Washington Evening Journal

Fairfield Ledger   Mt. Pleasant News
Neighbors Growing Together | Aug 21, 2018

Washington CSD Update

By Mike Jorgensen

Three topics will dominate my update this month.  The first is a summary of the report presented to the Board of Education by the ICAT (Iowa Construction Advocate Team) contracted through the Iowa Association of School Boards as a preliminary, objective, third-party study of the 1918 Middle School Building.  I will also share with you the impacts of the state ruling on the school calendar and more detailed information about the Teacher Leadership Compensation grant that will be implemented in 2016-2017.

ICAT Study
The Washington Community School District Board of Education wanted to get some preliminary information to share with patrons of the district in regard to the future of the 1918 middle school building.   There has been a lot of speculation in regard to what the true cost of a remodel of the building would cost.   The important thing was to have a totally non-biased and objective evaluation to use in conversations as we begin the discussions as to the future of this building.   I have stated in the past that I believe it is critical that the district address the future of this facility within the next decade.  There has been a long-standing debate as to remodeling this facility or to consider looking to replace it.   The first step in this discussion is to have a study done by someone who is completely independent and to have some dollar figures to use in those conversations.   We contracted with the Iowa Association of Schools Boards to have Estes Construction come in, survey the property and provide a range of estimates to a middle school remodel along with other options to be considered.
Whenever a remodeling of a school facility takes place, there is a requirement that everything in the building must be brought up to health, life and safety codes by law.  This is what makes the remodeling of existing facilities a challenge, because bringing things up to code may cost more than the remodeling.  Examples of this include the fact that some of the plumbing /piping of the building has been capped throughout the years, leaving the restroom stool/urinal/sink requirements below the requirements for a facility of its size that serves the population that it does.   These would have to be updated by law if other remodeling werre to take place. The same is true with several doors, drinking fountains and fire suppression systems.   The building passes inspection presently under grandfathered rules, but if we remodel we will have to upgrade to current code rules and regulations.
The following items are included in the initial evaluation of what must be done as interior/exterior improvements as well as Health, Life and Safety requirements. Reworking of serving line located in the kitchen and the tray window, new doors throughout the facility, asbestos tile abatement, accessible bleachers, locker room upgrades, hand railing systems, drinking fountains, fire suppression system, plumbing distribution, emergency lighting, kitchen equipment, bathroom remodels, south entry floor slab settlement repair, replace hallway lighting, electrical upgrades, HVAC upgrades, windows, sidewalks, lintels, tuck pointing and roofing.   The items on this list are a minimum and all must be completed to bring the building back into current code.  The range of expenditure to do these things at a minimum is $9,742,700 on the low end and $11,770,100 on the upper end.  Even though we have recently upgraded the boiler and systems in the building, the HVAC upgrades include replacing many of the steam pipes and radiators throughout the building that are in poor condition and is over 50 percent of these estimates.   The new high efficiency boilers would continue to be used in this estimate.  This was probably the biggest surprised to me.
Other options that could be considered include upgrading the HVAC to include geothermal, which ranges from $844,200 to $1,055,300 beyond the HVAC upgrades already figured.   Another option to consider is the addition of a Band/Music room to replace the 45-year-old portable (that had an estimated 25-year life span) ranging from $545,900 to $667,200.    We also discussed the addition of multi purpose space to be used for a cafeteria and concession area, which cost $570,100 to $696,800.   The final item we asked to be priced was the upgrade of seating, sound system and lights in the auditorium at a range of $1,543,800, to $1,886,900.   
If all the options were to be included in the price tag, you would be looking at a range of $13,246,700 to $16,076,300.      So it is safe to say that a remodeling of the middle school would cost anywhere from $9,742,700 at a minimum and could be up to $16,076,300 with all options.  These figures are based on 2014 dollars and we were told to anticipate 3-6 percent inflation numbers per year.   
The purpose of this information is not to pass judgment.  It is to give the patrons of the district some numbers to begin discussing as to what needs to happen in the future.  I am aware of an effort being proposed to use the existing school foundation used for scholarships to form a second purpose toward raising funds for district facilities.   As this discussion goes forward, I will try to keep people informed as to contact information.

