It is that time of year where we get very busy in the schools. Not only are we working on the current year, but we are also working on the next school/fiscal year. As we work on planning the coming year, a large part is played by the state legislature.
Again this year the Iowa Legislature is nearly 365 days late setting SSA (Supplemental State Aid) for schools. The legislature is looking to address this by proposing the elimination of the deadline for setting SSA. For the past seven years, public schools have been woefully underfunded, and it appears that we will again be shorted by the legislature. This legislature seems to think that schools can operate on an increase that is less than the cost of inflation. When that is combined with a decline in enrollment, many school districts across Iowa are actually looking at having less money for fiscal year (FY) 18 than they have for the current year. North Butler Community Schools is one of those districts.
The way that a school counterbalances this is to not expend all of the money that the state has allotted (Maximum Authorized Budget or MAB) and carry over a surplus (Unspent Authorized Budget or UAB). At the conclusion of FY 16 North Butler Community Schools carried a UAB of $670,200. We are projecting that amount to increase at the end of FY 17. The UAB adds into our MAB that is set by the Iowa Department of Education and allows us a safety net to work with. A district with a budget our size should carry a UAB of roughly $750,000 to $1,000,000. At the end of FY 17, we should fall well within that range. This allows us to continue with our current programming without having to make staffing or other adjustments despite declining enrollment.
Tax credits for business have played a major role in the lack of funding for schools (see previous blog post, DM Register Article Jan. 12, 2017). As a district, we will make do with what we have and make the best of it!
Doing things the BEARCAT WAY
Even though we are facing challenges with funding from the legislature, we have many fantastic things happening at North Butler Community Schools.
1. We have continued to employ high-quality teachers from PK-12th grade.
2. We have added a transitional kindergarten class for our students who may not be completely ready for kindergarten.
3. We have added a full time counselor at the elementary school.
4. We have added 1.5 FTE academic and behavior interventionist positions at the elementary. We anticipate this growing to 2.0 FTE for 17-18.
5. We have added Project Lead The Way (PLTW) classes for engineering and computer science into the JH/HS curriculum.
6. The Voc Ag program is adding an aquaponics setup and will be growing fish and vegetables in the near future.
Most of this has come with little or no additional cost to the school district. The increases that we have incurred are, in my opinion, sustainable for the foreseeable future, barring a steep decline in enrollment.
As an administrator, I am very proud of the accomplishments of our staff and students. North Butler finished 10th out of 156 schools in Class 1A in the Bank of Iowa Challenge Cup. This is a platform that looks at all-around programs and involvement of students. North Butler High School improved its standing on the Iowa School Report Card from commendable to high performing. District wide we set exceptionally high goals for our staff and students, and we met nearly all of those goals. While those things have been happening, our staff is not satisfied with the status quo. They continue to research and look for ways to improve what we are doing. We have groups of staff that have undertaken a pilot project in Authentic Intellectual Work (AIW), we have our Professional Learning Community (PLC) leaders asking to attend more training, and we have teachers asking our instructional coaches to assist them in improving what they are doing in the classroom. I have never seen a staff as eager to learn and improve as the staff at North Butler!
On Monday January 30th, we held a North Butler District Leadership Team meeting. The DLT meets to discuss suggestions, make recommendations to the administration, and make recommendations to the board for our direction as a school district. When functioning properly, administrators do little talking other than to provide updates during these meetings. I have never participated in a leadership team meeting as positive and productive as this past meeting. The district calendar for 17-18 was discussed and adjustments were made according to the input provided. We discussed things that we are doing well as a staff, and things that we can do better as a district. We discussed surveys that will be given to both staff members and community members for feedback. We also discussed how we would use this feedback to improve what we are doing as a staff, administration, board, and district.
Monday evening, January 30th, I attended one of the most impressive educational presentations that I have had the privilege of attending. The North Butler Community Schools Sophomore Class presented projects related to the September 2016 flooding in Greene to the public at the Greene Community Center. The students built their presentations, and also built the program for the evening, reserved the space, provided snacks, secured a guest speaker, and marketed their session. The students and Ms. Stahr did an incredible job in preparing for and making the evening a success. This program included some of the most authentic, real world learning that I have ever seen! The community center was packed, parking was hard to find, and the students did a magnificent job putting together and presenting their program! Hats off to our Sophomore Class. Thank you for setting the bar high for North Butler Community Schools!