More on facilities …

Thought it would be wise to share additional updates regarding potential facility upgrades/development at Interstate 35 Community School District.

  • A Facilities Committee has been formed … Steering Committee members of the Facilities Committee are Cindi Cassady, Tim Palmer, Pat Thornburgh, and Nancy Von Feldt
  • The Facilities Committee (23 members representing various constituencies within the district) met on Thursday, November 10
    • Reviewed mission/purpose of the committee
    • Toured existing facilities
    • Reviewed concept drawings of improvements being recommended
    • Discussed funding options available
  • The law requires a petition to place an issue on the ballot in a special school election – the minimum number of signatures on the petition is 25% of the total number of voters in the last school regular election (September 2015)
  • The committee is starting to collect signatures … it is important to note that signing the petition is only to force placing the issue on a special election ballot to allow district patrons to decide yes or no … a signature does NOT indicate approval
  • The timeline is to place the bond issue on the ballot at a special election on Tuesday, February 7, 2017
  • The overall cost of the multiple projects is estimated to be $12-$15 million and includes the following projects:
    • Auditorium (in current location of art and music rooms)
    • Career and Technical Education building (standalone just north of the school – metal building that could be expanded in the future)
    • Bus shed (wash bay, mechanic’s bay, storage, and office – no indoor bus storage – either in current location or attached to the CTE building – metal building that could be expanded in the future)
    • Maintenance shed (to house outdoor equipment, storage, and provide adequate work space – either attached to the CTE building or standalone – expandable metal building)
    • Fine arts center/area (music and art would move to a new area where the current CTE space is located)
    • Enlarged elementary lunchroom
    • Enlarged high school commons area and updated entrance to the high school
    • HVAC improvements (air conditioning either as part of this project or as a standalone project)
  • Financing the improvements would include the following:
    • $7 million from general obligation bond (approximately the same $2.23 rate everyone is currently paying – that levy expires in June 2017 so the “new” levy would simply replace the current levy, e.g., no tax impact for our patrons based on current valuation – if valuation within the district goes up, the levy will go down)
    • $7 million from borrowing against future earnings of the SAVE Fund (state sales tax penny – this one involves no local property taxes)
    • The entire project is designed to be cost-neutral for district patrons

This was just a quick overview of what’s happening; the Facilities Committee has developed a website that provides additional information (  This website will be regularly updated as more specific information is developed.

Facility Update

Happy Thursday everyone!  I’m opting to share another article that will be appearing in the Roadrunner Report sometime in the next week or two.  For the past 18-ish months we have been exploring improving our facilities at I-35 schools, e.g., auditorium, CTE building, and bus garage (work area primarily).  An outgrowth of planning for these three improvements led to actually addressing several other needs within the facility – 1) completely updated and new fine arts area for art and music, 2) enlarged elementary cafeteria (so we can stop starting to serve lunch at 10:35 am), and 3) enlarged high school commons area, including updated entrance to the school.  This article gives a brief history of the project, where we’re at, and shares possibilities for funding these projects.  Perhaps the most salient detail of all this – the plan is to be able to complete these projects without having to raise property taxes for our patrons.  Please let me know if you have any questions, or feel free to contact any of the Steering Committee identified in the article.


From the Desk of I-35 Superintendent Kevin Fiene


Last month I shared information regarding several things, including potential facility projects.  This month please allow me to further update you on potential building projects at Interstate 35 Schools!

Since writing/sharing last month, the Board had a Work Session on October 11; as a reminder, no action can be taken at a Work Session.  The Work Session was organized into three components:

  • Study of legal requirements for any general obligation bond
  • Review and study financial options for building projects
  • Review concept plans from Phase I Site Planning phase

We spent quite a lot of time looking at the first two bullet points, e.g., funding details for any building project.  A district has the following options for funding building projects:

  • General obligation bonds
  • Use of SAVE money (1 cent sales tax – no local property tax money)
  • Use of Physical Plant and Equipment Levy (PPEL) funds (locally controlled, property tax funded)
  • Donation

Obviously another option is any combination of the four funding sources.  Here are a couple of notes to understand about each of these potential funding streams.

  • General obligation bonds require a 60% super majority approval by the patrons of the district
  • Districts can borrow against future earnings of both the SAVE fund and the property tax portion of the PPEL funds
  • Does anyone know of a wealthy benefactor as I would love to meet with him/her? J

Another part of the discussion was how much money could be generated from the various funds.  We enlisted the free services of Piper Jaffray in putting together the following figures.

