On December 12, 2014, all of the superintendent's in the state received an email from Dr. Brad Buck, the Director of the Iowa Department of Education. Dr. Buck was informing us that the DE would no longer automatically grant start date waivers to school districts, and that we would need to show that there would be a significant negative educational impact in order to get an early start waiver. This letter was a direct result of a letter that Dr. Buck received from Governor Branstad, and is precipitated by the State Fair, and the Tourism industry. Below is the letter that I sent to Dr. Buck, Governor Branstad, Lt. Governor Reynolds, and the legislators from our local area.
December 23, 2014
Dr. Brad Buck
Director-Iowa Department of Education
Grimes Office Building
400 E. 14th Street
Des Moines, IA 50319-0146
In response to your letter dated December 12, the North Butler Community Schools would like to voice our great concern over this matter.
First and foremost, it is shameful that tourism and the state fair have taken a priority over the education of our children. As educators, we are continually reminded that we should be striving to provide a "World Class" education, yet actions and funding levels continue to contradict that directive. We are asked to do more with less, and more restrictions being placed upon our funding streams. All while we are being forced to begin building budgets without knowing what the funding rate will be. The Legislature has also continually violated the law over when supplemental state aid amounts should be set. School funding should not be a political football. The school start date is a distraction from the issue that should be front and center for state leaders– providing timely and adequate funding for schools through supplemental state aid. The governor and director of education should focus on leading on this issue to ensure districts have the resources they need to meet the challenge of educational improvement.
Secondly, unless the Governor, Legislature, and the DE are going to address the start date of athletic seasons, camps and practices it is pointless to address the school start date. With camps being held the first week of August and practice starting the second week of August, a large number of our students are already done with their summer and have reported for their fall activities. Those families will not be vacationing at the end of August. I am not aware of a school who has ever punished a child or not excused them from participating in or visiting the state fair or taking a family vacation. In an article in the Des Moines Register dated 12/23/14 Representative Clownie states, "It really goes back to Iowa families who want to have a traditional summer." How do Iowans with children in High School activities get a traditional summer when baseball and softball go into the third week of July and football, volleyball, and cross country start the first week of August?
The focus of education reform in Iowa has emphasized local flexibility and engagement. The Teacher Leadership and Compensation (TLC) system is a good example, allowing districts to customize the approach to meet local needs based on stakeholder engagement. The school calendar should also be a local decision, taking into account local needs. There is a process for parents and the community to be involved in that decision-making. At North Butler we are involving our staff and community in these decisions through the use of our SIAC, Leadership team, and our PLC groups.
State-imposed limits on when school can start will negatively impact student learning. Among the reasons are that aligning with community college and other postsecondary institutions maximizes educational opportunities for students and teachers. North Butler Community Schools had students take 99 classes for college credits in 2013-14, and have students taking 113 classes for college credits during this 2014-15 school year.
We feel that this is an attempt to circumvent the rulemaking and legislative process, both of which have been unable to make changes to the school start date law. We believe that the start date should be a local decision based upon the needs of the communities in our district. We also believe that this directive from Governor Branstad goes directly against the recommendation of the 2012 Instructional Time Task Force which was mandated by the legislature. Their recommendations was that "school districts should determine their own school calendars, including local input of citizens at the school board level.”
We at North Butler Community Schools believe that these are issues that are better suited to be solved at a local level so that the needs of our communities can be addressed through the calendar building process. Thank you for your understanding of our position.
Superintendent of Schools