Washington Evening Journal
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Neighbors Growing Together | Jul 22, 2014

Washington Community Schools update

By Dr. Mike Jorgensen | Mar 05, 2013
Dr. Mike Jorgensen

We have recently completed the budgeting process for the 2013-2014, (Fiscal Year 14) school year.  I want to update the community on what to expect as far as the school district levy for the year.  I also want to explain and clarify what constitutes a school day.  This is especially of interest with all the weather delays we have experienced this winter.

 

School Budget Update

It was a little unique this year in trying to set the budget because the Iowa Legislature has yet to finalize allowable growth and property tax legislation that is being proposed.   Even with those question marks, we are still required to have a certified budget on April 15. Whatever budget is certified and published must be a maximum rate, we are always able to have a lower levy amount after that date.

With that in mind, we needed to build our budget based on worse-case scenario in terms of legislation.  In that regard, I have good news and even better news.  The good news is that the maximum our levy will be next year will be $14.65 .  That is $1.08 less than the current $15.73.   That is also $2.75 less than when I came to Washington for FY 11, when the levy was $17.40.

Now the even better news.  It is pretty sure that the House and Senate will determine an allowable growth figure between 2 percent (House) and 4 percent (Senate).  That may lower our rate when that is determined and will not raise it.  The other significant piece of information on this is the anticipation that both the House and the Senate have passed legislation in regard to property tax relief for school funding.   This relief could be as much as 60 cents for our district.  There is a legitimate chance that we may see as much as an additional 65 cents that may come off this levy.

The district will be certifying its budget at the $14.65 figure, but I feel confident it will be less than that in the end.  I would anticipate that wherever it is that the levy finishes this year, it will probably stabilize there in the future.  I do anticipate a little lower in the future, but not a big drop like we have seen in recent years.  Of course, I would also expect that the district will request a small portion back to finish off some facility projects.   The district really only has about $6 million of facility needs to put us in a position where we should be set for the next 15 years or so.

Several reasons why the tax levy has decreased over the last three years.  We are finally at a point where we have recovered from the devastating across-the-board cuts instituted by Iowa seven years ago.  We have been very prudent in our expenditures and have reduced expenses.  We have taken advantage of state incentives and have implemented several sharing opportunities with our neighboring districts.  We have also seen an increase in enrollments and are experiencing a turnaround where more students are open enrolling in rather than out.

 

What Constitutes a School Day

There are several definitions of a school day and Iowa Code covers different circumstances and exceptions.   A school day’s definition is 5.5 hours of instruction.  A district in Iowa is required to have a minimum of 180 school days in a school year.  It is anticipated that the legislation will change this to be 1080 hours (which equals 180 days at 6 hours of instruction, but could be done in different formats — for example, WACO’s 4 + 1 schedule).

Instructional hours exclude lunch, which typically is 30 minutes.  A typical Washington Community School District school day would be 7 hours, of which 6.5 would be instructional.  You will also note that on a day before a holiday, the district will sometimes do an hour early out, which still meets the state definition of a school day because there are still 5.5 hours of instruction.   Anything less than that without an exception would not count.

So what kinds of exceptions are there?  Weather is one of those exceptions.  An early out due to heat or due to winter weather, a late start due to winter weather or fog, all are exceptions to the rule.  There is no minimum amount of time that a school has to be in session to count in weather-related matters, as long as the school is in session.  Earlier this week, we had an 11:30 a.m. dismissal.  For some reason, people believe that you have to serve lunch to count a day.  That is not accurate.  The day counts under the weather exception.

Another exception is for professional development.  Several districts have a regular schedule where they provide professional development for their teachers.  For Washington, that is every other Wednesday afternoon at 1:10.  As long as the district has teacher professional development scheduled, a day can be shortened and count.  This is a pretty common practice among most districts.

The final exception that most districts take advantage of is the fact that every district is allowed to count two days toward instruction for hours put in beyond the regular hours for parent teacher conferences.   So most districts really only have 178 student count days and two  days of parent-teacher conferences.   The Washington Community School District is one of only a very few districts that actually has 180 student days and two parent-teacher conference days for a total of 182.

If the legislation for 1,080 hours does pass, this would exclude hours lost due to weather, PD, and parent-teacher conferences.  It would be actual hours of instruction.  Someone will have to monitor and keep track of that for each districts.  So if Washington typically has 6.5 hours of instruction, it is possible that hours could be built up to the point that a snow day may not have to made up, or if we have several days shortened for any of the reasons listed above, it is possible we may need to add days even though we may be at 180.

One other point, schools that let out early to attend athletic events such as state tournaments, are still required to meet the Iowa Code.  If 5.5 hours of instruction have not been met, the day does not count.  You also cannot just release one building and have instruction in the other buildings.  It has to be districtwide.

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