  • A general obligation bond levy of $2.23 per $1,000 (current rate being paid) of taxable valuation would generate $6.8 million – This is the same levy that has been in place for years to pay for the elementary and middle school additions, and will expire in June 2017.
  • We could borrow against future earnings from SAVE and generate $6.6 million – FYI, we receive approximately $800,000 per year from the state for SAVE, which can only legally be used for building/infrastructure projects, technology, and transportation vehicles (same legal uses as PPEL)
  • The total amount of money that could be generated WITHOUT raising any patron property taxes would be $13.4 million – please keep this figure in mind as you read further

The final part of the discussion dealt with reviewing actual concept plans on the potential building of an auditorium, bus garage, and new stand-alone Career and Technical Education (CTE) building.  The original concept drawings included moving ballfields to school land just north of the current facility, new access roads, parking lots, etc.  The original estimate of costs was $20-$25 million.  The Board asked the architects to revisit the plans and find a way to reduce costs as the figure was not palatable to anyone.  The architects returned with a scaled back concept that removed discretionary things and made the bus garage just large enough to work on and clean the buses, but kept the fidelity of the primary projects, e.g., auditorium and CTE building; the estimated cost to do the entire revised project was given as $12-$15 million.  Please note this is within the range of money we could generate for the district WITH NO TAX INCREASE.

In addition, because of the location of the new facilities (CTE would go north of the school where the old portables are currently setting, auditorium would go where the current music and art rooms are located and be built back to the south, and the bus garage would either be attached to the CTE building or at its current site), there are several other improvements built into the plan:

  • The auditorium would be constructed as a SAFE Room for the entire district to use in the event of a tornado while in session
  • Enlarge the elementary lunchroom by approximately 50% (we currently have to start serving elementary lunch at 10:35 am in order to get everyone fed)
  • Enlarge the high school commons area and re-work the entry to the high school.

It should also be noted that prior to Piper Jaffray doing any calculation on available revenue from the SAVE and PPEL accounts, we restricted $600,000 per year from PPEL and SAVE for maintenance of our current facility, purchase of buses, and continued focus on technology – the three areas allowed by law for use of SAVE and PPEL funds.

At this point, all of this will be presented as one project, with the intent of asking approval of our patrons at a Tuesday, February 7, 2017 special election.  In the interim, the Board has approved a Steering Committee for a newly developed Facilities Committee; Steering Committee members are Cindi Cassady, Tim Palmer, Pat Thornburgh, and Nancy Von Feldt.  Their first task will be to put together the full Facilities Committee – if you are interested in serving, please contact me or any member of the Steering Committee.  Eventually the Facilities Committee will make a recommendation to the Board through a signed petition (number of signatures prescribed by law).  The Board then must take action within 10 days.  At that point, the Facilities Committee will switch gears to sharing information with the patrons regarding the February 7, 2017 vote; architects would also be working with staff and community on specific plans for the initial stages of the project.  The plan would be to construct the CTE building during spring/summer 2017 with the facility being operational for the 2017-2018 school year.  The second part would involve remodeling and expanding the current CTE space to become home for our fine arts programs; this work would be done throughout summer 2017 and into the 2017-2018 school year.  I have no idea when construction of the auditorium would occur as that would be contingent on the other two projects moving forward, e.g., music and art would need to move into their new area prior to construction of the auditorium.  The bus garage could be done at any time if it remains in its current location or in conjunction with the CTE building if it were an attached building.

Finally, the projects being considered were identified by our Building and Grounds Committee over the years and have been on a list of needed improvements for quite some time.  These projects honor and follow the exceptional work of this citizens committee.

All of this can be quite confusing – we will do everything within our power to keep honest, understandable information in front of our constituents – the process has been, is and will continue to be completely transparent.  To me, the exciting part of potentially being able to do these projects is to provide additional, quality opportunities for our students of today, and frankly for the next 50+ years – and be able to do this without increasing the property tax burden of our patrons.  Stay tuned everyone!

Relationship Community/Economic Development

Greetings everyone!  For the past several months, we have been working quietly with Frank and Kim Spillers (Global Horizons, LLC).  In this case, the “we” involves the school in partnership with Interstate Communications.  I’ve written an article for an upcoming Roadrunner Report on what we are attempting to do with this initiative; thought it may be wise to share that article here as well.  This is a rather unique approach to community and economic development – especially with a school taking a leading role – but the concept fits so beautifully for our rural I-35 school district.  Please feel free to shoot me any questions you may have after reading.