School Calendar
On Dec. 12 at 10:20 a.m., a memo was released from Director Brad Buck from the Iowa Department of Education.   The memo stated that waivers for an Early Start Date for school calendars would no longer be automatically approved and that districts would have to show a negative impact on education in order to receive permission to start school earlier than the week of Sept. 1.
This is not a new law, in fact, the rules on school start date has been on the books for several years.  Schools have been allowed to ask for a waiver for an earlier start and the waivers were always granted.   All but two school districts in the state requested a waiver this last year.    Under pressure from the state’s fair board and tourism board, the Governor mandated Director Buck to begin to enforce the law.
For the Washington CSD, it is only a difference of four days.  Washington has not been a culprit of interfering with the Iowa State Fair.   We have started the Tuesday following the fair for the last several years.   That would have been Aug. 25 for the 2015-2016 school year.   If a waiver were not granted, the district would begin Aug. 31.   The primary issues for our district is our connection with Kirkwood Community College.   An Aug. 31 start date means that our students would start Kirkwood a full week prior to starting high school.   Kirkwood is scheduled to begin Aug. 24 next year.   For most high school students who have transportation, this isn’t a big deal, but not all kids have transportation and rely on shuttle buses from the high school to get to the Kirkwood Center.   Will these students be exempted the first week of their college class?  We also have several shared staff and this could create contract issues for the district with these staff members.
The other question I have about this rule is that it is not consistent with the state athletic association rules.   An Aug. 31 start date means that we will be playing our first football and volleyball games before school even starts.   75 percent of our high students students are members of football, volleyball, marching band or cross country.   They all will begin practices in the middle of August, but not be in classes until three weeks later.   That doesn’t make much sense to me.  Shouldn’t all activities involving students have to follow the same guidelines?   The athletic unions are not under the umbrella of the Iowa Department of Education.
The other issue I have is that by starting on Aug. 31, we push the end date into the first week of June.  I can tell you that kids don’t learn in June.   Once the weather gets nice in the spring, kids begin to tune out.  Kids are much more attentive and eager to learn on Aug. 25 than they will be on June 1 or later.   Is tourism more important than student achievement?
My final dispute with this mandate on start date is that I’m struggling to understand is what makes the last week of August more of a tourist date than the first week of June?   Apparently no one takes vacation in June???  I find it quite doubtful that we have a lot of students working at Lake Okoboji, so why do they have a say in our start date?
It does appear that this issue will be discussed and debated in the Legislature and appears that there is agreement across the aisles that school start dates should be local control.   We will be introducing two calendars at the January meeting, pending legislative action or Department of Education action on waivers.   I have a feeling this law may be overturned.

Teacher Leadership Compensation
The Washington CSD was notified on Dec. 19 that we were one of 125 school districts in the state that was approved to receive Teacher Leadership Compensation money over the course of the next two years.   Washington will receive $550,000 for implementation during the 2016-2017 school year.   After that year, those funds will become part of the funding formula for the district for each year thereafter.   The purpose of these funds is to develop teacher leaders in the district to serve as coaches, mentors and demonstration teachers for other staff members.   A total of 70 teacher leader positions will be used in the district in addition to their regular teaching assignments.   four staff members (one in each building) will become full-time instructional coaches to work with staff in their buildings.   It is anticipated that an additional 4.5 teaching positions will be added to the staff.  
Much more information will come out over the course of this next school year as we prepare for implementation.  The Washington CSD plan was prepared and written by a team of administrators, teachers, parents and a school board member.  We are very excited to be one of the school districts to implement these strategies that we believe will lead to improved instruction and increased student achievement.