The Director of the Iowa Department of Education sent this letter out to schools at the end of last week. It outlines some changes that may impact Iowa school calendars for next year. Norwalk traditionally does not start until after the fair concludes. We have usually asked for a “waiver” to the law to allow a school start after the fair, but prior to September. These “waivers” may be more difficult to obtain as explained in Dr. Buck’s letter:
Dear Iowa school leaders,
In recent years, the Department has received numerous complaints from parents and other community members alike about waivers of the school start date law. As such, the Department has reviewed its current practice and will be implementing a new procedure that more accurately reflects the legal authority the Department has to grant these waiver requests. Effective immediately, the Department will no longer automatically grant waivers of the school start date requested under Iowa Code section 279.10(4) for the 2015-2016 school year. Moving forward, the director or director’s designee will only consider a school or school district’s request for a waiver of the school start date if the school or school district has adequately demonstrated that starting on or after the earliest start date specified would have a significant negative educational impact. Each request will be individually reviewed and approved or denied by the director or the director’s designee. These requests will be considered in light of the new flexibility allowed under the law, which is outlined below. As of July 1, 2014, districts and accredited nonpublic schools have the option to choose between 180 days or 1,080 hours of instruction when setting their school calendars. Iowa Code § 256.7(19). This change in the law has provided new flexibility to schools and school districts to set their school calendars in a manner consistent with the requirements of Iowa Code section 279.10(1) which requires that “school shall begin no sooner than a day during the calendar week in which the first day of September falls . . . if the first day falls on a Sunday, school may begin on a day during the calendar week which immediately precedes the first day of September.” Id. Please plan accordingly for the 2015-2016 school year. The Department will issue guidance on implementation of current law in early 2015.
Brad A. Buck
Norwalk staff will work to better understand the requirements as they emerge from the Department of Education in January. Also, I was recently asked by a new SIAC “Legislative Action Subcommittee” regarding some needs that I would prioritize as the superintendent. I would ask the legislature to consider these immediate needs:
- Continued support of the State Supplemental funding (formerly known as “allowable growth”). Much conversation occurred at the innovation of the Teacher Leadership and Compensation (TLC) Grant regarding a hope that TLC dollars would not be carved from the “stay alive costs” that schools need each year. Schools still have many obligations to their communities, parents and students. We must still buy gas and run transportation systems. We must still buy text books and test tubes. Salaries must be paid and we must accommodate additional staff in the growing communities of Warren County. We hope that state revenues allow a traditional funding of 4% growth to match increasing expenditures. An allocation of 2% growth or less would result in reductions of services for Norwalk students. An interactive map of school districts across America compares the results on state achievement tests to per-pupil spending in schools. Norwalk can be found at; https://interactives.americanprogress.org/projects/edu-roi/2011/Main.swf <https://interactives.americanprogress.org/projects/edu-roi/2011/Main.swf> The results indicate that Norwalk is in the top quadrant of Iowa Schools in Iowa test results and toward the bottom of per-pupil expenditures. In other words, the mathematic ratio identified Norwalk as a very efficient district. Any expectation that Norwalk can simply become “more efficient” is disputed by the data. Norwalk Schools already have a high return on investment in terms of student achievement. Reduced funding in efficient schools like Norwalk cannot simply be absorbed. Reduced funding will reduce achievement and opportunities.
- Continued support of the TLC Grants mentioned in #1. Much time and effort has been put into this initiative. Norwalk was an early innovator in the process and the system holds much promise for increasing student achievement in Norwalk and across Iowa. This year, one third of Iowa schools were granted the TLC dollars. Next, year, Carlisle, Indianola and another third of all Iowa students join in the funding. The following year, the remaining Warren County schools will probably receive the benefits of TLC coaches, as will the remaining Iowa schools and students.
- All school districts suffer from unfunded mandates from the Iowa legislature, Department of Education, federal government and other entities. Discussions should occur at the legislative level about special education “overages” around the state of Iowa. The Individual Education Program (IEP) team makes decisions based on the identified needs of each special education student. Fortunately, that system is designed to provide free and appropriate services for each student with special needs. Unfortunately, those services often exceed the state dollars generated for that student. These added expenses are not covered in the present funding system for special education. As a result, school districts must either spend dollars that are intended for the rest of the general education population or pass those expenses to the local taxpayers. Neither of these options seems fitting, especially when the district cannot control these overage expenses. The state should take full responsibility for the special education system it has created. Our special education students deserve the most appropriate services available and local districts deserve the funding to make those services happen for kids.
So much for my list for Santa! Have a happy holiday season.