From the Desk of I-35 Superintendent Kevin Fiene


We’ve publicized this through our website and Facebook page, as well as discussed at Board meetings several times over the past six months.  A quick history on this initiative may prove useful as a review:

  • Relationship community/economic development focuses on rural areas where there is a strong presence of a local telephone company and plentiful access to high speed internet
  • Processes are used to help communities work together to optimize being “move-in ready and welcoming”
  • Recruitment efforts are focused on people with school-age children that have either the ability or desire to work from home because of access to high speed internet, telephone, etc., e.g., potential to bring jobs with them.

Interstate 35 Community Schools is partnering with Interstate Communications in working with Frank and Kim Spillers from Global Horizons, LLC.  We have met with the City Councils from New Virginia and Truro, and are scheduled to meet with the St. Charles City Council in November.  The next step in this process is to have an open meeting with Frank and Kim Spillers to learn more details about how all of this would work over the next 3-5 years.  This meeting is scheduled as follows:

  • Monday, November 14, 2016
  • 6:30 pm
  • High school library

All City Councils have been invited, as well as representatives from the school and Interstate Communications.  District patrons are both welcome and encouraged to also attend the meeting on November 14.

One may ask why a school is spearheading economic/community development as that is rather unusual.  The bottom line is one driving question:  “What is the one thing that ties together our communities of New Virginia, Truro, and St. Charles?”  The only answer we’ve come up with is the Interstate 35 Schools.  With controlled growth, we are pursuing the proverbial win-win-win situation: 1) the school benefits as school financing is based on student enrollment; 2) Interstate Communications benefits by potentially getting more customers; and 3) the communities benefit through an expanded tax base with a growing population.

If available, please join us to learn more on Monday, November 14 at 6:30 pm!

I Love Our School!

Today is the first day with students at Interstate 35 Community School District – what an AWESOME day!  There is something special about all the sounds and excitement of having students back in the building.  This is now year 38 for me in education – and I still get giddy for the first day of school!  Seeing the smiles and hearing the giggles just plain makes me happy.

We had four wonderful days of fall workshop with our staff – we are blessed to have caring and devoted staff at I-35. The world is changing very rapidly and at times so fast it is hard to keep up – but our folks are dedicated to giving our students the best we possibly can.  The bottom line is ALWAYS what is best for our kids … we are blessed to have this dedication from our staff be they teachers, paras-associates, secretaries, custodians, cooks, or bus drivers.

I love Interstate 35 Community Schools.

What Lies Ahead …

Greetings everyone!

I’m sitting at a conference (District Administrators Leadership Institute, e.g., DALI) – it is AWESOME to be sitting and visiting with other superintendents from across the country.  There are some incredible things happening within districts across both Iowa and the entire nation … this led to some reflection on where we’re at within the I-35 district and where we want/intend to go in meeting the needs of our 21st Century learners.

At I-35 we are entering into a very exciting time – at their July meeting, the Board officially approved a 1:1 technology initiative for grades 6-12 to launch fall of 2017.  We certainly have been deliberate in approaching 1:1 within our district; however I believe this to be a positive even though other districts may have gotten into this earlier.  We have been working on answering a basic question:  How can/should a 1:1 technology initiative enhance kids’ learning and overall experience in school?  We will spend a good chunk of our 2016-2017 professional development preparing for the actual roll-out of computers to grade 6-12 students for the start of the 2017-2018 school year.  My belief, supported by much research, is that technology is not the goal, it is a tool/mechanism for the overall goal of increasing student engagement and learning.  That will be our focus in preparation for fall 2017.  Many, many details will be shared in the coming days.

Another initiative we’re learning more and more about is the school partnering with our communities and Interstate Communications in what is known as relationship economic development.  The concept is pretty straightforward – improve the relationship between our communities in becoming even a more inviting place for people to consider as their next home.  Interstate Communications is a major piece of this potential partnership as the availability of high speed internet allows people to consider living within our district and working from home, e.g., bring their job with them.  Again, we’re investigating this but on the surface, this approach to potential growth seems to match very well to our rural district.  Interstate Communication is on-board – we’ll move the discussions to New Virginia, Truro, and St. Charles in the coming days and see where this goes.  It’s perhaps a bit unusual for a school to be leading the charge on economic development – but it’s a new paradigm that makes sense for rural districts.  Specifically, state funding is based on student enrollment and having a stable or slightly increasing enrollment places the school in a long-term viable position.  If we move forward with this process, we’re talking at least a 3-5 year period for substantive change/growth to occur – and it will require a partnership between all of us.  More information coming …

That’s enough for today!  #ROADRUNNERPROUD

On the right track …

First of all, I apologize for not doing a better job of keeping this blog updated.  My only defense is presented in the article I’m going to copy/paste below … we’ve been busy! I will make a concerted effort to update this blog more regularly as it is a great way to share information on things happening or being planned at Interstate 35 schools.

