not completely following the rationale in this post by Ineedabiggerraise either. Pat, I see this as a post from someone that doesn’t understand school funding in Iowa anymore than you or I. Or, simply someone that finds themselves jealous of the salary, hours (perceived) and benefits of educators. I don’t know about you, but I do not get three months off in the summer. I teach through June and the first part of July, and start again on August 1 each year! I encourage Ineedabiggerraise to get their education degree and come join us in the classrooms with our Iowa students! Better yet, perhaps they are the lucky ones bucause they actually have a performance review that could result in a raise that covers inflation. This is opposite of what the teachers in my district have experienced with pay freezes for multiple years in a row within the past ten years! So, Ineedabiggerraise…it is not a given that ALL teachers OR all districts receive a raise that keeps up with inflation each year. We are asking that our district leaders receive the money to fund world class learning experiences for all of Iowa’s public school students..not for our paychecks!

      We are all grasping at anything we can to make sense of what our legislative leaders are doing under that precious golden dome. I spent four days in a row watching the online feed of our legislators at work. Suffice it to say, I became more angry each day with the lack of compromise and true leadership to move our state forward. Instead, I watched several hours of inaction from both the House and Senate. I watched an attack, led by the Republican Caucus in the House, on the collective bargaining rights of a targeted group of educators in Iowa public schools and AEA’s, why not all unions in Iowa? While at the same time coming to an agreement with AFSCME that included each union member paying a portion of their health care insurance premium for the first time in history and a settlement at 6% over the next two years while defunding two mental health facitlities (which is breaking Iowa Law as well by the way). So, at what point will Iowans say enough is enough with this legislature that continues to break Iowa Law but is willing to punish a superintendent for breaking Iowa law based on inactivity or compromise by the very culprits causing the issue, our House and Senate?

      Pat, I am with you in asking our governor to do his job and make the decision to support funding Iowa schools and honor all of Iowa’s public school students at a world class level as he proclaims he is the ‘Education Governor’. As in everything, actions speak much louder than words. So, Governor Branstad and Republican Caucus, put your money where your mouth is and support world class schools in Iowa with World Class Funding! It would serve them well to take a look at what the governor of Minnesota has accomplished all while raising taxes…and improving funding for education simultaneously.

      Thank you so much Pat for all you are doing!

    • State aid is NOT increasing at this moment. Schools have to certify their budgets by tomorrow and the legislature has not acted, which means we will get a 0% increase in funding. The cost of utilities, services, paper, and yes the cost to pay teachers (this is where many vilify teachers unions) is increasing. The legislature, by law, should have set our growth rate 14 months ago so that these decisions wouldn’t have to made at the last minute. They failed to do that and are in violation of their own law. In addition, even if the 1.25% was enacted a great deal of that money is dedicated to specific projects (the Teacher Leadership and Compensation grants in particular) that schools can not, by law, use to cover the increased costs of keeping our doors open. I know the numbers pretty well Joe, as does my superintendent. Schools aren’t crying wolf on this. At the moment schools are faced with a legislature that is in gridlock and, by law, they are required to certify budgets with this scenario.

      • Thanks for the response.

        The Republican-led House has passed a 1.25% increase. Senate Democrats are blocking it. Seems to me you have misplaced the blame for your school’s budget cut.

        Since you brought it up…how much of your school’s pre-cut budget is earmarked for teacher salary increases?

      • Well, the Senate passed a 4% increase and then offered a 2.6% compromise which the Republicans refuse to discuss, so I am not sure I have misplaced where the blame should be laid. We are in the early stages of negotiations and given our current budget situation I suspect that the increase in teacher salaries will be very modest. Our association has an outstanding relationship with our school board and has always worked to do what is best for our district.

      • So your school is willing to cut staff and programs so that teachers can have higher salaries? Again, from my perspective as a taxpayer and a worker who is not immune from stagnant or decreasing wages, it seems you are misplacing blame for your school’s current budget outlook.

