Washington School Updates
In this article, I will address three different topics related to the school district. First I will discuss the upcoming legislative session and the key topics related to education. Second I will give you an update of what is happening with the school facilities and give a timeline in terms of what will be done when. Finally, I will address the topic of anonymous letters and phone calls and why I can’t and won’t use that information.
Iowa Legislative Session 2012
The Iowa Legislature will go back into session the second week of January. It is anticipated that this session will be much less controversial than it was in 2011. Coming into 2011, the allowable growth figure had not been set, the first time this had been the case over the last several decades. The allowable growth didn’t get decided until after boards of education had already determined and certified their budgets. This made negotiations very difficult across the state. The good news is that a 2 percent allowable growth figure for 2012-2013 has been set and allows the districts to accurately budget and negotiate for the upcoming school year. I would anticipate that the allowable growth figure for 2013-2014 will be determined early in the next legislative session. I would anticipate the Republican side will push for 2 percent while the Democrats will push for 4 percent. Kind of sounds like a 3 percent compromise?
The pre-school issue was a big point of contention during the 2011 session. I believe it has been settled and doubt that it will be revisited. It was a good example of where the public does sometimes have a voice and can make things happen. I really don’t anticipate many other education issues other the education blueprint proposed by the governor being discussed. I believe the blueprint will be at least a two year process and don’t expect much to happen with it this next year. The Governor’s office has already pulled the proposed 4 tiered pay plan discussion. For the most part, the blueprint makes sense and many of the components can be accepted without a lot of debate. I think the biggest issues that will be discussed will be third-grade retention, minimum teacher GPA for admission and competency-based education. I think you may also hear discussion on lengthening the school year, but don’t see how there will be funds to implement this on a state level. It is something I hope to explore on a local level.
Statewide settlement figures have been in the 2.5-3.5 percent total package range over the last three years. This has been during a time of zero percent allowable growth and across the board cuts. I do believe there is more optimism across the state and with a 2 percent allowable growth figure, I would anticipate settlements will be closer to 4 percent across the state.
On the federal level, most everyone now has acknowledged that No Child Left Behind is a poor piece of legislation and should be rescinded. I even heard it stated during a republican presidential debate. It is unfortunate that it took a decade to get that point. It will be interesting to see what accountability standards may be implemented in its place.
We have held several open houses for the new high school and there has been a terrific response to these visits. I am getting very positive feedback and the excitement for the opening of the building is growing. The building is fully enclosed and the work over the winter months is finishing work inside. The second floor of the building is pretty close to completion with the majority of drywall work and painting done as well as the terrazzo floor having been laid. They continue to be slightly ahead of schedule. The geothermal system is scheduled to be switched on by the end of January. We will begin to move into the facility in May. It will be the first facility that we move into. Landscaping will be completed this spring. We will be purchasing the furniture and fixtures for the facility in early spring and will be ready to roll when school opens in August.
The current high school is also getting a bit of a make-over as well. As I write this article, the old boiler is being removed from the building and the controls are being tested and surveyed. The building will have two new energy-efficient boilers in place by the end of March. We also will be upgrading the electrical service, replacing two roofs, replacing door locks and panic mechanisms in 160 doors, constructing a new special education restroom and putting false ceilings in all of the classrooms. The good news is that over half of this work will be paid for by grants and donations. The middle school staff would also like to do some painting and replacement of flooring as well as upgrade the media enable ability of the classrooms. We received a very generous $100,000 donation from a patron for the electrical upgrade, but would welcome other donations to improve the environment of this historical building. We have already received several offers to help with the painting of the classrooms and we appreciate that. Grades 6-8 will be residents of this building staring the fall of 2012.
The Stewart project is pretty much completed other than a few punch list items with the contractor. Stewart will house pre-K-2nd grade, while the third grade will be moving over to the Lincoln building. Both of these buildings will have some improvements to their entryways done here in the next month to close out the funds from the Stewart project grant.
My father always preached to me that if you are going to complain, you verbalize that complaint in person or that you sign your name if it is written. I have always followed that advice, even when I fill out anonymous evaluations. If I am critical, I sign my name to it. Periodically, I will receive a letter, e-mail or phone call from an anonymous source. I don’t get them often, but they do show up. I’m sure these people are very disappointed in the results, as I will not accept them as being valid if someone will not own up to them. The only exception would be if someone is reporting a crime or some type of sexual abuse. To send a letter, or e-mail or call saying that they are “a concerned parent,” “a concerned grand-parent” or “tax payer” is a form of cowardice in my opinion. Most of the time, they will also send them to the board president, maybe other board members.
Sometimes they will go on and try to justify their complaint by saying that they still have kids or grandkids in school and don’t want to give their name in fear of retribution. That is an insult to my integrity and ability to handle a matter in a confidential and tactful way. When I receive a complaint in this format, I usually inform the person who is being referenced and then throw it away. Without a signature or name, there is no way to know if there is any validity to it or if it came from someone who doesn’t even live in the district, or if it is a student taking the role of someone else, or even an upset family member in a domestic dispute trying to get another family member in trouble. I feel that if someone isn’t willing to put their name with a complaint that it isn’t worth my time to followup. The board agrees and will not take action on an anonymous complaint.
From the staff and students of the Washington Community School District, we thank you for your support and wish everyone a healthy and prosperous 2012.