Below is a copy/paste of an article I recently submitted to the summer edition of the Roadrunner Report.  Because of space limitations in the Roadrunner Report, the entire article may or may not appear.  Consequently I’m including the entire article below.

From the Desk of I-35 Superintendent Kevin Fiene

I hope and trust your summer is going well!  It has been a maelstrom of activity at the school this summer – I’d like to give a BIG shout-out to our custodial and maintenance staff as their summer has been challenging in working around the multiple projects going on (see later in this article) – but they’re doing an incredible job and we will be ready and excited for the staff and students to return in August!

Thought it may be useful to highlight things that either occurred or were started during the 2015-2016 school year and share plans for the 2016-2017 school year.   Because of space limitations, there won’t be a lot of detail presented; for additional information you may check the district website and/or contact me at  Presented in no particular order …

Curriculum and Professional Development

  • Talented and Gifted Education. Throughout the 2015-2016 school year, we sent a team to the Gifted Academy at Heartland AEA.  This was year one of re-thinking and revamping our talented and gifted program at I-35; we will continue participating in the Gifted Academy during the 2016-2017 school year and begin implementation of changes over the next several years.
  • K-12 Science. As you may be aware, the Next Generation Science Standards were approved as the standards within the Iowa Core this past year.  We had a team of teachers working with a Heartland AEA science consultant throughout the 2015-2016 school year and summer.  This is incredibly exciting work and our district is way ahead of the curve.  Implementation of the new science standards will be occurring over the next three years.
  • K-12 Math. We implemented a new math program in grades 6-12 during the 2015-2016 school year.  Initial results have been positive; adjustments will continue over the next several years.  Elementary teachers also received additional professional development in math throughout the 2015-2016 school year.  This reformation of our math program is an ongoing process.
  • Gradual Release of Responsibility (GRR). Through Professional Learning Communities (PLCs), all teachers and paras-associates began a study of GRR during the 2015-2016 school year.  Part two of the study will focus on Productive Group Work during the 2016-2017 school year.
  • Teacher Leadership and Compensation (TLC). In December 2015, I-35 was approved for the TLC program with implementation in 2016-2017.  Through this state program, we will have additional support for teaching and learning through four fulltime state funded positions:  two Instructional Coaches, one Instructional-Data Coach, and one Curriculum Design Coach.  In addition, mentoring programs for beginning teachers and also experienced teachers new to I-35 were strengthened through the TLC program.
  • Curriculum Alignment and Revision. We continued to work on curriculum alignment through use of Rubicon Atlas throughout the 2015-2016 school year; this work is ongoing and will be a focus every year.  In addition, we’ve begun development of curriculum review cycle that will systematize review of every K-12 curricular area over a five-six year period.
  • Technology integration. We have invested substantive amounts of money to update both our student and staff computers.  We’ve also increased the number of iPads in the elementary, and every elementary classroom will have an interactive white board for the 2016-2017 school year.  We’ve also bolstered both our internal network and internet bandwidth.
  • Preparation for 1:1. We will be asking for Board approval for a 1:1 technology initiative for grades 6-12 for the 2017-2018 school year.  There will be substantial professional development for staff during the 2016-2017 school year in preparation for the 1:1 initiative.
  • Standards-Based Reporting/Grading. The elementary started work on moving toward standards-based report cards during the 2015-2016 school year.  The secondary will begin the process of studying standards-based reporting/grading during the 2016-2017 school year.
  • Instructional Literacy Strategies. The elementary will have additional professional development on instructional literacy strategies during the 2016-2017 school year.  Secondary teachers will also be studying literacy strategies within the content areas.

We have been aggressively working on systems for the past two years with a focus on continuous, ongoing improvement.