      • Our district hasn’t decided anything yet in regards to where we will cut. Our elected Board of Education will decide where to devote the resources that the legislature allots to us. I’m a pretty bright guy and you seem like a pretty bright guy, but we might have to disagree where we place blame. I am a tax payer as well (wrote my check today…it’s never too early) and I would like to see our two legislative bodies come to a compromise. One body offered a compromise and the other didn’t. Iowa can afford to dedicate a little more money to the young people of Iowa.

      • Is it an option? Sure. Is it the best option? I’m less sure of that. I know that the narrative of me and my colleagues collecting luxurious salaries is an attractive one to many people, but it isn’t one that I’m going to concede. I don’t know many of my friends in the private sector who walk in to their employers negotiating for lower salaries and fewer benefits or even asking to hold their salaries constant. Employees who think they are valuable to their employers negotiate for better salaries. The elected Board of Directors in the Johnston Schools have, over time, believed that having competitive salaries helps to attract and retain quality teachers. Our union and our school board will meet and negotiate a fair package for next year. I promise that I recognize that a portion of Iowans believe that teacher’s unions are to blame for supposedly bloated school budgets. Having been a member of said unions for many years I have found them to be committed to making our schools better through action. We aren’t going to agree and that’s OK. I swear to you that what I want to have is a conversation about how to make our schools better. I want to talk about high yield instructional strategies and creating more opportunities for students. At the moment Iowa’s discussion is about whether we can afford a 2.6% increase in spending on K-12 education during a time when Iowa is seeing a 6% increase in revenues. I have an opinion and I have expressed it, others have expressed their opinion as well. Very few people seem to be changing their minds. Hopefully the conversation will turn soon to issues in which people are willing to come to the table and reach consensus.

      • Johnston is a huge school, with many, many teachers. Nearly 100 in the high school alone, I hear. I estimate even a “modest” salary increase would far exceed $350,000.

        Since it seems you are eager to change the subject all of a sudden, I’ll be looking forward to your blog posts updating us all on contract negotiations.

      • Do you even listen to yourself?

        “A 0% increase in funding and raising costs require a $350,000 decrease in our operating budget for the 2015-2016 school year.”

        Does budget for 2014/2015 = 2013/2014 aka 0% change?

        Or does budget for 2014/2015 -350k = 2013/2014 which would be some percent decrease.

        Which is it? Stop being dishonest and calling this a budget cut. It is a cost raise that is causing you problems. The budget did not get smaller. The language you use implies there is only one way to balance the equation. It is dishonest.

      • I do listen to myself; I like the sound of my own voice. The Johnston School Board last night passed a budget for 2015-2016 that is $350,000 less than the budget for this year based on inaction by our legislature. Our board felt the need to follow the law that requires them to certify their budget by April 15th (worth noting our state legislators feel no such compulsion to follow the law). That is just a fact. I swear to you that no one who knows me calls me dishonest. I have often been accused of quite the opposite, a little too honest for my own good. I promise that you don’t know any more about the complexities of school budgets than I do. I suggest you contact school budget officers and school boards in the state of Iowa to answer why they are certifying budgets that are less than the current school year and are issuing pink slips. Just sharing the facts.

      • You say, “Schools aren’t crying wolf on this.”

        I think some clearly are crying wolf. Des Moines Schools passed a budget based on the “worst case scenario” of a 1.25% increase. On the opposite end of the spectrum, SE Warren hands out pink slips to every teacher and pulls small children out of class (apparently) to plant them in front of television cameras at the capitol. The latter action proves that at least a handful of employees at SE Warren actually deserve pink slips.

      • Des Moines is continuing to be optimistic that the legislature will do SOMETHING. I applaud their confidence. The folks at SE Warrn folks may well be grandstanding (that would be new to politics ), but they aren’t crying wolf. They are trying to demonstrate the realities of the situation every school in the state is in right now. Agree or disagree with tactics or with the actions of the legislature, but it is now past April 15th and every district in Iowa has had to certify a budget with NO idea what kind of SSA they will receive. Agree or disagree with any of this, but our legislators are in violation of their own law regarding the timeliness of school funding. Those are the facts.

