In response to Governor Branstad’s latest article in regards to how “Schools Must Use Resources Wisely”, reminded me of a T-Shirt I saw in the window of a store at the mall one day. The shirt simply read, “It’s not me, it’s you.” The Governor’s comments in this article seem to be a finger pointing at public education.
The Governor begins his article by stating, “…. public schools should be able to avoid layoffs and higher property taxes if they plan and use their resources wisely.” First, this statement precludes that districts do not plan for the future nor do they use their resources wisely. I, along with 340 other school districts in the state, have been held to a well-known Iowa Code that mandates our school budgets be completed and certified for the next school year by April 15 of the previous year. Now, I have only been a superintendent for 5 years, but if memory serves me correctly, the State Supplemental Aid (Allowable Growth), has not been set a year in advance, as required by law, for 4 out of the past 5 years. Therefore, a piece of the “planning” has been missing. “It’s not me, it’s you.”
When constructing the budget I have always created a variety of different scenarios trying to guess what the state will provide in regards to supplemental aid. Most years I have published a budget expecting nothing from the state. I have also alerted staff members of looming reductions and/or program eliminations. If that isn’t planning for the future I’m not sure what is. “It’s not me it’s you.”
The past 4 years I was a shared superintendent and saw each of the rural school districts that I worked in lose anywhere from 15 to 30 students per year due to declining enrollment. The loss of revenue was anywhere from $90,000 to $180,000 EACH YEAR! This was just over 2% of the total budget at each district. Combine this with wage increases of 2-3.5% and we are forced to come up with 4-5.5% of the total budget for the following year. Four out of the last 5 years Iowa schools have been forced to make due with 2% allowable growth or less! Which, in turn, have forced school districts to be on the budget guarantee. Those of us privy to school finance understand that 100% of the money for the budget guarantee comes from local property taxes! How does a district maintain programming and staffing on 2-3.5% LESS money each year and not raise property taxes? “It’s not me it’s you.”
So Mr. Governor, please tell me how we are to become more efficient and deliver better with less? I have made cuts in three different school districts over the past 5 years thanks to decisions made in support of “world class” education in Iowa. The lack of support and commitment to public school districts has been apparent. Small districts are systematically being dismantled and the teacher unions have been made the target of the financial barrage (or rather, lack there of). All the while, decisions were made which provided a company outside the United States with almost a half a billion dollars in state and local tax incentives in order to build a fertilizer plant. “It’s not me it’s you”
Our state and communities are only as strong as the educational system within them. Better decisions in regard to public education must be made if we are to once again be a leader in the nation in education. If I could make the decisions at the state level I would, but I am sorry Mr. Branstad, “It’s not me, it’s you”.