Facilities, Maintenance, and Transportation

We began a reasonably aggressive process to update dated and failing systems within our current building structure during the 2014-2015 and 2015-2016 school years.   This process is ongoing with the philosophy of “Do it once and do it right” driving our planning.  We also believe an existing facility must be updated and maintained in order to maximize its life and provide the best physical environment for student learning that we possibly can.  We are doing the following projects this summer:

  • Bathroom remodel. Both bathrooms in the high school commons area are being completely gutted and renovated; additional bathrooms in the high school will be done next summer.
  • Intercom replacement. Last summer the failing intercom system at the high school was replaced; this summer phase two of the project will be completed with new speakers in the middle school and elementary.  The entire building will now be on one intercom system; beyond normal announcements, this is a critical piece in security measures to keep our students and staff safe.
  • Keyless entry system. The entire building will have keyless entry; this is also part of the plan to enhance security at school for our students and staff.
  • Clock replacement. In conjunction with the intercom system replacement, all analog clocks are being replaced with digital clocks.  The entire facility will now have one clock system.
  • LED lighting. In March 2016, the entire building was converted to LED lighting.  This project provides much better lighting for all areas, especially within the classrooms.  Additionally this project will pay for itself over a five-seven year period with reduced electricity costs.
  • New windows. All windows in the elementary and middle school are being replaced.  The wood-clad windows originally installed were literally rotting away at multiple places.
  • Carpet replacement. The district has developed a carpet/floor replacement schedule; approximately six-eight rooms/areas will be done each year over a 10 year period.
  • Five-Year Capital Improvement Plan. The district has developed a five-year capital improvement plan for the existing facility, e.g., planning for continuous improvement/updating of our facility.
  • Phase I Site Planning. We have completed Phase I Site Planning in looking at potential building projects to our existing facility:  auditorium, bus/maintenance building, and a Career and Technical Education (CTE) building (presented in alphabetical order).  These three projects were drawn from the work of the Building and Grounds Committee over the years.  Phase I was limited to site planning, with a focus on flexibility for any future growth and needed expansion.  In the coming months the Board will consider moving into Phase II – Design and Building.  So it is clear, there have been no decisions made on Phase II.
  • Propane buses. The district has purchased four new propane-powered buses for the 2016-2017 school year.  The decision to move toward propane buses was three-fold:  1) they are better for the environment, 2) cost of propane is substantially less than diesel (including a federal subsidy for use of propane), and 3) ongoing maintenance costs of propane engines are substantially less than diesel.

Time does not allow for a full explanation of school funding (additional information on school funding is available on the district’s website), but it’s important to know all of these facility and transportation improvements are being funded through the state penny (S.A.V.E.) fund or the Physical Plant and Equipment Levy (PPEL) funds.  These funds may only be used for infrastructure, transportation, or technology.  We are maximizing use of these funds, especially the S.A.V.E. fund as there is no local property tax dollars involved, e.g., state sales tax penny for schools.

Okay, I’m out of space for sure!  Please let me know if you have any questions or want further detail.  Suffice to say we have some GREAT things going at Interstate 35 schools and are looking to the future with one driving force behind all we do – Is this good for kids?  Thank you for the opportunity to serve as your superintendent – it is both an honor and privilege to do so

The reality is I-35 schools is working with a belief in continuous improvement … are we “there” yet?  That answer is no … but we’re most definitely on the right track … stay tuned everyone!

Interesting Comparison …

In case you didn’t see this recently in the Des Moines Register, here is an article I thought was very interesting.  There is MUCH rhetoric about schools and what they are and aren’t doing compared to previous years (decades would be more apropos).  I haven’t checked the data – but one would think the Register did its due diligence before publishing – and the sources are all solid (see end of article).

For those of us in the schools, perhaps the most interesting data points are those dealing with the changing demographics in Iowa over the past 20 years, e.g., minority population, non-English speaking students, and increase of students on free/reduced lunch.  These changes are challenging – but challenges are really opportunities in waiting.

Interesting data … “numbers are numbers” so if you get a chance, read and interpret for yourselves …


Iowa schools: Are they better or worse off?

How do Iowa students today compare with those 20 years ago?

The Des Moines Register took a look, comparing school funding, academics and student demographics.