  5. Would you mind citing your source saying the annualized rate of inflation is higher than 1.25%? The national rate is negative, the state CPI index is negative, so I’m a little confused as to where this argument is coming from.

    • My research shows that the CPI increased 1.62% in 2014. The first two months of 2015 showed negative numbers. A five year average would place inflation annually at around 2%. It is also important to note that IF the legislature were to pass a 1.25% increase, a considerable amount of that funding is targeted to specific programs that cannot be used to offset increased expenses. While I know the numbers are important, we can all find statistics to reinforce our preconceived notions. The basic disagreement is whether there is a return on investment in education. I argue that there is. States such as Maryland and Minnesota have increased education spending (tied to a variety of other school improvement initiatives) and many would argue that they have seen improved student achievement and better teacher efficiency. Others believe that our schools have bloated budgets and that pushing austerity onto our schools will make them leaner and more efficient. My only observation on that point is that I have not heard a single Iowa School Board (elected by the public) tell the legislature that they will be able to maintain current programming and staff with a 1.25% increase (especially given the spending that must be target to specific programs). My school board passed a budget that cut spending $350,000 for next year because they have been forced to assume that there will be no increased spending from the state next year.

      I am a “cards on the table” kind of guy. I believe that a 4% increase in per pupil spending would allow schools to better provide more programs to improve student achievement, create smaller class sizes, and yes increase teacher salaries so that more bright young people will choose to enter this important profession. No secrets here. It feels as though Republican legislators have a different agenda than simply the fact that we have no money. It feels as though they would like to break up teacher unions and create more charter schools and privatization of schools. If that isn’t the case, I would really like to hear them articulate their plan for world class schools done with minimally increased resources.

      It seems obvious that no one is moving off their arguments. All I know is that the Iowa Senate brought a compromise to the table and it was rejected. That’s where we are at and it doesn’t appear that anyone is willing to move any more.

  6. According to http://reports.educateiowa.gov, Johnston CSD employs 405 licensed full-time teachers at an average salary of $58,584.52. The median household income in Iowa is $51,843 (http://quickfacts.census.gov/qfd/states/19000.html). If each teacher agreed to a salary decrease of only $864.20, the $350,000 “cut” would not be needed. That would still leave the average Johnston teacher with an income $5,877.32 more than the median household income. Problem solved.

    • Are there lots of people in the private sector going into their employers asking to have their salaries reduced? Our elected school board will determine staff salaries based in no small part upon how to retain and attract the best possible teachers based on the economic realities given to them by a legislature who is current in violation of their own laws regarding timely funding.

      Again, there are those of you who believe that overpaid teachers are causing school budgets to be bloated. I disagree. In a state that has seen a 6% increase in revenues and claims to want to have world class schools with world class teachers a 2.6% increase in funding (much of which cannot go to teacher salary increases) seems reasonable to me. My salary is publicly available and I earn every penny of it. If my school board decides to freeze or reduce my salary that is their prerogative. If there is an army of better qualified educators who want to do these jobs for less money they should step forward and offer their services to every school in Iowa.

  7. What is really funny about all of the negative responses here is that they don’t even see your point. On this blog site we’re having more of an idea exchange and dialog than the REPUBLICAN side is willing to enter in at the statehouse.

    We elected them to figure this out, not posture. Unless of course all you want to do is posture and not have a rational debate centered around facts.

    Keep shooting them down Patrick!

    • Mr. Petty is an outstanding administrator and I bet we would all be embarrassed by how little he makes per hour of work that he puts in. During a period when Iowa is seeing a 6% increase in revenue there is no earthly reason why he should be taking a pay cut (except that he is a real leader who acts by example). He puts our legislators to shame.

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