Fourth-grade reading 

  • 1992: Fourth in nation
  • 2013: Eighth in nation**

Fourth-grade math

  • 1992: Second in nation
  • 2013: Fifth in nation

Eighth-grade math

  • 1996: First in nation
  • 2013: 10th in nation

Graduates pursuing post-secondary education or training

  • 1996: 72 percent
  • 2014: 81 percent

Dropouts in grades 7-12

  • 1996-07: 2 percent
  • 2012-13: 1.9 percent


Public school enrollment

  • 1993-94: 497,000 students (non-public enrollment, 45,000 students)
  • 2013-14: 478,000 students (non-public enrollment, 32,000 students)

Minority public school students

  • 1997-98: 8.2 percent of students (Non-public schools, 4 percent)
  • 2013-14: 20 percent of students (Non-public schools, 13 percent)

Students learning English in public schools

  • 1993-94: 3,785, or 0.8 percent, of students
  • 2014-15: 26,990, or 5.3 percent, of students

Students receiving free or reduced lunch, an indicator of poverty, in public schools

  • 1993: 120,847, or 25.4 percent
  • 2014-15: 195,817, or 41 percent

School district size

  • 1997-98: 11 percent of students attended districts with fewer than 600 students; 54 percent attended districts with fewer than 2,500 students
  • 2013-14: 12 percent of students attended districts with fewer than 600 students; 49 percent attended districts with fewer than 2,500 students


Iowa public school appropriations

  • 1993-94:  $1.3 billion of state aid to school districts ($2.2 billion in today’s dollars*)
  • 2013-14:  $2.7 billion

Portion of the state’s general fund

  • 1993-94: 37.8 percent
  • 2013-14: 41.9 percent

Per-pupil state public school cost

  • 1994: $3,406 per student ($5,617 per student in today’s dollars)
  • 2015-16: $6,446 per student

Per-pupil expenses

  • 1993: $5,070 per student ($8,361 per student in today’s dollars)
  • 2013: $10,313 per student

Average teacher salary

  • 1993: $30,760, 32nd in nation ($50,730 in today’s dollars)
  • 2013:  $52,032, 25th in nation

DATABASE: Iowa school funding by district 

*Inflation adjustments using the Consumer Price Index.

**Rankings include multiple tied scores

Sources: Iowa Department of Education compiled statistics; The Des Moines Register archives; U.S. Census Bureau; NAEP state average scale scores by grade and subject, rankings have multiple tied scores; Condition of Education reports from the Iowa Department of Education

Really????? …

Yesterday morning I received an email regarding a proposed action of the governor … click here to read the entire press release from Iowa Senator Joe Bolkcom. To make things simple, here is a copy/paste of the release.

“This July, when Governor Branstad vetoed the $56 million, one-time funding compromise for Iowa’s local students, he claimed Iowa couldn’t afford it.

“This July, when Governor Branstad vetoed $2.5 million in one-time funding for Iowa’s community colleges, after failing to provide any increase in on-going funding, he claimed Iowa couldn’t afford it.

“This spring, when he failed to continue the Iowa student tuition freeze helping make college more affordable, he claimed Iowa couldn’t afford it.

Today, however, after large corporations lobbied him for a $37 million, on-going tax cut that legislators had rejected, Governor Branstad says Iowa can afford it.  Furthermore, he says he doesn’t need the Legislature’s approval to do it.

“The agenda for the October 13 meeting of the Administrative Rules Review Committee reveals that the Branstad-Reynolds Administration is proposing a rule change to exempt consumable supplies used in manufacturing from the Iowa sales tax.  If the Branstad-Reynolds Administration does not withdraw this rule, it will take effect on January 1, 2016, even though this $37 million annual tax cut has never been approved by the Iowa Legislature.

“This rule would change more than 15 years of existing policy.

“I believe it is illegal for the Branstad Administration to use the rule making process to create a massive corporate tax giveaway without approval by the Legislature.

 “I believe such a substantial change in tax policy must first be approved by the Legislature.  Two years ago, the Branstad-Reynolds Administration agreed with me.  That’s why the Administration drafted SSB 1242 in 2013 for the consideration of the Senate Ways and Means Committee.  It failed to advance out of committee. It is outrageous that after acknowledging two years ago that this change required legislative action, the Governor and Lt. Governor are now attempting to get it done by bypassing the 150 members of the House and Senate.

“Governor Branstad is skilled at getting what he wants. Unfortunately, what he wants is to give millions to large corporations and pay for it by vetoing investments in education.”

Okay, Senator Balkcom is a Democrat – and we all know partisan politics is alive and well in our great state … but his points certainly made me think.  Is our governor really concerned with public education?  However, moving at least a bit away from partisanship, yesterday in the Des Moines Register the story was also told … click here for that story.

In an earlier post I stated my belief the governor really is an advocate of privatization of schools – or put another way – the dismantling of public education.  I also find it ironic (or perhaps morose) that in the same week the governor signs an executive order regarding bullying in schools (click here to see the executive order), he seemingly circumvents the legislative process in order to get his way.  Wow is about all I can say.  Also in an earlier post I made the connection of our governor seemingly wanting unbridled power, much like a king or dictator.  Nothing in the last 24-48 hours has made me think differently.

Geez … I’m certainly understanding of wanting to make Iowa attractive to business and industry as we all benefit from a solid, thriving economy.  However progress in this area should NOT be on the backs of our kids in schools – and from my seat that’s exactly what the governor is doing.

Rhetoric …

When word got out the governor was seriously thinking about vetoing the one-time money for schools next year, we were encouraged to contact the governor’s office … which I did.  Below is the response I received yesterday … more rhetoric without saying anything.  I fully understand the volume of correspondence the governor’s office must receive – overwhelming.  However, if time is taken for a response perhaps sharing a straightforward answer would be better than extolling all the wonderful things the governor is doing.  Although I may not like the answer, if an actual answer is given I can respect the process.  Throwing things against the wall to see what may stick is not a straightforward answer – neither is rhetoric that says absolutely nothing – neither is justifying action by continuing to throw the legislature under the bus.  This isn’t how it’s supposed to work ….


Dear Kevin,

Thank you for writing Gov. Terry Branstad and Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds about preK-12 education funding. Giving Iowa children a world-class education is one of their top priorities, so that all students learn the content and skills needed to succeed in today’s knowledge-driven economy. That is why the administration has targeted historic funding for education reform, including better utilizing the leadership of many of Iowa’s outstanding teachers to improve instruction and raise achievement.

Governor Branstad is committed to predictability and stability in the state budget. Using one-time money without the Legislature establishing regular school funding for Fiscal Year 2017 does not provide school districts with the certainty they need to plan.

Iowa’s preK-12 schools will receive more than $3 billion next school year, the single largest share of the state’s $7.2 billion budget. In addition to Iowa’s new Teacher Leadership System, education reform measures include a comprehensive literacy initiative to assure children read by the end of third grade and an expansion of Iowa Learning Online to offer more courses to high school students statewide.

Thank you again for writing, and please feel free to let me know of any concerns in the future.


Office of the Governor

Linda Fandel, Education Policy Advisor

Kids as Political Footballs …

Not sure if you’ve seen the Des Moines Register this morning … if not click here (or read the copy/paste below).  Well, my day started so well – we’re working on our Teacher Leadership and Compensation (TLC) grant application – the irony of stopping our work on one of those infamous “targeted funding” opportunities to read the governor’s defense of his actions just makes me shake my head … As I’ve stated before, “targeted funding” is certainly not a bad thing – in fact philosophically it makes some sense to me.  However, here we sit at I-35 not having received a dime the past two years for TLC while other districts have … Further, the obvious intent of targeted funding is so the state can control what happens in the schools – my take is that local schools obviously can’t be trusted to make decisions.  So no one thinks I’m a thoughtless radical that just wants money and to be left alone to do whatever – I’m not.  I understand and endorse basic requirements from the state for all schools – with rising transiency among our students and families, having consistency between districts makes great sense.  All kids, regardless of where they attend school, deserve a quality education.  I also believe the concept of local control was a cornerstone in the development of public education.  Again, targeted funding makes some sense – as long as it doesn’t supplant money needed to cover the basic expenses of providing an education for our kids.  If I remember correctly the governor promised TLC funding would not supplant regular funding to schools.  Well, 1.25% for next year, his line-item veto of additional one-time funding, and including TLC funding in press releases on how well the state has funded public education seem to make his statement suspect. Targeted funding is well … targeted … which means it can only be used for the specific purpose – it can’t be used to pay the energy bills, transportation costs to get kids to and from schools (how many schools in Iowa would be classified as rural? :-)), etc.  Does anyone else feel beaten up when the governor talks about “… you just throw money at it?”  What exactly does that mean and/or insinuate?  My reaction – I’m being accused of frivolous spending … who the heck has time or resources available for anything frivolous in schools?  The notion of any low-hanging fruit left to pluck from the financial trees is absurd.  My goodness … have these politicians spent any time in real schools, with real teachers, and with real students?  I also find it interesting the governor’s primary education advisor was a former journalist who happened to travel to Finland and write a series of articles on what Finland is doing in education … to my knowledge she has no experience in the trenches of schools.  That isn’t necessarily a completely bad thing because the world needs dreamers and idealists for change and good things to happen – but also could be classified as someone in the ivory towers casting his/her “wisdom” with absolutely no clue about the real world.

I also find it troubling when the governor says things like this in the article – When asked if school districts should cut teachers, Branstad responded by saying they could keep staff “if they plan and use their resources wisely.”  Hmmm … we try to use our resources wisely all the time but I guess we just have to try harder now that the governor has explained this …   Finally, I guess based on the governor’s next statement, we really need to model our schools after state government …“We in state government have cut the number of employees by 1,500 and are using our resources in a more efficient manner,” he said. “Schools are the biggest recipient of the state budget. … They get over $3 billion.”  I apologize for the sarcasm – but really?

What exactly is the governor’s agenda?  I hope I’m wrong … and again this is just my opinion … but I think the governor has two goals for education:  1) create a voucher system (I believe the current term is education spending account) where a parent gets money from the state for schooling and allows them to use it wherever they want – including private and parochial schools, and 2) breaking the ISEA (teachers’ association).  My perspective is both goals are wrong for someone leading PUBLIC education.  As shared previously, I think private and parochial schools offer a great option for families – but state and local tax money should not be used in support of these schools – it should be an option available for families at their cost.  I also am offended by wanting to break the ISEA – the message is teachers are overpaid already and underworked – or at least that’s my take on what is being insinuated.  Do these people understand every ounce of research supports teachers being the most important cog in student performance and learning?  Are all teachers “good” – of course not but that also why we invest in professional development in helping folks to improve. Because some may not be exemplary we choose to chastise all teachers – that is just wrong.  My question back would be – Are all politicians good?  I’ll leave that answer to you …

You can certainly agree or disagree with my opinions – that’s the beauty of a democracy.  However to have a governor with this agenda using terms like “world-class education” seems to be a disconnect from his actions – and frankly that is more than a little troubling. Again, this is just my opinion … but IF I AM RIGHT, using our current students’ education in the current system as political footballs to accomplish an agenda is just plain wrong.


Branstad: Throwing money at schools won’t improve them

Gov. Terry Branstad on Monday again defended his line-item veto of $55.7 million for Iowa schools, saying a budget where “you throw money” at schools won’t necessarily improve them.

Branstad instead argued that strategic investment is the way to make Iowa’s education system better, and he pointed to reform efforts that are underway, including a $100 million teacher coaching initiative that aims to improve the quality of classroom instruction.

His comments during his weekly news conference come amid outrage from educators over his decision to veto the one-time, earmarked money after a hard-won compromise in the Statehouse.

But they also give insight into Branstad’s reasoning, beyond his previous comments that one-time money is “bad budgeting.”

“I think you have to look at the whole picture,” Branstad told reporters Monday. “It’s not like the old days — you just throw money at it. And that didn’t get us the results we wanted.

“Now we’re trying to specifically target our resources on things that we feel confident will prepare our students for the quality jobs that we’re creating in this state in the 21st century.”

Jimmy Centers, the governor’s spokesman, said the state’s fiscal health, and providing stable, long-term funding, were the governor’s top budget priorities this year.

And he reiterated the administration’s commitment to “world-class” education, which “is demonstrated by significant, targeted growth in funding for initiatives to raise achievement.”

Branstad said those strategies include a greater focus on early reading — before the critical third-grade year — and STEM, which is science, technology, engineering and math.

And he pointed to the Teacher Leadership Compensation program, a hallmark of the 2013 education reform package. After a three-year rollout of $50 million, the state has pledged ongoing funding of $150 million to pay for full-time, part-time and supplemental teacher coaches in schools.

However, some school leaders have said the 1.25 percent increase approved this session will prompt cuts to programs or personnel. They’ve said at least 3 percent is needed to “break even” because of inflationary costs to heating and electricity, plus employee raises.

And despite the one-time money being earmarked for certain expenses, such as textbooks or transportation, school officials could have used it to free up general fund dollars for other expenses.

When asked if school districts should cut teachers, Branstad responded by saying they could keep staff “if they plan and use their resources wisely.”

But he also referenced belt-tightening at other public agencies, and the need to make government more efficient.

“We in state government have cut the number of employees by 1,500 and are using our resources in a more efficient manner,” he said. “Schools are the biggest recipient of the state budget. … They get over $3 billion.”